Strangers came by to give you gifts: a fresh fish on ice in a styrofoam cooler, metal frying pans, a machete, two bottles of rum, a bunch of bananas the size of my torso. At night, we played gin rummy, shared liters of Kava and waited for a full moon. In the daylight, you showed me the jungle and explained every root or plant I could use for sunscreen or gelatin shampoo. I woke up picking my scabs, legs stuck to the leather couch on your porch. Nineteen and sick for you.
You were two hours late when you pulled up to the Kona airport, perched in the bed of a white pick-up truck. It had been a year since we had seen each other. We talked on AIM every day for seven years but hadn’t spent more than a few days in person since we met. I went nowhere new without sending you a postcard.
You used your EBT card to buy us raw fish with rice we ate in parking lots and green melon ice pops we ate on the side of the road. You picked me passion fruit when we’d pass a tree. We walked or hitchhiked to long stretches of flat land, black sand beaches with naked families smoking joints, both of us wearing only your boxers, swimming as a shower in turquoise coves filled with unforgiving coral. Places I can see when I sleep but not on a map. Places I only see through you.
Living alone, and with so little, I didn’t understand how you weren’t lonely or why you couldn’t seem to miss me. No electricity, no heat, no running water. The field surrounding your plywood house that sat on stilts was filled with a fruit the texture and color of chicken-fat, with a vomit aftertaste. The first three nights on the farm I dreamed that you stabbed me, my stomach as easy to push through as a pillow.
You lifted me onto the counter, pushed up my dress and licked at my core, like it was a pinkness you had never seen.
You told me about the purple cottage with a flower and vegetable garden you’d build for us, for our children, who would be as gorgeous as you are, and I believed you. While watching a white owl float over the dark field, you talked about your daughter who died when she was three days old. You heard her at night, howling. You heard her during thunderstorms and felt her there on your lap. Felt her between us under the navy sheet, while shoveling the earth, while collecting guava and avocados off trees, while walking through the jungle’s wetness to fill up your giant jug with drinking water for the week.
The gauze covering the light, the motes in my eyes. How much more could I have proved? Whittled down, your little flute.
I made you cum with your pants buttoned up but even then, I couldn’t feel you. I brought up my father and you pointed out a crimson flower. I saw a blood orange and you saw god. The ocean’s red seaweed stuck in the hollows of my crotch and thighs, like tiny clotted miscarriages. Looking up at an ancient Banyan tree you said, “That’s us.” Two trunks with branches reaching out and coiling into each other. Stuck, together.
On a single lane dirt road, laying in the back of a stranger’s pick-up truck, you used your arms to keep mine warm, hitting pause. There was no light, no apparent life, we could have been the only people the dead dark trees had seen. The volcano had erupted a few weeks prior—was still gushing through some open holes, you showed me where—its wake scratched fields into blank black. When we woke up, our toes and eyelashes touched. Pure by morning, you retold my dreams to me.
I thought nothing bad could happen in August, but out of all the men who could have had me but wouldn’t, it was you who the drunk driver hit. It was you, who lost all feeling in every limb except for your left hand. You, who had never been able to touch me but never stopped making me squirm. Once stable enough, you were flown from Hawaii to a Philly hospital. I didn’t take the bus from New York to visit you. I couldn’t bear to see you need me.
You never slept in this bed, but I tell myself I smell your deep-green scent on my pillowcase, and so I do. In the downtown Brooklyn hotel room years later, your skin hung onto the mineral dust smell that tortured my pussy for a decade. The sweat that made me want to climb you where we lay, on top of the sheets, both of us still as meat.
I brought you to the roof. The seatbelt on your wheelchair wasn’t done on, the wheels caught on the lip of the door, you fell forward and couldn’t reach out. Once back in your chair, I put the straw to your mouth and we drank. I put the blunt to your lips and we smoked. For a few hours before check-out I slept curled into your armpit, again, unsure.
When I first met you, and when I meet you again, I’ll think I was sent for you. Can you remember? Your friends said the day you met me, you repeated my name like a chant as you fell into our dreams.
Before our warm January, before we touched anyone, before the drugs we had to do: the grass, the lake, my bunk bed. I want to watch how your lips tell it, the summer we met—drowsy New Hampshire dusks, quiet pines vibrating in dry heat. Capturing each others flags, watching each other bite granola bars, blushing…
Two twelve-year-olds in black converse—conspiring, shoulder to shoulder, pinkie to pinkie—always, and only, just almost.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower