I dreamed of you last night. It was as brief as a flashbulb and woke me, 4:13 am. Dreams have their special logic, at once palpably real and outside reality. We were dancing, which we never did, Greek dancing, our arms a poised 'W' and fingers locked in the sertos chain, the dream so short we hadn't time to move. You were as real as flesh — hair, eyes, and skin, the curve of your jaw, your nose. And gone, the dream as sudden and abrupt as one ring of a phone, and I, for the day, awake.
Were I a romantic or a sentimentalist, I would wish that I had waked weeping, or that I wept for renewed grief, alone in my bed. But I don't wish. I stare cold-eyed and hard-hearted at the truth. We never danced; we only spoke of dancing. You loved the unattainable; I stepped out of it. Foolish. Public grief touches nothing, proves nothing, makes nothing, matters not at all.
The secrets of getting old: Know what you can't have; know when to leave. Six years alone with my ghosts. There have been companions; I have been alone; they saw it, finally, and went away. And now, Crom grey-muzzled and cautiously arthritic, his age a burden he will soon put down, his happiness my hood and his welfare the last jess on my ankle, shall I tell you now how love dies? It is not always like they say in books, or what we would wish.
We imagine that love dies like an animal, fighting for more life, legs beating in the rough water that carries it away, claws and teeth resisting, bloody and screaming, raging against the end. Perhaps it does for those more abrupt in their affections. In the fatal moment, when the truth of loss is, however inexplicable, relentless and final, there is pain distinguishable only in degree from the suffering of the maimed and tortured. But that is not when love dies. The death of love is like the death of ringed trees. A piece of wire, binding the bark in a crown of certainty, cuts slowly, passively, inevitably, through bark and cambium and then, at last, through the life-carrying layer of capillaries without which the tree must strangle.
'Strangle.' Death's verbs promise of violence; they lie. For trees, death moves with the slow crawl of glaciers, the erosive simplicity of wind and water. Death may burn and crush trees, but that is incidental, not the nature of death. Fed by its tap root or a sip or two of water each desert year, a tree may live millenia. Girdled by an idle child with a dull gouge, unable to taste its sustenance, it may stand a century, dead as stones. Six years, and I have watched my heart turn fibrous and the fibres calcify. When you were gone, I told someone that it was as if a cavity in my chest were empty and only you would fit. Exposed to the desiccating vacuum, the cavern is now a part of me, hardwalled and unaccommodating to flesh.
Love dies slowly. Do I still love you? Yes, to my capacity, which is little. Yes, more than I love any other person. A measure of poverty, not excess, that is. Yes, but I don't know what 'love' means in such a context. I want nothing; I choose my words with care. Neither of us exists. Love is not the illusion. We are the illusion. The miracle of finding each other across a span of a decade and loving still who we each had become, the miracle that gave us our two years, can't happen twice. Someone else is in your body. In mine? No one you want to know.
Two years I stayed on in the city where we lived, learning through cruel experience that I was wed, struggling with ghosts and finally, one summer, fleeing from them. Two years in another town, passing through Salt Lake and sick with the fear that I would see you, divine coincidence, approaching on the concourse. Two more years elsewhere now, and soon to leave again, the ghosts are whispers when I'm not dreaming, and I am alone. We are strangers. I would like to think that I have the will, should you pass me by one day, to be invisible, unseeing.