I’ve tried talking to myself less but it can’t be helped. I’m past forty now so it doesn’t embarrass me as much as it used to, or maybe I used to like pretending it was embarrassing, even though everybody does it. I don’t do it when other people are around. It’s not exactly like praying — God’s not on my mind every time. I don’t always mutter. Sometimes I just have to talk! Sure, I feel a little funny, but I rarely forget the things I say to myself. They sink into my memory differently. Things other people say sort of have the same shape, their words tend to just fall into slots. Things in my own voice go somewhere else. They clatter around inside. I just have days you know when I have to say something out loud right away, breathe it and hear it in the real world, even if it’s just me and the walls or the trees outside the window. Never at the office, of course. You’re never really alone there.
You’re no one’s fantasy. I kept saying that quietly to myself the other night as I walked between the rowhouses. You see in the reflection of your front door what your neighbors see when you come home late at night. After drinks, after dancing. Your mouth is open and you’re breathing heavy because you’ve ignored the trolley to walk home fast instead. Campus is empty. Spruce Hill feels steep and it’s really not. You want to get inside the house quick because it’s cold and you’ve just come home alone from a party where it feels like something happened. Has something happened? Has being alive started to feel meaningful again? Because of a party at a condo? Because of a person? Really? Again? Are you going to start all over again believing in love? I couldn’t decide if I should strangle or congratulate myself.
Dancing half-drunk near several strangers I felt like someone’s fantasy again, like a wild form in a strange apartment full of worried shadows. And when I reached the door at home in the cold after walking home sweaty from dancing I had that thought, that a person is a thing that goes on craving love. Remembering a face, hands in the air, part of a song, a smile. It was as if some small fantasy had grown into truth, like a flower sprouting between cracks in the concrete, demanding to live.
Imagining later on what love was like, what I used to think it could be like, to be someone’s lover and think as I moved across the bed, I kiss you at dawn in the new light. Mornings and midnights indoors or at the park, love would connect all time again, moments separate and perfect like beads on a string, making day and night simple and equal. I imagined the lovers, or maybe just one of them, whispering to himself each morning, Today is a day of love. But this man I imagined, who’s enjoying a new love, or an old love that feels new again, he wouldn’t sound the way I hear it when I think about it. He’d have his own tone. His voice would make all the difference.
I don’t know if it makes much sense, or if making perfect sense really matters for things like this that I’ve never said, not even alone to myself. There are things about love I might have wanted to say if another part of me, the one that saw that wild shadow and knew it was me! mine!, had the nerve to feel that way again, have it rise up through his body and, well, I don’t know. I like to imagine though that some version of me would be strong enough someday to stay utterly quiet about a deep love instead of talking about it. That person I almost was, he would only have to live it. There’d be no need for words. And in that moment that night in the apartment as he danced, all he would’ve had to do was settle into that love, turn to those other shadows and see in their eyes some sign that whatever had happened deep inside him was real. And they’d see and remember alone in their own silence all the ways they’d imagined love before, too. Instead, I just got nervous about being sweaty and ran away.
It’s silly, I know! I don’t usually go on at length about stuff like this alone to myself. And if I did I’d only wind up chaining myself to the memory of it being said in my own ragged voice instead of somebody else’s. It’s a mess!
Why is half of love so sad? I said that to myself the other day. It just came out, unbidden. I’m glad no one heard me. But there it was and now it’s alive in me. I dance around the idea. Maybe more than half of love is sad. Maybe just a sliver of it is joy. I can’t tell if it’s the sort of question that even really matters to someone like me anymore. But I’ve said it out loud so it feels like it’s in motion, circling the neighborhood and echoing back on me when I walk around at night and hear the trolleys rush by. If I asked my wife a question like that she might hate me for it. Or, who knows, we might end up laughing about it. It’s so hard to tell sometimes what might be the beginning or the end of something.
Matthew Jakubowski‘s writing is forthcoming from Berfrois and Interfictions, and his work has appeared in Numéro Cinq, The Paris Review Daily, 3:AM Magazine, gorse, Corium, Fiddleblack, The Kenyon Review Online, Kirkus Reviews, Necessary Fiction, and Black Sun Lit. He lives in West Philadelphia. @matt_jakubowski.