Sometimes I wonder if it’s impossible for me to really care about anything until it’s too late, when I’ve rounded the long, slow bend and I see the exit, startling, up ahead.
In Vermont we drive to Middlebury and I kick off my sandals to put my feet in the stream that winds through the town, cutting under a bridge, turning off into a pebbly, rocky beach. I watch Chris crouching on a rock, barefoot too and looking into the distance. Eventually, he makes his way back to me. Loops his arms over my shoulders and we kiss, curled into each other on the shore, my toes in the current.
“You make me feel like a teenager,” he says. We walk through town holding hands.
Before our trip, I went on my phone and looked up all the local flowers. I read them out loud to him in the car, a litany of names: Baneberry, columbine, spikenard, jack-in-the-pulpit. Milkweed, two kinds of asters, marsh marigold, harebell, blue cohoosh. In every relationship I’ve ever been in there’s always a moment that comes to stand for all the others—the closest we were to perfection, our apogee of bliss. It’s the thing I begin to feel a heady nostalgia for, long before it ends.
Early August I move to a new apartment two miles south of where I used to live. I still have keys to my old place—Julian is subletting my last month on the lease—and Chris and I, after having a beer in the neighborhood, go back to have a smoke on my stoop for old time’s sake. We’re reluctant to part, kiss in the street, but that doesn’t feel like enough, so we sneak into the laundry room in the basement. There, surrounded by the smell of detergent and fabric softener, in the tropical heat blooming from the dryers, we fuck like teenagers, boozy and indiscreet, not bothering with the toil of undressing. He bends me over a washing machine and pins a hand behind my back; I’m already wet, it takes nothing. I brace myself with my other hand and rest my cheek against the cool white metal of the lid.
Obedient plant, solomon’s seal, silvery cinquefoil, bloodroot. At the end of the list of Vermont wildflowers, five kinds of violets: Sweet white, marsh blue, labrador, downy yellow, round-leaved. Chris and I can’t come up with consistent nicknames for each other, nothing seems adequate, so we run through a natural historian’s taxonomy of affection, picking terms of endearment from the names of plants and phases of the moon. Sometimes one sticks—like o my little capybara, from the Sandra Beasley poem.
It feels disingenuous to say I’ve felt this way before, but I have. Everyone I’ve ever dated has heard me recite the same poems: Animals, I like my body, that Neruda line about cherry trees in spring. I know it sounds bad, but there’s something kind of comforting about it—like, yeah, heartbreak sucks, but you never lose your capacity for feeling, and falling for someone always makes you feel seventeen.
One night we meet in Prospect Park, in the long meadow, equidistant between our apartments. I’m from the west coast, where we don’t have fireflies, so I’m intrigued by them, by how they rise, dimly, out of the grass, by how their asses flicker and glow green light. I read somewhere that their bioluminescence is the most efficient form of light production, all their energy emitted on the visual spectrum, no heat.
We sit under a tree and the sun sets. Dusk falls by degrees, a darkness so slow in coming that it feels like my vision’s failing. The fireflies, wherever they are, are shy tonight—we make out just a few bright green dots, flashing. More exciting: the threat of a storm on the horizon. Chris points it out to me, and we watch a bolt of lightning illuminate the far-off sky, glowing purple-pink.
Then we go home—he takes off first, he’s still the one who’s always leaving. He doesn’t walk his bike, he rides it through the park. I can barely see him, gliding over the grass; I can only make him out by the glint of light reflecting off the tires of his bike and the spokes of his wheels, spinning.
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