Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is.
W. B. Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium
Precious little time remained before I was to put the tides of an echoing sea between myself and this strange world once more. But in the hallowed space of those seven hours, it was finally worth it. I felt wanted. I was wanted. In every moment of that bittersweet night, I was precisely where I desired to be. The city was shrouded in starlight, imbued with the kaleidoscope of a stained-glass coming dawn and the effervescent fragrance of a champagne bottle between my lips. I was keenly aware of how wonderful it felt; the dew-garnished grass beneath my stirring form; the rain-washed pathways, sorrowful and glistening; the hands that ran along my shivering skin; the mouth so warm and sweet and familiar; the bed unmade with fingertips and teeth; his sighs like reverence, breathless and heady; the hushed velvet stillness; the dampness and heat. Spires climbed skywards, and diaphanous morning unfolded like an eyelid: dimmed with rose-quartz and rust. This was harmony at last, we had found the balance I had so long sought after, and it tethered us fast to that scene. I derived from his movements no intention that was not also my own: no desire but that which I felt as well. And so we moved forward into the exquisite, unknowable expanse of the night. We sustained something more than mere illusion. We learned the rare pleasure of forging a memory that quickens my pulse even now.
I was most alive when you were inside of me, not only in my body but in my mind and discourse. You calmed the part of me that makes me hurt, the part I am afraid of, that causes me to lose control. You did not cure me of my affliction, but you blunted its edge. Your presence was a sedative: I felt safe and calm, not narcotized but beautiful, insouciant, unmarred. It took half a year, of course, but it has come at last to this. I loved feeling you speak my name, watching your voice move across my half-shattered skin, breathing your final phrases as they carved patterns in the crystal refuge of my memory. And I liked your mind, so different from this which writes for you now: the gentle, pragmatic inclinations, the soft edges of sanity whereupon my caustic intemperance burned and curled. After every confession I offered, you kissed me. In our mutual acts of forgiveness and atonement, each glance resonating like a caress, we learned to know each other: we loved gently, recklessly, and all at once.
Of course, it could never have lasted any longer than one night, for that is the nature of what we are. In the early hours of morning, we met our end together, and I took my leave exactly as I had after that first, fateful evening: turning away from your watching form and wandering down the winding flight of stairs. You stood, for a moment, silhouetted in the doorframe, and your eyes cut into the very heart of me. How very different it felt, this time around. A lifetime or more had passed in the intermittent instances between our first and last goodbyes. Almost before you were gone, I was already remembering you, and melancholic, trancelike, I stood outside those doors and watched the solitary sunrise. I think you understood at last, that night, how I loved you in my own strange way—and that if I had ever hurt you, this alone was why. But what a pyrrhic victory it seems.
If you ever felt unwanted, I am sorry, I am sorry. I liked you. I admired you. But sometimes I hurt the things that remind me of me. I never meant to be this way. When I love a thing, it leaves me. When it leaves, I start to love it. I do not know which comes first. Can I only really care for that which makes me suffer—am I inflicting the horror upon myself? Is this paradox rooted in the fact that the things I love have always, eventually hurt me, or does it stem from my own unspoken love of hurting? My only conclusion, tentative though it may be, is that I never learned the difference between what loves me and what leaves. If my pain and my affection seldom seem separable, it is only because no one ever taught me how to distinguish one from the other. This is not my natural state. This is not a choice that I remember making. This is an ongoing act of mourning: a lived eulogy to my childhood, my father, my sanity, myself.
