…every love story is a ghost story…

The first gift my friend brought me was 80% Dunkle Schokolade from Germany. It looked beautiful, but I couldn’t taste it.

He opened the package like an exhibition of performance art, breaking off pieces in shapes like scars. A member of his audience, I watched with deference, grateful for his gestures, mesmerized by his movements.

Eventually, I reached out and took a piece. I tried to appreciate the taste and quality and texture of his gift, but it felt cold in my mouth.

At the time, I thought it was his unpredictable kindness that scared me, that perhaps I felt unworthy of his attention and affection.

Later, I would recognize there was no kindness behind his gifts. They were transactional and manipulative, and what would be required of me was more than I would ever have willingly chosen to pay.

Nevertheless, the payment was exacted, in full.

What it cost me felt exorbitant.

This morning, while I was making coffee, I noticed the pink hues of Haitian art packaging on a chocolate bar left sitting on my desk. I turned it over to read the history, looked at the list of ingredients, curiously fingered the ridges of the foil. Then I wrapped myself in a red wolf blanket, warmed my hands on the coffee mug and held the chocolate next to the heat of the drink, softening around my fingers till it was pliable, like clay.

I licked the chocolate and a wave of resistance sprung up like a flavor, choking me with unspoken goodbyes, a machine gun of memories, loud and violent, like a backdrop of war. My parents, my grandparents, the Field, Phosterians, Chapel, the Trip, Quiet Street, Devotions, punctuated with the memory of him, converging in grooves thick, like mud.

I hadn’t thought to tell him that Europe is not always a college playground, that sometimes abroad is the only place you can think of to go, but it’s not far enough away.

I dipped the chocolate in the coffee and rolled it around with my tongue until it calmed me, like a cigarillo. I noticed the taste of fig, a touch of floral, a tinge of nut, and it was warm and layered and acidic inside of me, like a lover who knows how to move with your breath, and there was bitterness along with the sweetness, alternating in syncopation, like a heartbeat.

Michelle Dowd