Things You Gave Me When You Left by John Christopher Nelson

  1. white nylon rope

A text, that you had been killed as the passenger in a head-on collision.

I wished, first, to know, Did you see it coming? How long did the moment last? The slides of the same, worn-out frame overlapping, Sisyphean.

All the things we cannot prevent because we could not conjure the image of their reality. That’s what we’d do better to brace ourselves against, time’s earnest unwillingness to be rewound.

The sound that accompanies unfulfilled prayers for reversal is, obviously, castanets.

  1. little parchment envelopes

I told myself I would remember the date and haven’t. At the time, I had a habit of repeating, out loud, I don’t care. A mantra to ignore what would otherwise spoil my fun.

  1. travel stapler

“There is no choice,” my analyst tells me, “that doesn’t imply loss.” Every decision involves grieving Door Two, even if only the inability to know what’s behind the door.

  1. oil pastels

Festivities had concluded that evening, and I ignored my name five times in the crowd, thinking, No way anyone knows me out here. The desert wasn’t our place.

But when I heard my name a sixth time, I turned and you said, “Nobody else here would have a red handkerchief.”

That was true, and one of four handkerchiefs I’ve since lost due to carelessness:

  1. one from a Boy Scout stint, cranberry red, piped gold;
  2. two, gifts from someone else, vintage articles deliberately sought. One red, one blue, both with the authentic elephant logo. Up or down, the trunk is significant;
  3. one that was technically the same person’s brother’s, that she’d taken with her to some island with a name too long to spell.

They’re all convenience store bandanas now. No backstory. All things cheapened, chapped.

We stood with waves of families washing around us, having passively accepted the fireworks, your loved ones behind you, mine behind me, both parties not knowing what they were waiting to ignore. I should have kissed you. It would have been our second kiss. That would have made sense, whether or not it would have meant something.

and then and then and then

  1. 5 lbs. of colored pencils, sharpened

That was two months after our only date. Brunch in West Hollywood, where Giada sang the praises of blueberry ricotta pancakes, which wasn’t what either of us ordered. I defended my recently lapsed sobriety, bragging the way we are so naturally inclined to performance of rationalization.

When we kissed, I appreciated the hairs on the tip of your nose, which I could see only that close to you.

  1. magnum permanent black marker

That was three years after I disclosed feelings that prompted months of exchanges. The poems we wrote together are still somewhere in the archives of my email.

  1. Thermogrip hot glue gun

The text announcing your death arrived two nights before a flight home, a trip during which we wouldn’t have been likely to cross paths anyway because we weren’t speaking again by then.

  1. mini red heart stickers & mini Valentine candy heart stickers

I found myself lingering in department offices among mutual friends.

I declined attending a small gathering and was told, “Mourn in your own way,” but had mourned you already and also still have not mourned turning my back on you after those awkward pleasantries in the warm darkness.

  1. alphabet stencils

Your last words to me arrived after our unsure parting in the street.

  1. Mr. Sketch Scented Markers

You emailed a poem to me, a numbered list.

“Things You Gave Me When You Left.”

An inventory of consolidating my desk in preparation for my desert escape.

Nobody else has read it. Did you read it again, after sending it? And the things. Did you get rid of them? Are they technically yours, in a box, alongside possessions that the party charged with responsibility for your things has yet to sort?

  1. Giant scissors with 8-inch blades

There’s comfort in mystery.

  1. 3-hole punch

I never responded to the email. I reread the poem the day I received the text about your death.

I take back what I said to you about anonymity.

  1. Modge Podge

Your intuition felt through me. The invitation to know you better, refused again.

So some of us never get the hang of it, but you were teaching me to start to learn.

That’s what you gave me when you left.

John Christopher Nelson earned his BA in American Literature from UCLA and is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing. He has worked for Stonecoast Review and was executive editor of Westwind. His work has appeared in Parhelion Literary Magazine, The New Guard, Chiron Review, Able Muse, Necessary Fiction, In a Flash! Writing & Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose, Indicia, Stone House: A Literary Anthology, The Matador Review, Broke-Ass Stuart, the Hammer Museum, & Paper Tape Magazine.