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THIS IS WHAT I WANT by Tina Wayland

This is what I want.

I want to change the locks on our front door. My front door. I want to pry the deadbolts from the wall, break them with a hammer. Feel the echo of every strike travel up my arms and through my skin, settle in my bones.

I want to throw away the key that hangs from your belt buckle, forget the way you’d bend your hips to the lock like a dance, swaying to catch the keyhole, then tumbling into the room as the door swung open, catching your balance on the picture of us that always hung crooked.

I want to sweep out whatever’s left of you under the bed—the t-shirt you bought at some concert and wore until it grew armpit holes. The corners of old condom wrappers and clumps of dust made from your dead skin, like some snake that took years and years to shed its old life.

I want to scrub your fingerprints off all the dishes, remove the grease stains your lips left on the glasses, the smudges on the silverware. I want to erase the way you hold a cup in your palm, fingers splayed, balancing its weight against your skin. That delicate touch I thought you took with everything.

I want to pull down all the pictures of you off the wall, leaving nothing but dirty outlines and patches of clean nothingness underneath. The parts you couldn’t get to. I want to tear them to pieces, destroy every evidence of you, of us—

—at the beach that first summer, when I burned my mouth on marshmallows and cut the pain with the last of your whisky

—with our used blue Cavalier, when you made the salesman take a picture of us—me in the backseat, and you upfront, my chauffeur in a tweed cap

—at your graduation, wearing the long black gown I spent hours ironing, trying to take out every crease so everything would be perfect

—in the mountains on our last trip—late spring? early summer?—when you wore a new shirt I didn’t recognize and I asked you about it but you didn’t answer…

I want to de-ink this tattoo of our names on my arm, turn the intertwined letters into serpents that eat one another whole until we disappear. You folded your fingers into mine when I said it hurt, promised to run the pain into your own skin so we’d be forever imprinted on each other. So we’d be carved into layers too deep to cut out.

I want to wash your smell out of everything. Bleach the towels and sheets, scour the white leather couch where you’d sit texting, laughing, telling me never mind, babe, doesn’t matter. I want to whitewash the blue screen that reflected off your face in our room, in the middle of the night, filling our space up with the light of words that left me in the dark.

I want to rip up every road that drove us to your parents’ farm, where you’d toss hay bales into the attic and bless me when I sneezed. When the cows came in for winter we’d warm up in a stall—the thick, animal smell of us filling the barn, the cattle echoing our lowing. Once you called me city girl and I bought a checked fleece to prove you wrong. I wore it the day you wanted to leave early, and when I stood up my shirt was covered in hay. A hairshirt. My hair tangled in straw.  

I want to forget all the names you ever called me, all the things you whispered up close or not quite far enough away—

—darling

—babe

—listen

—I can’t…

I want to break the hands of the clock that ticked away at our final days, filled every room with a beating heart that hadn’t yet broken. I want to tear the spines from the books you’d bring back, pages warped and lined in yellow marker like beacons. Like warnings. I want to take back all the times I said OK, stay late, study. Then you’d stack your books in piles by the bed, the bookmarks bent but barely moving.

I want to burn the stairs where you stood when you told me. The long, spiral staircase that we’ve walked a hundred hundred times to our apartment. My apartment. I want to set the top step alight and watch it burn away the memory, turn the wood to ash that will fall to a pile and scatter in the wind, your chain of painful words floating down some dirty alley to bury themselves amongst the other garbage there.

I want to forget the way you held my arm like we were at a funeral. The way you said her name, a life preserver, a rescue raft come to whisk you away. I want to erase the feel of your cheek off my fingers, where they slapped you hard enough that you lost your balance. When you grabbed the railing I wished it would melt in your hands, let you slip through the molten metal, trap you forever at the top of the staircase.

I want to retrieve all those years. To be 18 again. To tell myself not to listen. Cover my ears when you asked me to come for a walk. Push you away when you pulled me behind the tree. Plucked a leaf and held it up to my face. Told me I was a reflection of nature, with the green of the earth and the blue of the sky in my eyes. I want to warn myself that your kiss was not worth it. That your hand cupped my cheek in a clasp, not a caress. I want to stop my back from falling against the tree trunk and letting go.

I want to go back and delete it all.

I want it to never have been.

I want us to have never existed.

I want you to have never been here at all.

This is what I want.

This is what I want.

This is what I want.

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