Undefinable Love

Submitted into Contest #237 in response to: Write a story about a first or last kiss.... view prompt

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Drama Creative Nonfiction Sad

All that time. 

What a waste.

Please.

The word meant to invoke something that had been lost on her for a long time now, but it instead dribbled off his lip and into the belly of her nonchalance. She tried to feel, actually tried to feel something, anything, but there was nothing. Not even disgust.

He knelt before her, as if the very act of his precious knees kissing the ground would stir the air of forgiveness within her. She only stared down at him through her bottom lashes. He begged for anything; a morsel of acknowledgement. Only three words came to mind.

“What a waste.”

*

Love is a feeling so often belittled with a definition.

Remove language and the ability to define, to assign meaning, and you are left only with the enormity of love. You are left only with the feeling. Not the words we use to confine the emotion. Just the thing that it truly is. Full and impermanent, constantly growing and dying, and extending beyond our ability to define it.

*

In a time she tries not to remember, a man and his lonely trumpet sways and dips his knees with his somber solo song. The two pass the man and drop a dollar in his case. He nods at them through his weeping horn as they do. 

This day. 

This day was supposed to be special, she recalls. It must’ve been, what? March 10th? The day they decided to celebrate her birthday. Just the two of them. She was turning 23 and recalled saying there was nothing particularly special about that number anyways. He agreed. Nothing special at all. 

This would mark the fourth birthday she spends with him, but the first away from friends. Away from the home she had made for herself. She spent the better half of the last few months regretting that decision, but the money moving had promised spoke louder than her intuition.

So here they are, meandering the boardwalk he chose to take her to. It was very sweet of him to remember that this was the one appealing thing to her about this city when he proposed the move, but as she laid eyes on it just as it was, here in her reality, she couldn’t find what about it justified her living here. 

The trumpet player’s tune trickled away behind them. Funnel cake and saltwater hung ragged in the air. Cheap games were lined up parallel to the shore, even cheaper prizes swaying from hooks above them. They don’t stop at anything. 

What she failed to mention all those months ago was the reason this boardwalk piqued her interest at all: it reminded her of home. Her very first home. Not the one she made for herself, but the one she was brought into. 

That was an indescribable love. It was a love she didn’t grow out of, but that was taken from her by circumstance. It was a passage of her life punctuated by her mother, alive and well, and by a certain stillness she would never be familiar with again. But it is a memory now as much as it is a feeling. A dream. It's something imbued with and inseparable from longing. In that way it will never exist in the same way it once did, but it is not gone. It is never gone. 

Smells she never knew she had any memory of wafted through her nose. She opened her mouth to capture the familiar scent, and in doing so felt like a whale lazily allowing shrimp to swarm through the cave of its jaws. Upon swallowing that nostalgic aroma, she was brought back to a time when she was shorter, much shorter, and had to reach up to clasp her mother’s hand. When seagulls pecked food from the air as she tossed it up. Of bliss and contentment.

She tried to bring herself back to the present.

As the two of them -she and he, him and her- ambled aimlessly on over rickety wood and by screeching rides, she saw a reflection of her younger self and her mother just across the way at the other end of the dock. They look at each other briefly, only briefly, before the girl and mother turn away. She couldn't blame them. She wouldn't recognize herself if she was them, either. 

Tears bubbled along her waterline though she couldn't place why. Why, why, why? A swelling nebulous of heat and confusion rose in her. Why is this feeling rising in her? It tastes like sadness, no, longing, no, regret. That can’t be right either. She is made up of nothing but contradictions. Her being here is a contradiction. A mangled, convoluted, congealed and coiled contradiction.

With each person they pass that tosses their head to the sky in laughter, with each delighted scream of the roller coaster and seagull song and funnel cake and cheap prize, a new memory surfaces.

All she could settle on was a single thought. There was a last time.

There was a last time she stepped foot on that boardwalk, a last time she sang with laughter, a last time she laid eyes on her mother, full and bright. There was a last time and she didn't even know. She didn’t know. How could she have? She was a little girl. There wasn't supposed to be a last time.

She tries to fixate on the good. She tries to remember how it was without letting hindsight taint the memory.

How delighted her mother’s face used to make her. All that hard earned wisdom along the beautiful faint lines upon her forehead and cheeks. She recalls how her dimples would crinkle in rhythm with her gentle laughter. She remembers racing the sprinklers in the summer, and a cat that would faithfully meow at the front door on cool fall evenings. Flowers that they would use to paint each other’s noses yellow with pollen in the spring. Her mother’s propensity to sing along with songs she’s never heard. How impressed that made her younger self. Reading long books together, chipping away at them night by night. Watching, as still as they could be, the hummingbirds sip from bright red feeders. 

The memory can be described easily. I could talk about the warmth and security, the mutual understanding between the two, tendrils of knowing and trust, but you will not understand. Not fully, not truly. And that is simply because you were not there. 