But this undifferentiated nexus of agony and adoration has wounded more than me. It is what allowed me to act, on occasion, with such obstinance. It is what drove me to recoil from moment after irretrievable moment. It is why I could not love you when I wanted to, when I could have tried, when there was still time, when you might have loved me in return. I cannot remedy that now—I can scarcely even learn from it, I fear. And therefore I am sorry, I am so entirely sorry; not just for failing to love you, but also for how very much I think I might love you now. I do not know when or how this happened. I have always been predisposed towards infatuation, unsustainable bouts of augmented feeling, but this took place so slowly, so naturally: it grew like ivy in my veins, it blossomed in my lungs, it took root in the history that we will always share. I never could have expected it. That garden that you realized, and that I wrote, has at last taken its full form. I found parts of myself there that I had believed were lost forever. I was the life in that nighttime, I was the growing thing: somnambulist, child, lover, transgressor, repenter, votive, desecrator—not just unhinged but unknowing, unknowable. I was living always in the liminal periphery between two worlds, purgatorial and profane. You witnessed within me the ineffable lightness and the enigmatic fire of my own being—for I was, in many ways, the object of my own impalement; not simply the crucified body, but also, perhaps, its cross.
I am crying. Finally. It has been so long since I have been able to feel in this way. I may regard this, always, as the year that consumed me—but I know that I am healing now, however slowly, however belatedly, because yesterday, I remembered what the rain feels like. In some ways, I am grateful that you were not always there to witness the fracturing of my health. I was not necessarily successful in surviving these months. I fell to pieces about as often as I endured; I was sometimes strong, and sometimes I was very weak. I am happy that you were able to experience, in our earliest days, the better parts of of me. I am thankful that you did not see me shatter. There was another for that task, and it only grieved her. I lent her, a while, the misery of this skin: she bore it well, but can I ever forgive us? I was so wounded, so undone, that I allowed myself to bleed out carelessly upon her hands and mind. She still believes in me, even now—but how can that possibly be? Sometimes I think that I should do penance for this, for showing her a love that I was not well enough to keep. I knew better than to feed off of a thing that could barely sustain itself.
But you told me not to live looking backwards anymore. I think, in this case, you were right. This world will not change. Not for me. And if I seem wistful or repentant now, it is only because I refuse to lose another beautiful thing to my tainted conscience or my guarded ways or my fading recollections. I have no pride left. I have conviction, desire, and defiance, but no pride. Not anymore. I am a nerve exposed. I am going to feel everything, if I can—I am going to feel it entirely and unashamedly. And so I will honor and write our final moments: because that is as close as I can come to recompense, to redamancy, to loving you in the way that you have deserved for so long now. I cannot retrieve what time and circumstance have now rendered a part of the past. But I can mourn this history, find beauty in its ephemerality; and above all else, I can remember you well. A kind of immortality resides in all language: it is what I have to offer in my body’s stead. And offer it I will, because at long last, I am on the way to knowing love, to knowing myself again. Those dusky, tortured, ocher months, when I was dragged back to life from its unwilling edges, are finally coming to a close. I am ready now. I want this.
These are the days of my healing. They entail so much more than any one person, time, or place. But they will always have been made possible, at least in part, by you. Because for one night, beside you, I felt fondly again. I remembered how you saw me, and so remembered who I was. And I am certain that counts for something.
If this was my baptism by fire, then I have survived it all. I will bear the scars and the scourges and the burns of these past six months for the rest of my life. But I will not atone for this any longer; instead, I will invoke the fortitude that you yourself taught me. I will requite the clemency and the empathy and the mercy that I have been shown—by you, by her, by all of them and more—not with penance, but with the restoration of my own health. It is time, I think, to rise once more, in tides of a burning lucidity, in clauses barbed with the bliss of a second coming. Whatever it takes, I will revive this body, this skin like a mutilated miracle: I will repair the branded arms and shorn hair and genderless desires. Eye my scars, then, and hear my heart. I will find life in exactly that which has consumed me: in the melted gold that floods the crevices of my bones, in the ash that trails from my fingertips. I will do more than just survive this. I will emerge, and I will enthrall, and I will make myself a thing worth knowing once more. So remember me, revere me, and watch what you have helped me to achieve. Watch as the consequences crystallize. Watch as I forge, from this grim history, something caustic and new. Watch as this promise takes on, like daybreak, another beautiful and terrifying form.
Watch me unfold with the smoke of my own burning.
Watch me begin to live again.