Lex Hamilton • Jacksonville, Florida
Martinez Marina is where I see my heart’s reflection in the polluted water. The land has definition. The mountains are rough and steep the way the people are. They are complex, layered; almost human. The buttery clouds float atop the bay. This land is wild—beastly almost—and overgrown but it masks beauty in a way I have never seen. From the look in his eyes, I can tell a part of my dad’s heart has drowned here. From the look in his eyes, maybe it still does.
My five-year-old father. His Filipino mother sending him off to his first day of kindergarten from the front porch. Not hugging her youngest child, not telling him she loves him before he starts his journey. No one told my dad they loved him growing up.
Three-year-old me still being rocked to sleep by my mom until her pregnant belly becomes too big. Hugging me and kissing my baby head. Telling me she loves me before bed. Tucking me in, promising “not to let the bed-bugs bite”.
My thirty-seven-year-old father. Trying to love my mother. Trying to love himself despite the reasons he comes up with to not. Taking to alcoholism as a last resort. Bloating his fatty liver every night and bringing himself closer to death.
Seventeen-year-old me staying even when I no longer love the person. The person being the boy but also myself. Finding some security in the act of leaving. Of putting my foot down and deciding I want better. Feeling pathetic that I knew this months before I left.
The seed of our existence is where we begin. I begin at my father. I have found every trait alike to him. Silent because we don’t know what to say. Fools about love. About life. Had someone did to me what my mother did to him, cheated, I like to believe I would not go back to them. But my father went back to my mother so willingly. I know I would do the same. We aren’t realists. We believe in the power of love. We let it take and take and take until we no longer love ourselves. He’s spent years building himself back up. I continue to trek through the rain: no clothes, no umbrella. Nothing to protect me.
I yearn for her. States away or across town, I yearn for her to light me a cigarette while we sit by the water. Yearn for our late-night outings. Yearn for the smell of her in my car. Lily Paternoster, my best friend of five years.
I remember the moment I knew I loved her. Sophomore year I left a lecture to go to the bathroom. She had left ten minutes before me. I had been avoiding her for whatever reason but when the door of the bathroom slung open, there she stood. In front of a mirror so gigantic it started at the green and white tiled floor and went up to the ceiling. She had always been small, we both had. But standing there she barely looked alive anymore. Her skin flapped and hung over her bones. Her bones. That’s all I could see. She was a raging bulimic. I could smell it on her. Her thighs that once touched stood so far apart like the opening of a whale’s heart. In that moment, my chest had caught fire and exploded. What had she done?
And then in a quick flash she raised up her denim skirt. I’m not sure if I was supposed to see but underneath revealed cuts across her thighs. She had been clean of cutting for years at this point. And I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t been there, and I no longer had any idea what was going on in her life. What do you say to someone you hadn’t talked to in months?
I remember the way time passed before that. Lying on a tapestry in Memorial Park at sundown earlier that year. I looked at her brown eyes and thin lips. Each time I stopped to notice her, she looked more and more Polish. More and more like her mother. I had this desire to always be with her, to never be apart. I desired her presences, her approval. The way a dog desires to be loved. I loved her, not as a girl but as a human being. I had found shelter in her during my parents’ divorce. She nourished me. With her, I would never be alone.
I know I love her because we hadn’t spoken in months but when I saw her bone-thin in the bathroom, my heart caved. I felt like I wanted to save her. When I saw her ex-boyfriend squeeze her wrist too tight in the hallway, my instinct was to protect. Whatever that meant. To nourish her, as well. To put my face in front of his fist had it come to that. I know I love her because I would stretch myself thin across water to make sure she was still floating.
I look at her brown eyes and thin lips. Her pale skin. Her sharp cheekbones and I see nothing but beauty in her. I empty admiration onto her name. I empty my heart out to her.
Our love is safe.
Was I In Love?
I wonder, was I ever in love? Does one have to be IN love to experience heartbreak? Or can you love someone and have your heart broken by them? And so I sit in this vacant hotel somewhere in Tennessee and I write my ex-boyfriend a letter I never intend on giving him. It goes:
The sun touches everything here. I know what you would say to that: “The sun touches everything everywhere.” But it is different here. The sun touches everything: every blade of grass, every speck of dirt, every particle of my body.
You appear in my dreams almost every night. Some days, I wake up happy and feel the pain of remembering bear down on me. You are not there. You have not been there for a week, two weeks, almost two months now. You are lost somewhere in space and time and I was only a part of your existence that eventually chipped away. I did not stick. Other days, I wake up drowning in my own sweat, shaking because I see your blue eyes. No one’s eyes have ever caused me to panic, but there is so much history in yours. I recall so vividly the craze in them the night you left me alone on a beach. The fear in them when you pushed me down and the excitement, too. As if you wondered how it felt.
In passing conversation, not having to do with you, someone told me our dreams are our subconsciouses interacting with one another. That would mean that, somehow, we are still connected. So I am not seeing your eyes. Your eyes are the vehicle for your heat and anger. You rage in my dreams. Somewhere in the collective unconscious, we float, swim, and sink in the presence of each other; I both love and hate the idea of that.
I have become desperate. I convince myself I could love boys I pass in cars. Or the boy that sat next to me in the doctor’s office. I think I could love the boys that came before you. Ones I know I could not love then or now. I want to believe I could love someone again, though.
My tears mark all the places I have cried since we ended. The list ranges as far as Florida to Tennessee. From public bathrooms to empty parking lots on my way home from work to the comfort of my own bed where I use a pillow to muffle the sound of sobs. And my poor parents. My poor parents have been going through this break up, too. I dyed my hair and got purple hair dye all over the bathroom counter. My mother knew what I was up to. She knew I needed to find a way back to myself and she let me go through each painful attempt. Less than two weeks later, I chopped off my long hair. Let the pieces hit the ground in front of their eyes. Though they lost their little girl to you, I think my long hair was some sign of hope that one day they would get her back.
And what I failed to admit from the beginning was that I am heartbroken. I am utterly heartbroken to know that you aren’t my person. That you weren’t ever the person I thought you were. Heartbroken by the fact that you must be dead to me now.
I put the pen down. This could be the end though I don’t think it is. I loved him the way a mother loves her firstborn child. Wet, slippery love. Kiss-your-forehead-even-after-you-push-me-to-the-ground love. So, there must be more, right? The leather of this hotel lobby couch is eating away at my thighs. Eating away. Rubbing them. Gripping them. Making an impression. I am seventeen and I wonder how long heartbreak lasts. How long can someone possess my time and energy once they are long gone? I believe the answer could be forever if you let them. I believe it could still be forever even if you don’t.
Joan Didion writes, “It is a good idea to keep in touch.” I write letters to keep in touch with even the ugliest versions of myself. The ones that don’t brush their teeth or hair. Ones that eat cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, I am keeping in touch and answering my own questions. I have been left on my own to figure things out.