My Hidden Lives // Prose

172. about us, in the winter

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It’s coming on Christmas, but the weather’s different here.

There’s no white. The strong Košava blows the scent of winter away. It is worst by the river: sometimes I feel miniscule atoms of the Danube hit my face full-force, and try for a while to pretend it’s snow.

I remember how you used to love Christmas and all the season carried. Even at twenty-two, every time we passed the park at the end of our street, you’d convince me that throwing ourselves into the icy blanket was a good idea. We’d flail our arms about like maniacs, happier still than all the children.

„They’ve got it easy,“ you’d say. „They don’t know what they’ve got.“

Neither did I, but I indulged in your idyllic fantasy, drowning under the snow as it soaked into my clothes, sank under my skin; until it coiled around my bones and there wasn’t an inch you could touch without getting your fingers glued to me.

Then we’d make our way back home, open a bottle of wine and sit down at the desk to do what we fooled ourselves was „work“. The old desk, that is now a clutter of medicine, gauze and bloodwork results, in my old room, that has become too sterile for even the smell of Christmas to prevail.

„Write about it,“ you’d say. „Write about us in the winter. Write about the snow and the happy times. Make it a good ending to the year.“

Even in this, I would oblige. Even if, most times, there wasn’t much good to write or write about at all. Even if the year had been shitty and we both knew it: I would sit down with you at my shoulder, and weave you a good memory.

I remember them all, because as false as they were, they still became an indespensible part of us, something to read down the line, as much as something to do in those moments. Often, I would chastise you about your need for illusions, and your preference for them over reality.

„Isn’t this enough?“ I’d say. „Do you really need me to write you another sloppy poem comparing snowflakes to crystal or jewels and other clichés?“

I never did write well to order. You didn’t seem to mind.

„Yes, yes,“ you’d shout enthusiastically. „Write me a River.“

Shaking my head in disdain, I’d lower my digits to the keyboard in defeat. I’d write you a good memory at least, if not a good story.

There’s been none of that in a long time. No poems or stories. No jewels falling from the sky or crystalline patterns described in excrutiating detail in freeverse. No cinnamon and apple, no cloves, no orange peel scents invited here into my small, makeshift world that is time-free. I like it that way.

After all these years, what I finally wanted to say is: I understand your reasons now. They were beautiful reasons, in a way, and sometimes, they were also the right ones. Your defiance toward reality and your insatiable hunger for better were frequently the only things that saved us from drowning in the bog of ordinariness. The stories I wrote became my reality within the simple act of sharing them with another human being. They gave us courage to hope, security in the knowledge that if it all turned sour, something would always be there to cushion our fall. That the last memory of Christmas would not be pain meds, or hospitals, or heavy breathing on a silent night. That love asks crazy things of us. That ultimately, through that love, we would both survive suspended in a winter fairytale as if in amber.

This story is not an illusion, though. Without you as a guide, I don’t know how to imagine good things anymore. I rarely even try. But, some good things happen. Some days are happy. And though they never really seem to be „covered in a blanket of pearly white“, or „glitter with the shine of diamonds,“ I think for now, there is a small victory in that, too.

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