It was snowing when I walked to the 4th Avenue Bridge to throw the last of your things into the Sound. It felt like it was finally time tonight. It never snows in Olympia. I love the snow. I think I especially love the snow tonight because seeing Olympia covered in snow and stillness it the closest I’ll ever come to seeing a city I both hate and love buried. Sometimes I lie in bed and stare out the window at the lights of downtown. As I fall asleep, I dream of this city meeting its doom.
Walking up to the bridge, I thought about how much I love snow. I thought about how much I always wanted to weather a storm like this with you. We talked about it once, three winters ago now, when we tried to reconnect the second time. That day when it wouldn’t stop raining here, and the snow just kept falling in buckets there, blanketing the city we first encountered one another in in silent white. I picked up my phone in the black of another sleepless night to check the time and you had called. I knew you were going to be there. Tonight I wonder if we have just been weathering a storm all along.
I have carried some of your things with me to each room I have called home in this city. That’s pieces of you in seven rooms across five years. I just counted. I realized I was always carrying a piece of our ghosts with me, not letting go, not letting them rest, haunting myself with images of the people we once were. Haven empathized with me once this September. The sun was setting on a perfect day at the end of summer, and we had just decided our term of endearment for one another would be “Brutalheart”. As in “Sweet dreams, Brutalheart”. “Walk safe getting home, Brutalheart”. Brutalheart. The nickname makes sense. Feeling seen is a rarity in the world, and I guess it’s nice to have a friend I’m matched in in both severity and the fiercest tenderness. It took Haven and I almost three years to warm up to each other. After we became friends, everyone around us simply said: “You two should have done this years ago.”
“I’ve been where you are. I just tell anyone I date on the rare occasions that I do so that they are going to have company with the love I can’t un-love”.
“When was the last time you loved anyone?”
“Ten years now.”
I wonder what I’m in for, and I’m also content with it.
Pieces of you gone:
One flowing black winter scarf. You had one like it the second winter we were friends, before we fell in love. That dark and terrible post-dead friend, post-breaking up with our shitty partners, sitting on the dirty floor of the kitchen in my haunted apartment eating BLTs because that was what I had in the fridge and you had forgotten how to feed yourself.. I have always been glad our first kiss wasn’t in that apartment. I liked your scarf and stole it for a few weeks. You bought me my own for my 32nd birthday, right before drugs and trauma and madness took me down for a while. I brought it with me to Washington.
I looked forward to wearing that scarf every fall. I would wrap it around my head and cover most of my face with it when I walked through the world. I wore it like armor. I left it in a friend’s car for a few weeks after a trip to Seattle once. I texted them as soon as I realized it was missing, and made them promise to keep it safe until I could get it back. Almost every person I have dated since you has been fixated on that scarf. One person always asked to wear it. I never acquiesced. Another person strangely bought me a very similar scarf for a different birthday. It felt like a cheap and creepy move, like she knew she knew how much I wasn’t over it and just wanted to erase you. I never wore her scarf. Instead, I walked downtown and gave it to a person living on the street who said they were cold. I kept your scarf. I loved your scarf. Sometimes I would fall asleep in my room reading with it still wrapped loosely around my neck, like an embrace.
One handmade, leatherbound journal with the inscription:
Be bold, be wise, and never give up. You are what you make yourself. I love you ever fiercely.”
I wrote part of a poem about how our blood mingling one night that summer felt, and could never bring myself to write another page in it. It was such a beautiful gift, and you and I always loved writing together. Just like I always loved watching you sculpt. I loved keeping you company in your studio, scribbling furiously in my journal, always stumbling over words and trying to stay on task. We parted ways so cataclysmically barely a month after you mailed me that journal. Since then it has occupied shelf space and altar space, taunting and haunting me with my failures of softness. I bought lesser fake leatherette journals cheap and on sale at Ross and filled those while yours gathered dust.
One fuzzy green blanket. We slept on that blanket the summer we fell in love, back when I was so sick and so crazy I was sure I was going to die. I would lie in your bed and cry my eyes dry, watching my demons dance across the ceiling. You would press your forehead to mine and whisper, “Baby, you just have to breathe” like you were trying to breathe the life I was so terrified of losing back into my lungs. Some nights you would lie awake waiting for me to fall asleep first, because I was so scared of death coming for me while I slept. I hated that summer sometimes, but on the other side of that hate, some of those nights, I swore had never felt so safe or so loved.
We slept on the blanket again a few summers later, the one where you were so sick. I stayed in bed with you for days feeding you soup and petting your hair and bringing you water. You would come out of your fever state hours after the sun went down and the night became cooler, lit only by your green nightlight. We would talk of all the softer things that lived inside of us, and it felt like a dream, like a secret world ensconced in the sanctuary of your room. I would fall asleep with my hand on your chest, feeling your heartbeat, the gentle rise and fall of your breathing, always marveling that something so tender could bring itself to love something as monstrous as I had always felt. I left a note on your desk after our last good night. I can’t remember what it said. Something like “This will always be one of my favorite rooms. You will always be one of my favorite people.”
You mailed me the blanket here in Olympia as summer gave way to fall. I hadn’t been sleeping well for over a week. I always slept so well in your room, and you hoped the reminder of the time we shared would help me finally rest here. We skyped while I opened the package, and I cried when I saw the blanket. I cried for missing you. I cried for the gnawing emptiness creeping up from that deep, lost place always inside of me. You told me once years later that you tried so hard to fill that emptiness for me that it nearly destroyed you. I believe it. I sent you a picture of my hand on the blanket once after we broke up. You said you had been sure that I would have thrown it away. I never threw it away.
