When I Write You In

Summer walked in one night, unannounced and fashionably late, dropping her scorching baggage in my yard and settling in for a nice, long stay. You’d think I would be used to this by now—she always brings an electric heat that pulls the oxygen from my lungs, leaving me breathless and dizzy. So I do what I always do: I misdirect, I redirect, I rev up and crash down in equal measure, but the breathplay is an exhilarating high, too good to miss. I fall for it every time.

So I write my stories. We can never entirely separate fiction from life, and there is an inexplicable core to every character that cannot be severed from its muse. It’s the hardest when the person cannot be renamed; so many stories have gone unwritten because I couldn’t break the connection between a person and their name. But you are not one of those. When I write you in, one of these days and one of these stories, I will keep the best parts of you, the savory bits that drip like down my fingers like au jus. When I write you, I will write as a child, stealing sips of wine from my mother’s glass, marveling at the drops of unexpected warmth. I will keep the parts of you that I can see, and you will read yourself and never know. It is not ours to know how we appear to others.

First, you should know that I would keep your hair. It is the part of you that I cannot sever, and I will spend too much time thinking of the way it would feel between my fingers. Like running water, maybe, if fire could feel like water. I would keep your awkward questions and the way you look away when you are caught staring. But what I keep matters less, I think, then what I write. There are parts of you I would replace to maintain your anonymity and mine. Understand it is not so that you will change. Writing is a fantasy, and in it, we get to have what we want—even if what we want is to be unsatisfied. But that is not my fantasy, and when I write you in, our desires will align. We will lose the maps that leave us wandering in circles, circumnavigating the point where we collide and find that skin feels like running water, sweeping uncertainty down the current and leaving us tangled. I’ll write you a message— you make me nervous—and you’ll respond back—you make me nervous too. keep pushing. I’ll write too much of the truth and keep it hidden in code: I think of the way you would feel when you fuck. How do you say that in casual conversation?

So when I write you, we will have these conversations, and I will kiss you too hard and feel the way that firewater flows between my fingers. And I don’t know when or how, but we somehow break the barrier of things we are not allowed to say. Thunder crashes from the words rolling across my tongue, and the friction of our bodies shoots lightning from our veins, and Summer watched and laughed. This is how it should be, she whispered, and went back to her knitting, the combustible yarn a fire hazard on the dried-up wood porch of this old house.

I stopped writing the story when it took on a life of its own and I was not the only one crafting the road we walk down next. You became a tangible, living, breathing element and I can no longer separate any part of you from the character I write. I will have to write a new story, one that you will not recognize, because this one is soon to be a part of your memories. You cannot be real because when you are real, then I am not in control, and my fantasy cannot take on a life like this. I might get what I want, but only if I ask you with words, and desire cannot be spoken so freely. Desire is dangerous. Once spoken freely, it becomes an element of control, a mechanism by which I am required to depend on another person. My life depends on a certain amount of cultivated restraint, which makes the moments I let go that much more glorious and that much more terrifying. Fear is far too powerful an aphrodisiac to lose to unmitigated desire.

Summer walks in, and she tugs at the cords I have used to anchor myself to sanity. She laughs at my feeble attempts to breathe and heaves a sigh of relief when I collapse. As I watch myself dreaming, I feel the blisters rising from my fragile skin. Her heat is impenetrable, and I am just a person, watching my confidence shred like cumbersome, sweat-drenched clothes. This is a tricky line I navigate, and the sudden silence infuses overplayed confidence with doubt. I squeeze my eyes shut as though memories are visible, pretend that I can scour the image by eliminating the light. I do not want to remember. I do not want to regret.

And if I am ashamed of spoken desire, then what? If I am shackled to my own need for control, what more is there to moving forward? Like freefalling off a waterfall, once I have jumped, I cannot unsay what has been said. I cannot unwrite what has been written; there is no undo button for life. And if I needed to release the pressure gauge, what then? If I followed the natural current and found myself much further downstream than I meant to go, how do I go about swimming back? I burrowed myself beneath the blankets of your flesh and awoke to find I had created an elaborate existence that holds no bearing to reality. I should be used to how this feels. The current can hold so long as it is sustained, and the rapture of language quickly dries from a raging flood to a shallow pool. You did not ask me to trust you, only to share. I cannot speak what I write, and I cannot write what I think, but I am a writer and as such, I live in the realm where fantasy becomes an undeniable reality. What have I begun by blurring the lines? The water drips from my hair and smudges the words that seemed so clear yesterday. Perhaps it is not a river, but a rainstorm, short-lived and glorious. I feel the shock of the droplets kissed by lightning. One current flows into another, and we wait with baited breath for the tendency of electrons to exist, to polarize the molecules that cohere water to itself, to jump from the sky to the soil in a blinding flash. One thing leads to another, but it is not causality I worry about now. I cannot bear to trace back the original cause, but as electricity binds to my blood, pounding deep between my legs and fingertips, I cannot stop the flood of makeshift imagination. I want to see what I cannot see. I am bound by the limits of my own mortality, and walls and ceilings are visually impermeable. We all carry multiple identities. My ceiling is another person’s floor. I realize I am uncertain of the line between intoxication and obsession.

What do you see, when you meet my eyes across time and faded photographs? It is not ours to know how we appear to others. You will not see yourself when I write you in, but something will stir, a discomforting familiarity in the back of your mind. It is not mine to know what you see in me, but you only have the possibility to see what I have the capacity to show. Can you know fear by its absence, vulnerability in overconfidence? I see your hesitancy, and I wonder what, in absence, seeks to make itself known. It is not mine to know how I am seen, but I wonder what makes your blood boil. I wonder why you watch me, and I wonder why you run. Doubt is my default; I blame the current for carrying me too far, and my own strength failing to pull me back. How can I know where the line falls when the currents rush over it, carrying ink from the place where others knew enough to stop? The ink spreads like blood, oversaturated and unbounded words from my fingertips that I spilled out when I leapt and hit my head against the shallows of the pool. I thought it was deeper, or I misjudged the distance, and now I am downstream, watching the gathering clouds billowing overhead. I feel the electric tingle of rain, and I know that these currents cannot mix. So if I cannot find dry land, what then? My blood is made of lightning and language. So what if these currents cannot hold? So what if the gong of the thunder announces death, a pitiful writer who thought that water and lightning could conduct desire? The clouds overhead are a shadow of the storms behind my lips. I do not apologize for the spark they create. It is not for you to know, but it drives that which I am able to let you see.

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