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Here’s what you need to know about our love: he told me the song that best captured how I made him feel was “Pale Blue Eyes.”

And that is a love song. That is maybe the love song. But it’s Lou Reed, so I’m not really sure if the song is about a person or if the song is about heroin.

What I’m trying to say is, what the man who loved me was telling me was You are a drug. What the man who loved me was really telling me was These things never end well.

I didn’t need him to tell me that. I didn’t need anybody to tell me that. I already knew it. Everyone knew it. Lou Reed knew it.

the fact that you are married/ only proves you’re my best friend/ but it’s truly, truly a sin

He was married. There’s no real reason to hide that fact. And yet I find that I want to bury it in the depths of this essay with some throwaway reference to his wife or child. But I am not going to do that. He was married and he had a young son. For awhile there, he did not have a child, but then he did. Once, when we were in the grass in the park surrounded by bees that could close up our throats in a minute if their stingers sunk in, a list fell out of his pocket. His wife made lists and this was a list of baby names.

I can never say I didn’t know what I was doing.

And I knew everything about it was wrong.

It was a very specific mating dance. We talked about the times we had come close to death, our own and others. We were showing one another our wounds. Tearing off the scabs and pressing up close so that our opened skin would stick together. We fell in love.

I told him about a time ten years before we met, the time I swam out too far on a gray day at the beach, a day when the sky and the sea and the sand were all the same. They were all empty. It was mid-June in the middle of the week and no one had come out to the coast yet. Everyone was still back in the city. The only people who could see me were my brother and his friend. Neither of them were any good in the water.  I like to say that they were playing an awkward game of Frisbee on the sand, but I’m not sure how true that is. I had just graduated from high school and was almost seventeen. My parents were back at the house, fighting. We had the house for a week and I don’t think they put on their bathing suits the entire time.

It took the frantic cries of my brother and the sight of his figure running up and down the shoreline, stopping once in a panic to vomit, for me to realize that I was out too far. It was only when I tried to go back in that I realized I had a choice to make. I felt the heaviness of my legs and let my body go, wanting to see if it would descend or rise, but it didn’t really feel like figuring anything out for me. I swam back slowly, parallel to the shore like I knew I was supposed to, each extension of my arms and legs offering silent reassurance that I could make it to safety. Back onshore, my brother wrapped me in a towel and his friend stood there nervously, scratching at the place where his right arm ended in a few long-faded, neatly sewn stitches. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt more alone.

That was my story. It was a story I liked to tell because it showed that I had wanted to save myself. It showed the person I wanted to be.

He told me his stories. Back then, he was the one who had more to reveal. There were the times he had taken too many pills. There was the time he’d had his life threatened by an obese meth dealer in San Francisco due to a rather large outstanding balance. He paid him off by giving the fat man his Princeton football jacket and hightailing it out of the building while the dealer was still in the middle of a sponge bath. There was the time he had hypothermia. There was the time he bleached his teeth in a guest house in Vietnam and had a bad reaction to whatever it was that was in his mouth; he lay there, feverish and shivering, on a thin mattress while his wife sat laughing, high on speed, watching a Japanese game show on the static-ridden television.

Being with him felt like riding a bike down a slick, shiny hill, riding down together, putting our arms up in the air and not caring if the brakes gave out under our weight.

It wasn’t just our own deaths we talked about. His father had died. I was afraid that my father was dying. He showed me a picture of his father. The picture was old and in it his father was holding a snake and, next to the snake, there he was at the age of about three reaching out to touch its scales. He looked at me then and said, That’s the problem with me and you. Nobody ever told me not to play with snakes.

This man whom I was in love with said to me You eviscerate people. 

He said this and I still don’t know if it’s true or if I even want it to be true, but I know that it hurt me then. Because what I felt was that I was the one who had been scraped clean, that everything inside of me had ossified and that I was a shell. He could look at me and break me apart. He could stand me, naked, in front of him and paint me white with his eyes and I would ask him What are you doing? Why do you look at me like that? And he would say that he never wanted to forget me, if anything happened, he always wanted to be able to see me.

Now I have to wonder if it was really me that he saw.

thought of you as my mountain top/ thought of you as my peak/thought of you as everything/ I’ve had but couldn’t keep/ I’ve had but couldn’t keep

What I learned after a while, what it took me maybe too long to learn, is that there was no place to go. I learned that you cannot build anything lifelike on a pile of corpses. We were both people who had been chasing death so that it couldn’t catch us. The simplicity of it stings.

He rode his bike to me, one of the last times we were together. It was on this bike ride that he was hit by a car. He had been texting me and hadn’t seen the car turning. He still came to me. When it was time for him to leave, we went outside and I sat on the back of his bike and we rode around the park. He said to me, Do you think we could fly somewhere? I don’t think I would ever want the plane to land.

The question lowered like a noose, but I was beginning to know enough not to stick my head out anymore.

skip a life completely/stuff it in a cup

Later, after I went home, he went to the hospital and spent the next few days on lots of pain meds for his bruised vertebrae.

 

The actual ending is unimportant. The actual ending made it seem like nothing had ever happened, or that what had happened had occurred in some other world, on some other plane. He told me once that he was sure I existed on another plane, that I was not of this Earth and had invaded his life and now I was everywhere. I hated that he said that.

I wanted so badly to hate him.

 

I still see him sometimes. We live closer than is maybe comfortable. He used to be a writer. Now he is studying to be a doctor. Once I saw him riding his bike. He wears a helmet now.

One of the last things he said to me was, You’re like a fallen angel.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask, How can you tell that I’ve landed? How will I know that I’ve hit the ground?

Landing is the hardest part.

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KRISTIN IVERSEN is a writer from New York. She lives in Brooklyn with two children and a dog. The children are hers for now, but they are growing up fast. The dog, it seems, will be hers forever.

She is the associate editor at Brooklyn Magazine and a writer for The L Magazine.

Follow her on twitter @kmiversen

4 responses to “Landing is the Hardest Part”

  1. Lovely piece. As I had my own relationship that intruded on someone else’s vows, lines like this especially hit home for me:

    “Being with him felt like riding a bike down a slick, shiny hill, riding down together, putting our arms up in the air and not caring if the brakes gave out under our weight.”

    I’ll always have a soft spot for those who ride around without helmets. Thanks, Kristin, for posting here.

    • Kristin Iversen says:

      Thank you, Nat.
      A sympathetic comment on a perhaps unsympathetic subject is truly appreciated.
      Here’s to rolling down hills in the rain!

  2. Kristin this is one of my favorite things I have read on tnb. It was so poetic, vivid, and painful. The image of your brother panicking on the shore gave me chills. Love is so painful. It’s painful when it doesn’t click and somehow sometimes even more painful when it does. Thanks for this. Peace.

  3. Paula Younger says:

    Thanks for sharing, Kristin. What a lovely essay. Your language and sensory details are beautiful, but I appreciate your awareness and honesty. The detail of being with him and the list of baby names in his pocket is stellar, so is his random bike accident. The stories you two shared are fantastic and intimate while also distant.
    I loved your essay. So glad I had the chance to read your writing.

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