Speak the words you have swallowed. We have seven years of silence to fill. Let us crowd this night with all we have not said, let us cover every last second with our secrets. Whisper them soft and sure against my skin. Tell me goodbye, and tell me why.
Dust me for your fingerprints one last time, hold me up to the light and see yourself all over. Know that you were here. Here we are. Grasp at what we will leave behind. There are ways for us to end this.
Love me just enough. Then let me go. Hold tight all through these midnight hours, then stand up and watch me walk away. My darling there are ways for us to end this.
(Move to the window when I close the door. Press your forehead against that double glass and strain to keep me in your sight. Stay with me – won’t you, please? Watch me tremble away from you into the night).
I am watching the coffee stain my fingers as you lay dying on the gravel.
It is a morning of bright blue promise. The breakfast show host is laughing at his own joke and I smile at the television without hearing the punch line. Next up a story on how most women do not wear the right size bra. I feel my left breast, it seems perfectly at home within its wire cup as my elbow knocks the coffee jar to the floor.
The crack of glass against tile – is this the moment the knife plunges through skin and muscle? When I bend down are you sinking to your knees as 6-inch metal severs vessel from vein? How is it that I do not feel a thing as I sweep the granules of coffee from the floor? How do I not struggle for breath as blood pools around the blade and the sky floods with red? As your body makes its last struggles at life and I watch water turn to rust on my fingers – how is it that I do not feel anything at all?
You went for an early run along the river. I did not even know you were here. I have stopped wondering where you are; as we each greet the day I am unaware of your proximity. It has taken me three months to stop looking for you everywhere. I would normally be by your side on a morning like this.
The moon must still be out when you start off, determined to hold back the day. They say you came across them arguing, that as you approached you saw him grab her by the hair. You have never forgotten the woman next door, the one you didn’t save, and I know you would have seen in this an offer at redemption.
Did you yell at him to stop, did you barrel forward and push her out of the way? I can see you running, see you in those last solid moments. Striding along the gravel track, side-stepping ducks and over-hang. And then the bridge, where they are. But here it stops.
I know he followed her. I know he had been watching and waiting for weeks, building his anger on her absence. She was running too, the other way, when he found her. And you got between them. You put your body between the trembling woman and this raging man. A shove, a punch – he will say you provoked him. You struggle, the yelling attracts runners above on the bridge, but it is too late when he reaches down, when he plunges in. Self-defence he will say, but you never left a mark as the thrust destroys the delicate machinery of your heart. She is screaming at him to stop. She will need stitches to the slicing of her hands as she tries to save you. But the force of his anger has found a target, and a lifetime of loss and misery reduces yours to a final minute.
And then he is the one to run, as you breathe out blood and she tries to stop you up. You lay in this woman’s arms, a stranger covered in your blood as she screams over your silence. By the time the sirens can be heard you are dead on the ground. I do not feel a thing.
We have an idea of goodbyes. We will run alongside a train until the platform gives out. We will stay in each other’s arms until they tear us apart. We make linoleum cathedrals of hospital rooms – we hold hands through tubes and machines, we stay next to the bed all through the night. We fix our eyes on that plane as it taxis away – we wave at the hand in the small window because it just might be you and it doesn’t even matter because until you leave the ground you are still here, you haven’t really gone away. Even when the plane takes flight and our insides fall, we keep looking up. We swear we can still see your hand pressed against the window, right until we can no longer make out metal from sky.
We have an idea of goodbyes. We are supposed to be present in the final moments. We are supposed to know what is happening to us, and how. As we part we are meant to feel the potent chemicals of loss take hold, to feel the ache of separation flood through our veins. We are meant to realise the tragedy of our ending.
How is it possible that I did not feel a thing?
The above is an extract from body, remember that I am taking a deep breath and sharing for the first time today. Thank you for reading!
“I chose, and my world was shaken – so what?
The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not
You have to move on …”
– Sondheim, Move On
You get up the next morning because you have to. Because the time has long since passed where you could lie in bed all day and turn your face to the wall. Because this is where you were always going to end up, and you cannot claim ignorance – even when the pain is fresh.
So you get up and you go to work, and you sit at your desk in the hope that the inertia of an every-working-day will help you push it down. You forget your password and answer ‘great’ to questions about your night, and all the while your fingernails dig in to your arm and leave their mark – but it keeps your voice steady, this other kind of pain, and when no-one takes a second look you are grateful for the sensation.
