I met Andrew by the water on a Sunday morning. I had separated from my group of travel companions. I took a stroll to the seaside to sit on the wet stone of a rock wall, soak my skirt in the remnants of the morning’s rain, and drink in the gloom of the day. The fog drifted toward the island and Andrew strolled up to me. He was dressed more appropriately for the cold weather than I, in a wool peacoat and with a simple knit cap on. He was mid 30’s with dark hair, and looked vaguely like a taller version of my boyfriend, save for the touches of red in his beard.
Actually, his dog walked up to me first, he scampered up off-leash and sat a few meters away from me directly beneath the sign warning that two things were forbidden on the beach:
- Public nudity.
Andrew looked down at the wet boards of the park bench behind me, then laid his palm on the stone wall I was perched on, determined it dry enough, and sat beside me.
I cocked my head towards his dog and said,
“I guess he doesn’t have much regard for the rules.”
“I haven’t taught him how to read the signs,” said Andrew. We both looked at the dog, and not each other.
“What’s your excuse, then? There are only two rules here and you’re breaking 50% of them. That’s got to be, what, a felony?” I said.
“They’ll never catch me alive. We could make it 100% if you want to join me for a swim.”
He looked at me as he finished the sentence. His eyes were hazel, that was different too. They glowed a little despite the gloom, and I felt sort of guilty for looking at them. He wasn’t wearing glasses, I thought he had been when he walked up to me. He let the silence linger, confident in his bawdy suggestion.
“It’s too cold out here for swimming, let alone skinny-dipping,” I said
“That’s what he would have said.”
“So he agrees with me then. What are you so afraid of?”
“You know, frostbite, the law, the stranger sitting next to me suggesting I disrobe…”
“How can you be afraid of me? You made me up.”
“I did, indeed. I wasn’t sure if you knew that.”
“Yeah, definitely a weird choice. What’s that all about?”
“I guess I’m lonely, this seems like a good spot to sit and be lonely.”
He gave a little nod, his lips pursed.
“It’s not very lonely if you are imagining company. So, you have a real guy here, interesting. Is that why I remind you of him?”
“When I came on this trip I felt like I was going to summer camp. I always had big unrequited crushes at summer camp. But I came here with a love that’s all, I don’t know, fulfilling and healthy? I figured I would manufacture a crush.”
“I guess it’s not cheating if I am imaginary.”
“Who said anything about cheating? This is just a conversation.”
“Is it? Why aren’t you talking to a real person instead?”
“I came here with him and a group on a remote work trip. I only know him, the rest are friends: of him, of each other. So, I am a bit of an outsider. They all work in IT.”
“Ah, you seem a little, uh, analog for that, with the journal and all.”
“Yeah, I am definitely a bit different from the group, and not just because of the work stuff. But, I am okay with being a weirdo, or with being myself. There are just a lot of little things, like they’re all athletic. I am… not one for sports. Today they’re all kayaking. I am not in the mood to be a killjoy, so I let them go without me. I am trying out being a misanthrope instead.”
“How’s that going for you?”
“Terribly, they’re lovely people. Impossible to dislike, which means I am being a recluse for no reason. They’ve been super welcoming, speaking in English all the time. One of them is his coworker and she’s ridiculously nice. She even keeps speaking English when I leave the room. I have absolutely nothing to complain about at all. But this weather begs for moodiness.”
A breeze kicked up, the soundscape a wash of waves, wind, and mournful seagull cries.
“It sounds fake,” said Andrew.
“You’re one to talk. Or not talk. But yeah, it does. It’s too perfect, like a movie soundtrack. It’s like the Truman show.”
“I see what you mean, I think it’s also the difference in depth of field between the city across the water and the mountains behind it. The mountains look like one of those old hand-painted movie sets. Like in Brigadoon.”
“You know Brigadoon?! Damn. I did not expect that from a guy dressed like you.”
“I mean, you made me up. Plus, don’t you remember, you said that to him yesterday, your guy. The thing about Brigadoon.”
“Oh yeah… I did. It was beautiful, actually. Yesterday, I mean. The clouds were lower, and for most of the morning we all thought the mountains were just an extension of the sky, it was a cool trick of the eye. His friend pointed out at the water and said “look closer” and it took me a minute to see it.”
“It’s cool, something like a secret hidden in plain sight. ‘Hidden in plain sight,’ isn’t that one of those phrases that don’t translate well to German?”
