something is missing

We'd just finished dinner at a fancy restaurant and I could have sworn she was having a good time. Then, on the way to the car, she said, "I feel like something's missing." She'd even just finished laughing at one of my stupid jokes.

I took her by the hands and said, "It's okay. I'm here." I was concerned. She wasn't usually given to existential angst. "Everything will be okay." I tried to give her a big smile, though it was probably tinged with the worry I felt. I just wanted to be comforting. I wanted to make everything okay for her, even if just for a little while.

She gave me a look, then said, "No, you jackass, I think I forgot my wallet. Can we go back?"

Suffice it to say I felt kind of stupid.


careful planning

I've been doing this for a while now. It's circling, it really is. It started out as nothing more than doodling, meaningless lines that popped into my head at the time, because if there isn't a pen in my hand I feel useless. When I found out she actually read them instead of just throwing them away, I started, unconsciously at first, making these little random lines about her, something I thought she'd write--I was telling her stories through these previously meaningless quotes, communicating, though she never talked back.

Then I started writing poems. I started making everything on a theme, and then, like it was an afterthought, I scribble my initials after the last line. That means it's mine, right? That means I signed it. And then she took it, so that means it's hers. At first I just thought maybe she'd like them, but the more I went on the more I was writing secret notes to her. Did she notice? Was I too clever? I think she knew. I had spent so much time targeting these little notes. She had to know.


parachuting narwhals

I was at a cafe earlier, eating a late lunch that was more of an early dinner with a friend of mine. The girls opposite me and behind him were talking about something or other--I never quite heard them. One of them was cupping her breasts and occasionally squeezing them together or pushing them up. It looked like she was trying to illustrate a point, but I couldn't hear what she was talking about. There was really nothing sensual about it. Sometimes she would remove her hands to gesture, then quickly and mechanically clap them back on like she'd forgotten about it.

Then the girl next to her said, "Parachuting narwhals are the best." I laughed. She gave me a look that I couldn't quite read--was she angry? Confused? I gave her a thumbs up and kept smiling. It was probably the best thing I'd heard all month.


When I moved to Russia I assumed I wouldn't think of you. It's been the coldest winter of my life, but you're still there. It's like you followed me in the guise of ivory-skinned girls with strong features and dark expressions. They ought to be queens--queens like they used to be, beautiful and fair. They would inherit this desolate white landscape, shroud themselves in dark furs. And never smile: like their demesnes, these regal ladies must be grim.

I'm wearing a heavy woolen coat and a furry hat. I'm wearing fingerless gloves and I can't feel my hands. There's a fire burning, for all the good that's doing. I've got a kettle on, but I'm afraid it'll go cold before I can drink it.

And the thing is these ice queens, these Russian princesses, look nothing like you. I don't speak the language, so I don't know what they're like, but--I can't see a sad story and not think of you. No desolate castle crouching on the horizon, no vine-covered ruin, fails to remind me of you. So bleak, yet so regal, so proud despite all the years.

The fire is starting to warm the house a bit. I think the tea is helping. I hope this finds you well. I think of you often. It's very cold.



The most emotionally intense dream I have ever had was about politics. I don't believe that there is such a thing as a good listener. I think I'm sabotaging my own efforts in love. I feel guilty every time I sleep. The more I like someone, the less I use their name. I use empty comments so people think I am agreeing or sympathizing with them. I talk in a different voice and use different words when I think certain people are listening. I'd eat vegetarian but I don't like vegetables. I have entire conversations in my mind and never even attempt to follow through. I'm afraid that WASP upbringing will bring me to ruin, but I'm even more afraid that it will bring me to ruin because I've rejected it. I don't think it's a problem that I'm sabotaging my own efforts in love. I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but only when I'm having a conversation. Sometimes I believe I'm a good listener. I sleep too much. I don't have anything to replace my WASP upbringing. I act self-confident because I want people to think I'm not.

I try not to think about it.


the problem with stories

In stories, everything happens for a reason. In stories, when everything is perfect, it really is, and when everything goes wrong for no reason, that's because, in the end, everything will be okay. The real world doesn't conform to narrative structure. In the real world sometimes everything goes from perfect to terrible and it just stays that way.

Like the story about the guy who fell in love with a girl right after the worst summer of his life,
and she helped him out and they became fast friends and then they started dating and then he proposed and it's coming up on four years now, but it still feels like only yesterday, and they have the whole world to look forward to.

Only sometimes he doesn't meet the girl and he never gets over that summer, or he does but on his own, or because eventually he just snapped and decided to stop caring. Or he does meet the girl but they have a fight and never talk to each other again, or he gets afraid that it's going to be the same as last time and dumps her so he doesn't have to put up with the pain. Sometimes he meets the girl and still doesn't get over it because he's so lost in himself and his own world.

