Two days before, I was alone, thinking about what it must feel like to have a heart that beats when it wants, attune to no one and free to roam around the range of time like a novice drummer. Thinking only about the next lub dub and not about the one that just occurred. Taking nothing from the pulsing of the past.
We beat in time, then, constantly and never faltering. It was normal and necessary and when I put my hand on his chest it was like going home for the first time in years. Satisfaction and comfort and breathing shallowly so that I could hear and feel, I could be sure we were still in time. Clasping his wrists and placing my fingers on his bluest veins to check, double check. And still we thumped on.
One day before I wanted to tell him that hearts like ours don’t happen everyday. We sat across each other at a table at a restaurant that was too expensive for either one of us.
“Order.” I said, and watched the water glass tremble at the tapping of his foot to jazz playing through fuzzy speakers.
He smiled and winked at me. “I’ll have what she’s having.”
As the waitress left, sticking a pad and paper in the front pocket of her apron, I wanted to say that there’s no sense in separating our rhythms, stopping its coursing blood through capillaries. That we blush at the same times because it is our blood vessels bursting in our cheeks, exploding so that everyone will know how we really feel. You can’t just leave that. But I said nothing, too busy touching my fingers to his wrist under the table and checking his pulse, comparing it to mine, tapping out the beat with the toe of my sandal, willing it to stay in time just a little longer.
The sky cracked in places that night, like an egg hit against a kitchen countertop, and syrupy rain, like a thick yolk, ran down along the boardwalk and covered everything in a heavy veil of water.
He drove and when he pulled the steering wheel to turn back I stopped him. I said, “I have to see the ocean.”
But the truth was I had to make him see the ocean. I felt it was somehow important, and a little water never stops anyone except when it stops everything. Sometimes water is more about the other water around it – if it has an ocean of comrades it means one thing, if it falls alone with a gentle thud against the slats of a boardwalk it means another. People are like that, too. They are who they stand next to in a crowded room.
But the rain was nothing compared to the gray asphalt ocean that we watched drone silently in and out, in and out. An umbrella flapped between us and didn’t cover my head but only dripped water from its awning down the neck of my shirt. The lights from the empty boardwalk flashed and together they were another person in the conversation, self-centered and taking all the attention out of our words. At that moment I could have sworn that they blinked in time, with the roll of the tide and with our pounding hearts, but now I think that the sheets of rain clouded my vision. I just held onto his wrist, keeping time and never loosening my grip. There was lightning but no thunder.
The next morning we woke up at the same moment, with one simultaneous intake of breath. I felt for his hand beneath the white sheet that was tangled between our four legs, and he pushed a strand of hair behind my ear.
I said, in a voice between silence and breath, “Sometimes logic can pause for love.”
He told me, “Logic never pauses; sometimes it just conducts from the sidelines.” He sighed, thinking as he ran his finger along my collarbone. “It lets us believe in spontaneity, luck, fate, and especially love, but it’s always waiting in the wings.”
Logic is too strong to shake.
That day I decided that it is better to be ripped into a million tiny pieces than to be torn in two. I watched as he packed his best suit, his running sneakers and his high school basketball jersey into a muted brown suitcase that used to be his father’s. I sat on the edge of the bed and decided that being diced to confetti, being brushed under an oriental rug, is better than being pulled into two distinct parts, ones that can see the other and know that they are so close and so far from wholeness at the same time. It’ s not the separation that hurts so badly but the knowledge of it, the distinct feeling that there is one ultimate piece missing.
I would rather be cut to shreds than have to know a single tear is all that keeps me from being whole. I held his wrist and checked one final time before he pulled his arm away from me and walked through the sliding metal doors. Above our heads planes got the best of gravity and flew through the cloudy sky.
By nightfall the rumbling engine of a jet airplane put an ocean between us. Suddenly I got the feeling of waiting in a crowded diner with two open menus knowing that I will eat alone. Or rather, that I will eat with the loudest, most disruptive solitude that touches its sticky fingers to the open pages, the pictures of plated food, and spills water onto the paper tablecloth. A nasty companion who will always order what I’m having, without a smile or a wink.
It began in the middle of the night before he left. The difference was hard to hear at first, just the thinnest sliver of silence between the pounding beats. But it grew, slowly, and then suddenly faster as it was clear we were no longer in time. We were in thumping syncopation, no longer one tangle of blood vessels. Too distinct, too separate, too logical, too self-sufficient. Two heartbeats.
The moment it happened I didn’t wake from sleep. I only rolled over in bed and flipped the pillow to reveal its cool, soft belly.