Because When I See Him, I Lose the Words

Maybe it’s all the dead that I have carried, inside, their knuckles making fists against my heart.

Maybe it’s them, the ash bits of their bodies in film canisters by the bedside, that cause me to know this as grief, because when I see him, I lose the words.

And so when he speaks my name, a year and a half after I’ve last heard it, it startles like some kind of ghost, and there is an ache that blooms inside, a kind of thing with vines, because, for me, love and loss keep getting tangled. I can feel them twisting even now, the hard knot of him in my stomach.

On his face there is still that way he smiles easily at me, some phantom thing I had glimpsed for months only in memory. He smiles as if enough time has passed, and I want to tell him that this is only fiction, that grief is not a thing you outgrow, only something you grow around, and that I have grown further than the hurt of him, yes. But still, it took root, took on weight, anchored itself against the walls of me.

But I lose all the words I have saved up for this, the speeches I’ve written in my head, the lines recorded in my voice, the ones practiced in front of the counselor or recited at mirrors, the ones spoken softly in the dark or told only to shadows, tell him instead I’m fine, the rest of my mouth suddenly full of that silence of his, the one I had choked on for months. How I can taste it, still on my tongue.

Because a living man took his voice away from me after a dead one had, and only one of them chose.

And so a year and a half later when I see him, when he says at last, finally, again my name, I lose all the words.

The ones that had sounded like maybe I wish I had never met you.

Or, maybe the ones that had been

I wish you had never let go.

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