“Harrisia martinii”, from The Cactaceae (1919-1923) by Britton et Rose, Vol. II. Illustration by Mary Emily Eaton
by Amy Glynn
I am writing these lines from northern Washington on the day of the year when I most hate northern Washington; the one that does not end. Somewhere in the eternal late afternoon of June 21 I am picking my way along the edge of a cliff at the edge of an island. On one side, Douglas fir forest. On the other, stony beach, tidepools.
Oh – it’s a literal cliff, a literal island. I’m not trying to be cute.
The light is just as I remember; feral, thin and high-pitched, dizzyingly bright, unmoving. If you’ve made me notice anything it is that time is not standing still, but today it’s doing a damned good imitation of it. The clouds look so static it’s as if they were painted there. The sky is cobalt. Mount Rainier rises ghostly and icy and huge in the far distance. People here complain about the low-ceilinged darkness of the winters, the dank mists and piercing marine wind, the bleary undifferentiated cloudscapes, but I am telling you, if the sun always looked like this, they wouldn’t be able to withstand it. They’d go on killing sprees.
I am walking toward a ramshackle lighthouse in a loud tangling gale of swallows and sparrows and some kind of gigantic dirigible bumblebees that hover in the brambles. Ceanothus and poppies rise from a pale ocean of rustling purple-tasseled grass. This early in the summer, the footpaths through these meadows have been retaken by vegetation, and you can find yourself covered in burrs and thorns or knee-deep in a foxhole with a sprained ankle if you don’t mind your step. I find my way by the weeds – left at that big mess of a dog-rose; find the patch of ferns and go straight west if you don’t want to end up in those thistles. Blackberry, thimbleberry, redcurrant. Clover, buttercup, chamomile, dandelion. Angelica, cranesbill, rose campion, lupine. The trail exists, somewhere under all this. It just disappears when it isn’t used, and reappears when it is.
They say people manifest whatever they’re paying attention to. Do you think that’s true? It sounds like the kind of thing you’d point out.
So many parallels. We saw things the same way, wanted the same things, seemed to at least; had hit the same dead ends, foundered on the same rocks; struggled with the same patterns around what we believed we were stuck with. Went to the same sultry piece of Mexican coastline on wastefully sexless vacations where we silently (or vocally) wondered who the hell our spouses really were. We were both scared, though I readily use the word “scared” and you actively refuse to, of the divide between the lives we desired and believed in, and the ones we had accepted because they weren’t quite bad enough to justify the upheaval of changing them. We shared something that seemed inexplicable without talk of quantum phenomena and past lives. Effortless exuberance, delight in each other’s talents and accomplishments, intellectual curiosity, sensual curiosity, a sense of devotion to doing things right and to mindful joy, knowing it was something you could cultivate like an orchard.
You said you understood that we were gaunt shadows of the people we would be together. You saw it, felt it, knew it: we were each the answer to all the other’s questions.
You said how is this even possible? We are like puzzle pieces.
You said it was supposed to have been us. In your voice there was bewilderment. Then defiance. Then sorrow. Then defiance.
You said yes, you did wish you’d made different choices, but you didn’t know what to do about it now. It was early summer and I was parked in the car outside the apartment watching the sun go down, a showy ellipse of flame and vapor and brassy rays shooting upward through the marine layer.
I said we couldn’t say that because it suggested we’d give back our children.
“No,” you’d sighed. “I think the same children would have chosen us.”
“Then who would have chosen our children’s other parents?”
“Someone pretty similar, I’m guessing.”
You said, “I feel like my mouth is empty and you can fill it.” You said the two of us together lit up the world. I was watching snow fall outside a hotel room in New England. It was so late, and I needed to sleep but I never could, not when talking to you was an available alternative. You said we had infinity before us. I think you meant it.
You said milagro, miracle. It was winter. We sent each other pictures of the same moon, 3000 miles apart, yours in a pinkish mercury-lamp dusk foregrounded by skyscrapers and new snow, mine in the remains of a wild orange sunset foregrounded by branches.
I said Hajj, holy pilgrimage.
