Alone and quarantined with Corona, my space is empty, but for the trappings of last year’s memories, and accumulated delivery packaging. In my effort to connect, or find love or something, we match on Tinder. I send daily selfies of bedridden me and affiliated updates, like how I painted my nails blue. In turn, he sends dispatches from the outside, a video from a heavy metal concert, pictures of city gardens, selfies, a window into his world and life beyond the four walls of my room.
On our first date, he tells me that I “check a lot of boxes” which feels cold, but complimentary, and I know what he means. He means the boxes of our lists, of human qualities, of what we think would make a good partner, in this effort to connect and find love, or something. We don’t kiss yet because of the Corona.
In June, we go to the lake. I prop my head on his chest, broad and smooth, hardly any hair, he seems even more youthful in this way. His skin is warm, sticky with humidity, and I hear his heartbeat, a sound that seems to take over the background noise. His eyes are passionate and sensitive, but also frenetic, unsettled and searching. I’ve never liked blue eyes for this reason, penetrative, transparent, and with extended eye-contact, you might see too much.
On the other side of the beach, there is a teenage girl’s birthday party—these girls, too old to be young, too young to be grown-up, goth but giggly in a way that belied their innocence under black eyeliner and piercings. I watch them play a game, one girl blindfolded shouts the names of her friends who line-up in rapid succession, their heads felt in her hands. I love this idea of identifying a person by touch—and nothing else, this trust that we are merely bodies, made up of hair, skin, bones, and muscle, identities detached, not who we were or who we will become.
Our dates are fun, we sing in the car, ride bikes through the city, he draws me close, and wraps his arms around me in the park while the sun sets. He cooks me dinner and dances around the kitchen to 90s hip hop, and after a sleep over I make waffles. While lying in bed one morning, I ask what he wants, and he says, “I don’t know, what do you want?” Before I have time to answer, he adds, “Maybe something more casual,” as though it makes things easier, but I know that the word is supposed to erase the complications of intimacy, attachment, pain. At first, I think that sounds like what I want too, but I know that nothing intimate is simple, so I don’t ask any more questions about that.
On an afternoon walk, he strays from our path, and then stops to point up at an alt-bau balcony with a wrought-iron rail. He pauses briefly then points at the potted flowers, “We planted those together,” and happily surprised, “They are still there!”
It takes me several moments before I realize that he is talking about his ex-girlfriend, and he is showing me their old apartment where they lived for 10 years. I want to ask, ‘Why did you take me here?” but I understand, his need for this archeology of his past, some reminder that it is still tangible and true. He walks another block in silence before he says, “It was a difficult kind of love, but it was still love.”
I understand this loss, wanting to grieve at the same time as let go, and at the same time as start over. When we made love, we looked through each other, as though there was a history there, a past, some remnants of self, and so it is both unfamiliar, and knowing at the same time. We want to find this place, this return to love, and yet, we desperately want it to be something new. These threads of space and time continue to bind us. We both know what love is. And we know that love fails. And we know that even with the best intentions, we could be 40 years old and meeting strangers off the internet in a quest for love, but not really love, we don’t know what to call it anymore.
I ordered a pair of New Balance shoes, shiny and rose gold. I ask if he likes them and he says, “My ex bought that exact pair right before I moved out.” And I could tell, as much as I saw my past in him, he saw his past in me. We are each other’s ghost, reflections of what once was, what was lost, all the things we want, hidden, the things we don’t, shrouded like the sheets over our bodies in the summer heat.
He takes two days to respond to a text and this is enough for me to end things completely. I know a lack of effort in texting is a communication slippery slope. I know what happens to feelings as they grind on over months and years. I know that something as simple as bad texting will evolve and spoil something not because of the thing but because of what it represents. I break up with him by text, because that is what we do now. He barely protests and the dull silence breaks me, because I realize, all I want from him is a protest, a flare, a signal that says, we still have fire, but neither of us do and summer fades with, “Take care.”
A few weeks later, my divorce, pending for three years, is finalized. The judge announces the dates of the marriage and divorce, like birth and death dates on a headstone, the duration of time, so clearly demarcated, a beginning, a dash, and an end. I start to think of all the other beginning and end dates, like summer, June-August. I feel this pull in my throat, this weight of the beginning and ending tears, the loss that compounds, culminating in this court room. Tears of summer and winter, time the way it begins and ends, moments of love lost, flow through me.
I cannot stop crying for days. This confuses me, because I thought I said goodbye to marriage, to past loves, to commitment. It is the layer upon, layer, the hardened sedimentary layers of grief I want to summit and overcome, to return to something smooth and glassy, like that summer lake stretched out in June, the blank slate that I felt, while lying on his chest.