shelf life.

I’m sitting, let’s say, at a coffeeshop. Soy latte nestled between my palms, my friend across the table, staring vaguely off as he ponders life. Abruptly, a stressful thought strikes and then lifts away. I clear my throat, ask my friend ‘say that again,’ and feel my body running through its fight-or-flight bullshit. What am I worried about? I search and search but can’t pinpoint it. I am, I realize, acutely aware of my heartbeat, of shrill machines, of the music saturating the scene.

A stressful thought, arriving and going, staining everything in its wake. It always takes a few minutes for the color to come in clear again, for the sounds to sync up with the images. The worry has a short shelf life, its usefulness even shorter.

This happened today, and I wondered if the stressful thought was you. I decided it wasn’t. I’m not sure I was right.

A person can have the same effect. Arriving suddenly and disappearing, messing up the color of everything for a while. It’s okay, the world will course-correct. Just keep breathing as your body debates whether you should tear shit up or run like hell.

What, exactly, am I supposed to do with this story?

In our last conversation together, you admit that you hate my need to ‘put everything out there.’ I’m sorry, I guess. I’ve always been this way, sharing my story as I’m discovering it. A friend once told me I plant a garden where my pain is, visiting and nurturing it and, eventually, sharing the fruit that grows from it. The analogy made my eyes well up.

I’m also not one to suffer in silence. My mom tells a story that, when circumcised, I cried in indignation until I tuckered myself out.

So, tender gardener or outraged infant, I am here with a story I do not understand how to sort. This will not, I know, live on to be one of my life’s great love stories. Neither was it horror, my predilection for hyperbole notwithstanding. It was human, I know, and it was predictable and messy and stupid and brave.

I study the shelf, wonder just where to shelve you. I promise I will soon start to tell the story without mentioning your name. These pages will yellow, collect dust.

I won’t etch a title into the binding.

I wake up feeling relieved. I run in the hotel parking lot, golden leaves skittering underfoot. The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go. Two autumns in a row, but now we’re in agreement. Peace knocks at the door, and I invite him in to stretch out and take a nap on the sofa.

I am a hundred miles from the city, and to be faraway yields hope. I will be hopeful for you, and faraway, and we will both write better stories for it.

There is anger, too. Time lost, tears shed, memories to set down and let loose. I don’t invite anger inside, just meet him at the door and encourage him onward. I’ve no need for his company; it has always only made me feel lonely.