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litany in retrograde

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1. You know, my darling, my wife loves you almost as much as I do. She’s heard enough about you from the stories I tell her about you, about us. Couldn’t stand it at first, couldn’t stand the way her ears perked at the way I talked about you. There’s always a question about who’s that man in the photographs I keep at the top of our dresser at the tip of her curious tongue, and I want to bite it off. I want to bite the tongue of whoever’s brave enough to ask about you. How could they, when I didn’t know anything?

 

2. I didn’t know anything about you, except that I loved you. I loved you on the cusp of the first winter when I first saw you across the street. I loved you then, I’ve loved you since then. How could I not, when I felt you looking at me over the veneer of your glasses and I felt like my skin was already burning without you even having to touch me? How could I not love you when you’re the first to make me feel warm?

 

3. All at once, all at first glance, I knew it was you. It started off in small increments, the smallest hint of an interest. It’s not like I’m proud of it in any way, but I've always known myself to be noncommittal, really, ask any of my past lovers and they'll tell you the same about me. Still, if they knew you outside of the photographs, outside of the anecdotes I told them about you, I know they’ll adore you, they always do, when it comes to men who are no good to the soul.

 

4. I’ve never been good with words, so I always try to find you in everything I read, like you have somehow trespassed the worlds that authors have conjured. (Li-young Lee, The City in Which I Love You: “My tongue remembers your wounded flavor. The vein in my neck adores you.”) Here I am, still trying to learn how to unlearn you. Tell me I’m not insane for this.

 

5. In the morning, I have a compulsion routine in which I count how many times I lock and unlock and lock the door, how many times I sweep the floor clean of any traces of the people who have been in my home house, how many times I peel the skin off the corner of my thumb. This is not your fault. I just don’t want to be alone, so I delude myself by allowing my feet to pad across the empty hallways of my our house, only a little louder, only a little heavier. This way I won’t feel so alone. This way there will be no time to feel alone, no space to shudder at my loneliness.

 

6. Solitude, they have called it, as if there is anything about it to be given such a beautiful name. My darling, haven’t you ever felt so lonely that you felt like you could be slowly going insane at the thought of me? The only thing I fear is that you’ve stopped thinking of me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking of you the first time you looked at me, the first time I let you touch me. Have you touched anyone else, like that, like the way you touch the skin of my neck?

 

7. I had let out a shudder the first time someone else touched me and even until now, I still can’t keep my hands from shaking. Oh, come back, come back, oh how my body’s missed you. This is not a compulsion nor a routine. This is just my body’s way of showing that it misses you. I still can’t keep my hands from scrubbing my lips until they bleed scarlet when my wife, when our kids, when someone else kisses me.

 

8. My darling, my hands, the same hands I have had since I was seventeen and didn’t know better, still remember the rough edges of your skin. I didn’t mind at all how my fingers seemed to get caught up in the lines of your body. I didn’t mind at all how you grazed my hands with your body that seemed to be devoid of all gentleness. You were rougher where you were warmer, after all. No one has ever been able to love without some violence at the center.

 

9. Ah, my wife, my wife. She’s standing at the edge of my bed now, dressed in white lace. It’s the day of our anniversary, but I’ve stopped counting long ago how many years it has been. I’ll kiss her tonight to keep her quiet, maybe I can make her scream my name to distract her from the monotony of our days together. On these days I miss you. I miss how rough you are, how calloused your hands are. She’s soft, too soft. My hands can’t stop missing the jagged edges of your boy-body.

 

10. I’ll fuck her tonight, too. Although she prefers saying ‘make love.’ As if it would make any difference. The thing is, my darling, there is no love in this. There is no tenderness in this. I want to try and love her. I want to try and make her feel so full of me with other things than my body. But bear with me, bear with me, sex is the only way I know how to please her. I’ll fuck her until she’s breathless. Maybe the heaving of her chest will make it enough for her, at least for tonight. Maybe it would make up for the sheer lack of words shared between us, the deafening silence of our love. (Will Christopher Baer, Kiss me, Judas: “Which do you prefer, she says. Sex or violence? I try to smile. What’s the difference, really?”)

 

11. One of these days, I’ll be able to strip the clothes away from my body, look down at myself in the mirror without thinking of you, thinking of how you used to hold me. You used to hold me, in this same bed. You used to help me wash my hair in this same bathroom, in front of this same mirror. But there’s a new face towel hanging on the steel rack and every time I see it, I know you aren’t here. Your absence speaks louder than the days you were even here.

 

12. You know, my darling, I didn’t choose to love you. Not exactly. If I had met you at much older, perhaps at twenty five at most, at least, I would have been able to tell myself to steer my feet away. Stay away from you, maybe. I wouldn’t have known what I was so afraid of, but if only I’d been able to warn myself, maybe I wouldn’t have been so broken now, now. If only you hadn’t looked at me from across the street, if only I hadn’t been too weak, too impulsive. If only I hadn’t met you, if only you hadn’t been so beautiful.

 

13. If only I hadn’t loved you too much that I forgot how to breathe. (Maggie Nelson, Bluets: “For to wish to forget how much you loved someone—and then, to actually forget—can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat out of your heart.”)

 

14. When I was born into this world, the first thing that I could remember my father ever telling me was that boys don’t like other boys. At first, I was inclined to believe him. I hadn’t grown up like the son he and mother wanted, not quite like the others, so I tried, I tried so hard to please him. I shoved a finger down my throat every time I caught myself thinking of you . Though my love of other boys had come unbidden, a surprise, it was never a beautiful experience. It had never been beautiful, not with my hands tied.

