I have long considered it something of a travesty that, in general, words don’t seem to matter as much as they once did. I specifically have a nasty habit as a logophile of falling in love with people to whom words don’t matter. I write them love letters, I am always writing them love letters.
It goes like this, or it went like this once:
I was on an island in the San Juan range off the northern coast of Washington state. Everything dripped all the time. It rained and rained. I wanted to spend all my time wandering among mossy rocks, but I couldn’t quite tear myself away from the crisp white sheets of the bed in the rented house and the allure of reaching across time zones toward a boy drinking beer in a frat house in small town Illinois. The appeal of intelligent conversation fraught with barely concealed sexual tension. The risk. The inevitable, cataclysmic meeting and falling and crushing. We became lovers. For two straight years after that I was afraid.
From the start, I tried to give him poems. Poems I’d written, poems I liked, poems I didn’t understand. I could have been speaking a thousand different languages at once for all the impact I was making. I still tried to talk about them. I tried to show him why I was always keeping track, why I would stop him kissing me and stare at his face, touch his mouth, catch my breath. Why I was always already trying to remember.
Whenever I did something bad, I wrote him a love letter. A thank you note. An apology. Over and over again, week by week. Every one said the same thing.
Just before the end I was on an island off the coast of Belize, waiting out a torrential storm in a tiny house-on-stilts. Everything creaked, the playing cards my mother dug out of a drawer made sticky with precipitation, an overwhelming sense of just-in-case. I read everything in sight to avoid talking to my family members and it all made me sad. My lover sent photographs when he could of the pyramids, his parents smiling from their seats on a boat on the Nile. The tiny house-on-stilts shook.
On Christmas day, when I was back at home and he was in Warsaw, he made an attempt, wrote to me; it read sweet at the time and soured fast, bruised and throbbing like our ability to be in the same room at the same time. He said you are the only thing I have that nobody else has. He said you are the thing I am proudest of. He said and could not grasp the words to say but still said you are no longer your own.
From my position on the couch in the second-hand sweatshirt I bought yesterday, my cat purring in her chair, my apartment filled to the brim with light, the whole thing still looks like being trapped on an island. Cut off from the rest of the population we began speaking our own dialect of you are self-conscious because your teeth are too small and I hate everyone else’s taste in music and you cannot walk down the sidewalk without tapping each square the same way with each foot. The point at which I emerged, blinking, into the brilliant sunshine of normalcy was months after he left and also the day that my hearing came back, my sight. Half-forgotten favorites float back to me still. The things I wasn’t trying to remember.
When I lived in that house, its walls used to close in during the night. I’d wake twisted in his sheets, panicked, suffocating in foreign air. It was my home without my ever having a say in the matter. These days, crowded in that living room on that hardwood between those windows and doors, my friends laugh it off, say you belong to a different time, like I’m a costumed actor in a museum of before-now, way-back-when. They were there and don’t remember. Now there are puddles to splash through, slippery spots around the corners. Places to get stuck. And I get stuck in the in-between: repression, what I didn’t realize I’d lost, what looms up out of the dark. Sometimes the footsteps on the stairs sound like his. Sometimes I lose track not of where I am but of when. Sometimes I wonder.
Here is a story I’ve never told anyone:
We were staying in a little windswept beach town, everything shades of grey, it doesn’t matter where. His mother gave him a pineapple. We forgot about it for the whole weekend, left it in the pickup truck. He gave it to a family of four before we packed up to leave, said, here, take this, we don’t need it, as if anyone has ever needed a pineapple.
Here is a story I’ve never told anyone:
We were staying in a little windswept beach town, and it was raining hard so I stayed in and took a bath while he went to the dilapidated gas station, the only thing open, to hunt for food. He fell asleep with a migraine that night, curled up and weeping into my chest like an enormous wounded animal. He wept and wept and shook and, blind from pain, knocked over a tall glass of iced water as he reached for it. I mopped up the water. There was nothing I could do.
Here is a story I’ve never told anyone:
Every other person I have wanted to have sex with since the day he left has had beautiful hands, and he did not have beautiful hands, and it doesn’t matter.
I have been trying to tell this story forever. It has been three years. It is really forever.