You said things that contradicted each other. You said you couldn’t change your situation because it wasn’t safe for your kids. You said you needed to change your situation because it wasn’t good for the kids. You said misery, you said anger, you said closed-off you said not who you believed you were supposed to be. You said drinking wasn’t making it go away any more. You said days without sleeping.
You said one second and everything I thought I knew was out the window.
Dearest, the lines that have passed between us are uncountable, relentless, a Russian novel. I say a lot. But you’ve said things too, I know it; I have them here in writing though you beg me to delete everything. There are things you cannot redact. They are always there, always archived, always discoverable. They cover themselves over with bracken, with foliage, but step there and they come back. I could erase words from the phone, from the email account, but what you forget about puzzle pieces is that one’s negative space is the other’s positive. Fitted together like the sound and the shoreline, toothed, lobed, carved, fractal – mutually defining. Sometimes I would like to forget I ever felt this way about you. Delete it. Walk away. Sometimes I am tired of remembering for both of us, tired of your claims that you live vicariously through my memories, that they helped you make sense of your half-effaced ones. You said my sense-memories amazed you, that they were keener, sharper, more intense than those of anyone you’d ever known. I remember wondering if you could possibly be for real – how could anyone forget so much? Concussion? Coping strategy? Both?
You told me not to apologize for being sentimental, or overwrought, or easily brought to tears; you said, “You’re more alive than most people. I think it comes with the territory.” Was I, am I? It always felt like it when I was close enough to touch you. And now? Something less, if more self-contained – a tree shrinking back to a seed.
The footpath branches here, toward and away from the cliff. Beyond the cliff, a sliver of beach, and I can see the ad hoc pathway but don’t trust myself not to fall, so I go back and look for the next trailhead off the bluff. There are places where people, and animals, naturally deviate from designed paths, cutting smaller ones. Often, though maybe not always, it’s the most direct route to a destination. Landscape architects call these deviations “desire lines.”
You said you were “security-driven,” and that was why you only wanted me to contact you in certain ways. No, you are not security driven. You’re secretive. There is a huge difference and there is cowardice in couching it that way. Security-driven would have meant you let me be a surface world friend and kept your hands to yourself even if it ached. I was willing to do that. I begged you to do that. The joke of it is, I love you anyway, in spite of the thing I hate the most (other than northern Washington at the solstice), which is dishonesty. You lied to everyone, particularly yourself. Who is fey enough to use words like “security-driven” when they mean they don’t want to face reality or endure conflict or feel guilt? You left “secure” in the dust a long time ago and I am pretty sure you know that.
Delete it all, delete without mercy, you said.
I said I would. It is the only time I have ever lied to you. The words stay. They stay.
If I thought there was any erasing this oceanic, indelible grief, perhaps I would have erased those words. But I know better. They stay, a path I can walk and remind myself that this was real, a landscape of desire that we roamed together.
You said, “I love you in ways you don’t even understand yet.” August 8th, middle of the night, hushed, on the phone.
You said, “I want to tear you apart and put you back together again.”
Yes, I said. Yes, please, yes, now, tomorrow, forever, yes. Fourth of January. Technically the fifth, two in the morning. I have the time stamp. You texted that, and a lot of other things, a whole long night’s worth. Then called me the next day to scold me for texting.
I said, “Hey – it’s okay. I love you too.” I didn’t even realize it until I heard myself say it. It was summer and the first time we’d really talked in years.
You said, “I have been waiting for more than half of my life to hear you say that.”
So I said it again. Because I’d been waiting most of my life to have those words received that way. Like a benediction and a winning lottery ticket and a soft bed at the end of a hard day.
Nightclub, third bourbon, the band too loud. My eyes glued to yours, my hand gripping your thigh. Couldn’t be helped. The sense that something that had always been wrong was finally right was too powerful to even want to fight.
“Are you drunk?” I asked. “You have a kind of inebriated look in your eyes.”
“Oh. No.” It was so calm and matter-of-fact and instantaneous. “No, that’s love.” It was like having my heart broken and healed and rebroken all at once. I didn’t know what else to do but touch your face. When I did, the rest of the world disappeared.
“Why were we never together?” you asked.
“I had no idea you were interested.”
“How could you not know?”
“Because you hide things?”
“You wouldn’t have gone out with me.”
