March 8, 2020. 3:48 a.m. I am awakened by my own shrill thoughts, irritating private alarms, these, followed immediately by my first conscious thought of the day: you, darling girl, always you. You will always be the first breath I take.
It’s dark and I can barely see your flow of hair. I push my nose into stray, silky fronds fanning out and touching my pillow. I close my eyes and inhale, aligning my respirations with yours. Deep cleansing breaths, as you always say. In. Out. In. Out.
I feel your spirit, Katarina. I sense your temporary peace. I promise not to wake you and pop it like a bubble.
Me and my promises. You know.
So. Go on.
Sleeping Beauty, dream your dreams on cool white sheets.
It seems that I’ve entered the wrong story and find myself embracing a happily ever after kind of life at your fragile expense. You’ve opened your eyes every day to a frog and not a prince. Please love me for a few moments longer behind closed lids. In your mind, transform me into something I’m not and smile at what you see. That smile of yours can melt iron.
I live for your approval.
You’ve loved me at my reptilian worst, even with your eyes wide open. Your love is true. Though maybe not forever, if I’m not careful.
I refuse to slip into my Levi’s which lay crumpled on the floor next to the bed. The belt buckle will jingle like a bell and wake you. Or, standing on one bare foot only (and still quite drunk), I might get tangled at the ankles and trip. These are my thoughts as I sneak from the room. It’s the small things that are big in a relationship, the polite and considerate nature of love.
My quiet writing routine is too loud. You wake so easily. You’ll give me that cute grumpy face, followed by a long, exasperated sigh and a few punches to your pillow. Sometimes you’ll give me a lecture, a passionate, too early in the morning chastisement, chasing me out the door with my tail between my legs. It’s always best to fart in the next room.
My side of the bed is empty now. Don’t worry if you happen to reach for me and I’m not there. I’m still here, queen of my heart, brewing coffee in the next room.
I close a thin wooden door between us so that the muted light of the oven range won’t disturb you. The hinges creak extra loud at this hour. I say, “Shhhhhh!” but it terminates into a prolonged”Shhhhit!” You stir and reposition your goddess form upon the mattress but never open your eyes. I’m grateful but also disappointed—you know how much I enjoy your company, happy light of my life.
Here on the fourteenth floor of the Caribbean Hotel, high above the surface of the ocean, in room 1421, the toilet handle is broken. While waiting for the coffee, I plunge a forearm elbow deep into the cold tank. Orange slime from iron bacteria is as slick as a jellyfish under my fingertips. I break the seal and force a flush. Your midnight urine disappears, and I am saddened by the gradual loss of it. There you go, slowly, slowly, swishing and sloshing around and round and then down with a final cough. Bye, bye, Kat pee.
I wash my hands and arm and piss directly into the drain of the sink, no splash back. The scent of sex is still damp and sticky on my fingers. I don’t wash my hands again, occasionally sniffing as I write, smiling and lusting between sentences, smearing your DNA on every letter of my keyboard. I need your wet magic.
Don’t crinkle your nose, Ms. Muse. My semen dripped from you all day yesterday. In the evening, I waited outside the women’s room at your favorite restaurant. When you finally exited, you smiled and whispered a secret in my ear. Your panties smelled like fresh oysters. That’s what you said. That’s how you described it.
You liked it.
Now, early in the morning, I’m imagining my cells of love searching deep inside of you, making the most sacred of all pilgrimages, the journey of faithful sperm to the cervical os: consummation’s true north. One lucky fellow out of two hundred million sperm will get the girl, wagging his happy tail behind him.
You. I love YOU, darling girl, out of 7.7 billion people in the world.
I picture the face of our son. Patrick. He would’ve been as noble as his name, beautiful as his mother, tall as me. That boy. Climber of roofs.
I remember when you lost him (I don’t know why I’m thinking of it now), you cried as if you’d already known him for years. I loved you more at that moment than ever before. I held you close. No one knew—I didn’t know—until you came barreling into my open arms that terrible afternoon. A miscarriage, you sobbed.
So many hints at what might have been. We’ve had many.
