“These sheets will never get washed,” I think to myself as I yank the patterned cotton layers from my mattress and toss them in the darkest corner of my closet. I doubt I’ll ever move forward with trading in the imprints of your scent and skin and smiling face for the clean cover up of detergent- mountain fresh or gentle rain, crisp linen, French lavender, or otherwise. Instead I will leave a time capsule in memory of our many furious attempts at connection, of all of the ample opportunities we had to say, “I love you,” but never did.
Time will march on, because that’s what time does. I will wipe away all other remaining remembrances- the figurative and the literal- as if conducting a deep spring cleaning of your presence in my life. The empty beer bottle on the kitchen counter. The pocket change on the nightstand. That time you laughed so hard in the car. A million little nothings bleached and Fabreezed and cleared away until there is no existing evidence of any nothings at all. Except the sheets, hidden away from voyeurs and viewers and house guests, puddled in a disgraceful heap in the back, back, back of everything I might think and do and everything I try not to think and try not to do.
One day, in a not-too-distant future, my house and car and thoughts will be spotless of your spirit, except for those stale linens in that safe locker, and I will find myself flooded with advice from my dead grandfather. Overwhelmed with his clarity, I will cry.
One, Do not take any wooden nickels.
Two, Do not speak with a forked tongue.
Three, If someone tells you they do not want to be loved, believe them.
Those sheets will never get washed. I’m throwing them out in the garbage. I’m getting a new mattress. Moving to a smaller apartment in a bigger city where nobody knows your name or my proclivity for making heart-shaped mistakes. Then some day, on a regular day, an unremarkable day, somewhere between the shared appetizers and awkward first date conversations, somewhere between the harsh reminder of sunrise and the soft release of evening, I will go shopping for new sheets in a color you hate- not out of spite but because I genuinely like the color- and a person standing in the aisle beside me will look my direction, and See Me. Like nobody else has seen me before- exhausted and grieving and round with regret. They’ll know, without words, to cup together their hands, all at once strong and firm and soft and tender, and dive them straight into my chest. They’ll grab my weary, heavy, pounding, pulsing center and, holding on tight, will whisper past my ribcage “Rest now, gentle one. Stop working so hard to be loved. You are loved. You have always been loved, past galaxies and lives and language and time”.
I will sleep soundly that night, and all the other nights that follow. I will keep the floor of my closet swept and dusted and free from debris. I will wash my new sheets as often as I feel like they need cleaning. Because saving mementos is not necessary when people stay present. Desperate whiffs of stained fabric is silly when people stay put.