My left cheek freezes. His breath, at first soft, warm, and wet, now collides in puffs on my skin that dry and evaporate on impact. The tiny hair follicles freeze to my epidermis as microscopic ice crystals form in wave after wave in the shadow of that breath.
What in the hell am I doing here in the first place? I had come there to tell him something, a simple phrase. But I was now torn between two statements: the phrase I wanted to say, and its antithesis, the one I should say.
He pulled me closer, and I bent over backward to keep his face away from mine. I felt like one of Salvador Dali's elephants, extending my body in an unnatural way to avoid more contact- the way the elephant's legs become such fine brushings that they barely graze the ground they walk upon. I think I was afraid of letting him gaze too deeply into my eyes. He would have grabbed onto something deep inside of me, holding me there with a force stronger than anything should be able to.
The stars above looked down upon us, frowning. Orion's approval means the world to me, and he was disgusted.* The stars of his belt seemed dull, unpolished; they did not twinkle or wink at me. Orion, He, and I all knew we I should not be standing so close.
"You're not being fair," I whispered.
"Life's not fair," he replied.
I kept thinking of her, his public significant other. She often occupied this same safe space, centered within his arm's embrace, hovering over his heart. I counted the beats, the reverberations penetrating into my fingertips. I followed the chemical reactions: The impulse, the stimulus, his heart awakened the receptors within my hands, setting of a chain reaction of neurons, firing in random directions, a lightning flash up my arm to my brain, where I still counted the beats. My back still stung from his knife.
I didn't tell him anything. I couldn't muster the strength to keep him in my arms nor to send him away. His lock on my frame was his own doing, his own choice.
But we kept returning to this same spot. The arguments, the cold shoulders, the eloquent extended metaphors we said to describe what "we" were, what we were becoming... followed, routinely by apologies, understanding, and tender moments. It's my inability to commit, his inability to share the grey. His yin and yang completely depend on the sharp line between the shapes, the high contrast of the colors. My energy is focused on letting the blacks flood the whites, the whites slurring with the blacks, and the happy grey medium between.
He told me to look at him. I hesitated. "So I know you're listening," he insisted. I looked, and the cold slipped away. Caught in his gaze, the pilot light inside me exploded and the fire sped along my arteries, warming every inch of me. I stopped shivering. He pulled me closer, so I could feel his heart beating through my ribcage, and he began to trace letters on my back. Slowly, deliberately, letter by letter, he spelled out words, his fingertip sliding smoothly across my back.
Three words, to be exact. The three words I once whispered to him, but now I found, were caught deep in my throat. "I love you," he confessed silently. I stopped breathing. I closed my eyes, centering all my attention on the smooth pattern of his breathing, the quick bum-bum, bum-bum of his heartbeat, and I began to cry. The tears left icy, salty slides, where the harsh yellow streetlight came to play.
"I've got one feet in two boats," he said. I laughed at him. "Grammar queen," he retaliated, "It's an old Chinese saying, you know, 'Don't bite off more than you can chew' type stuff." We were silent.
I looked up at Orion for some sort of guidance. Neither of us made a move. I felt his hands trace down my back to my waistline and wander towards my hips. At the very tiniest crack between my jacket and my jeans, his finger glazed my hip for the very briefest of moments...
He was holding me again, kindling our forbidden love, our rebellious natures: We fought the separation of our paths almost endlessly, swimming around in circles in attempt to avoid drowning -instead of swimming towards the shore.
I was the reason we were together that night. I had called him up that Christmas eve. I had asked him to come with me- somewhere, anywhere, and he agreed. But it was Christmas eve, where do you go on Christmas eve? Nothing's open, everything is battened down, closed up to the cold. We let Chance guide us, we simply drove. Heads: right, tails: left. Chance was bringing us towards the mountain, our backs to civilization. We rushed down curvy speedways, up and down hilly stretches of highway, and zig-zagging back and forth residential streets, the bluff drawing us in like a magnet.
