You were. You were here like the first warm spring day. You ran your blues over me like the water runs down the riverbed and every Thursday you were gritty and every Thursday there was mud in my jaw.
You helped thaw the clenched fists the frost wrapped around the earth; you allowed the flowers to bloom. You helped shed my winter sweaters, my store-bought layers. And summer came, you said the heat peaked with the sun but nothing made me sweat like you.
You left in the fall because I fell. You left me to shiver in the dying leaves and bitter night that inhabited my smile. When I shifted into winter, I wore tank tops under my sweaters and put on my bathing suit to take baths.
You haven’t been back since we camped under the last rain of the last warm day, but don’t worry, I’ll continue to pull and iron your shirts left in my drawers and set your place at the table. I’ll wait up at night and listen for the sound of your car pulling into my driveway. And when I can’t remember your coffee-ground-in-the-carpet smell I’ll call your mother who stopped answering the phone and I’ll leave her a message so she knows I’m fine even though she’s stopped asking.
I know you’ll come back when you’re ready, so I’ll wait, because when you’re lost you’re supposed to wait in the last place you were together. You’re supposed to wait in the last moment you were whole. And so I am.
I see old men with old faces with sender girls half their ages, and I think of the way you used to slap my face. I think of the way you’d throw me into vases full of roses, beautiful glass spines snapping like the way you’d snap at me to bring you a beer, like the way you’d snap the top of my thigh-highs and the waistband of the panties you intentionally bought me two sizes too small. I think of your Tom Waits records and I wait for your ghost to stop breathing down the back of my neck. I think, I’m glad you’re gone, ‘cause I’m finally alone, I’m glad you’re gone, but I wish you’d come home.
I think of the way it wasn’t always like that.
Like Clytie, I rose from the sea fresh as mint leaves. I gave myself to you yet unloved, yet unbroken, and you turned your warmth toward me only long enough to burn me raw.
I think of the dusty light filtering through the shed door slats, one hand on my waist and one over my mouth. I wasn’t planning on screaming, but you always liked to be prepared. With all the deftness and dexterity of a brain surgeon high on angel dust you remove your hand from the jut of my newly sprouted hip and point to the plywood ceiling, to the Sistine chapel of photos and bruises. You kiss me like a right hook. I let you.
I think of Helios, and how instead of Clytie he loved her sister.
I think of the time you broke my teapot.
I think of the time you broke my collarbone.
I think of how I’m glad that’s the closest I ever let you get to breaking my heart.
I think of the way I’m glad you’re gone.
I don’t eat in the living room anymore because I know you hated when I left crumbs on the couch. I don’t paint my nails black anymore, and I always pin back my bangs because I know you never thought I was feminine enough. From the folds of my brain the poison, the toxic ideas of what else I’d be willing to give up to have you back, flows and I can feel my sanity dissolving in its acidity.
My vision is blurred, and my head is throbbing with such ferocity that I can hardly stand. Since I can’t seem to hold myself up without your hand tugging on my elbow, I kneel down on the tacky green rug that you insisted on placing in front of our bed and pray. I’m begging an absent being for another taste, another touch, another chance to make you listen, and Christ this is embarrassing. Let me confess my sins, let me sacrifice my pride at your altar.
You can be right, I’ll be the bad guy. Punish me, bruise me, beat me. I’ll admit, I deserve it this time. Let’s talk about it. You know I hate confrontation and late-night conversations but we can stay up until the morning comes back around if that’s what it takes. You can scream at me, I promise I won’t scream back because the sobbing has made my voice far too hoarse to handle much more than a whisper.
What do you want me to do? I’m done fighting back, I’ll let you in, I’ll let you win. You say I never saw it your way, you say that I never understood you. But please, I need you.
I’m tired. I’m four nights insomniatic tired. I’m uranium bones and Marianas-entrenched eyes sunk so deep in my skull it takes cold shower cocaine just to keep them open.
