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Infinite Us
Author: Eden Butler

Epigraph

 

 

Once there was an ordinary girl who held an extraordinary hope. She did not wish for things that went beyond the apothecary labor her father’s work provided their small village. But the girl still believed in the brilliant wonder that came with being loved. Love, after all, is a mighty force, born into every beating heart formed by the Almighty’s careful touch. The elders promised so and the girl knew that what the elders promised came to pass. It was that force, the same divine brilliance that brought her into being. The same Craftsman formed cells into limbs, bone and muscle, the braided bundle of hair atop her head as had fashioned to life kings and rulers, diplomats and paupers.

All, she decided, deserved to be loved greatly, fiercely and to see that fine love grow and strengthened. And so this ordinary girl found her great love. She held it tight, made of it all she could, cherished and beheld it like the precious thing it was—eternal, beloved and solely hers for the keeping.

But for the girl, like men and women before her, love was not an easily tamed beast. Sometimes it came to her, wrapped her in its clutches because it was greedy, because she did not mind being coveted. But then her husband or lover would defy the Almighty, incur His wrath and love would fall between her fingers like brittle petals from a wilted sunflower.

But the memory remained and went through her, twined beneath her dying sighs and into the ether.

Sometimes, love came when her body was changed, when her shoulders had widened and her chest flattened. It came when she was he. It came when he was seeking no more than a meal and found instead a love that fed his soul, nourished it same as his empty belly. And still, like all the lives before, all the forms inside which that great love breathed, of all the people he would ever be, that love died, sometimes slowly, sometimes not easily given up.

Other times, love came to him in the hungry touch of a girl that could never be his, the sweet forbidden touch that had his vagabond heart breaking when it ended, when death came and disintegrated all the hope that had built and settled inside his chest.

But the memory remained, passing into one life, onto the next, through bone and blood and cells that made up one life and then another.

Still, that love lived inside veins, inside the blood that moved through bodies, through all those bodies. For a brilliant time, perhaps for dozens like them, that love lived. For then. For now. For always.

And the memory endured.

 

 

Your grief and mine

Must intertwine

Like sea and river,

Be fused and mingle,

Diverse yet single,

Forever and forever.

“Any Human to Another” Countee Cullen, 1934

 

 

Nash

 

Midnight. There was darkness and the thump of a rhythm that wasn’t welcome when the aching started. Brooklyn was loud that night, full of chaos, adding to my insomniatic misery. But noise wasn’t the only thing keeping me up. My head felt thick with numbers and algorithms that coated my vision like some Pollock piece blurred with a toddler’s hand painting. My body? Stupid with tension—the kind of tight coil that twists your spine and keeps your shoulders from any damn thing but bunching pain.

The numbers, the darkness, the kindergartener’s chaos all fought for space inside my head, dimmed by the noise I heard above me. That infernal thumping, the hyper noise of a drumbeat from some clueless asshole’s speakers in the upstairs apartment that tamped out the jazz pouring from my headphones. Coltrane was wicked, the smooth slip of his sax like the voice of God; the heady mix of condemnation and praise, pain that both harmed and healed in every note. But even the long, sweet whisper of the sax couldn’t overcome the thumping of the trespassing drums from barging in, or keep out the noise of the crazy bitch singing out of tune one floor up. Had to be a woman. No dude’s voice could be that high-pitched or whining.

For the fourth damn night.

Insomnia had first become my side-piece in college. Every night for four years, the noise of frat brothers stepping in line to DMX and his gravely-voiced barks in “Get It On the Floor” in the quad, the Alpha Phi Alphas and Omega Psi Phis vying for bragging rights of who was the flyest with every step-dance they made and the general disturbance of new-held adolescent debauchery kept sleep from me. Those Omegas always won.

I’d trained my mind then, let the insomnia linger until there was an uneasy relationship between us—me tolerating the elusive hum of sleep and that affliction keeping me from it. I’d wrangle four hours of sleep, plenty for a Computer Science major, enough to ace my classes. Enough that I didn’t look like an old man when I left for MIT. By then, insomnia had become the ride-or-die chick that refused to leave me. Got tied down to that bitch. Now I wanted a divorce.

That racket from the apartment above was not helping.

The noisy upstairs female started a louder chant, something that reminded me of the weird mess my twin Natalie watched every Halloween with her friends when we were kids back in Atlanta. Some movie with three white chicks from Salem, singing about spells and sucking the lives out of children. The one with the redhead woman that my assistant Daisy says likes to burn Kim Kardashian on Twitter. That shit was funny, hell of a lot funnier than the movies she was in that made my mom laugh so loud when I was six. It was a Broadway phase she kept from my pops. Nothing like the witch mess from that old movie, that nonsense was crap. And that’s what my new neighbor sounded like.

Four nights. Four nights of this bullshit. Four nights too many.

Coltrane fell silent when I pulled the headphones off and moved across my apartment, not giving a damn that my t-shirt was wrinkled when I picked it off the floor and tugged it over my head, not caring whether or not that loud woman would get pissed if I interrupted what had to be some nightly juju ritual.

My skin pebbled in the cool air from the vents at the elevator ceiling but I didn’t shake or cross my arms to get rid of the sensation. It fed me as I slipped into the elevator, ignored the quick flash of my reflection showing the bags under my eyes, the streak of muscle that twitched when I stretched my shoulders. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to confront this chick, but I was tired and annoyed, and before I stopped to think about what I was doing, the elevator dinged and I stood right in front of 6-D’s door. There was a constant thump of a drum line bumping beneath the sliver of light at the bottom of the door; the only shadow I could make out slipped around that light, probably dancing to whatever voodoo junk pulsed from those speakers.

Coltrane was music. Spirit music. Deep, heart-aching music that seeped into your soul, filled in all the fragments that life left empty. This garbage? Hell no. This wasn’t music at all.

Two bangs of my fist on the door was all it took. I stood there, arms braced against the doorframe, loops of black tattoos, things I wanted to remember, things I could never forget, running over my forearms visible, moving as I twisted my fists on the wooden frame. I didn't care what I looked like, tall inked black man breathing fire at her door. Not worried that this woman might see something of a threat in me, wide shouldered, thin, wrinkled shirt, jeans slipping low on hipbones. Instead, I was focused on that mean ache of messed up calm and lack of sleep crowding in my skull. My stupid pissed off attitude amped up the longer it took this female to open the door. Waiting, I envisioned that I’d yell, I’d unload on her, then get the hell away before she could react, stalk back to my own apartment with my anger leeching out behind me. Then maybe Coltrane would work and I get at least a few hours’ sleep.

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