I once saw your back retreating at the end of an alleyway. I ran after you, calling out, still not daring to believe that it was you at last—but you were already gone as I emerged onto the street that bears your name. Your face was in every window, I counted 365 in a circle, the panorama of windows like an endless smile full of your clear and shining teeth. Still I couldn’t find you, though a paper plane flew by dragging a banner on which was printed the unmistakable wrinkles tiered beneath your eyes, the rows of seats in the skin beneath your mobile eyes, those fluid and humorous actors enacting the heraldic pageantry of your persona. Because you filled the world, I thought you were the world and the world was you—which rendered you invisible to me.
Stefan, I remember when our umbilical cord had not snarled up like a curly phone-cord. You’d stayed in the womb till long past high-school, and when you emerged, you had to run ads for yourself everywhere, just to convince yourself to vote for you: ads in the silver spoons of the eyes of others, ads in the wonderfully simple world of the report card, ads in the pulp heroes who only moved once possessed by your ghost sneering its signature sneer. But you, you wiseass, you did not buy what you sold; you knew better, mostly, except that you didn’t see the other meaning of the expression you made when you turned your eyes to heaven. Then came the first ads against you, the hate campaigns in every passing mind, the warnings printed across your mirrors: Objects in the past may be closer than they appear. You looked away and into your coffee cup, but rising up from its center, vomiting black streams from its ears and eyes and mouth, was my face. You ran to the toilet and leaned over it heaving and in doing so almost kissed—my rising face, with its third eye opening in its ear and its fourth eye in its mouth. But you handled it well: you let your entire house turn into us, and then, cocking your heart jauntily over one ear, you bravely opened the door deep in yourself, only to find another door, and behind it another—and much later, among the thousands of doors, in a maze of 365 stairways, you began playing the telephone game with me, a row of our selves passing on messages along the cord of our umbilical world, your long-lost voice fuzzed out like a peach, telling me what I most wanted but could not hear, telling me what I’d forgotten.
Stefan, I remember when I realized you were not only the matador, the bull, the cape, and the audience—but the joke too.
And that you were funny.
Stefan, I remember shaking your hand on a rooftop with all the stars splitting in three, I remember the blue Plutonic sunset and the Venusian flytraps nodding against the jewel-crowned horizon. I looked at my hand and you’d stained it the blue of you, against the night I held up my hand, my five fingers full of sky. Your message had filtered through 365 selves to me, and you’d said that the Earth is best appreciated from the moon. But I didn’t have you, I only saw you watching me from the windows, so I lay in the phosphorescent grass and let outer space breathe upon me, and the frogs chanted like Gregorian monks, and twinned lights speared out from other lives navigating the murk, their presence reminding me that not every earthquake could be traced to my faults—and for a moment, with the night licking the top of my head, I understood the bliss of being forgotten. Then I forgot what I’d understood, then I forgot that I’d understood. Then I forgot that I’d forgotten.
Stefan, I used to know your name, but I tongued it so many times that it melted from my mouth, the meaning fizzed away, and now I know you by your vibration, the signature of your breath, your familiar footsteps up the stairs of my spine, your iambic gait as you thump across the roof of my universe. I know you by the mountain ridges on the bottom of your feet, and the grandiose canyons through the bottom of which the frothing river of your blood walks. I know your skin is a blanket and your hair a flat alphabet, your nose a sundial and your nipples two freestanding elevators down to the whirring complex of your heart, all that pumping machinery like a throbbing bomb cradled by your ribs’ white fingers. In your stomach floats a city, your body is a symphony of cacophonies, and above all this off-white noise, the two sides of your brain are playing Ping-Pong. Neither side ever misses, and no point has ever been scored. Or is that the point?
Stefan, I have a wishbone to pick with you, I tapped you on the back in the mirror but you refused to turn and face my music. Whenever you see me, you close your mirror eyes and inhale—why? So okay, I used to ask myself why you wouldn’t date me. Sure, I obsessed. Fine: I carried around your picture till I forgot it was you. And no doubt I did stay up many nights just to hear a single sentence of yours relayed all the way from the neighboring nebula, and those weak white words made all my worry wars worth my wiles. But now I’ve accepted that I’m just not your taste and there’s nothing you can change, the desire just isn’t there—and honestly, I wish you well. It’s a shame we couldn’t make it work, that you couldn’t find even a little fire for me, I dressed so carefully for you, I styled my hair and baked my abs in the oven and memorized every last rule you’d set for yourself, and I was really dreaming we could—but no, sorry, I’ll stop. I get it; I do. I swear. Can we be friends?
I just can’t imagine living without you.