the slow return

after thanksgiving dinner at your mother’s, where your nephew eats three cupcakes for dinner & your mother’s boyfriend questions your boyfriend D to see what kind of man he is, D helps you hoist a slew of boxes up flights of stairs & into the attic efficiency that will be your new home.  the walls leak cold air & the smell of cigarettes seeps in from the apartment below, but the windows breathe in lots of wintry light & the space is big enough to stretch in but small enough to wrap you like a blanket or bathrobe.  together you fill the bookshelves with your favorite voices, then assemble & decorate a small, cheap christmas tree.  that night, after your bodies blend & sigh in your new-to-you twin bed, D tells you for the first time that he loves you.

a handful of days later, a week before his birthday & over a year after you mailed your severance package, your father sends an email:

Sorry. Started this at least a hundred times. All I can think of is “I’m sorry”. No explanations. Just I’m “sorry”. I wish things could have been different. Maybe in another life. I cannot change the past. “Sorry” to make your life so miserable. “SORRY”

it arrives in your life like a wrecking ball, a tornado, a fist pushing into your gut again & again.  which language to use?  to say it arrives when it detonates, crushes, demolates, lights you redhot, a fire in the center of your body that scorches to your throat.  devastates.  weeks later, the christmas gifts arrive–a check for five hundred dollars, a silver cat-shaped necklace with tiny diamonds.  the songbirds inside you clamor to fly out, a flurry of feathers & wings.  janet says, those are contributions toward a debt that will never be repaid.  so you cash the check.  you give the necklace away.

winter gets the best of you, as it always does.  you emerge from weeks of liquor-drenched nights still layered in fleece & flannel night clothes, your ankles tallying fresh scars, your apartment floor awash in lavender paper penned with ultimatums–if you try to find me, send anymore gifts, cross my boundaries, then…., the threats always ending in your death.  week after weekjanet repeats, a bad thing happened to you, but you are not bad.  the clocks spring forward.  robins hop at the side of the street, pecking through the salt & pebbles accumulated through winter.  they sing in early morning sunlight.  she says, you are allowed to feel pleasure, & she smiles when you tell her that you feel you’ve got nothing left, just a pile full of problems that all your self-destructive ways couldn’t solve.  so you lay it all down–the chocolate & lemon bars & ice cream, the glass bottles half-full of alcohol, the dreams of nicotine & your skin peeled like bark from a birch tree.  you lay it all down & return, again, to the blank page, to the steady, slow blink of the cursor waiting, always, for your nouns & verbs.