“You’re an idiot.” I kissed you and the dark room began to spin in earnest.
“I want you to do that again,” you said.
“But let’s be careful, I don’t want anyone in trouble.” I mostly meant you. I was in trouble anyway. I kissed you again.
I knew that at least four people had gotten a raw deal, and it wasn’t going to end here. Nobody wanted to hurt anyone. Everyone hurt anyway. My grip on your leg tightened of its own accord.
“Don’t ever stop doing that,” you said.
“Don’t worry, I can’t.”
“I want to get out of here,” you said. And we walked out into the rain. And our path was merely a wet sidewalk heaved by roots and strewn with browned leaves. And I couldn’t quite reconcile it – you were, for sure, the most dangerous thing that had ever happened to me, and for the first time in my adult memory I felt completely safe.
Because we could never quite have it, it was always perfect, always pristine, always unassailable. I wanted to believe, I did believe, that we had somehow always been unwittingly building ourselves for some middle of life reconfiguration, a remaking of ourselves as companions for each other, that all the trial-and-error disappointments and failures and losses were the seed of a profoundly expanded capacity to love and accept. Not for the cold comfort of knowing you have somehow befriended your disappointment and christened it “duty.”
You said those words. You said them. You said you knew you couldn’t keep going this way. You knew something would break. Your back. Your heart. Your house of cards.
I asked if you were happy. You paused for too long before you said, with insistence in your voice, “Yes.”
I asked if you were happy. You faltered. Mumbled, “I’m working on it.”
I asked if you were happy. You sighed impatiently and said you didn’t consider it a relevant question. “I have a job to do,” you said, “and I’m doing it.”
I asked, “What if it turns out that it was your job to be happy?”
Dear, the appearance of a path is the difference between happenstance and inevitability. The difference between agency and assumption. Predetermination and will. Lost and guided. Sometimes they are built and we follow them. Sometimes they are built and we deviate from them. Sometimes they are not built but appear over time because people are like water and will seek a level or go where it takes the least effort to go.
Walking the path in the botanical garden – it was late July – you asked me what I wanted. I wanted you. But I said that since it didn’t seem as though either of us was available, I wanted to be friends in the open because being something else in secret seemed dangerous, unfair, unsustainable, exhausting. If we were committed to living the lives we chose and trying to get things right, and supporting each other in our efforts to be fully realized human beings who were at peace with stuff, I said, I wanted our families to know one another like normal friends. We were friends; we’d known each other since the edge of childhood. We had an important connection and I wanted to honor it – honorably. I said our partners actually stood to benefit from it because we made each other better. Hiding it made no sense. And another years-long disappearing act because it was too hard to be pals when we wanted to be lovers – that would be worse for me, more painful, than dealing with the discomfort, envy, frustration, longing. I said I understood you might disagree but I prayed you wouldn’t walk away again, that it would be a totally unhealable wound.
For half a decade that connection has been my lifeline, my tether, my path. For half a decade it has been the chain clasping my ankle, the line tied to the barb in my mouth. They say better the devil you know. And God knows I know you. I even know we choose our bondage, choose our addictions, choose our prisons. This doesn’t work, it never has, it probably never could, but my soul chose yours a very long time ago and what do I do if that means I walk alone?
You said you were sorry it took you so long to get back to me. Sorry you couldn’t remember when my flight landed, sorry you’d been off the grid, sorry you couldn’t be there after all.
You said you were sorry things were like this.
You apologized a lot.
Apology only recently acquired the meaning of expressing remorse for something. The original meaning of the word was self-justification. Did you know that?
I said things in my house had become intolerable. You asked, what do you want? I said I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I didn’t want fighting, I didn’t want violence, I didn’t want to feel disrespect, or disregard – or disrespected or disregarded. I didn’t want my kids to be scared. I didn’t want lives wasted. I didn’t want to feel scared out of my mind all the time unless I was angry enough to override the fear – which was often enough but at least as debilitating. I wanted no more medication, no more sneering, no more meanness, no more hacking email or secret data copies made of my phone. I didn’t want gaslighting or withdrawal or conversations recorded and sent to other people behind my back or I have no idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t want to scream all the time. I didn’t want to wake up in the morning and feel faintly disappointed about it.
