stowaway

We should get a candle, I said, when you told me it was the first day of fall. Maybe you figured I didn't realize, because I lose track of things like that. Maybe you know fall floods me with an optimism that dips but doesn't really crash until the holidays hit, and you wanted to give me a boost. Or maybe it just made you happy to announce it, in the same way you love to say "Rabbit Rabbit" the first morning of every month.

We should get a candle, I said, and you smiled.

Yeah?

Yeah. To commemorate. Something scented and yummy, like pumpkin. It could be our new tradition, I went on. Picking out a fall candle. Then we could get duck fat fries. 

Yes, you said. I love it. Let's do it. And the next day I met you after work, at the shop. Candy sweet smells pouring out into the plaza. Bottles and jars with silly, sentimental flavors like "Sweater Weather" and "Tailgate". I showed you my favorite, almost sold out, and you mmmm'd appreciatively.

Or should we try to find something nicer looking? I wondered, frowning at the ugly orange wax and tacky label.

No, let's get it. You love it.

So we did. And we walked back home slowly, luxuriating in the coolish air. But we didn't get duck fat fries, because I wasn't up to it. And later that night it got worse, my thoughts twisted into black knots, as they do, until bedtime came and I couldn't sleep. So I crept out to the living room with my blanket and my pillow, and I shut the door carefully on the both of you, snoring almost imperceptibly in unison, a sound that keeps me alive more nights than you know.

And I watched a movie about broken people accepting themselves and finding love, a beautiful movie that should have lifted me up. But my thoughts were still twisted and black so it didn't. It made me feel worse, and more broken by comparison. Less lovable, less capable of accepting those parts of me that made me relate to them.

I tried to read, but the story hadn't pulled me in yet, so it couldn't compete with the blackness. I put the book aside and just sat, reminding myself that feelings are temporary visitors. But the visitors did a number on me in those small hours, and I let them. Idiot, they said, and I didn't correct them. Failure, they scoffed, and I didn't object. Loser, they sneered, and I only sighed.

Slivers of dawn framed the drawn blinds, but I didn't move until I heard the crows. (They make me think of fairy tales, I explained a few days ago, telling you about the early morning calls which you sleep through.) Only then did I return to the bedroom, climbing back in to your warmth and peace. I waited a little longer, listening to you, to Chaucer, to the birds outside. I pictured the eastern sky as it looked from our roof Saturday at six am when, again, I couldn't sleep. A streak of peachy pink watercolor behind the still-dark city.

Finally, I moved close up against you. Just enough pressure to let my presence sink into your sleepy subconscious, because I hate waking you unnecessarily. Slowly, you became aware of me. You stirred and took a deep breath, and I wondered what your first thought would be. Or if you were still dreaming and whether I was now in your dream. I rolled toward you then, because I knew you were coming to, and because I needed more. And you turned, and put your forehead against mine, and we didn't speak, and instead just enjoyed the wordless space of gentle coexistence that I know fills you up.

And here's what I did that you don't know: there in the stillness, in the semi-dark, my eyes shut tight - I passed it over to you. I reached in and pulled it from my chest, bruised and dirty from so much kicking, and I passed it over to you for a day of safe-keeping. Just one day. Because I knew I could, because I knew that when I was ready to be gentler with it, I could take it back from you none the worse for wear.

Afterward, I turned away, finally giving in to exhaustion. You wrapped yourself around me and your hand found mine, and I marveled at the way your fist stayed clasped around my thumb even as you drifted back into sleep. Was it unconscious? A reflex? Did some part of you know to keep vigil, to keep holding some piece of me tight and safe? I can't sleep tangled up like that but I couldn't bring myself to disturb you again. So instead I just lay unmoving and pictured the street below, readying itself for the day. Bread trucks and laundry service vans filling up the loading zones. The serious-faced husband carting supplies from his car to the tiny lunch counter his quiet wife runs alone, cooking up batches of curry and beef bulgogi that sell out every day. The freight elevator descending with a mechanical groan into the sidewalk, stacked high with crates of whiskey for the pub below. Bustle. Faces tired or friendly. All of it familiar in the best way.

And then the alarm, and you have to get ready.

I'm fading, quickly, mercifully, so you let me be except for a soft kiss on my cheek once you're showered and shod. Messenger bag. Light fall coat. And a stowaway you don't know about, taking a break from me, hitching a ride with you for the day.