This short has stayed with me for a number of years, almost entirely unchanged save for the ending, which refused to cooperate despite a dozen versions I tried my hand at. This one, eventually, works.
You and Me and the Limerents
Melisse and I had this game: every night, an hour or so before going to sleep, we used to gather close together in bed, usually she lay with her back against my chest, or other times we just sat cross-legged facing each other with our glasses at hand, hers a finger of rum, mine whisky, and we went over the dictionary. We took turns. She started, opening the volume at a random page and placing her finger somewhere in it. It had to be the second finger – we found it funny it was the index finger pointing out words in the dictionary. Where Melisse’s fingertip fell, that was the chosen entry, and we read it aloud along with its definition. Next, first she and then I, had to tell each other all that the word reminded us of, every single thing that crossed our minds in association with it. Every phrase or sentence, story heard or first-hand experience, every person, place or memory it evoked in us. Nothing left out.
The game was my idea. It developed out of something I had told Melisse when we started dating: that my notion of the perfect activity to engage in with a lover in bed involved going through the dictionary, discovering what every word meant for them. I admit this was lame and something I had just said at the time to Melisse to amuse her. One of the mad things that turned in my mind half-shaped. Also, it was something I was thinking specifically in relation to her. I had not imagined playing it with another woman. From early on I had developed the most splendid obsession with her person, a desperate need to uncover as much as I could about her. I craved to know every second of her life, every small or significant thought of hers, every single episode of her existence that I had or had not witnessed. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the nice and the perverted stuff. Fears, hopes, desires, tastes, preferences, aesthetics, nightmares, dreams. All of it, everything.
Now, don’t be quick to determine what this choice of a game says about yours truly in the bedroom. Take your time. Think about it. The complexity it entails. You start with a word and all that it means to you alone. Then you listen to your lover relate every thought and feeling and memory she can summon in connection to that word, isolated or as part of a sentence. You end up with the same word, but it is not the same anymore, for either of you. It has acquired a whole new meaning through the act of sharing.
It is bigger than that. For good or for bad, you do not simply learn in depth about the other person. You associate the word with them forever after, expanding the capacity of what it holds, in a way making it yours – the both of you. My god, the stories. You laugh, or you cry at some of them. You get annoyed, irritated, jealous. The two of you may even fight; it can be detrimental, sometimes. Other times, you get that tender feeling which inspires ‘aw’ sounds in your throat. Or you find yourself disgusted. Taken aback, impressed, scared, shocked. Nostalgic. Delirious. Often, and because it is played in bed, the game gets sexual – storytelling instigates desire. It’s galvanizing. So I’d rather you did not question my imagination in bed before trying it personally. You have no idea what it feels like until you have played it.
Of course, I was limerent. So simple. I see this now. I think I was limerent over Melisse to such an extent as no one else on the planet had ever been for somebody else. But I was a limerent with a twist. Even though I maintain to this day that Dorothy Tennov’s book on limerence is the single most significant scientific study we have –collectively, as mankind– on the subject of love from a psychological viewpoint, I believe she was mistaken. Mistaken to consider limerence a condition and coin the term as such. It doesn’t fall under the obsessive compulsive disorder spectrum. Of course, who am I to dispute her? But Stendhal wrote the same things, experienced the same hurricane. Not to mention Márquez or half the love-related literature in the world. No, I think of limerence exactly as Tennov describes it, but not as a condition – instead, as the absolute, purest form of feeling one may ever hope to attain.
Which invariably leads to calamity. All this was accentuated even more by the particulars of my situation, namely my profession and the obsessive state of mind it demands to nurse in a fascinating or paranoid degree. You see, the reason the game was such a singular success between us was none other than that Melisse was the same. She was like me when it came to love and to the way she thought about it. Because it is not only the words that matter in this game, but who you play it with. I cannot imagine it working with the wrong person. And I, or chance or fate if you believe in such things, had chosen the right woman to play this game with.
Despite all that I had told Melisse on that third or fourth date from a ridiculous theoretical point of view as I imagined the game, I had no clue of the potential it held. Not until we moved in together, exactly three years after we first met.
It started one evening Melisse returned to our apartment from the publishing house where she worked as an assistant editor. She looked wonderful. I remember it, so vivid.
