It was just a night out. It was just another formal event. Hundreds of others would be laughing, talking, dancing. Did any of them feel that trepidation in their blood?
That clenching of muscles and nerves.
I hung back against the low brick wall in the garden. Already, clusters of people had gathered about the hotel entrance. Smoke and laughter filled the air, accompanied by bits of song. My dress caught against the coarse texture of the wall, as if expressing my reluctance to go forward.
Hide. Stay where it is safe. Stay in the quiet. He will not find you here.
But even if I hid, life would happen without me. Life would even find me in the darkness of that courtyard garden. Even if I hid, he would still exist. He would still be dancing, drinking, laughing.
My anonymity in the darkness would not save me.
I pulled my skirt off of its cold rough fortress. Forward. It was just another night out. No need to over dramatize. No need to contemplate that destiny would make or break me the minute we came face to face. Destiny doesn’t stop when you’d rather not participate. Even your choice to be passive is an action, because you chose.
Go on. Join the fray. You’ll kill them all in that dress.
It’s just another night out.
And as if out of no where everything was shutting down.
I was again that child in the darkness, afraid of the void in every shadow. It had been months now since the deaths and I’d been coping.
I’d finally come out of my cave, felt like the world could live again. That I could be a part of it again. Seen beauty in the rising sun.
And now. Now.
Again I was a canoe in the middle of the sea. No land in sight. And who could say what slightest turbulence could send me under.
The plunge. The gulping. The cold. The dark.
And the knowledge. The knowledge I’d learned at age ten. Summer camp. Achievement awards.
You can’t deep water rescue a canoe without lifting it on top of another boat.
And this is what is killing me: that I cannot share love with the one I love. That the love I have can only cause hurt. That grief can kill affection. That grief can kill you while you are still alive.
Maybe she should just let it all go.
If he always found a way to condescend to her, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
The smoke from her cigarette seemed to give life to her thoughts, asking questions from her to the cosmos. Perhaps that was the charm of smoking. A conversation with the air.
She wasn’t much for being treated like a child. But if she asked for respect she might lose him all together.
The stand still. The risk.
Love was never easy.
She shifted her stance, leaning against the stone wall of the hotel entrance. Her figure shrouded in a long dark raincoat, promising of a noir dream.
The only tangible, committed relationships she’d ever been in were a compromise. A survival tactic. Never built on real love, the kind that stops your heart.
She hugged the wall under the awning, watching the rain muddle the reflection of the street lamp on the drowning pavement. She drew out another cigarette. Just buy enough time to finish her thoughts.
He stopped everything. Heartbeat or the world turning.
Why did the times she shared a real love wreck everything? No matter how mutual the affection something always stood in the way. Or maybe she’d just never been loved.
But now? Him?
Even these thoughts he’d deride. Tell her, her writing missed the mark. Tell her how wrong she was. Tell her what she meant or felt. He could always find a way to condescend.
Her cigarette threatened extinction, inching ever closer toward the filter. So often her smoking would pass faster than her thoughts resolve themselves.
Was he trying to lessen the sting? Was he trying to deflect the love that slipped past his defenses?
He could cheapen it all with his, “knowing better,” with the superiority of his age, that stab of calling her a romantic. He could treat her like she was a handful and use that to cheapen everything about her.
The cherry glowed and sputtered out as it hit the watery pavement.
Is it better to burn than to fade away? Is it better to leave than to be replaced?
The words always hung on our lips, like the years that trembled on Daisy’s. They spilled to the air, but never the ear. Always silent between our eyes.
All the things he had tried to tell me. A scattered explanation. The shatterings of a heart. In the silence of a glance. The hookah pluming between us. And our hearts like the smoke, hanging in the balance of the thick air.
He thought that he was a time bomb. At any moment he would say the wrong thing, let one thing go and-
The whole relationship gone. And anything he cared about in himself with it.
He was always afraid of hurting me. But in truth I was the suicide bomber. I was the one with a timer inside. A trigger that no one knew about that could be pulled at any second. A ticking, flashing that anything might activate and then-
Cause there’s no telling how far the blast will go and if you’ll be able to survive.
Get out of here. Before you kill him. Before you kill yourself. Get out of here. Before it’s all too late.
He tried so many times to tell me to go. Tell me he’d break me. Tell me he’d kill me. But I waited. I stayed.
Get this timer out of me.
Because killing you will be the death of me.
“Just because I check my gun at the door doesn’t mean my brain will change from a hand grenade.”
There were a thousand walls between us because there were none. I could slip past his defenses, so he threw them all up. I could see right through him, so he’d lie. Say I was wrong. Pass off. Condescend. Belittle.
And even I would fall for his facades. Like Middle Eastern warfare tactics. Illusion, evasion. Maybe they learned it from mirage.
The truth was, I needed to let it go. If he put up defenses so desperately, then there really must be something to protect. No matter how much I might think I was helping, I wasn’t.
If you love me, let me go.
“She spoke and dreamt in love, and he dreamt in death and loss.”
There was nothing in the world that could break the barrier between them. No words, crass or eloquent, no actions, bold or refined.
No word or touch of love.
Could anything find him in the wasteland? Or would he only hate himself more, knowing she endured it to find him.
No, her word or touch of love only jarred him. With the idea something could be outside of this. That idle hope, that pipe dream that he could escape this. No, no. Any love for him would drag her into this. Any love would bring her down.
And he knew, too, that she had a wasteland of her own. A place he had no strength to enter. And he would never ask her to find him in his when he could not endure hers.
“And if we survive this desolation, perhaps our journeys will bring us along the same path.” She said in a whisper.
“When I am no longer chaos and your love no longer poison to my heart.” He pulled her close for a moment and closed his eyes before both of them let go.