If you were here, I’d tell you about the little girl who passes our front porch on her yellow bike every Wednesday and about how upset it makes me when she doesn’t wave back. I’d tell you my new theories on my mother, and that I’ve figured out why I still hate Gone With the Wind. If you were here, you’d call me pathetic for sleeping until four in the afternoon in your pale-blue dress shirt. If you were here, I wouldn’t need to sleep in your pale-blue dress shirt. But you’re not here, so I cover my back with that cheap cotton-blend because I can’t seem to nod off without your scent in my lungs or the color of your eyes in my line of vision, and I can’t seem to get up because I know I can only ever find you in my subconscious.
It’s empty here. It’s empty coffee cups bleeding brown rings into the granite countertops. It’s your empty side of the bed, your empty hangers in your empty closet, but most of all, it’s your empty eyes in all our photographs reminding me you were never really here.
Everything is grayscale and I only feel hums, not the hums of your Ford but the hums of the downstairs radiator and the vibrations are just enough to keep me alive at night. I don’t have your cracked voice whispering Johnny Cash to lull me to sleep. I don’t have you. It’s easier to cut my hair five inches shorter, stay underwater five seconds longer, come out of it five times weaker than it is to call your mother again. I’m sure her answering machine is full of me and she’s sick of me. Taste buds change every seven years, what’s going to happen if I find your brew or Cabernet have turned sour? I’m incarcerated to the shadows and I can’t find your hand.
Your sister took me to the doctor last week after she found me half-way gone in the half-full tub. But I’ve stopped taking the pills he prescribed because they made me numb and if I can feel the ache in my stomach, the lump in my throat or the pain that still radiates through my collarbone when it rains, then I’ll know that you’re really not coming back. I’ve been cool colors and cool under pressure and I’ve been fire-engine red hot pissed the fuck off at you for the goodbye notes you didn’t leave and the grocery lists that you did but now I’m just tired, honey, I am.
I’ve been tired. I’ve been 4-cups-of-coffee tired. I’ve been blue. You’ve been you. You’ve been gone.
I thought that if I tore my soul apart and gave you scraps of it, you’d come back to cover me with a beautiful garment that you’d weaved together using the tattered pieces of fabric.
But that’s not happening. We’re not happening. I’m happening and I can’t continue to be happening if I keep pretending that you’re going to come patch me up.
And now when I say I’m fine, I’m fine. I’ll never be great, but I’ll never be worse.
I’m awake now. I’m wide eyed and wild again. I’m built up hands and aching rotary cuffs and strained back muscles but I’m shouldering the weight of the world again. You won’t be back to see it. You’ve been gone.
You’ve been gone and now it’s my turn.
Did you know the ancient Chinese valued their pottery so highly that when a piece of porcelain broke, they filled the cracks with liquid gold? I’m done filling the cracks you left in my teapot, in my collarbone, in the Sistine chapel of our childhood shed.
I won’t lose anymore of myself to find you again.
I don’t need you sewing up my seams. I’m leaving our plates. I’m leaving your shirts wrinkled. I’m leaving.
Let death tremble to take the girls who run with wolves.
Ailey Clark—”I once sat next to a 7-year-old boy on a carnival ride. Glowing, he turned to me and told me it was the first time he was able to get on by himself, because he had just grown tall enough to meet the height requirement. As we were spinning upside-down through the air, he slipped through his harness and fell to his death. His head hit the ground with such force that the pavement seemed to instantly turn crimson. He was smiling the whole way down.”
Stefanie Johndrow— “My 3-year-old cousin’s Wrightsville blue eyes haven’t been the same since she realized our great-grandmother was dead, since she learned what dead is. I remember before we walked into the funeral home she told me we were the ocean. She’s an excellent swimmer.”
Gabrielle Reed—”I have not been published before, unless of course you count the classroom newspaper I ran in the fifth grade. I did help to edit a short story by a friend of mine that was published in the newspaper The Daily Item. The moment I remember the most about my life is the first time she was spiked at a cross-country meet. It didn’t hurt until someone told me I was bleeding. Then, I felt every drop of salty sweat hitting the open wound and dropped to the ground like I had been tasered.”
Olivia Wolfe— “The wind is whispering through the trees. It’s spreading vicious rumors about you. Mean old wind. Stop it, wind. I thought we were past this.”