“No: what do you want? Not what do you not want?”
You made me see truth in one of my husband’s chronic kvetches – I framed things like that, in the negative, a lot. It was a huge effort to transform those feelings into affirmative statements but I now understood why it was important. Yet saying what I wanted didn’t square with the many scoldings I’d gotten about Saying Too Much and “security” so I tried to choose my words delicately.
I said: “I want to raise curious, self-actualizing children, who ideally would become adults who would not dread bringing their own families home for the occasional holiday. I want them to have mostly happy memories of childhood (I realize no one gets 100%), of it being full of love and enthusiasm and safety and adventure and encouragement.”
I’m sure we both wanted that. I imagined our respective Other Biological Parents at peace and appropriately repartnered with little to no co-parenting drama. In my world, the worst thing that happened to the kids was that they ultimately found a larger circle of people who loved them and would take care of them. Didn’t you ever dream of that?
“I want stability, emotional and preferably also material, but that’s the smaller and more negotiable part. I want mutual generosity between two like-minded mature souls. Sharing, genuine communication, trust, truthfulness. I want to be with someone who has my back and makes sure I know it, and gives me the chance to do the same. I want a good balance of shared and independent interests and pursuits. I want to live with someone who gets what actual partnership is and takes it on gladly.” I said, “I want to feel loved and desired and appreciated and I want to feel the same way about my partner. Ideally, there is great sex and lots of it. Like, cannot take our eyes or hands off each other, roll around like puppies; like I Don’t Care Where the Sand Ends Up, like spontaneous furtive back-room ravishings at dull dinner parties. Not: My Eight Year Old Thinks We’ve Never Seen Each Other Naked. Not Is Mommy Going to Divorce Us. In my universe the kids are very much aware that passion and devotion have a physical expression and it is a source of joy and safety to feel surrounded by it. I’d like to feel playful and passionate and motivated to enjoy our bodies for as long as possible.”
Do you remember the exhilaration we felt when we looked at each other?
I said: “I want to feel that my partner inhabits the same kind of intellectual, and spiritual, space that I do. I want to build something. Literally and figuratively. I want us to want to be our best selves for each other and to each other. I want to easily forgive and be forgiven when either of us does not manage ‘best self.’ I to believe that even in conflict or something scary, we are in it together. I want us to be a source of energy, support, strength, peacefulness, balance and say it again, energy, to each other. I want to do good things in the world and be proud of each other and have fun. I want to stay in love. Permanently. I want sounding board, resource, wellspring, best friend, lust object, champion, lover, playmate, soulmate, sanctuary.”
And god damn you, you security-driven son of a bitch, you actually had the nerve to complain that what I said was “abstract” and barely seemed to even have anything to do with you. It was the closest thing to a whine I’ve ever heard in your voice. Do you have any idea how long it took me to craft an answer to “What do you want?” that left room for it to be interpreted as a hypothetical if it were accidentally read by someone else? It had everything to do with you. With your security.
And you used it against me.
And did I get pissed off and leave? Tell you to call me if you ever got your shit together?
I did not. I said these lines.
“I was abstract on purpose because you have an infarct when I am otherwise in a Traceable Medium. You want non-abstract? No problem. I excel at directness. So: you read this, and I will prepare myself for the other screed, about how we can’t say things like this in writing because, you know, security.
