Alright, trying to bang out the last 2-3 chapters... excuse this if it's not very good. Also excuse the fact that I left the technical details of the relationship issues vague. <3 Sarah
* * *
When Daniel and I returned from Cape Cod, I put him on the train to Boston, where he met our friend Ruby. Together they drove to New York for two days.
When I was once again alone, I pulled out my phone and re-read my ex-boyfriend's messages. "If we are going to stay together, you need to. . ." and he listed his conditions. Heat swept over my body, as my eyes trailed down the list. When I had first received the message, I had responded to him briefly, saying: I'll think about it. Thank you for this message. I definitely feel better than I did this past week... xo
After re-reading his conditions, I pocketed my phone and went about my day, but my sense of normalcy was surface-level. I had told him I would get back to him as soon as Daniel and I returned from the Cape, and I knew my answer would determine whether we moved forward as a couple or not. But I also knew the complexity of his request: and for me, it was not a "clear set of circumstances", as he put it. And though he knew that "nothing was ever black and white", I don't know if he understood just how gray and complex and painful this particular issue was for me. His rational approach had failed us both. Pure logic could not penetrate and separate the strands into categorical placements; any attempt to apply reasoning to this specific situation was like trying to dip one's hand into a puddle of water, and split the mud from the liquid, when it had already dissolved past separation. I could not comply with his request, because -- because --
I went for a walk in my forest at sunset. I lay on my back on the leaves, and strung my fingers across my eyes, and thought. The woods was soon filled with purple shadows and the nighttime calls of birds. The fact that his words took the format of an ultimatum only added pressure. It sounded to me like, "I will not love you unless. . ."
After that, I knew my answer. The muddy water cleared, and the answer came pulsing through, like a ship breaking the waves. With a surprising lack of emotion and sudden resolve, I sat up. The feeling had become singular, and so simple:
I walked out of the woods, my soul clear and ringing. When I broke through the trees, I typed out a text that was simple and firm. Kind, but a no.
No. No. No.
I was feeling strong and clear and fatalistic. Whatever would hit me after this, would hit.
"Let it," I thought defiantly.
The sun had gone down, and the air chilled. In the twilight, I walked around the neighborhood, with my phone in my pocket. I was waiting for his response, which I knew would be immediate. My sense of calm was perhaps like the strength and peace that a person experiences in a crisis. My mind was floating in another realm, detached, breathing in the heady scent of gardenias. I felt I was right; I felt I owned my soul again. But my calm was too sharp and sweet. There was even a small smile on my face.
* * *
His answer was instant, and compact. Ok well I'm not going to date you until you change your mind. And I'm not going to waste any more of my time explaining things to you. It doesn't go anywhere.
I wrote back, Ok.
But my phone continued sounding off. I jumped, every time it made its triple pop and ding! sound. I read his texts, and my skin flinched at every word.
Take care of yourself. You are an incredible person but you are making some terrible decisions.
Finally: This is awful.
Each world felt like a physical stab. I silently read the texts. I felt mute; like I couldn't respond. I had made a full loop around the neighborhood, and was back at the house. I put my phone down on the hood of my car, and received no more texts.
I climbed up on the hood, looked at the stars, and squeezed myself together. I pinned everything: my knees were stapled, my arms wrapped around, holding my wrists so tightly I pressed white stripes into my skin. My soul was stapled together, too. I could count the stars above me like a connect-the-dot page. Like the booklets I used to work through, in very long car rides, as a child, which kept me from nausea. The stars were sharp and geometric. I, too, was sharp and geometric.
And this was what it feels like, I thought.
This was what every woman feels like, I thought, who is rejected.
I leaned forward and now grasped both my elbows with either hand. The hood of my car was cold and metallic under my bare feet.
Then I surprised myself by appealing to something greater than the moment, greater than my own resources. I rocked slightly on the hood. I linked myself backwards, generation after generation, to all womankind. "Stand with me now," I prayed. "Hold me now. Because I can't hold myself. Because if I let go one centimeter, I will shatter."
I somehow didn't shatter. I hugged myself and the wind felt warm. The stars looked like they went backwards, miles long, and warm hands came and touched my back. An unfamiliar peace flooded me: a real peace this time. A stabilizing, almost fully-numbing calm. I was full of holes, and that's exactly where the peace entered me. A millennium of the female spirit held me on the car hood that night, told me it would all be all right. I felt their womanly standing presence: I was united with suffering sisters.
