You genuflected outside the gothic cathedral
the day after I got officially old.
My nose was running and cold and
I turned from the great grey edifice
to see the only familiar face
for miles. On that face,
the expression I tried to capture:
irreverent yet strangely penitent,
maybe just tired from walking
or overwhelmed by unfamiliar vowels
or musing how new it feels to feel this old.
At dinner tonight, we got to talking. We talked about so many things, but one I wanted to write about before it slipped through the old brain-sieve. I am listening right now to a song that makes me think of someone I have not seen in years, someone I loved desperately with my then-heart. If I saw him again, I likely would have a flash of feeling, that electric eel around the collar one, remembering what it was like. Then I would have that certain relief of not having to love him anymore, of not having to succumb to muscle memory. The love is under glass in a museum I no longer visit. Sometimes I walk past the museum, and I can hear this song playing inside.
She told me it took a long time. She told me it took a long time before she stopped seeing him everywhere he wasn’t. She told me it took a long time to unlearn the cringing, to unfurl during the phone ringing. She told me it took almost as long as they were together to be comfortably apart, not to expect the other shoe to drop, his other shoe, when his feet weren’t even near.
She told me it took a long time, not that she expected it to be short. Once you are terrorized in a certain way, she said, your body exists only within boundaries of panic. For long, hollow years later, she would be flooded with adrenaline from a glimpse of the color of his hair. Fight or flight, but of course she did neither.
She told me it took a long time to allow herself a leisurely shower, an indecision over clothing, a detour on the way to the market, a reshuffling of plans. Sometimes, after years of only being grabbed and pulled by the wrist, she would just sit, sit somewhere quiet, and hold her own hand.
He puts his head on his hand, elbow beside the yellow pages. He scans the names and numbers, pausing to smirk at a funny bunch of letters. Today the book is of Reno, Nevada. He has never been to Reno, but he pictures it like Orinda in July, only flatter. Once he went to Orinda for a family picnic. It wasn’t his family; it was the family of a woman he tried to love. She tried to love him back. After a few years, the attempts weighed more than the result, and they parted over a steak dinner. After that, steak always reminded him of not knowing what to say.