A pier. New York City at night. New Jersey waiting on the other side of the river. Lights over the city dance like incandescent fireflies, halogen fairy lights, fluorescent candles – light pollution hanging like a haze of possibility. We’ve been awake for twenty-one hours, walked as many miles, lost ourselves in corporate consumerism and dead midnight streets. There is exhaustion, first and foremost, a filter that every other sensation must battle through to be felt. I hold your hand, tangle my fingers with yours, let my body fall heavy against you, drape my legs over your own. The city makes my eyes heavy with dreams, the cool wind curls me into your sphere like a tendril of wayward wispy smoke.
I want to sleep, but now is not the time. Not here – not in the city, not on the pier, not next to you, not when the seconds tick closer to my leaving with every breath that I wish I could so desperately hold because maybe if I hold the breath in my lungs I can hold the clocks at bay and hold you in my arms for just a little longer.
When my pining stories became love stories – when heartbreaks wrote themselves into heartmends – when I sought out the happy ending instead of the this-is-the-fate-we-have-to-accept ending – that’s when I knew I’d fallen for you.
Legs tangled up in yours, I never liked sleeping next to anyone until your body was sprawled next to mine. Too close, a breach of personal space, I should have pushed you away and I didn’t.
Legs tangled up in yours, fingertips finding meaning in the faint lines and creases of your skin, draped over you tied up in me, I waited to hate the way I could feel your breath tickling the hairs on the back of my neck. I waited and changed decorative finger paintings to movements with meaning, to quicken your breath, to wait for the moment I could no longer stand it, and I didn’t.
Legs tangled up in yours, skin sticky with the day and the hours and the city and the rain, skin sticky because of the way your skin moved against mine – legs tangled, I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the rhythm of your heartbeat, hoping to claw my way just a little bit closer.
Bitter poison pills swallowed down one by one – words choked back, actions buried deep in the gut, acid memories eroding stomach lining. Bitter poison pills I can’t spit out, can’t retch from my body even with violent force. Bitter poison festering in veins, trapped, bitter poison warping minds, twisting gnarled fingers that pervert and defile everything they touch.
“You can’t tell anyone about us,” he said.
“What do you think I bought you all those fucking drinks for?” he said.
“I’m bigger than you. Try to push me away,” he said.
“We’re just friends. That’s it,” he said.
“It’ll make me look bad if they find out,” he said.
“I’m trying, but I can’t,” he said.
“I’ll come over again if you want me to but I need you to do something for me first,” he said.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” he said.
“You looked better last summer,” he said.
“That was just one night, it didn’t mean anything,” he said.
“That’s your fault,” he said.
“You weren’t the only one,” he said.
“Whatever,” he said.
The words drip from your lips drenched in tetrahydrocannabinol, palliatives, and dopamine. You’ve waited for the moment, planned for it, imagined it, tested out the weight and heft of these words in various settings, with different inflections, with every possible reaction – and then they slip from your lips with the ease that sinks ships and you can’t bite your tongue fast enough because it’s not the right time or place, because you’re drunk and high and half out of breath buried in a dark night wrapped in humidity, but it’s too late.
Your heart misses a few of its quick, steady thumps in the silence that follows and somehow you’re still sure of your choice – because of course it would happen like this, of course it wouldn’t be the beautiful planned moment turned robotic from all the times you ran it through in your mind, of course it wouldn’t be the perfect fairytale hopeless romantic unrealism you’ve dreamt up, of course it would happen here, of course it would be this simple, of course it would be messy and rough-around-the-edges and imperfect and spontaneous – because that’s who you are. Your heart misses a few more because of how positive you are that you’ve made the right choice.
And they ask, “Really?”
And you breathe, “Yeah.”
And you wait. And in the space of the seconds where you wait, you begin to dream up grandiloquent responses and declarations and echoes of your words, where they seal the letters with hot-wax kisses pressed onto your enveloping thighs, where star paths cross and everything falls into place and you fit that last piece into the puzzle and it’s like all the books told you because maybe it can be a mess and maybe it can still be a fairytale hopeless romantic ending and maybe it can be the story you’ve always wanted to write and maybe it can be modern day American realism.
And you wait.
And you hesitate. And you stop breathing. And you wait.
And and and.
And the heart you’ve torn, bleeding, bruised, broken from your chest – the heart that’s tumbled awkwardly from a thick tongue – the heart you sewed to your sleeve to bare to the world – that heart withers, ashamed and defeated and distrustful. And that heart pries open your clenched teeth to slip past your tongue and bury itself in your throat and dig its claws into the tender flesh there. And that heart chokes you every time you open your mouth so that it will never be made to feel so foolish again.