On the second night of my visit, we are at a music festival, high on MDMA and the dregs of the mushrooms we chewed in the field some hours ago. As the bass thumps, you look at me with pieces of chicken sandwich wedged in your smile and I have the sudden realization that our relationship is doomed. I stare at the stage, at the wiry guitarist with bangs sliding into his eyes. He offers me no guidance, only angst. Nearby, bubbles drift from a plastic wand and nest themselves in the coils of a man’s dreadlocks. Your chicken sandwich grin offers a vague sort of dread. Am I myself? Have I ever been? I try to ignore this feeling because I am on drugs.
I am speared by a thought: I love you, maybe, but this trip is make-or-break. You know that too, right?
You suggest we skip the penultimate band and make our way back to the tent, to the field where mud, rain-slicked grass and empty cans of Amstel make up the ground-cover. You say, suavely, I think I know why they call this the love drug, and it’s obvious you’re horny. I say okay okay, let’s do this, but once we get inside the one-man tent I am short of breath and my head is buzzing. If we have sex it won’t feel right. And so I tell you I feel like a moth, too delicate in this new atmosphere. I’ve only had half a pill but instead of feeling euphoric, the way you said I would, I’m trapped in the innards of a rotary phone. It rings, rattles my wings.
We walk back towards the concert along a dirt road lined with hemlocks. The bass is distant, persistent, and although the lower frequencies are all that reach us, I still recognize the song. You don’t want to be alone. You don’t want to be alone. Well, precisely.
The next day it rains. And the next and the next. You shut yourself inside your cement-walled dorm and your skin turns anemic-white in the light that bleeds through the curtains, which are lime green and horrible. On this we agree: what a hideous choice of drapery.
Over the next week you disappear inside your textbooks, your legal jargon, your knowledge of the constitution and our human rights. Shamefully I don’t know much about the constitution or our rights but I know you promised you’d have your work done before my arrival. You promised you’d have time to spend with me, just me, and that we’d eat pancakes big as Frisbees, sample cheese, experiment with outdoor sex. As one half of a long distance couple, finally reunited, this is what I imagine my rights to be. Is that wrong?
(To be fair, you didn’t promise to have your work done, but you said, and isn’t that the same thing? Our most heated arguments are about semantics.)
I spend too many hours alone. I cloak myself in your oversize poncho and I bike through the rain with flaps of clear plastic streaming behind me. These are my wings now, these recycled materials, translucent and water-repellent. On the canal, I write in my journal and drink canned rum and cokes in a way that would sadden you. I discover that if I’m a little tipsy, sampling stroopwafels at Stach, I can still envision a happy future with you. I write the word wings in my journal, over and over and over, until the sun sets and I forget why I’m here.
When we hold hands, I feel air move between our palms. Has it always been this way?
One night I put on a low-cut top and high-waisted shorts. I straddle you in your desk chair and cup your face in my hands. You are working on a paper and I beg you to stop, to come drink with me downstairs. I am wearing no make-up, save for a smear of pink lip gloss, Colour Riche, and when you say I look especially pretty I absorb the compliment into my whole body. You give in to this body, leave your work behind. I’ve won. We go to a club and I feel so sexy and so light that I forget I don’t like grinding. We grind. I move my hips against yours, toss my hair until my neck is sore. You hold my waist from behind and, gently, you bite my ear. The bite is full of grace. With teeth marks on my skin, I glow.
But you still can’t use the word love. You can feel strongly and you can care deeply but you cannot go all the way—emotionally, I mean. Why is that? No one knows. So let me chisel the truth out of you and, carefully, dust it off with a paintbrush. Afterwards we will examine the results together, like archaeologists at a dig site. We will tilt our heads at each other, puzzled by your truth, which lays, newly naked, in our dusty palms. Where is your love?, we will ask.
At night, I lie awake and think of Spain. I consider leaving you. I think of flying to Majorca where the water is turquoise and speckled with boats. I think of wearing my sundresses, of dancing on the shores and watching myself molt in the Spanish heat. Everything that is unnecessary will fall away, like skin from a reptile, or paint from an old house. I imagine telling you that long distance is too hard, that it makes our time together too urgent and too tense, that I’m imploding like the core of a dying star. I will buy you a succulent as consolation because it will remind you of your mother, who is more patient and more graceful than I could ever be.
I google the weather in Spain.
I google flight prices.
I google Spanish cuisine. Paella sofritos churros gazpacho empanata!
And then I can’t do it anymore—this secret research, which feels prickly as betrayal. I resign myself to editing your paper. But I can’t focus because I’m not sure if I love you and there are too many typos on the second page. Your paragraphs could be more concise, yet I can’t seem to make them better myself.
One night you can’t find any utensils. And so you pick up a toothpick and use it like a spoon, eating your chocolate mousse with the determination of a wild and ravenous animal. I laugh so hard I forget I’m sad.
I want to be bitten again. Let’s get drunk, let’s go dancing, let’s consume each other.
(In a way, we do. But only for a few nights more. I work carefully to memorize the shapes of you: your lips back ears nose toes eyes chest. Will I know these shapes again?)
The last day comes and I feel like I’m wading through gel, rippled and wavy. I am a time traveler, this day already a memory. We walk the canals and we hold hands and we eat bread pudding on a bird-shit-covered bench and strangely it is perfect. We double-up on your bike and I watch my reflection in the kaasmarkt windows as we race by. My hair streams, featherlike, behind me and I feel like the star of an indie romance. I am the girl who is leaving you, maybe temporarily but probably forever. I am the girl who is boarding a plane, wooden tulips in her suitcase, a Sufjan Stevens song in her head. I am staring out the book-sized window of a Boeing, crying quietly as I watch wing cut sky. This slice of aluminum might just be the most powerful thing in the world.