Do you remember how we sat together on the roof of your house the other night, sipping wine, studying the black hairline of the late winter woods, visibly receding beneath a sprinkle of stars? You whispered things I needed to hear, and your breath was sweet on the breeze. The German shepherd sat at our feet, dangerously close to the edge, cautious but unafraid. I remember how he cocked his big head to one side and then the other, pointy ears alert, oscillating, as if he could hear the unspoken words of my heart. He stared at me with knowing eyes. You stared at me with confusion, anger, hurt, and disbelief but graciously kept your thoughts to yourself.
You have always taken the high road. I like that about you.
We spoke of the wind, how it mimics the roar of the ocean, whenever it sifts through the leaves and branches.
Whenever I listen to the trees, I close my eyes and see the ocean. Whenever I listen to the ocean, I close my eyes and see the trees. Your trees. A forest of dreams too thick to enter.
That’s what prompted me to bring us here. Good old Myrtle Beach. This stretch of oceanfront is a dear friend to us.
The fizzy, foaming surf is a melancholy sound at this hour—or maybe it’s just me. The music of the gulls will ultimately bring relief but they’re still asleep like you, Kat. I love their quirky ways. Curvy-beaked and beady-eyed thieves snatching French fries from unsuspecting fingers, fat and getting fatter, no longer content with the natural diet God provides for them. American birds, they are. Spoiled. Cute little bastards. Self-fucking centered.
I’ll admit that I might be projecting with that last line. You’d be nodding yes.
I look down at my own belly, dangerously softer these days, no longer Michelangelo’s anatomical work. No, baby. If I’m not careful, beer will take its permanent toll. I’ll look like Templeton the rat, no longer worthy of your seductive stare, Katarina. Precious girl.
You say you don’t care. I do.
I poke my finger into it. I think of the laughter of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. This is what marital contentment looks like, dammit.
Kat, you would be singing Carley Simon right now, wouldn’t you? You’re so vain. You probably think this song is about you…
I love your humor. I really need it right now.
Your empty back yard is sad and miles away. The ashes of our latest fire are no longer smoking but dampened by the dew, cold and lumpy as gray porridge.
Those were our favorite times, weren’t they, Kat? Listening to 70’s folk music and dreaming under the Milky Way, watching the moon float like a silver balloon from one side of our yard to the other. We’d sip wine, vodka, gin, bourbon, brandy, whatever was handy, until the world spun wickedly around us, circling the fire pit on wobbly tipsy-toes, dancing, slurring, high on life, deeper in love.
There’s so much to say. There’s nothing to say.
What can I say? At this early hour. In these final hours.
That last time in the back yard together, you ordered Alexa to play I Will Always Love You as the fire blazed—a testimony of your undying love for me. I cry whenever I think about it, the expression on your face (there are no words). When the pit was reduced to pulsing embers, Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer was your next selection and it blared too loud into the night—lyrics you’d chosen to warn yourself —blasting from a single speaker sitting on the ground next to the dog’s silver water dish.
A nosy neighbor squinted down at us through the slats of an upstairs bathroom blind. I scratched my nose with an obvious middle finger at the unidentified figure. The blind closed.
Let us have our time! I wanted to scream.
Katarina, darling dearest, I was so ashamed. Right then and there, I felt the heavy loss of you—of us –with an acute pain (yours and mine combined ), even though I hadn’t moved out yet. We still had this final weekend to share. To remind us of the truth. What our love really looks like without interference.
You’re too good for me. I’m really bad for you. We both know it. And yet—and still yet —we’re so good together.
My nature is to run to the sea. You won’t wait until I find salvation from the bottle and whatever else it is that plagues me. I don’t blame you. Time is running out. Yours. Mine. Ours.
Therefore, the plan. Total hedonism. Eating, drinking, and fucking. All day long. No more talk of the future. No more straw man arguments.
7:34 a.m. today, the sun will rise upon our final day, tapering down to hours, minutes, seconds, and a prolonged kiss goodbye.
Tears come, even now, unannounced and popping out. This is what you don’t see while you sleep. The caving in of my heart behind closed doors.
Stop it, I command myself. Be in the now. You’ve taught me well, Kat. You make me want to reject everything that is not love and light.
I am not love and light. I reject myself from your life.
Maybe my sad stories will change. Maybe I should focus on good and not evil. Maybe I should start writing happy endings. Maybe I’ll believe in something again. Maybe you’re right about all of it. About us.