I slept on the blanket for the next three years. I kept it like a secret. Rarely telling anyone who shared my bed just what we were slumbering beneath. The same ex who tried to replace your scarf, figured out the blanket came from you and tried to replace your blanket, too. It was weird. She was always so fixated on you, in this kind of pathetic not so subtle way. I think she knew she could never compare. I don’t feel guilty saying that, even though I maybe should. She sent me the blanket with the scarf in the mail and kept reminding me how expensive the blanket had been after it arrived. I slept beneath it for a few nights with a new lover who that ex hated. The new lover was the first person I loved since you, and the ex blamed them for our dissolution. The new lover remarked “You should tell her that I appreciate how soft this blanket is”. They were joking, and despite the temptation, I could never bring myself to be that casually cruel. Instead, we slept under the new blanket for a few cold nights. As the ex became more toxic and abusive, I could no longer abide having a single piece of her in my home. I ended up unceremoniously giving the blanket to a different person living on the street in the cold.
“Hey man, do you want a really soft blanket that my shitty ex gave me and I don’t want in my house anymore?”
Then I went back to sleeping beneath your blanket.
Tonight I prepared to part ways with the last of your things. I washed your blanket and scarf on gentle together one last time. Once they were dry, I folded the scarf on my desk and placed your journal on top of it. I folded up your blanket and sat with it on my bed. Before I knew it, I was holding it almost like a person and apologizing. Apologizing for the hurt and pain over the past years. Some nights I just feel like the broken monster I’d always wanted to prove myself to be. I never want to be soft again. I never want to feel again, never allow an iota of hurt to touch me. I texted my best friend a photo, which I will never show another person. I captioned it “I hate this so much.”. It was pathetic. It was funny. It was from that place of pain where everything feels so bad that it’s almost comical.
It’s cold outside this winter, with so many people in this city without homes. I actually couldn’t bring myself to throw your blanket away, too much of a waste. I thought you’d appreciate that. After all, the first time we hung out, you insisted on eating the rest of my vegetables. “I have this thing about wasting food.” I took your blanket to the homeless shelter downtown, the one some of my friends staff. Brian was finishing his shift before the overnight staff took over. I handed your blanket to him through the fence. My friend looked strangely beautiful and tired backlit by the streetlights. I could see the near two decades that we have known one another deep set in his face.
“Thanks, someone will really love this.”
“I hope so. I really loved it too.”
I hope your blanket is keeping someone warm in the shelter tonight. I hope they sleep beneath that blanket and they dream of love. I hope they sleep beneath your blanket and it brings them gentler times. I hope they sleep beneath that blanket as peacefully as I once slept beneath it next to you. Tonight I just want so much tenderness, for all of us.
From the shelter, I walked to the 4th Avenue Bridge. I have thrown so many things off this bridge and into the Sound. Spells. Hopes. Dreams, always waving like home. I have unceremoniously thrown the vestiges of at least two toxic connections I no longer wished to have into this polluted water. Always hoping that water will carry them where they need to go as it rushes north and out to sea.
I wrapped your journal up in your scarf with flowers and a feather to send them on their way. I stood in the snow and streetlight and pressed them to my face one last time, imagining I could smell the way you smelled back when I just always wanted to breathe you in. I imagined I could smell the way our sweat smelled as it mingled together back when our days were sweet and our nights were long and filled with some of the deepest love I have ever known, back when we were in love and it felt invincible, not fragile, fleeting, and tenuous, like love almost always is.
With a sharp inhalation, one that carried the weight of lost years, I threw your journal and scarf into the sound. I watched the rushing black water carry them away, until the waterlogged pages took them to the icy depths. I can’t remember what the poem I wrote on the first page was, just that it was about sweat and love, and time and blood mingling beneath a moon the color of rust. I don’t think I ever really liked it, but I might have re-worked it later. I’m okay with the poem being lost to the ocean. It’s fitting. You always told me how much you loved the sea. I let it go into the night and the water, just as I finally let you go. I came home to a room now free of the weight of our ghosts, finally without so many reminders of time well spent, but long since passed, tragically cut short by my barbed words and irrevocable actions.
One day when I couldn’t write, but desperately needed to, you asked me to write you a story about how it felt to be speeding down Riverside Drive with the windows down on a matchless summer night in the passenger seat next to you. You just asked that I leave out the details about us fucking next to the French Broad in the gathering dusk. I sat at my desk and stared at a blank page and remembered how the sleepy Appalachian houses looked as the light faded. I remembered standing in a cemetery on a hill beneath the moon, with the mountains silhouetted in shadows held us. I had never felt more at home, never felt more held. All I could manage to get onto the paper were the words “You and this city are the architecture of home.”. Back then, I didn’t write about softness, pushing through pain and fear to reach tenderness and trust, about the courage it takes to be vulnerable and gentle in the face of the unfathomable loss.
I got the hang of staying soft, but maybe too late. I know that now.
You wanted a story my love, it’s yours.
It only took letting you go to write it down.
My only hope is that it does you justice.
All the wrong
I have done
Of a million more
Just waiting to become
Send them home!
Send them home!
Send them home!
Use your sword
Use your voice
Then begin again”