I hoarded my words after that, making do with short phrases, dropping the flowery language I had used before. I think it was a relief to us both, my silence. I no longer felt obliged to move conversations along, chattering to fill the empty spaces. He no longer had to sift through the chaff of words to find meaning. Our conversations grew more intense, more considered. We moved more slowly with each other. We listened more deeply.
I found myself counting. I stopped sharing the dross of the day, instead offering a single well crafted gem of a story. When I spoke he paid absolute attention to my every word. It felt like we were dating again. I came to see his reticence as wisdom, his brevity, profound.
Still I tallied. I sat up late at night, comforted by his sleepy sighs, trying to recall every one of our conversations. I reconstructed and deconstructed the intoxicating wordplay of our first dates when we had explored politics and philosophy and favorite television shows. We had compared books and personal histories, travels and adventures. Nothing had been out of bounds. No limits had been imposed on our banter. I came to regret words wasted in trying to impress him.
I took to writing notes for the little things. Grocery store, get milk. This tactic required strategy, lest it become awkward. Sticky notes on the door jamb, found after I left for work. Dry erase reminders on the bathroom mirror. Texting was a godsend, although I fretted that even those brief messages counted against me.
I marshaled my anxiety, confining it to five minutes at the end of each day. Hiding in my office I would write down the day's number, dropping the tiny shred of paper in an old mason jar, cringing as the drifts grew deeper. I wrote in many colors on minuscule slips of paper that pressed against the glass in a mosaic, slowly building a picture of the passing days. Toward the bottom I could see days in which I wasted thousands of words foolishly spent on gossip. With time and practice I pared the totals down. Three hundred. One hundred twenty five. Fifty.
We hurtled toward 120,000 and I found myself gasping in fear, clinging wordlessly to him until he peeled me loose and begged for an explanation. But how could I give him words, when doing so brought the end nearer? I shrugged and shook my head, and he looked sadly away.
Meals became strained. He spoke, and I wondered if his dialogue counted against us. I tried using hand signals, but we both became impatient with my gesturing. His anger grew to match my desperation. I tried to explain to my friends, but they brushed my concerns aside. One told him of my fears, and he took me to a therapist. She prescribed Xanax and several articles about anorexia and control disorders. I fired her. At home I curled up with him on the couch, relishing our quiet time together.
We passed one hundred thousand, and I grew tongue tied. I gave up the pleasantries of “good morning” and “good night”, dropped “please” and “thank you”. I tried to slow time by not speaking of it. He looked at me askance, and grew quieter, too. I rejoiced. He slipped to the far end of the couch.
He left at 117,232. I tried to shout that we had more words, more days, we could continue. He gave me a speech which I should have treasured, but was to busy counting to hear. When he turned his back I wanted to beg, but I couldn't make a sound. I'd forgotten how.
Bits and pieces of his last talk come to me in my dreams. I write the words down and drop them in the re-purposed mason jar. Sometimes I try and make them into sentences. Into sense. Friends tell me it had nothing to do with the tally. That we lost our connection when we no longer talked. But I know I must have miscounted. That's the only explanation that makes sense.