“It is. I mean, if this was a Truman show scenario, if they tried to trap me on this island, maybe they picked the wrong year. This was the summer when I learned to brave the water. I’m stubborn. I wouldn’t care if the water was cold, I would swim out of here towards that questionable horizon…”
“…To find out if the mountains had been painted on?”
Just then, the waves kicked up. Well, they didn’t, but it would have been dramatic timing if they had.
I sighed, “I guess I wouldn’t brave the water with this tide. Plus, it’s different to swim in salt water. “
“So weak. So much for being stubborn, you’re already making excuses to get out of this escape. I guess you’re stuck on the island.”
“I mean, I didn’t bring a bathing suit, and you see the sign, you see the rules.”
“I would not mind watching you break the second rule.”
“I am sure you wouldn’t. But, I guess I made you up, so maybe you have seen it all before. Maybe we’ve been lovers for hundreds of years, maybe we’re vampires and braving the day because of the clouds. Maybe it’s hazy enough that we aren’t afraid of the sun. Maybe you have learned every atom of my skin, and forgotten it, and learned each freckle anew. Maybe you taught me to know my own body better than I knew how. Maybe we have loved each other so long that it’s a romance which has been killed and resurrected, reimagined, reborn, maybe…”
“Maybe you shouldn’t start writing cheap fantasy romance novels. It’s not your thing. Aren’t you supposed to be writing your book, anyways? The…novel thing, it’s a mystery, right?”
“Pfft, all this time that we have known each other, Andrew, yet you can barely remember what I am writing about! Yes, it’s a mystery novel, you jerk.”
“Andrew? Since when is that my name?”
“Since the first sentence.”
I took a private tour of Lisbon with a poet. She was intriguing and lovely, and all that. It was the best fifty bucks I’ve ever spent. We read poems aloud from Portuguese writers and took walks around corners of the city barely changed for centuries. At its best, poetry captures something eternal. Love is, of course, the most obvious subject immune to the whims of time. So we spoke of love.
She told me about her book, said she has been working on it for 7 years. She said,
It’s a story of two people falling in love
She said it is a story about the water, so she is traveling to the New Mexico desert to finish it.
(Thoughts: Maybe love needs to dry out in the sun to finish the story. Maybe new romance is a resilient succulent in unfriendly weather. Maybe I am molding/modeling something out of clay. Maybe I am wearing something away with time, sand, and wind. Maybe you are the last of my lessons, a polishing clean. Maybe I am already a resilient thing, built to withstand the heat.)
I asked her,
Are you in love?
Who are you in love with?
With a man.
(Thoughts: When I told the story of the tour to The Stranger he said, “That sounds like a date” and I said “I know, I was a bit nervous we would fall in love, but instead we just talked about it.”)
How long have you known him?
(Thoughts: Which was an indirect way for me to say, I am guessing it isn’t the same man who inspired the book. The energy when she said yes had that excitement to it of something new. The way she told me her book was a story of two people falling in love had the echo of something distant but gorgeous, of a sigh falling against a velvet curtain. )
Since the beginning of May or the end?
Since the end, why?
What day did you meet your love, exactly?
Hah! Because I met —- on the 28th
Oh wow, I love coincidences like that!
When did you two become exclusive?
It just happened naturally. It wasn’t hard. I mean, I have had sex with millions of people, there were times I was hooking up with everything around me.
Same. Same to both, actually. Though I don’t know if he realized. Once he kissed me, there was no one else. I went on dates but nothing happened, I kept telling myself to keep my options open but, my heart had already made the decision. When did you say you loved him?
He told me the first time we had sex. He just said, “This is how I feel, you don’t have do anything with it but this is what it is.” When did you tell —-?
I haven’t, yet.
I am hoping to start posting more regularly. I planned to start posting each week on Wednesday, but then…. yesterday was Wednesday and then it was today.
But, from now on you can expect regular posts here on:
I would love it if you subscribed if you haven’t already. You can do so via the menu at the top of the page.
Because I want to post more regularly, I will be combing through old writings, which means posts will not necessarily reflect my current day-to-day activities, keep that in mind.
You’ve been gone a week
And I am fine,
But my bed misses you.
It’s not me.
I do not care.
Not even a little.
But the sidewalk keeps mentioning you in conversation and,
I swear to God,
Yesterday a street lamp asked me where you have been,
Shouldn’t he be standing underneath me and kissing you right now? It’s a Friday.
If you don’t believe me, fine.
Ask the cobblestones,
Ask the cabinets,
Ask the church bells
They’ll all back me up.
There are a lot of corners of this city begging you to come home already.
Come home already.
I hope to spend my life doing something good, something big, but in the meanwhile I am happy to entertain a side project. Maybe good starts small.
