The air was the kind of cold that numbed nostrils, chilled fingers, and stiffened sock-laden toes bundled in winter boots. That night, the temperature alone was enough to deter even the faint of heart, while even those of otherworldly strength gave it a pass and stuck to waiting out the storms in their dwellings, deciding to dive into snow drifts in swimwear on some other winter day. On top of that, I vividly recall the snow: how it fell so thickly I had to rely on faith and my internal map of the city layout, how I had to squint to see my own hands, how I struggled to find the newly fixed streetlamps if I was any more than five steps away. There aren't many days I can recall with complete accuracy, but that was one that would forever be seared into my memory and engraved into my heart.
In retrospect, the night ended up being more enlightening than the weather was freezing. I like to think that the only reason I was out there was because I was even stronger than those snow-drift-jumping hooligans, but even on calm winter days, I would never even have thought of leaving my apartment with less than five layers of clothing.
Some would call it recklessness; I would now label it as stupidity. But back then, the mere thought of catching a glimpse of you was so strong that I couldn't resist. After hastily donning my winter gear, I left my humble abode for the blizzard in the name of my aching heart.
Left to the elements, everything that had been taken care of by human instinct suddenly required concious thought and effort. Breathing, keeping my eyes open, and staying balanced became the ultimate battles. Few have lived to describe the distinct palpitations of the heart that accompanied the feeling of snowy suffocation or the unique and completely overwhelming sense of physical numbness, but I suppose that's because none have been as starry-eyed as I, who was completely and utterly enamored.
(A universal truth that should be acknowledged is this: no singular human is ever completely sane, for we all contain bits of insanity that manifest as other traits—recklessness, irrationality, witlessness. Back then, I had more than my lion's share of all three.
(Not that I had known it.)
There was only one thing in my mind, and that was to catch a glimpse of the only person keeping my tilted world from falling off its axis. You, with your vulnerable eyes and open heart, whose worth was that of the summation of sun, moon, and stars combined. You, the subject of all my waking thoughts on darkened mornings, lazy afternoons, and lonely nights. You, who added color to my grayscale life, raised its flat plains into something three dimensional and tangible, and gave meaning to my existence. You brought my happiness to its full potential and gifted me with the best years of my life. With you, everything was sunshine and daisies.
Was, before I had shot it to pieces.
You worked at the local coffee shop on Thursdays and Sundays, a quaint little hole-in-the-wall type place that one would never expect to find in New York City, but existed nonetheless. Among its regulars existed its own little community, comprised of stressed college students, serene elderly folk, and everyone in between, all of whom knew each other on a first-name basis. It was a home away from home, a place for both the vagabonds and the homebodies.
I used to be at home amongst the regulars and the occasional coffee drinkers. Even before you, I used to visit religiously, twice a week after a rigorous day at work. Once, a lifetime ago, with a dark blush reddening your ears and your long, long eyelashes touching your cheekbones, you'd told that I was the reason you'd started working there in the first place. You told me how you'd begged for shifts on the days that you knew I'd come.
But evidently, as I'd come to learn the following weeks post-personal apocalypse, you had fallen so deeply in love with that magical little coffee shop that my sudden removal from your life did not deter your existence there. The tables had turned, and it was me who gazed wistfully past the frosted windowpane, into a home that was no longer mine to claim.
It had been nearly silent that night, save for the occasional howl of gusty wind that'd swirled around me. I distinctly remember the unnerving lack of noise that had befell me once I'd reached my destination, with the blizzard at a standstill and the noisy sound of my feet ploughing through snow no longer there to drown the world out. I'd frozen in my path, the surprising realization that the millions of souls that usually crowded the city streets had migrated back to their homes, out of the way of the storm that'd passed.
New York City is the city that never sleeps. How dreadfully odd, thought I, to be standing motionless in what ought to be the busiest city in the world, like a figurine in a child's playset. There were no sirens to be heard, no moving cars to be seen, and no humans to collide with. On that one night, there existed only air so chilly I struggled to breathe and the familiar sight of what had once been my home to distract me from the fact that my hands and feet were no longer capable of feeling.
For a long moment, I had thought the shop was closed. It would be the first time I'd ever witnessed it closed, for the cafe insisted on being a reliable hole in the wall, open in all kinds of weather to provide shelter to those unfortunate, street-bound souls. There had been no one to be seen, but the mere sight of the familiar hardwood countertops, the homely, assorted armchairs, and the scuffed wooden flooring had constricted my heart. Predictably, a tear had hurried down the side of my cheek. I had quickly scrubbed it away with my gloved hand before it could freeze on my face.
If I had any sense, if all my waking moments hadn't been plagued with nostalgia for you, I'd have left the place alone a millennia ago. You'd be my distant memory, like I had already been yours. I'd have moved on by then, had known that nothing good could possibly come at a result of my lingering presence and my long glances.
And yet, there I'd stood every Sunday and Thursday, like clockwork. My feet had always dragged me there and stilled at the window with my heart aching for a taste of home before I realized that it was mine no more, for I had been cast out.
Or had I run away?
The end of our relationship will always be a foggy haze. I would never come to pinpoint the beginning of the end of us, nor would I be capable of identifying the cause of your constant, sour expression. Our breakup, by all technicalities, had been mutual. It had been for the best.
But if that had been true, exactly why had I journeyed through the tail end of a blizzard that night, my physical body numb and my soul in quiet agony, only to stare wistfully past the frosted windowpane?
And then you'd emerged into my sight, coming from seemingly nowhere. It didn't matter that there was a solid three inches of glass and an additional fifteen feet of scuffed flooring, squashy armchairs, and hardwood countertops separating you and I. You pervaded what was left of my senses, and I'd gasped as my heart beat painfully in my chest.
That night, for the first time in what felt like an eternity and a half, I had stood tall and boldly searched your eyes, taking advantage of your poor eyesight.
I hadn't known what I'd been looking for. I don't know what I'd been looking for then, even now, looking back into retrospect. Perhaps boredom in response to the complete lack of customers, or maybe a shallow annoyance that emerged from your hatred for snow.
What I didn't expect was content shining through the prominent bags beneath your eyes as you gazed at everything familiar to you that used to be familiar to me, lingering at all the places that showed evidence of human interaction: chipped corners of fading tables, scuff marks against worn wood.
I had hurried back to my apartment afterwards, not knowing what to make of my discovery. It wasn't until I found myself bundled up under the stiff covers of my bed, attempting to thaw my extremities, that I came to the realization that when I lost you, I had lost not only a piece of my soul but everything I had considered my home.
More than once, I was told that home is where the heart is. That night was the first time that I had truly understood the phrase to be something more than a cliche to be painted on welcome mats and various pieces of home decor.
For the first time, I realized that by letting you take over what I considered home, I"d never truly come to terms with the fact that we were no longer together. Unconsciously, for the longest time, I'd considered you a part of me; an extension of the heart that no longer existed in my chest.
That night, as I'd drifted to sleep, I had only one thought on repeat: You are you and I am me. You are you and I am me.
My mid-blizzard trek would have lasting effects. It would be days before I could feel warmth, and a while longer before the lingering effects of the harsh weather completely disappeared from my body. My mother would scold me long after I returned to my normal state of being, citing this incident whenever my common sense was something to be questioned.
But there was a singular talisman that stayed with me as long as I lived. That was the night I learned where I begin and end, and I would carry that knowledge to the grave.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.