Invisible Terrain

It begins with not being able to write anything.

You wake up one day and you simply can’t. Not a story, not a sentiment, not a sentence that makes a difference the way they used to. Sure, you write copy and brochure text and blog posts for psychic networks, but those are bushels of words. You miss the whole trees they used to fall from.

This is the first part of you to bend without breaking. This is the first time you would give anything for a clean fracture to avoid dull persistent aching. This is the first time you feel you are traveling blindly through some new land, with valleys and pavement you cannot see and keep tripping over. This is where your sentences start to begin with the same two words — This is, I go, I miss — anything to get things flowing.

Every time someone accuses you of running or some other verb that implies avoidance, you remind yourself of where you’ve always felt most present — away and alone. It has never felt like escapism. More like the right place at the right time and to hell with anyone who didn’t approve of your destination.

That you’re running from words is an accusation you can’t fight the same as others’ criticisms. That there’s someone you’ve run to is an understanding you can’t shake.

Your first Christmas together, he is seeing someone else. He was with you and now he’s with her. There are non-refundable plane tickets involved. There are awkward celebrations with his family, where his sister gives you a $5 gift certificate to Starbucks and his mother puts a Clementine at the bottom of a makeshift stocking. You take the family portrait.

There is a silent wish you make the day before you leave, when his head is pressed against your naked belly, when you realize this is your last chance. You wish that he will love you again.

Your wish comes true.

Your second Christmas, you’ve been living together on the west coast for more than a few months. Your family and friends all live farther than a day’s drive away now. You don’t know the roads home from here, have never driven the thousands of miles in between.

Your writing won’t come, your bad moods won’t stop. You choose silence in the passenger seat, let him tell stories. He tries to make you feel better, you try to help yourself. One night you go from half-sleeping to crying, but it’s too dark for him to see. You crawl out of the bed you share to the green armchair, the one you love that he wants to sell, the one that’s his, not yours, and sob into a thick cotton blanket there. Sobs that rack your body — make you bite your fist to keep silent and blur the lights on the Christmas tree. You rub the upholstery with scratchy gold trim and wonder how you let it get this way, this hard.

In the morning, it feels like a dream. He gently wakes you, kneeling by your side of the bed to kiss you and whisper how good the day will be. You remember why it has gone on so long in this moment, but, for once, it doesn’t change what happened in that chair. Your love is a ticking time bomb now. Your love is something you left in another room. You want to love this familiar person, but the distance feels unchangeable now. You’re not sure you have another Christmas or silent car ride in you.

In January, you’re back East and he comes to visit the place where you were born. You shovel snow together and teach this man who never had pets how to introduce himself to your cats: with a gently outstretched hand to the tips of their noses.

He meets your relatives, your best friend, your childhood bedroom. He puts his palms under your chin and holds your cheekbones with his fingers and tells you he’s glad he came.

You love him more than you realized.

For never accusing you of running. For the worries you spill to him in bed at night, for the easy way he speaks to everyone he meets, for his patience unending. You love him for the distance, the invisible terrain, he crosses every day to be with you.

Your words return a week later.

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