Do you ever enter that dream/wake-scape when the sun filters through your blinds in the morning and you begin to be human again? In this place, you become aware that your chest inflates and deflates. Your heart thumps like a faithful dog wagging its tail. Blood squirts through your veins as your pulse increases upon your awareness of it. The septic system of your gut secretes juices as it composts organic matter inside of your abdomen.

There is an entire city here lying supine, bustling around without your permission. It is an ecosystem that is alive and abuzz with action.

Then your mind puts on the layers of your identity. Gender. Age. Occupation. The things that plague you become your monsters again. The parts of you that hurt – your back, your sprained ankle. The parts of you that you hate – your wrinkles, your spider veins, the way your thighs touch. These things, once again, form the invisible scarlet letter of pain and shame that you wear on your forehead.

Sometimes I let myself lie here in this existential haze in the morning. Am I responsibly adulting, I wonder? Am I vying for the light or careening into the darkness?

And it is here that I envision myself sitting on a bar stool at the kitchen table of the man I fell in love with once. The one with the soulful eyes, the accent, the rippling abs and that silly neon purple puffer jacket that he used to pair with grey spandex pants after yoga class in the evenings when I would see him.

“You used to listen to me talk,” my awake self says to his apparition (though I know he can not hear me), “for hours…”

“You’d listen to all of my vapid musings with rapt attention. It made me feel…special…”

In my mind, he is going through the same routine of every evening we had together. He stands up, refills his shot glass with expensive brandy and swirls it around, sniffing the spicy, oaky aroma. The manuscript of his book is lying on the table. Student papers are sticking haphazardly out of his leather briefcase.

We sit here, on the 7th floor of the stately brick building, watching city lights flicker as night fall over the world below. Him and I, perched up in the clouds, like Greek gods. And in my mind, he pensively sips at his brandy. My apparition self talks, pupils dancing as I look at him, the way a woman looks at a man who she would following to the ends of the earth.

“Given that I am human, and female, and utterly ruined by the fairytales read to me as a child, Alex, how could you possibly have expected me to not fall in love with you?” my awake self demands to know.

Our apparitions rise and he puts on that silly purple jacket. We ride down the elevator in his condo complex together in silence. He walks me to the curb where my car is parked. He briefly kisses my lips in parting.

He silently looks at me, and for one brief second, he awakens from his hypnotic state. His eyes are no longer bereft, they are earnest, almost pleading, piercing into my soul, saying that thing that he doesn’t have a word for.

But I do, have a word for it. Love. I do this fiercely. My heart – this lapdog that resides in my chest – it loves. And love in its raw essence is why I drag this body that I sometimes hate out of bed in the morning. I love the people in my life: those in passing, those who are my pillars, my friends, my lovers, my family. This web of interconnection is what keeps me – us – all human.

I loved a man once, fiercely and passionately, in a way I thought I could never love. But he is just a man, a flesh-being among 7.65 billion flesh-beings. He is walking down the street somewhere, in another city. His future is dictated by how many millions of times his heart will continue to pulse.

And the sheer fact that I loved him becomes nothing but a mathematical equation. How many times has my own pulse-rate quickened at the thought or the sight, or the touch of him? An average of twelve times per day for one year and eleven months. 8,400 times.

I have died inside 8,400 times. And each time my heart has beat again, has risen from the dead again.

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