Naked, Cold and Counting

June 13 2016

You’re gone now but I can still feel you with me - like a thing I was born with.

You, lingering caged beneath my skin like the warmth that follows the sun.

But now, I feel you more in what I don’t. Absence radiating presence.

Everything is more here now that you aren’t. Some nights the radiator buzzes so loud it shakes the bed. Some it’s the silence of being alone that’s deafening. I sing to forget the absence of everything but me. I listen to my heart beating or the second hand ticking, each forcing their way through something just to begin again from nothing.

I used to listen to you breathe as I fell asleep. Each exhale; another sheep over the fence. I never got past 17.

Now, the sheets are colder and my side of the bed seems to sag to the floor.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a restless sleeper. How many nights did my tossing leave you sheetless? How many nights did I wake to your tug and my unraveling?

Three days after you passed I fell asleep and woke-up for the first time.

This was the first thing I missed – the coming undone.

Awaking, a mixture of guilt and habit rolled me and all of your sheets back out. It didn’t feel right without you there to take them back. Suddenly, the not pulling felt harder than you had ever pulled.

The next few nights I made sure to tuck the sheets on your side in as firmly as I could. It felt good to have something pull back.

The dimming reflections of you would slow their fading with something there to play your part. It helped me remember to forget. The sinking feeling took a little longer and gave a few more breaths before the gasping.

But despite my feeble attempts to recreate you, the covers would eventually come loose, pulling free from the mouth of our bed.

I tried staples, then tape. I tried anchoring our sheets beneath the feet of the bed. The stronger the grip; the more violent the awakening, pulling hand over fist just to feel you. But each night, your grip slowly loosened and eventually there was nothing. I would think of myself.

Soon I was spending more time claiming your sheets than sleeping. The more I claimed, the more your sheets reminded me of you, and the more all of it reminded me of me.

Then, one evening I gave up.

I don’t know why but I took off my clothes and lay naked in the middle of the bed, our bed.

My body, one half less yours, one half more mine than I’d ever wanted. I felt half as light and twice as heavy.

The skin around my nipples cinched tight and bubbled. I felt your warmth in that cold for the first time.

I pretended my breaths were yours and didn’t get past 17.

In time your absence became your presence. The cold of our mattress was your warmth. The nothing sheets, not in my hands, not wrapped tightly around my shapw became the opposite.

My inhales were your exhales. Breath in. Breath out. One sheep, two. The negative of your life lived with me.

Sleep crept between us, so I fought it until it finally went away. Never asleep, never awake. Just counting your breaths, that were mine, that were sheep. Day in. Day out. I’m naked, cold and counting. But I’m no longer alone. I feel you in what I no longer feel.

Brendan Brown
[email protected]
Boston, MA

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