I want you. Do you really need me to say it? I want you and me to be together while there is still time. In this life. In these bodies. Much of this will sound selfish, I realize that, but ‘want’ conjures a slightly different data set than ‘require.’ I want you to tell me you are thriving and excited and fully yourself and that there is nowhere you’d rather be. If that’s true, stay there, enjoy every minute of it, and don’t worry about me. I really will be your friend on just about any terms imaginable. However, if it would be untrue, dishonest, to say that, I want you to tell me all the stuff you aren’t telling me. Now would be good. You, Mister Accentuate the Positive, Mister Bright Side, Mister Duty Is Truth, Truth Duty; Mister I Can Withstand Anything, Mister Fearless, Mister Right Action Atlas: you’ve described your home life as a lonely slog on good days and a war zone on bad ones. Look, I believe in loyalty and sticking it out and getting to the other side. I believed it so hard I almost killed myself. And your devotion and loyalty are things I love about you. You’re focused on your kids and you already know I love you for that. I support it. If you want to change the terms of how your children get raised, I support that too. So I want you to ask yourself if you’re avoiding short-term discomfort in favor of lifelong oscillations of anger and numbness. Is that specific enough for you? You’ve been intimating for a long time that you feel you cannot raise healthy, safe, happy children in your current household. If that is not a lie, then I want you out of there. I want you to listen to your instincts, understand that decisions that were right at the time can become not-right later on, and that’s not failure. The failure is pretending you don’t know it until one day you just don’t wake up. If your environment is anything like what you describe, please believe me, you are ultimately doing all of them a favor if you liberate one another to redefine your roles in one anothers’ lives. There are two human beings on the planet who carry 50% of each of your DNA. There is no more permanent bond. But it’s okay (indeed, responsible and ultimately kind) to accept that the terms and conditions no longer meet the needs of the group. What if your wife found someone out there who made her feel more safe and accepted and loved and in her right place the way we do? (Don’t discount the possibility that she already has and is just as “security-driven” as you are.) You would want that for her because you love her, right? Even if it hurt, and it would. Ultimately we want love – as much of it as possible – for the people we love. The rest is noise. I want to have something other than a secret double life. In fact it would have to be pretty damned not-secret. Would being only your friend be painful sometimes? Definitely, but I’d accept that over losing you completely. I want to travel together (in all senses of that verb). I want us to feed each other (ditto). I want to make you see stars. I want to take care of you when you need it and be able to depend on you for the same. I want to explore this for as much time as we have left.
“I want you to tell me what you want. Now would be good.”
Do you remember what happened next? I do.
You didn’t respond.
That was a pattern, a loop. You’d ask me to be direct and take the answer and run away for days, weeks. I stared at the phone like a junkie. Was it a game to you? Were you lying when you said those words?
I spent a long time – years – fussing over whether or not I could trust you, until I realized that what actually mattered was that I knew you could trust me. I never lied (except about deleting your messages). Or hid anything. Or said one thing and did another. I never failed to be there when I said I would, I never found a reason to be too busy for you if you mustered the gumption to say you needed me. I never swerved from the simple fact that I loved you passionately. Did we love the other people in our lives? Of course we did. Did we love them enough to be brave and say it didn’t work any more and let go?
One of us did. One of us went from sounding curious to sounding petulant when the question came out again: What do you want?
What did I want? Someone to work with. Someone I worked with. Fit together with. Like puzzle pieces. You said it. On the phone and in that hotel room. I wanted fearless, wanton, risk-everything. I wanted to talk less about detachment and acceptance and memories and being blown by the winds of vicissitude. I wanted the kind of detachment that didn’t require talking about, the kind that meant trust and genuine generosity, the kind that knows what’s good for one partner inherently benefits the other. I wanted to get old together and laugh at the stuff that used to hurt. I wanted a best friend. One who thrilled me. I wanted a vigorous, interesting, multivalent, jovial universe. I wanted mystical union and conjoined angels and someone to dry the dishes while I washed them. I wanted this loop to stop, just stop.
I wanted you to Get Back To Me.
I wanted you to Call Me Back.
Melody seeks to fetter herself in rhythm,
While the rhythm flows back to melody.
Idea seeks its body in form,
Form its freedom in the idea.
The infinite seeks the touch of the finite,
The finite its release in the infinite.
What drama is this between creation and destruction –
This ceaseless to and fro between idea and form?
Bondage is striving after freedom,
And freedom seeking rest in bondage.
A scrawny red vixen is following me down the beach, just a few paces from me, staring. She seems too ragged and thin to be much of a threat but it’s still jarring to realize a wild carnivore is staring into your eyes from five feet away. I jump off a boulder and she startles and makes for the trees. In the deep swale of small smooth stones on the beach my feet leave no lasting marks.
Keith Waldrop: A feeling of smooth functioning. Water, stretched till like rope it breaks of its own weight. Straight lines are infinite and if I were to follow one there could be no arrival.
