Everything begins with waking up. Waking up means dealing with dreams I wanted to be true slipping through my tired fingers. They are glimpses of the life I’ll never have with people apart from me. Our hands creeping towards each other under the blanket. The first ecstatic brushing of skin followed by one finger locking another, then two, then both hands interlaced and my cheeks are still flushed when I open my eyes alone. For seconds it might have been true. Then the heartbeats slow and it’s not. It’s not true.

Wrinkles in the corner of eyes behind the steam in the mirror. Each new line fracturing outward is just age, but on me, something else. I can’t stop staring at my face. Pillow lines still crease the cheeks. The unshaved shadow has darkened. I was once told the way that my eyebrows slope down symbolizes wisdom, but it looks like sadness, which might be the same thing. Who wants to look for long? At first it’s attractive—the jawline sharp, the hazel perceptive, maybe—then it looks selfish. Imagine the thoughts of others who have spent time with it. Those are the lips that shamed me. Those are the ears that didn’t listen. Those are the eyes that always looked elsewhere. Remember that question asked too earnestly: “Do you respect me?” I only see the selfishness now.

Thoughts swell until there’s no more room for them in my head, so they fall from my eyes, down my cheeks, down my neck. Take a shower. Keep waking up. Coffee. Car. Work. Stare at a computer and muster some enthusiasm for calls.

On Tuesdays I leave work early to see a counselor who explores my subconscious. Opposite her, I sit in a leather chair and stare out the window at the seagulls hopping around a building’s roof while I let the thoughts out. She wonders at my relationships. I know what she’ll say before she says it.

Don’t say it. God.

“Do you think you might be leaving them prematurely because you find yourself annoying? Maybe you want to end things before they find out as much for themselves.”

It makes sense and I don’t want it to, stopping the words that usually tumble out of my mouth in desperation to find some truth. Now, the truth: until I see kindness in the mirror, I may never fall in love.

“We’re all annoying, Will. That’s okay.”

Is she saying it because she’s supposed to? I smile and thank her and leave and listen to lyrics on the way home. I buried a hatchet / it’s coming up lavender / the future’s unwritten / the past is a corridor / I’m at the exit looking back through the hall / you are anonymous / I am a concrete wall.

At home, Josh and I sit on a concrete wall in the backyard, looking out over Queen Anne’s rooftops and the trees still glistening green from the morning’s rain as the sun sets in the distance.

“Life is a glove,” he says, and I know it’s hard for him to say because his voice is quiet and the words shake. “For some people the glove is large enough, and there’s room. You’ll always be bigger than your glove. You will always be bigger than your life.”

A moment of quiet and then he says, “You know I’m proud of you, right?”

“Yeah,” I say. I don’t say that I’m not always sure, but that’s me, not him. And I don’t say how much it means just for him to sit near, sharing in a sadness that has always been my own, and how I marvel at him still thinking highly of me though I’ve been distant all day, lost and staring at my feet like I’m not quite sure how they took me here. Every step is a regret. Regret even that he needed to tell me this.

Darkness outside. Brush my teeth. Wrinkles by my eyes. Whose face is this? There was a ring on her finger in a picture I wasn’t supposed to see, and instead of joy, just loss. The feeling may always be. In every wrinkle of life, a memory. You. Still, madly.

Cover myself in sheets. Pray the night’s dreams will be a nightmare and not something sweet.

Everything begins with waking up.

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