 

15. I’ve always been a little afraid of germs. Sometime in the fifth grade I had convinced myself that they were out to kill me. I struggled out of my classmates’ scrabbling hands, excluded myself from their games that had involved too much filth, too much grime, too much of things that I couldn’t even see. I wanted to be able to see things. I wanted to be able to make sure they weren’t out to kill me. I cried the first time they touched me with their unwashed boy-hands. I cried the first time they let go and I only saw filth.

 

16. I see filth, still, every time my hair goes unwashed. The white towel has become gray now, damp with bath water. I see filth every time I look at my hair, my face, my towel. I see filth every time I see my body. And it isn’t because I feel so naked, so stripped raw. On the contrary, I feel more and more filthy when I try to cover up and only see myself come undone. I haven’t been able to look at myself and see beauty the moment you left me, standing alone in my sink.

 

17. When I was born into this world, my father had told me that boys don’t cry. So what was I doing now, my eyes going dry where I had rubbed too hard earlier, my skin rough like paper? Would you still love me if I hadn’t folded away from your touch because every single thing drove me to insanity, overwhelmed me? Would you still love me if I hadn’t been so stupid?

 

18. I’m crying, now. Some days I touch myself to the thought of you, my hand crawling down my pants in the middle of the night. I think of you all the time, your lips blown scarlet around me, your eyes only on me. Tell me, have you ever looked at anyone else like that? I haven’t. I know I couldn’t. The guilt would be far too much to bear. Today, I pull my hand away.

 

19. Tomorrow, maybe I could look up at the sky and not think of you like I always do. The horizon knows you better than I do, after all. The stubborn glare of the sun warming your skin as you walk past me. It has always felt like the sun has only ever been for you.

 

20. (Natalie Diaz, The Hand Has Twenty Seven Bones, These Hands If Not God: “In my language, the word for want and need are the same. Would you name a thing you cannot reach for, cannot hold?”) I want you, I know I want you. I know I need you because every time I think of you, I feel like I can breathe.

 

21. One of these days, maybe I can stop loving you. On the day of my twenty-third birthday, my only wish was for me to stop thinking of you. Let me be in peace. I met my future wife that day, all blonde hair cropped short and brown eyes that seemed golden in the sun. I would have sent you photographs of her if only we still kept in touch. You look a lot like her. Today, I’ll turn thirty-two and it’s still you. Still you.

 

22. Atsumu, how could it still be you, after all this time? I’ve always known that it would only be you . After all these years, how could it still be you that my body has been longing for? How can I still need you?

 

23. Some days, I look at the wedding ring on my finger and want to pull it off. Flush it down the toilet and watch it as it dissolves into nothing with the water. But I know it wouldn’t, and I knew I couldn’t. I’m the only one who deserves to have their heart broken. I didn’t quite have the heart to abandon this family. A family, if you could even call it one. A family without any love to blossom at its roots. We’re only children, really, my wife and I. We’d lost ourselves one day and tried to find them in each other. She smiles a lot more often than when I first found her. I could only hope that she stays happy, at least she stays happy.

 

24. I couldn’t tell myself that I loved her. Not quite yet, not quite enough. I didn’t quite love her enough to lie beside her willingly when I get off work. She feeds me, sure, she’s always been a good cook. She tries hard, I know she does. She tries hard to cater to me, make me those tuna rolls I like best. Ochazuke, on a good day. She tries so hard to make it enough, tend to me with a whole buffet enough for a small country. But I’m not hungry, I’m empty. There’s little else left to satiate an empty man. Not banquets, not crumbs.

 

25. (Olivia Laing, The Lonely City, Adventures in the Art of Being Alone: “What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.”) I have never known what being lonely feels like. All I know is that it’s slowly driving me to my limits, parameters.

 

26. At night, I performed my rituals. Brushed my hair out free of tangles. Brushed my teeth too. Twice, just for good measure. I couldn’t help but miss the feeling of your tongue in my mouth, so I tried to scrub it off. At night, I tucked myself in the sheets and tried hard not to dream of you. Tried hard for a night of peace.

 

27. Atsumu. Atsumu. Oh, Atsumu. How could you leave me to feel so lonely? How could you leave me?

 

28. There had been a moment in our third year of high school when you had tucked my shaking hands in the pockets of your jacket. I’d already forgotten the color of the clothes you wore back then, but I know I couldn’t forget the color of the flush spread across your face that night. I knew I couldn’t forget the color of the warmth you showed me, so rarely. Oh darling, why was your warmth such a rare beautiful thing?

 

29. I woke up and found out that I couldn’t love you any less than before. And so I woke up and found myself loving you even more. Every bit of you immortalized. Every breath you take memorialized. You’re nothing but a memory now. You’re nothing but something I can look back on and feel everything in my bones.

 

30. Still, I keep the lights open in case you come in. Wait for you to come back. You can knock, only twice at most, until you find me in front of you. I’ll never keep you waiting. I’ll never keep you waiting, you know that. You’ll hear me scurrying to open the door. You’ll find my door locked, but the latch open. The key, in case you need anything from me, is tucked safely underneath the vase of purple flowers. They’re fake. We haven’t had the time to buy them these days.

 

31. Let the lights in. Blow the candles out. I’ll let myself breathe in the smoke, pretend that all this blowing, all this company doesn’t bother me. I’ll thank all of them for coming to the birthday party that my cousin has arranged. He’s married now, to the man of his dreams. My heart swells with pride for both of them, but I couldn’t help but feel envious. Envy is such a disgusting thing for me to feel, so I shove my finger down my throat again. How could I be envious, how could I when it was me who didn’t take the chance?

 

32. If you ever come back oh please oh please Atsumu oh I want you to come back , I want you to know that I am happy now. Oh God, I have never felt any more lonely . I am not living in a loveless romance. Please please please help me escape . I hope you are too. I want you to be happy like I am because you made me happy once. I need you . I want you to be happy for me, for you. I need you so I can be happy