He found himself writing because he felt like he must, not because he had anything to offer to anyone, least of all the world. With reasons as pure and corrupted as his, he could have no idea what the title could be if not the namesake of the most constant source of his most constant thoughts. A name that now, and maybe forever, feels like the only name worth spelling out. With not so much as a hint of where to begin, he froze in stasis, fearful of ends. The only thought he found himself capable of thinking in those days was that there seems to be no right way to love someone, while there seems to be an infinite source of wrong ways.
He could remember every time they knowingly shared a moment in the same time and place, and of arguable importance, the same room, never having been more upset with his lack of business acumen than when it came time to sell himself to someone whom he wished already owned him. There were only three times this occurred, none worth recounting right this paragraph, all of them too brief, and all of them only a flick of the lighter that would come to ignite a fire within.
The match would not meet its sulfur strip until years after the last time he saw her, and would not be dragged into the world of flames until she inadvertently dragged it with a simple pull of words. With what felt like an eternity of crescendo, taking only the same humongous, but few seconds as the big bang, and blasting into a similar milky way, he found himself on a new precipice of life itself, staring over a new edge into a new abyss hollowed out by new uncertainties. He was staring out into a canyon, formed just this second and millions of years ago, weathered by rivers and stomped out by asteroids flowing with, and encrusted in love. A new love, but also one he now suspects has been whispered about and jotted down and etched into the walls, internal and external, of ancient prisons born from flesh and bone.
She must have had little to no idea that she was even fishing when she cast out an innocent enough message into his muddied waters, least of all that she would reel in every last minnow in the school of his attention. She had him, not just out of his element and gasping for air, but hooked by a gill on her finger and squarely underneath her thumb. When writing on the subject of her phalanges, he couldn’t help but get lost in the fantasies of her touch, not in a carnal sense, but in the unbridled electricity of the static in an accidental brush of knuckles against a knee, or even moreso, the intentional and mutual grasp of hand in hand. He decided the only other competition could be her sleeping head on his shoulder, or her feet in his lap as they watched movies–the birthplace of his multifaceted adoration for her and her own galaxies of thoughts.
His thoughts, amongst the planets of thoughts that orbit around her star, had consumed him for three square meals a day. They did not run dry or bottom out like a river. It was the deepest, darkest blue found only in the lost parts of an untamed ocean. Now’s as good a time as any to admit that, in the literal sense, he could not swim, one of the greatest of his many overlooked flaws, brought to the forefront of his mind by the fact she had grown up by the beach and when the weather and time permitted, lived in the water. Poetic justice for a sensitive Pisces, whether one subscribed to the pin points and broad strokes of astrology or not. He took mild, inconsistent pleasure in knowing that at least on paper they were extremely compatible, even though the sentiments of their daily notes, passed back and forth, already conveyed that enough for him to take his scenic drive to the ledge. As a Scorpio, he knew he must run from his definition at full speed, not realizing we’re all doomed to the circle, sprinting into the one man’s shoes that he so badly wished to outpace, but this was not about mirrors.
This was not an explanation for his resolution to end the nature of their initial correspondence. That could only be explained by his weak constitution and sudden realization that he was nowhere near the man he wanted to be or that he thought she deserved, and he had learned by now that that was no place to be in when talking to someone he would like to never have to lift a finger unless she so desired. He dreamed of promising her the world, knowing he could barely afford to drive to her city within the same state. That made him distraught to the point where he contemplated every possible end of every ending before any beginning could even start to begin.
