I put the idea of you into a small locket that I’d never worn before, closed it up and wore it around my neck weekends before we couldn’t go anywhere, when I would go down to the things that were happening in the city that had been mine but was no longer, so I could let it glint a little in the sunlight before coming back home. I polished and shined the idea of you weekly, or rather I polished and shined the thing that contained the idea of you. I put it on my night stand before going to bed and smoothed out its chain on waking, set it down to rest just above my heart and watched the way the LCD screen on public transit went haywire, announced that the next stop was a series of incomprehensible pixels. I painted the idea of you in a self portrait after you went away, refused to take it off for the painting because it would be there if I weren’t painting, so it had to be there if I were. I sprinkled the idea of you onto the surface of my morning coffee and stirred it in so I’d have a taste of you for the rest of the day. I put the idea of you in between the layers of all of my dresses, one after the other, till I couldn’t be sure where I ended and the idea of you began. I clawed your name off the mailbox and poured isopropyl alcohol on it and set it ablaze for a flickering blue-fire moment in quiet darkness. It erased any trace of your letters. I put you into the cleanses that I drank morning after morning, intoned the shape of your face as toxin to be purged, rinsed it down the sink like the stubble shavings you’d leave behind every other day. I practiced saying all the sentences you’d shush, the barbs left unspoken if not unearned. And there were the gowns I couldn’t afford but which I would try on, looking for a version of myself I could be okay with, and the way that you didn’t want to talk or see me after you came, how you’d go in the other room and wait for my postcoital chase. I put you down in the poems of that time, clipped events and rearranged the names but kept the idea of you intact. Couldn’t do much else. In the end, I survived on pomegranates and apple cider. Thought I saw a glimmer of you in the pulp, but I decided to drink it down anyway. I was too thirsty not to.
It seemed that in this town you could get by with a couple singles in your pocket and nothing more. He remembered Chicago days, from before he moved to this small town in North Carolina, that he’d ride the el for what seemed like hours, transfer from the red line to the blue and take a bus out to the lake. He did that a lot in those days, when his life was crashing down around him and he felt like he had no way out.
You needed a Ventra card to ride in Chicago, and the monthly pass was outrageously expensive. If you didn’t have a card, you couldn’t ride. But this bus, this bus he stepped onto and out of the North Carolina heat, you could get on with a single.
He sat down, his first bus ride in NC even after living there for two years, and he pulled out his headphones. He took out his phone and put Spotify on shuffle. The first thing that came up was “Coming of Age” by Foster the People. He smiled. “Fitting,” he said. Someone sitting near him looked at him when he said that, but he just kept smiling.