Well-worn paperbacks by Mishima and Trotsky lay on the bed, purchased at the used bookstore on Bleecker Street. There is an inscription in the latter book. Reading the inscription of Trotskyists in love in the mid-1980s motivated me to buy it in a store illegally open during the pandemic.
“Our love is forever, comrade. Let us stand together,” was the inscription. A young hand, and quite romantic in thinking of revolution. Bread and roses alongside kisses and caresses for the working class. Rather striking.
This Trotskyist had fallen in love, but the other party was changing her mind.
The pressure of separation during the COVID-19 pandemic was proving too much for both of us. It was supposed to be two weeks. Those two weeks kept getting extended into forever.
Love is forever, but relationships are another matter altogether.
I was coming to grips with that painfulness.
As I paced the living room, I felt uninvited in my own apartment; an alien behind the curtains that opened to the river and Brooklyn beyond.
I searched into memory to my earliest clear memory. The fragment was sitting in a boat on an Arkansas lake with my mother and grandfather. I was two.
But my clearest recovered narrative dates to my third birthday.
I wore a light blue and white striped short-sleeved button-down shirt and navy trousers. It was already hot and muggy in East Texas. My mother and grandfather were both at work, but my grandmother baked a chocolate cake. I helped with the icing.
She shooed me off.
My grandmother slid the glass door open.
My memory got weird then. For as long as I recalled, I saw myself from behind, bathed in light, stepping forward into the back yard. The swing set was to my right, and in the rear was the wire-fenced space where they kept Misty, my grandfather’s greyhound. They built that when I was a baby because the dog was so big and wild. She would always stick her snout through the wire. I would scratch her nose.
I don’t recall ever petting her.
Then memory returns to my perspective, and I am on the swing. For a three-year-old I could pull high, and I would fall into daydreams.
When my girlfriend and I met, we discovered we shared the same birthday.
She was born on my third birthday, on the afternoon while I was on the swing, bathed in springtime Texas sunlight. Dreaming.
She called as I was getting ready for bed.
We talked. Nothing memorable. Until the end. Everything that sticks to you is that coda.
Because it was.
I love you.
I love you.
Whatever that is, she murmured.
I go to bed, wishing to return to three years old. When she was born.
Mike Lee is a writer, editor and photographer in New York City. His work appears in Eunoia Review, Lunate, Ghost Parachute and many others. A story collection, The Northern Line, is coming out early next year from Atmosphere Press.