What started off as one of his self-drawn carriages to a new point on the ledge became one of his more masochistic pleasures when he began imagining her happiness in a settled life, with a different person each time but all of them more competent than him. Some of them were men, some of them women, some of them Arabic with a subtle sweet, hibiscus poetry on their breath, some of them were blacker than he could ever feel, therefore sweeter according to the rules of berries, maybe not in temper or placation but in the raw sugary tastes of passion. He of course never imagined the passion itself, not being that masochistic or able to afford the lacerations it would cause to his heart or anywhere else. A particular fantasy looped effortlessly in his head’s theater, where he placed her in a movie with Ali, and Ali would coo in her father’s native tongue, instead of his broken German, about how fear eats the soul. All that he allowed himself to imagine brought a smile to his chapped, summer mouth, catching the slight streams of tears in its bittersweet reservoirs. He imagined her life without him, full and complete, brimming with love in every form. He bit his lip and wished this life for her until he bled, tasting the iron price he paid for his childlike apathy towards adulthood and its many rules and conventions. He thought his exit from her life, if even desired to be temporary, was the most noble thing he had to offer as the son of two poor preachers and a pauper in his own right. This wasn’t because he believed she was materialistic or needed money to be happy, but because he believed she deserved to be happy without needing money, or at least worrying about it.
He was no stranger to worrying about money, so much so that he wore the worry as if it were a hand-me -down jacket that he had already resigned to wearing before it was officially his. He had been homeless for a stretch of time in Kansas City, a semi-professional couch surfer of friends, if not borrowing half the bed of a woman who half of the time hated him so much she’d throw him out in the middle of the night, only because she loved him so much that she wanted him to never leave. This was not love and he knew that now, but at its hottest point could reach a similar temperature as so many flames can, and did.
How could he do this to himself? How could he let this happen? He questioned if those questions diminished the part she played in all of this, but then of course he knew, he may never know how much of a part she played, if she played one at all. He knew she wasn’t culpable. He knew there was no way she would feel close to what he felt, or that she should, and that she had no reason to admit any feelings at all, with he, himself feeling embarrassed enough for his own feelings and their almost teenage tenacity. He felt like he was fifteen again. Excited and terrified. Determined and disheartened. Only something as real as what he's feeling could exist with such duality, he told himself. He thought about the Blade Runner movies, as he was prone to do in states of duress, and he latched onto a line from Rick Deckard. It was a line that had always stuck with him, ever since he first heard it on an irregularly snowy, southern day that he spent inside watching movies while being happily ripped apart by tabs of acid. He cried the first time he heard it, and maybe the second time, assuming that both times he knew what it meant, not realizing until he began his discourse with her that he had no idea what most things meant, least of all that. He now believes it’s referring to the mountain of self-awareness one must climb in order to understand that they might not be what’s best for the person they hold the most dear.
“Sometimes to love someone, you have to be a stranger.”
He wanted her to know he didn’t come to his conclusion to end all correspondence lightly. He dreamt about it, lost sleep over it, and could not eat because of it. His mind corroded into a distrustful piece of armor, blocking off his desire to be vulnerable. He felt the importance of vulnerability as an ache in his heart, and that’s the true conception of the words he now grunted out bloody into the world.
A year and some change ago he developed the habit of going through his lover’s phone. He knew it was a cardinal sin but his curiosity had been pricked by a needle of a message popping up on her screen from an unsaved number while they were in the midst of using it to order food. It plagued him through the night. His lover woke up to make them coffee and he seized the moment as an opportunity to slow his racing mind. He did not know he was greasing an infernal wheel.
He opened the phone and found what he didn’t want to find but for some reason so feverishly looked for. She had been texting a coworker. She swore they never slept with each other but to be safe he slept with an old fling in their week they decided to take apart. A month later, she would leave her iPad at his house and before work he would hear a heavy, fateful ding. He couldn’t resist knowing what heartbreaking treasures he could reap from its depths. Once again he was not disappointed, but in turn, thoroughly, and in some ways, permanently shattered, along with his trust and self confidence. This time it was another man asking to take her out on a date to Olive Garden, a place he’ll now refuse to sit in to this day, despite his everyman’s affinity for the endless breadsticks and salad. He scrolled through the messages and found pictures she had also sent him, but then he found several videos he had never seen, detailed and graphic close-ups of her urinating. His lover had sent them to the other man for forty dollars a piece, several times throughout the entirety of his relationship with her. When confronted, she again broke down into a bevy of guilt ridden tears and thoughtful explanations built on the backs of her horror-story home life and past traumas. He folded, already in too many pieces to break any further. Through his own experience and the books and movies he fervently consumed, he began to lose faith in any relationship that promised one wholly to another.
