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Once, when I was pretending to love you,

I tripped and fell into an old wooden coffee table.
You had pushed it to the side of the room last night,
because we needed the floor space. We had been sitting
cross-legged for hours, highlighting places
in our atlas that we swore wed only visit together.
My hip bruised like it had been born with a purpose,
and I blamed you. I called it an accident,
muttered stupidly as I returned the table to its place.
The wooden floor creaked. I have always wanted
to rip up carpet. I thought it would feel like peeling back skin
and digging for butterflies
but you chose this house already furnished. Pre-gutted.
Pre-filled. Milky floor tops. I scratched them
every chance I got.
You got home from work to see my black eyes
and looked tired. I wore baggy sweaters
and dishevelled curls and smudged glasses every day,
and when you slid a piece of hair behind my ears
and kissed my nose hello (as you did every night)
I could always tell that we were resigning slowly
to each other.
You did not understand me.
I did not understand you.
We pulled drawstrings apart like they were capable
of holding us together.
You asked me later what happened to my hip.
I said I dont know. Your eyes were tired and I felt my heart
nose-dive to the place I reserved for you and our game.
I almost said sorry when you furrowed your brows.
Instead you said okay,
and kissed my upper lip.
And turned off the light.
Another day.

We bought a cactus together, a week after move in.
You wanted a bunch of bright flowers but I thought
flowers dont hurt enough. I said out loud,
that flowers wilt and cacti live forever
even when it is dry and when the moon is out
and you agreed that living forever was important
for us
so you put the flowers to rest and never bought me any
(even on our anniversary, even on my birthday).
We had a whole wall dedicated to the cacti we bought
each other
for three years.
I held my hand over the thorns every day
mid-afternoon, and that is what those years felt like:
My fingers bleeding whenever the sun
started to get nervous that it was burning too bright.

Sometimes on Sundays I would wake up to the smell
of cupcakes. You looked so cute covered in flour and frantically opening the oven every few seconds. You wanted to make sure
they were perfect. I sat knees-to-chest at the kitchen table
and said my Sunday prayers.
I knew that baking that day was your way of going to church
without having to shake hands with your fathers ghost
so I let you wake me up early for the sake of your sanity.
Your father was the kind of father who never told his children
he loved them, but it was always understood that he did very much.
All the kids knew he did and your mother always held your hand
and said, Your father is just not very good at being affectionate,
thats all. You know he loves you kids. He told you once
when you graduated college that he was proud
and you framed the moisture off of his lips and hung it
in our hallway. You told me you would never be that kind
of father. You would say I love you to our kids every ten minutes
and embroider it on their baby blankets just in case
you got strep throat and couldnt speak for a week.
I was never sure if I believed in God, so our kitchen counter
was our church pew and the billowing steam coming off of your baking
was always our cross and our collection plate.
But when you smiled at me on Sunday mornings
over the lip of your coffee mug, oven mitted palms,
I always felt like I would end up in Heaven with you.

On another Sunday, I found you breaking plates
against the counter top. I rubbed my eyes and shouted
across the room, What are you DOING? ARE YOU INSANE?
You said I am breaking everything in this house
that reminds me of the beach, of anything big,
of the way He promised me He would never leave.
Hes gone, Hes gone, Hes gone, Hes gone
the rhythm followed each pull down over the marble.
I tip-toed on quiet feet until I was standing directly
behind you and I put my hand, my fingers, around the inside
of your elbow;
You asked me if it was your fault, and I put my lips
against the nape of your neck so that you would feel
my breath and I whispered, Never.
We ate bread out of the bag, wore shoes around the house
for three weeks and we didnt sweep up the glass.

Our bed never had a headboard. I read somewhere
that having a headboard meant that you had made it
barely scathed into adulthood, and I never felt like that
was us at all. So our mattress lay naked in the middle
of our bedroom floor, and we covered it
in white sheets and pasty yellow pillows.
On the nights we fucked, one of us always ended half
on the wooden floor with our hair sweeping up dust
and old socks that didnt quite make it
to the hamper. It wasnt always a beautiful picture.
But you used to pull your nails right down the middle
of my chest at the exact moment
I reached an orgasm and that
was always worth it. We felt like two kids
discovering sex for the first time, every time.
You pulled at the air above your head
like there should have been something to hold on to
and I sometimes held your hands to the bed
with my teeth
and we spent hours and hours laying
on top of each others skin
just breathing.

