Of Everything I Have Loved
“Of Everything I Have Loved”
Days are good or bad, I think. There is no in between; if there were, perhaps I could be much happier.
On those rare bright days, I wander outside. I think of home, if I’m not already there, and dry brown grass crunching under my feet. At home, I can lay in the sun until my face feels flushed and I can plunge into the murk of the lake and let the water wash the searing sweat off my skin. Everywhere else, I can only imagine it.
I’ve never been good at balancing what I think and how I feel. I feared being trapped with only one or the other or ever being disappointed by either. On those bright days all that mattered was the heat on my skin and the minty-sharp cold of the water. It was the slow baking process and then the plunge. I could have either any moment I wanted and they drowned out any other sensation. It was the quickest way to wash my waiting away. All I ever wanted was to go.
On days that the sun shines, I think of the girl with the freckle under her eyebrow. I think of laughter and eating cheese and a baguette on a twin bed in Brussels. The hotel listing said it was a queen. I think of wandering grocery store aisles because we had nothing else to do, and laying on our backs in the docked boat because we didn’t need anything to do. We compared our tans every summer and counted our freckles every fall and on those days I think that, when I inevitably have skin cancer, at least I’ll be sharing a room with you again.
On days that I catch myself humming, I think of the brother with the scar on his chest. I often forget how you were carved open and pulled apart as a baby, and I’ve always wondered if you forget, too, or if every breath is a reminder of the heart you almost lost. On days that I catch myself strumming to music in my head, I think of Yellowcard and when we were small enough to use my bed as a stage without hitting our heads on the ceiling. I think of movie soundtracks plunked on piano keys and, on these days, I wish we had more in common.
On days that my car slips onto the rumble strips, I think of the girl with a lipstick in every shade. I think of driving over a curb in the dark and of countless nights spent talking about our future husbands. We shared everything, and it’s strange to be hundreds of miles away from you and still feel your leg against mine on your parents’ porch swing. I was the first one to see you in your wedding dress, and I thought that I shouldn’t feel as sad as I did.
On days that I pinch myself a little too hard, I think of the girl with the Tennessee accent. I still have the pit in my stomach from the day I realized how exactly I loved you. I think now that realizing hurt more than not knowing, but I’ll never be able to ask you. It’s the only secret between us, how I looked at you out of the side of my eyes. You’re ice cream on the back of the spoon and long blond hair in my bed and sharing a pair of earbuds in the backseat. I think you made me who I am. I think I should thank you, but I can’t yet.
People, on the other hand, are only ever in between. The ones who are there every day, are the ones who need you to love them back; unconditional love just takes conditioning to the fact that no one is ever exactly who you need them to be. And once you know, you can always be there.
That’s all love is. Staying. And, some days, remembering.
On days that I wish I stayed, I think of the brother with green eyes. You think of me too. I know because you always call me with the same things on your mind; it’s a billboard, or a joke, or just the song that’s stuck in both of our brains.
But it’s on the dog days of summer that I think of you the most. When even night feels like day because time stretches on forever and we’re made infinite by the adventures we see in everything. We ran and tripped and flew and I carried you on my back until you were so tall your toes drug in the dirt.
When we finally see the stars, I feel cold air on my face and the hard boards of the front porch between my shoulder blades. We wrote songs and stories and laughed until we couldn’t breathe on those boards. When we got older we stole cigarettes instead, but we never stopped sneaking sleeping bags out underneath that sky. I think we felt safer out of the house. I know we felt safer together.
On days that the air is heavy with half-realized humidity, I lock myself away. I fill the rest of the air with words and the musty smell of childhood books and I remember what it felt like to love. I think to love something, before wanting, before the desire is an overwhelming flood, is where everything begins. It’s before you leave. But that doesn’t mean you should stay.
On days that I’m alone, I think of you, Mom. When I stare too long at the crinkles next to my eyes, I think of yours, even though I’m not sure that half of the double helix belongs to you. I think of how you ran to me every time I skidded off my skateboard and I wish I could just roll over and say, “I’m okay!” for these hurts, too. I think if anyone could put back together the pieces of my heart, it would be you, liked you picked pieces of gravel out of my palms when you would rather have been painting my nails.
On days that "Paint" plays on the radio, I think of the boy with the blue suede shoes. I think of making awkward small talk while we waited for the band to play and laughing because we showed up an hour before the doors opened and hardly anyone else showed up at all. I deleted the song from all of my playlists, but on those days, I remember your voice in my ear, whispering, “I think this will always be my favorite band.” I think I still miss you.
On days when I create, I think of the man whose baby pictures look exactly like mine. I think of A-squared-plus-B-squared-equals-C-squared. I smell sawdust and chalk lines and I close my eyes and hear “Shane! Come back!” over and over. There’s so many memories of you that I can’t escape and it still stings when you say I’m the one who stopped spending time with you. I don’t know which one of us wears the black hat, but we’re both always armed and I think I’m afraid it’s never going to stop.
On days that I just want to die, I think of the woman who was never quite family. I think of her pumping meaning through a failing heart for seventy-four years, and I hope that I was a part of it. I hope that I was one of the reasons you tried to stay, but on days that I just want to die, I understand why you let go.
On days when the night settles cooler than usual, I think of nothing. I think that I probably have better things to do, but I sit outside in the land that has always been mine, and I work very hard to exist. If I want to feel solid and real for a second then I can’t think about what it will be like when this place is gone. When it’s a golf course or a development or possibly a cannabis farm.
Is there a place where forgotten things go? Where perhaps the physical shell still stands for onlookers, but the true idea of it is gone?
I might go with it.
I sit and wait for the voices inside the house drown out the voices inside me that say I never should have left.
I think of the reasons to stay, to give it all up now and let my bare feet grow back into the brown earth where they ran and tripped and flew for so many years. There are people here and people there and satellites in the air to connect us all, so I guess the people can’t belong to the pros and cons. But they might be all I have.
I can’t go with it.
On days when my heart is warm, I think of you. I think of you when I walk down the sidewalk in a new pair of shoes because, now that I’ve met you, nothing is quite perfect until you’re around.
I think of you most of all.