Even when I’m not a vagrant there are days I get the taste of gin and cinders on my tongue again. Waking up skeletal, bare as bone, with nothing but a name. Veins poking from a sleeve, revealing what I’m made of, like wires from old headphones you get ashamed to pull out in public. Some days leave me feeling ends-less, frigid and grey as the clouds I’m blowing smoke circles at from the balcony of my house. The air feels wet, the grass shimmers just a little greener, and as I take a breath I’m thrown to somewhere that isn’t here. Smell, they say, is most directly linked to memory, so there must been a scent of the early 2000’s perspiring in the grass of Trump’s America.
I was nostalgic, I guess. Remiss of the past, the way a particular type of weather reminds you of that time in third grade when it was raining, the day you saw Samantha scrape her knee in the PS 143 playground. A gash so long you couldn’t tell where it began or ended. You can’t even remember what it looked like, just the sensation of black tar and plasma. And while some kids ran for the nurse she just sat there, no crying, not shedding a damn tear, staring into that cut the way adults look at sunsets or somebody they used love. Almost hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that velvet. Make it more than just colors and blood.
I think that’s when it started for us, really. Fifth grade, Ms. Turmiski’s class. She made an impact on me that day, and no matter where she sat I had my eyes on her ever since. Even if she was in another room. Feelings I denied vehemently until sexuality amplified too high to be tucked away in an Ew-Girls. Samantha had came back from Summer damn near 5’5, towered above the rest of us with her home-cut bobbed hair and thick black rimmed glasses (before that fad came in, you hacks.) The only girl in class who had a binder when all the rest of us were early-primming into drawstring Nike bags and spiral notebooks. Come junior high she started keeping a deck of cards on the sleeves, and I’d make it a point to always sit across from her on the other team when we played spade or casino. Took the usual route of juvenile affections, found it easier to make her an enemy than admit her face made me want to do things with her I didn’t understand yet. Bluffed through boyfriends like Troy, Elijah, and Anthony like a champ. Fake-It-Til-You-Can’t-Take-It was the name of the game, and I was good.
Kept it cool until that one long walk home Sophmore year, hit a slump I couldn’t manage to flash a smile and hump over. Told her what I always felt, even mentioned that thing about her knee in fifth grade, and she said “I always knew, dummy.” Kissed me on the corner of Taylor Avenue, deli lights flashing above our stupid little heads. A world on the verge of conquering us at sixteen, and a universe of intimacy opening the floodgates. Going at it like jackrabbits and a lot of arguments over silly things. I wanted to make the world laugh, and she wanted me to study and make something out of me. She had kisses made of phosphene, I still remember the way her lips against mine would make my head melt. The only girl I ever suffered the dilemma – kiss her, and feel that bliss of touch and sexuality, but miss out on all the lovely things she could have said.
“i want to see your face. send me a photo.”
Her text read at four in the morning, and so I did.
“no. a real one. something I can hold and write your name.
scribble the date and the way you make me feel on.”
Her love was comforting, the way a light from another room is when you’re trying to fall asleep but afraid of the dark. Or yourself. When I couldn’t bare to go down a street because it looked so lonely, she’d remind me what I was scared of wasn’t outside. But in. And I loved her terribly, but only in retrospect. Spent more time dreary eyed with the boys on Amsterdam when I should have been watching Samantha color code her study binders. A realization I wasn’t able to see or understand until long after it happened, and honestly, only because it was gone. Like suddenly missing a limb or finger, or admitting you were an asshole to somebody that didn’t deserve it. There’s a learning curve to gratitude and I was on the verge of overcoming the anchor line. Which is no excuse, I guess. Hindsight is 20-20 and not having regrets just means having things you haven’t thought of enough yet.
“So just like that, you’d leave New York,” I said. Unable to admit by ‘New York’ I meant me.
“It’s a scholarship. Why wouldn’t I?” She said.
And I think we could have made it work, past the slammed doors and distance. Rebuilding trust from where there was none over jokes I shouldn’t be making. Six month breaks that break easy over the holidays, and all the blood we’ve tried to draw from one another wiped clean with something as simple as an I-Miss-You text. Enough distance that makes us wonder what we were so angry about anyway, two weekends into Lets-Just-Be-Friends that ends the moment we notice its 5 am and the bar is closing. Goodbyes and lonely train rides home that turn the world into a stranger, that make us pull the breaks and reverse into each other. Is it still falling if its the fifth time in love? Why are we so surprised to be veering off the side of the road because Why-The-Fuck-Does-Everything-Have-To-Be-A-Joke-With-You? A phone call slammed, and I don’t call back, because I’m tired and her birthday is right around the corner. I’ll take six months off before I start rolling the boulder of our love up over and over again, like Sisyphus. Glossing over our past in grey, summer weather. Sitting there not shedding a damn tear, staring at the sunrise like somebody I used to love. Hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that rosy velvet. Make it more than just the colors and blood we shed to each other.
That kind of chemistry can become exhausting, so her walking out for good was a victory, really.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it.