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The Leaves

By , Aventura, FL

The leaves. I keep circling back to the leaves. I asked him to come up with a metaphor because I wanted to hear his poetic prowess that I so envied, and was astonished to find that he was more positive in his interpretation. To me, those leaves, once green and thriving, looking down on the hot summer world with composure and transient stability, were now laying under our unforgiving feet, trampled by the ones that were once so securely below. That’s how I had felt for the last year of my life: initially flourishing but eventually reduced to a desiccated pile below the throngs of mindless pedestrians. It’s pessimistic, I know, but I’ve often felt that I’ve earned the right to be.
So there I had it, a metaphor for the leaves, but he never asked, so I never answered. They were so irrelevant though, those leaves. Maybe it was much easier to focus on the crunching and shuffling rather than on the urgency that comes when time is chasing you. I sensed its presence when it followed us, caught its shadow on the rearview mirror when he drove, felt it near us while we talked on the rocks I used to call mine. They never belonged to me but they were still mine. So was he, but he never belonged to me either.
We watched the sunset sitting on the cool grass next to a bench- our own small rebellion and piece of control- while time crept closer, emboldened by the setting sun. The shadows cast by the dimming remnants of the day glided across his face, indecisively darkening and then reviving his countenance. I saw him looking at me too and imagined what I must have looked like through the brown-green filter of his eyes. With the sunlight reflecting off of my complexion, I must have appeared as much like a mirage as he felt to me.
The moment appeared unbreakable, but I felt fragile. I saw myself in the leaves mercilessly rolling between my thumb and forefinger: unable to disappear but diminished, disfigured, irrelevant. There it was, another metaphor drawn up only to be stored away for fear that the wonder-filled gaze of his would be replaced by one of pity that I know too well. I dreaded the moment when he would disintegrate into a memory again, and sure enough, before I was ready, time brusquely tapped him on the shoulder and he sprang to his feet, ready to move on.
Eventually we fell back into our old rhythm as we walked the same streets we had sauntered down under lighter circumstances. I was at home, yet wandering around a strange environment, laden with undiscovered truths. As we neared the house that used to be mine, our steps became more laborious and it felt to me like walking through Lake Michigan, bones chilling, skin numbing. At some point I realized that we were two blocks from my old house, but that ceased to matter when he chose to ask me that question.
“Are you happy?”
To some, that question should entail only a yes or no answer, an uncomplicated truth, but simplicity was never our strong suit. I ransacked the depths of my brain, tearing open the carefully sealed drawers containing all my shelved emotions. All the reasons I had to be happy spilled out into my consciousness but so did the ones I had to impede it; neither overshadowed its counterpart. I chose the answer that I knew he would want to hear, the one that I hoped would come true if repeated enough times.
“Yeah, I am,” I replied sincerely, ignoring what needed to be forgotten in order to be truthful. My eyes darted away from him, wanting to change the subject, but I had to ask. The words had barely vaporized off my lips when I noticed his tears. He wasn’t happy. He said that his happiness had expired and he felt joy once and had thus exhausted his supply.
We plopped down on a patch of grass that I had photographed my freshman year and he cried. I’ve never been good at comforting people, so I put my arm around his shoulders and did nothing to drown out the amplified sounds of his tears. He kept apologizing and begging himself to stop, but I didn’t mind. Seeing him breaking down in front of me, shedding the cool exterior that he had been wearing for the past day, reassured me that I wasn’t alone in my nostalgia. I was unable to surmise how he had managed to live among all the triggers of past memories when I was weary from only a few days. From the very corner where we were sitting, I could hear his echoing laugh lingering in the air, the fireworks exploding in the background, our footsteps progressing in unison. From that same patch of grass, I could recall with unusual clarity that night when we sat on my lawn and the sky was bright blue even after nightfall.
“The sky is so blue,” I stated lamely, trying to evoke a recollection that I knew must have been a haze in his mind.
I don’t know if he heard me or if I missed his reaction but that was the end of the reminiscent moment. He regained his composure, pushed himself up, and gently ushered me to my feet.
On the way back to the car, he finally told me about his girlfriend. Apparently she wanted to meet me because she was intrigued by the “inner workings” of his mind.
“So basically she wants to see what all the fuss is about…Well, she’d probably be disappointed,” I added awkwardly. He tried to disagree with me, but I knew I was right. I had left Chicago one year and three months earlier, yet here we were still trying to move on from the brief time that we were able to call ours. If she met me, she wouldn’t understand how one ordinary girl could have caused so much damage. I didn’t understand it myself. Then again, I’ve never been able to see myself the way he saw me, or at least the way he claimed to.
Once we made it back to the car, we stopped talking about it. We had gotten rid of what had to be addressed, even though most of it was left unsaid. It would have been impossible to tell him about all the thoughts that were crunching and shuffling around in my head, swirling around, drifting away. I was exhausted from the few that had already escaped, so we went back to our old topics of conversation. He talked to me about music, which made him light up as he always had, and he showed me this song so we could “marvel at its degree of applicability.” I never told him but I listened to that song on repeat for days afterward.
When we got to the topic of writing, as was bound to happen, I could barely bring myself to tell him that I had not written a single piece in months. I knew he would be disappointed in me. He was both the reason I started writing and the reason I stopped. Every time I tried to write something, he would be there. Writing used to be ours and I didn’t succeed in making it just mine. Writing used to be my solace, my stability, and my simplicity, but after some time, the images of my past that I used the paper to incarcerate started to follow me around. Of course, I didn’t tell him.
Again, before I was ready, time pulled up to a stop along side us and it was time to say goodbye. He looked at me with that wonder-filled expression of his and I was utterly speechless. If only I could only break the code concealed in his expression, I thought, then I could get some closure. For the first time since I’d gotten to know him though, his thoughts were a mystery to me. The scene is a blur to me now and I cannot recall what we said to each other, but I remember that I was halfway across the street when he called me back to look at an old picture of us. It was a picture from the time when, as he said, everything and everyone was a metaphor.
I went back home the day after, but my unuttered thoughts continued to swirl inside my mind. At that point I could not help but register that he would eventually find a metaphor for me like he did for the leaves. Not being a physical presence in his life anymore meant that I was only present through his memories, and the portrayal that he would be able to conjure would be one sided. I was a small chapter in the story of his life, but was greatly misrepresented through the blur of time and experience. I had always dreaded the day when I would turn into just a name, just a memory. I don’t know how I thought I could be any different when to us everyone and everything was a metaphor, a small part of a larger narrative, destined to drift underfoot, crushed and forgotten.

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Krose said...
yesterday at 9:10 pm
The writing is amazing. Maybe you could do a better job of explaining yourself at some points but keep up the work
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