In The After: All The Ways I Will Love You Then

Imagine you showed up at my door, and it wasn’t the before time when we didn’t know, or the now time when we still don’t, but the mysterious after we can only imagine, when we’ll finally have something solid to rest inside.

What if you came to me then, in the after. When we’d had some time to unwind the anxiety knotting our muscles and release the air stuck in the bottom of our lungs. When we were all slowly re-learning how to dance together again in real-time and space. Without screens or masks or gloves to keep us safe from threats lurking in the air and on the surfaces and in the everywhere-everywhere-everywhere.

Do you have any idea how I would hug you? Over and over again. How I’d fall into your arms and pull you into mine and let the lines and curves of my body find the nooks and crannies of yours. So that we fit, puzzle to puzzle. Like there was never any other way we could be.

I’d hold you way too long, past that moment of awkward automatic pull away that existed even in the before. Until the tight spiral of our chests stopped begging our eyes to draw an invisible six-foot perimeter we could disappear inside to save ourselves.

Take a breath, love. It’s going to take a while for us to not see each other as hazard signs.

But I’ve got time and so do you, and so we’d hold each other until it was just exactly right. Until we could sink together into something ancient and nameless. Something that would feed the hunger we’ve been feeling since way before this whole thing started, back before we had any damn idea just how badly we needed each other.

My god, how badly we need each other.

I’d invite you in for waffles and mimosas and the kind of deep talk that doesn’t even need words but still lays us bare and leaves us satiated. We’d lay in my new red hammock, arms and legs and souls intertwined. The desert heat would unwind the hurt in our bones and I don’t think I’d be able to take my eyes off your mouth.

Not because I want to kiss you, even though maybe I do. It’s just that I’ve gotten so used to seeing faces hidden behind masks that I’ve forgotten how a mouth speaking truth can break me into so much confetti. And so I’d fall topsy-turvy headfirst into the wonder of your smile lines while the sky deepened from cerulean blue to cotton candy pink to fire flame to the blue-black bruise of night.

Can you imagine how we would light every candle in the house and burn the palo santo and turn up the volume and find just the right song to dance our asses off, wild and free? Like the people we were in the before, or back when we were teenagers, or maybe like we’ve never been but always felt existing just out of reach and somehow all the apart brought us together and here we are in now.

“Isn’t it beautiful?”, we’d say, “Isn’t this everything”?

And it would be. Absolutely and entirely everything. And so we’d dance until we were laughing and high on our own delirious joy, and then laugh until we lost our breath and gasped until we hit that moment of completely sober truth. You know the one, right? Where you lock eyes and all the sound wooshes out of the room. We’d hold the whole of the universe inside that one moment, you and I, right there in the less than six-foot space between us. And we’d know it. And then the pin-prick-bubbles would start behind our eyes and in our noses and there’d be nothing left to do but cry.

And so we’d cry, us two, right there in my living room. I’d hold both your hands in mine then and pull you close to me and press my lips into your hair and whisper some sort of tuneless lullaby and we’d both let it all out. Salt mingling with salt until the oceans of us crash onto some distant shore and the wave roars of grief and hope and reality fill us with something that feels like the holiness of prayer.

And then we’d just let go. All the way. The way it always is when you strip it all down and ride the current.

Eventually, our souls only ever want to be honest.

And then, if that was how it was with you and me, maybe I would cradle your face in my hands and kiss you soft and slow. Maybe the magnet-charge-heat of us would take hold and we would tumble-fall into some sort of sweet oblivion of bodies starved for touch and skin past ready for that moment of undoing.

It would be all lips and pulse and touch and teeth and the kind of need-and-need-and-need that eclipses the moon, even at its most full. And it would be impossibly tender, I just know it would be, and so desperately primal. After these months alone with our longing, separated from the animal want of it all, parallel rivers rush-rush-rushing for the exact same sea.

And maybe that isn’t how it is for us, and the intimacy we share is the kind instead that sees and knows everything and asks for nothing. And so what we would do next I think, when the crying finally ceased, is change into our comfiest pajamas and pop some popcorn the old fashioned way. You know, on the stove, the shaking of the pan to coat the kernels and the first surprising pop against the lid making us jump even when we knew to be ready for it. Sending us back to our childhoods, just like that.

We’d probably have ice cream too, because why wouldn’t we? Chocolate, with syrup and sprinkles or whipped cream or cherries or maybe all of it, all at once. And we’d watch something absolutely perfect like When Harry Met Sally or Beaches or Fried Green Tomatoes, laying all on top of and underneath each other, never breaking that line of connection that says I am here now in the after and so are you and thank everything good on this earth for that one small fact.

Either way, I don’t think we’d sleep. I don’t think we’d want to. I don’t think we’d dare to. I think maybe we’d be a little bit afraid to, nervous it would all go away like a dream and we’d be back in the middle of the chaos when we had to circle each other at a distance like our bodies were weapons holding risk in every breath.

I think we’d want to soak up the me-ness and the you-ness and the us-ness of every last one of those ordinary breaths because we wouldn’t have seen each other since way back in the before and finally we know just how tenuous that all was and how precious it all is, every last bit.

We’d know then, in a way we never could have otherwise, exactly how blessed we are to be here and alive and together. And so we’d just stay up and keep talking and laughing and dancing and crying and loving each other. We’d keep making pleasure rise and sing from bodies too long silent. We’d keep coming back to moments so pure our hearts would ache from the truth of them, in the most perfect of ways.

We’d keep talking and talking, our mouths tripping over each other to fill ears with the sound of words and wonder “Do you remember when?” and ‘What scared you the most?’ and “Can you believe we made it?’.

We’d get silent after those questions sometimes, not because they don’t have answers but maybe because the answers just wouldn’t matter as much to us anymore. We’d just be grateful for the ability to just be there with each other on an ordinary night, asking the questions that mean we survived.

Just before the sun came up we’d pour some hot coffee with just the right amount of honey into an old thermos and wrap ourselves in blankets pulled from the old crate by the door, the one I pulled from the dumpster in the alleyway and glued back together and claimed as my own.

We’d drive barefoot to the mountain and park at the base and sit on the roof of my car and lean our heads together just breathing in the silence as we watched the sun rise in a ball of yellow-orange fire over the peak.

The whole desert would wash with light then, and we’d be breathless with wonder, but not without remembering that lack of breath is how it ends sometimes, and not just the way things begin. Because we won’t be able to erase a knowing like that in the after— even on a morning as perfect as this.

But still, we’d soak her in, this miraculous desert. We’d finally understand what she’s been trying to show us forever, the truth of just how much we can take. Just how brave we can be. Just how much life can exist and pulse in the quiet darkness at the seemingly desolate heart of her.

She holds her breath, just like we do in the middle of the most impossible times, trusting the air will return, just waiting for the sun to rise.


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