I am terrified.
Daylight seeps and settles, leaving nothing to the imagination. My covers are cold and damp, clinging to my shoulders and back, and I wonder if the fever breaks or if it’s just beginning.
I count the hours since I fell asleep, count the reasons for being awake, weigh the tally like Lady Justice and throw my legs over the side of the bed, blind as justice should be. I see one thing and one thing only.
You’re not here.
A question perches uneasy on the edge of my tongue and cowers, quivering, before crawling back to whence it came. My room is cold, blue, and empty as a padded room with me inside, empty empty empty.
I am seven billion billion billion atoms, every last one of them: e m p t y.
This is my world. It’s expanding every day, a continental drift, and I wonder what shape I’ll take tomorrow as the horizon draws closer to the shore. I look to the east and see a bright future in vivid technicolor, overcast by a mighty thunderhead.
My future is all but certain. By now I should’ve gone places, done things, accomplished things, and yet I find myself sitting alone in a one-bedroom apartment, staring at a blank blue wall and trying to picture some award that might sit there instead, or a photo of me at the summit of a mountain, but all I can see is a looming obituary and bouquets of wilting flowers.
My story is halfway through. Two-thirds, if you count sleep. I’m no Descartes, but if plane X is nonexistence and plane Y intersects at 0,0 as the midpoint, I’ve crossed into the first quadrant and it’s all downhill from here.
I often wonder if I’m the only one who thinks these things; am I alone in my struggle with accepting my own mortality? The notion that I could be here today and gone tomorrow is so foreign, so horribly alien to me, that my mind actively revolts against it. My spirit is seizing, eyes twisted white, knuckles cold and reaching out for something solid, something real, something imperishable.
And then you come in.
Smiling, drifting careless and easy as leaves over an empty autumn sidewalk, you come and touch my face, brush my head with your hands, hold me tight and let me know that I’m not alone. You tell me as long as I live, I will never be alone. You’ll make sure of that. You come as a mother and a lover, at once, and there’s no dissonance to it. Your image is pure, bright and lovely, always there and always changing.
You are my cepheid variable, radiating warmth and life. You ask me to swing dance, but I’m a dying star, a white dwarf contracting under the weight of my own gravity. Fusion begins and my temperature rises, swelling burning bursting apart, helium becomes carbon becomes oxygen becomes iron, sulfur, and christ, here it comes. I’m afraid if you stand too close I might pull you in and take you down with me. If you manage to make it outside the blast radius, you’ll live on forever, of that I’m certain.
I’m scared, all the time. Afraid of death, but only the separateness of it, the permanence of it.
Because if nothing’s what I’ve got to look forward to, then that picture doesn’t include you. I’m not okay with that.
I think back to the day we met, try to recall if I knew then I would become this hopeless. I like to think I was completely oblivious, that I was just a red giant, young and dumb and carefree. You were my nebula, beautiful and mysterious, the birthplace of possibility. I could never have anticipated your transformation, from lone star to entire universe.
You changed something in me, that day and every day since. It’s been almost five years, but not a minute goes by that I don’t wonder what the hell you were thinking, choosing me. I wonder when you’ll come to your senses and realize you went horribly wrong. I hope it’s before the big collapse. I hope you can pull away just in time, that I don’t take you down with me. I hope you stay there, untouched and free, lighting up the night.
For me, that’s where you’ve always been. I can’t picture it any other way. And I thank the stars for the darkness, because without it I would never see them.
I would never see you, shining.
Until light and dark have no meaning:
I love you.