In my head, it goes like this.
We go out to dinner, lazing away hours in our favorite haunts: the neighborhood Thai joint where my first question is always whether they have mango sticky rice for dessert, the Indian fusion place in the city, where I took him for his birthday, and of course, our favorite, Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar and Restaurant, where he once proclaimed, watching me giddily peruse the dessert menu, “God help us the day this place doesn’t make you happy.”
Everywhere, we move the place settings so we can sit next to each other, because that’s how I prefer it, his head bowed close to my mine, our thighs bumping, my back within easy reach of the hand he will periodically place there, his shoulders where I can circle them.
We try to see at least one movie, maybe a drama or a thriller, where he will laugh, as the tension builds, at my overly expressive facial expressions and the rapture with which I tend my popcorn addiction, and I will press my nose to his cheek at odd intervals and then my lips, lingering for just a moment before returning my eyes to the screen. As the credits roll, we sit, holding hands, the last to leave as the lights go up, as if doing so beforehand would break some bubble, some secret, silent world that is ours and ours alone.
We go to a concert and walk in the park, huddle in cafés and meander through bookshops, every date a bright and unwrapped joy.
At home, we read poetry and sing each other silly songs, creating ragtag odes to everything from our morning coffee to our non-existent butler and the love that pins us, like burning stars, to an endless stretch of night sky.
Sometimes I call to him — “Hey, booboo” — only to meet his expectant gaze with a drawn-out, exuberant “Hi” as if he’s just walked through the door and I can’t contain my excitement at seeing him — except we’ve been together for hours and he’s only sitting on the opposite end of the couch reading. But he chuckles and I beam before we return to our books.
It’s our own “goober” language, the goofy, affectionate, ever-expanding vocabulary we’ve been building to encompass the countless small and endearing moments that fasten our togetherness. And in those days, we goober nonstop, just as we cuddle frequently and almost fiercely, talking with our hands and our eyes, leaking love until we’re practically soaked with its scent.
This is how I imagine it, again and again, even clasped to the weight of a withering reality. Because after five and a half years, I want to remember this: the splendor that was us. I want to remember it in full, the sweep of an effortless radiance, not these glimmers and ghosts that have come to flash through our days.
I want to know the deep pleasure of his nearness, to feel my heart spinning around its own sun at the grin in his voice, to recall how the days just knowing I would see him ran wild with the sweetest ache.
I almost tell him this, entreat him: If down is where we’re headed, then let us blare our glory, forget what has been stolen and live, for even a fragment, in the luster of the heart. But perhaps to do so would fell a necessary fortitude.
For the other words we have been skirting are those that fill us with fear. We have been trying, for months, to find our way back from an abyss, to piece together a new way of being with an old struggle. The hopeful moments haven’t surmounted our rickety progress. And we are tired and frustrated — and still so much in love.
I rest here, in that space, comforting and so familiar, maybe more than I should. And I cling to his nobility, see him standing beside me at my father’s grave, having crossed an ocean to watch me bury a man he’d never even met. I feel the grip of his fingers, clutching mine, as he sits in the room with me during a surgical procedure and feel them softening against my face as he wipes the tears I helplessly cried afterward. There is still the tender gratitude for his decision to take both my mom and me to dinner the Valentine’s Day after she lost her partner Lou, so much thankfulness for how he loved my family, called upon them as his own.
He is the love of my life.
But sometimes the walls close in to push us to something else. And because I see how holding on is keeping him from all he needs to give to himself and because the last thing he wants is for me to compromise my happiness, this is where we are.
Standing at the door, in an embrace neither one of us wants to break, with “I love you” the prayer we repeat over and over because “Goodbye” is just too hard.
And then he is kissing me as tears stream down my cheeks, and telling me, with a tug on my jacket, to be good to myself.
The door closes, and somewhere, in a faint and unimaginable distance, I know another is swinging open — though letting go is the first and most painful step to risk to arrive on the other side.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times