I remember the last time I watched the sun set to the background of beating drums. I was a bear and you were a wolf and we rode on a covered wagon across a dusty landscape, neon lights and lasers cutting through the desert sky. We danced and kissed and laughed and kept each other warm, and I couldn’t count how many times I looked at you and thought you were so beautiful it never ceased to surprise my ignorant heart.
I wore the same sweater I’m wearing now, only this time the knit and seams fill with sand and shells instead of alkaline dust from the bottom of an old lake bed. Our laughter swam in the black night on our way back to a canvas tent. You swore I was blue like an Indian goddess, and I swore I saw the words you spoke dance in rhythm to the beats of the music that flooded the night sky, pock-marked by constellations. I look at the scar on my stomach from that night and remember how we were too cold and our bodies too tired, but our minds and mouths too awake to let the moon beat us to the horizon.
We grabbed a bottle of champagne and our bikes covered in lights and tulle and pedaled as far out as we could go, stopping when the rays began to stretch across the land and coat the barren earth in shades like a ripened grapefruit. We sat in the dust and I can’t remember what it was you said that made my face break in half the way it did, but I can remember seeing my viewscape tilt in slow motion when I laid my furry, sleepy head down in the dust as happy tears streamed down my dirty face and breath fail to escape my diaphragm, my abdomen collapsing in laughter and you looking down on me with a proud contentment.
We howled with strangers at dawn, then sat in an eerily calm silence, basking in the glow of deep pink and the kind of drunken love that existed only in that moment; what I kept going back to in times of anger and weakness and hopelessness to remind myself why I chose you and kept choosing you, relentlessly. Because when that sun came across the desert to hit your face and cast shadows across the crevasses engraved in your cheeks, the lines pulling from the corners of your eyes, and you smiled and we both cried, I never thought I’d love anyone more than I loved you then.
Because we were two broken pieces of humans that found some semblance of wholeness in the arms of each other, in the tiny hands of each other, in the impassioned words and noble poetry of each other; the sort of toxicity that comes as a bittersweet poison that never could cure our ailments, but only fed into the weakened and blown out veins carved by dirtied blood and years of self inflicted bullshit we craved. You fed my habit and I fed yours.
But still, I’d be damned if I didn’t think of you when I saw a sun rise or set, the day or night dying and fading into one another. The most perfect ones in my memory are painted with your body next to mine; when the sun would rise behind your white linen curtains and French doors framing the rays of indigo and violet and rare streaks of sapphire as they crept over the farm, our rooster and chickens and goats waking the day with sleepy crows and bleats, or peeking through the valley and into our tent, scents of fire and fights lingering in our clothes and weighing heavy in our chests. I think of it setting behind thousands of trees smelling of spruce and blurring together on the New Mexican mountainside, our haul of porcinis splayed on a table with fresh knife marks, or falling down to the sound of bicycle tires on pavement and the cool promise of a Colorado summer that felt like it was here to stay. My favorite picture of you is still the one of your smiling face in my side view mirror, framed by snowcapped mountains and the fading sunlight the weekend we got drunk on chocolate and wine, and watched the snow fall in front of a full moon from a hot tub on a balcony.
You became a celestial body in your own right, and sometimes I hated you for how much you became a center of force in my world, throwing off my gravity and redefining what I knew to be normal. You called it: I was too weak for you.
Too many things I left undone, things you’d asked me to do, like write for you about that night the lights burst through the sky and made the scattering dust look like crystals suspended in midair, the bass amps pumping out directives for our feet and hips. There’s very little I can’t recall, much of it surfacing as I lean into words that temper my vulnerability. The light on your face isn’t as flattering in hindsight, and my breathing isn’t as shallow. For both our sake, I keep those pained words locked in my memory and instead remember our feet hanging above the black water lapping the cliff edge, the cactus and anthills, the tapestry woven above us, the muse for the first spoken words I dedicated to you. The coordinates on the necklace you resented.
I press the arches of my feet onto sand and grass and gravel and pine needle and palm fronds to ground myself back to the earth, regulating my compass to its true north because you fucked up my needle that showed me the way back home. I have a new habit of collecting broken pieces of seashells. And the longer I go seeing the horizon set ablaze without your body next to mine the more I come to appreciate how the glow casts itself on my own skin. I sit in proud contentment, and the creases that have begun to form along the corners of my eyes are mine and mine alone, and I realize just how wrong we both were all those years.
Originally written February 1 2018, on the beach at Casey Key.