Something, someone keeps saying you’ll always be here. I can still hear it, and it sounds like you. Maybe one of those songs you sent, playing on repeat. Maybe it’s just me, me forgetting I released you from your promise, forgetting that what I hear now is only an echo, a reverberation muffled in the heart I used to wear on the sleeve of my heart-shirt, forgetting I left that behind when I left you.
I’ve been looking for that shirt, semi-consciously, fully conscious that something important was missing. I remember when I first showed it to you and you snatched it up, put it on, and ran off into the night laughing like a maniac yelling I got it! I got it! long sleeves flapping, the damn thing covering you almost to your knees. Then you came rushing back to me after your victory lap and you stopped, buried yourself in my chest, arms wrapped tight, and you looked up and said I’ll never ever leave you. And you meant it. And you haven’t. You’re gone but you never left. That must be what I’m hearing.
I’ve counted on that, relied, even as I turned my back, even as I gave up. Gave up on you, on us, on love. That’s all you ever wanted me to admit, isn’t it? I gave up, and pretended like the world was happening to me, like I was helpless, fated, destined to let it. I imagined you’d always be in my back pocket, no matter what I did, or maybe in the closet with the box of love notes and love things you gave me, with me wherever I go. Or don’t go.
But that’s just silly. You don’t stop, you never sit still, not even when your heart’s been torn in half. The pictures I have, and my snapshot memories are all that hold you. I was the one who stopped. When I gave up. And I have yet to start again, because I need that shirt back but I don’t know how to get it. I’ve looked for a replacement, though, I have, something trendy, something that’ll make me look more put together and polished than I’ll probably ever be, still here, stuck back there, afraid of another winter because the new shirt looks nice but the sleeves are too short and the material too thin and it just won’t keep me warm if my heart’s not in it. Or on it.
* * *
You’re gone, aren’t you. You really are. I have to admit that. You tried and tried and tried and waited and waited without ever stopping and now you’re gone. You’ve been gone, in fact. Because you go, everything about you is go, the most fiercely ambulatory thing I’ve ever seen. You never left, never would, but you always go. And I let you. I just let. And I’m so backward I thought you were the one who was stuck.
The world only happens to us when we let it, and you were never a letter. That’s what I loved about you. I bumped into a silly-happy-sad-brilliant-wild-little-broken-thing and said this one fights, she’s relentless, all heart and life, too big to let it happen to her and that’s fine by me, she stole my heart-shirt and I’m going to let her have it because that’s the right kind of letting.
Now that you’re gone, though, really gone (I can’t believe you’re gone), I need to figure out how to get my shirt back. It probably won’t fit anymore, but I need it back. I need to put it on again, maybe get it tailored, or just wear it with pride as is, open and honest. I need to say this is me, this was hers and so was I, and I was never more proud than when I was loved for who I am. Then maybe I can be myself again, be proud again, principled again, and keep going again, box of notes and things under my arm. Maybe I’ll catch up to you again one day and we’ll dump the box out on the floor and look through it all and laugh and smile and cry and say that’s what love is. It was. Yes, and it still is. Because it never stops either.