(Pre-caution: brief mention of drug use, and some older-reader themes. :) - Sarah)
I have sometimes loved someone because they reminded me of a mulberry bush. Or a holly bush. I am misquoting Proust but I forget. Or because of the green plastic bottle of cologne which was wedged in the pocket of his backseat, and when I spritzed it, filling the car with baby powder and poison, laughing at his dandyism, he said, “Please don’t. My uncle gave that to me before he committed suicide” – and, for wasting a fraction of the liquid, I felt had pinched the ashes from an altar and used it in the vegetable bed with the manure
Or because of the frozen ground when we hiked, and he texted his ex-girlfriend, ignoring me. He would take her out for waffles and try to win her back.
My father had driven through his neighborhood and saw him, a highschool senior, sitting in the grass, cross-legged before his cross-legged girl, holding her face in his hands and staring deeply into her eyes without saying anything.
My father laughed disparagingly, but then he said tenderly, “He is in trouble.”
Or for standing on the cement wall, balancing with my leg outstretched, as they all shuffled and smoked, in the autumnal night outside our college.
Or for the wet and mildewed cushion on whose unpleasant edge I sat, and for the blocks of sugar cubes and his dragon teapot and his sunflower, and the mugs thick with milk, and a drug addict across from me, whom he had pulled from AA, in construction boots, talking about the heroin-pushing on the streets of Worcester, while he elegantly presided over the tea as if we were in an English garden.
Or because he always ran up stairs.
Or because he said, “You have an egg-tooth on your beak. Start pecking at your shell. Believe me, I want to stay for my sister, too – but what is better, for them to see us living our own lives? Or to stay for them?”
Or for dancing with me across the gritty garage floor, while I was euphoric from chocolate, and saying, “You’re light! You’re so light! You feel like a feather, but are easy to move,” yet it was the inexperience of a boy, and I rumpled his curls and knocked his glances off and broke them on the floor.
Or for saying, “Sing again,” as we drove, as if he were asking to see crashing cliffs or artwork, and listening to my Irish battle song, and then saying, as the last note faded and I cut the ignition by the pines and there was only the silence of the night and the summer crickets, “I don’t say this lightly and almost never make predictions, but one day a man is going to fall asleep to the sound of your voice.”
Or for the grease beading on the cheese, when he came into work and leaned across the counter: “Can you take your break right now? Pizza is on me. I’m having an existential crisis and I need your advice.”
Or for passing through the undeveloped white pines, soft bristles brushing my face, and seeing him crouching like an awkward tiger, and jumping out and I pretended to shriek, and he held me as I fell over laughing, and we went running through the haunted stick-woods, like children, where witches once built shacks…and I felt full of magic…and he was high as the lollypop castle in Candy Land, and when I learned, my magic broke.
Or for the ache that came into my stomach when I looked at the trophies lining his bedroom wall and his cap and gown and certificates…and I did not belong. I had homeschooled, and the gold and green colors never flew over my bed.
Or for his insanity: the time I drove him home, to the sleepy whir of the heating system, in the spicy-scented air of Christmas, in the blurry feel of a late night, the hypnotic crinkling of static music, and he said, “God forbid you ever feel this. This. Do you know? Do you even know what this is? Just wait till you feel it and you will not want to live. You just don’t know it yet. God forbid you ever open your eyes and see it.”
Or for his, “Have you ever been knocked down by an alcoholic father?” and my, “I won’t play this comparing game with you because no one wins or loses.” Sitting up front, my feet up on the dash. My fingers scraping into the leather.
Or for the cells of gold at the bottom of the bottle and my reluctance to buy it for him only because I was a year older: the shame and turmoil I felt, the soft flat paper in my palm: the brown crinkled bag: “You’re a doll. Do you know, you look good with your hair down like that. It’s all soft and wavy around your face, and bright in the sun. You look like an angel. Now if anyone tries to mess with you, you just tell them you know the king of the devils – tell them you know Lucifer and I will smite them.”
Or for the guava-pink sunset in the graveyard when he told me his soul was shattered into a hundred pieces, each shard having its own unique persona, a glinting piece of him now existing on its own, and I begged him to welcome these parts home, and a glint came into his eye – “What, love the predatory part of me?” and I wondered for a brutal moment if I was going to be murdered behind the woodpile.
Or when he asked what would happen if he tried to kiss me: I said I would dodge, and he told me to sharpen my dodging skills, and I said with dignity, “If you try, I will immediately put a wall between us that will never come down,” dragging a finger across the brown grass, and he left.
Or that I feel I am with Hemingway – with the smoke caught in the tweed, the nicotine on the fingertips, the brooding mind, the intelligence bordering on a breakdown, the hurt heart, the tippling whisky, the poetry about sopping up bloody eggs with toast.
Or perhaps because, when I am older, my only claim to fame may be that I lived in the town where he grew up.
Or for standing on my porch and hoping the neighbors didn’t hear – “You’re a girl men would want to strew rose petals for…would want to woo…and win. With you it would be spiritual: the epitome and ideal. With your friend here, they wouldn't even get half-way to propriety.” She laughed fully, and I cautioned, “Sh – the neighbors” ...as the ashes floated down in flakes, landing on the unpainted wood.
And maybe seeds were planted that night, for a year later he accosted her on a dyke and she cried assault and he cried innocence and I, being three thousand miles away, went tearing around my room in a fury, my hands working....then perched on a folded, neat, plaid blanket, glad I was on the wrong side of the ocean; hating that I was, because if I had his red face in my hands I would have struck it more than once.
I have loved his name because it reminded me of a mulberry bush: the shape is woodsy and the sound is green and I see the grains of nobility in the arrangement of those letters in my phone: Dec. 21, 2012, 8:58 pm. But I will not answer. I made an impossible choice then with the front that it was the only possibility. I cannot now be talked into understanding. If I heard him, I might shake, and I must keep my torch lit. I must stand sentinel for the rights of women, even if no one else does, even if it is against someone dear to me, even if the girl herself decides to rescind it. I must – I must –
So why am I crying?
Or for his sweaters, and his coats, and his scuffed brown shoes.