They keep telling me she isn’t real. My husband, my kids, the doctors. Especially the doctors. They keep telling me she isn’t real. But she’s all I see. She’s more real than the people here, than my own breath, than my existence. I lost her, but she never left. And if she isn’t all the places I never made it to, then she’s all of the paths that were taken from me when she went away.
It’s been 6 years, 5 months and 8 days. And I am still waiting for her to walk through the door and tell me that she was wrong; it was all a misunderstanding.
Her with her pale golden hair and her long, elegant limbs. She was a willow tree with a soft voice and blue eyes that danced. She was a gentle wind that enveloped me. She was all around me. She’s still all around me.
They took all the mirrors down in my house. And when I’m here they take the mirror out of whatever room they lock me inside of. But I can still find her, sometimes. In the reflection of a window, a dark TV screen, a still puddle. She’s still here. Or I just need her to be so badly that I made her stay in the only way I could.
She used to tell me that we were the stars. She believed we had come from them and that when we left this place, we’d go back. She used to say,
“If ever we are apart and you feel like you’ve lost me, look up. Find me and follow me home.”
I tried a couple times after she'd gone away. But it made my husband cry. And once, my daughter found me, sitting in a bathtub full of blood, and she screamed. I will never forget that sound. She will never forget the image. She lost something that day I can’t ever give her back. But it didn’t make my loss less loud. And it didn’t stop the needing. I have sacrificed this life for the one I never lived because I lost it too early. I live in memories of things that never happened and people we never got to become.
I wait until it’s dark so I can look out the barred window. Look at the barred window. I live for the moments I get to see her - The Girl in the Glass. She used to be flesh and bone and the sound of peace. I used to run my hands up her body and feel her sigh before she’d press her body into mine. But now I just wait for the moments I can see her on the other side. Looking at me. Looking into me like she always did. And even still, most nights I cry myself to sleep, because I can’t forget her and I can’t forget myself.
This night, my last thought before the world falls away is the day she told me we would never:
I hear her unlock the front door and step inside. The following familiar sounds of her keys falling into the dish on the table in the foyer. Her feet slipping out of her shoes. The shuffle of her jacket being pulled off. The entry closet opens and then closes, and then footsteps towards the living room. Towards me.
I turn my head from my laptop to watch her walk into the room. She’s always been so beautiful; she’s graceful in ways I can almost taste. But immediately, I notice something’s wrong. There is darkness in her face where there is usually light. And I ask her if she’s okay: if she had a bad day. She lets out a tensed breath. I immediately get up from the couch and go to her. I try to take her in my arms and remind her with my hands and my mouth that she is everything and she is loved. For a moment, it’s the same but with sadness.
And then she pushes me away.
And then she says, “We need to talk.”
And then I stop breathing.
“Sit down,” she says. And she walks to the chair across from the couch and sits.
“Okay.” I try not to panic as I return to the place I had been sat on the couch when she got here and stopped the earth moving.
She puts her elbows on her knees, folds her hands, hangs her head and pushes a deep breath out. And then I watch her take one back in as I realize every one of my heartbeats is both overwhelming and nonexistent. And then she starts to dismantle the home we had built. “I - I don’t know how to say this. You know how much I love you, how much I’ve loved you. But I need to - I don’t know. I don’t know how to do this, Tash. I don’t know how to say this to you.”
“Then don’t.” There is water at the corners of my eyes.
She raises her head and locks eyes with me, making the face she always makes when I was being annoying. But instead of the usual tinge of humor, there is a black veil of mourning. There is water at the corners of her eyes now, too. “I have to,” she says. “Tash, I - I have to go. I can’t do this anymore.”
“Do what? Be in love with me?” I’m trying really hard not to lose my shit right now.
“Please don’t. I can’t - we can’t - I need something less…” and she hangs her head towards her clasped hands again. And I realize her god has come back to haunt her. He has finally overtaken her.
I would see his darkness, occasionally, in the corners of rooms and in the shadows the lamps next to our bed cast at night. I would feel the weight of him on her face every time she spoke to her mother on the phone. I would smell his judgement and condemnation each time I introduced her to a new person as my girlfriend. I would hear him whispering at night. He was the reason she had so many nightmares. His priests were the reason she woke up screaming at least once a month. His followers were the reason her upper thighs were covered in a razor-shaped texture that told a story of persecution. She was her own Jesus and she was her own Judas. She had never truly been able to live with herself as herself. She always should have been someone else.
I used to tell her, “We can’t let them win. We are so much more than verses in books and the hateful people who misrepresent them.” I would put my palm against her cheek, and in response, she would take her hands, place them on mine and press my hand harder into her face. As if she needed me to hold her together. “Please, baby. This is darkness. You can’t let it take you away again.”