Back then, I stayed at home all day. I used to ghostwrite, but not the type of ghostwriting you see in movies. Rather freelancing for shitty projects on this and that. Student essays, product descriptions, plagiarized nature articles, the lot of it. Badly paid, if paid, always typing, very alone. You would never guess how many crappy horticulture guides, low quality romance novels, children’s books, speeches and technical brochures still, somewhere in the vast expanse of uncared for and unread material around the world, contain the word love only because I was thinking of her all the time. I had become a professional of slipping it into the most unlikely sentences. I even challenged myself to include the word always in multiples of seven, as many as the letters of her name.
Anyway, that evening. I happened to encounter among my papers a scribble I had made of the idea for the game on a post-it, from years ago. I’m like that, a hoarder of old notes. I stuck it next to my monitor and kept stealing glances at it all day. When Melisse returned, she dropped her coat on the floor, quoted Ted Berrigan, kissed the back of my head, grabbed my cock from outside the jeans, and I mentioned to her the note without removing my eyes from the screen.
Purely for fun we decided to give it a go that night instead of reading to each other. We had little idea what we were getting into. I would never choose to forget it, moment by moment, that one of the happiest evenings in my entire life. I am not going to tell you which words Melisse and I went over that first time. But I can tell you I had never cried and laughed and made love to a woman with such intensity as that night, and the following two days and nights that first game stretched into.
We were hooked. This was plainly the most extraordinary thing we had ever tried. Nothing compared to it: getting high or ludicrously pissed, fucking in public, breaking into restricted places for the kick of it, or whatever else occasionally raised the stakes of existence in our minds. Maybe it was so intense due to the professional passion for words we both nursed, Melisse in the realm of fiction and I more in the poetry department. I mean, we did everything with words anyway. Words cradled us, saved us, words put us to sleep, words fed us, words turned us on. We breathed the stuff. So the game held for us such fascinating dimensions as we had never tapped into before.
I guess if you are still unconvinced, you might attribute this to us simply being so in love that we craved to discover as much as possible about each other, get as close as we could. But the fact remains that for three whole days we missed the world. Completely, we did not know it existed. And for once, it was not just me. Even Melisse, the most obedient slave to schedule than you could find, forgot everything she had to do too. She missed two meetings and a promo event. Spent two entire days in my arms, next or around me, going over words in the dictionary.
We did not stop playing at all during those three days. One of us would make sandwiches while the other was still relating from their life, whichever story it happened to be at the time, inspired by the relevant word. After hours without nicotine –I never smoked around Melisse because of her asthma– I was hanging halfway out our bedroom window at 5am puffing while she was talking. And we weren’t drunk or high either. Only after the first 24 hours did we get sick of the taste of coffee (our tongues felt like bootstraps) and yet neither felt like stopping so we assaulted the attic. After that, yes. We consumed copious amounts of white wine, red wine, beer, returning to coffee and food occasionally in between, until we ran out of everything. We didn’t even leave the house to replenish our stock. At some point on the second night, I had to call Drinks on Wheels. Melisse and I talked and drank and made love in every possible place in the flat and on the stairs outside it, meanwhile not stopping at any moment picking words from the dictionary and telling each other what they meant for us, what they reminded us of.
I think there was this point after the third day that we both passed out –not fell asleep, passed out– and it must have been pretty much around the same time too because neither Melisse nor I remembered it happening, afterwards. The dictionary was closed when we woke up on a Friday morning full of sun, having missed three days of the world, our phones and social media accounts bursting with missed calls and unread messages from families and friends, so we never knew what word it was that beat us.
After that first experience, we decided to play the game every night for one hour but no longer. We expanded the set of rules for it and it became a ritual, our very own thing. Every night, Melisse would put on one of those enormous jumpers that I enjoyed saying made her look like a poor person, as she swam in them, and her huge reading glasses, and after getting tired of whatever obscure short story anthology she was reading at the time she invaded my side of the bed, all warm and nice. I’d then have to put down Neruda like a neglected child and pick up the involuntary participant of our lexical threesome, my copy of the OXFORD Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (celebrating 50 years edition).
Melisse was blonde but had dark highlights in her hair which for some reason when I first met her I thought were real. I don’t really remember where I’d got the crazy idea that her hair was naturally bi-coloured. It suited her though, she was an absolute marvel. She had the physique of women of rather older times, all curves and handles, and even though beforehand I didn’t consider her to be what you might call ‘my type’, after her I never fell for anyone that didn’t even marginally resemble that shape of hers. I mean, she was a shape all her own, and I loved everything about it, from the freckles that formed constellations on her back where I got astronomically lost in exploration for hours, to the fluff that made its appearance on her legs and would tease my mouth during the times the workload she had for the publishing house increased. She was precisely the same height as me, which I found oddly attractive.
