I haven’t been out at 3 a.m. in a while. By while, I mean without you.
The fog was covering the mountains in a thick layer, smoothing any jagged details. It was humid, but I still wore the flannel you liked me to keep in the backseat of my car for this very purpose. Still tucked into my security blanket, I went to sleep in the middle of my bed.
This morning, I grumbled as I took out the vacuum and swept up the place. Topsoil littered the floor and napkins were shredded under the couch. It wasn’t until I saw a pair of paws playing quietly alone that I realized we all have a silent caretaker.
I have to choose who I want to care for me, as well as who deserves my care.
I took down my hair and flew through the yellow lights. Each intersection had a woman on the corner, waiting for their chance to move. I flew to you.
Later, I ate with you but looked at the sky alone, with a quiet and sole interpretation.
I asked, “I wonder how many times we’ve looked at a sky, called it beautiful, and then completely forgotten it?” I asked.
You said. “All I heard was ‘completely forgotten’,” you said.
Grinning, I explained why that fleeting moment was ironic.
In that moment, we were the sky.
I remember every face I meet and the name it owns. This seems like an interesting addition to a résumé and a useful parlor trick to use once the party is over. It should be but not when growing up and making mistakes in a city that fits in between a couple of hills we collectively decided to call mountains. The bodies of the faces saunter and snicker and carry on, passing by like it means something to me. It does. I remember every moment. The emotions they left with me. The secrets they told me. Annoyance makes my pulse radiate heat, just like how pavement feels on a southern day in July. Even though I regularly cut ties without much motive, I still reserve the right to selfishly froth in my own ill wishes. It’s only when they pass and I remain unnoticed am I shaken back into my senses. I realize it’s likely they’ve gone another day without thinking of me. It’s vexing to be overlooked. It festers and grows, turning real individuals into memories and ideas as flat as newspaper. No one has ever ignored me. They’ve just been walking past me, engrossed in their own valid thoughts.
Have I locked the door? The door is locked. Pull the handle, once, twice. Doesn’t budge. Now push it in so the latch clicks. Click. Thank god, I’m home. There’s a roast chicken sitting on the counter. Who doesn’t refrigerate a chicken? Has that just been taken out or has it been sitting there for hours like the dishes sitting in the sink? The floor is sticky. The stovetop is crusty. I cleaned last week. No one thanked me. Did I lock the door? Look back. It’s locked. I’m exhausted. I need to rest, but that will take up an hour of my evening. My nightly ritual takes an hour and a half. Studying takes up three. If I do all of it, I’ll be getting in the shower at 10 and sliding into bed at 11:30. I can’t rest, but I’ll lay in bed while I study. When did I last wash these sheets? I wash them weekly, but they feel dirty. I feel dirty. I feel guilty. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not enough.
1, 2, 3.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t look at myself. I look at my lips. Red is the color of power and I am a slave to making sure they stay universally desirable.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t love the rest of myself. I try to ignore that mauve has made a home for itself below my eyes. Blue veins with green and violet branches cover my eyelids and hands in tangled, necessary system. Taupe pockmarks from scratching bug bites when I was a child season my ankles and wrists. Amber down sprouts in velvet crops beneath my spine and navel. Gunmetal shadows fill the absence of flesh around my collarbones and cheeks. A thin canvas of sallow skin pulls my colors together.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t always appreciate what I see. I’m learning to love my colors and celebrate the painting that has and has yet to come. Pinks and reds and nudes aren’t the only shades to admire. Our bodies are rainbows, fleetingly beautiful and priceless.
I would love to call you dear. I know your name and what your backyard looks like, because you told me during polite, if not somewhat forced, conversation. I know you double knot your shoelaces and that your hair turns into curls at the nape of your neck, because I’ve snuck glances at your silhouette for weeks.
I would love to call you dear, but I don’t know you. I don’t know your favorite color or what song fills your eyes with light or how you take your coffee. I don’t know any of the things that matter. I only know the most mundane details you’ve thrown around since you were able to speak. You shook my hand and shared these with me, unaware that I’d tuck them away and say them quietly to myself to revel in the feeling of knowing.
Everything I have ever loved has had a previous owner. I carry the treasures of others securely in the crook of my arm and pretend they’re mine. A jacket my father stained with sweat around the collar and cuffs. A pendant given to my sister made of onyx and gold. Field guides from thrift stores with inscriptions and bookmarks and cramped annotations. These are my pickings. Stolen nostalgia is piling up around me. It’s warming me through the winter, but I want to find my own way out. When will I begin creating my own trail of artifacts? Who will want to exhume my spirit?