Lacking any sort of useful strength within and overwhelmed with pride he wasn’t able to end things until the lover had already moved to another part of their vast country. He was still wounded from their time together and feared he always would be. The last thing he wanted was to ruin a new good feeling with the stains of old bad ones. That coupled with his severe missteps all throughout his life’s trajectory is what found him huddled over his laptop, steeping in his lament.
The first time he saw Jodi, he knew nothing of her or that he was even to see her. He had wound up at the beach by sheer happenstance. He had just finished a workout with a man he called his brother, no more true than in the way they weaved in and out of each other’s lives for as long as he could remember. His brother suggested they meet up with his girlfriend in order to grab something to eat and so they did. As they approached the strip mall restaurant he saw his brother’s girlfriend waiting by the window of the storefront but she was not alone. She was with a slightly younger woman whose bronze skin and gold hair danced in the August sun. He remembered that his brother’s girlfriend and the young woman, who he had assumed was merely a friend, complimented his neon pink checkerboard shorts, a staple in his lackadaisical wardrobe. He remembered Jodi’s dark golden locks, stopping above the shoulders, starting to curl in the humidity. He remembered sitting next to her and being acutely aware of the space between their knees. He remembered the meal lasting not long at all before his brother and him parted ways with them, and found himself back on a couch swiping left and right on a dating app on his phone until matching with her, his brother’s girlfriend’s friend. He vaguely remembers her short autobiography, and how it mentioned how she was at that moment more interested in women than men and had begun to exercise the growth of hair under her arms. How French, he thought. It wasn’t until he brought this up to his brother in passing that he learned the young woman, Jodi, was in fact his brother’s girlfriend’s baby sister.
He knew that by now she had to be wondering what was the point to all of this writing. What did he hope to accomplish, what was he trying to convey, and did he really think that flowery words were enough of a dowry to win her heart? He knew they weren’t. He knew his ideas, no matter how big, weren’t big enough to cover up any hole caused by the monetary needs one must pursue in order to provide for himself, and more importantly, those he cared to provide for. He was too poor to erect an everlasting monument in her likeness, all he could afford were words.
Why her? He barely knew her, could barely speak to her if they were in the same room, had only glimpses of her face to reference when he found himself yearning to see her. Maybe it was through a lack of his own academic prowess and his pension for more autodidactic probings of the world, that left him completely and utterly enamored with her big, bright brain. He wasn’t enthralled with just what she already knew, but with a hunger for more of the unknown, with which he knew long before her was far too rare in most. She casually mentioned a visit to the library, making him suddenly realize he did not read nearly enough and should absolutely read more, having not finished a proper book in years. Within a month and a half he had read six or seven different titles, all of them inspiring in new and pertinent ways. She returned to him the gift of reading, a love often taken for granted when one is basking in its warmth.
She had not just a knowledge, but an outlook on film and cinema that he wished for in everyone, but desperately craved in any potential counterpart. What she didn’t know, she wanted to know, and whatever films they suggested the other would watch if they hadn’t already seen them, bumping them up to the next in line if they were already in the queue. She had a deeply rooted passion for the Arabic language and the Middle East, being half-Egyptian herself. This inspired him to consume any middle Eastern art he could get his hands on, wanting to understand and study her from every angle. Through this hunger he found prophetic poets and filmmakers, particularly those from Iran that he had overlooked in his overtly western gaze but swiftly discovered were far beyond worthy of the space he boasted on the mantle of his person. In a matter of a month and some change, she had irrevocably changed him, showering him in gifts of the greatest magnitude, gifts of the heart, mind, and soul. The greatest and most important gift though, was the least tangible, and that was his newfound desire to change. Not only to change, but to evolve. Without knowing it, she began what could only be considered his chrysalis. He knew he could not fly to her until he worked for the color in his wings.
