FOUR SECRETS AND THREE LIES I HAVE TO TELL ABOUT LOVE
1. Do Us Part.
And then he came back. When she answered the door, her skin was still so tight from crying that her face felt too small for her head; she hadn't been out of bed in a week, and she had thought that the knock would be another fucking pound cake from some family member who had been out of town for calling hours. But it was him. The elbows on his suit jacket were down to the threads, and you could see little windows of bone along his forehead and knuckles and upper lip. But still, he was there.
At first, she didn't really question it. They made pizza rolls, sat on the loveseat and watched that Ninja Warrior show he'd always liked. After about an hour, she asked him how he'd been, and he sort of laughed—there was a gap in the trachea, so the sound was something between a wheeze and a German consonant—and started looking around for a notepad. Enough about me, babe, let's talk about you.
Every morning, she made his coffee like she used to (Maxwell brand slow roasted, honey instead of sugar) and he packed his briefcase and snuck out the back door, then under the gap in the fence. She wasn't quite sure where he went; his old boss sent her a condolences card with a lecherous postscript, so she knew he wasn't going back to the plant. She clandestinely checked the corners of his mouth for blood when he came home, but there was never anything beyond a crescent of dirt under each of his fingernails, a missing shoe now and then.
Besides this, nothing was all that different. At night, he curled next to her the way he always had, his arms twisted around her torso like some kind of human Möbius strip. He still refused to talk about kids, but when Drew Barrymore came onscreen during a TNT network presentation of ET, he went kind of soft in the eyes. All in all, they were as happy as they'd ever been, maybe more. Instead of going to Louie's with his brother every Friday, he stayed in with her and played Scrabble with all the E's taken out.
But after a few weeks, something was different. The wound along his ribs began to creep apart like a spreading stain, the mortician's stitches splitting and fraying as the hole reopened bloodlessly. He tried to shower, and immediately they realized that it had been a mistake; the embalming fluid stained the tub green, and he started to look a little like Kitty Carlisle after a bad night. She told him it was okay, that she didn't care, and she held her breath defiantly when she kissed him despite the smell. She slid him a note between the candlesticks on the dinner table: I love you no matter what. You were gone, and now you're here, and of course I wouldn't expect you to come back the same as you left.
He wrote her back a few days later, on a post-it which he left on the kitchen door above a pair of muddy footprints and a chunk of hair on the linoleum. I'm sorry, it said. But let's not shit ourselves here. Please, for your own sake, don't forgive me.
2. U and Me.
We just can't say it. I'd say that there's a wall between us, but that's not quite it-- its more like an electrified fence, an easy climb, though even the slightest sense of reason or self preservation would steer you to avoid it. Instead, we lay in the dark and say we love Uganda, and universal healthcare, and ukuleles. I don't say unicorns, because that's a given, and the only things I have left to tell you now are secrets. So I say, I love ubiquity.
Yugoslavia. Ukraine. Yucatan Peninsula.
Pretty soon, you're cheating. You say you love U locks on bicycles and YouTube and pretty soon, words that don't even count (Uppers, Uzbekistan). I have more—I speak four languages, and can love you in just as many—but as soon as I whisper it in the dark, I love unanimity, I know that you have conceded. I say Roll over, stop touching you. I am barely lying when I say I love euthanasia, ask you to let me sleep.
3. After Five Semesters As a Philosophy Major.
Sometimes, I like to think about Immanuel Kant going to the doctor's office, of the sweat in tiny stars along his giant forehead as the doctor presses a stethoscope to the pale swell of his chest. My fantasies about Pascal are slightly sexier; he is usually eating an enormous grapefruit in his underwear, usually around four in the morning, while his valet is still asleep. David Hume is obviously walking next to a lake, but I mostly imagine the moment when he stops thinking about The Treatise on Human Nature and realizes he has to piss. In my head, he has very delicate hands, and hooks two fingers around his belt buckle and thinks on it hard.
I don't allow myself to think about Kierkegaard much, because when I do he's usually naked and that's just so damn obvious. When I think about Montaigne, I just get ridiculous: I imagine the two of us under his fleur-de-lis patterned canopy bed, daring each other to hold our breath until we black out. When I come to, he is peering at me over his cape, black velvet stretched across his nose like a geisha fan. What did you see? He whispers. I saw a lot of colors, and Macchu Picchu I think.
It wasn't so much that he wouldn't eat it—this beautiful dinner, everything braised and skewered and punctuated with unnecessary herbs, the kind of dinner you feel guilty just being in the same room with, much less stabbing open with Bill's filigree-handled cutlery. (And really, who buys filigreed cutlery?) It was that he watched them eat it. (If filigreed cutlery didn't make you nervous before, you were gravely deluded). It was that he placed himself in a crushed velvet armchair in the corner of the room, and wove his fingers into a tight knot, and grinned at everyone for the whole two hours, demanding their critique.
