Velvet antlers rested on your crown. Slender and regal, they looked as if they belonged, and I couldn’t deny that until the moment you stepped into my living room with them reaching heavenward, I had never seen you whole before.
All our lives, they’d never grown. And then they were there, and you were there, and I was here, and —
You bent your head toward me. It was just the slightest tilt, the most fragile of offerings, and I held my breath as I trailed cold fingers on your brow. It was undeniably you in front of me. Same chin, same eyes, same clear and considering gaze. Your breath fanned out on my face, smelling of peanut butter and strawberry jam, and I could have cried for everything I knew I was losing.
I couldn’t doubt for a moment that it was you standing before me, antlers like angel wings fanning out in the dying evening light, and that made the loss feel so much greater.
I didn’t cry. I let my fingers trace your brow, but I didn’t dare brush against the ebony branching from your forehead. I knew then — have always known, maybe — there’s magic in you, and this story isn’t ours.
We sat side by side on the sagging cushions of my couch. With the TV on and your antlers above my head, I could almost forget that they were there. I could almost pretend that nothing had changed. But you and I have never made a habit of pretending, and I have always hated long goodbyes.
When I asked you where you’d go, the TV only a murmur at the back of my mind, you told me, “Far.”
You told me, “Home, and then maybe more.”
You asked me, careful and considering and familiar as the warmth of your shoulder pressed to mine, “Will you come with me?”
And I — well —
I looked at you.
There they were: regal and steady and tall. There you were: mine and not. What could I say to that? To you?
I had morning classes. I had soup simmering on the stove and a load of laundry drying on the roof. I had a plan for tomorrow and the day after and the day after, and none of it included following you out that door.
When you asked me if I’d go with you, I said, “No.”
Of course I said no.
This story wasn’t ours. It was yours.
You didn’t hesitate. You didn’t argue or ask again. You sighed once and took my hand in yours. We watched the rest of the episode, and then you rose. You left. I didn’t watch you go.
If I didn’t see you leave, I can pretend that you’re still here. But I’m so bad at pretending.
I think of you often now. I dream of your home. I’m always aching to follow you. I’m always forgetting I’m from here, too.
Where did you go? Are you gone from this world? Did you find your way home?
I’m always forgetting that knowing you never made me less undestined. Knowing you didn’t make me any more magical, and it certainly didn’t make my story ours.
Are you gone? Are you happy? Did you carry some part of me with you, or is that wishful thinking?
I think of you often. I dream of your home. I wake up.
I make toast with butter too cold to spread without breaking the thin skin of the bread. I’m always aching to wander, so I do. I let my feet carry me out my door, and I do my best to not wonder which direction you went in.
I go to ordinary places, beautiful ones. And I think you must miss them as much as I miss you.
Here is the bench coated in chipping blue paint outside my lecture hall. Here is the way my hand fits against the cold, metal bars of the bus that takes me seven stops down to our friend’s apartment. Here is the smell of peanut butter following me as I wander down grocery aisles.
I go to familiar places. I forget dreaming, and I rest.
The sky above me is gray and overcast. The world is music on the street corner, or maybe the world is my mother’s voice on the other side of a phone call.
It was my hand that rested on your brow, inches from your impossible antlers, wasn’t it?
This story isn’t ours. I was there with you, even if I’m not now. I miss you, sometimes, but not enough to keep you dear. You were here with me, and I knew you. You knew me, too, didn’t you?
I forget dreaming, and I rise.
Wherever you are, I hope it’s magical, too.