I don’t know when I started being romantic, or when I started believing in romance. I imagine that it happened at the same time that I truly fell in love, and I realized that love was about the understanding that your wildest dreams were realized in the eyes of someone who loved you, someone who saw you.
And well, when someone gives you a gift like that, you have to return it. So without further ado, my gift.
You have a face that looks soft. My ears ache from the fresh gold hoops. I don’t want them, but I wasn’t asked, because I am never asked.
I come to your bedroom often, to help you dress, to clean after you. You don’t know it, but I sometimes come to hide from your father (I am so sorry). I catch myself feeling as though your finest dresses of the finest fabric can never equal how that soft face must feel.
I only ever get to touch that soft face once. I am mending one of your dresses as you pace your bedroom. I don’t look up as you talk about your upcoming marriage, and how sad you are to leave me. I am not to be your wedding gift after all. I have never seen you so recklessly angry. I speak only to suggest that maybe you should go to sleep, and you would feel better in the morning. You agree, allow me to help you get ready for bed. I hold back the covers for you, and you grab my arm for a moment, searching my face for emotion. None. I know better. You ask me a question that ends in my name. In response, I lift my hand and gently stroke your cheek.
You are dead the next morning. In the three days I live after, I remember your eyes. Waiting for the end in a sea of pain, I remember my promise.
Do you know why you align so closely with the Abolitionists? Do you remember what happened before? The first time our eyes meet, and we are properly introduced, I know that you do. Your face pales, and you excuse yourself in a hurry.
The next time we see each other, you are flustered. You touch my hand, your cheek, the table. You ask me not to see you again. I consider complying, but only for a moment. The emotion that briefly crosses my face stirs something in you, and you reach out to slap me, hard.
Five years later, I finally believe you. The lye burns going down, but I am an expert at dealing with the intense pain, before the fade and the rebirth. The news reaches you in three days.
In a busy street, you give a teary apology for those five years. Shopkeepers stop what they’re doing to watch you, and I feel myself growing annoyed with you. I would never draw so much attention to us. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. An impatient child tugs on my hand. She will tell her father, and I’ll be blue by morning. I want to curse you. We have no chance this time around. Instead, I repeat your advice, our cyclical promise. You know what this means, and act sooner than I’d have thought. We both choose guns.
Finally. You are a magician’s darling assistant. I am the brains and the grunt work behind the operation. I am told on a daily basis that I am lucky even for that. I am lucky, but not for the reason he thinks. I am lucky because we share accommodations, and you are very accommodating. I am lucky because in the space of hours and small hotel room after small hotel room, all that came before is forgotten. We have spent ten years this way. Ten years of truth, beauty and goodness, until the magician ruins everything. He kills me instantly. But you, you brave, strong girl, hold on for three days, always kissing distance to death, because you understand how the magic works. You give us another chance.
It seems funny that in five lifetimes, you have never not been wealthy, and I have never been wealthy. At best, I have had enough, and at worst, I have been enslaved. As such, recent developments don’t bother me. You ask if we might try again. For lack of money? I ask. I will not die for that. You want to. Charity is not your thing. I think the magic might be taken away from us for something like that. We go around in circles until finally, it becomes a non-issue. You marry someone who owns a grocery store, of course. Those wouldn’t go out of business. I join a band that travels around the region. At your suggestion, we write letters to each other almost daily, only to know the other is alive. Sometimes I call, because you never know where I will be. You don’t know what happened to me, and I would rather not go into it, but the time you don’t hear for exactly three days, you know the reset has come.
The first time you see me walking past you, on the opposite side of a dusty road, you almost get hit by a car. You will never learn how to be discreet, will you? You look so pretty and neat in your pink dress, with the flat white shoes, that I don’t care. I’ve missed you. We spend a lot of time finding new ways to communicate, and arguing about what to do with our futures. It seems in a way that we have less of a chance of being together in any capacity than we’ve ever had. It’s you who eventually comes up with the perfect plan, of New York City. We sit on opposite ends of the bus on the ride there. You could have sat in the back with me. But if you had, we’d have died at the same time, which would void the magic.
At our small, female liberal arts college, there was nothing strange about friends so close they wanted to room together all four years. There was nothing strange about them moving to a large city and living together. Eventually, we didn’t even need to hide it anymore. We breathe a sigh of relief. The country has finally changed for the better.
Biology doesn’t change. The first time the appropriately upset doctor says the word, I can’t hear it. We finally get a perfect chance, and then you get cancer. We wanted children, to buy a house, keep exotic pets.
Instead, I rob a bank like the jerk I am. I don’t get caught in the five years we get, with your illness (in our next go around, you get a tattoo on your wrist that says “Fuck cancer”. When asked if you lost someone, you truthfully say yes).
For once, it isn’t your face I see first, but rather your words. I chase them from page to page to page on a small, specific-interest forum. Every post puts a new piece of a large jigsaw puzzle into place. When we finally do begin speaking one on one, the chat software displays a profile picture.
Will you remember my eyes?
I know those eyes. I am ecstatic. You are an ocean away, but that does not matter. We make plans, and when you arrive, I know. I remember. Your embrace is so warm, so firm. We have bodies wracked with the horrors that we have placed upon them, but I have never found you more beautiful.
That first night, I am numb until I am not. I weep as you deliver me again and again from all of the loneliness and pain and separation. Why the gods joined our hearts I will never know, but I am so glad for it as we lay sweaty and breathless. With a lazy hand, I reach for your heart. I make my dark copper eyes look into your light stormy ones. I whisper sweet promises, as do you.
We fulfill them. We live in a tiny apartment, and then a house that is bright and airy. We fill it with children we give birth to and children we don’t. They call you mommy, then mom. They call me mama, then ma. They grow so big and so brave. We write a journal for them to read after we die, because we want them to know the truth. We have animals, all of the long lived ones we couldn’t have when you had cancer. We hold hands in public. We have dates. We are each other’s wives. We get the life that we deserved over a century ago, when the world knew only hate for people like us.
We still have nightmares. You wake up screaming because you can’t breathe, or I freeze in panic at the sound of a gunshot from the TV. We can’t keep anything poisonous in the house. Your “Fuck cancer” tattoo and my inability to help our children with their American History homework are the only concrete testaments to the lives we lived before.
But love, when you ask if I will die three days after you do, I cannot. I cannot agree. This was the point of the magic, of swallowing lye and shooting myself and pain and death. So that we could have this life. We go around and around. You want another life, and of course I do, my love. Of course I do. But I can’t.
We get 70 years to the day. I gently hold your aged hand in my aged hand, our clan around us. Your eyes look into mine for the first time in days. In your ear, I make my promise again, and you die.
I am not alone. I am not alone for the four years I survive you, when I die in my sleep. One of our great-grandchildren is named for you. I love that tiny child, who is always too serious and wants to be a ballet dancer more than anything.
The first time that I touch your face, I tell you that it is so soft.
Welcome back, you say. Thank you for remembering my eyes.
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