The second time he saw Jodi was the most brief, arguably the least significant, but nonetheless a portrait framed in his gallery. He had just reignited an old flame and they had gone down to the beach to nurture the slow burn with sea salt, using his brother’s house as a newfound love nest. It wasn’t until the end of their weekend in the preppy, expensive beach town that he would once again find himself with the star of Jodi, in which his own luminous spheroid of plasma crossed over. She had come by the house with her siblings to hang out with his older brother, entering the house at the very moment he and his flame had decided to hit the road, headed back to life inland. He had wondered the whole weekend if he would see her, wondering if he’d feel awkward with their last interaction being an establishment of shallow mutual attractions based on a profile on a site relegated to hollow validations and hook-ups. The moment was so much in passing he didn't expect her to remember it, he himself unsure of why he can remember her short, but ever-flowing yellow summer dress covered in flowers, her hair still like the first time he saw her, still golden and beginning to slightly curl from the humidity.
He found himself, in the midst of writing this, missing her and their correspondence. How could he not when thinking about her so often throughout the day, and at a constant when writing. He thought of her the way a bullet train, high on speed, thinks of its next destination. He questioned every decision he made that he thought could regard her, filtering every drop of his being through her approval. He hung himself on her words, dying to hear the melody in her voice.
At the same time, he found solace in his pen like he hadn’t known since his adolescent stint as a lovesick teenager. Like his latest literary hero, Florentino Ariza, he blamed love for the many lives and deaths of the poet who raged within him, condemned to the rebirth of hell in his forlorn heart. In the same blink of the same lash, of both eye and whip, he wished to know everything and nothing else about her. But he knew he needed to know everything about her because the alternative was the cowardly way out of painting the panorama of life, the beauty of the horrors, how they subtract and complete us.
The third and final time that he saw Jodi is a night he’ll do his utmost to handle with care, as it was not his night in any way, shape, or form. It was the day, and the night, of his brother’s and her sister’s wedding. A night that would forever solidify but also draw firm boundaries of that bloodless brotherhood. It is important to mention this wedding took place in the heart of the Covid pandemic, just as the controversial vaccine had begun its rollout campaign. This night was a story in itself, one he planned on saving for another time and place, but he figured he must tell the parts that concern his and her cross of constellations, his red giant at its most lame and dim. He had forsaken art and creativity prior to the pandemic, chasing a new water pipe dream of becoming an accomplished mixed martial artist. He had lost his comfortable job in a cozy used bookstore he frequented in his youth, a job with healthcare and paid time off, to the pandemic layoffs and was living at his most luxurious off of the government issued unemployment. He spent his days however he wanted to, more often than not, simply, but vigorously working out, sometimes twice a day, playing video games, and smoking copious amounts of weed. He was living at his own pace, oftentimes on the weekends taking multiple gel tabs of LSD and staying up through the night into the morning watching movies. His only contact with the outside world was masked grocery shopping and Sunday dinners with his family. So while his body was in its peak of its performance and aesthetic, his mind was insular and unsociable, far more used to narration than dialogue. This was never more evident than the few times their paths crossed over the course of the evening, as he found himself at a complete loss for words, even with the lubrication of red wine and the fact that secretly he was excited to see her more than anyone, thinking what better backdrop to ignite a spark than a wedding. However, every time she was near him, and the one time she approached him, complimenting his mustache to which he returned a stiff “thanks," he froze in the flash of her overwhelming presence. She wore an elegant, black lace gown, reminiscent of a dress he imagined Scarlet O’Hara might’ve worn, illuminating the rented out room like the world’s finest brass clung by the epitome of southern belles. Her hair was still short, but darker than the gold he remembered, now a graceful, mild, alternative mullet that in the years to come would garner a wave of trendiness, even sported by the same future lover whose phone would later spurn him. In her mullet and black lace gown she glided effortlessly. He had been relegated to the family table, sitting next to her mother, who began to describe all of the different ethnic food provided at the reception by the family restaurant, when he was proud to inform her that he was quite familiar with Egyptian food and the street dish, Koshary, having spent his first few months back in his hometown working at an Egyptian restaurant named after the dish itself.
