Osan, South Korea
You rest your head on my shoulder, I tell you I love you, and cherry blossoms leap from the branches above us like tiny pink acrobats, swinging in the air and landing low onto our laps.
In the months after this moment, you will have had two miscarriages, and you will not tell me about either until weeks after. You will not tell me about the stains of red, of the blood that seeped into the sheets while you slept. You will not tell me about the loneliness you felt in your bones, of the hurt you felt in hiding it all from your mom, your sister, from everyone. You will not tell me that you blame me.
Instead you’ll scream and throw books and old picture frames, crying out to God, asking him how he could do this to you, how he could hurt you like this. And, when you are too far broken by all of it to be pieced back together, you will give up on me. On us.
Something I never told you: I started smoking by the rice paddies outside my apartment after the third or fourth fight. At night, I brushed my cigarette against the blank canvas of the sky, and I felt less lonely watching the sparks speed against the wind.
Now, years after, when I’ve moved to someplace else, and you are somewhere gone, I find myself remembering that moment with you more frequently: how we sat beneath the cherry blossom tree and how you found shelter in me and how you smiled just once more—your dimples showing, your blue eyes brightening, a blush smeared on your face from cheek to cheek. And I remember how I smiled back.
Since I started to write, I’ve hid you behind the names of fictionalized people like Sydney or Kate. I give them your features—the seeds of freckles on your skin, the lake-like irises of your eyes, the curve of your cheeks when you are spitting out some sarcastic or smart-ass comment.
I think I do it because I’ve been too afraid to use your name. Afraid to bring you to life on the page, did you know? I can’t seem to put it down on paper because I feel that if I do, then somehow you’ll come back and you’ll know the words I’ve typed and written and you’ll… You’ll tell me that all of what I’ve said has been wrong—you’ll tell me that you never loved me. Or that you’ve forgotten it all already. Or that we were nothing more than a flower petal thrown against the wind.
Something you’ll never know: there are scars on my arms and on my shoulders of where I’ve put out my cigarettes. Flame to flesh—they are reminders of where you used to rest your head, of where you don’t anymore.
Once, when I was waiting for the bus, it started to storm. When I looked across the street, I saw my reflection in the windows of a bar. I saw myself standing there in the rain. I saw a guy who was haunted by a girl from his past and by the itch of the scars on his arms.
And for a second I thought I saw you beside me, your breathing weak and your body shaking. And I saw you turning away from me. I saw you turning away from me. I saw you turning away from me.
The rain fell harder on the roads, and I lit a cigarette to feel warmer.
A poetry professor told me once that every poem is a love poem.
I think that everything I write and have written has been about you, Anh.
I don’t know where you are—if you left Korea, if you ever came back to the states, or if you’re out there travelling the world like you said you would. Did you graduate? Do you have a nice home? Did you meet new people, a new lover?
Sometimes I imagine you’re somewhere in Japan—maybe Tokyo where the city streets are filled with passing people and the smell of food vendors and taxi emissions. You’re at a coffee shop on the 15th floor of some skyscraper watching the crowds below, and writing a poem about rain running down windows.
Or maybe you’re back in Naples, at your childhood home. You’re surrounded by familiar faces, an air of fresh bread, and the sound of wind seeping through the cracks of century old buildings.
I imagine you’re doing okay, Anh. I hope you are.
Something I wish you knew: I stopped smoking a few months ago. On top of the long line of lung cancer that runs in my family, I figured quitting would be taking another step to moving on from you.
But there are nights when I am driving home—windows rolled down, my hand skimming the open air—when I can still feel the weight of a cigarette between my fingers. I feel the flame. I feel you.
You are there when:
The rain falls on the window, and I can see your blue eyes within the glass.
A cigarette rests on my lips, and I can taste your kiss with each exhale.
Pink flowers bloom in spring, and I can feel your head burrowed on my shoulder.
And I am here:
Writing to you, again, smiling.