Perhaps this aching she’s feeling but can’t place is because of the boy she walks beside. He is the culmination of every contradiction she harbors.

What she holds in her heart for him is different than what she holds for her mother. With him she has felt it wax and wane like a winking star. Other times it burns like a forest fire, destructive. In the beginning it ran as calmly as a trickling stream.

One of the first times they hung out as boyfriend and girlfriend, they went to a forest. It was typical of her to visit the woods, but not of him. He was made for constancy; stability. She was a beautiful wave in his ocean, stirring up his tired ship. But he wanted to please her. He wanted to do all the right things.

As they sat like tall blades of swaying grass, she thought of what a beautiful thing it was to share this with someone. To lounge so carefree amidst the vast interconnectedness that makes up the nature of all that is around them; to share all that with…

him.

How could it be true? How could it be hers, all hers? She found it hard to believe. 

She, after they laid gently across each other as night fell, remembered thinking about stars. She imagined what they looked like up close, each one of them, spitting heat and gas. Spinning, churning, chemical warfare. They must go on for infinity, whatever infinity truly means.

She thought about the vastness of the universe and how despite that she found him. Despite the staggering odds that they would never meet in the first place, despite everything, what they had was indisputably cemented in that moment in time. That very moment. Forever and no matter what would happen next. 

She articulated this to him as best as she could.

He was quiet for a moment. 

A long moment

 and, “That was a lot,” was his only reply.

She closed her eyes. 

Back at the pier she sobs uncontrollably, collapsing in on herself like a dying star. How did she allow this to happen so easily? She didn’t put up enough of a fight. Not for what the consequences ended up being. If her mother were still here, would she be proud? She honestly couldn't say.

With swaths of tears and gasps of air she is alone. Some ways from the bench where she sat weighted by gales of regret, he trudges on, oblivious to the fact she hasn’t been by his side for several steps now. She lets him. She is only concerned with placing this feeling that is fixated firmly at the tip of her tongue. 

He shrinks away from her from behind bleary eyes. 

This boardwalk was never the thing that would make the move worth it. It was him, and as she watches the one thing that is supposed to make this all better walk away from her, glacial tears drip down the grooves valleys of her face. With each wet pitter patter onto her hand below, all she can think of is the time she wasted searching for something she would never find in him. 

How deeply she cares for him, how badly she wants to hold onto him, but is this…love? Is this what love is supposed to be? What is love supposed to be? 

You could say it’s warmth or trust. Admiration, even. But it’s also sprinklers in the summer and cats in the fall. It’s dimples and gentle laughter, flowers made to be paintbrushes. It’s her propensity to sing, to read together, to watch the hummingbirds. It’s every little instance she can’t necessarily remember, but that with each one formed something unique between them. But it’s also the last time they saw each other. It’s the day she died and everything after. 

What she feels for her mother is inseparable from the nostalgia of her childhood, the age she was, and her tendency to see everything as bigger than life. It is every memory they ever made together; everything about the house she lived in at the time. It is imbued with every discovery she made as a child, everything she learned about herself and in turn everything she learned about her mother. It is also defined by grief. By the empty space she left behind. Her attempts to piece it all back together after that. It all melds and seeps together like spilled ink on paper to become one thing: love. 

Her tears dry and crackle where the slippery valleys were carved. As her vision clears he finally notices her absence, and pitches his head left and right in search of her. 

He will never be able to give her what she has been chasing since the day she lost her mother. It’s impossible. He has given her something different, a glimpse of that feeling. And instead, it is defined by a need for him to be okay, to find himself. If not for her than simply for himself. How could she stand in the way of this move, of this incredible opportunity if she loved him? 

He spots her, and an unsettled expression flashes across his face. It smells faintly of guilt. 

Her love of him is forever linked to a perpetual longing for something he is incapable of being for her. That doesn’t mean what they had was any less love than what she had with her mother, but just like when she was a child it is time to let it go. 

He races to her, skipping over himself as he does. When he reaches her he kisses her sloppily, as if substituting for some sort of apology. She knows it is the last kiss they will share, and for the first time since that day in the woods where the reciprocation was nowhere to be seen, she felt a certain calm wash over her. 

He fumbles to his knees before her, rushing out excuses and explanations and promises that it will never happen again. He believes she is crying because she found out some horrible truth about something he did that she, frankly, no longer cares to actually uncover. Fortunately, he does so himself, assuring they didn’t move all this way just for the other woman. He was offered a raise. Maybe not as much as he led on…

She looks down at him with pity. She wonders what love he has been chasing that he couldn’t find in her. She wonders the same for the other woman. 

All she can think is

what a waste. 

February 16, 2024 19:10

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
21:30 Feb 16, 2024

Whoosh.

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