On what it really is

There is an importance to opening lines. I teach my students this, but I do not know how to apply it. If I could start everything I ever write the same way, it would be to say that I am still discovering all the ways I may be wrong about something.

There is a story I have been trying to tell for a long time. Of course, it is a story about being wrong. About a third-floor apartment,with a bathroom so cramped your knees reach all the way to the wall; with a bedroom that is never clean and ironed white shirts on a bright blue hanger. In this story, there is balcony at 6am and someone watching the sky turn the colour of a kiss, and she thinks a lot about all the ways it is possible to try to fit into spaces left by someone else. It is about a day of moving your own suitcases up a winding staircase, and having someone who no longer loves you move them down days later. There is something to be said for a love so strong it makes you stop liking the taste of food. There is something to be said for calling that love. It has taken longer than it should have to see the lesson in all of this.

We learn about themes and motifs in stories; the central ideas that tie it all together. Writers spend months unraveling Nabokov and Joyce, and the kernel at the heart of the work, but I did not see what was at the heart of all this. I did not want to do the work of it, the deciphering of eggs in the morning and too-strong coffee and never asking me to stay a little longer. I held a tableau of this; sacred and safe, and I did not ever try to dust it off or look a little closer. Seeing things as they really are is back-breaking work.

People often tell me that I am single-minded, set in my ways. Some days this feels like something I’d like to keep safe; treasure away in a box shut with a clasp that fell off the day I came home and ate a whole jar of olives in the backyard. Other days it feels like failure. I see what I want to. So did he, and perhaps that was what almost saved us. This time stretches away from the pivotal moments, only to snap back like a piece of gum. I am learning that love is far too big a word for those bruised and bitter days. I am learning like a child sore and sad and still-hopeful for the next day.

When everything is said and done and the dust has settled from all the stories I told myself about this story, it does not matter if she gets off that balcony, or if he ever picks up the phone and tells me I was right, for once. Stories come to us, for a time and a season, and sometimes we lose them. Sometimes all we do is learn the lesson and never find the time to put it down at all. I will write a story one day soon, and it will be for something so vast and berry-blue it never bruises my knees against its walls. And that time, I will remember to use the right words for all of it.

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