before i earned my driver’s license
before i learned to swerve down narrow city streets—
i fell
i fell in love with the existentialists’ sooty prose
peering into an opium abyss and seeing my reflection in obsidian and

when i returned home, 
it smelled like cinnamon and soap

before i earned my too-small hips
before i learned to sever kisses from promises—
i fell
i fell in love with my friend’s soft touch
swaddling the valley of my waist and pressing lips in primordial warmth and

when she and i slept, 
nightlights looked like newborn stars

dancing through L’Étranger to the rhythm of prickly smirks
i wash down heartburn with chamomile tea 
with college-issued-carpeting under my feet
i don’t know much except 
“camus was a dick!”
and at some point i took a one-way ticket to someplace
my dad would have called “the real world” 
quietly weeping into his steak dinner

up, across the table
there is the love of my life
framed by noontime and neon
waffles and lattes

there is nothing left to yearn for

when i go back to chicago
where lakeshore drive is bleary and damp
i will hide between skyscrapers like velveteen shadows
waiting for my friend’s parents to leave the room
but for now our chests rise and fall as
we match the pulse of 
railroads and teslas 
marking time— 
the oscillation between half-life and almost-death

what was it like to hold my breath for so long that
i felt dizzy
for that boundless, choking moment when
i believed i would live forever

Sam Spratford ’25 is a staff writer

Calvin Van Leeuwen ’25 is a staff artist