Even though I scanned my brain for information, I couldn’t figure out how I felt. So I scanned my body instead and found fragments of sadness there: fear in the shape of my shoulders and the way the oxygen didn’t seem to go as far down into my lungs as usual. Going from the cold air back into a centrifuge of warmth, I let you both envelop me in your cocoon of love, hot mug of tea not quite waiting but almost—so welcome was I to help myself. Then again, it was still my home; I had another week of paid rent left. Maybe it would always be one of my homes, because of all the months I spent there feeling the way I did.
I took photos of the two of you in bed together for a project that involved me wandering all over London taking pictures of couples. Biking in the rain, hopping on buses, making friends with strangers in houses I’d never been to, thrust all of a sudden into someone else’s love story. What I unearthed was surprising and miraculous, as if I was a scientist finding undeniable proof of the existence of something I had never truly believed could be real. I found it in the most commonplace moments, the grimiest bathrooms, the milliseconds between a blank expression and a cracked smile, the prolonged eye contact I had never had the courage to sustain with anyone. I saw it beginning to bloom on sheets molded to bodies. In the angle of a neck or the pronunciation of a word.
And here I was, with a one-way ticket to a city halfway across the world where I knew no one and no one knew me. Did this decision make me brave? Or just a coward plotting her escape? But I knew that in life there was nothing I could hide from forever. Was I testing myself to see if I deserved to be alive, because deep down I didn’t think I did?
Under the sheets you both resumed your natural tenderness, when before, at the sight of my lens, you had both become shy and intimidated—modes of being I wasn’t used to seeing either of you in. I had liked being a witness to your mutual shyness, but it disappeared as soon as you lay side by side. Toni had her hair done in Marilyn Monroe-esque bleached curls down the sides of her black silk pajamas, and you had your ochre brown kimono on, as usual (the one you always wore around the house to cook and clean and just be you).
In bed I asked you both what you had learned from each other. Toni said that your unapologetic openness had taught her to be brave with her sexuality. That you had shown her that girl-on-girl experiences in childhood were not abnormal but, in fact, the very opposite. She said that you had taught her how to share food and that you were more generous with it than anyone else she knew. You joked about getting matching tattoos of crisp packets on your thighs. You told Toni that she had taught you how to express your emotions freely, to learn to love. This was one of the most beautiful moments of the night and I knew as it was happening that my memory and my words afterward would never do it any justice.
I straddled you both on the bed with the camera in my hands, shining an awkward phone light on your faces, pink tulle bags slipped onto the lightbulbs in Toni’s room so that everything was tinted rose. I wondered how the photos would come out, but I liked that I couldn’t see them yet. It meant that I would remember what I saw with my eyes instead of on a screen. I thought of Grant downstairs, a floor below, the past just a few feet away, and about how love is like muscle memory and there are some kinds your body can never let go of; that even if you’ve been gone for months or years, you can come back and feel it all over again, if not with your mind then with your body. Some part of me never wants to outgrow that urge, wants to keep it in my bones.
I went downstairs thinking I wouldn’t be longer than ten minutes—I had already stayed much later than I had promised myself—but by the time I left your room, it was past ten. We hugged for the longest I had hugged anyone in as long as I could remember, until it became tragic and then comical and then I forgot we were two people in separate skins. Just seeing you on your bed made me cry. My voice broke when I said I was going to write a book about my life and that it would have poems about you in it. I saw your face see my hurt and you came closer and that made me cry even harder. You were burning incense and candles and watching a video about simulation theory on your laptop, a huge chocolate bar lying open on your purple tie-dye sheets, the most typical Wednesday night of your life, a scene so heartbreakingly beautiful in its predictability that even recalling it now, hours later, makes me crumble.