mapping space and silence in solitary rooms


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.


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.


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 drop three lit matchsticks into the jar and watch the scraps of paper burn.


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.


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.


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