22 September 2022

Wherever I May Find Her

I don't remember exactly when I wrote this, but thought it worth republishing. Obviously.

In French, “I miss you” is rendered as tu me manques, literally “you are missing to me,” indicating a deep and permanent sense of loss. Someone — the informal, intimate tu — that was there is no longer. It doesn’t matter where they are: what matters is where they are not. They are missing to the speaker.

The verb manquer — to miss — is derived from the Latin adjective mancus, which means maimed, crippled, imperfect: mancus, in turn, comes from a Proto-Indo-European word that means “maimed in the hand:” a serious, life-changing loss of something irreplaceable, unique, and entirely personal; a part of oneself in the truest sense of the word.

If we did not so acutely feel the presence of absence — the vacuity, the emptiness — that accompanies loss, would we know that something — or someone — was missing? Unlike a phantom limb that still seems to have a shape and a place in space, to have a loved one missing to us is to experience a hollowness that is at once numbing and bafflingly agonizing. As it ossifies and becomes embedded in our lives, we might observe that it is equal parts grief, love, and nostalgia: a profound homesickness for the part of us that was once safely housed with and in our love for that person and their love for us, now somehow just out of reach.

There is another aspect, of course, to missing someone: the temporary absence of someone that does not rend so close to the bone, but instead is a bittersweet yearning. Temporary or not, when a lover is missing to us, it very often feels as though we have become unbalanced with some vital part of us going absent. The heart limps. Our beds outgrow us. Our arms feel empty. They feel remote, yet there is still some trace of them — the sound of their voice, the fading taste of their lips, their scent impressed into the pillowcases — that can make it seem as though they have only quietly slipped into another room; that they are just steps away from being found; from refilling our hearts, our beds, our arms.

Sometimes they are and we will kiss them again.

When they are not, however, the emptiness that follows becomes the ebb and flow of grief eroding the shores of our hearts until they are barren or until we learn to walk its waters without slipping or giving in to the temptation to drown.

I use the word “sense” as I would if I were referring to sight, touch, smell, taste, or hearing because loss becomes a sense just as tangible, as any of those that we use to guide our lives, and guide our lives it does, profoundly, and in ways that we may fail to discern.

The only thing we cannot lose in life is loss. It may dissolve and integrate into our lives, but it isn’t gone until we are, until we lose everything, even ourselves.

I have become familiar with another kind of longing that complicates and compounds these other vacuities of absence: I miss someone that has, of late, appeared only in dreams, but always more than a dream.

Elle me manque.

As I search for her face — spectral, haunting, unclear — in the city’s anonymous crowds, feeling her close, sensing her nearness to me, I wonder.

I wonder if her heart limps.

I wonder if her bed has outgrown her.

And I wonder if she will fold me into her arms and kiss me for the first time again when I return to her, a lover, long-missed, wherever I may find her.