“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.” -Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”
After Hammock’s song.
Littered across the idea of the existence of Universe in the plural sense (the more-than-one, more-than-a-few, more-than-many sense), I have alternative stories with every person I’ve loved:
I. The one where we were childhood friends and we grew up learning how to love each other in different languages, how to care for one another, how to be a companion and cultivate withness. But you find the love of your life in the middle of our story and I’m left wondering, hoping.
II. The one where you always loved yourself and demanded those around you to love you well. I lived five states and two timezones away and never even knew your name.
III. The one where I longed for you after seeing you in a coffeeshop. I never walked up to you; we only shared glances and the same space 20 feet away from each other. The next time I went for coffee, I didn’t see you. And the time after that, and the one after that. Maybe you moved or maybe our schedules never allowed for us to be there at the same time. Maybe you didn’t like the coffee anymore. Eventually, I stopped looking for you. I stopped going. Maybe we weren’t meant to be more than a few glances.
IV. The one where we met at a high school pep rally the second week of school. I carried your books for you and you came to all of my baseball games. The one where I asked you to prom by spending hours on surprising you in the parking lot. Nobody was around to see it. We loved each other until we couldn’t, until college, until our separate ways meant different paths and fading from one another’s existence.
V. The one where we met at an Open Mic night. You sang a song after mustering the courage to get up in front of friends and strangers. I read poetry in front of people for the first time. The bravery enveloped us. Seven years later, we found each other again. Ran into each other in the market. You’re engaged and I’m working on my Master’s degree. We exchange numbers to keep in contact, walking in different directions from the cereal aisle, never seeing each other again.
VI. The one where we were forbidden to see each other but still chose to. “I’m going to a friend’s,” you’d say to your parents. You were really seeing me. We loved in whispers and quiet footsteps. Until the whispers hushed. Until the steps ceased.
VII. The one where we had been together for a year before people actually knew. The one where we found love in places we hadn’t thought to look yet—right in front of us.
I still get goosebumps thinking of the time when we first met. You, a self-identifying epiphany waiting to be seen and heard by someone who would knock the wind right out of your lungs. Me, a doubting-but-hopeful meaning-maker drunk on the feeling that I have never been loved the right way. There are stories in the universe about the time we spent a snow day on campus. Sitting. Waiting. Seeing one another without being seen by others.
There are stories being read about how you’d keep me company because it meant I was keeping you company, too, or about the oversized crew necks that I’d eventually accumulate at my apartment.
Somewhere in the ether, people are enjoying the story of us coming together. It wasn’t always easy. Is it ever?
I still feel the small thorn on the soft spot in me when I know your mouth is trembling, when you’re holding tears in, when your throat becomes a home for that thing everyone feels right before the levees break. I still get to a place of immense vulnerability when you ask me why we can’t just be together, when you tell me that it shouldn’t be this hard to make this choice, when you tell me you love me, even after all that we’ve been through. Even after all the small moments where I hurt you inadvertently, but with such a depth. I imagine that’s the darkness in me reminding me of its presence. Reminding me about the hurt we will inevitably share for the foreseeable future.
Foreseeable as in predictable. As in to be expected. As in we are to be expected, to be measurably weighted when someone asks us how the other is doing, knowing very well that we are gravitating around who we used to be to one another. How we used to know each other. How we used to know. And love. And loved.
I still don’t know what it means to lose something well. Or how to find the good in goodbyes. I don’t know what kind of love there is that can be held and the holder won’t feel guilty about it, won’t feel deeply about how they maybe don’t deserve it, won’t ever wonder how it is that they can ever be given something so delicate. These hands know the beauty and fragility in this. They have built great big things. Never without love but never knowing it when they see it.
For however brief our infinity was, we were delicate with each other and we found a way to minimize miles between us. Even when we couldn’t—when the miles were heavy and beneath sheets of snow—we loved each other gently. That’s something that I will carry with me wherever I go.
Even with the storm rolling in from the sea, these words will be a light. Let them pull and bend you through every hard day you’ve piled into your existence; life is not short. As Hanif would say, it’s longer than we ever expect it to be. Everything we’ve ever loved will double in size the moment it’s no longer in the same space as we are.
This is what love is. To know and be known, to see and be seen, to extend and be extended by something that is invisible when the light is shone in every direction it sits.