Snowflakes

I think it’s been about five years, and people still ask about you.

I think it’s been five years because I don’t count.  I’ve never counted.  I try not think about it at all.

When I do try to talk about you, I never know where to begin. The first time I saw you and we locked eyes across a common hall packed full of students too young to drink?  Or… your mouth pressed to mine on the balcony in that little town in Spain, high above the world or… that time you got down on one knee and pulled out your grandmother’s ring.

Everyone wants the story, and for once in my life, I don’t know what to say.

I knew you better, and I loved you harder, than anything before or since.  I’m still trying to write about you, where do I ever begin.

***

When we were living in New England, we raced to the top of the hill in the snow, only to have three busses pass us by and leave us shouting, cursing in the slush.  In the nine months I’ve lived here I have grown to hate blizzards, public transit, and the ever growing hole in my left boot that I still can’t afford to replace.

We stood there, growing later for work by the minute, shivering in the dull February morning.  I looked up into the grey sky, all doey eyed California girl, and remark to him on how the snow looks like little jagged chunks.  It only snowed once every other year or so when I was a child, I said. I’ve never really had the chance to see it closely.

He grins, feigning disbelief.  “My American baby,” he says, laughing.  I tell him to shut up as he hooks his arm around my back and draws me to him.

“Here.”

He scrapes my collar with his credit card, and holds it up for me.  I am twenty six years old.  I have never seen a snowflake.  I stare at it, all tiny and perfect as he holds me to him with his other arm – and I can feel him – warm in 10 degrees below zero, warm in the slush up our calves, warm through the two overcoats, three sweaters, and four shirts between us.

I am beaming.  I am full of love.

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Birthday to You.

I hate planning birthdays.

I just hate it.  I don’t like the stress of having to plan a whole party and make sure it goes well when all I want to do is relax and have fun.  I worry if everyone has enough ice.  I don’t like the fact that half the people who RSVP flake and I spend my lunch breaks reversing and revising the sushi reservation eighteen times.  I don’t like getting older anymore.  I guess I’ve hit that limit.

But I have Ash.  And Ash simply says things like, “I’m free on Saturday, it’s your birthday, see you then.”

As generous and sweet as she is ravenous and ridiculous, Ash shows up with cupcakes you didn’t order and a tiara you don’t want to wear because it is your birthday goddammit and you will enjoy it despite yourself.  Thank god for Ash, where would be without friends like her.

I get the feeling that my tough time planning celebrations harkens back to an ugly history of feeling let down.  Sometimes it just takes a kind hand to guide you and remind you that you’re not a kid anymore, you’re more resilient than you used to be, and regardless of what anyone else does, someone will show up with a damn tiara.  It’s your birthday.

It’s only been two weeks since the last time I spoke to Eddy.  Fourteen days is not a long time to grieve before having to go out and celebrate.  But Ash insists, so I’m insisting to myself, that I’ll have a good time.  Right now I’m just thinking that I have nothing to wear for this damn party.  I have felt out of place in all of my clothes since I lost the ability to wear heels.  My strength was in my extra five inches.  I’ve never been quite sure who I am closer to the ground.  But suddenly, as I’m pushing apart hangers, I am struck by the red dress I had picked out back in December.  The one I knew Eddy wouldn’t like, but I bought it anyway, because it was the first thing I’d found since I’d gotten sick that made me feel like I might still be beautiful.  I was going to wear it just for him, but now that it’s my body, my life, I’m pulling it out.    Life is far too short, and the red dress needs wearing.

The girls come up in a laughing, giggling swarm.  We tumble and swirl around the apartment, the old familiar energy I love.  The frenetic clash of curling irons and blush brushes, the leaning and bending into mirrors, the last eyelash curl before the taxis show up.  The lightness and the love.

Someone tells me I look beautiful, and even in my flat shoes with my hip donut, I somehow, crazily, feel a little beautiful.