I tore the fabric from your pillow like it was skin
from the back of your neck and I was pulling all the tiny hairs
out one by one. And after I tossed the case into the hamper,
I lifted the naked pillow to my face and breathed it in, inhaled
for something like ten seconds.
I smelled your hair and your sweat and all of the nights before
we could afford linens or toothpaste,
when we swam naked in our bed
and washed each others teeth with stomach acid,
we were so scared.
I did laundry twice a day and you always complained
that our electricity bill was killing your bank account
but then you snuggled into clean sheets
and touched my tanktop with your lips
so I knew that you were getting comfortable. We were both
getting comfortable.
Sometimes on purpose I left our mattress bare
and on those afternoons
youd come home to find me fetal and dirty,
sucking my thumb and you would take off your shoes
and lay down next to me
and we would stay that way for hours.

I think our friends figured out early on that when you
put two and three together you do not get four
and we were not nearly as ugly as we pretended to be
for their benefit.
Your best friend got engaged two days before our second
anniversary and you bought him a photo of a shrivelled
sunflower. When he showed me, I said what the fuck.
You didnt speak to me for days for embarrassing you
so I left the obligatory cactus on your pillow
and told your friend
Sorry. Congratulations. I hope your heart melts in your mouth
every day like mine does, with her.
He said, I dont really think I love her. My heart is solid
in my chest and sometimes it sinks like stone
and lands somewhere in my foot and she steps on it.
You know how sometimes the beginning of an orgasm
hurts but then it gets so much better? I thought that this
was the beginning of something but my heart never melts
it never melts like yours does and you are love. You and her
are love. That is love.
I went home that day and sat on your lap
and nibbled at your ear and asked you if you thought
that love even exists at all
and you didnt know but you held me anyway.

On Thursdays I met you after work and I held
an iced coffee
in my hands even when it was winter
and you smiled more that day than any other day.
You told me you waited all day restlessly tapping away
at your fingertips, un-writing everything we fought about
because you knew that Id be waiting there
on the sidewalk with your drink and a pretty smile
and that would always undo all of your empty
(at least for the week).
It was windy usually, and my scarf blew up around you
so it looked like we were two trees stuck
together in a tornado of pink and I held your jaw
and kissed you there so often I think that your blood vessels
started to break in the shape of my fingers
before I even moved toward you.
We sat there, in the middle of a rotting bench
holding hands and saying nothing
and we were so quiet and small that even the birds
started to land on our shoulders.

You came home late on a Monday.
You knew Mondays were broken, you knew
that I tore curtains in half so that neither of us would have
anything to tie around our necks
on Mondays.
But you hung
up your coat and you sat on the kitchen floor
with your legs straight out in front of you. I wondered
how you could sit without bending
and you told me that you met someone. That he
put his hands right up to your cheek and you felt it
all the way to the bottom corner of your heel; it spread
like wildfire and you stopped thinking of me briefly
even thought it was Monday and you were wearing
my shirt.

The night we finally started telling the truth
it was hot and sticky so you plugged in a fan
for the last time in our bedroom wall.
You watched it spin through the pores in your back
for at least five minutes before you made your way
to where I was sitting
knees in my arms, crossed and turning white
with anxiety.
You said, I know you dont love me.
I said, I know Im hard to put up with.
I could tell you wanted to slap me but instead
you lit a cigarette. You dont smoke but I knew
you kept a pack under your pillow at all times
just in case you ran out of things to inhale.
I didnt say anything.
You said, I cant do this anymore.
You write poems on our bedroom wall
and I found a sonnet under the kitchen table
scratched into the wood. My mother comes over
for dinner. There is just too much of you.
I said, I am not going to stop. I write to find you
because you are always hiding. Every bit of wood
that is under my nails belongs on your tongue,
I hope you learn to stop swallowing everything
you want.
I peeled off my bra and sat in every inch of myself,
begging you to look at me.
You did not look. You closed your eyes and you crawled
towards me and kissed my shoulder
with your tongue
and I moaned so loudly I am sure that the neighbours
ran outside.
That was it.
You moved out in the morning
and I tried to take up the whole bed.

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