She took a strand of hair stuck to my eyelash and tucked it behind my left ear, starring, unfazed, into my eyes. She narrated how the symphony of colors irradiated by the setting sun made them turn from caramel to green. I laughed incredulously at the quality of light through which she thought she saw me.
We turned our backs on the scenic view as soon as the sun died on the horizon and took the long way home. I was a guest at her cabin for the weekend. All the while we walked, I felt her hand brushing against my arm, and it sent little uncomfortable pinches to my spine. We were silent for most of the walk but it didn’t bother me this time. I was trying not to let my mind visit the troublesome places it thrived in visiting. When I sensed it escaping me, I would recite stanzas of an Adrienne Rich poem I loved and would try to control my breathing. I choose, inhale, not to suffer uselessly, exhale. The two last words replaying in my head like a broken record. I had convinced myself I could do that. Yes, it was simply a choice, like in the poem.
The house was small, like her. And she floated perfectly amongst it like a tiny music-box dancer. Opening cupboards, separating pans, preparing the kitchen to cook us the curry she had suddenly decided to make. I was in charge of cutting onions, because for some reason they made her weep intensely and never bothered me as much. I made a joke about my fingers smelling bad afterwards but she didn’t hear it. We hovered around the saucepan as the olive oil heated the garlic and the pieces of onion, inhaling the steam that smelled like all of our favorite food put together. She spoke of the Indian girl with whom she had lived in London a few years ago, who taught her how to properly cook a curry dish and kept giving me the instructions as if I could retain them so effortlessly. I nodded, rearranging my face to look like I was making mental notes.
As per her instructions, I took the fancy ceramic plates she had inherited from her last relationship and placed them over a beautiful white cloth. The balcony was big enough to fit a little round table and two chairs. I always forget if the knife goes on the right hand side or the left, so I placed each set differently. I lit a candle. She opened a bottle of red, poured it into bowl sized glasses, the type where your entire face gets swallowed by and disappeared into the kitchen. I connected my phone to her speakers and put on some 70’s classic playlist I had done on the bus drive there.
I sat down on the balcony and spotted the moon, almost full, shining between the redwoods. It’s funny how the leaves turn silver depending on how the beams touch them. The temperature was dropping and the air felt earthy. She shouted she was coming with the food, bringing first the rice and then a wobbly curry between her hands. She sat down across from me and we made a toast, to the Indian girl who had taught her the recipe and to the night that rose beside us.
We talked and laughed a lot. We drenched the wine too quickly, again, and made fun of the way we say we won’t drink and then drink a lot. She said she had given up on drinking after her breakup, it made her feel things she didn’t want to. I said I had picked up drinking since we got together. I finished a full plate of the yellow stewy vegetables and served myself another one. She said she loses her appetite when cooking so she barely finished hers. Joni was singing softly in the background and I immediately regretted adding that song to the playlist. She noticed the melody and excused herself from the table saying she needed to go the bathroom. I got anxious, skipped the song and tried breathing.
She came back and I noticed the shades of blurred mascara beneath her eyes. I wanted to make her comfortable but didn’t know what to do. She sat back down, facing her plate. I hummed to the background music and looked away to the trees. Nobody said anything for what seemed like a very long time. I tried poems in my head but nothing came. She was playing with her food but really I think she was just starring at the plate. A part of me felt angry and another really hurt. I looked at those gorgeous, handmade ceramics and pictured myself breaking them.
I got up and started clearing the table. I took everything I could carry to the kitchen so I would have to make the least trips back and forth as possible. She told me, so softly as I passed by her, that she wasn’t feeling very well and lay down on the couch. I piled the dirty dishes in the sink and let the hot water run through them as I stood watching it fall and slightly flood the sink. I turned the water off, grabbed the sponge and scrubbed the remains of curry as strongly as I could. I didn’t know not to be the center of someone’s life. I had no idea how to be the friend turned lover turned shoulder to cry on. I hated washing dishes.
I turned the water back on and cleaned the soap out of everything. I thought about the first time I slept over at her apartment. The first time I slept over there as more than a friend. She was confused, thinking about ending things with her girlfriend but afraid to do so. I couldn’t say anything that wasn’t biased so I just held her. She kissed me and I kissed her back. Maybe if I’d known how dependent I would grow on those kisses, I would have refrained. I should have refrained. Shouldn’t have let it take the crazy turns it took. But there I was, burning my hand with hot water at her autumnal cabin so that she’d think I was a reasonable person. A person who understands.
Then, Simon & Garfunkel were playing from the speakers. There was something soothing in their voices, like if childhood innocence had a tone maybe it would be theirs. I stacked the clean dishes in the rack, dried my rugged hands and headed towards the living room. The lights were off except for the fairy string bulbs she had hung above the sofa. She had fallen asleep. I sat down beside her slouched body and stared. Her face was just so astonishing from that angle, and her breast, escaping the low range of her rosé sweater. One tries to enter a relationship without expectations, but I threw mine to the firmament after our first night together. I knew I had long lost whatever scores were being kept. And yet, I tried not to be so obvious. She scared easily.
I decided to let her sleep, unplugged my phone from the speakers, got a coat from the hanger and went out into the woods. There was a gentle wind blowing and the hustling of the trees made me feel like on the inside of a bucolic movie. I could hear the narrator over my head, picking out words from my brain and sharing it with the world. I always think those parts of rom-coms to be cheesy and shallow. But there seems to be some wisdom there worth noting. I arrived without difficulty at a wooden bench overlooking the lake. It was glassy and you could see the sky reflecting perfectly on it. The moon lacking an inch of its border, a few ashen clouds heavy with rain and the twinkling of stars. I sat down on the planks of wood and felt the air brush through me.
The surreal simple beauty of nature usually helps me put my head in order. As I get so easily disorganised when falling in love. I see my patterns before me yet feel helpless as how to make it through them without getting lost, again. I don’t necessarily like this part of me that awaits the end of things as soon as they begin. Like the life that unravels in between is nothing but an exercise on acceptance. One that begs me to enjoy its superfluous moments, the only ones that really do exist. The dinners, the smiles, the waking up next to each other without any guarantee that that won’t be the last time. The letting go and the letting in.
I choose, inhale, to love this time for once, exhale, with all of my intelligence.