This is the finish line. You are standing on it, your legs are straddling the seam that keeps your last life – the one you’d thought you had – intact; and the uncertainty of the paper house we’ve built together at bay.
This is it, the part where you tell me about how your father had left his belt on the ironing board one day and you, the child, had taken the iron to the leather and thought you could burn the blood away. I am going to tell you to keep this lesson close at hand, I am going to lie when I tell you that the cold can do the same as heated metal: that we can iron over our mistakes in winter, straighten the creases, bleach the hurt; and if we aren’t as successful, well. The snow will take care of its own. We are winter’s children, after all.
You are going to tell me about the years that now, after everything we’ve done, still call to you; in that imagined space, on that imagined highway, where you are inexplicably, magically, still standing. The real you, your real legs, straddling the seam between our two real lives: the border crossings, the return tickets to ever-changing destinations; all of that, subsumed, swallowed, incorporated into the moment of a decision that was never yours to begin with.
I smile knowingly: you are my rodeo cowboy, my wanderer even when at home, and this was the longest ride of the century.
I didn’t think it would be. I’m sorry. Tell me about it again. Tell me a lie about the banquet of time spread between us, tell me I am always going to be the one to hear it first. Tell me it doesn’t matter, in the end. In the end, tell me – it’s not really the end. Tell me it’s only a stretch of time in which we will be taming our different bulls.
There is a rodeo taking place in the sky that knows no border.
There is a cowboy riding a bull called Time.
There is an itch in your foot that doesn’t go away, even as I scratch it with my own.
Will the bull give you more time to decide? I don’t know. I will. Is that what you were asking? I will give you time, it is the only thing I have left and yes, it is yours if you want it. Please, take it. Before you make any rash decisions, take this time I have offered up as a gift. It’s yours. Even if you don’t want it.
This is the final score. The bull has had plenty of time to buck backward and forward, to throw you away. It did not. You are still straddling the line. You are still two people, living two lives at once. I am, too. Tell me – when does this end? The house where we live is quiet. Tell me. How did we let it come this far? I loved you, you loved me, and we straddled the line of history to stay together. We won. What else is there?
Time. We forgot about time. And just like that… it threw us out of the saddle and demanded its due. Time demanded its pound of flesh. I gave it the half of my brain that was the best of me, you gave it the memory of the house where we lived. You also gave it the part of your heart that held the map of our life together. What happens next?
“Oh love,” you said. “It’s only time.”
And I – I believed you.