We go out to sushi.  I remember this place.  Two weeks into dating Eddy, in the alley here he’d pushed me up against my car, kissing me until we pulled apart laughing, discovering black all over the backs of my calves from the wheel well.  I remember, but my new memories, stronger and searing and expanding by the second, are starting to eat the old.  We reach across each other for more edamame.  We curse chopsticks and shoot more sake.  We swap and taste and tell stories over miso soup.  I am happy.

The lights dim, and suddenly everyone is singing to me.  Ash has a point.  No matter how many years you may do it, there’s something special about people going out of their way to show you love.  I put the damn tiara on while they bring out a giant boat made of fruit.

When dinner’s over we trip back to mine for sweatpants, cupcakes, and card games.  I decide to make a move.  I plunge into my closet and grab Eddy’s birthday present, a sushi and sake set.  He had mentioned in passing several times over the summer how he had wanted one, and after raiding everywhere from Sawtelle to Little Tokyo, I determined nothing in Los Angeles was quite special enough for this man, and (way over my budget) had a set of four cups and plates handmade by a potter.  I have this weird thing with redeeming objects.  If I’m stuck with something that reminds me of you, I can’t get over it until I purge it.  If I can’t bring myself to purge it, I have to somehow make it right.

“Pour them out.” I say, setting the cups on the table.  Chloe, always prepared, has brought a bottle of sake.  Leave it to that girl to expect me to be brave.

“I knew you had it in you.”

“Just hush and let me sip one, I didn’t take my meds today.”

We laugh.  We share.  It was a work of art.  Far too beautiful to smash into the ground (Chloe’s original idea) it has a presence all it’s own.  I thought it was so precise, so exact, that it could only ever be meant for him, and what good was it otherwise?  It seemed wrong to regift something so carefully measured out and planned for someone else.  As it turns out, a room full of girls laughing and holding every piece seemed to soak the pain right out.  Redemption, right?  It all feels good.

It’s at this point that I remember the one thing I still have to get rid of.  He’s off my phone, out of my photographs, and away from my bed, but I still have these damn wine glasses.  The ones he bought each time he took me to a wine tasting.  His thing.  His thing that blew it all up.

“Who wants to smash some glasses tonight?!?”

And I know it sounds ridiculous, but we’re doing the only thing in the world that makes sense.  Trust me, it’s my birthday.  We march out of the apartment, down the stairs and to the car park, armed with glasses inscribed with the names of each and every place I want to forget.  I feel enlightened and I feel powerful and I feel – CRASH!  And the first glass shatters into the dumpster.  I jump, then I laugh, and as we keep going, I get lost in the giggle, the flurry, the buzz of love around me.

There is nothing else in this bedroom neighborhood but Saturday silence.

But here, in my home, there is the sound of girls with curled hair and false eyelashes, stumbling in high heels and short dresses, gasping, screaming – smashing memories into oblivion as we laugh into the night.

Doorways.

He isn’t the type to show up in your doorway, and that’s a good thing.

When I watch the wrong movie and the man tells the woman he respects her for her tenacity and strength, and that he wants her to be successful because she’s earned it, I cry; he doesn’t come.

When the janitor at work buys me flowers on my birthday that should have come from him, because she still loves me, but he doesn’t anymore, he doesn’t come.

When the rain hits the California ground for the first and only time all winter, not even enough to banish the edges of the drought, but enough to finally wash away the heart he drew with his fingertip on my driver’s side window, he doesn’t come.

He isn’t the type to show up in your doorway.

His pride is more important.  He will tell himself, and he’ll tell me, that it’s maturity.  He will save me, really, from the back and forth; the wavering, heart sucking, gut-wrenching act of pulling myself out of his arms, knowing somewhere deep down that in the end, all he’ll do is throw back a few too many and shatter me into a thousand pieces just like every time before.  His pride is saving me from suffering of a greater kind.  I know that.

And he doesn’t come.  And he doesn’t come.

And at two am I am up in the living room.

And he doesn’t come.