All That I Can Say Now

Nonfiction / Jasmina Kuenzli


:: All That I Can Say Now ::

            It was beautiful.

            That’s what I hold onto. Even after every­thing that hap­pened, the flash­es of glow­ing joy and sud­den, rag­ing warmth, the blasts of cold that shiv­ered me apart and turned my breath to frost, the way he built my Earth only to break open the ground beneath me …

            It was beautiful. 


            When was the first time your heart was real­ly bro­ken? What did it feel like?

            It was like this—

            Koi no yokan—a Japan­ese con­cept known as ‘love at sec­ond sight.’ Not love at first sight—you know bet­ter than that. But he is a match, and you are a pyro­ma­ni­ac. And you know it’s only a mat­ter of time.

            Koi no yokan—that boy over there—with the back­wards hat and the Har­ry Pot­ter tat­too, that one who has the best jokes, who always seems like the cen­ter of atten­tion, who feels the strongest out of everyone—you’re going to fall in love with him. And it’s going to break you in half. 

            What do you call koi no yokan if you see the crash, and you don’t do any­thing to stop the train bar­rel­ing down upon you? Even after all the oppor­tu­ni­ties to throw your­self out of the way, you remain there, not even both­er­ing to brace for impact…

            What do you call it, then?




            On the first day, he stopped and start­ed three sen­tences before he just smiled, show­ing that gap between his two front teeth, “Words.” He shrugged.  Caught me.  

            And I thought, Don’t.

            It was that gap between his teeth. Keep­ing him from being too attrac­tive, too unat­tain­able. It made him look like some­one you could trust.


            I don’t want to lie to you, let you oper­ate under any assump­tions. I wasn’t the damsel, inno­cent­ly lured in by some­one old­er and dark­er and dangerous.

He was 18 when we met, and I was 21.

            I was the one who knew better.

I was the one who should have walked away.



            Spoil­er alert: this is not a love story.

            Spoil­er alert: I’m an unre­li­able narrator.

Spoil­er alert: we nev­er even kissed.


            If we didn’t feel like talk­ing, we would sit next to each oth­er and read or write while we drank cof­fee. Lean, ever so slight­ly, against each oth­er. Easy. 

            I nev­er felt ner­vous, nev­er count­ed the spaces between his leg and mine, nev­er mea­sured out the dis­tance between us. I nev­er cal­cu­lat­ed when to break and run.

            With all the oth­er guys, I was crawl­ing out of my skin, inti­mate­ly aware of every hand brush, every acci­den­tal moment of eye contact.

            But I nev­er cared about any of that when I was with him.

            He was safe.


            What else?

            We tried to make up secret hand­shakes, but we nev­er could, because for all of my con­sid­er­able men­tal capac­i­ty, I couldn’t get over the way my hand would slide through his.

            He liked to tug on my hair ties, brush­ing his fin­gers against my wrist, when­ev­er he was try­ing to tell me some­thing important.

            We stayed behind dur­ing a thun­der­storm to watch The Princess Bride togeth­er.


            We nev­er said it out loud, because say­ing it was a curse. Like the name of a demon or a bogey­man, say­ing the words would spring some­thing enor­mous and ter­ri­fy­ing into being, and it would destroy us.

            What we were build­ing was too insub­stan­tial, too frag­ile to with­stand the weight of language.

            We pre­tend­ed not to hear the whispers.

            And I thought, Please.


            But then there was this.

A leaf blew into the pool deck from out­side, and it was shaped like a heart. I picked it up and hand­ed it to him.

For you.”

            He rolled his eyes, but he was blush­ing when he took it.

            When I came back, the leaf was on the ground, shredded.

            “This is what you did to my heart!” I ges­tured to the wreckage.

            “No,” he cor­rect­ed. “This is what you did to my heart.”


            And all I’ve got is spec­u­la­tion, and my own insignif­i­cant feel­ings. Try­ing to con­vince a biased jury with cir­cum­stan­tial evidence.

            Con­struct­ing cir­cles of log­ic that nev­er lead to any­thing but more circles.

            I think I wasn’t the only one…

            Koi no yokan echo­ing in my ears, keep­ing me awake at night.

            We could look into each other’s eyes and know what the oth­er was thinking.

            I think


             But this is what happened:

            I asked him.

            We drove around for two hours, try­ing to get past the wall that had fall­en between us. A big plas­tic some­thing, turn­ing the car’s space from com­fort to suf­fo­ca­tion. Awk­ward yawned between us, unfath­omable and claus­tro­pho­bic all at once. 

            So that’s it, I thought.

            And then I thought the word that’s still chas­ing me.



             Because then there was this.

            He told me he loved me. And then imme­di­ate­ly qual­i­fied it, but not in a weird way. He bab­bled and mum­bled and stut­tered, until I slammed the door in his face.

            We didn’t talk about it. 

            The words unsaid piled up just like the words we said used to, hard­er and hard­er to break through. Our silences were stilt­ed, and I couldn’t sit still if we were even in the same room.


            These were the last times that I nev­er knew were the last times. You don’t know the end until it’s over.

            No, that’s not right.

            What I mean is: I thought we were endgame.

            Koi no yokan. Inevitable.

            And we did talk again. We talked about our fam­i­lies, about the par­al­lel lines our lives had run. How we’d been in sync before we met.

            And I could see us in the future, sit­ting just like this. My head on his shoulder.

            I told you I was crazy.


            Because it was like this:

            He didn’t care about me if there was some­one else around to see it.

