No Matter How Many of My Cells are Replaced

I write because nobody listens’ was the first thing I noticed about her. She had scribbled this phrase on the first page of a notebook left open on the table. She had fiery red hair, wore little make up and had on a loose black dress. There was a homemade sign up on the wall saying We serve freshly grounded coffee, and a mild smell of cinnamon in the air. I quickly ordered an espresso and couldn’t think of anything anymore, but days with her. It wasn’t long until the lights in her eyes turned off. Ah, the implications of a smile.

Her heart, crammed full of glorious maybes and exhausted from beating for all the wrong reasons, found a safe haven in saying my name over and over again, until we couldn’t make sense of it anymore. She was loving, unashamed and courageous. When she spoke, she spoke loudly and often looked around to see if others were listening too. She liked to go to the theatre to warm up to the emotions, and never let me made fun of it. ‘We all have our security blankets,’ she said, and didn’t let me take hers away. I loved her for her strangeness, for her openness and her rawness, for how invigorating she was and for all the many tricks up her sleeve. Those were the days when life was in full force, days that seemed to start early and end never. I was mad about her. She was the one thing I would have saved from the fire, if it started to burn. But when it did, it started from within.

She rarely spoke of what was way down deep, where the forgotten things live. It wasn’t until she filled me with her sadness under street lights and asked me to walk her home, or when she curled up in a ball in the backseat of my car, or when she suddenly wanted me to leave that I realised how much had been disguising in sweet, carefree kisses.

‘Pull up a chair, I’ll pour you a cup of coffee. You don’t have to disappear to prove that you are there,’ I said right before she burnt to ashes in front of my eyes. She was a figment of the most clever, ingenious, but incomplete imagination, and when she disappeared she was nowhere to be found. I shouted her names from balconies and rooftops, I whispered it in pillows and in my sleep, I scrawled it in ink on the back of photographs, and I knew I will never slid over and put my arms around her sleep-warmed body or stretch across her lap again. In my mind, she will always have all the names I tried to call her back, in the light, in the dark, on the side of the bus, sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable, names forgotten and reinvented, names forbidden or overused, all the names Siken wrote about but didn’t work to call her back.

Sunbathing in the window, bare legs, one ankle hooked around the other, eating ice cream cones and looking relaxed, hair sticky and damp hair on her neck from swimming… That image blurs all the edges. I choose not to remember her outside of it, because outside of it she was nothing of that girl. If only people were more like their souls. The world is a cynical reality where everything is nothing but a shadow of everything that could have been.

Memories made in my room. Memories made on paper. I write everything down, so I don’t forget when little pieces of my life start chipping away. No matter how many of my cells are replaced, he will forever continue to swim through my blood. Whether it will be Thursday and March, Friday and July, this year or the next to come, I will never forget. I never forget, because I always write. Because nobody listens; it’s true.

I gave up telling my story when I was nineteen. A boy put his hands in his lap and leaned forward to kiss me, but stopped halfway and started laughing like a moron. The sky was just turning lilac. It had taken me forty minutes to explain my beliefs to him, to make him understand who I then thought I was. He apologised a couple of times only to start laughing again, and again, much harder. He thought I was crazy, but it didn’t matter because I was beautiful and if I wanted to watch stories unfolding like a play from rooftops, I could. Because I was beautiful. He was the last one.

What came next was what I like to call the wild future, even though it’s in the past. Walking down warm streets and taking in the heat of the pavement, cars pulsing through the arteries of cities, corner store pharmacies, buses puffing at stops, going to the park at dusk and swinging high into the sky while listening to music and feeling life beating like a drum in my chest, kissing and glowing and writing on buildings and cities and skies and running all over the map, I used to be able to catch the sunlight that is now slipping through my fingers. These delicious images of when I claimed the universe for myself are still haunting my brain. I don’t know how to speak about them, so I write tens on notepads about the bright, burning lights that light my days up until nights begin to hurt, even in the giant softness of my bed.

Stories don’t deserve to stay in the quiet, but what I lived is far from a story I can tell – it’s rather a painting of the world seen through my eyes, where nothing ever happened but I happened to everything. The pure pearl of the morning sky above me, the soft, smoky-white fog which blotted out any background, sitting on a bench in the National Park with a bottle of water and watching fog float across the valley below, the colours of motor oil in a puddle of water – gold, plum, fiery orange, the smell of high pine, ice and wet earth, jumping out of a boat and splashing up the shore. I am grateful for times like these. Making silhouettes of spilled ink out of them is my essential endurance strategy for surviving the empty soul wilderness. These times didn’t last, but they taught me where to search for a God, if there is one – and then they taught me there is one indeed.

I still walk past his house. I always seem to find my way back there. He never wondered at my anger. His love dissolved my fears for a spring, after I had tasted all flavours of fear. The intimacy we shared, fingertips tracing our shapes in the dark and hearts beating slowly to the same rhythm in the sun, strangely reminded me that there is more to life than living alone on the run. Holding him led the way to another world, a better, safer place – his heart was the door knob, warm as if he was resting his hand there to let me go in. ‘You need this and that,’ he said. I met his eyes and said, ‘No. I can’t take anything from you.’ I like easy, vague ideas, rivers of light in others, only because there’s nothing like that inside of me. One night I waited for him in the dark for two hours. Eventually, his touch came gently, reassuring. I couldn’t unclench my fists from the back of his shirt anymore.

My touch comes like a bullet. He couldn’t fill all my voids. It never got fast enough for me, and if I slow down I lose my mind. I like this sense of urgency, of self. I don’t care if they understand me now. I’m not nineteen any longer. But I’m still running.

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