He had no idea until approximately ten minutes before the wedding ceremony began that he was in fact the best man to the groom, the entire time leading up to the procession having been spent just happy to be a groomsmen for his older brother by proxy, who had two older brothers by blood also operating as groomsmen, along with her brother. He was handed two wedding bands from what felt like out of a magician’s hat in his memory, and told to hand them over when it was time. This being his first wedding as an adult, he didn’t know when that time was, or who he was handing them to. He fumbled it.
During the reception after the meal he went outside to bum a cigarette from his brother’s youngest older brother. He tossed the torched butt into the downtown street by the port and headed inside, not realizing he was walking into the middle of her and her other sister’s tandem speech in honor of the bride and groom. He was embarrassed, and sad he had missed an opportunity to hear her read a thoughtful and heartfelt ode partly dedicated to his brother. He slid into his chair near the corner of the evening and hoped that was the worst of it. Unfortunately for him and all who were to bear witness, when the two sisters sat down, his brother nodded at him and then looked at the microphone, implying to him for the very first time that he too was expected to give a speech. He supposed the first indicator was that he had been delegated best man, although this title was only bestowed upon him through a few key non-verbal actions a couple of hours before. How the hell was he supposed to give a speech when he had no time to prepare and had not been in the graces of actual living, breathing people who weren’t old friends and family in half a year? He struggled through it, equating the marriage to the success one feels when he’s won the video game of life. He felt sick to his stomach, and sought comfort in plastic cups of red wine at the modest, but open bar.
He saw her once more, at the after party, but he had resolved to smoking weed to offset the wine, and was witnessing an unbalanced conversation about cryptocurrency with his brother, and who he assumed at some point, or could still be a man in her quiver, a friend of her blood brother. He thought he overheard innuendos in jest between her and the man, and it spooned out the first small scoop of sod in what years later would collapse into a sinkhole within the pit of his stomach. When the heart drops, it will beat any anvil to the ground floors of the belly. This was the last time he saw her in person for the foreseeable future, and the last morsel of interaction they would share for years to come.
It was a night, years later, where she mentioned to him that she spent the evening, her blood brother freshly betrothed, with his brother and her sister, and the quivered man, gazing at the stars in the mountains of rural Georgia. His heart sank into places only Jules Verne could accurately describe and he questioned if it were possible to platonically look up into the night sky at other worlds, axis illuminated, one of the most romantic gifts left to remind us all that we’re not much more than nothing. The only thing as romantic to him as a clear, country night with stars intact were the Midwest nights he grew so fond of, where the moon seemed so bright it turned blacks into more hues of violets, ambers, and silvers than one could count, pushed out by the heavenly, ominous womb of the centerpiece to his tapestry, the night clouds of Kansas City.
Now he found himself, back at his canyon on the ledge, wondering what it would look like to jump into the abyss, and if he would find her at the bottom. He stood there optimistic after throwing into the caverns what felt like a solid first chapter in a book he never planned to write or knew if he could finish, so optimistic that he wanted to talk to her, ask her about her week, tell her that he had been overreacting and that he couldn’t stand to go any longer without communicating. He accepted though how this must do for now, in order to ensure his inaugural chapter’s goodwill would bookend with some sort of light in its resolution. He knew he had much more money to save, a few thousand more push-ups and pull-ups, countless more words to write. He knew he needed to learn how to swim. He knew he had a vast amount of work to accomplish inside and out before he could bother her with questions derived in wanting to know if she could one day feel the same. He knew his heart was not done being broken, but he now treasured the idea of beginnings more than endings, deeming this the start. He stared out into the canyons now hovering his foot over the ledge, less intimidated by everything it contained. He felt the color start to saturate the tips of what he knew would be wings when he finally emerged. He relaxed, but not completely. He reminded himself, there’s no right way to love someone, and a million wrong ways, but couldn’t help but laugh knowing he had found a road leading to his way, a new first step in every word. He had found a world where the period ended nothing, but instead showed him where his journey was to start next. He typed with direction, knowing all roads lead back to the heart, and that’s where he found her, where he finds her, every time he types, fighting the urge to begin everything he writes the same way that he’ll end this one. For Jodi.