For this exercise, I offered three prompts:
A temporary malady
Wanting a bigger life
That’s the way love goes.
We wrote for 15 minutes in response, anything that came to mind.
Offering two or three phrases as prompts gives the writers some choice; they can write in response to one now and take a few home with them. Sometimes though, all of the phrases seem to tell a story.
Here’s what I wrote in response.
It’s a temporary malady, I want to tell him. It won’t hurt forever. It’s a loss, but not a death, really. A broken heart is an ending, but not a death. You’ll heal, I want to tell him.
And there he sits, so dignified in his snug fitting, periwinkle, long-sleeve tee, the smart grey vest. He’s wearing a new version of facial hair as art: perfectly sculpted. You’re nothing but beautiful, I want to tell him, as we press our forks into the squash dumplings, breaking them cleanly in half.
The mornings are the hardest, he says. So lonely and empty, no good morning phone calls at 9:00 a.m. on the dot, no sweet texts. Nothing but emptiness. Just me, alone in the world, he says.
I want to tell him that later he will find those mornings precious, he will wake without the alarm one rare lazy day, and feel happy, peaceful, content in his own bed, in his own company. He will feel beautiful without having to be told he’s beautiful. He will shower and shave and eat his toast and listen to the news and he will feel safe again, finally, alone.
I never thought I could feel love like this, he says, and I want to tell him it’s universal. Love. Heartache. The fracture he writes about. The bone sets, and broken bones are stronger when healed. He listens, but he doesn’t believe any of it yet, just as I didn’t. I sat at a dining table and thought I will never have love like that again. But I did. I did. The possibilities are endless, I want to tell him. Endless.
You might get asked out to coffee in the Safeway parking lot, on a too hot day in October, the trunk of your car wide open, your groceries in their floppy, mismatched canvas bags, your underarms sweating. Or you might re-ignite an old flame, give your phone number to the flirtatious waiter, meet a man on a grey day in Dolores Park when his King Charles Spaniel decides you and only you are kissable.
These things happen, you want to tell him. But you know how it feels to be told such things; they are someone else’s truths, not yours. Someone else’s truth. Your reality—his reality—is nothing but emptiness and an aging body, a cold bed, lips hungry for a kiss. Infinite loneliness.
He doesn’t want dessert, so you pay the bill and he invites you out dancing. Two hours later you’re both in a room filled with beautiful bodies. Any one of them could be your next lover, you want to tell him. The best sex you ever had, your next big big love. You want to tell him this, but the music is too loud, and besides, he’s smiling now. The flashing lights behind him, the deejay bobbing to the beat, the whole crowd swaying together, lost this way.