I write this now because I missed my chance to speak.
It’s funny, the sort of things that stick in your mind after it’s all done with and passed. Or maybe funny is the wrong word. I have always held onto memory in meaningless, half coherent fragments, but you--well, I can’t remember.
What I do remember is that coffee shop in Chelsea. The first of many.
The neon and the faux red leather and surreality of all of it, breaking through a night as black as the inside of my own eyelids. It’s easy to think now that maybe it existed outside of space and time, but back then all I recall was that it was four in the morning and something inside me needed an espresso.
(Could that really have been the only reason?)
I know why you were there, of course. That roommate of yours who got up three hours early every day to grind Nicaraguan coffee beans until the sun came up and the first cup could be filled and J***s f***ing C****t, if I have to listen to that machine a moment longer I’ll blow my brains out. But for the life of me I haven’t the faintest idea how I ended up there, novel beneath my hands and boots on my feet.
And how did our conversation begin? Did I fall so deep immediately or did I simply want a warm body to complain about Salinger to? I wonder if you’d think it despicable of me to lose the details of our first encounter, but it’s been a long time, you realize. A f***ing long time. (“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” I can’t remember if you liked Yeats.)
I like to think you’d understand.
Spain, too, could’ve been a century back, or maybe forty-eight hours. I still have the most vivid picture of that sofa we’d dragged into the backyard of your aunt’s cottage, when we’d fallen asleep in the humid, seething dark. When I came to and all I saw was the crooked line of your teeth and the creases around your smiling eyes I was sure that that’s what I wanted to wake up to each morning until I didn’t wake up at all.
There was that cafe again, though, wasn’t there? Where the neon seemed out of place in among the sunflowers and grazing sheep and the Spanish indie pouring out over the radio. There was something in it that was both familiar and out of place. We sat in the same booth, were served by the same platinum blonde waitress, and finally home slipped off my tongue and ruined everything.
From this vantage point, with an ocean below and the sky above me, I think that that may have been the beginning of the end.
I can say it now, I think, with some measure of accuracy. I loved you. I love you. Sometimes I lose track of whether I always have, if it’s strengthened over the years or dulled. I loved you then, though. I wanted you to be mine and for a bit there, I think, you wanted me to be yours.
Another year, the same coffee shop. The same order and the same product. I’d moved out of Chelsea and into Islington but still the neon invaded my peripheral vision on a rainy Tuesday and there I was, waiting for you. I make all this fuss about the holes in my memory but I’ve never forgotten a single physical detail, not when it comes to your features and mannerisms and the like. The way you’d lean forward for the punchline of any joke, the way your hands curled around each other on the formica table as you thought and worried, the location of every crinkle in your smile. Don’t think that I’ve forgotten. You know I haven’t.
You used to say you wanted to be cremated, your ashes dumped off a cliff and into the sea. Which cliff? Did you ever specify? Wales? Ireland? Newfoundland? Maybe you said, once, under a neon sign that held off the dark world beyond, and just like you yourself the memory has escaped me as well.
That last conversation we had I spent the entire time on the edge of my seat, waiting for the moment when our lips would align in just the right way, when our eyes would meet at just the right moment. By the time my coffee was drained I realized that that moment was never going to come. Or maybe it had already, a long while ago, and I was too busy to notice. The table in the booth separating our minds and bodies stretched on forever. The cafe was empty save us.
I’ve always hated coffee.
I think this is a good cliff, the one I’m standing on now. I think you would’ve approved. It’s hard to write this letter, though, with the incessant, tugging breeze. I’m nearly finished, however, and then I’ll let it go. I thought about burying it in the sand but it seemed too likely that someone might unearth it, someday, and the idea of that is horrific. These words are only meant for you, so they’re going into the sea.
Somewhere off to my right there’s a splotch of neon, an ethereal glow that’s cutting through the mist and the gloom of the afternoon, surrounded by nothing but countryside and ocean. Is it what I think it is? Will there be red leather booths and hot espressos and a waitress with bleached blonde hair?
Will you be waiting for me?
I’ll go and check after the next wave.