The fight

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“Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body like robins or bison or maybe you believe love is how forces or nature or luck is benign to you in particular not maiming or killing you but if so doing it for your own good. Love is none of that. There is nothing in nature like it...Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God.”
-Rev. Senior Pulliam, in Toni Morrison’s Paradise

The stirring scent of the lemon verbena incense stick appears to defy physics as it wafts through the wooden door. It greets my nostrils and signals that you are home. I clumsily clasp the metal door knob, turn the key, and walk trepidatiously into the unlit apartment. My shoes seem to slide off my throbbing feet of their own volition. I fling them hastily into the open closet. The thick heels soar above the mounds of neatly folded clothes before striking the thin wall. The resulting tremors reverberate throughout the small living room, rattling the triple-pane windows, and shaking the old television’s glass screen. The throbbing in my ears is exacerbated by a sports announcer’s booming voice, which is excitedly previewing the night’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game. We don’t know yet know that the Duke Blue Devils will thrash the Butler Bulldogs, and cart home the coveted trophy. We don’t yet know that our life is vaporizing into a slew of loosely strung-together remember-whens and fading photographs packed into a weathered shoebox.

A bell rings in my subconscious. I visualize your imposing frame—the thing that drew my most primal self to you—sinking into the oversized sofa. I imagine you crouching, like a carnivorous beast in the Serengeti plains, waiting—patiently, hungrily—for the opportune moment to pounce on its prey. My now bare feet skate across the living room floor, and I sense your searing glare, silently daring me to throw the first punch. Adrenaline surges through my enlarged veins, increasing my pulse, and jolting my brain. Sweat beads dance across my forehead, and rise to the palms of my empty hands. I fumble through the darkness in search of the tall halogen lamp, and in prayer that its light will offer salvation. Suddenly, the room is illuminated. We take center stage in its harsh brightness. Our eyes meet. The fight begins.

Fuck rules. Fuck you. I flail my arms and you raise your voice. I hurl accusations and you throw insults. My untamed fierceness, the thing that drew your most evolved self to me—and subsequently challenged it to a duel—is raw and raging. Your face contorts. It’s evidence that I’ve hit my target. You recover quickly, and retaliate aggressively. You gain the advantage. I panic. But you’ve grossly underestimated how determined I am to emerge victorious. I inhale deeply, and launch my final frantic verbal attack. The words lurch out of my mouth like the poisoned arrow of a seasoned hunter. I stare, lips slightly apart, as they travel the short distance between us, piercing your flesh, and slicing open your heart. They are deadly. Blood drains from your already flushed face. I imagine it forming a rising pool around our feet, submerging us in its plasma and platelets, smothering us as it congeals. Heavy silence—the blade to the guillotine that cradles our heads—looms menacingly.

I want to tell you I don’t mean it, but even more so, I want to not mean it. I want to scream, as my tepid tears appear and slide down my cold cheeks, “I’m sorry!” But I fear that the crushing weight of that lie will be too much for my over-extended heart to bear. I want to stretch out my arms and fly backwards, into our undefiled memories, a series of firsts: the first time we spoke, the first time we touched. I want to linger in the forgotten images of your loveliness. I want to hover over the buried relics of your gentleness. I want to carve into your soul proof that my tenderness existed, once upon a time—how else will you remember it? I want a truce, at most. I want a brief reprieve from the encroaching numbness, at least. I want, with an asphyxiating desperation, to understand what propelled our otherworldly love into the frigid air of this chilling reality. I want to stop us from jumping over the jagged edge of this rocky canyon. But I don’t. I won’t.

I win the fight.

I lose everything.

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