Maybe it’s too late.
Anyway. I will make a fresh pot of coffee and you and I will sit or stand on the balcony together, wrapped in a blanket. The shadow of your face will gradually brighten to pink. Orange will reflect like fire from the center of your blue eyes, forming two rare flowers.
Random thought. The anatomy of a flower: the center is the female reproductive organs.
Suddenly, I don’t care about the sun. I want to slip into the quiet dims and shadows of the bedroom and go down on you, Katarina, spread your legs, taste, finger, enter, bend and fill you with a splashing flood of my love.
Something big and black captures the attention of my peripheral vision. There’s a Holy Bible on the corner lamp table, provided by the Gideons for people like me. The grass withers and the flower fades, but my love for you, Katarina, stands forever.
In a little while, I will kiss your lips, hot with coffee. Our cardboard cups and breath will send clouds of steam into the cool morning air. I anticipate the first taste of your delicious mouth seasoned with salt and wind.
Yesterday was perfect. You slid the ring back onto your finger, per my request. It sparkled in the sun. We walked hand in hand, arm in arm, pretending like we’re married. We refused to think of tomorrow. We celebrated the now. You taught me how to do that. Thank you.
We ate seafood, talked about life, walked the beach, made love one, two, three, four, five times in different places and in different ways, exploring what we know, reaching the heights of erotic pleasure. But every afterglow became a bit dimmer than before and neither of us dared to say a word, ignoring any intrusive thought, staring naked at the ceiling, trembling, panting, sweating, pulses slowing, my fingers feathering your smooth skin, spider chasing the enjoyable chill and shiver, playing with your long Mermaid hair, dreading that this is (we are) almost over.
This. We. Us.
Damn, I love you.
Late yesterday evening, please don’t forget, how we sat on the front porch of the Duplin winery, sipping Midnight Magnolia, watching the herons fly low, gliding mere inches over a briny pond of water while others of their kind stood long and utterly still, waiting forever if necessary, for the catch.
You were my catch, Kat. Or did you capture me?
The patience of the herons and of Katarina. Something I’ve never had.
Last night, on Duplin’s cozy wrap around porch, my head was spinning for more reasons than the wine. The third or fourth glass of wine relaxes the brain and connects the heart to the mouth.
You, Katarina, had to pee and excused yourself to the lady’s room. I watched as you walked the way you walk and knew in my soul that I’d love you alone for an eternity of eternities. In the ten minutes you were gone, already I was missing you, the seat next to mine seemed extra empty. No sooner had you left me, another woman approached, drunk and flirtatious. Politely, I discouraged her and warned that you’d be right back. At that very moment, you rounded the corner with a smile. I was so relieved and happy to see you. The searching woman scurried away and quickly found another, a man who was certainly handsome of face but nine months pregnant. I thought of how I hate hate hate the dating scene. What a miserable thing. How wonderful to find THE ONE where loyal commitment surprises with an easy permanence and a natural, relaxed, abiding contentment in growing old together. That’s when I got dizzy all over again at the thought of leaving without knowing exactly what the hell it is that pulls me into the unknown—away from the anchor of my soul —the one with whom I share these very ideals.
At this late hour. In our beautiful life together. Why would I go? How can I leave?
I don’t know.
Wine, love, and wanderlust. Dizzy was the night. And numerous were my second thoughts. If it had been Vegas…
You played some music again on your iPhone. We sat on that wooden bench, our wooden bench, faithful as Baptists claiming their favorite pew. We closed the wine-soaked day to Same Auld Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg. This was our parting song. We listened to it over and over as the sun went down and the day dimmed upon us with a dusky feeling that chokes the throat. You were buzzing and honest. Your eyes were extra blue behind a mist of tears. You pointed out the tragedy of the couple in the song, how they truly loved each other but never experienced life together because he chose instead to chase his dream (and succeeded) at the cost of her. She was forced to marry a good man, an architect, for security reasons alone. When she drove away from her one true love, the Christmasy snow turned into rain…
Katarina, you’ve always been uncommonly wise and extra gentle in your admonitions. I appreciate that about you.