If you are a little white in the face and your shoulders are weighed down, it can be chalked up to that extra wine the night before. And though you cry silently in a bathroom stall through lunch, you wash away the tracks before the hour is out.
This is how it goes. The first next day, and the worst, because it’s all just sitting there on your skin, this ache. You will not listen to love songs – you know not to listen to love songs – and it’s a quiet day when you don’t have a soundtrack. Just the ticking of the clock, and if you could shift the hands forward you would, because it is okay to crawl in to bed when the sun goes down. No-one cares if you face the wall at night, in the hours assigned to the broken-hearted.
It’s the daylight you have to watch in the coming weeks. Those mornings where your skin is just a little flayed, your nerves jangling on the surface as you scrub at wine-cracked lips. Trying to remove the stains, hiding the evidence from the night before. Applying an extra layer of concealer before you go.
You are a fortress in defence of your sadness. You don’t want to lose it to the seven stages, not when it has been the only steady thing. But of course you are well on your way despite yourself. You skipped right over denial, and before long anger makes its presence known. It suddenly threatens to replace the hollow with a heat. It flares in your chest every time you revisit that last text – the one that says ‘if you need me …’ well fuck, when didn’t you need him? And there it is again, the little flame that won’t go out.
(You taste a little acid on your tongue each time you bite down on this new life of no reply).
Until one day you delete the message (and yes you are sure!), and it is neither heat nor hollow that results. Just a slight sensation of falling, and for the first time a little thrill betrays you. You stop counting the weeks on your fingers, you stop guarding your sorrow, and it lessens in everything but dreams by the time the seasons change.
The truth is, you are moving on. And in some small way you want to say sorry for this letting go. It was never your intention to be the faithless one. You fought so hard to hold on after-all. They say the average daydream lasts 14 seconds. Well this one lasted seven years. But you can’t keep telling the same story, not when time has its own ideas it likes to dangle, just within your reach.
You have to move on. Still, you know why Orpheus looked back. And though you know your past won’t survive the light, you still long for one last look at the dark. You have to move on. But first you look over your shoulder. To see clearly what trailed behind you all of this time.
And just for a moment – in this looking back – you catch a glimpse of two lovers as they actually were. Two glorious creatures turning in each other’s arms, sending off sparks. A vivid blaze across the night of your life.
You watch them spinning away from the world, in an endless, beautiful dance. And then you let them go.
“Look at all the things you’ve done for me
Opened up my eyes
Taught me how to see …”
I know you don’t watch me walk away. I know you don’t press your forehead against the double glass to keep me in your sight. There is no straining for that one last look, no time suspended in the final unblinking stare. You don’t stay with me until I am just another city glow fading in to night.
Tonight I have said I don’t want to do this anymore. I have said it in the way a liar can tell a single truth, sudden and surprising. You are asleep, or nearly asleep when I whisper it across the back of your head.
I don’t want to do this anymore. This – laying in your arms in yet another bed of tangled sheets. This staccato relationship, our little parody where the only authentic act is how you fall asleep straight after we fuck. And I know what comes next. I can feel the separation as keenly as if you have already peeled your body from mine, already slid back in to that second skin, the crisp white shirt and pressed pants, so deftly shucked hours before. I feel you walking out the door, even as your breath warms my breast and your hand remains heavy between my legs. And I decide that tonight I will be the one to go.
I have held on to you so long that my hands clench around you, still. My fingertips try to press in to you one last time, to roll across your skin in a final and heroic effort to prove my identity. But you barely stir, as one finger then the next has to release its grip.
I move to the edge of the bed and I tell you I am leaving. I say other things too, they tumble from a wine-thick tongue, but in time to come I will only ever remember this. How I say I am leaving and you mumble I’ll see you soon, and how with your eyes still closed you miss the way I shake my head, no.
I know you don’t get up after I close the door behind me. I know you don’t move to the window to watch me tremble into the night. You are not looking down to see me stumble through cracks of concrete in the heels you removed so carefully over dinner, and you don’t watch as I recede to a grey as cobbled as the street below. With no neon flash of text to say goodnight, no vibrating phone to accompany me home, I know you are already sound asleep.
It is my 35th birthday and I will not cry. One wobbly foot in front of the other on this midnight street, I walk away.
Image by Joanne Piechota
Author’s update – November 2012: Jo recently created a visual essay inspired by the above piece; for more information on I know you don’t watch me walk away (imagined) click here.