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by longingforthereal

“Now I have to do the same,” I said as she returned from the bathroom. I followed suit, walked to the pallid porcelain sink, and brushed my teeth at a slightly rushed pace. Spit. Craned my neck to rinse. The water pierced with what tasted like an exotic variant of chlorine, attracting and repulsing like the profane. After finishing the familiar ablution, I retreated back to the unfamiliar bedroom, where she was waiting in a robe. “I like your robe,” I’d said seven hours before, as she strolled plainly from the doorway to the bed. “Thanks, I got it at the thrift store.”

I extended my hand to her side, gripping it with affection that felt resigned. We kissed again, now unsafe under the watch of daylight’s eye, pulsating in a single tone like that soft, ominous crescendo of movies of ethereal moods. And it could just as easily have been a movie. I’d asked as much of the situation in initiating it the night before, leaning over the bar she was tending to suggest that we continue our furtive glances acknowledging prior encounters. In a cinematic register, we’d both direct ourselves to the ephemeral experience of a condensed life, totaling only twelve hours. Maybe it should’ve been two and a half.

I sat at the bar waiting for her to finish. It was approaching 3AM. I pretended to wait patiently, feigning distraction by reading that French philosopher I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand. Does she care that I’m the type to read such things at such moments? Do I? Earlier in the evening I’d been taken back by two close friends who’d revealed to me that they’d just given up drinking. One for good. One for a “while.” That one can see depths so dark and come out on the other side seems just an exaggeration of what we all do, what we all see always.

The lights turned off. I looked up from my book, catching her smile that signaled her readiness to come out on the other side for now, with me. Now walking side by side next to the overpass, she said, “How have you been?” “Not bad,” I replied, preceding a short silence in which was contained everything always concealed by “not bads”-that sense of never quite being sure if you really are OK, but knowing somehow that you continue to wake up and keep trying to be. And then we were at her apartment. Sitting for a while, anxiously, awkwardly, we could dance unsynchronized around the fact of the matter, which could only make mention of itself in the draft coming in from outside. “It’s cold, we should go to my room.”

The steps to the hallway blended into our caresses: awkward, no rhythm really, filled with uncertainty but certainly felt. And then they were interrupted. Her roommate walked in with others, home after a heavy night of drinking away, by drinking in, their twenties. There was that damn draft again. And then another cigarette to round out the night was our final checkpoint, as we listened to one “Mindy” talk through her intermittent hiccups, her faced aged prematurely by “hitting it hard,” as I’ve taken a liking to saying lately in order to describe someone’s romantic (or sad, or frightening, or ambivalent) abuse of themselves.

But “it” is always hard hitting, no matter how lightly we pretend to tread over its coals, how much we pretend not to need desperately to feel, to embrace. Its “it-ness” makes itself felt on nights like these, where one’s desperation-loneliness on its last legs-comes to the fore almost to the point of its standing in front of you and upbraiding your sense of self, with passersby lowering their heads in embarrassment and pity, suggesting with their eyes the truly pathetic side of human longing.

***

And then this “it” that is life greeted me the next morning, in the daylight, after the exotic chlorine told me to wake up, to both stay and to leave immediately. And “it” stared at me unwaveringly minutes later, as I said “I should probably go,” as we agreed that we should start our days, as she said, standing inside the door as I left, “I’ll see you around sometime.”

-Erik Hmiel

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