You carried me for eight years, and now I am going to carry myself

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Photo: Jennifer Lucero / EyeEm / Getty Images

I’m sorry I brought you to the city.

I’m sorry we ever left the mountain, I’m sorry the last four years of your life were attached to the end of a leash, and I’m sorry I didn’t take you swimming enough when we came here. I’m sorry for that time we had been driving for 12 hours, and I yelled at you in the car for trying to climb from the back seat into my lap in the middle of the night somewhere in Ohio. I’m sorry for every walk that wasn’t long enough because I was tired after work. …

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I am listening for
signs of life, listening because
I don’t trust the horizon, and so much can be held in the mouth,

I am biting down.

My body is a desert among deserts, a sea of
individual deserts
And sometimes I hold my breath
in case I’ve missed a pulse

There has got to be water.

If you’re out there. If you’re out there,
I am alive, too

Artwork by Roman Iced Juice

The easiest part is
falling backwards
and knowing already
what the impact feels like,
counting the moments
suspended in air
and bracing
for the pavement
because you know
exactly where your ribs
will crack.

And eventually
you stop explaining
the velocity.

Your secrets are
small music box movements.
Winding. Slowing. Stopping.
And you keep humming the melody
in the dark
by yourself
ashamed to want the song
more than you want yourself.

You asked once
what I was so afraid of
and it was this:
the silence,
like having all the wind knocked out
like choking
after I spill the words
I have been holding,
every time, worried it will turn out
like this

It was this.

Waiting to know
if even whores are
lovable, wantable, recognizable

Waiting in the thick, palpable quiet
and then leaving
empty handed
every time.

It was this.

Since publishing my last set of essays, my inbox has been full of confessions from strangers around the world, telling me their stories that mirror my stories, thanking me for finding words in the catacombs of their silences, in all of our silences.

We are messy and tempestuous because we are made of water and ghosts, because we are people, because we contain within us entire civilizations and abandoned cities and monsters and floods and also miles of desert where there is nothing to drink but our own tears.

And with every confession we offer, we become somebody’s confessor. …

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I need to believe you are good, in case this never gets better. In case there is never a resolution, in case all that is left here is silence, the kind that is thick, palpable. In case it is just ghosts.

In case it someday feels like that town in Pennsylvania, the one with the fire underneath that has been sitting on a burning mine labyrinth for 56 years, what if you are like that? What if you never actually leave? I have washed the sheets, but I am still finding your hair on pillowcases, so I need to believe you are good, because if I do not, it will mean there is something terrible still permeating all the parts of my life, especially the insignificant ones. …

You are still
entirely whole,
made of all the parts of
what you have loved
even on the drive back
alone in the car, even with your
pockets full of lists of what you have
even helpless,
you are still intact

Sometimes there is just a
series of hallways
and burned out light bulbs
and sometimes it is cold enough
in June
to need a scarf
and there are not enough blankets
and there is not enough time

And sometimes you will
be afraid of the dark, still
because it will mean
there are days and years
at the end of these hallways
and you will be worried
you have not brought everything with you
But every time you held your heart out
cupped like a vessel
and you let it fill
and you found
hearts can spill, too,
there were birds in your bones
building houses
made of every small thing you gave away
so that it would be here for you
for when you are afraid
you cannot carry…

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We were not dating, you were not my boyfriend, we were beyond those sorts of commitments, we were so woke, we could transcend all those prickly, binding words. Our generation does not like definitions, we do not like to be restrained, you were not my boyfriend. We were not dating.

We were not dating, we were friends, just friends, my guy, so it meant you did not have to return my phone calls and you did anyway, so that meant I was special. We were post-modern friends engaging in post-mortem love, except you’d think dystopian love would be more impactful because it’s all you get in a world full of poisoned water and dying bees. You’d think nihilist millennial love would make you dig your fingers in and hold on because you cannot know when anything will be gone. We cannot even afford to be alive, you’d think we would know how precious it is to intertwine fingers and fall asleep feeling wanted. …

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I am harboring pieces of him like fugitives, stuck here, a cluster of cells and soul, and this ghost does not want to go. Inside my body it is a collection of memories, too. We made this in the dark or in the morning, he and I, each time with our hands in each other’s hair, each time with poems and confessions and exclamations of love. This ghost is here because once, somebody loved me. I place my hands over my abdomen, I press down, I say, Did you just come here to die?

Did you, darling disaster, you simple, barbaric accident, did you just come here so that you could give me no choices, so that I could wonder if I might have wanted you, did you come here so that I could lay on the shower floor wiping blood off my thighs, alone, so that I could wonder if maybe the blood would not stop and I could die with you? Did you come here for this? Just this? Did you decide you would build a home, uninvited, to remind my body that it can be broken? I didn’t ask you to come here. …

Rock bottom
for a woman
is sobbing in your friend’s arms,
How did I get like this? I am so smart, I am so smart,
how did I
get like this
when I am so smart?
and no amount of reckoning
can make you
think it was
not your fault
because you are smart
You were supposed to be better
by now


Nina Szarka

Nina Szarka is a poet, essayist, and lunatic who enjoys carnivals after dark and peeling small citrus fruits.

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