Tender is the word I will use when I look back on the first bright bursts of our love.
When we drank Irish whiskey in the park and undressed under stars, stars that have witnessed myriad such acts since the cosmic explosions and withdrawals whose eternal ballet conspired through a fantastically dizzying choreography to bring you to me, and me to you, and my McGill hoodie to the back of your closet, where it — and the memories of my first year at university it encapsulates — remains, I’m assuming.
It was cold that night. Do you remember how you described it? Colder than winter, in Hell, on Pluto, near Pluto’s coldest sea. Also your mother is there.
She never liked you, it’s true. But that didn’t matter, because I did. I liked you so much. I foolishly liked you so much, that even shirtless at midnight in a public park I felt not a single bone of chill, because I knew our veins were coursing with the reddest love. Your lips, however, were almost blue. You wrapped yourself in a blanket I brought as we kissed the color back into them.
The blanket was from Ikea.
The, uh, the black and white one? With the fringe-y black tassels? Have you… seen it around? Anywhere?
We took that blanket to the beach once. The summer when we went to your cousin’s graduation party on Catalina. It was opulent. Far too opulent for a fifth grader, I remember you saying. I agreed. And then asked the waiter for a new dolphin steak. Because I had clearly requested rare, and how simple is that?
Más rare?, he inquired.
Sí. Más rare. As rare as my signed copy of Wonder Boys that maybe you’ve likely finished reading by now, but totally no pressure if you haven’t.
I often think about your eyes the morning after, in Catalina. Your yawning eyes, your smiling irises. Dolphin blood at the corner of your mouth. You looked at me the way Alzheimers patients look at their caregivers when they bring a cup of fresh sauce crushed from the flesh of tart new apples. With surprise — limitless, delighted surprise. The degree of surprise usually reserved for moments like, you know, opening your sock drawer and discovering your passport is missing.
My fucking PASSPORT, Natasha. It’s a government-issued document and they’re not just going to give me a new one. I mean, come on. I have to go to Frankfurt in two weeks for a work funeral. Are you serious??
You always were.
I loved that about you, you know. I loved that about you most on rainy days, when you’d angrily refuse to leave the house. NO!, you’d scream. NO CHANCE! You hated summer storms the way your father hated immigrants — unfailingly, and without reason. I still can’t hear raindrops rap-tap-tap-tapping on the hoods of passing cars — their tire splashes shushing and shearing, the wetness of the asphalt misting up and soaking the lips of our curtains — without thinking about how serious you were about avoiding the rain (unless you were clutching the forest green Filson umbrella with the wood handle you borrowed from my grandfather’s house when we were there for Easter four years ago, which he keeps asking me about).
On nights that cold and wet we’d sometimes light a fire with wood we chopped together, laughing at the weight of the axe and how poorly I handled it. You, though. You with your grace and your determination. You with your grace and your determination and your axe-cutting panache and the axe my mother had given me as a gift for my birthday.
I cherished the act of chopping kindling with you. And driving with you! You are a fantastic driver. LET’S GO ANYWHERE, you’d scrawl in lipstick on my windshield. And we would.
Do you remember cruising through the redwoods outside San Francisco? In the Miata? The top down? The wind and your hair playfully flirting? I asked you several times to please park it outside my house and leave the keys in the mailbox? Do you remember? Have you at least renewed the plates?
I hope you have. I hope the plates have been renewed.
There have been so many tickets.
I’ll pay them, of course. It’s the law. And I’ll bring those tickets up when we see each other again. We will see each other again, of course. As we do, as people do; as we have done, as people have always done. On beaches. In small claims court. At the club. In civil circuit court. Standing in line at the hot new brunch spot. Standing in line to be x-rayed and frisked by various bailiffs.
And then, cruelly, we will see each other at the weddings of mutual friends, where we will act like acquaintances who never once purchased a 46" 4K television together.
Even at midnight at these weddings will we act like acquaintances, when the guests are encouraged to congregate outside, and further encouraged by a professional bandleader to dance slowly and closely with someone for whom their heart will always long.
We will meet eyes at this moment, and then quickly look away, focusing on an empty table a short distance away that’s heavy with smudged glasses of half-drunk Chardonnay and dying petals from a centerpiece the groom quietly hated. You thinking whatever it is your incredible mind is thinking, me thinking of the McGill sweatshirt I’ve had since I was 17 years old, when I was more careless with my heart, and with my things.
And then, further avoiding the unease that will always exist between us, we might look up.
Up at the stars that no one owns, that we all share, and that neither of us could ever, ever keep for ourselves.
Even if we tried.