A song to the end of summer. A hymn for all of the things that could never blossom. What do you call it then, a burning for something you cannot touch? An ache for something you cannot trust? History will kiss our swollen cheeks and call it faith. History will rip out our tongues from behind the cage of our teeth and call it freedom.
0. Here’s what you should know: I saw it—that once-in-a-lifetime shine—and stared directly into the eclipse. What I forgot, of course, is that too much light will leave anyone blind.
1. The skeleton in my closet has taken the shape of a painting. A woman is caught profileside, a cigarette balances between her fingers, the tip a red-orange star smoldering. Her chin tilts upward to evacuate the smoke from her lungs, she is covered in a pallid cerulean; it is unclear where the sky ends and she begins. She sits on the highest shelf and every day I stand in her question mark shadow. I don’t wonder how she got there: I am the one who hid her away.
The title of the painting is Berlin Blue. I know this because I helped title it. I know this because I helped find the shades of blue.
2. Thirty pounds by the fall. I’ve become so silent and small that no one notices when I begin to wonder about the space between abuse of power and abuse.
In the age of blossoming lollipop peonies, I’d woken to a text the morning after you left her. You sent Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” and I came to his deep baritone, consummating a promise I never asked you to make. These days I haven’t been able to listen to him or Lou, but I no longer flinch at silver Subarus or men in hard hats wearing neon.
Still, I can’t stomach the sound of certain names.
3a. I never promised to be good. I never promised to be anything but honest and true. So here it is: I chose to love a man who made a promise to love another woman. I loved that he was a carpenter and a plumber and a painter. I loved the way his accent shaped the sound of the words water and uncomfortable; I loved the way he read Whitman to me over the phone. He loved slow snow days and coffee in the morning, and he loved to imagine having them with me. He loved that I was the first woman to call him handsome—a feeling that shot through his bad heart and thrummed far down in the marrow of his ankle bones. We chose to love each other until the day after my birthday when I was struck and stained a nauseous blue-green by the word homewrecker which was hurled violently, predictably from his mouth.
3b. It’s October. I hate how early the sun gives in, but I nurse a new habit of not fighting against tenuous realities and other non-negotiables. Instead I finish my drink, take the three a.m. train, and walk home in the quiet black as a way of saying Look how good I can endure.
4. If you consider yourself lucky for having found a way to make love stay after all of the bruising you put it through, it is the relief of my life that I will never be found among the glorified lucky ones who’ve willingly chipped away at their whole parts, forfeiting their selves, to stand proudly in the cold beam of a spotlight.
After all, where does one stand long after the light has been killed? In the dark.
5. At twenty-seven I will finally understand how easy it is to mistake attention for respect. I am a slow learner, but I am even slower to forget. Do you hear me? I know that you may now carry shame or hate where love once was, but never will you be able to deny the days you dedicated to me.
Do you remember? Three days before my birthday when you told me, a third time, that you’d left? Do you remember saying that you’d never loved anyone the way you loved me? Do you remember beaming, celebrating that you would love me until you died? Do you remember when I told you I was flying back into Newark and you asked for the gate number, so you’d know where to find me? Do you remember when you said—I love you. You don’t have to say it back—I just want you to hear it. I love you—Do you remember? Do you remember it now?
6. Seven of the fifty United States not only recognize adultery as a criminal act but provide a judicial path of action when a third party has been accused of acts damaging to a marriage. This civil allegation is called Alienation of Affections. To carry out a suit, one does not need proof of sexual acts between a spouse and third party, only that the defendant “contributed to or caused the loss of affection” of their lover’s partner.
Merriam-Webster defines adultery (noun) as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person’s current spouse or partner.
We never did have sex, but more than once I heard my name come from his mouth—breathy and broken into pieces—finishing for me.
I search for answers but I am left with more questions than conclusions of how to speak about the things we did, the things we did not do.
7. For months I’d refused, wildly tantrumed against a teleological explanation of us. How could I bear that what I’d felt for the first time—a complete, whole love—did not shine in earnest, but ultimately only existed to function as a lesson? In “The Pain Scale,” Eula Biss offers, “The longer the pain lasted, the more beautiful and impossible and absolutely holy [“This too shall pass.”] became.”
Please believe me, I never wanted this life to be something we had to recover from. I never wanted this love to be something I had to sleep off.
8. I come closest to understanding the punishments of my love when I stand in front of a print by Raymond Pettibon at the Museum of Modern Art. In the center of the page Pettibon has illustrated a perfect heart encased by a thin black line, partially colored in with varying shades of heavy maroons. Spaces within the shape are blank, uncolored, leaving parts of the muscle untouched. Inside the heart, amid the red and white, are scattered black strokes—they could be tallies keeping score, they could be scars. To me they resemble the leaves of ferns and I wonder about all of the other places I have seen life where ruin was. The most insight Pettibon offers us, the audience of his lashed heart, is a single inscription written at the top of the page:
WITH ALL THE BLUSHES OF ADULTEROUS LOVE
9. It’s what I’m left with. It’s a painting and the wondering of what to do with it. It’s the violent sum of all the vibrant, colorful parts. It’s her cigarette that still burns, her lungs that are still open. It’s the woman somewhere in Germany, posting pictures of herself on the internet. It’s how she doesn’t know that he paints her, often, locking her down in the second dimension. A beautiful, flat paper doll. It’s the stars, and how no one can negotiate with their burning. How they continue to exist even when briefly stubbed out by the light of the daytime sun. It’s how I know, through the ash and smoke, that she is still here. It is her and it is me, long after the night has closed in.
10. The only lie I ever told was the apology I wept in the spring. Even then, I was just begging for more. The barely pink peonies, the rainbow tulips, the purple onion alliums—it was too late. They were gone, wilted—it was the heatstroke that got them, overexposed to wild hot light. Alright, fine. If atonement is what you want, this is the best I can do: forgive me—I loved loving the mess we made—the scarlet, metallic pulp of us—under our nails, in the grooves of our fingerprints, caked on the corners of our mouths—our early mornings, our plans, our electricity, our, our, our—all of the words and tears and gasps and wanting and heart—your hand around the back of my neck in the passenger seat of your car, the wet between my legs at the museum, our married footsteps through the park—the old red t-shirt, We The Animals, Brief Encounter, Oy! Dancin’ boy!—the 120mm Yashica, the blue #2 Soviet door plaque, the paintings—oh god, the paintings—forgive me: I loved it all. Every last bloody pulse. Forgive me—for worst of all—all of my love was true.
Photography by: M. Price