A Distance Not Measured In Miles

Is it a thousand miles? I could drive there in a day but still it wouldn’t bring us any closer. The space between us is measured in silence now.

Every day I read the weather forecast for the far flung town you now call home, yet no matter how I try to imagine the way you will sweat or shiver all I possess is a number in plain ink and a vague idea. This is what remains of years.

But I – we – are not alone in this.

Robert, 44, lives a few streets over from his ex-wife and never sees her, not even in the local shops on a Saturday morning. He still can’t imagine how it all came to nothing.

Julia, 20, wonders why the man who took her virginity doesn’t call her anymore. He emails but never speaks. His embrace has become a series of letters on a screen, her disembodied lover. She could catch a bus to his flat but she is terrified.

Anthony, 73, recalls a girl he knew for one week when he was a teenager. His partner of forty eight years, Gail, knows only that her husband is a bit removed; always has been. He never mentions Penny to her. Gail has often wondered where Anthony goes when they make love but he has not said. He sees Penny everywhere but nowhere; and it still runs a knife through him. Slowly, he is bleeding to death for a girl composed entirely of memory.

I am afraid that I will end like up Anthony, stirring ashes long cold, hoping perhaps that some chance wind will shift them into the likeness of you.

It has not yet been two years since you took the last of what you considered to be rightfully yours and left big gaps in our house. Spaces not yet filled, except by horrifying stillness.

Veronica, 39, says much the same about the quiet that greets her when she gets home from work. Her lover, Marianne, an older woman, passed away not long ago. Veronica remembers that the aroma of Marianne’s cooking used to welcome her. The pots and pans are still there, close enough to touch, to pick up, to use as if they were hers; but the kitchen seems a long way away most evenings.

Jeremy, 18, plays his guitar and thinks about the girl who detonated inside him. He is full of teenage intensity for his love. She is at the same party. There she is, so divine. Just two metres away. But untouchable tonight.

Like you on the other end of the phone. I know the number off by heart. I am ten quick digits from the sound of your voice, from something you might say that will help me feel okay before I sleep. Of course, I will not, do not call. The time for that has passed. You have moved on and I respect that.

Stewart, 55, struggles with the idea that his wife has decided to strike out on her own. He finds it hard to accept that there isn’t another man, an ulterior motive. Whenever he visits his wife and sits opposite her he feels that he needs a telescope to see her. Somewhere along the line he lost sight of her, and she stopped waving.

Yungchen, 29, left her country of birth for a love she thought would bridge the miles. Six months later she finds herself alone. She calls him and leaves messages, knowing that her words will swirl in the air around him, will get inside him. At times she feels that she is right next to him … but then she opens her eyes.

Dreams are like light speed travel, swiftly jetting me to the strangely configured house where we sit and talk it over, where we almost work it out. It hurts but you are near, and that I can bear more than the invisibility of waking. Dawn always rises like a ocean and you vanish over the horizon.

Satoro, 35, is on an oil rig, working hard for his future bride. All around him sea mist and equally lonesome men. On land, without him seeing it, she is drifting. The weeks apart are too much, the weeks together too little. Meanwhile, love waits a little closer at hand and she is sorely tempted.

Gayenendra, 13, knows he shouldn’t. There is a whole world between him and the older girl who works on his father’s farm. Still, he hangs around, enjoying the way her limbs move and the sound of her occasional laughter. He hovers nearby but remains at an impossible distance. She is too busy to notice.

For all this constant thinking of you – you are – I’m certain – simply going about your day. Your choice is made, your grief washed out of you long ago by tears that no longer well. This drama of mine falls on deaf ears, plays to an audience of no one. How is it that people who share everything end up with secrets?

Agnieska, 32, still can’t figure how her boyfriend kept his affair from her. She thought she knew him inside out. Now she feels defiled, like he knows too much about her. Even though he has since moved to another city she can still feels his thoughts, his insights, nesting inside her. She wants to buy a ticket to the other side of the universe but she knows that this will not cut him out.

You, 36, have asked me not to call. Not in so many words but nonetheless. You are posting divorce papers to me, which I will dutifully sign. I could drive for a thousand years then and still not get anywhere near you. We could share pleasantries, knowing what we know, yet not dare to venture across the newly dotted line that redefines, that annuls us.

Me, 40 … I listen to the CD you sent me for my birthday, an old favourite from the collection that was once ours. In the case you stuck a note saying that at long last you understood what they meant by love will tear us apart.

Distance, you said, exists in the most intimate spaces, like that between atoms. I feel it now, my love. I understand now what you had tried so hard to say. If only we had been a little closer.

[This letter is an excerpt from a series of related short stories called Longing.]

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