sword of damocles

These days, we all sleep lightly, it seems. Before sunrise, there is stirring. Late spring - a time of transitions for us all. We lie alert in our beds, waiting. 

Over breakfast, I enumerate my anxieties and M. listens with the patience of the beleaguered. 

“You’ve got the Sword of Damocles hanging over you,” he says, when I finally pause for breath. 

“What happens, in the end, to Damocles?” I ask.

He pauses for a moment, looks down at his bowl. “I believe he went on to live a very happy, very full life,” he says. “Like, super happy.”

We laugh. 

“I don’t know,” he says, “but probably, he was cleaved in two. Right down the middle.” He gestures with his hand. 

“Oh sure,” I say, as I take the coffee mugs to the sink. “The easy way out.”

I am pawing through racks of sale dresses when L. calls, sounding blue. “I’m not feeling well,” she says. “Just not feeling very well.”

I ask: “Physically?”

“I think I’m getting over a cold,” she says. “So yes, partly.”

She tells me how much she hates being alone. How she thinks she will never meet anyone to share her life with. How she feels herself getting older. How she thinks time is running out. 

“What about S.?” I ask about the man a friend of hers wanted her to meet. 

“Oh, he has no interest in me,” she says. “I met him the other night. No interest.”

“How do you know?” I ask.

“Oh, I know.” She says: “No one I have ever dated has had a real job, or a plan - or ambition of any sort. He totally does. Why would he have any interest in me?”

I am resting the phone on my shoulder as I fumble with the hangers. I am holding an orange dress up, considering. 

“Why wouldn’t he?” I ask. “You have all those things too.”

“There was just nothing there, you know. Just - nothing.”

A woman approaches, reaches for the dresses I have draped over my arm, gestures toward the fitting rooms. I nod at her. 

“I’m sorry,” I say. “What can I do?”

She asks me what we’re doing for the weekend and I tell her. We make our plans.

“Go buy your dress,” she says.

I take my walk late in the afternoon and the neighborhood is alive in ways I rarely get to see. Children in brightly-colored shirts make their way home from school, holding hands. Kids circle the skate park on their bicycles, then stand, balanced on their pedals as if poised for flight. 

Behind the parking lot, there is a line at the ice cream truck that winds down the block. 

It is a stunning day, really - sunny and warm. People drive by in their cars with their windows down, fleshy arms hanging out, waving. I’m dressed as I typically am for my walk - long-sleeved black shirt and leggings, but in the early morning, it is still cool and damp. This afternoon, I almost instantly regret my choices. Everyone around me is in tank tops and short shorts and I feel self-conscious as I pass them, their eyes, it seems, on me. 

“It was one of the things that drew me to you,” my first love said, decades ago. “How you were always all buttoned up and covered. Even in the summer - all in black, like a little nun.”

We were walking by the river. It was late fall. “You left so much to the imagination,” he said. We stopped to sit on a bench, watch the joggers pass by.

“But what about now, when you don’t have to imagine anymore?”

He took my hand, squeezed it. “Just keeps getting better,” he said. “My imagination is not that good.” 

On the phone, before we hang up, L. says: “It seems wrong to be sad when the day is so beautiful.” 

“Yes,” I say, “I agree.” 

I take the long way back from the track to walk along the wide street where the front gardens of all the stately houses are in full bloom. 

The sharp edges of the curved garden beds, the grass so carefully tended you can see the meticulous path the mower made. The peach-colored azalea bushes in front of the gray wooden-shingled house. The lavender iris blooms swaying on their slender stalks behind the wrought iron fences. 

The golden dome of the Greek Orthodox church that sits high atop the stained glass panels, reflecting light, drawing the gaze upward. 

The sun on my skin. The salt on my lips. The breeze that cools the dampness on my face. 

Yes. 

Just past the ice cream truck, before the street opens out to the wide boulevard, a playground with its fence bolted shut. A bright yellow sign reads: CLOSED FOR SAFETY REASONS. 

Just beyond that, lying on the sidewalk, an old wooden dresser, abandoned. The drawers had been pulled out and stacked next to its frame. A few bent wire hangers had been tossed on top. 

I had just come up a bit of an incline, so perhaps I was looking for an excuse to pause, but something about it drew me in. I stopped for a closer look. I lifted the top drawer, the base of which was warped and bent from moisture. It seemed as though it had been left out there for some time. In the second drawer, there was writing inside. In black marker, in a looping script that reminded me of my own high-school journal handwriting, someone had written: 

Maybe it is enough that I loved you

The teenage heart in me swelled. I walked on from that spot, lifted. I wondered about the sweet, sad girl who stood leaning against her dresser, with her arm in the drawer, carefully scrawling the reminder to herself, the words visible, making the sentiment real. About the object of her affections, who could not return her love with the ardor she required. About all the possible ways the thought could have been completed, but instead, was left there - unfinished. All that was left unsaid.

How we ache to find the words to carry us in the moments we need to be carried. To find a way to say the things we leave unsaid.

Maybe on a day like today - with the bright sun high and the air sweet and warm, with the green grass and the orange blossoms and the heat - maybe, just for now for this moment, the words can be enough.