The sky was now inky black and it was very late. Finally I unfolded myself, inch by inch. Bravely, carefully, I slipped down off the hood, touched ground, and started walking. I wandered the neighborhood sidewalks, along the bumpy asphalt. I waded through moonlight puddles, and I imagined my ex-boyfriend there. Slowly I built up his image, if he was walking with me.
"Say anything to him," I told myself. "He is imaginary, but present. Speak to him now. What is the hottest -- rawest -- thing your heart would say to him?"
The calm suddenly left me, and anger -- with its strongest fibers -- took its place. Fury shook me hard. "I don't want you," I said aloud. My voice speared into the firs lining the sidewalk. "I don't want you either, if you don't want me."
I said many raging things aloud, and then I took out my phone -- it glowed electric in the night -- and thought, "Why not write this?" And I wrote it all -- the anger, the softness, the very vulnerable words.
Deep down, I wanted you, I texted. I wanted it to be you. I wanted you to take my hand and walk this path with me. But I have to admit to myself that you are not in this place in life, to be able to do this with me. You do not have the maturity or the unconditional love necessary for such a journey. You are brave in so many ways, and have endurance in so many areas, but you do not have enough love or strength to stand by me in this journey. You are not selfless enough or advanced enough to love without conditions. But I wish you were. I wish it was you. I wish it was.
Then I slipped my phone into my hip pocket and marched toward the house, where the slider glowed with warm kitchen light, but -- as I rounded the holly bush -- I jumped as my phone buzzed against my skin. I read a response from my ex that surprised me.
I know, he wrote. I know I'm probably wrong.
His sudden change to softness surprised me. He texted he was sorry; he said he knew he was probably making a mistake, but he didn't know what else to do. I walked inside, into the stinging light of our kitchen. I squinted as my eyes adjusted. My battery was dying, and I plugged my phone in the wall to recharge, over the counter-top. I responded I was sorry, too, and we stayed in this slippery realm together -- this place, if not of reconciliation, of tenderness.
"I'm sorry," my ex texted me. "I was speaking out of pain, Sarah. This just hurts." Then again: "I am just really hurting."
"So am I," I wrote back, leaning my elbows on the granite counter-top. "I'm sorry if I wrote anything hyperbolic or unjust. I'm hurting, too."
So was he. And that was it.
We both felt empty, and incapable of giving the other what they desperately needed. We did not know how. Now neither of us had any answers -- we didn't before, and we didn't tonight. There seemed to be no way for us to move forward, together. We were both at a standstill. Goodnight, we wrote. Goodnight. And that is all; goodnight. <3
* * *
The next morning, a Friday, I drove down a long road to a train station that rested in a forest clearing.
Before I reached it, I saw Daniel walking down the road towards me, and I screeched to a stop. He had obviously been impatient to greet me and had started wheeling his bag the mile down the street.
His face split into a grin when he saw me. I rolled down the window and shook my hand out of in greeting. "Why, hallo!" I hollered.
Daniel reached his own arm out towards me. "Sazarella Esquire, Bombastic Bamp the Third!" he cried.
"My queen," I called out the window. "Hibernicus Fairyweather the Tenth."
Daniel started running, dragging his suitcase behind him. I pulled over to the side of the empty street, parked, and jumped out. When we met in the middle of the road, with shrieks we dove into each other's arms -- danced around, wrung each other to ribbons. Our shouts rang out through the tall pine trees. I thought we might shake each other to bits, and I tried to be careful of his back. There were rainbow sprinkles falling through my body. Shooting stars in my knees. Daniel could not stop laughing.
Finally I pulled back from him. "Wait a second, Danny. Did we just have the greeting we missed the first day?"
"We just had the greeting we missed the first day!" he confirmed, with jubilation.
We got into the car, and the car had no roof. Or it did, but it was made of flossy clouds. Sugar-spun blue, and creamy cumulus dimples.
We stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts near the train station, to get him his honey glazed donut. As we sat high on swivel chairs at a long counter, drinking a small coffee and eating donuts, laughing and talking and spinning on the chairs, I could feel the coffee shop watching us. This was what we created when we were together, I told him as we got back into the car: a pink cloud, almost, around our bodies. When we were by each other's sides and united in spirit, our combined aural force was joyous and pulled others in. People smiled around us, too.
"So," I said, putting the car into drive, "are you knackered? Do you want to go nap, or would you like to visit the town I grew up in? And maybe hike in the woods I spent my childhood in? I understand if you're tired."
