The words she said
At first she didn't say I love you too. Sitting in the park, in the dark with the broken slide and bottles and needles, the park where I said I knew it would never work but was going to say it anyway, was going to say it and did say it -- I love you -- Beth looked at me and she said, Thank you.
She would say it, later, and does say it all the time now. She will say it today ten times: Ten times in English and ten in German and then ten more without words, I love you, I love you, I love you. Ich liebe dich, I love you. She would say it and does, but the words at first wouldn't come complete in a sentence. She had to pull the words together, dragging them in on a long line like lobster traps in an Alaskan sea. It was like the words were linked but only loosely, the words spaced out along the line beneath the water where they were only even connected because they were caught, because they'd been lured in and trapped.
She said love first, putting the word in like THE END at the end of a story, or #30 at the end of press release. She said love and left it there, hanging there ambiguous at the end of e-mails and friendly phone calls. Love was linked to you later, the second word hauled in after weeks of waiting, added because it didn't add anything, because you was the part we already knew. Love you she said, and she was gone without acknowledging any involvement. It was as if the sea had swallowed the word I, as if the line was lost, the personal pronoun lost into an undertow, sucked down and drowned, strangled in seaweed, lost only later to be found floating bloated off the eddy of an island. Then it came, the I, the admission. Then it was added and she said the complete sentence, said I love you. She said it quickly and hung up. I sat there holding the empty phone for forever, amazed.
She said it then and would say it later. She would say it and let it linger, say it and hear it and say it back to me on slow days, long Saturdays and quiet evenings on dates. She would say it in the morning instead of good morning, say it on the phone and in person, in the afternoon and evening and when she was falling asleep. She would say it, and did say it and does, but at the first she didn't say I love you too. She didn't say that, but said instead, Thank you.
She said Thank you on the bench in the dark where we were sitting when I said I have to say this, where I said you don't have to accept this and maybe you can't but I have to say. I'm not making any demands and I'm not asking you to do anything, but I love you. I love you without asking for anything, but I do love you and I love you and I always will whatever you say. And then Beth said thank you. And that was the best thing I ever heard. The thing was, thank you wasn't no thank you and I was only ready for her to say no, I'm sorry, but no, but thank you but no. I expected my heart to be broken like the bottles and graffitied like the slide, expected to prefer being poked with needles or prodded with rusted, busted monkey bars, but I didn't expect to be accepted. I didn't expect to hear her say anything except to let me down and leave, but she said something to accept what I had said, something to accept me and she touched me, just holding my hand in the dark. I was like someone who'd just learned that fire can keep you warm in a cave, wanting to dance some victory dance and sing some song beyond words.