For Cabot O’Callaghan and his long-distance lover, time together tastes bittersweet—and always flies too fast.
And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when
-Foo Fighters, Everlong
We drive away from her house and a Hozier song pours out of the radio.
The way she shows me I’m hers and she is mine
Open hand or closed fist would be fine
Blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine
“Why are we listening to this?” I croak. I beg her to change the station as tears well in my eyes.
I tell her I feel like I’m going to throw up. She says she feels the same. The turnoff for the airport looms, the exit’s sign hanging over the freeway like the perched blade of a guillotine. I give it the finger.
She pulls up to the curb.
“I want my last look at you to be one of you smiling,” I say.
I speak nervously in front of her class about writing. Then I listen to her lead her students in a discussion about Joyce Carol Oates’s Where are You Going, Where Have You Been. Her passion is evident and my love for her grows.
Some steamy student/teacher fantasies slip into my thoughts.
I back over her mailbox with her car one night. We gasp and then she laughs hard.
We go to the store the next day and buy everything needed so I can build her a new one. She slides her hand to the inside of my arm, hanging it from the bend as we walk through the store. I think my heart will pop. I can’t remember the last time I feel this comfortably happy. It’s a singular emotion, pure.
We watch Louie in bed and laugh.
We fight, cry, make up. Make love. Over and over.
I watch her sleep, waiting for her to wake so I can sing happy birthday to her.
I do work in her yard while she teaches class. This is something one should not do on a Mississppian summer day. Mosquitoes dine on my blood like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The next morning her neighbor, a crabby old lady in a nightgown, bangs on the front door and scares us awake. I’d cut the neighbor’s parasitic wisteria vine out of a tree the day before and now she’s furious. She says she’s going to call the police, have them put a bond on me.
I’m mildly nervous and imagine being taken away to jail. It does not seem like such a ludicrous consequence for someone in the Deep South.
“If you don’t like it here, maybe you should move out of Mississippi,” the neighbor hisses at my lover as I watch from the window.
We wait for the police to show up. They don’t.
I hang a nice swing bench in the backyard that has been languishing on the side of the house for years. We swing on it and she smiles. I love that smile. After I’m gone she tells me her daughter loves it.
We go to the movies and what she wears out makes me burn. She’s so beautiful. I almost take a picture but decide to commit her beauty to memory instead.
Tears pool in the corner of her right eye near the bridge of her nose as she stares at the ceiling while we lie on her bed. They have nowhere to go. I wipe them away with a wad from a roll of toilet paper.
“I want to be mad at you,” she says.
“I know. It’s okay,” I reply.
I tell her that she is like grabbing a hot panhandle, my flesh searing instantly but somehow I’m able to ignore my body’s instinct to withdraw. “It’s a choice, I say. I’m choosing to hold on.” Meanwhile the skin of my mind cooks and my synapses scream as I ponder the distance between our established lives.
We hug tightly, bare skin on skin. “This is not close enough,” she says.
“I know,” I cry softly.
A young black girl sitting next to me digs in her pocket as we taxi onto the runway. A crumpled pack of gum pulls out with her hand.
“Would you like some?” she asks.
I decline, but her simple, unselfish kindness almost breaks the thin veneer of calm draped over my grief.
Jet engines roar.
Wheels leave the tarmac, defying the crushing weight of my heart.