He gathered himself up and said generously, spiritedly: "Let's do it. Let's go now. I want to see where my Saz was incubated." And it felt like a reversal of our first few days together, when he had initially shot down my suggestion. I knew he was doing this on purpose, and my heart melted with love.
We arrived in Moguncoy, and I put the car in park by a forest. Before we got out, I told him about my texts to my ex. Daniel asked to read the first long one, so I handed him the phone. As we sat in the car, the sun was filtering through the leaves, and shadows flickered across our knees, through the sun-roof and windows. He read the phone in his lap, silently.
I wanted it to be you, I wrote. But you were not ready to walk this journey with me, towards healing, and I am angry about that. I feel betrayed, because I thought the man I loved would help me through anything, especially these issues. But I wanted it to be you by my side. I still do.
He read it all, and then deeply inhaled.
"You -- flipping -- Amazonian woman," he breathed out.
I took my phone back. "I am proud of myself, I do have to stay." Basking under his approval, my body felt comfortable, loose, and strong. I closed my phone with a brisk clip. "I never told a man I was angry at him in my life. -- At least not a man I loved."
"Except for me, when I was being an idiot," Daniel pointed out teasingly. "At Ruthie's."
"Well, you basically yanked that confession out of me like a rotten tooth," I laughed. "And you weren't being an idiot." Then I reflected seriously: "But actually, you probably primed me to be able to write this. Thank you, Dan."
We got out of the car and slathered ourselves with sunscreen and misted ourselves with citronella-smelling bug spray. I indicated to Daniel the house I grew up in, a small colonial on top of Bear Hill, butter-yellow. I had not been in my old neighborhood in a long time. We walked in the Willow Gardens, a section of grass that I had romantically named, by the cul-de-sac. I smelled the winy scent of grapes in the air, and the smell stung me with joy: those wild vines had been there since I was a child. Behind the cul-de-sac, I showed him Willowbrooke, my magical forest inhabited by my made-up creatures of Ipses and Boppers and Shroomin. I showed him the tree where I carved the medieval names of my heroes Marian and Roland, the tree I used to practice kissing on, the tree I frequently cried under or ran away to when there was conflict in my home. I next showed him the forest of Peppercorn, many acres across the street, a woods that climbed a hill and opened into a rock-face, with a view for miles.
At the top, Daniel and I stood in this clearing and looked at the rolling hills.
"Well," he cleared his voice, "this is gorgeous and all and I want to be poetic about it because I know it's a place of nostalgia and beauty for you, Sarah --" then he paused. "But we can't linger because I have to -- use the wash closet."
Inwardly I palmed my forehead. "Then let's run back to the car," I laughed.
* * *
As I turned onto the main road, I said, "So we're going to find you a bathroom, but you know what else we're going to do? I am going to treat you to lunch -- at my favorite childhood restaurant. We are finally going to get you your take-out steak. And the chips will be to die for."
So we got lunch at Bill's, a pizza place in my hometown, and Daniel moaned and groaned over the steak. The curly fries were crisp and perfect. The restaurant smelled like frying oil and Italian subs, and the tables were covered with red-checked cloth. Every chew, Daniel said, was decadent.
"Look at this," I said suddenly, picking up a flyer left on the table. "Poetry Reading in the Woods. Says it's happening here in Moguncoy. It says artists have set up statues in the woods, and people have written poems about the pieces. They're going to present them next Sunday. Hm."
I pocketed the flyer in my purse and forgot about it for the moment.
* * *
From Bill's, we drove back to my parents' house. It was my and Daniel's last full day together. In the evening, my mother cooked us a Thanksgiving dinner, even though it was September. She could not find a whole turkey two months in advance, so she settled for two breasts, and supplemented the feast with homemade cranberry sauce with orange shavings. . . butternut squash with candied almonds. . . fluffy potatoes and butter. . . stuffing with celery. . . apple cider. . . pumpkin pie. . .and, finally, apple crisp made from our own apple tree. I had spent the afternoon cutting up apples, not telling anyone that they worms in them. I cut those parts out. My grandmother came, and two of my friends.
"We need paper pilgrim hats!" I said.
"I think someone needs to tell Daniel the history and traditions of Thanksgiving," my father said.
"Oh, I know all about Thanksgiving traditions from Hollywood," Daniel responded, spooning up mashed potatoes contentedly. "We go around the table and say what we're grateful for, and then we get into a vitriolic fight, right?"
