I am so thirsty for the news of bats. When the sickness came when we were in college, they first said it was pigs and primates, but then they turned to bats. When the sickness came with summer, they told me again, it is the evil in the animals, the animals of jungles whose sweat pours from their bark, don’t go near the pigs and primates, but then the papers shuffled and we all turned to the bats.
She used to live in the mountains, in one of the jungles that grows fevers, not too far from the first sickness. She was across the world, but it was not a time of sickness, so I missed her, but I didn’t worry about the dangers of being away from where I am. I think about that now. Bats fly into the tree next to my window, and I think about why when sickness strikes, we want to keep our lovers and collections of friends close—I don’t think it is for their protection. The bats are selfish too. The bats crowd into the tree and breath into each others’ eyes, snouts.
She is closer across the world than she used to be, but when we met before the sickness, in the trees last winter, for coffee and pie and pine trees, pressure and salt crept back into my throat and heart and eyes again and I’m a little clearer now on what that means.
I remember thinking, before I caught the first sickness, “don’t look at her for too long or she’ll see and you haven’t even talked and she’s really good at these books, and you don’t want that resource to burn.” I kept staring at her. I couldn’t help it. She wrote about spiders and roses and the salt in the ocean and cities torn by war and the hot breath of jet planes and I really wanted her from my gut.
We lived all together in rows, crowded into the university on top of each other, and so it was no wonder that I caught the fever before winter of our second year. I wasn’t poor or a hunter or in the sun, so no one blamed me for getting sick or spreading the sickness. I had insurance and a name and so I was a victim and was loved and called beautiful called a woman called to rest and brought poems and soup and pills. She brought me poems and tea.
No one mourns for bats. Bats live in rows and bundles and crowds and disease fly as careless rumors through their cities. To be fair, their bodies are energy and are too hot for many of the microbes, pathogens, and viruses that come to kill us, so few of the illnesses impact them as they do the pigs, primates, and people. We push into their jungles and the bats continue to soar in among their stars, but their waste infects and destroys us bit by bit.
That first illness struck hard into my marrow and my lungs and my skin. I burned for days and the heat behind my eyes was salty and piercing. That second year, I wanted everyone and I loved them all in the way that you have to when you’re all piled up into hallways and bedrooms and library stacks. I was on fire, and I wanted to consume them all, take each one head to toe, until we would be just a tangled mess and they know that I am just and love them madly. Like vines upon vines in the forest, choking out the light from the sun.
And her, she is perfect and I need her. Even after moving and returning and moving. This sickness that came with summer makes people hoard and guard their communities as if that will give each person the power to be important. I’m fighting the easy temptation to collect people, but she is different. No, I want her because I think we could make each other happy for a while. I’d tell her about the pig farms and how they are pushing further into the trees. I’d tell her about how desert bats are more solitary but carry different pathogens, like rabies.
I would count the different types of bats, and I could brush her long hair and press the skin at all her joints with my fingers, testing the give of her collar bone, her elbow, her spine. She could tell me about what she thinks about ideology and politics and family and who I’m supposed to be in five years, and I could tell her my fears about our shared greatness about our shared church, our shared stories, both real and created. I could let her brilliance and wit and low chuckle etch into my bones while I traced my own curves and thought about how different we are. We could talk about silverback gorillas, the first to be blamed for the sickness, and we could pretend like we live in the same city or that the pain of letters from far away places will carry us and sustain us.
See that’s the trouble with love letters though, they’re always forecasting. A detailed session of what to do to each other’s bodies. A prophesy about some unreachable plan for the next phase in life where you’ll both sacrifice nothing and achieve singularity. Where children and geography and solitude and fellowship all seem blurry, there are no deal breakers, and everything is set in the future, and every part of the relationship can be on a pedestal. It’s not the slow wear of being in the same place wondering why we decided being around another person forever was the best way. I wonder if bats think about their mates. I wonder how sick people in far away places talk about the future. I wonder if it is romanticized from death beds or if the future is just more pressure and burning and acid choking up lungs and eyes and throats.