First Love by Jessica Holzhausen

I dreamed again that you were dead.
There was a hole in the ground and a coffin,
some white flowers
– you never liked white –
and people I haven’t seen in 20 years.
They still look the same.
"It is my fault," I say
and my dream-self feels like 16 again.
Sometimes I can still recall your smell
when someone passes by,
a whiff of perfume on the bus.
And the smell of perfume mixes with the taste of smoke.
And guilt.
You planted it there, nourished it, fed it
and unlike your letters I can’t put it away in a cardboard box.
 
As the morning light filters through the curtains,
I try to chase away the bad dreams with better memories.
I made love in your bed for the very first time
the perfect, caring kindness
the softness, tender kisses and heated embrace
I have to recall with all my force.
They do not come back as easily.
Later you discarded the stained sheets.
Your mother wouldn’t know.
Always weird with your mother, the teacher.
I felt watched,
under scrutiny
as if there were good grades to gain:
an A for being your girlfriend.
 
I see her now in my dream,
standing at your grave.
The face is the same,
but the body is that of an old woman.
She wonders why I am here and then she looks right through me.
 
I dreamed again that you were dead.
There was blood in my dream,
and water.
How did you die?
Sometimes I check your Facebook
to see if you are still there.
I would know, wouldn’t I?
Someone would tell?
Your words haunt me even after waking.
"Without you, I would kill myself!"
"Don’t leave!"
I am 16 again and I am afraid:
every time you bang your head against the wall,
or your fist
until you bleed.
You throw a diskette through the room,
barely missing my head.
One day you showed me a hunting knife,
you got it from your dad.
You showed it to me again,
long after we had broken up.
"I nearly cut my wrist," you said. "After you left."
I nearly made you, is what you mean.
And again you put the guilt at my doorstep
and I nearly crumble.
I made us fight, I made us cry,
That’s what you said.
And then you would cling to me,
as if I could save you.
You scream, you shout, you rage,
until I cannot stop crying,
too afraid to move,
too afraid to tell.
You made me silent.
"If anyone knew, I would kill myself."
 
I sit at the opera and there they are:
on stage
men like you.
For them it is a game,
that is how you hunt your prey.
Love or death.
They threaten and I shiver.
I do not understand why.
I sometimes forget.
But then you are back.
 
You reflect in the face of my sister
my mother
as they tell me how hurt they are,
how disappointed,
sad.
Because I treated you the way I did, left,
loved another shortly after.
I say nothing as they repeat your words,
the lies you fed to my friends.
I say nothing and your words echo in my brain.
"Nobody can know!
I’d rather kill myself than let anyone know!"
Again you made me silent
and lonely.
and I hate you. For a while.
Then I move away.
You come visiting and I feel proud
that we can do that
that we survived,
undamaged, whole, friends…
 
The dreams only come at night.
I wake up choking.
We have not spoken for years, but still: here you are.
Not the kind, sweet boy I first met,
but the darker shadow you cast.
Again there is this hole in the ground and a coffin,
some white flowers and long forgotten friends.
I fill up your grave with my bare hands.
I hope to bury the dream as well.
Yet, again I dreamed that you were dead.
This time I turn my back on you,
leaving your cold body and warm memories behind.
Peace for a while.
Until one day, again, you die in my sleep.
I watch the procession from afar.
Only a few are there to carry your coffin,
they are bent under your burden.
I stay long after everyone else has gone.
Wet soil now covers your grave and I am half awake.
There is a hole in the ground
and I have to stare at it all day
it swallows the sunlight,
a sunken shadow even the sun cannot evaporate.
There is a hole.
And it is not in the ground.
It is inside me.
That hole.
That hole is you.
Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

About the Poet:

Jessica Holzhausen is a writer and historian researching myths, narratives and fictional re-telling of historic events, especially the impact this had on identity building processes in the 19th and 20th century. Jessica currently lives and works in Oxford and writes short stories, murder mysteries and poetry.

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