“If you’re asking me about love, well… love is the door to happiness in my eyes. For example, no matter what reason you have for condemning yourself, loving someone else makes it all ok. Love helps you grow. Love is kindness. Love is understanding. Love is the only way to be yourself, love is the door to freedom to me. Of course, it’s also a very difficult thing. I think the hardest thing about saying “I love you” –and like genuinely meaning it—is coming to terms with this idea that there could be a day when the person that you’re giving your love to might not give it back. What’s scarier is that even if they say it back, that doesn’t guarantee that they will the next time. God, it’s fucking terrifying. I think about it sometimes as like doing a swan dive off a bridge or something and then suddenly finding yourself praying to god that it’s just a dream and that you’ll wake up with your pillow underneath your head and your socks on and everything. I mean, how idiotic is that?” Emily paused, kicking her red high tops together, scuffing up the sides. She seemed to be groping for the right words. Her upper lip twitched. “I actually thought about jumping from a building once. I was on the roof of that really tall one down on 57th and 8th—I think it’s a bank, maybe, or a department store? I’m not sure how I got there, but I guess it doesn’t matter, does it? Anyway, I was standing on the ledge thinking. And I was thinking about how easy it would be to just disappear—how crazy it is that you can be there one minute and then the next…you’re gone. I thought about how I would splatter. How my insides would be scraped off the sidewalk in the same way I scoop my dog’s shit off the side walk. I didn’t want that.” Emily’s voice softened. She stopped and looked up, shoving a piece of her long, brown hair behind her ear. She slid down into the leather couch so that her shoulder blades were resting on the back cushion. “Anyway,” she breathed, “He didn’t say it back this time.”
They met under the most ordinary of circumstances. Everyday Emily would walk down the two flights of stairs of her modest apartment and out through the littered streets of her Brooklyn neighborhood, eventually reaching the park. Emily did all of her deep thinking here. She’d sit on the red bench, perched up on the tiny hill on the outskirts of the park, under the weeping willow, and bury herself in thought; sometimes for hours, other times, just for a few fleeting moments. One day, it was a spring day, Emily found herself in the company of another.
He looked up at her, and she at him. His face startled Emily. The skin under his eyes, a deep brown, sagged in a way that seemed to pull his whole face downward so that even the corners of his mouth folded in this fashion. Emily felt a strange desire to bury herself in the creases. She imagined herself walking over to him and kissing him on his mouth, pressing herself into him, and he’d hold her, because he wanted to. She imagined that they’d fall in love, and that his face would soften. She imagined as she usually did, having deeply intimate moments with only herself.
A car horn honked in the far distance, shaking Emily out of her trance. She’d been staring and was embarrassed. “This is my bench, you’re sitting on my bench.” She spoke quickly, mumbling more to herself than to him. He looked at her, but didn’t respond. She noticed a camera sitting on his lap. Emily looked down into the park.
“What, were you taking pictures of? There’s no one here.”
He didn’t answer, but instead scooted over to the very end of the bench and got back to taking photographs. Emily watched for a moment—he seemed lost in what he was doing and had stopped paying attention to her. She perched herself on the other end, trying very hard to do the same.
“Why were you standing on top of the building?”
“I don’t know, I just sort of ended up there.”
“Does it make you sad, thinking about that moment?”
“Sad? I mean, well—yeah I guess so. Dying is sad.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I don’t know, why are we talking about this? Didn’t you hear me before? He didn’t say it back this time.”
“Ok, let’s talk about it.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to fucking do.” Emily was growing impatient. She wanted to talk about things that mattered—that was why she was here, wasn’t it? This doctor seemed to want to talk about anything but that. “Ok, well, I don’t know where to start.”
The doctor shifted in his chair, swinging his right leg over his left, exposing red socks that stopped at his ankles. “Well, why don’t you start at the beginning.”
Emily learned his name was Michael. That day at the park, as they sat there in silence—him taking pictures, her staring at her feet, thinking—she decided that she didn’t want them to be strangers, however transparent he made her feel. She learned that he was visiting his older brother, who lived out in Queens. He had hopped on the subway early that morning, hoping to get lost. He liked to get lost, he told her—he made a game at trying to find his way back. She thought that was odd and told him so. Michael laughed, smiling for the first time. His teeth were a clean white and slightly crooked in the front, but not in an ugly way. She smiled too, wanting to share the moment with him.
