by Jaclyn Reed
Sometimes I forget we were those kids wading naked in the stream; how we carved our initials in bark with a pocketknife, tumbled down the slope, and stomped through a foot of mud to be alone. We made a tree branch our laundry line, regarded each other for the first time in the brush with water up to our knees. You were the first to see my whole picture—certainly the first to call my bent corners mis-strokes and my singed edges artful. You traced the underside of my breasts like you knew the path my future reduction scars would take, trailed your fingers along my vertebrae as though you felt the bones disintegrating, a rotting support beam under my skin. You have always been inside me that way, pacing in my lower corridors, drumming on the locked boxes. I told you too much and not enough, and somehow this is still a problem.
We look at photos of those kids like we were not them, like they were people we met once upon a time, like they exist only in perfumed memories—the few we have; it turns out serotonin is important for more than mood adjustment. Sometimes, I think we are still those kids tussling on the couch in my parents’ loft, falling in love to the trumpeting of 60s television and comic-book origin stories. I catch glimpses of that boy in the way you tighten loose screws, in the tone you use to scold inanimate objects. I think I miss him in the most primal ways, on days I’m too much like that girl, still seething and bitter, wanting to carve bad days into my leg instead of into the blank page. I’d like to think I left her behind that night on your bed in December, red lines raked up my calf; you held my ankle still on your thigh, so still—the way the stream held us in October. You asked: Do you feel better? You haven’t had to ask again.
Edison said he never failed, only discovered 2000 ways not to make a lightbulb. We’ve discovered 3000 ways not to love. But certainty was never a problem for you when it came to us. You noticed me across a landscaped yard and decided I was yours, and I, at some point between ‘go’ and ‘away,’ decided I wanted to be. We were babies then, are still sometimes babies now, and we cared more about the future, the silence, the baggage locked in storage bins. Mostly we worried too much about growing up because everyone told us not to. You told me I can’t be a good person without admitting I will make mistakes. We made many mistakes, and I think that made us better—to each other at least—no matter what else we became. I wish I’d counted the men you’ve been since you were that boy in the stream, and recorded the number of your funerals I’ve attended. Some regenerations were gradual, others slipped in while we fortified walls, through windows we forgot to lock. Grieving is not linear, the process is derailed by triggers balanced on exposed nerves: a thumping bass, a hotel room, wicker porch furniture.
Someday, we’ll be lost again in crisis, drama, doomsday. I will remember who you were, and you who I was. We will forget how many lifetimes ago we were those people, search for ghosts in our bed, and be disappointed to feel flesh. I’ll think we should have stayed in that stream, sunk to the bottom, built a home in the mud where no mortal could trespass. I’ll dream of who we could have been had we lived like nymphs, never knowing entitled roommates or chemical burns, credit scores or euthanasia, how holes get punched in walls or what happens to a body after it’s buried.
Eventually, I’ll realize I wouldn’t miss those people. I think I’ll miss the people we are now, the chocolate-town apartment we rent, the zoo we keep to fill it. Dusted in the ashes of the World Trade Center, we were programmed by flip phones and virtual reality, radicalized by ignorance and irreverent comedy specials and our need to be better than the people we’d once looked up to. Lost in time as much as we were lost in ourselves, we realized that lost doesn’t mean alone, and learned too late that being kind sometimes means not being nice. Our ancestors appreciated the beauty of broken things, and we’re just figuring out how to do that; still, I think I’ll miss us now: living as far from the edge as possible, loving as lightly as we are able, staving off self-destruction despite being made of gunpowder in a world on fire.
01_31.snow07 by jcbonbon via Flickr