Then we stopped. The road stopped, ended, out of nowhere. We couldn't get any closer to the solid, steady rock of the peak (at least, without a cross-desert trek). We had made it to the highest cul-de-sac overlooking the city, adorned with an unborn house. The wind rushed through the unsealed cracks and open window and door frames, whining, whispering, pulling at our heartstrings, begging us to play.
We stood in the open window-frame of that plywood house still in the early stages of construction, gazing westward at the falling sun. Outside the city limits, everything seemed simpler: the red and orange hues of the sunset, the crispness of the air as it entered my lungs. Somehow, being away from the bright lights of the city, breathing this less-polluted air made me feel purer, it seemed to cleanse me of my infidelity...
"Is it wrong to want you in my arms, always? I... I don't know. My lines are very blurred right now," he whispered in my ear, "'Every time you smile, it tears me apart... Fall into me,'" he sang. "I wish we could go back and live in the house under the mountain; everything would be simpler there."
"I've been trying to remember that moment, that extended moment. I want it back so badly." I pushed him away. It took all the strength I could muster to break from his warm embrace and return to the coldness of the night. Alone.
"I want you. Location, time -it doesn't really matter so long as I have you in my arms. But I get so little time with you." I recognized his stance. It's how he was in class, in front of his customers, with his parents. It was his salesman-stance. It was as if he was telling me, Wait, wait. We've got something you might be interested in. Let me just... Sell you this idea.. He could sell me anything when his eloquence and presentation were top notch. He could have easily convinced me that... "Maybe..." he began, in his smoothest tone. I could see the honey dripping off his tongue, the words were thick and coated with it, "maybe it's better that we're not together. I'd certainly get frustrated with you, and you'd have no choice but to frustrate me."
What was that, lover? You want me to stand still while you strangle me? One moment, let me get you a rope. I gasped. He directed his icy stare at my neck. It was difficult to breathe. "Ouch," I sighed, barely audible above the street sounds behind his house. For reasons both bad and good, I could never catch my breath around him.
He continued: "I don't mean to hurt you-- I mean, there are times when, trust me, I feel like hurting you, but not now. All I know is that it's not our time." He stepped back after speaking, looking at me in whole. To say that I was confused, taken aback, would be to only skim the surface. My mood became the lottery, and progressively darker moods were the balls rolling out. Chance? Where was Chance now? The man in front of me, the love of my life thus far, was telling me "No." He was singing me a lullaby, telling stories of monsters and demons and unhappy endings. I let a silent a tear roll down my cheek. It lodged itself beside my nose and I left it there. "Shh, shh," he cooed from a distance. I barely heard him. I was choking on his coated words, and mine stuck in my throat. We were silent for ages. Thoughts provoked thoughts, feeling brewed and died and rekindled. My emotional buffet was serving everything cold tonight.
"Silence answers me/ sharp contrast to din within/ shatter the silence?" he haikued. His voice was desperate, drained of any confidence or embellishments.
The night paused. Complete silence enveloped us. And if you've ever heard that silence, it's a god-awful sound. Eventually, I spoke: "You shatter silence/ I'm picking up the pieces/ to a silent love."
Silence. He shifted his weight, his eyes never leaving me. "Words fail."
"I left it all there," I explained quietly, "and I don't have any more words to say."
I looked at him, memorizing the dark shadows that fell across his face, the highlight
s on his hair from lamplight. Then I turned and walked away.
We still stay in touch. But never anything more personal than an email or a quickly spoken "Hello" anytime we meet. The words we type each other are drained and stoic. They are as empty and hollow as the house on the mountain. All the words I will never say to him drip off my tongue and collect in the gutter to be carted off by a deeper force, something that will never allow them to reach his ears. Forgive me for trying hard, but never hard enough...
These memories haunt me, sporadically whisping through me, moaning and howling in pain, like the house on the mountain.
*Ever since I was a small child, I had always pictured my dead relatives hovering over me, protecting, guiding. I imagined them peering over the edge of some white, fluffy clouds, I hoped, smiling at me. When I died, I decided that I would go live on the middle star of Orion's belt. I've always had a personal attachment to that constellation. "Orion" is not to be confused with my childhood playmate, although I'm sure that his name had a large impact on why I chose Orion's belt as my final resting place.