It might be that my (minor) purpose in life was to hang around for a while and teach you how to love recklessly.
Teach you how to make your borders messy and your boundaries clean.
A while can be as long as you want it to be, baby.
Forever is just a while, if you look at it optimistically.
Recently my skin has been breaking out. Which makes me anxious. When I am anxious I pick at it. Which makes it worse. It’s a vicious cycle, shameful. It’s a bad habit I am trying desperately to stop. One technique I use is, when I feel the urge to pick at my skin, I instead describe 5 pleasurable sensations, and see if it helps calm me down. So, here is the antidote to my shame:
- Putting on my glasses when they are freshly cleaned
- The clicky keys of a 90‘s keyboard, specifically the one at the school library search desk
- Pouring precisely the right amount of sugar for a recipe in one go
- Beating down freshly proofed bread dough
- When you walk by me and stop to kiss my shoulder
- Slicing into a perfectly ripe avocado half
- A finger traced over a scar about which no questions are asked, a kiss on my kneecap
- The meaningful silence after two people sigh, their gazes averted
- The chime of a good morning text
- Picking the melted wax off a candlestick
- The second bite of something warm on a cold winter’s evening
- Your thumb caressing the side of my face
- Stepping onto a freshly paved street, afraid I might leave a footprint
- The ink reaching the end of the page
- The first district at 4 in the morning, when only the street lamps and the horses are awake
- The indelicate, borderline-obscene consumption of an overly-ripe peach, its juice running down my neck
- Washing the dirt off my feet under lukewarm water after I have spent the day outside in a park. It reminds me of walking in Paris, how my shoes were always dusty and unfashionable but I was free
- When you kissed my forehead in front of everyone while I thought we were still a secret
- My mother brushing her fingers through my hair
- Picking the label off a sweating bottle of beer
- The rumble of a modern train on old tracks
- Sitting in the passenger seat, your hand on my knee
- Prying a loose brick from an old wall
- The heavy chill of my grandmother’s pearl necklace
- Taking off my bra the moment I walk into the front door
- Ordering a cappuccino after dinner not because I need the caffeine but because I want the evening to continue
- Pulling the dried petals off an open rose
- Pressing ganache into unfilled macarons
- A borrowed sweater in a chilly room
- The clear and empty water of the Alte Donau on a rainy Tuesday morning when the dirt has settled and the entire river is mine
We’re back at F’s apartment. Plans were made to go out for the evening, but we got rained on during the walk back from dinner. Allegedly, he is going to change clothes, and then we will go back out into the night to pretend it isn’t almost past my bedtime. It’s going on midnight, and Vienna has been gifted with a proper thunderstorm, the kind which doesn’t give up after a few minutes.
F is tuning his clavichord by candlelight. He tells me he started playing this piece for the man that broke his heart. He started learning it but had only just now completed the entire thing, and the heartbreaker was out of the picture by the time his fingers had mastered the notes. F Wanted to perform it for him, but he will have to settle for me, his friend.
I open the window in his bedroom. I sprawl on the bed watching the lightning. The room is lit by two candles, each pillared in a rounded wine bottle. Shards of wax litter F’s desk from all the candles he has burned. There isn’t much in his room, a bed, a wardrobe, a half-dead tree, his clavichord. He is particular about the instrument, he keeps a humidity monitor in the room. The clavichord is wildly out of tune, but he refuses to turn on the light to better see and instead grabs the candle, holding it over the keys. I imagine in doing so he risks dripping wax onto the keys… I hold my breath. Thunder roars. He begins tuning by ear, then with a digital tuner, and then gives a resigned sigh about a pesky note and says, “I think that’s the best I can get now”
At last, as he starts playing the rain begins to fall. The timing is eerie. The instrument reminds me of a guitar, I don’t think I have ever heard one played before. It’s quiet enough not to disturb his roommates even at this hour. The wind attempts to pull the left window closed as if to say, this is a secret only for us.
If I could bottle this moment, with the breeze and the clavichord and the rain and the open window, I would. The bottle I used would be round. I would drink the memory dry in a week, then I would put candle after candle into the bottle. I would let the shards of broken wax litter my desk.
On Friday night I had a vivid dream that I called my mother on the phone. The sort of dream that seems so real it takes you a few hours after waking to realize it wasn’t.
I have had a lot of dreams about her since she died, but never one so real and so mundane.
Anyways, I was standing in the garden and telling her about my day. About our day. I wasn’t telling her about you, she already knew.
So, I guess that means she approves.