I’m spiraling. I quickly extract myself from my memories and focus back in on her. She’s in the middle of a sentence. She’s in the middle of breaking my heart.
“... and I think it’s time for me to go home. The City is too big; it’s changed me too much. You - you’ve changed me too much. I was never supposed to be here. I’m - I’m not like you, Tash. I’m not gay.”
I’m spiraling. I try not to let her hurt me. She’s just trying to hurt herself enough to feel like she can go. She’s trying to hurt me enough so I’ll tell her to. But I can’t. I would never. I ask her, “Where is this coming from? Everything was fine this morning.”
She looks down and then back at me, as if she needed that half-moment to gather herself. “It wasn’t fine this morning. I woke up today and I looked at you,” she gulps down a sob and her eyes overflow, “and I realized that I love you so much that I’ve lost who I am. I lost god. My parents were right. I can’t do this. I have to be someone better.”
“Better? Was all your bloodletting better? Was the cattle prod at the conversion camp better? Was-”
She puts a hand up to stop me. “I’m not doing this,” she says. Another gulp. Water running down her face. “You know I love you. Even if it’s wrong. You know you’re all the light I’ve ever found in this shitty place. But I can’t stay. I can’t…. be this for you. I can't be the person who keeps you together.”
"The person who keeps me together? I might be the one on meds, but you're the one who's haunted. What are you trying to do?" I am angry and panicked and so painfully sad. I’m spiraling.
I get up and then down on my knees and put my hands on hers and look up into her eyes. I push myself up and grab her face with my hands and kiss her. She puts her hands around my neck and I can feel her move to press her body into mine, the way she’s done ten thousand times. We stand up and stand together as I try to remind her what I've always known - that she is magic. And then I feel her tense up, and she pushes me away for the second time.
“Please, Tash. Don’t make this harder than it is.” She gets up from the chair and turns towards the front hall.
“I don’t understand what’s happening… I don’t understand what you’re doing.” I try to reach for her but she bends away. Like a tree that doesn’t want sun. The third time she tries to get away from me. She is her own Judas… but I'm the one being crucified.
“It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing to talk about. I’m leaving to go stay with my sister; I’ll come get my stuff while you’re at work tomorrow. I’m sorry, I just -” and she loses her thought. Or her nerve. Another gulp: false strength. The strength of her god.
“Please," I plead with her, my vision becoming blurry as my eyes get lost under the weight of the water, "I can’t watch you go back. I can’t watch you re-become the ghost you were when we met. Please stay. Stay with me.”
But she's already gone. She had to go away this morning to decide and she has to go away now so she won’t change her mind. And so when, for a moment, the veil of resolve leaves her face and I watch her try not to fall back into me, she grabs her bag, puts her shoes on, and in one swift moment, she's gone. Out of the house and out of the life we had built. In the moment between the door opening and her disappearance I heard her say one last time -
“I love you.”
Or I wished she had.
And I fell to the ground with my face in my hands and I heard myself make an unholy sound. It tasted like grief, it was so visceral. I felt something rip away from my chest and I felt something inside of me die. I don’t know how long I was crumpled on the floor before I managed to breathe again. I was underwater and under the earth. I was a ghost. And a grave.
She never came back and she never answered a text or a call, and I never saw her again. It was as if we had never happened at all. I kept the hall light on every night for two years after she had gone. I never changed the locks. I shouldn’t have stayed in that house after she left. I should have sold it. Or burnt it to the ground. She was oxygen and I was ashes. She was always everywhere and she was nowhere at all.
And I could never forget her face, the warmth of her breath between my legs or the way touching her felt like electricity. In the dark, between the sheets, I used to forget where she ended and I began. Until she ended us. All our plans and all our dreams. The trip we were saving up for this summer. The winter elopement.
Until she ended me.
She used to tell me I was the only reason she was alive; that I was her reason for staying in this place. We were each other's scaffolding against the darkness of the traumas we were brought up inside of. I had managed to raise my head above the waters of mine. And I thought she had, too. But I had dipped under the water to give her breath so many times and for so long, I had fooled myself into thinking she was breathing her own air, above her own water. I have drowned every night since that night she left me, since everything went back to being wrong.
And since I couldn’t forget and I couldn’t move forward, I walked around my house like a haunting, like a ghost. Merely existing. I couldn’t bring myself to even look at another woman. I knew I would never not love her. So I let a man love me instead. He is beautiful, and I don't deserve him. I want to love him, but he's just methadone. I never stop shaking and I never stop craving her. I never stop grieving and I can't pull myself out of this unreality anymore. I can't not remember. I thought bringing a living person back into my life would help it all stop. The sadness in the shadows. Her face looking over my shoulder in the mirror. The Girl in the Glass. That's all she is now.
They keep telling me she isn’t real.