I have been writing love letters forever. Longer, I think. I have been writing love letters to my furniture. I have been practicing loving the inanimate because it doesn’t change. I envy love that does not change. That’s not true.
When I lived in the that house, he inked our initials on a brick in the wall to make us a part of the building. Maybe that isn’t true. Maybe I wrote them there, to make it permanent when I knew, I did, I knew it wouldn’t be permanent. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Somebody put our initials on a brick in the wall and we became a part of the building, painted over now but still holding the rooms together.
In the interest of self-preservation I said yes the night my best friend, Tevin, who lived there and had a key, offered to let me into the house alone. I hadn’t been back in eight months, not since the collapse, not since just after the island in Belize and the books I had read to keep my family out. I wandered and touched the walls and held the scream in my throat because it would have filled every corner. Everywhere, on every surface, a mirror: remember the time, remember the time, look at yourself, look who you’ve turned into in the wake of this.
The stories I never told anyone, the stories that might be one story, that might be ten, might be twenty, maybe this was forever, might be nothing. The stories I never told anyone:
I bruise my arm slamming it against the stone countertop of the downstairs bathroom, hit it over and over and over and over and he thinks I’ve fractured it and then he yells, he yells and I don’t remember about what. The walls close in.
I bruise my knees on the dance floor, my neck when my partner’s hand slips during a lift. I go home; it is his. You should quit, he says. You shouldn’t dance anymore. People will think I’m the one hurting you if they keep seeing these bruises.
I am sitting on his bed with blood all over my thighs. I don’t know how I got here. Wait. Hours before. I am sitting on my bed with scissors in my hand, digging and digging and digging. I bruise my arm slamming it against the stone countertop of the downstairs bathroom. He yells. He might have yelled. It doesn’t matter.
I am watching him pace up and down, back and forth, everything is blue; I am biting down on a towel and there is a bottle of isopropyl alcohol in his hand and he says, look what happens when I leave you alone.
I ask for space. I ask for closeness. I ask for help.
We are sitting on the floor of the basement and I want to lie down in the railroad tracks. I don’t know how I got here. Months later. He tells our friends I threatened him.
We are in his car and he is speeding and I am sure I am about to die. It doesn’t matter. For months and months and months I am sure I am about to die. He wraps me in his arms and my lungs collapse.
I bruise my arm slamming it against the stone countertop of the downstairs bathroom, hit it over and over and over and over and no one questions whether he is the one hurting me. No one sees the bruises.
I’m sitting in my favorite room of that house, chilly because there’s a draft, bare feet up on the coffee table and trying to write. Tevin laughs quietly, not doing homework. There are places that will never stop feeling like home and this is one of them, for every night I felt it was inescapable a moment of safety.
There were entire lifetimes between these walls, miles-wide chasms into which I lowered myself, out of which I have not clawed. I tried to give him poems, tried to write him love letters, wrote letters on the walls begging for permanence in the eye of a hurricane kind of wanting. This place of my destruction. This place in which only I am haunted.
In my favorite room of that house when I remember, when I stopped kissing him to trace his perfect, arching eyebrows and feel his temple with my fingertips, when I was always already trying to remember, when I had no idea what was happening to me. I’m sitting here writing and Tevin is laughing and this is one of my homes, this moment of safety. I can remember and I am not torn in half by it tonight.
I want to write it a love letter, this home. A thank you note. An apology. Week by week when I caused all that water damage, because everything ached all the time and I couldn’t get it back. I couldn’t make it stop. I want to write it a love letter and bury it in the yard and be able to put everything down on paper, begin by saying here is a story I’ve never told anyone and let the house do the work of carrying that tiny, mesmerizing lifetime in its foundation because I am tired of finding reflections where there aren’t any. But words don’t matter, can’t matter, to houses.
I want to tell it that I do remember, I remember enough to last several lifetimes, and there’s nothing I can do but give it back. I don’t need a pineapple. There is nothing I can do.
Carly Taylor is a poet and essayist earning her MFA in writing at Chapman University in Orange, California. She is an alum of Knox College, a musician, and usually prefers her cat to human company. More of her work can be found in Door Is A Jar Magazine and Allegory Ridge.