After dinner, we watched an Irish film that my family was addicted to -- "Waking Ned Devine" -- and I inwardly cringed, curled up on the leather couch, as each of my family members tried to imitate Irish accents and asked Daniel, "You can understand what they're saying in this movie, right? We can't." I thanked him later for being patient with their charlatan impressions of his culture, but Daniel psh'd and swiped his hand. "Remember," he said, "how every time my father saw you in Ireland, he would try to sound like an American and ask you if you'd be 'a-whoopin' and a-hollerin' and playin' baseball' lately?"
After the movie, when she was leaving, my grandmother cried on the brick patio as she said goodbye to Daniel.
"I feel that I've known Patrick for years," she had told me. She had been calling him Patrick since I first moved to Ireland years ago, and had given up keeping his name straight. "I think there is something very special in him. My heart just knows Patrick. I think that's because he's your soul's twin. So he is family."
She had worn a green sparkly sweater, with a shamrock pin. She gave him a Hallmark card, copying down a phrase she reserved only for her grandchildren -- "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always" -- and on the front of the envelope, she wrote "Daniel Patrick". Her eyes were swimming as she hugged him goodbye. Then she turned back impulsively and made the sign of the cross on his forehead.
* * *
The next day, Saturday, the day of his flight home, we had breakfast together at the granite island in my parents' kitchen. Daniel presented me with a box of Barry's tea as a farewell gift.
"You know, I knew you were going to bring your own tea," I said sardonically.
"This is a gift for you!" he protested.
"But you also brought your own," I shook my head steadily, forking out eggs onto our plates. "And I'm glad, because we only had Lipton."
He wrinkled his nose.
"See? Snob." I reached over and speared his yolk off his plate. Then I laughed to my mother as she stood at the stove: "Mom, look. This is exactly how Daniel and I ate eggs at his house in Ireland. With Ballymaloe Country Relish. Every morning as a ritual. I ate the yolks -- he ate the whites."
My mom smiled indulgently, carrying a pan of hash browns over to us with a pot holder. "That worked out perfectly."
"It's a symbiotic relationship," I told her.
When she left the kitchen, I turned to Daniel, who was putting his dish in the sink. "I do so very much love you," I confessed.
He looked at me and dropped a curtsy. "Thanks," he said, and we laughed again.
He was teasing me, referencing a time when I was living at his house, and I had gone to be morose down in the bog. I was feeling melancholic and homesick, and wanted to stay that way. I walked between the tufts of grass, breathing in the salt air and the coconut scent of gorse flowers. Then suddenly I heard the shrill ring of a bike bell behind me, and I jumped wildly off the path. But it was only Daniel, and he squeaked his bike to a stop and laughed at me. I laughed, too, finding myself startled completely out of my depression. It was just what I needed at that moment. He always seemed to be just what I needed. I called after him that I loved him, oh so very much -- and all he said as he pedaled away was a self-satisfied, "Thanks."
Daniel ran the water to rinse his dish. "Remember when I responded with that?"
"I shrieked with laughter."
"-- As only a Saz could. And when you jumped three feet off the path!" He flung his arm over his head in a pirouette across the kitchen. "At my bell!"
"I did not dance off like that," I protested. "I was ungainly as a toad. You make me look like a prima ballerina."
"Well, maybe I see you differently." Daniel stopped pirouetting and leaned his hands on the granite. "Maybe I see you through rose-tinted glasses." He looked at me seriously across the island. "Except I don't need the glasses because you're already rosy."
I covered my cheeks goofily, like a girl self-consciously posing for a picture, unable to take his love, simultaneously bathing in it. That was how I felt around him: graceful. Royal.
* * *
After breakfast, we went upstairs and he packed to leave, counting his money in his thin black canvas wallet. Even before we drove to the airport bus station, I was feeling Daniel's loss like an ache in my hips, like the seventeen dollars' worth of quarters in my pocket because he didn't know how to make change.
It paid for his bus ticket.
The bus station was littered with a few empty pretzel bags and Lays' potato chips that scudded in the wind against the curb. We stood on the cement sidewalk: the sun was too hot and syrupy and happy for this moment. The bus was large and humming, stalling. As other passengers loaded their bags under the bus, Daniel and I stood and held each other.
"Thank you for crossing an entire ocean for me," I whispered.
And into my hair, Daniel said, "Thank you for being worth the crossing."
"But really," I pressed my face into his collar, "do you know what it does to a person. . . when someone crosses an ocean for her?"
* * *