Songs in the key of life.


All I Want, by Kodaline. 

We were at the river. At our spot. It wasn’t much; a thin spit of rocky beach that you reached by fording across a waist-deep stretch of river, shoes in hand and backpack on back. Feet slipping on the mossy rocks, the push of the river’s current against your legs both gentle and yet innately powerful; a father’s hand cradling his newborn’s head.

It wasn’t much but it was ours.

We spread out an old sleeping bag to diffuse the angles and harshness of the rocks underneath. We sat and watched the river plod by, endlessly. Sometimes when you see things that will endure long past you, you get a negative feeling, a feeling of your smallness and temporariness. Not so with the river and its flow; its enduring nature was a source of great comfort: you worrying about how the world will go on without you, and the world turning and smiling at you, and saying that it would be all right.

Wind whistling through the high leaves on the other side of the river, limbs undulating like the arms of worshippers at a holy service. Eddies swirl lazily along the edge nearest us. She dips her toes in and turns to me and smiles and oh god, I’m falling again.

Save for the wind and the water and the small birds dipping and diving into and out of the river, we are alone. We make love there, on my dusty old sleeping bag. I don’t use “make love” lightly or meaninglessly; I have loved two women in this world, and she was one of them, and when we came together, it was with a different connection than simply just fucking. You know what I’m talking about. Even though you are an awkward construction of limbs and hips and heart and mouth, you fit together perfectly, with a satisfying click of fitting the last piece into a jigsaw puzzle that you’ve spent your whole life building.

After, spent, we lay next to each other. I had brought my wireless speaker because I love having a soundtrack to my life everywhere I go. Music is not a distraction but an amplification of life. This song came on, this perfect song, and as I lay there, the warmth of her body still fading from my skin, the heat of the sun on my back, the water gurgling past just feet away and the wind sighing through the trees – nature working to create its own song to fill in the occasional silences of the song coming from the speaker – as I lay there, and the song built into a glorious crescendo (from 3:30 – 4:30 if you’re listening along) I felt completely and complexly satisfied, all needs and urges and insecurities and distractions for a moment all silenced, lulled to sleep by melody.

Sometimes I catch myself staring into the mirror, or staring at the ceiling at night in my bed, and this feeling hits me, this feeling that none of this is real. That I somehow died that moment at the river; my heart stopped, or the world itself decided to stop turning, and it all ended right there, along that rocky bank, and all of what has passed since then has been my mind’s last fevered dream, some sort of death throe where it creates an illusion that is just simultaneously shitty and wonderful enough to pass for reality so that I won’t realize that I am dead, so that it can continue on in this illusion, and thus maintain some approximation of life.

And then I catch myself thinking that if that is true – that if that day at the river was my last day – then that is perfectly, wonderfully all right.

And if that wasn’t my last day, and if one day I will lay in my real twilight hour, I feel assured that this moment at the river will be one of the last moments I think of. And if I have the mind and muscles to do so, I will smile.

Wherever you are, R, thank you for being a part of that moment with me.



Light splays.
On her skin it plays.
Curtain-diffused and rainbow-stained
inside the warmth, outside the rain.

Time stalls.
Halting all in all.
Edges curl like a photograph
I trace her curves, she starts to laugh.

Trees sigh.
For our ears they vie.
The forest rustles, leaves shake free
deaf to all, asleep in our tree.

Where then?
Does she start, I end?
The same place, if one could measure
where the present meets the future.

What have you done?

Seriously. Did you pack up my heart and take it with you when you left?

I understood that it would take time to get over you. I’ve made my peace with that; and honestly I’ve made my way through most of the actual “getting over you” part as well. I’ve done good. I’m proud of myself. No drunk dials. No texts or calls begging you to give us another chance. Sure, I’ve spent time looking at pictures of us and the few videos I took of you. I’ve been tempted to reach out, to call or text. But I accepted that as a normal part of the process. I didn’t beat myself up about it or berate myself for it. I accept myself as human.

Well okay. There was that one time that I used the toothbrush you left to feel close to you, as if rubbing your DNA on mine would make me feel the way I felt when you rubbed your hands through my hair or over my body. That was a little weird.

But what’s a breakup without a little temporary insanity?

