In the video, you’re riding a brown horse around a dusty cement arena somewhere in Mexico, the place you told me not to visit because you were enjoying your solitude, so I didn’t bother learning the city’s name. The horse trots and you bounce like a child on his uncle’s knee. As the horse makes its rounds, jogging you up and down, you laugh – a laugh I know well enough to know it isn’t from joy but to mask your lower back pain from an old skateboarding injury.
Anyone else watching this video would think you’re having fun, but as grainy as the video is, I see suffering. In November, just seven months ago, I drove you to the hospital in Tuscaloosa at dawn, sat in the waiting room for hours for your outpatient lumbar surgery. When the nurse called my name to meet you, I was in the bathroom. You were afraid I’d left. Call her again, you slurred, heavy-lidded from anesthesia, not realizing I’d walked in behind you. Two days shy of your 44th birthday, you slouched in a wheelchair, sipping apple juice from a Styrofoam cup. Your relief when I said, I’m here, mirrored my own elation decades earlier when I was a sobbing child separated from my mother in JCPenney, just to realize she’d been behind me the whole time.
When we got back to your apartment, I helped you into bed, then tucked myself in beside you. You curled your arm around my waist and said your biggest fear was my cancer coming back. I whispered, That’s my fear to have, not yours. As you shuddered into sleep, you said you loved me for the first time. You didn’t remember it the next day.
Seven months ago. That’s not so long.
In the video, your sunglasses hide your grimace, but as the horse speeds up, your mouth opens slightly and you let out a sound I’ve heard before, halfway between a laugh and a cry, and my own spine throbs. Your groan is not unlike the sound you made so often in bed, the soft moan as you turned me on my side after sex, staying inside me, our bodies slick with each other’s sweat.
You post this video on Facebook after three days of radio silence. After nearly a year of daily communication. After hundreds of messages claiming I am everything you ever wanted.
In the video, someone is offscreen, recording. A woman. She giggles each time you trot by. In her giggle, I hear everything you haven’t told me—why you didn’t want me to buy a plane ticket, the precise way you have been enjoying your solitude. You post this video three days before sending me an email you didn’t have to send. The video is enough. Still, you feel compelled to tell me: I’ve met someone special.
Sara Pirkle is a Southern poet, an identical twin, a breast cancer survivor, and a board game enthusiast. Her first book, The Disappearing Act (Mercer University Press, 2018), won the Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry. She also dabbles in songwriting and co-wrote a song on Remy Le Boeuf’s album, Architecture of Storms, which was nominated for a 2023 GRAMMY in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category. She is an Associate Director of Creative Writing at The University of Alabama.