My life has taken on a rhythm of waiting for you and recovering from you.
You prise yourself from your wife and write to me—perhaps every month or so? That month shapes my days now, a cyclical ebb and flow. The first ten days after you’ve written are the best. Buoyed up by your interest, your words, I savour each last drop from them, take your latest work a line at a time. Suck the juice from a phrase over breakfast, another on the commute, pondering, searching, scanning. They’re filled with references and hidden meanings I’m forever afraid I’m too dumb to fathom—torturing me. Sometimes it seems that if I devoted the rest of my days to teasing out the meaning of a single half-line, I’d still never manage it. The weight of your learning and insight turning them juicy, low-hanging, yet resistant to the touch.
I learn your words so I can tell out my hours in them, mutter them like magic spells. Their rhythm pursues me as I clean and cook, inviting me to dance, giddy, joyous. Then, when I feel I’ve sucked all the goodness from their very marrow, I start to think how I might perhaps respond. At first I’m paralysed by my own inarticulacy; my worst fear that I might bore you. But the urge to explain myself to you, have you understand me, always overcomes my fear. Pathetic. I write some gibberish, trying to make sense, feeling like a dog delving in its own shit.
Even to give sensations a name is to make a lie of them. All that’s happening is me trying to impress you and you trying to understand the truth below my words. If I tell you I feel desperately sad, that’s simply a fiction, an attempt to give reason to a bodily response. Perhaps I feel a sort of clamouring wailing in my guts, a speeded heartbeat, but I am interpreting that physiological state for your benefit and edification, in a way I hope you’ll find interesting. Maybe it isn’t lost love and resultant sadness after all. Maybe it’s the start of gastric flu. All words are just lies and fancies; perhaps actions can be truthful. Your action in writing to me was a kindness, and gratefully accepted and valued as such. Please do it again. Don’t mind me if I interpret your words in a way that best pleases myself. Clearly you’ll do the same with my poor scribblings. If I could choose any kind of consolation for myself, it would be that the mess I’m in could provoke some beautiful response in you. I can’t turn my sordid little rage into beauty, but it pleases me to see a poet do it.
Eventually I get sick of myself and send my ramblings your way. Then the wait begins. You don’t reply instantly, of course. Why would you? You’re busy. Doubtless you have other, more pressing responsibilities you neglect when you write to me. My own neediness disgusts me. Do you call cheerily to your family, must write something for that lunatic, before you shut yourself away in your garret to scribble down the lines that bring me such comfort? What do you do when you’re not writing to me? How I wish I knew. Or do I? Perhaps I prefer to assume you only exist when you create. Between compositions, I can imagine you recharge your giant poet brain in some cryogenic suspension device. Common sense suggests this implausible. Probably you work, eat, bathe, breathe, love, sob, worry, very like a human being.
I’d like to think it means something to you too. It must, or why do it?
I’m good at waiting. Waiting is what I do. I seemed to spend all my schooldays waiting for them to stop, followed swiftly by my workdays. Waiting for Marc to notice me, want me; waiting for James to stop crying, eat lunch, practice spelling, do up his shoes, walk to the end of the road, go to sleep. But waiting for your response is the hardest I’ve ever had to endure. I’m never sure if the wait will end, nor how I’ll cope if it doesn’t. The day will come when you run out of words for me; when someone else captures your imagination, and my words stop. I don’t mean to blackmail you into continuing. Of course this must cease. You’ll tire of placating me. I’m a fathomless void where your words are concerned. But Lord, how I dread that day. Not yet, please God, not yet. I’ll wait a week, then two, then start to get anxious; hide my phone from myself so I can’t check for you, play games with the day—he’ll write by the school run, he’ll write when the rain stops. If I get my favourite table in the staffroom, I’ll hear today. Tonight, then. No, not tonight. Perhaps at 3 a.m. when inspiration seems to hit you hardest, so it’s waiting for me when I wake. That brief flicker of hope at my alarm clock’s cry, the thought of you brimming over, colouring the mundane, before snuffing itself out. Perhaps he’ll write if I stop caring. Then I start to make pacts with God—if I don’t lose my patience today, if I pitch my pennies in the charity box, take my tea sugarless, will you make him write then? I turn over tarot cards, looking for clues. Pathetic, I know. King of Cups, that’s you, and the cards counsel patience, tell me change will come if I wait for it. I sit, hands folded quietly on my lap, buoyed by their nonsense, a very model of patience, hoping someone will notice how bravely, quietly, I sit and wait, then feel inclined to reward me.
You’ve never promised me anything and of course I have no rights to demand anything. You write to me out of pure grace and favour and one day it will cease and I will deal with it. But for now, today, my need of you breaks me and I check my phone and when I see you’ve written, when I see your name, my whole being sags with relief.
It’s enough simply to see your name at first. An hour or more will pass before I allow myself to read your words; the anticipation is too delicious to rush through. Waiting is a joy when its reward is guaranteed. I hug the secret of your message close, enjoying the way it seasons my day, smothering James with kisses—poor long-suffering lad, sole recipient of my joy.
It’s frightening to need something so much and be so utterly unable to predict when it will end. I should prepare. But the thought of it ceasing chokes me. I’m addicted to your ability to explain me to myself, but more than that, your readiness to hear me. Thank you for hearing me. Please don’t stop.
Yours in grateful anticipation,
© 2019 Melissa Todd
Melissa Todd completed an MA in creative writing at Canterbury Christchurch in 2009, and writes novels, short stories and opinion pieces.