mapping space and silence in solitary rooms

1.

I both want and do not want to see him, to slide into that dream again, where hours trickle and never count, and syllables roll off our tongues toward no conclusion. When we talk, the world becomes a place I’d like to linger in a while longer—not a globe spinning in darkness and dust, but a shelter made of driftwood leaning against an outcropping by the sea. In the middle of this space, on the white sand floor, is a pit of burning pine, perfuming the air with smoke, until the crackling of the fire stills and its embers hide in coal crevices, quivering in the wind. There was a time when all I wanted was to curl into a shell and echo the blue ocean. Then there were nights when I strained to hear his voice echoing across the sea. Waves break the tracings of starlight on water to lie down on the shore, cry hush! and crawl away. The seconds tick by like pins dropping. In this dream, nothing really happens.

2.

If breathing is hoping then my every breath is a wish for there to be more than what there is. Lying spread-eagled on a mat on a polished beech floor, listening to soft, tinkling notes floating in the dense air, I imagine my breath coursing through my body, from the heels of my feet, through the length of my spine, to the tips of my fingers, to the crown of my head. This is supposed to calm me, if I could surrender my mind to the current of breath and cling to no weighty thought, render the mind impervious to tides of aversion and desire. Then the wordless music changes to a familiar song, and all I could think about is that morning in the highland café where we had breakfast after days of traveling, and how I drew back into silence when he played cheerful melodies that were all about giving up and leaving.

3.

There is more glass than I know what to do with in the nooks and surfaces of my room—bottles and jars that used to contain ginger seltzer or iced flavored tea, jam or crunchy peanut butter. Some bottles I turned to pencil-holders, some jars to containers for sugar, cream, chocolate, and instant coffee. The bigger jars hold tchotchkes from places faraway: wooden charms and beaded bracelets, key rings, a cat head carved out of stone. On my bedside table is a jar of folded notes in orange, mint green, and blue, an archive of dates and memories of things that have made me happy since the turn of the year: a new book, a letter from a student, an evening out with him. Last night I opened the jar and found that most of the notes were about evenings out with him. I was not surprised, though I wondered if I found more pleasure in more things before he came along. What I don’t write down, I forget, and only recently did I think to record what made me happy. I know that happiness expires on the examination table. I don’t know if I thought that by writing about him, I could make him somehow stay. The notes are meaningless now, they evoke no emotion. I am tempted to drop three lit matchsticks into the jar and watch the scraps of paper burn.

4.

In a box in the bottom drawer of my closet, I keep his last birthday gift: a 70-year-old Coke bottle, cloudy and slightly bent out of shape, that he salvaged from a beach in a town ravaged by the strongest storm. My problem with gifts like this is that I overthink their symbolic significance (perhaps my general problem is that I overthink). Once, after a few beers, I asked him what the gift meant, and he said that it meant nothing more than what it was: an old bottle glinting in picturesque light, unbroken into sea glass. He likes old things for their accumulated years. I like old things only for their accumulated meanings. So I am keeping the bottle to fill with the dry-pressed stems of cut flowers—a reminder that even the sweetest tokens might turn to trash when meaning is not constantly remade.

5.

I write about him shamelessly, to exorcise him. About what he might feel if he read these words, I harbor no illusions—my absence is benign, and leaves no laceration—he must scarcely notice that I am gone. Miss missive, missing, left to seek refuge in the pages of books, leaving a trail of afterthoughts. But love, remember, all I write here is tinged with fiction; I write not of life but from it. If any of these words hurt, you could choose not to believe them—think: That is not what she meant. This is a story, not a letter, and, after all, you have never asked me how I felt. Why stop now.

instructions for use

because my friends say I think too much about how best to love another, and not enough about how I wish to be loved

 

A. Mind

  • to have my intelligence reckoned with, to not feel that I have to dumb myself down or hold my opinions back so as not to bruise another’s ego; to have my inner scatterbrain occasionally go out and loll around
  • to be engaged in conversation about topics of interest, from music, art, and philosophy to literature and languages, to politics and economics to nature and culture to travel to fitness to technology, sociology, psychology, geology, biology, even astrology—to feel my education broadening everyday
  • to have my beliefs both respected and critically interrogated or corrected with kindness and curiosity

B. Heart

  • to feel listened to, with attention, sincerity, and empathy
  • to be held close when I feel most insignificant, senseless, and alone
  • to be told that I am appreciated and loved, in the language of words, of gestures, of effort and time

C. Body

  • to be touched much and in many places
  • to be accompanied on long walks
  • to be joined in running, hiking, camping, dragonboat paddling, or in meditation and yoga practice, to be taught how to swim, bike, surf, rock/wall-climb, or fight in self-defense

D. Accounts

  • to not be made to feel guilty when I spend on things and experiences I appreciate: books, movies, food, coffee and tea, travel, yoga and other classes, yet
  • to be encouraged in being money-wise and living well within my means, to be shown the way how
  • to be treated with graciousness and generosity by one who knows how to handle a woman who likes to pay once in a while

E. Communications

  • to be greeted good morning and good night, to be asked if I got home safely
  • to be told what one is feeling, thinking, or doing, to be confided in, to be consulted when in doubt
  • to always get an answer when I ask a question, to be thanked when I extend help, grant a favour, or voice concern, to be reassured when I express anxiety or longing, to be affectionately poked fun at and made to laugh

F. Warnings

  • I do not strive to cultivate myself and my life only to have it all amount to somebody’s backlog or distraction.
  • I use my talents and resources to enrich the life of the person I love; I expect a relationship to similarly add value to mine, and help me hone my character and attain my goals.
  • I choose to love with intelligence, to use my mind so I can live with heart, and to forego useless suffering. I am training in the art of letting go.

five nights

1
Scarlet streetlight slinks through the rain-dashed windowpane and the flimsy, checkered blue curtains of the bus to fall dappling on your eyelids and the ends of your long lashes, your cheekbones, your thick, barely parted lips. I lean my head on the cold glass to sleep. You wake and call my name.

2
I press my cheek against your blanket, still oddly warm and smelling of bread and sleep and home. You stumble in at midnight, throw a heavy quilt over my chest, and grab a pillow before stretching out on a rug on the hardwood floor. I consider kicking the covers off the side of the bed and onto your yawning face.

3
Waking up in the half-dark lying not quite next to you, I ponder the distance of dreams and the boundaries of skin as I count the hours to daylight. I listen to the low hum of your breathing and watch the small movements of your limbs pulling at the covers, sweeping across the bed, shifting the planes and angles of your body. Your left hand disappears under the waistband of your shorts, tugging and twisting. Your eyes remain closed.

4
I rue the rain, the dogs howling in the courtyard, the almost-empty house, our pitch-dark room, the chilly air, the warm shower, the soft linen, the matrimonial bed, and you lying what seemed like leagues away on a bench against the wall. I turn away from you to face the dresser mirror and curl like an ear into myself.

5
I consider the repercussions of laying my head on your shoulder as you snooze and start while the bus lumbers on. I make two or three attempts, closing the gap between my hair and your throat, slowly, slowly. You stir and tilt your head toward the aisle. I gaze out the window, longing for home.