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 sentence on the first page of a notebook left open on the table. She had flaming red hair, wore little makeup and wore a loose black dress. There was a homemade sign hung on the wall that read We serve freshly ground coffee, and there was a faint scent of cinnamon in the air. I quickly ordered an espresso and could think of nothing but days with her. It wasn’t long before the light in her eyes went out. 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 could no longer make sense of it. She was loving, unashamed and brave. When she spoke, she spoke loudly and often looked around to see if others were listening. She liked to go to the theatre to warm up to the feelings, and never missed the chance to make fun of them. ‘We all have our security blankets,’ she said, not letting anyone 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 swing, days that seemed to start early and never end. I was crazy about her. She was the only thing I’d have saved from the fire if it had started to burn. But when it did, it started from within.

She rarely spoke of what was deep below, where the forgotten things live. It was only when she filled me with her sadness under the streetlights and asked me to walk her home, or when she curled up in a ball in the back seat of my car, or when she suddenly wanted me to leave, that I realised how much was hidden 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, just before she burned to ashes before my eyes. She was a figment of the cleverest, most brilliant, but most imperfect imagination, and when she disappeared, she was nowhere to be found. I called her name from balconies and rooftops, I whispered it into pillows and in my sleep, I scribbled it in ink on the backs of photographs, and I knew I would never again wrap my arms around her sleep-warmed body or lay across her lap.

In my mind she will always have all the names I tried to call her back with, 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 did not work to call her back.

Sunbathing in the window, bare legs, one ankle wrapped around the other, eating ice cream cones and looking relaxed, hair sticky and damp on the back of her neck from swimming… This image blurs all the edges. I choose not to remember her outside of this picture because outside of this picture she was nothing like this 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 it all down so I will not forget when little pieces of my life start to crumble away. No matter how many of my cells are replaced, he will forever continue to swim through my blood. Whether it’s Thursday and March, Friday and July, this year or the next to come, I will never forget. I never forget because I am always writing. 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 an idiot. The sky was just turning lilac. It had taken me forty minutes to explain my beliefs to him, to make him understand who I thought I was then. He apologised a few times, but then he started laughing again, and 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 the 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.

Those delicious images of when I claimed the universe for my own still haunt my mind. I do not know how to talk about them, so I write tens on notepads about the bright, burning lights that brighten my days until the nights begin to ache even in the giant softness of my bed.

Stories don’t deserve to stay in the quiet, but what I have experienced is far from being a story I can tell. It’s more like 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 mist that erased any background, sitting on a bench in the National Park with a bottle of water and watching the mist float across the valley below, the colours of motor oil in a puddle of water—gold, plum, fiery orange, the smell of tall pines, ice and wet earth, jumping out of a boat and splashing up the shores.

I am grateful for times like these. Making silhouettes of spilled ink out of them is my essential endurance strategy for surviving the empty wilderness of the soul. These times haven’t lasted, but they’ve taught me where to look for a God, if there is one. And then they’ve taught me that there is one indeed.

I still walk by his house. I always seem to find my way back there. He never wondered about my anger. His love dissolved my fears for a spring after I’d tasted all the flavours of fear. The intimacy we shared, the fingertips tracing our shapes in the dark, and the hearts beating slowly in the same rhythm in the sun, strangely reminded me that there’s more to life than living alone on the run. Holding him took me to another world, a better, safer place—his heart was the doorknob, warm, as if he were putting his hand on it to let me in. ‘You need this and you need that,’ he said. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘No. I can’t take anything away from you.’

I like simple, vague ideas, rivers of light in others, only because there’s nothing like that in me. One night I waited for him for two hours in the dark. Finally his touch came, gentle and reassuring. I couldn’t unclench my fists off 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 slowed down, I’d lose my mind. I like this sense of urgency, of self. I don’t care if they understand me now. I’m not nineteen anymore. But I’m still running.

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