You squeezed my hand, twice, like you always do. You smiled with a stomach-sinking resignation. We stood. I took one final look around at what had been a bit of heaven shared between us. Duplin winery. One of the many secret places where our love blossomed against all odds, like your favorite flower, a tender daisy powerful enough to break through a cement walk, a true miracle. We drove away and headed back to room 1421 in a comfortable but disturbing silence.
We made love again and fell into a deep sleep, curled impossibly tight around each other as if we were dying together in a burning building, clinging to what we have always known from the start. How could there ever be an end?
I don’t know.
Now it’s the morning of our final day. And it’s Daylight Savings Time. Spring ahead. Another hour lost, not really gained.
After two, almost three hours of writing…
I zip back down the narrow hall, past the coffee pot and the glowing oven range. I open the thin wooden door and wake you with the excitement of a child on Christmas day. We are going to watch the sunrise together. But it’s YOU that’s making my heart race. Another day with you, sweet lamb! You. You. You.
Here we are. Sipping fresh coffee high above the crashing waves. Both of us one flesh inside a white blanket draped around our shoulders. The morning air is brisk but pleasant, thanks to the warmth of your perfect body pressing into mine. Oh, baby, I feel you.
The cold black universe of the night is now a subtle shade of violet, the anticipatory color of hope. Minutes later, the whole horizon transforms into layers and swirls of tangy sherbet: orange, pink, purple, and blue. There’s the promise of an approaching something in the offing, a warm yellow brightening, followed by the first shy peek of the sun, a mere cuticle of light, at first, a teasing peek-a-boo before the full-faced, live version of that familiar rosy-cheeked emoji texts itself upon the clear gray-green screen of the Atlantic.
There’s a look on your face. Like a deaf person who’s hearing music for the first time or a blind man whose eyes have been opened by Christ. You confess something to me with excitement in your voice. “This, THIS is the first time I’ve ever watched the sun rise!”
I’m pleased and shocked, both.
We’ve enjoyed many first times, Katarina. And here’s yet another to crown our special day together. A big red cherry in the sky.
The hot ball of fire continues to rise into the cloudless day. Completely visible now and sitting upon the surface of the water, the circle of the sun becomes the bow of an ancient key with its long, yellow rays of light extending into the shank and pin that will open a door, reflecting, reaching, and expanding in blinding brilliance all the way to shore. I think of the golden key to the gate of heaven.
Whatever is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
I’m permanently bound to you, Katarina. I’ll never be loose. You’re the key to the only heaven I know. Lock me in. I will worship you alone all of my days.
You roll your eyes. You no longer believe a word I say.
I think of a yellow brick road and somewhere over the rainbow. I believe in a secret door that opens to another world but only when a solar key becomes visible for a few brief seconds at the break of day and true love leads you by the hand into the unknowns of all our tomorrows upon a glassy sea.
You pull out your iPhone. It’s as if you’ve read my mind. You download, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Next up, John Denver. Around and Around (I love to see the morning as it steals across the sky), and Sunshine on my Shoulders.
After the show is over, I call down to the front desk of the hotel. A man answers, “May I help you?
“Hello. I hope so. This is room 1421. Quick question: may we check out at noon instead of eleven? Daylight Savings time has stolen an hour from us, am I right? It’s only reasonable.”
“No,” comes the terse response.
I already know that you and I will push the boundary to the last minute. So I don’t argue. “Thanks for trying,” I say with a touch of sarcasm.
Eventually, we don’t leave the room until after the very ripe and bruising hour of 1 p.m.
After the sun stops showing off and becomes more serious and focused upon lighting and warming the day, a family of dolphins is splashing off in the green distance and a tiny smattering of people and puppies are strolling on the beach below. It’s still too cold to swim.
You explain that you finally understand why I prefer the ocean in the winter. Sometimes the lonely season is the best season. You’ll discover much about yourself in true down time, answer some necessary questions, and maybe even find the peace you’ve been searching for.
With winter’s lees still on the breeze, I’m reminded of Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Lake,” and offer to read it to you. You surprise me again by saying yes.
I promote the story by explaining to you how Bradbury cried when he finished writing this piece—an unforgettable, defining moment for him —when he knew with a settling certainty that he was a real writer because he had finally written something very special, words that evoked genuine personal tears, arrows into his heart.