You said some truths do more harm than good. Out loud I said, “Sure, I suppose that’s possible,” but in my head I said, “You’re going to lose everything you think you’re saving.” You, Man of Integrity, Cosmic Justice Csmologist, you – you wanted me to see that you were choosing loyalty over love, stability over passion, duty and toil over joy. They are false choices, dead-end paths you must turn from or be stuck. And you never seemed to notice how threadbare your own garment of excuses was. Were you being loyal? Of course not. Were you protecting your family? Of course not. Did she know you’d left her in your head years ago? It’s hard not to notice that sort of thing. Sometimes allegiances shift regardless of what you “want.” Were you building stability? You were building a domino sculpture, a powderkeg. You were building a downward spiral, a dead end, a cliff to fall off of. You did it so relentlessly I thought you must be doing it on purpose, hoping to be caught so the decision would be out of your hands.
We tried to say goodbye. Several times. We tried it in a moment of compassion; in a moment of frustration. We tried leaving the door open and we tried slamming it. We clung to each other and whispered I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But the night was the shortest one of the year and it left us for stark daylight, and also, I was not and am not actually sorry. I’m sorry about a lot of things, but not about you. No apologia. No justifying anything. On this path my body casts two shadows and one is mine and one is yours.
The path meanders between brambles the way a river slips between big rocks. The light is high and thin. I have been without you now for one year. I have not come to terms with it. I do not believe there is any coming to terms with it. On good days, steely bleak resolve. On bad ones, depthless grief. I walk in circles, struggle to forge connections that mean something.
I cannot make things mean something if they don’t want to.
I cannot make you mean nothing. You are carved into me, there would be no getting rid of you even if getting rid of you were what I wanted.
You said you saw me every time you closed your eyes. You said you were mine, in spite of all surface noise to the contrary. You said eternal, you said bliss. You said can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait; you said you were paralyzed over the choice of a hotel because you needed it to be perfect. Later we opened the door and you fussed with chargers and cables and window blinds and ice for an hour and a half while I watched from the bed.
I said I never thought this would be me, that ending a marriage would be part of my path, that I couldn’t believe it was happening and still asked myself daily if it might be possible that I just wasn’t trying hard enough.
I said, “I was so sure this would not happen to me.”
You texted, I’m sure we all had the hubris to think that. We all? You chose those words. As if to suggest we were in the same place. I remember. I was with the kids at the ice cream place, the one with the bleary light and the pink vinyl upholstery. Why would you say that, if you didn’t want me to think you might change your mind?
When I said it was done, no more negotiating, we’d told the kids and everything, you said: Welcome to the rest of your life. Welcome? It almost sounded as if you meant to say you were there waiting for me, in the rest of my life.
You said life was not unfolding the way it was supposed to. You said cut off a limb for a competent co-parent for someone who got it, for someone who understood you. You said you wanted to rest and I made you feel like you could. You said you didn’t know what to do. You wanted an architect, a user’s manual.
I said you had that already; that it was located in your thoracic cavity just to the left of the midline.
I wanted you to be brave enough to say you were afraid. You always insisted you weren’t, and maybe that’s even true.
I don’t think it’s true. You act like someone who is afraid.
You act like someone who will do anything not to face the fact that you are afraid.
What did I want? I wanted the ink on your arms and the bourbon in your mouth. I wanted the door to open at the end of the day and you to walk through it. I wanted us staring out the same kitchen window and tangled on the same floor. I wanted us to both give ourselves permission.
I wanted your secrets. I wanted you to take out all the stuff you thought you have to hide, because it’s too dark, too twisted, too scary for anyone to see, the stuff you shove into the back of the closet and pray no one will notice. Because I wanted you to have the experience of really, truly knowing that there is at least one person on this planet who accepts you for the entirety of who you are. Because you’d never be free without it. I wanted you to have that and I wanted to be the one to give it to you, over and over and over.
I wanted to not have to let go just to prove that I could.
