Sometimes We Forget by Nicola Sebastian

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He kneads my belly like he does every night. He thinks you’re his mama, you tell me, your face a pixelated screen from sixteen hours away. I pulled him out of a wall more than a month ago, a tiny thing, a bag of fur and bones and not much else, eyes just opened and already suffering from mange, crawling with fleas. His rolling purrs are in time with his pushing paws and it feels like waves. The house is quiet and thick with sleep, but, like cats, you and I no longer keep regular hours.

Sixteen hours is the time difference between here (Manila) and there (L.A.). You’ve been there for six months, now, to work, to save up for our future. I’m trying to hold onto our present, here.

They knead with their paws like that to get milk out of their mothers. When I saved him he couldn’t eat solid food yet; I nursed him with a syringe and milk from a can. Now he’s bigger, furry, and gingery; falls off ledges and chairs like a proper clumsy kitty; yowls hungrily at the birds singing outside our window, beautiful, endangered birds that I cannot let him catch. Sometimes when I say pet, I think prisoner. But still when it is dark and he is sleepy, he forgets, and he kneads my belly, looking for mama.

It’s strange, this interspecies love. I cradle him and hold him close, smelling that milky, sleepy smell, apparently a universal thing. He chirrups at me, gazing up into my brown eyes with his green ones as if confused at the difference in colour. With nothing to wrap myself around at night but the inert weight of my duvet, I let him nestle into my neck, glad for a warm body. But this one is so very small.

I could never imagine it before, but I see, now, how we would want to count to ten on such tiny digits. We made those, we could say, someday, inhaling each other’s sighs, that milky, sleepy smell, our universe. It’s a future worth holding onto, we tell ourselves. It’s not just the kitten that forgets.

I suppose this could be about all the times we’ve forgotten to call, to say our I love yous, good mornings, and good nights. Or the time you forgot our anniversary — eight years — how it became a little easier to let go, after that. But this isn’t the kind of forgetting that I mean.

In this hour, time itself forgets to keep count. Everything is soft, still, open. Even gravity eases off. Without time, without gravity, we float. And we forget. Forget to be who we are supposed to be, want to be, pretend to be, fail to be. Forget whether we got all we wanted, or whether it’s already too late. We forget to protect ourselves, the guard dozes at his post, and what is left is the person we should have been, had life not made its move. Before your mother’s infidelities taught you how easily a woman can destroy a man. Before my mother’s powerlessness taught me that a woman in tears is a woman in love. Before you decided that you could save our future together if only you could provide me one, and got on that plane. The person we still are when we smell like sleep and speak in dreams. Sometimes, we forget.

It is a time I can ask you anything, and you will answer truthfully. It is the time you can turn towards me, pulling me close, and I forget to stiffen up from the same fight we are always having. It is the time I can shake you awake and tell you anything, the things that haunt my darkest corners, and you will listen. Things like, I think you hurt me because you are afraid of me. Like, Maybe you don’t believe in my love for you because I don’t either. Like, Sometimes it feels like we are drowning each other, waiting for the other to let go. It is a time we can be together, the way we never get to be, awake. The future is no longer ours, I didn’t say, when you left. Don’t leave, I said, instead. There’s so little of us left.

But you are there and I am here, and I have a cat looking for his mama. He forgets. I am not his mama. I forget. The shape of your shoulder under my chin. We forget. That time of the morning. When everything is okay. The heat and hurts of the day. Too far away. An hour for forgetting. We are in different time zones. We can’t even forget at the same time.

It is just an hour, but to one who dreams, to one who twists and turns, to one who waits, sleepless and milkless, it is an infinity.

It is when the face of the man I love softens into that of the boy he once was, and my kitten crouches in the tall grass, hunting gazelle in his dreams. It is when my eyes flutter and my hands reach out, seeking the warmth of you.  When I wake, you’ll be gone; when you come home, I’ll no longer be here. But, for the moment, sleep is our universe; everything is possible, still. No one crying; nothing ruined. The duvet rustles around my searching hands; you turn towards me, pulling me close. Whiskers twitching, claws unsheathed, the little one roars, eyes closed. Outside our window, the birds are already starting to sing.

Sometimes, we forget.


Meet the Contributor

NICOLA SEBASTIANNicola Sebastian is a writer, surfer, and freediver from the Philippines. She was born and raised between Hong Kong and Manila, and is finishing her MFA in fiction at Columbia University, New York, where she taught creative writing. Nicola is also a National Geographic Explorer, receiving a grant to write about Philippine marine biodiversity and the coastal communities that depend on it. She is working on an ecological memoir about one of the biggest typhoons in history, Haiyan, exploring islandness as space and sensibility both. Her work has been published in the Bellingham Review and received an Honorable Mention in the 2019 New Millennium Writing Awards.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/tina

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