But here’s the thing. I’ve found someone new, someone that likes me, and I really should like them back…but I feel nothing. No thrill of attraction, no wondering why she’s taken me so long to text her back, no jealousy when the thought of her with someone else comes to mind. I went a long way down the road of thinking that this was simply maturation. Maybe I’m growing up to a point where I don’t put too much emphasis on a relationship or stake too much happiness on whether this person responds in a way that I would want. Maybe I realized that this is too much power to give to someone else, especially to someone who is essentially still a stranger. But that’s not like me. I’m still me, immature, flailing-about me, moody and depressed and so fucking needy. So what, then, is it?

That leads me back to my first thought. Did you take my heart with you when you left? It’s the only logical explanation. I understand that you probably didn’t mean to. You must have absent-mindedly shoved it in your brown and blue striped bag when you packed your hair ties and your leggings. You wouldn’t take it on purpose, because I know that you want me to be happy and to love and be loved again.

So really I’m just hoping you can check your bag, check it thoroughly, for my misplaced heart. It’s tiny, and malformed, but if you listen closely you can still hear it beating. If your bag is in your room, I bet you can pause right now, and become completely still, and hear it even now. Tell you what, we can meet for coffee and you can bring it. We’ll give each other an awkward side hug and I’ll insist on buying you a Yerba Mate and we’ll sit and talk and take special care to avoid certain topics and then we’ll stand up together and side hug again and then you can give me your heart back.

Excuse me, my heart. You can give me my heart back.

Have you ever gotten over your first love?

Short answer: Yes, I’ve gotten over my first love.

Long answer: Fuck, it was hard.

But it gets better.

God damn it all to hell, it gets better.

I suppose I’ve been lucky enough to only have my heart broken once. But what a mighty break it was. It was my first love. It was my only love. And just like that it was gone.

Actually, no, who are we kidding? When I say “just like that” it gives you the wrong impression that I had love one day and no love the next. In hindsight, that might actually be preferable. No, this monument of love that I had built with the other for 13 long years was destined to be destroyed the same way it was built: brick by tender brick, a slow topple; less a cartoonish tumble, like a stack of Jenga pieces that had been piled one piece too high, more a slow flood building up against our monument and washing first the weakest pieces away, then the stronger, then the strongest, until nothing was left.

I remember the ache. The fucking ache. I understood in those times why the ancients talked about the bowels being the throne of your emotions, not the heart as we do in modern times. Because that’s where I felt it. All the time. Like the worst hunger pang you’ve ever had, multiplied a dozen times, with an appetite that no food; alcohol, sex, hobbies; could fill. You would carry that pain around in you like a coal in your belly, burning, always burning. And just when it seemed ready to die down, to dissipate, there your mind would be, ready to stoke the flickering smoky mess back into a roaring flame. The mind and its endless, ceaseless rumination, the thoughts that came sudden and unbidden, so sharp and poisonous; the Scumbag Brain meme brought to terrible life.

Where was she? Who was she with? What were they doing? And worst of all: were they having sex? And my mind, always delightfully imaginative, was willing to fill in the shadows of what I did not want to see, pull back the shade and draw, in wondrous detail, she and him in various throes of passion.

And then there was the rejection, the mountainously strong thought that she prefers the company of someone else. That she had so moved on, had traveled so far from you, that she never paused to think of you. Or maybe, if she did, the moment was fleeting and quickly dismissed, batted away like a bothersome fly. So unlike how you felt. Her memory and the thought of her was the boulder that you rolled up the mountainside again and again, the boulder that you carried on your back like a hump; to work, to be with your children, when with friends, the weight that you had to keep shifting from shoulder to shoulder because no matter how you carried it, it never became comfortable.

The strange thing is – and this is what makes humans so damn silly – there’s a part of me that didn’t want it to get better. The part of me that hums when I read a line like this one, from South Park: “I’m sad, but at the same time I’m really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It’s like, it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human.”

And so often, when I felt myself starting to climb out of the abyss, I would do things to insure that I would tumble back down into it. Look at old pictures. Read old letters. Take my wedding ring out of the drawer, out of the envelope, and put it on again, feel the comfort of its heft. Actions that were silly and self-destructive, that kept me from realizing the simple truth that it was over, and nothing could bring it back. In matters of the heart, you cannot change someone else’s mind. You cannot argue your way back into a relationship. There doesn’t exist a magical combination of words that will turn their heart back toward you. One day I realized that the sooner I realized that, the better off I would be. So I learned those ideas, I spoke them as my mantra, over and over again.