Dear you, dear wildcard, dear Undeletable,
Your memories travel a neural trail called the mesolimbic pathway. It is mediated by dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, reward, and addiction. Though people’s brains and central nervous systems are variable and sometimes operate on their own pathways, the mesolimbic loop is an identifiable part of human brain anatomy, conducting dopamine between the ventral tegmental area in the midbrain to the amygdalae and hippocampus, which are the processing center for our memories. Dear, do you see where I’m going with this? The circuitry of your brain and nervous system is arrayed in certain identifiable, characteristic ways. But many things can alter this. Injury, trauma, learning, practice – all can encourage informational traffic to take a different route, to blaze its own synaptic trail.
Some of us just do things a little differently.
You said “Will you wrap yourself around me as we drift off?”
I said of course I would.
Paths are suggestions. No one has to stay on them and whether you do or not is not subject to moral judgment. It is how you stay and how you deviate that matters. It is why you stay and why you deviate that matters.
I wanted to model the right thing for my children – for all of our children. I wanted to be sure of what the right thing was. I wanted to believe it didn’t include accepting the unacceptable because you said you would back when you had no idea what was coming. I wanted it to live in a way that said it’s okay to be scared and that leaps of faith are richly rewarded. That joy matters. That in the end it might be all that matters. That it might be something we owe the universe, a debt of gratitude that it is wasteful, criminally wasteful, to ignore.
I said jump and I will be the net that appears. But you chose the cliff.
I’m puzzled. Did you allude to things being upside down in your life just to keep the hook in my mouth? But why would you do that if things were really okay? If things were okay what did you ever need me for?
But you said those words, you said them. On January eleventh of one year, on May second and June twenty-first of another, July 29th of a third. You are everything I have ever wanted.
I said I would never not love you. I said the only thing you could do to hurt me would be to lie to me, and even if you hurt me I wouldn’t stop loving you. You said it, you said it in writing, it was winter. You said: “Not. Going. To. Happen.”
We speak of paths and trails as ancient and often ham-handed allegories for our progression through life; do you follow the herd or blaze your own, are you on a good path or a bad one, a dead end or an infinite loop, have you found your true path – we are all very concerned with Truth in Pathfinding. With Roads Less Traveled, with perseverance, with Climbing Ev’ry Mountain, with Walking the Line. We believe, when we wish to, that we can carve out whatever path we desire. We believe when we do not want that responsibility that we must train our eyes upon a path that has been indicated for us, ordained to us. We imagine there is no going back, we imagine there are right and wrong turns.
You said “I’ll call you tomorrow,” and didn’t.
I let go. Just to prove I could.
It is said that the human body replaces 100% of its cells over the course of one year, which suggests we could literally become someone else in 365 days. But apoptosis is devilishly intelligent, cell death is staggered, and every cell has a replacement waiting and it’s sort of a master-apprentice deal or something, because the new guy remembers all the tricks of the retired one. My body has not learned how to be without you. It has a profound learning disability and a major attitude problem where you are concerned, buddy, and it refuses to learn that. It keeps putting one foot numbly in front of the other and asking again and again when you’re coming home. It clings to the cell phone and waits for lines from you to light up the screen. It seeks you like a lab rat pushing a button for sugar. It wakes up amazed that it is without you. It shuts down at night, exhausted from longing for you. We are a long way from each other now and it makes no difference; in my mind I am still, will always be, looking around every corner hoping you’ll be there, hoping you’ll say: “I’m sorry; I’m ready to be happy now.”
You said I was everything you had ever wanted. I believed you. Why would you say a thing like that if you didn’t mean it? Could you possibly have thought it would help either of us if you just fed me lines?
I walk from the sandy beach to the stony beach and back again, through the Douglas firs, through the blowing grass in which paths are still theoretical. Poppies nod in the wind; brambles tangle one upon the next. Swallows chatter. An eagle drops toward the water. The tide gasps. I move because the sun will not. I move because you will not.
About the Author:
Amy Glynn is an award-winning poet and essayist whose first poetry volume, “A Modern Herbal,” was published by Measure Press in 2013. This essay is excerpted from her forthcoming book, titled “Knotweed, Bindweed, Crabgrass, Thorn: Field Notes on Making Your Bed and Lying in It, Getting to the Root of Things, Reaping What You Sow, Bolting, and Other Useful Domestic Metaphors.” This essay collection explores the building of landscapes in the context of the breakdown of family, using both gardens and wild spaces as maps of the human psyche.