You pour us some wine. I pull down a spare bed that folds into the wall like tables in a school cafeteria, because it faces the ocean. You listen as I read and the words are perfect for the occasion, touching on the enduring power of love even in death, pushing back against the pervasive melancholy swelling like yeast and fermenting in our romantic hideaway.
After I close the story with a sigh, you kiss me with wine on your breath, my favorite thing, a powerful aphrodisiac. Our clothes come off. I climb on top and take you fast, with a pounding, passionate rage. Your perfect ass comes off the bed with every thrust. My stomach muscles burn. The spare bed answers back, every spring squeaks and the light frame bangs with a steady thump, thump, thump against the wall. Your huge breasts bounce and circle and slap in perfect rhythm, like the tide coming in. I’m too excited and can’t hold back. We both come powerfully within seconds of each other, me popping and you contracting to a breathless halt, as we melt into the mattress.
Flushed and smiling at each other, we’re both thinking the same thing: worried about the pending knock on the door. “Housekeeping!” But the intrusion never comes.
Not wanting to push our luck, we pack everything for a quick escape. I plunge my arm into the toilet once more, after you come out of the bathroom looking sheepish. “Honey, it won’t go down.” You couldn’t have been any cuter. Kat, your shit doesn’t bother me. Nothing about you bothers me. I think you’re damn perfect.
“One more Midnight Magnolia on the porch?”
I would love nothing more, my dear Katarina.
There’s an older couple in a more expensive section of the resort next to us. Their porch rounds the corner of the building. We can see them from where we stand, two floors down. The woman is being nasty to the man. The man doesn’t say a word.
You and I try not to stare or eavesdrop. A marriage without love or passion. We feel sorry for the man. The woman disappears inside and then reappears, ground level, plopping her polka dotted rump into a hot tub occupied by several handsome young dudes singing like pirates, almost canon balling them. Her man seems relieved to be alone. Without insult or interruption, he reads a newspaper, every page rustling kindly on the breeze.
Reluctantly we exit 1421, with one last wistful gaze. We leave behind many empty wine bottles and two suddenly silent beds with fuck-rumpled sheets.
The day is middle aged. The sun is already too high in the sky, almost to the other side, on its way down in a matter of hours. You notice my expression. I see the same sadness in your eyes. We’ll have to be on the road soon, driving in the dark to whatever awaits us.
“Be in the now,” you remind me, “it’s all we have.”
I force a smile and take your hand into mine. A perfect fit. Even our stride is the same, smooth as a dance, as we make our way through shifting sand, taking our time to Pier 14. A pleasant stroll of one mile. We can see the long fishing dock and restaurant. A Ferris Wheel glints in the distance.
You’re worried you might have to pee. You are right.
We pass an older resort that’s seen better days. A single wrecking ball is destroying a thousand unspoken dreams and memories of families and lovers, former occupants just like us, one wall at a time. We stand there for a moment, mesmerized. I am grave and ponderous while you perform the pee pee dance (hey diddle diddle, I have to piddle). Your urgency quickly moves us on and I find relief before you do. Broken things disturb me.
We enter a beach side Starbucks at an amusingly desperate pace. I’m routing for you Kat, keeping my fingers crossed that you will make it in time. The girl behind the counter seems mildly annoyed that we are using the facilities but not paying at least ten bucks for two coffees.
At Pier 14, we choose to sit outside, of course. We order beer and scallops (my favorite at the moment), wine and fish and chips with malt vinegar (your favorite at the moment).
You, Kat, are extra kissable and our chemistry is heating up again. But I leave you alone. I’ve ravaged your body enough for two days straight. I choose instead to put my arm around your shoulders, and it’s enough, more than enough, to connect in the manner of best friends, to feel your lifeblood warm and coursing beneath the palm of my hand. I give your shoulders a squeeze and you say, “Mmmm.”
Yeah, that’s my girl.
There’s a talented guitarist with an amazing voice and long hair. He’s playing 70’s folk music.
You look at me and smile. He’s playing our songs, you say.
After an appetizing late lunch/early supper (you call it “Lupper” and I laugh), we walk the pier almost to the end. We sit on a bench and open some contraband wine you have hidden in my writing bag. I light a black and mild. The smoke tastes good. We pass it back and forth until you say, “No thank you, no more.” We stare at the dying of a perfect day, holding hands without saying a word, both of us silently changing our minds.