You Could Stay

“When we get married are we going to hyphenate our names, or should I take yours?” he asks as we sit on my patio, and I imagine my face, now whiter in moonlight, that pause in my breathing before he laughs at my suddenly panicked look. He knows I’ve no intention of giving up my name or of sharing it either, for that would mean sharing me, and in the months that I have known him, I give him instead only pieces, even though there are days he glimpses more. Because I imagine we are something with an expiration date. Because I think that, like the other, he will not stay.

Because there’s a man who brought me lunch and sat at my table one day, and if you were to ask him he might call me friend, even as I’d call him instead only possibility that wasn’t. Who still edges the boundaries of my life, encroaching on places that have been mine alone for years, and if I am being honest what we are or what we aren’t, has always been entirely only his choice. And because of this I do not know yet how to give space to another person, because what space there was was only inside, all the me he never bothered to know. All the me he didn’t want to know.

And because I have in this, learned a kind of lesson, I let the days roll out between us like they are miles beneath my tires, as if he is a thing I am always driving away from. And that last day his car is in my drive I will think only of how quickly he might go. Because if you were to ask him, he might call me friend, but we aren’t. And though there are decades between us, he doesn’t know me well enough to even understand the why.

“He’s an idiot,” the new one will tell me one night, “you could come here, if you wanted to.”

“You could stay.”

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