BY CASSANDRA A. CLARKE
At the center of my heart, there’s a Fool. That’s what I used to call you. To myself. To the steering wheel. To the dream of you that still visits me sometimes if I’m tired enough and not paying enough attention to the space I occupy, to the home I keep. Fool. You are not welcomed anymore.
You’re the kind of person who's always walked on the precipice of knowing and unknowing and will never fall. You almost failed out of high school but didn’t because a friend helped you pass with notes she saved for a reason she couldn’t remember, but for a reason I knew: you. Not all of us could see you like I did. I knew that whenever someone got close to you, they always chose to help. That is your charm. Your unwillingness to deny help, to never say I can try this alone. You’ve never been alone.
Isn’t that the glory of the fool? We worry so much about him that we can’t even see that that is exactly what he wants from all of us, to take our energy and call it his, to never have to use his own.
At seventeen, you were my reason for things I couldn’t understand, which is to say: my faith. Like a puppy, I followed you. Even if I did not agree with the paths you took, I still stayed at your side, still snuck into your basement to see you past midnight on school nights. I still wound up curled around your legs, basking in the warmth of your touch. In your left hand, you held a white rose. In your right hand, you held a class ring. You gave it to me. With that ring on, I came when you called. I came over even if that meant that it was to be in secret, and I had to park my car three blocks away from your house. I came even after the first night we had sex, and I had to hide underneath the pool table so your father wouldn’t know I slept over that night. I came after my own senior prom, although you took another date, but I snuck a letter under your dinner plate and we met up afterwards, feeling like we fooled the world.
At eighteen, I gave you back your ring. There are no pictures of it. There’s no proof. It’s not like the pictures that you have now with your wife. I can see her ring. I can see yours. It’s very clear that you two are together, and not not together. That’s not how it was with us. I didn’t want to admit that I had ever had that. I did not want to be the dog that chased down a man to only realize I still did not win.
When I handed the ring back to you, it clattered on the floor. It sounded like someone had snapped cymbals in half. I still hear that sound sometimes. I believe that’s what it sounds like when you break a promise you thought could survive longer than you. Metal cracking in half, clattering to air, swearing it thought the heat was enough to keep its pieces together, swearing that it was hot enough.
You always held so much potential in yourself, hidden away. Once, mad that you held so much potential locked underneath yourself, I threw your socks onto the roof of a bowling alley. I told you that I was mad at you because you were supposed to be leading the way to the bowling alley in your car and you drove too fast. I wasn’t mad at that, not really. I was mad at the fact that you didn’t notice when I fell behind, that you weren’t the type of person to see the world with its cliffs and ledges, that you always thought of the next leap, without wondering about the crevices or the drops, or the impact of the fall.
Why it’s been hard to let you go is that I can’t let go of the last time I saw you in my path. I’m sure you know what that is like Fool. You find a road that splits into two and once you’ve taken your own road, you can’t help but look back at the one you took, imagining what else could have been there.
After not speaking to you in years, you called me. You were having a card game and needed an extra player and your fiance was on vacation and you just were let go out of the Army band and wanted to talk, and didn’t I have a question about everything that’s gone on in your life? Didn’t I want to be clued in and fall in step by your side to know what path you are on and see if I approve of it too? I came.
I kept a single hope in me alive that if I saw you again, I would have understood every step and misstep you took. We would sit down and trace the circles we wove around each other in your carpet and use post-it-notes and tacks to explain why X was needed to get to Y and how Z was not a Z at all but a return to A, which is, the point of the beginning, which is, the impossible desire we asked of ourselves: How can we begin again, without admitting that we had truly lost each other years ago.
I could have stayed that night, when your love was away on a cruise. You told me that you thought if you were better in high school, it would have been us getting married. What could have been different? How many more circles would I have had to run to get to this point with you? I could have stayed when you wrapped your arms around me, when I saw that same look in your eyes, that one that talked of leaping, that asked if I could only follow so that you would know it’s the right way, that asked if I could only show some guidance than we could walk hand in hand, unknowingly, together.
I bet you still aren’t wearing shoes. I bet you still eat chocolate chip cookie dough for dinner. I bet that you only asked if I would stay with you that night so you could answer your own doubts. If I stayed that night then you would know if it meant something to you or not. So, I ran as fast as I could. Then, I felt like the fool. I felt like I was turning away a world of potential. But, I looked back into our past, and considered every bramble and thorn you’ve given me.
It would have been a mistake to stay. You never stopped to look at the road you’re on when you’re on it. You had no problem with losing your way with me. You have a house now. You have someone else to be the light upon your shoulders. May the wind carry you beneath your feet and may the pastures grow greener in your wake. May she record each move that you make and be the map for you, for when you will, as you do, lose your way again.
Cassandra A. Clarke has been published in Electric Literature, Molotov Cocktail, Broad!, and Cartridge Lit.