They spent the next few hours talking. It wasn’t until the sun was setting that they’d run out of things to say.
“Well…” Emily said.
Michael nodded in silence, agreeing that it was time to leave.
They parted ways, planning to meet again, at the same spot, at the same time, on the next day. Emily trudged down the hill, out of the park, through the littered streets of her Brooklyn neighborhood and up the two flights of stairs into her bare apartment. She fell asleep that night thinking of tomorrow.
“The second day we met was when I fell in love with him. He showed up to the park after me. I was already sitting on the bench, convincing myself he wasn’t going to show, when he appeared. He had stuffed two peanut butter sandwiches in his bag and handed one to me. I won’t ever forget that, because peanut butter sandwiches are my favorite kind of sandwiches, and I was so excited, because I thought it was a sign.”
“A sign for what?”
“Like he already knew me or something—like I didn’t have to explain myself to him, like he just knew. Do you know what I mean?”
“I think I do.”
“So anyway, it was after that that I decided I loved him.”
“After he gave you the sandwich? Did you tell him this?”
“Would you tell someone that you loved them the second day you met? I didn’t want him to think I was crazy.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m listening.”
Emily hesitated before opening her mouth again. “Anyway, then after we finished the sandwiches, he kissed me”
“How did that make you feel?”
Emily smiled, “Loved.”
Emily liked being in the company of another. Of course, she didn’t mind sitting alone, but this was much better. She’d lost herself in thought before and finding her way back had been a struggle. Michael kept her grounded. She needed him.
“What happened after that first kiss?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you begin a relationship?”
“What do you mean by ‘relationship’?”
“Where you intimate?”
“Like did we have sex?”
“Is that your idea of intimacy?”
“I don’t know. No.”
“No we didn’t have sex. But that doesn’t matter. I loved him. We still loved each other.”
“When you say ‘loved’, what does that mean?”
“I meant love, I love him.”
Emily lost track of the days. With Michael, it felt as if she had known him forever. They’d meet everyday up on the hill, and sit on the red bench under the weeping willow. Sometimes they’d talk, other times they’d sit there in silence. But it was a comfortable silence, the kind people wait their whole lifetime to find. She didn’t want it to end. When she told him this, he told her he’d never leave. That he couldn’t leave—that as long as they had each other, they’d be safe. Emily asked “safe from what?” and he held her close, because he wanted to, and told her in a quiet whisper, that as long as they were together, no one else could get in.
“If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.”
“It sounds like he cared for you.”
“You mean cares for me.”
“Where is he right now?”
“What does that mean?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ok, let me ask you a different question. How long has it been since the day you met him?”
Emily paused, and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. She looked down, fingering the hem of her dress. “Um… I don’t know, a year maybe, six months…?”
“So last winter?”
“No…no, we met in the spring, I remember, the sun was out and everything. It was a day like today.”
“So it was a year ago?”
“Look, I don’t know why you’re so hung up about when we met. It doesn’t really matter.”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s in Queens, with his brother.”
“Who he’s been visiting…?”
“He decided to stay here…because of me.”
“Where is Michael?”
“He’s in Queens, visiting his brother.”
“Emily, where is Michael?”
“In Queens. He’s in Queens with his goddamn brother!” she was yelling now, clutching onto her knee caps. You could see the beginning of tears swelling over the rims of her eyes. “He’s in fucking Queens ,Q.U.E.E.N.S!” She was standing now. “Write that down on your fucking notepad.” The room was spinning. Emily felt like she was suffocating. She wanted to run. She wanted to run to the park, up the hill and sit on the bench under the weeping willow. But she’d forgotten how to get there, so she stayed.
“He’s in Queens—“
“Emily, look at me, where is Michael?”
“—visiting his brother…”
She needed him to be real.
Emily was tired. She didn’t want to be here anymore. “He didn’t say it back this time, because I couldn’t find him.”