Hush now. Moonstuff outside the window. Objects orbiting in empty space, quiet & cold-armed in the evening air. You ever hear that saying, we see the same moon? It’s meant to be comforting but I’ve always found it a terrible thought. How can I be so close to someone & still miss them more than worlds, planets, songs. Please don’t answer that.
SCENE: I loved a girl & she didn’t love me back. They tell me I’m not supposed to spoil the ending for you so early, but I wanted us to be able to mourn in time with one another. I know you don’t know anything about her but the moon does, & isn’t that all that matters anyway?
SCENE: The first time I saw her, she was wearing a shirt the colour of almost. Mouth like alliance, eyes moon-sharp, a thousand miles away. Someplace far from here, another version of me still remembered how to remain silent. How to be a gentle thing in the choppiest of seas.
What you need to know is I’m quieter than most but never as quiet as I should be. My whole throat labours to still. I’m full of complaining crotchets, constantly tender, struggling to widen. Mostly they stay tight in my mouth but on my worst days I can’t stop myself from singing.
What I needed to know was if she felt the same way, so I told her. It’s a bad habit of mine: isn’t the moon beautiful tonight, also, I’m in love with you. That’s not really how it went but it might as well be. I’m pretty sure I compared her to the moon at least once. My first & best mistake.
The days after my I love you, the days before her I don’t,were a liminal space threaded into bonestuff, brilliant & voiceless, shifting in empty air. I inhabited the strangest heaven. I touched a piano for the first time in years. A single breath in: the colour I was never taught, shifting in the distance. The lover as the teller of the tale, holding absence in my mouth. & every promise too big to breathe without.
SCENE: Isn’t it funny how when you’re waiting for something, time runs both slow as a dream & fast as a scratched record? I feel sometimes as though waiting is the truest form of myself, the brightest space I know how to inhabit. Waiting always for happiness, for quiet, for a song I know by heart. Waiting for I love you too.
When I tell you I couldn’t play music, I need you to understand this is not the same as wouldn’t. There is proof of existence in the silence of a rest. A documenting in that wide gap between music & moon. This, of course, has nothing to do with anything—I didn’t want this to become a story about my piano, but I don’t think I have ever told a story that was not about my piano.
SCENE: The universe & the human body are mostly made up of empty space. This is something you learn early on if you wish to stay alive, so naturally, it’s something I was never particularly interested in learning.
But let’s rewind, start from a place before this pause. A cancerous thing was growing inside of me, all unintended rest, chaos theory, chalk-stained void on the floor. Every small death passed through my fingers like salt through seascape. It’s so much easier to be a fury, you know? It’s so much easier to give up on ghosting, walk into the mouth of noise. But my god, her hands made me want to play the piano again. That’s always how I know I’m fucked, when their hands are something music.
SCENE: I loved a girl. Can’t it end there? Do we have to include the next part? Okay. I loved a girl while the moon was speaking & she didn’t love me back. & isn’t that enough of a chasmic pause to last us all through a symphony, bobbing alone on freezing waves.
I’d stopped playing piano because of a diagnosis, stretched thin through moonstuff. Hyperacusis. The girl hadn’t heard of it before she met me. She barely played anymore either, but for her it was more the lack of time. That’s what she always told me, at least, but I suspect now, looking back, that it was something closer to my own pause than she was willing to admit. We can’t both forget the same things in the same key.
SCENE: It had been two years since I touched a keyboard. I think I always had this fantasy in my head of—when I finally started playing again—being magically as good as, maybe even better than, I’d been when I stopped. That’s not how it happened, but you knew that already. My fingers were clumsy, tripping over themselves. Unacquainted with ivory & sea salt. Like creatures under the false assumption they were still alive.
SCENE: You hope you can fast-forward through this part. This longing, airtime, shitty coffee from all the diners without wifi I visited so I could stop refreshing my email, my social media, text messages, waiting for her reply. You hope you can fast-forward through the part where you alternate listening to love & breakup songs, never sure which one is most appropriate for the moment. The part where you ask the moon to forgive you & the moon gives no answer.
She asked me once, before all this, what’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done, & I told her, getting out of bed this morning. I think she laughed but I could be making that up too.
These days it’s hard for me to write about her, & if I were a better person, maybe I could tell you that’s because it still hurts too much to think about what we could’ve had. Since I’m not that person, though, the truth is mostly I don’t write about her because I don’t remember much. There was a time when she was an ocean away yet I still knew—in my deepest empty like a heartbeat, a high tide—that we saw the same moon. These days she’s the same distance from me but we might as well be solar systems away.
What I do remember is that her favourite poems never changed but her favourite songs never stopped changing. I remember she liked kimchi & Chopin & Fibonacci sequences. That she was quiet as fog in real life but turned brilliantly loud behind a podium. That she was angry often but rarely let it show, & she was excited more often & never stopped letting people know. I remember she’s the only person I ever knew who loved the moon as much as I do.
Little things like that, you know? Things in the past tense that don’t come close to building a main act. But maybe they can bridge the space between. I’m counting on that. I have to know there’s a point in the sea shallow enough for me to stand.
SCENE: So humour me. Let’s say she laughed, like she didn’t know how it felt when every dream was about being eaten alive. She laughed like if I told her about the dreams, she’d ask about the nightmares. Like she didn’t already know. Like her hands on the other ends of oceans, phone lines, weren’t shaking like a canopy of close-but-not-quite.
Humour me. Let’s say she laughed, & let’s say I was sorry. Let’s say I apologised once more for all the ways I had learned to imitate tenderness. Out loud or in my head, it doesn’t matter.
Even if she did laugh, even if I was sorry, I still told the moon about her. The moon knew. The piano knew. Please, let me be sure of this one thing.
The night she said no, I dreamt of drowning. Girl with piano hands, multitudes beneath the surface. Eyes like killing, a contact light. Give me your sea, your orbit, your dust on the piano, your maybe I’ll see you again one day. The night she said no was a full moon. The sky bright as grief. I’m not making that up, I swear. I dreamt of how the first game I learned in childhood was violence.
SCENE: What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? Waking up this morning. Closing the piano for the last time. Telling you I loved you.
She didn’t laugh when I told her. I know that’s true.
SCENE: Love is the only way I know how to turn waiting into something noble. Meaning, outside the window, moonlight & obsession. Wanting like confessional & the danger of my own chest when equipped with sound. In this life, touch is enough.
When her no finally arrived in my inbox, it was three in the morning & I couldn’t sleep. My playlist of breakup songs had run to a stop hours before. I read the email, thinking: degrees of debris, little planet. Music as metamorphosis, quiet & rich & lovely, & this being the only real interlude. Moon in my mouth for safekeeping. Midspin orbitals. Nursing love in my palm until it called like night sky, stardust. Until I couldn’t tell if the warmth was coming from inside or outside of my body. Thinking: If I stay very still maybe there’ll be space to move inside this echo chamber. Sky against glass, her face at a distance that was never safe enough. Three in the morning, closer to ghosting, silence hanging tangible around my head, unbearable & innocent. I thought about the sea & the full moon & what it meant to love someone who was larger than they realised.
SCENE: I exhaled for the first time in two years, animal sound metal sound soft. Put down my phone & walked over to the piano. Ran my fingers over the keys.
(Silver-Tipped Swallow is a Half Mystic column about the ways in which music intertwines with our experiences in loving, losing, & lingering on what remains. This column, along with two more by the HM team & dozens more pieces of art, music, and writing by contributors, is published in Half Mystic Journal’s Issue VI: Cadenza. It is available for preorder now.)