Last night I woke to your hand on the back of my neck, your mouth against mine, emphatic and with something of a plea to the movement of your lips. I tried to kiss you back, but I was still mostly asleep, and you fell back onto your side of the bed with a sound that was half sigh, half moan, a sound of thwarted desperation. You had woken and been unable to accept that we had let it end, what had come before – not just the sex but the whole night: Ballard in dusk light, the train tracks, the ships at their rusted moorings, just like the old days. And holding hands, and cupcakes at the Locks, the herons quarreling in their rookery, silent and shadowy as Javanese puppets, and the trestle raised like a monument above water scummed with algae, smelling like summer, like being in love.
The kiss stayed with me all day long. It resided on my mouth and coiled tight in my chest and tingled along my arms. It made me quick to laugh and quick to blush; they commented on it at work, how I kept turning red. I couldn't help it. I had never experienced anything so powerful before. I had never before been the focus of such passion, of a desire so great it could pull a man out of sleep and to my ordinary mouth, my unremarkable neck. When I came home you were gone, of course, but evidence was everywhere that you had thought of the kiss all day, too. The razor I gave you two years ago was out, and the leather strop, stiff and pale and still unused – but out. You had taken these things out to handle and admire, because they are tokens of me. What other reason would you have?
My face was hot while I made my solitary supper, thinking how strange it is that one can spend a whole lifetime longing for something she cannot even name. I never knew what this parched feeling was inside me – only that it was always there, and no one wanted to get close enough to let me drink and quench it. And now here I am, quietly fulfilled, suddenly and contentedly, blushing.
I remember being the thirsty creature striving for just a drop of something – whatever this is – anything. I remember sitting on Laurie's couch, crying with the wonder of the revelation I'd had in a dream, trying to tell him what it meant, trying to make him see: I dreamed I met myself, and told myself everything was going to be okay. I feel so relieved. Nothing is okay now, but it's going to be. I told myself it would be. Don't you understand?
Of course he didn't understand.
I dreamed I met myself. I dreamed I, thirty years old, sat in an auditorium waiting for a performance to start, caught up in that suspended sense of anticipation that comes in the moments before an overture. And I glanced across the crowd and there was a girl, fifteen or sixteen, tall and gawkish, forceful in her confidence, hollow and beautiful and fragile as a blown eggshell – what a contradiction she was. She wore the tie-dyed Dr. Seuss shirt; her hair was in braided pigtails. I left the side of my invisible companion and went to her as the house lights dimmed, as the curtain raised, as the crowd hushed, and I took her hand in mine, and I said, Listen, everything is going to be okay. It all turns out right in the end, and nothing turns out right at all, and it's wonderful, and you are perfect, and you are awful, and everything is okay, don't you see?
This is what I meant. This is what I was trying to give the girl, this sense of Ballard in the fading light, the faint creaking of the old industrial buildings settling, your unused razor lying beside the bathroom sink. And the quiet, blushing pleasure of knowing that I have stumbled into it, not even knowing where I was going, but somehow, improbably, finding exactly what I was looking for.