I’ve been thinking about distances: inches on a map, seats on a train, hands on a clock, clasped hands, roads, the minimal proximity between two pairs of lips before a kiss is inevitable. I’ve been thinking about cities, I’ve been mapping rivers. The microscopic synapses in the geography of my brain. I’ve been building houses made of memory in those empty spaces – birds’ shelters to last through wintertime. A city for each reflection of myself that will fade come another season. A river connecting each home so that I will, when I need to, find the way back on my own.
What we built could’ve been anything, so why choose this? Perhaps there was little choice afforded us to begin with, perhaps because of the person you are, and the person I was when I met you, because of the long walks by the river and short walks from one bar to the next, because of the rain, because of the time we’d spent together, in equal measure as the time we’ve spent apart.
I’ve been doing my part. I’ve been learning to swim long-distance, training my tongue to form words in another language, to break against the consonants of a foreign coast. I’ve been auctioning off the stories I’ve written to travel light, but I’ve hidden the poems. I’ve been rearranging the furniture in my old room to make sure no one wakes in our bed to observe the runaway light dancing on your face like a rainbow and claims you for her own. I’ve been leaving clothes in my parents’ house to make sure they don’t find another child. I’ve tattooed my friends upon my shoulder not to lose them.
I’ve been packing all the insignificant keepsakes, forgetting the basics on purpose. I’ve been memorizing the sound of your breathing in the night, then listening out for the traffic outside to find a similar rhythm that would help me fall asleep. I’ve been waging wars with return tickets, yet made peace with trains that only go one-way.
You look around the 30 square meters of the castle. Memorize it. Scribble home in your childlike penmenship on the backside of the photo you took the first time you came to stay.
We used to fight about modern art a lot. You despised it. I played Devil’s advocate. Soon enough, I realized I liked the scent of the museums: the tangy iron of the installations, the soft woodiness of white paint on white canvas; much more than the exhibits themselves. I liked the spaces that provided shelter rather than the things that needed it, I loved the in-between, the vast openness, the vacancy, more than the substance.
It was much the same with you. I loved the part of my life you occupied – white on white, almost invisible but for the texture – more than you yourself. More than what you’d filled up, materialized, I’d loved what you had left empty. What you let me have on the side. We’d let each other grow, and grow up. We didn’t focus as much on what we were, but always kept our eyes fixed on what we could potentially, one day, become. I’d needed someone to allow me that space, to let me love the emptiness, and so I loved you, who never bottled me into containers I’d eventually, inevitably, break free of.
That’s why we survived. Maybe I could sell the world on the idea that it was a kind of freedom that allowed us to move and explore, the act of letting the bird out of the cage so it would return willingly, but never you. I could never sell you on anything, so I settled for honesty. And it wasn’t that, in its essence, it was more than a test, more than an act done with a presumption of what it would result in. I never wanted to trick you into loving me by saying you didn’t have to. For the longest time, I didn’t even think of going back to that place, and you didn’t either, I know, and we were happy in our opposite corners on the world which, when folded, aligned quite perfectly with each other.
If we hadn’t been happy, this exercise in abandonment would’ve been futile.
I didn’t want to need you, I didn’t even want to want you, I wanted the want to come of its own accord, in those nights when you crossed the road into my consciusness and I thought – Well, he would’ve really appreciated this pun. Your voice in my head agreed and laughed along with my voice in my head, and this is how we’d lived, in that castle of my brain and your brain, that was so vast it spanned hundreds of miles and traversed rivers and plains and ancient seas that are now valleys; but was somehow smaller, epitomized in those 30 square meters, where we could be both far enough away to exist separately, but close enough to touch.
Patchwork people, that’s what I’d jokingly called us once, living our patchwork lives on a three-dimensional quilt with seams that held our errant bits together in imperfect angles, spreading out in all directions. But we were never quite so solid, not really. If I had to liken us to anything now, it would be the air in winter: we could see evidence of ourselves sometimes, but they were few and far between, and disappeared as suddenly as they’d arrive. Still, we were always there. We kept each other going. The sharp intake of the cold, January air felt much like the memory of you in my chest; first the tightening, the almost painful grip, followed by the relief and ecstasy of oxygen reaching the frozen tips of my fingers, making them itch in anticipation and a warmth coming from the inside alone.
This is how we came to find ourselves between the walls of the rooms we now live inside, the same roof over our heads and the cobblestones of different cities chiming in perfect harmony under our feet, as we walk down different streets holding each other’s ghostly hands to keep close. Sometimes we march in parallel, others in completely different directions, though always knowing, always aware, always with that compass in the other hand showing true north.
“I’ve found it,” I’ll tell you. “I finally understand it.”
“What,” you’ll ask.
“The relativity of time and space.”
“Not really. It’s just home. Home can be everywhere, and anywhere, at any time. ”
Then I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you how it came to be that what we built, when we could’ve built anything, was this. Small castles of air. I’ll tell you how the space we kept for ourselves became the place we had in common. Because of the person you are. Because of the person I am, because I met you. Because of the long walks by the river. Because of the short walks from one bar to the next. Because of the time we’ll spend together while spending time apart. Because choosing you was easy, right from the start. Because it was never even a choice to begin with.