7. leaves neatly covered, cookie-cutter-like, in a thin layer of powdered snow

Does it happen to me too, you ask? How to even begin to approach that space we inhabit when we believe we’re in love. Spongelike, the things around us absorb us, retain the stark sensations that have taken possession of us, pulsate with them for months, for years. How to explain that the place where my bed meets a bookshelf was once a vertiginous ravine I gazed down into and saw the wrong turn I’d taken, realized I was on the wrong path, was meant for someone else.

In the park, in winter, twin leaves clinging to a tree at eye level: brown, as thin as parchment, as thin as skin; curled inwards to form two horn-shaped vessels, snow-filled papooses joined by a brittle twig—not a simile, but two real leaves in a park that had held fast through November as the last of the year’s unfallen finally fluttered and twirled in the cold rain and the ground turned slippery and black; through the snowstorms of a steadily darkening December, nights of sleet and frost and then: a damp, cacophonous, unseasonable dripping thaw. And I, waiting to hear from V., walked to the park and the tree each day, trudging through the slush or the snow, eyes downcast, alert, the ground different each time with its endless vocabulary of surface formations. And one day, preserved in the hardened soil, a pattern I’d never before encountered: there had been a light rainfall throughout the night, then a rapid freeze followed by a sprinkling of fine snow, and what I saw before me was a fragile layer of fine mud cracked in a thoroughly alien, exquisite way. But no: the surface, as it turned out, was unbroken, the mud frozen in a thin, perfectly opaque layer covering the leaves on the ground and adhering to their brittle contours, the leaves’ edges etched in ice and their spidery white lines scuttling everywhere.

Startled by the unexpected deception, I now saw scattered leaves frozen-stuck in a filigree design that crunched underfoot, that I had taken to be evidence of something else altogether. And here and there, individual leaves neatly covered, cookie-cutter-like, in a thin layer of powdered snow that stood out against the mud-colored, warmer ground where the snow had melted more quickly before the early morning frost had set in and arrested the process. And then, one day, the two snow-filled leaves were gone. It was his birthday, a day he’d planned to spend with me in Berlin, and at once I knew it was over.

There are moments with half-lives that exceed our own, that are capable of emitting shock waves well beyond the memory’s duration. I approached the tree and touched it cautiously, thinking I must be mistaken. Perhaps the tree had hidden its two pupa-like leaves to protect their metamorphosis, to allow them to emerge undisturbed? There was the tiny round navel they had been attached to, no more than a hard brown scab now; I pressed my lips to it and closed my eyes. A moment later, frantic, I searched the ground around the tree, and as my eyes wandered beyond it and saw that the entire park was covered in leaves, all of them brown, all of them curled and brittle, I fell to my knees, and though I felt capable of a systematic search, of sifting through thousands, even hundreds of thousands of leaves until I found the unique pair I had paid a pilgrimage to each day for three months, I understood that it would change nothing: that they had held on but had finally let go, and that it was in keeping with the truth of our situation.

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