But the whole time he's looking for stories. He knows how the stories go. They start like this and then this happens and then it all works out. Somehow he thinks no matter what he does the story continues and works out in the end. Then he makes a bad decision without thinking and suddenly that matters and suddenly that's the only decision he's ever made. So he wonders if it could have been different or if it's like a story and could only have been that way--and he can never quite remember that life doesn't work like that.


existential angst at a bus stop

A man at the bus stop said something to me while I walked by yesterday. I didn't hear what he had to say--it rhymed with twain. I think twain might have even been the last word, but I don't know why. What could he possibly have said? Was he talking about Mark Twain? It was after midnight and I was the only person in earshot. Was he talking to me? I thought. I turned to look at him for a moment, about to ask him to repeat himself. But I didn't. I kept walking. My thought process now baffles me--I assumed that there was nothing interesting about me, so he must not have been talking to me.

I was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and Converse all-stars. I had a red t-shirt rolled up under my arm, or possibly in my pocket. Do I look approachable? Do people often start conversations with lines that I can't make sense of? Why didn't I stop? He didn't look threatening. But I couldn't think of any words that rhymed with twain that meant anything to me. I kept walking.


the perfect girl

I had a dream about the perfect girl.

But not like that. I was trying to describe exactly what I wanted in a girl. I don't know why. I kept picturing this girl with a French name that sat next to me in my English class, and a girl I passed in the street a few days before, and the only girl I'd ever loved, who went from pretty to beautiful while I wasn't watching. They were all on a type, variations on a theme, but it seemed like I couldn't make up my mind. The girl I'd been seeing didn't make the list--I remember making a note of that in the dream. It's not that she is anything less than perfect. She just isn't variations on a theme. She isn't a skinny, shy, dark-haired girl with dark eyes and a name I'll obsess over. I think I'm okay with that.


nobody home

I moved to an old farming town recently, population two hundred. The locals are friendly, though they wonder what I'm doing here. I tell them I wanted to get away from the city, and they act like they understand, but that's not the real reason. I can't tell if they know that or not, but we both go on pretending.

I guess this used to be a big stop along the railroad, with grain elevators and silos and things like that--there's still a lot of wheat farms, for a town of two hundred. I'm not really sure what they do with it. I guess they sell it still. Sometimes I wonder if any of the bread I used to eat in Seattle came from here. Was I buying their livelihood indirectly? I'll probably never know. I could ask, but I'd rather not.

The local kids confuse me. Not the really young ones, but the ones in high school, or the ones that should be college-aged. I think I confuse them, too. They don't seem any different. When I lived in a small town I was just like them--only there is nothing to do in this town and there's a good chance they all know each other and there's an intricate social structure I'm missing.

I'm not really sure why, but I took one of them on what I guess you could call a date to the local cafe--delicious food, made fresh. The owner knows me now. I guess the whole town probably does. I'm not getting looks anymore. She had brown hair and a practiced smile. She seemed friendly enough, but distant, like one of us was missing the cues. Was she trying to tell me something? Or was I trying to tell her something?

She smiled one of those smiles that usually sends books worth of messages to someone, but I couldn't read them. I was thinking about something else. It's almost Valentine's Day. I'm not home anymore. And moving here didn't actually help. She picks up the tab, and I thank her and say that's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me, and we both know I'm not talking about paying for dinner. I take her back home and she kisses me on the doorstep.

I thank her and say that's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me.

I'd say I never saw her again, but that wouldn't be true. I saw her a lot. I never understood her, but I think she understood me. I almost wanted to leave right there, but there was nowhere else to go. Anyway, I can't leave until I tell someone why I'm here. Even if she already knows.

wallets and identities

I lost my wallet the other day, but it was a few weeks before that that I forgot who I was. It's one of those things that creeps up on you. One day you know who you are, the next, some pretty girl who's always smiling says, "So tell me about yourself" and you realize you aren't sure, you don't know. Do you make something up? Of course you do. You tell a story that's true but doesn't really mean anything, isn't really about you, about something that happened a while ago--a mix of wit and misfortune, something carefully engineered to get that girl who's always smiling to smile specifically for you.

I was nursing a Maker's Mark and Coke, and she'd gone to the washroom, when I started to really wonder why I bothered. All my efforts to get her to like me (and I think she did) didn't matter much because, I mean, I wasn't sure who 'I' was. I was concerned that 'I' would impress her and that 'I' would look good and 'I' would enjoy myself but I didn't know who 'I' was, and that made it all seem cheap.

And I lost my wallet, and I just told her that on the phone--"Want to go hit the bars?" "I can't, I lost my wallet." "No worries, I can spot you some cash"--and I realized I worry too much. This was no time for existential angst.


dreaming about forgetting myself

Sometimes I have these dreams where I'm not the main character, and it's got a narrative structure with conflict, climax, resolution, and so on. This wasn't one of those. I was in the dream, but I wasn't really there. No, this one was all about you. At first I was talking to you but as time wore on you just became more and more the object, and soon I just forgot that I was there. You went about your life and I guess I followed you--like you only could in a dream--and watched you. I don't really remember much about it, actually. You didn't do anything remarkable. In that perfect dream-like way, what I remember most is that I forgot that I was there. Don't let me do that again, okay?