in the time since.

by Michael King

I sat down to write tonight, and I’ve done more backspacing than building. When did I get so cautious about stacking words into worlds?

Part of me wonders if I’m still shaking off scar tissue from this goddamn pandemic, from watching the world grind to a halt, all the calendar days shaken loose, falling in defeat to the hardwood floor. Am I hesitant to write because I’m afraid everything will change mid-sentence?

I’ve been able to write in flashes. In an age of trusting only the present, my poetry has flourished. I’ve got poems on the melancholy view of a world through a window, poems on surprise glimpses of love, on the stories that surprised me on a hard damn year, on the moments a man felt unprecedented, on friendships like buoys in the swallowing vast. But to write paragraphs, to sit with the life I’ve been carving out and try to arrange it into something real and solid, has felt beyond reach.

I am still training my hands to be gentle in their carrying of this self. I am an impatient healer, a lifelong devotee to the idea that I can will my way through most anything, and I don’t know what to do with a voice box that chokes where it once knew to say something.

I’ve written this, some version of it, four or five times. They don’t need to know you don’t know what to say, some part of me grumbles, and yet this pours out every time I start wringing. Held hostage, once more, by the the most honest thing growing within me.

I read through old writing tonight. I think I hoped, in doing so, I’d remember my rhythms. Instead, I found myself stretching the stories out beneath the light, squinting in wonder at how time has changed everything and nothing.

A few weeks ago, I shared a conversation with an ex, somebody I hadn’t spoken with in years. We were clumsy in our cadences, tentative in the exchange. How does this go? Eventually, at least partly, we fell into step, exchanging jokes and updates. At some point, he asked me a question in earnest: Did I regret our time together? The answer, simple as an exhale, was no. Our story had its time and place, and we left both of those boys behind to become ourselves, two men messaging one another across geographies.

I study myself in the mirror and search for signs of aging. I am reminded of being a child, my younger sister and I wading out into the ocean and jumping along ocean waves. How certain we were we’d remained in the same spot, our feet lifting and falling onto the same sand, only to turn around and find we’d drifted fifty-one houses away from our family. So it is with time, and so I study my face and strain to see parts of me I am beginning to let go to make room for what’s next.

I am a different lover, thankfully, than I was at 22. And 25. And 29. My understanding of what love is, can be, the shapes it can take, has evolved right along with my story. In so many ways, I am still the same, my heart in love a wellspring of poetry and playlists and gestures big and small, but I have shed a few old habits. No more swallowing what I need or explaining away the hard parts of somebody I’m trying to love. I want to see him, want to show myself, in the honest light. I understand love, now, to be far more flexible than I’d imagined, stretching itself to grow and flourish in whatever container it finds.

We find our reflections a hundred different ways – in old photographs, in new lovers, in the stories we once lived – and we are reminded of time, brushing us tenderly onward underfoot.

Today, a friend and I reminisced about how, the very first time we met, we felt like friends from past lives rediscovering one another. I remember seeing him, introducing myself and driving him to a dinner with a few other people, and realizing, oh, we are going to be friends. Two and a half years later, drunk on the hardwood floor of my first New York apartment, we discovered we’d both felt it. We drank more, laughed like boys, kept telling each other, in different ways, how much we loved each other.

If anything has been a thread through this timeline, it is the love I didn’t plan for. People who wandered into my life, saw me, and decided to stay. There are people who have loved me through every era of my being, through bad haircuts and worse clothing choices, through heartbreaks and triumphs alike. I am bewildered, sometimes, by the fact that I am loved by people who have seen me on my ugliest day, found me in the deepest tangle of shame, stayed with me through the worst thing I’ve ever done.

I am still learning to love the hard parts of myself, still working to believe that I can be seen in the honest light and still so powerfully loved. Time has changed so much and so little. In this way, I hope the ocean around me devotes to its motions, gently guiding my feet, ushering me onward, onward, onward.