Ten Thousand People
If you loved me, it would be different.
I could run, drenched with sweat, through an airport into an unknown city, only the clothes in my backpack for a one-way trip. Greet you outside Terminal A, watch you stand with squinted eyes at the back of your rented car, pop the trunk, wrap your arms around me, shaking. I could watch our contorted faces of anticipation turn to smiles that fall at the corners of each of our lips, like the last time I saw you. My sunglasses covering that deer-in-headlights look underneath. That stunned look from something balled tight in my chest for six months without ease. Something like fingers clenched into a fist reaching, grasping, choking throat, lungs. If you loved me, I could get into your car; sit next to you in the front seat, keep from disappearing into the lull of quiet conversation behind you. Listen to your voice, the measured talk of what's inside, solve the mystery. Feel white knuckles loosen their grip. Drive through a strange city, meet a strange family, take out the fist of pain inside me, throw it into a trash can in a large park operated by the city. On one of our routine walks, I could reach way down into my chest when you aren't looking, when your head is turned toward the bay, and yank it out so quick you wouldn't notice. Un-ball its clenched fingers that strangled my breath, squeezed my stomach, discard it in the can the next to the recycle bin, because it's not on the list of sustainable items. Discard it on our routine walks. Our walks in cool spring and hot summer and dying fall where we would talk about apartment renovations and how your mother would hate me and everything I stand for. Where we would read poems anyway — ones that we had written, maybe for each other. If you loved me, it would hurt ten thousand people. Ten thousand people with balled up fists in their chests with no routine walks to snatch it out in secret and bury it among the rubble. Ten thousand people drenched in sweat, shaking, waiting in a familiar city. Ten thousand people who could disappear into quietness, while I sit up front with you and we drive to take walks and read poetry and hold each other's gaze without shock or fear or restlessness. If you loved me, we could drive on some road, silence sleeping for a while behind us.
Nicole Troxell is editor-in-chief at Blue Equity Publishing in Louisville, Kentucky, where she lives with her people family and cat family.