            Like this:

            His eyes fol­lowed her no mat­ter where she was. The way they would fol­low me when she wasn’t around.

            And this:

            “He’s fucked over every oth­er girl. You’re not the only one.”


            He lost weight and gained mus­cle. Start­ed to look more like a mod­el and less like an awk­ward for­mer band kid who was suf­fer­ing beneath the weight of his inse­cu­ri­ties. Start­ed to look less like you can trust me and more like you don’t have a shot in Hell. 

            It was like this.

            We were still friends, but he only want­ed to talk to her, and he only want­ed to talk about her, and it was rip­ping me open, and even though he could have seen it, he always looked away.


            What do I tell you?

            He was my best friend, but only when no one was watch­ing. And he saved my life, but he was hurt­ing me, and he was kiss­ing her, kiss­ing her, and I was cry­ing alone in a bath­room stall, because no one knew or would under­stand, because no one could see me break down, it’s been a year and you’re not even friends any­more, it’s nev­er been you, it was always her, and they’re kiss­ing, and I’m bit­ing my knuck­les to stop from scream­ing, and they’re kiss­ing, and I’m…crazy. 



            I wrote a poem about him, and when it was pub­lished, he and his friends who used to be mine took it and mocked it, read­ing it aloud and call­ing me all the things I’d thought about myself. Imma­ture. Pathet­ic. Crazy.



            He walked out with­out say­ing good­bye, two years, all those long con­ver­sa­tions and the con­nec­tions and the hands against my skin, the way his eyes would fol­low me across a room, gone. Like noth­ing ever happened.

            Koi no yokan. Bullshit. 



            The first time I saw him again, I had a pan­ic attack.



            But it’s been a long time.

            And all I can say now is:

            It was beautiful.


            And this:

            My best poems are about him.



            I will nev­er again won­der if I am capa­ble of lov­ing some­one that much.


           And I don’t think you ever real­ly fall out of love with some­one you’ve loved like this.


            I don’t think you ever love the same way twice.

From the writer


:: Account ::

            When I was 22, I learned an impor­tant les­son: You can be wrong about your soulmate. 

            When I met the sub­ject of this piece, I felt some­thing I nev­er felt before. A sense of know­ing, of under­stand­ing that couldn’t be shak­en, no mat­ter how hard I tried to ignore it, or talk myself out of it. A few weeks lat­er,   I came across the term koi no yokan while read­ing, and I knew exact­ly what it was:  a Japan­ese con­cept mean­ing love at sec­ond sight. I was sure: it was only a mat­ter of time.

            Unre­quit­ed love is an embar­rass­ing emo­tion to have when you’re 22. All of your friends are going off on adven­tures in love, rid­ing the roller­coast­ers of first rela­tion­ships, the post-apoc­a­lyp­tic breakup may­hem, of ‘real’ love.  But you are stuck at the sta­tion, wait­ing for a train that’s nev­er com­ing. Unre­quit­ed love means mem­o­riz­ing tiny lit­tle things about the oth­er per­son every day, and tal­ly­ing them up like a score­board of spec­u­la­tion, all for that most stub­born and dan­ger­ous of emo­tions: hope.

            He was one of my clos­est friends. There were times when I would get that feel­ing again, and my vision would zoom into the future, and I would see our slow talks, run­ning laps around each other’s brains, tak­ing note of all the knick­knacks and hang ups, the sud­den pit­falls and the places hid­den by cur­tains, where we nev­er let any­one else go. There were times that I felt under­stood in a way I can’t explain, a way that went beyond words. I thought that was cer­tain­ty, the call of two souls across space and time to one anoth­er. Koi no yokan. Inevitable. 

            But just because you believe some­thing, doesn’t make it true.

           Still,  I lit a can­dle and held it in the fog of his grow­ing dis­tance, of the girls he did want that he always took home, the way he always ignored me when­ev­er they were around. I wait­ed, and I was calm and petu­lant and fear­less and ter­ri­fied and awed at the strength of my devo­tion. It took a year to accept what was, instead of what I wanted.

            When I final­ly real­ized it was over, I wrote it all down. “All That I Can Say Now,” is that piece, where I lay out all the evi­dence, from the first day to the last. Where I try to con­vince myself that unre­quit­ed love wasn’t crazy; or even if it was, it was beau­ti­ful. When I first wrote it, I called it my “All Too Well.”

            “All That I Can Say Now,” says, in the same wild, heart-stop­ping defi­ance that can have you writ­ing hand­writ­ten notes in your favorite book, dri­ving through the lights of Austin, scream­ing your heart into the steer­ing wheel, sink­ing to the floor in a bath­room stall, and pick­ing up a shred­ded leaf from the dis­gust­ing pool deck: “I was there. I remember.”


Jas­mi­na Kuen­zli is an author of poet­ry, cre­ative non­fic­tion, and fic­tion and has been pub­lished with Crow & Cross Keys, The Blue Riv­er Review, The Elpis Pages and many oth­ers. When she isn’t writ­ing, Jas­mi­na can be found weightlift­ing, run­ning, and hold­ing impromp­tu dance par­ties in her car.  Her life goals include land­ing a back flip, get­ting legal­ly adopt­ed by Dwayne “The Rock” John­son, and being a con­trib­u­tor on Drunk His­to­ry. She would like to thank Bren­na and Sarah, who hear all these sto­ries first, and Har­ry Styles, who is sun­shine dis­tilled in a human being. Find her on Twit­ter @jasmina62442.