By this point, you must be wondering why I’m using the past tense.
I would love to say that Melisse and I ran out of words or that we hit a point where the game turned tame. Neither of these happened. The reasons for our separation were pedestrian, uncommonly cliché. And, in the same way that someone learns about an acquaintance’s death after a long illness but without witnessing the struggle they went through step by step, I will bypass them.
So Melisse vanished from my life, the way a novel without plot reads or a poem empty of passion drags on. She and all her personal possessions disappeared overnight. The apartment was bare of her existence, save for a few tokens that were related to her but belonged to me.
The world became significantly smaller.
On the other hand, words became insufferably present.
Because of our game, several thousands definitions popped up everywhere I went, triggering her stories and presence in every waking moment. Her signature was in every small thing. She had somehow gotten into everything, became everything. Unlike the god I didn’t believe in, she was to be found everywhere I turned. Websites, advertisements, cereal box descriptions, fragments of conversations overheard became my ordinary daily bane. I couldn’t top up an Oyster card or order a coffee without being hit by a word that meant something insanely personal. I had to quit reading too, and writing, professionally or otherwise, was a torment worthy of the cruellest criminals. I experienced Melisse’s absence through every tick of the clock. The world was full of presences. People, colours, shapes, tastes, scents, thoughts. But I only encountered words.
To some extent, it stopped mattering whether Melisse had existed or not, really. Because, simply, there was no difference between the two any longer, given that everything was attached to her.
Did I say Melisse featured in every waking moment of mine? Not only. Soon after and due to her absence, I developed sleep paralysis. The visions most people have when the condition manifests are related to their religion and relevant fears; they see demons, creatures from hell and the like. My religion was her, so naturally I relived her vanishing over and over. Paralyzed in bed, with my brain awake but my body unable to move, for hours on end I lay straight, out of the corner of my eye watching Melisse vanishing and reappearing, vanishing and reappearing, vanishing and reappearing.
Eventually, I had to move out.
Slowly, I started writing again. Started going out again, rediscovered my love for London, for humanity. I regained the filthy humour that I used to be proud of and my step when I walked was light once more. This was a time when Melisse was still everywhere. All around me, in everything. Barely five minutes passed that I didn’t think of her, looked for her everywhere. I realized I scanned random passer-by’s faces on the Tube for hers. Dressing feeling with blinkers was tough, but I tried.
I wrote, and the words meant what they meant. I could control them again. But that subtle process held within marrying them, that takes place when they’re uttered, heard, thought, shared, written – that force any more for me meant the encapsulation of love, its very definition. Despite that every dictionary in the world has failed to describe it. A strange thing, a peculiar tactility, liminal; a sort of touch that doesn’t involve touching. Latent living in all of us, everyone; you and me and the limerents of this world. And yet, I didn’t feel safe in language.
I was going to be all right, but I never expected words to be free of her again.
Then, one day, in the dead of winter, I met Adeline.
This local bar in Worcester Park had live rock music every second Friday of the month. That day some band called Gnarwolves were on. They were really good. And my second pint was good and the occasional glance at my notebook of verses was good. Until the frontman announced the next track they’d be playing was called Limerence.
The girl thought that I exclaimed at her for crashing into me as I got up and, essentially, showering me in Foster’s. Throughout the intro she made a show of drying me up with napkins, though she couldn’t hide the fact she was laughing inaudibly. The song turned out not to be a love ballad after all and when it kicked off properly, she took a look at my miserable expression, at my empty pint, smiled big and pulled me behind her and away from the tall chairs, ignoring my protests that I was (and am) an appalling dancer.
Neither of us knew the lyrics so we moved without words. It was loud anyway, but throughout the next couple of songs whenever I tried to slip in a word to her ear she just nodded, smiled, and carried on moving. No answers.
When eventually we got tired and returned to the bar, she was still ignoring everything and anything I said, though I had the sense she was listening. She picked up my notebook and pen, and wrote to explain.
From that moment onwards, everything that once used to be connected with Melisse, worldly or immaterial, in my mind, was blissfully eradicated. As it turned out, all I needed was a new kind of language.
These days I rarely pick up OXFORD’s, and never in bed. Whenever I need to know about a word, I ask Adeline. She knows all of them, and although she keeps saying I need not learn them too, I study. Last Friday I aced my first BSL exam.
All characters, locations and events in You and Me and the Limerents are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. (Well, apart from Gnarwolves and their track Limerence, which rocks.) Views and opinions expressed by characters do not necessarily reflect those of the author.