The first time we met was just a handshake. A “Hi, my name is…” and “Hello, nice to meet you.” There was a spark in your eyes, but nothing else seemed special. You wore regular clothes and said regular things and smiled regularly, with crooked teeth that were a little yellow. I didn’t see you for the rest of the day. I didn’t even know which department you worked in.
Nor did I care. Our persons passed each other every once in a while but we never spoke. I worked in the Nerve Center and you didn’t, so why should we even communicate? We lived in different worlds.
Until Joey took the day off and I was on backup for shadow-op duty. I sat in his chair, put his headphones on, and read up on the details of his assignment, you. 5’6”. Curly black hair. Muscular build. Strong in physics and math. Weak in tactics and strategy. Good enough when it came to navigation through rocky paths.
I’d heard that before. Maybe in a meeting, or in passing, or… the hallway!
“Hey, we met in the hallway. It was… Uh… Daylight Savings Festival Week!”
This was the first time we’d spoken in months.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. I thought your name was familiar.”
You talked in your flowery voice and we began the mission. It went without a hitch—swiftly finished in a matter of hours. You asked me for my number so we could pair together again and I obliged. I’d never given my number to anyone before. It was illegal, and you knew that of course, but you asked anyway, and I gave anyway.
We continued to pair. I wasn’t even registered as a full-time shadow-op, but somehow the Company let us get away with it. Now, when we saw each other in the halls, we would smile, or even stop to chat. On one particular visit I invited you to my home. I whispered it—I wasn’t stupid—and you whispered a little yes back. We agreed to meet that night. I would make soup for us.
It was egg drop, and I let it simmer a little too long so you didn’t like it very much. That was okay. We laughed about it. Laughing was rare in those times, so we decided that if both of us in one room made things a little bit happier then maybe we should break the rules together.
So we did. That night. And, as was policy, the Company married us three days later.
Which meant we were no longer a shadow-pair, but we were homedwellers, so I still saw you everyday. We would laugh and laugh and I think we were even in love. I was, at least. I never got to ask you.
Nobody knows why the loop wasn’t closed. Well, I guess Joey knew, but there’s no trace of him left. There was, however, a trace of you. We knew you were between where you left and limitless spacetime. Of course, this was a large gap, so we still might never find you, but we knew you still existed, and that’s more than we could say about Joey.
So I made them search. I made them search all day and night because when you aren’t here the hours are irrelevant. When you aren’t here the clacking of keyboards is silent. When you aren’t here sleep is for the dead and I am not dead so I couldn’t sleep.
But you’re here now. They found you, somewhere between the dinosaurs and the Industrial Revolution. They plucked you out, and you were so small. So little. So young. But you were Essethe, and that’s all I needed.
This is the second time we will meet. I will not give you a handshake. I am going to hold you instead and thank you for being alive. You will not understand because you will not remember me because you haven’t met me yet, but this time I promise to make a stronger impression, and I promise to ask you if you love me.
Because I would rip myself apart in spacetime ten billion times to find you if I had to. I would pull you back together when black holes were tearing you apart. I would scour through darkness and history for the rest of my life in search of your crooked teeth and musical laugh. Because I love you with the whole of myself, past-present-and-future, and I need you to know, and I need you to feel the same.
Elise Kelly studies creative writing at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and is an award winning poet with work published by The Mad Ones, For Women Who Roar, K’in Literary Journal, Pour Vida, and Pomme Journal. Elise prefers experimental literature most, but she also plays with traditional fiction, spoken word, music, and translation. Her Instagram handle is @elise.writes.