When you tell someone, “I miss you,” you are usually not saying that you miss the person, but something that is probably lost forever. We are changing constantly. When you move away from each other, you morph into different people, and since you’re not changing together, the difference can be of great magnitude. So, when you tell someone with all the conviction you are able to muster, “I miss you,” you’re really telling them, “I miss all those summers we spent on the cement terrace of that old house sucking out the pulp of countless sweet mangoes and talking about young heartaches.” You don’t miss the person as much as you miss the time, the lost time, the time that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t imprinted in your memory - that piercing sunshine, the soft flannel picnic sheet underneath your chunky thighs, the rich scent of mangoes peeking through crumpled newspapers stuffed inside a wooden crate, the recitation of cliched precocious poetry, lazy summer afternoons.
“I miss you,” I say over the phone. “I miss you,” I type in my emails. I miss so many people so badly that when I utter this hackneyed proclamation over and over and over, I feel it blooming deep inside my belly, becoming full-mouthed and drooping like a wild rose in Spring. It threatens to suffocate me. It slows things down, my breath, the click of the second hand of the clock, the change of light in the clear blue sky from sharp yellow to syrupy orange, the passage of the cumulus clouds that linger on the horizon like soft peaks of whipped cream. “I miss you,” I say with vehemence. I put all the scent of the wild rose burgeoning inside me into the word, I pour my memories into it, a jigsaw puzzle of recollections, evidently with missing pieces… I try to paint the images of my childhood on its surface - crisp cotton sheets on Eid mornings, soaking up the first rain of the monsoons, men and boys swimming in the canal on hot June afternoons, their shalwars ballooning in the water, swallowing mouthfuls of goll gappay on the street, walking through sugarcane fields around the farmhouse, and buried in all of these misshapen memories, the feeling of being so certain about myself, the absolute assurance of who I was, and the acceptance of it, the pride of it.
“I miss you,” I say, but I mean so much more than what these three words can conjure in your mind. When I say this, I see you, whoever you are, in a particular moment we shared, or one that I witnessed. If I say it to my father, I see him lounging on the sofa, his pen moving across a legal pad with such ferocity that it both fascinated and scared me. If I say it to my mother, I see her lying on the floor on her stomach, her hair fanning across her back, her chest raised from the ground, a book before her eyes. If I say it to my sisters, I see us as children playing school or house or talking before drifting off to sleep in the same king-sized bed. I said it a few days ago to my husband while we were driving home. The moon was large in the sky, our daughter was talking to herself in the car-seat, and the car was winding along the hill towards our neighborhood. There was something present in that instant, the cold gleam of moonlight or the swarm of moths near the streetlight that transported me, hurtled me through years and across continents and oceans. “I miss you,” I said, and he looked at me with his bemused smile. We left it at that. But, I meant I miss those days when we were consumed with a singular focus - each other. I miss the way I was, I miss the things we said, the things we did, the kids we were. When I say these words, I see moments and seasons and years and sometimes I don’t see people at all, but something associated with them. A tube of lipstick. A bottle of ink. A jewelry box. A pair of shoes. A basket of bruised jamun crushed in a plastic bag, sweating from a long journey between two cities. A garland of roses wilted around the edges reminiscent of the one who wore it.
There is so much that I try to encompass in my voice when I say these words, plaintively sometimes, and savagely at others, “I miss you.” What I am really saying is much deeper and far more selfish than what I am able to communicate. Yes, I am unhappy that you (or the version of you monopolizing my thoughts at the moment) are not present in my life right now. I long for you - to see you, to speak with you, to hear you, to love you in that old way again. But it’s more than that, you see. I am wistful for a bigger reason. I miss the moment, that small capsule of time we shared in which I was someone different than I am today. I miss the way I was in that fine grain of time - with you.
Photos by Rebecca McCue