When I was younger, I didn’t believe in soulmates. I thought love was fake. I came up with excuses down to my limited knowledge of the biology of mating. In my mind, humans didn’t stay together because we were meant to be polygamists, like dolphins or tigers. I thought we just placed ourselves too high on the evolutionary scale, that our natural instinct was to be with as many people as possible, keep the species going or whatever. But dolphins still love each other. They give their girls marine sponges and seaweeds like we give ours flowers and rings. They just tend to move on faster.
Do dolphins ever get sad when they break up?
When I was younger, I would watch my mom crying at the dinner table and tried to imagine being hurt by someone else that badly. I couldn’t even imagine trusting someone else enough to cry when they left.
She tosses her hair when she stops to think, as if shaking out her curls will provide some new train of thought, the answer to a question, a formula that wasn’t there before. She purses her lips when she’s mad and curls them in when she’s uncomfortable. The first time I notice this is when she gives her presentation on Marxism. She folds her lips in the whole time, sucking on them like a pacifier. And when she’s done, the skin around them is tinged pink.
The sky outside is growing pale pink. The cars lined up in the street are starting to grow impatient and yell at each other’s bumpers. Birds fly past windows and startle the occasional dreamer. I sit at the counter, a cup of tea sheltered between my two calloused hands. The woman asleep on the couch stirs. A baby cries in another room and I tense, wait - the baby stops crying. The woman flips around and starts to snore. Her toes poke out from the blanket I’d cocooned her in. Is it possible to love someone as much as I do her?
I take a sip of my tea and smile. The air is cool with promises of a cozy winter. The cars are mad, as they always are. The sky is turning over and over around us, as it always does. The tea is warm in my hands. I decide to go for a walk.
I notice she doesn’t have a car. I see her walk home from school every day, passing her on the overpass without fail, as if she waits for me there before continuing. She’s always looking down at the ground. Sometimes she’s smiling, like the ground and she know a secret. Sometimes she’s frowning, her eyebrows pinched together just barely.
On Wednesday, it rains. When I drive past her on the overpass, she’s looking straight ahead. She’s smiling. I’m so captivated by her image in the side mirror that I nearly collide with the car in the other lane.
On Thursday, I slow down beside her and roll down the window. Rain taps the exposed leather on my car door, drips down to form a shiny pool in the folds of the seat. She turns, her smile faltering. Rain taps her head, her hair, her skin, drips down to form shivering creeks in the creases of her smile.
“Do you need a ride?” I ask.
She stares at me. Shakes her head.
“But it’s raining,” I press. Cars slow down behind me. Are they confused, understanding, irritated?
She laughs. Shakes her head. “I love the rain,” she says, and twirls, the drops floating off her fingertips in arcs of tiny diamonds. The cars honk behind me.
On Friday, it rains. I walk beside her after school, listening to her talk about flowers and witches and trees and politics.
My sweater is soft and warm. Tight in the shoulders but long around my fingers. I breathe in, breathe out, watch my breath dance in the cold, dimming light. Clouds gather above me, dark blue and glowering against the rosy sunset. The birds swoop and dive and lift again under the shadow of rain. They cry out to each other and chase the tails of tiny sparrows.
I pull the sweater farther over my fingers, up to the second knuckle. My arms wrap around themselves, pulling the warmth in and holding it there while I shuffle along the sidewalk. People pass me, looking forward, looking sideways, looking down. Faces busy, smiling, frowning. I pass a barbershop, a thrift store, a man on the corner playing a guitar. I cross the street to a park lush with trees and flowers and bushes. A raindrop splatters in front of me on the sandy path.
Being vulnerable is a scary thing. Little kisses on the forehead are easier given than received. Hugs are better when they’re quick and shallow, like just barely touching the surface of a deep pool. Handshakes and high fives are much more preferred. I wonder when I started trusting her.
We walk together every afternoon. She invites me home and crawls into my lap while we watch movies. We read by the window when it’s cold, her toes wiggling absentmindedly in fuzzy socks. She smells like soil and wet grass. Sometimes, when she’s gone for a few days, I go outside and put my nose to the ground so I can remember what it’s like to be close to her.
She opens like a book. Her eyes are honey-gold. She’s scared of public speaking. Her skin is like warm sunlight. Her parents have been in love since they were little. Her lips part when she’s reading. Her favorite color is violet. Sometimes, when she falls asleep next to me, she’ll wrap an arm around my shoulder and nuzzle her face into my hair.
It rains on Christmas. She kisses me while we dance in the garden.
A boy and a girl run past me, oblivious to everything but the rain and each other. I dip my head as the clouds thunder happily. A dog barks in front of me. Raindrops tap against the crown of my head. A seagull cries out, swooping, diving, lonely. A woman runs across the path, a newspaper clenched comically above her head. Her face is scrunched tight, furious with the interruption of the weather. Her shoes are black and shiny. Water runs off them in rivers.
I walk slower as the thick canopy of tree branches thins out. Drops come quicker. At a bench, an old couple hunch together, smiling warmly. The man’s shoes are curled up under the bottom of the bench. The woman’s shoes linger just above the ground, the toes painting ghost circles into the dirt. They don’t look up as I walk past them. Rain drips from their hats to their shoulders, seeps through the cloth and into their skin. The woman closes her eyes.
Summer goes by fast.
We tangle ourselves in heat and water and beaches. Leather seats and towels and bikinis. We lay on our backs and read poetry. Grass clings to her stomach, her toes, the back of her legs. I make her a daisy crown and she lets it rest on her head until the petals turn brown. She dyes my hair and kisses me through the choking smell of bleach. I watch her lazily as she stoops to take care of her plants. She falls asleep faster when it’s warm. Her head rises and falls against my stomach.
I’m in love with her.
I’m terrified of losing her.
I imagine a life with her. We’d name our daughters Violet and Pearl. We’d have three dogs. A garden out in the backyard. Only one story because she hates climbing stairs. A reading nook by a window. A library. Would she die before me? I go over and over it in my head. I imagine it, I dream about it. I’m terrified of the pain of losing her. I’m in love with her, and isn’t that as good a reason as any to forget her?
She leaves in August.
A woman sits beside the old couple, a little ways away, as if separating herself from their warmth. She looks up at the dark blue-grey sky. Her feet sway like a child’s, the bottom of her knees bouncing against the dark wood of the bench. Her eyes squint against the raindrops. She stands suddenly and holds her hands out, cupped, as if collecting the rain through her own skin. The old couple watches her, smiling a familiar, loving smile. She laughs.
In my head, she laughs again and again. She’s sitting beside me. Her toes are in my lap. Her head is in my hands. Her hair is tangled between my fingers. Her lips are on mine. Rain against her warm skin. Sunlight in her honey eyes.
She turns and sees me. Her smile falters, drops. Her arms drop. She stares. My arms are still hugging each other around my body.
She takes a step towards me and I’m suddenly surrounded by that familiar fear. That fear I’d learned to love. Can you love someone so much? So much so you’re scared of living without them only to find you’re not living at all? Can you love someone enough to leave them?
She lets a smile grow slowly across her face. Rain taps her head, her hair, her skin, drips down to form shivering creeks in the creases of her smile. She twirls, the drops floating off her fingertips in arcs of tiny diamonds.