People say, “this too shall pass,” for one simple reason: it’s the only thing that one can say to someone in that situation that isn’t complete bullshit. Every other platitude will fall short. This is the only one that remains true. It will pass. As the time stretched out between now and the time that I was with this other person, things hurt less. The constant stabbing pain turned into an occasional prick. When once looking at a picture of the two of us caused emotional distress, now it merely serves up a faintly sad nostalgia. A wisp of what might have been, followed by gratefulness for the times we shared. Maybe, eventually, I can look at that picture and whisper a prayer between pursed lips that this other person find happiness…even if that happiness be in the arms of another.

TL;DR: I’m over it, but it was the highest mountain I’ve ever had to climb.

Regarding You.

We broke up this week, you know.

Last Wednesday. It was fairly anticlimactic, a fact that honestly I was thankful for, considering how my last two relationships ended: the former with the police on my porch, the latter with a nasty right hook, the germination of which left a rosy red shiner under my left eye, a shiner I wore with a perverse mix of shame and pride for the better part of a week. This breakup started with a frank discussion on the couch, where we sat with various body parts touching and straddling each other: her leg over mine, our fingers and arms intertwined. It was the familiar positioning of a couple, but there was also a platonicism to it, and why not? We knew this would be the last time that we would find ourselves in this familiar and, up to this point comfortable, arrangement.

The discussion was frank because it was both honest and short. We covered the ground that needed covering: we currently exist in different walks of life, I with my kids and custody and full time job, she with her roommates and friends and adolescent dreams that had yet to even coalesce into something resembling reality, just shapes in the dark: men as trees, walking. I don’t use the word adolescent to demean, as in something infantile, but as of something young, and innocent, and still growing. As it should be. And my life is as it should be as well. Mature, fully formed, standing upright; and if there was any envy as I considered her position relative to my own, I commend myself for not allowing it to enter my conscious mind, or at least not to let any similar emotion linger for too long.

We talked about being friends after a while, and we both believed it.

Our talk concluded, we stood up, faced each other and hugged. I told her that I loved her, and I did, and still do. She told me that she loved me, which she does, and maybe still does, but I’m unsure about that fact, she did mention a few times her uncanny ability to cauterize quickly, to sear shut the wound of an aching heart and move resolutely forward. Not that I need her to love me still, really. She loved me when I needed her to, which was when I loved her, and that is enough for me. Of course you hope to leave some lasting impression on the person who you loved and who loved you, no matter how long you were together, or how long you are apart, but I would settle for a nostalgic pinprick every once in a while, when she hears a song that we both liked (or one of us liked and tortured the other one with incessantly), or when she passes a place that we visited, or when she swipes by a picture of us on her phone, or when the sun comes up the way it did when she woke up in my arms with her head on my chest, our warmth intermingling and creating a heat greater than the sum of its parts, a heat both of us were loathe to leave or lose to the outside world, or when it rains, or when a car drives by, or when the doors of a grocery store slide open in front of you, scattered by your hasty approach, or…you get the point.

We have a need for that, don’t we? To be remembered. Most of us won’t leave a legacy in this world – most of us will die without the attendant honor of our nation’s flag at half-mast – and we accept that readily, but we’d like to think that we are at least worthy enough to leave a legacy in someone’s heart, to know that we’ve left them forever changed, and there will be one, or two, or a dozen times in their remaining lives when we will flit through their mind and a nostalgic ache will seize them and then let go just as quickly. And, shaken by that, they will smile or cry or wonder where we are or who we are with and whether we found happiness in this often colorless and cruel world. That will be enough for most of us.

So you. Know that I plan to remember you that way. Of course it’s not a conscious thing; I won’t call you out of my mind on purpose, like I can summon you the way a psychic claims to summon spirits. But I know with all of my heart that you will rise unbidden, some day, even today, and when you do, I will smile, and cry, and laugh, and ache, and remember you and wish you well and yes, I will miss you desperately and remember the feel of your hands in mine but I will also remember that I agreed to let go.