It’s just past midnight, and I get the text. Can you? I exhale, breath colliding against the whirr of the fan. My cat watches, puzzled, as I climb right back down. An overnight bag: toothbrush and toothpaste, contact solution and lens case. My eyes aren’t ready for lenses just yet, so I squeeze my eyelids shut as they adjust.
I open them, red and purple toothbrushes coming into focus in the wastebasket below.
Outside the warmth is unseasonable. I stand in it, for a moment, feel my body adjust to the breaking of routines. It feels like college, this. Going outside into the night when we all know we’d be better served by bedtime. Here, in the wee hours, the rules seem to dissolve a bit.
Stories swell in the interruptions. We are never more present in our bodies than when we are surviving something.
I’m never the same kickball player two games in a row. On this afternoon, for reasons I don’t understand, I know exactly what I’m doing. A ball rockets into the sky, and I am bolting to meet its descent. When it thunks into my chest, I am not surprised, not even particularly elated. Later, bases loaded, I kick the ball right into an opening in the field, watching with a grin as runs pour in.
An hour passes, and I am walking the city beneath the sun-soaked blue. My strides are long, mighty, like my legs will carry me anywhere. In a window, I catch my reflection, and I stop to study myself. I feel, for the moment, beautiful. The slope of my shoulders, the warmth behind my eyes. My arms are refuge, my smile boyish and ready. I feel free.
Events stack up in the aftermath: I see a man on the sidewalk and we agree to hang out for real this time. I’m in the bar with a microphone, announcing finales. I dance beneath changing lights, cradle a friend’s face. I stoop to sit on a tree stump, calling to make sure somebody’s okay. There is no answer. I am at a bar, and a familiar face asks about my life. I pause, update him, and he tilts his head, offers kind words.
Days later, the same man posts a picture online, and I recognize the living room behind him. Nintendo Switch games in a neat stack behind his shoulder. My stomach sinks, and I am reminded of the many times I was supposed to be thrilled for you. I wanted to feel enthusiastic, excited –– at the least, calm.
It isn’t what I feel.
Sometimes, the story we’re living just isn’t congruent with the story we want to tell. When this happens, it’s like somebody rearranged your apartment, replaced the furniture. None of it quite feels like home.
To make room for you, I cleared out a space right in the center, and everything else stacked up in the margins. My walkways became narrower; unconsciously, I adjusted my gait. These days, I am pacing the floor, letting intuition guide my hands as I make my life home again. To love you was an interruption; to love myself is a return.
I am, in moments, angry. I am sad, am nostalgic, am bruised. If I’m honest, though, I am most often relieved. I am more myself, more present in my own being, than you ever made possible.
I tuck a Polaroid in a drawer of miscellaneous things. Everything I take down from the wall, I am reminded, makes way for something new.