"Do you think it was, like, a sex thing?" Joe asked her in the car.
And of course she said that it was, and they speculated about the contents of that guest bedroom he wouldn't let Joe's aunt stay in when the Marriott ran out of room for the wedding guests. And he thought how good they were together, how they were the kind of couple who waiters smirked at because their conversations were the sort you'd like to eavesdrop on. He even leaned across the center console and stuck his tongue into her ear, as a gesture of thanks.
She didn't say anything, but all the while she knew: if he'd been able to probe further, past the shell of her skull, to taste the thought that was blooming just then, an inch deeper in her brain, Joe would have understood Bill. That night, her dreams would be all taste: a spike of Sangiovese as sudden and red as a wound, the absent pearl at the base of an oyster's small corpse.
5. A Valentine.
I say, close your eyes and think about all the pain you have ever felt in your life. I don't mean papercut pain or the pain when you swallow your tea too early, but the kind of pain that has a color, and sometimes, its own dimensions, huge and growing dimensions like a new room opening inside your body, a void unfolding like reverse origami.
I'll give you an example, I say.
Once, I had my wisdom teeth removed, and the dentist decided to use a local instead of putting me under. When he cut into me, all my bones suddenly shifted like fast-motion plate tectonics that I knew could be nothing except my body's violent sign language for pain. It was a pain that made my vision shake; it smelled like walking out into an incredibly white and empty day.
Are you listening? Because I have more. Like this other time, I moved to Europe—when I say this, I mean I moved to Europe in the way only nineteen year olds do, because I wanted to become European, the way other nineteen year olds go to college to become 2nd grade teachers. I slept in a low-ceilinged room on a mattress that was all steel coils and every day, I rode the metro around in circles, waiting for the rush hour when all the strangers would pack together in the car, when they would all be forced to touch me. I spoke the language, but no one spoke to me, and after a while of not using my mouth I became convinced that I didn't have one anymore, that I was only transparent skin with nerves pulsing color and a swimming, bloodless brain. I was silent, but that pain had a sound. It was a pitch that human ears shouldn't be able to hear. It seared across my skin and vibrated hard, the way I imagine a bomb has to sound before it turns you into light.
Keep your eyes closed. Not just them, close your skin up too, close your ears and be an echoing chamber, just for a minute, for me. Can you imagine what it is like, for me? Can you imagine the sound, the shake, what it tastes like to lose you?
6. Saying “Grace.”
I put an ad on Craigslist once to find someone to spend Thanksgiving with me. I asked for overbearing women around age fifty, younger if theatrical makeup was employed. The pay was nothing, but I said I'd furnish her with an appropriately heinous lamé patterned sweater and all the pots in the kitchen she had use for.
Fathers had a height requirement. I said I preferred beards, but since I've always been a daddy's girl, I forgave the applicants that emailed me photos of themselves with handlebar moustaches, or the fourteen year olds with hairless, acne-studded cheeks and cartoon ties.
We needed at least two sisters, and I wanted them to be sisters in real life, but said I would cast anyone, provided that there was sufficient dramatic tension over a shared ex-boyfriend or something to that effect. "During dinner," I wrote, "one of you can even throw a glass of wine in my face and storm off to buy cigarettes. After we've forgiven each other, we'll hug on the couch and watch Romy and Michelle's."
I didn't want any brothers, but I got a pleading letter from a man who had only been out of the shelter for a month, so I hired him and one of the smaller blond sister-applicants to play his new wife.
I avoided boyfriend applicants for myself to minimize the perverts, though I wanted one desperately. And even though no one wanted to be my grandfather, (I have to say I took this personally), the family portrait turned out great; I put the dog in the empty chair, and he didn't even shake off his hat until after the flash clicked off.
And while not everyone stayed the whole time, and we had to prop up an embroidered pillow in our mother's chair to stand in when she ran out crying and called us all whores—even so, I will never regret this. For at least a moment, we sat down together, and said the world "grace" out loud, and were none of us ashamed.
7. I Have To Admit.
I have to admit—the night after you broke my heart, I lay awake chewing my lip and waiting for the numbers on my clock to fold into 12:00, waiting for you to run into my room and throw a handful of confetti up into the dark, yelling "opposite day!", to dive into my bed like a still and patient ocean.
This story was mostly written whilst ignoring boring in-class conversations about the transcendental object. It is most likely the product of a hilariously emotional break up, my unnatural predilection for zombie movies, another even more hilariously emotional break up and that one cover of Fear and Trembling with the picture of Kierkegaard looking really, really fine.