When the love ends, one realizes that it is gracious for a lover not to speak in permanence or gifts.
I’m sitting at a study table on the sixth floor of the library, and the window before me is something like twenty feet tall. The snow is bad today. I overlook a city park, and every dog being walked is wearing some kind of coat. They roll in the snow for many minutes, on their backs like sea otters. The park becomes an ocean, the snow becomes rain, the dogs become the caps joyfully atop the waves.
I’m here for some reading, gothic poetry from the early 19th century. I am a notetaker, a case of highlighters unopened to my right and a ballpoint pen in my left hand. The subject matter is dark. Covering it in pink highlighter is a funny feeling. I’m bored before I’ve started.
There is a man, and he sits down at the next table, sliding three books on the surface in front of him, one red, one green, one purple. They’re all about the same thickness. He doesn’t carry a bookbag, just a pen that he pulls out of the pocket of his jeans when he sits. He wears glasses and keeps his eyes low as if to avoid the window at all costs. I smile in his direction, but he isn’t looking. I return to the snow and the dogs and the ocean.
It is silent. I hear him underlining a book, the green one. It’s somehow uncomfortable. This room is usually empty. I almost don’t want him here.
I feel a compulsion to begin speaking to myself. A person in the library just speaking to herself at full volume, her voice loud and paying heed to nobody. What would he do? Would anyone scold me? Would he just wait until I stopped talking? Would he leave? Should I speak and sing and yell and echo against the walls of the library until something happens?
The man and I stand to leave at the same time. I’ve gotten nothing done.
The man and I take the same bus home. I intend to say goodbye at the entrance and break the ice, but we find ourselves walking in the same direction toward the bus stop.
“What are you reading?” I ask him. “And why the sixth floor?”
He is soft spoken, an academic. He tells me that he is trying to write a great novel, and I do not comment that so is everyone. He tells me that it was the empty room and the back of my neck that drew him to pick my floor.
As I sit next to him on the bus and he clicks his number into my phone, I look out the window and imagine who I would be if I were different. Laughing only in cackles. Spilling my coffee on my lover. Having a snowball fight with shards of ice while we wait for the bus to come. When he hands me back the phone, I text him a heart emoji because I am trying to be braver. When he leaves me, I feel something starting, though it really has nothing to do with him at all.
Sing me to sleep through the drywall, I plead through the soles of my feet on my walk home. In my dream that night, I see myself as a nun.
We don’t like any of the same movies; he doesn’t like social media. I do not have to worry about minefields or running into him in the middle of the night. I think I need to make myself the trophy, the symbol, the thing that he fears finding, and not the other way around.
It isn’t malicious, but I only date to learn about myself. Which isn’t not love, it’s just a different kind of love. An ego-driven love. An honest love. I put the anniversaries on my calendar, but the time never actually means anything.
I’m thinking most often about the conversation we had a year ago and how he expects me to demonize him in a poem and how I expect myself to demonize him in a poem, but I have spent too much time writing about what it is that we reduce our lovers to for me to do that anymore, so what is this then? A new love? A savior narrative? An effigy?
So we date and break up, and I don’t keep track of how long it takes. I don’t keep track of that many moments. And, when the love ends, I think that it is gracious for the weather to be too cold because I feel no urge to run through the city streets toward something.
I’m standing on his sixth floor balcony, and the blues he has put on for dinner dissipates into the night air around me, a pulsing.
He’s inside, a man in his sixth floor apartment. He’s tall. He’s got scruff around the bottom of his face. He wears a navy blue button down with tiny white dots speckled evenly across it. He moves about the kitchen very quietly, but every few moments I can hear metal clanging against metal, a knife pressed against a cutting board. The sounds are lost in the blues. I’m looking over the city below me with what feels like intensity.
He calls my name from the inside, and that also sounds like blues.
The towel he holds is green, and I watch as he dries his hands methodically, the crevices at the base of each of his fingers. He says something to me, but the tone is dull, wood falling against pavement and the close listening that sound requires. When he moves down the hallway, I follow. The modern decor could be boring, but it seems honest, bright colors like an elevated teenage bedroom. My eyes move like open hands, like a child pressing her fingers against every wall.
He shows me the bookshelf in his bedroom which is tall and mahogany, as I would guess. The spines of the books are mostly black. He doesn’t take off his book jackets. I wonder about the red, the green, the purple. I try not to leave mental fingerprints as I read them one by one. He doesn’t read anything short. Each of these works would be heavy in my hands. I imagine holding them, the feeling of my palms, the blood flow, the corners. I know he watches me with wonder in his expression. I do not make eye contact with him, just murmur something in a low intonation. When I move past him to the door, I am floors away, worlds away, balconies away.
I’m back to standing on his sixth floor balcony, and if I look far enough, I can see a young woman dancing in her room a couple blocks away. She has hair to her shoulders. Her shadow, caught by her desk light, projects against her window, a drive-in movie for the pedestrians below. She moves slowly, her limbs elongated by the distortion, displaced.
“Look,” I say.
He comes behind me, opening the screen door and stepping out into the cold. His footsteps are softer than mine. He places his hands on the rail. I point at the dancer.
He is quiet for a long time.
I think he is imagining me as the dancer. I think he imagines me behind closed doors and in the shadowy pockets of the city, dancing in the spaces where I cannot be seen by anyone. I think he imagines that I dance to blues, that my hair cuts itself, that my limbs are longer than I say they are. I do not know what to do with that.
We eat. We talk about something.
We do not take the elevator down, but the stairs. They’re carpeted. Our steps do not echo.
At the step in front of the complex, he kisses me on the forehead. When he does, I think he imagines me waking up, imagines himself waking me up. I take a taxi home, and when the lights pass through the windows and onto me, I close my eyes.
Sing me to sleep through the hallways, through the caverns, through the closet doors. I wrap myself in the words. In my dream, I see myself as the dancer except I am standing in the road below, my hair reaches to my knees, and the streetlights are out so that I am not displaced.
Here’s how I know I have healed: When the love ends, we are on the breakup call; I say “I love you,” and hang up the phone before he even has to think about responding.
Lillian Grace (they/them) is a queer interdisciplinary artist from SoCal, currently residing in NYC. Their work can be found in Sterling Clack Clack, Bryant Literary Review, Humankind Zine, Coffee People Zine, Adolescent Content, Clementine Zine. ‘i am the love letter’ (2020, Tablo Self-Publishing). More at lillianlippold.com.