By midday the snow had turned to rain, and by the evening the streets were a mess. I wasn't planning on going anywhere. Life has a tendency not to do what I ask, even if I ask nicely.

Canvas sneakers and a leather jacket don't do justice to the wet or the cold of a New England winter but it's all I have--and you were four hours away by train and of course, I'd do anything for you. I'll be there as soon as I can, I said, and maybe it even helped.

The first half of the journey was wet. The snow was blocking the drains so the streets were flooded and I was stepping in pools of icy water well past the ankle. Then it was icy, with water on top so it was slick and nobody bothered salting the walks because hey, it was just rain. The rain kept falling meanwhile. Eventually I made it to the subway station, rain-soaked and cold, and still with four hours to go. As I step onto the car, my shoes slosh, and I realize just how ill-equipped I am for the weather.


rooftop liaisons

While I was in New York, I met one of my friends from back home. She had moved east to work in media, and managed to become successful and, moreover, looked like one of the locals. We had drinks (on her) and some late dinner (which I bought because I was feeling guilty) and walked back to my hostel, still a little tipsy but not too much, and because it was nice we went onto the rooftop and watched the city. I'm from places where the traffic doesn't exist at night, but here everything was alive all night.

And we just talked. She said she didn't feel homesick very often, she was doing so well here. I wondered if there was something wrong with her, or if it was my problem--missing home so often, with the realization I can't really go home for a long time.

Eventually the sun came up and she went home leaving me thinking something I probably should have considered before: it takes a special type of person to wonder if someone who is happy and successful has something wrong with her because of that.



I've never felt so out of place as I did in New York. I've explored a number of cities now, lived in a few, and always felt, more or less, like I could pass as a native. But in New York my scruffy leather jacket, the days-old facial hair, the t-shirt, tattered jeans and old tennis shoes (in a town where I noticed at least six shoe stores, no less) made me feel like a vagrant--which perhaps I was. Everyone was wearing nice clothes, new clothes, well cut, trendy, fashionable. The clubs I went to were upscale, the restaurants were nice. I didn't see anything which looked old or run-down or traditional.

I found myself smiling at everyone, exceedingly friendly with the locals, feeling vaguely overwhelmed. I wonder if I can try harder next time, or if I should simply look harder for people like me, the haunts I'm familiar with, if I was just in the wrong part of town.


cigarettes and isolation

The last night we ever spoke, we shared a cigarette--the last one either of us had on us, and somehow it seemed appropriate. She was smoking Parliaments.

We promised we'd keep in touch, but of course that never happens the way it's planned. We exchanged a few emails--hi, I'm here safely, thinking of you, glad you got in okay, how are you liking the new place?--but we didn't call, because neither of us likes phones, and she never gets on IM so we never talked there, and soon the emails got slower and then what could we say, anyway?

I knew it was coming, of course. It was a foggy night when I left. My plane emerged from a sea of clouds at street-level, illuminated with little blue and yellow patches, but obscuring all of the buildings entirely. My favorite part about flying has always been looking at the buildings, especially at night, seeing the night's skyline. Coming home I was always ecstatic to see my home and all the familiar buildings--leaving it was one last chance to let the memories crystallize, one last wistful glance. Lot's wife in the Bible, glancing back at her home before it got destroyed by a vengeful God--that's me. But this time my home was shrouded in fog. It was beautiful and foreign, and all I had to remember the city by was a shared Parliament cigarette.

If home is where the heart is, I have to assume mine stayed with her, there in Seattle, watching her take the last drag from our cigarette and then tossing it to the ground, grinding it out, and giving me a smoky embrace. "I'll talk to you soon," she promises, though we both know we never will.


seattle fog

The city's been shrouded in fog lately. Sometimes it's a thin mist, making the skyline indistinct, hiding the mountains. Sometimes it's a dense fog, making driving hazardous. The city shrinks to about a hundred feet in every direction. And then sometimes, like tonight, when I'm taking the bus downtown with a friend I haven't seen in years, there's this rolling patchy fog over the city. Something about it looks dirty. The Space Needle is barely visible--just the top sticking out over a rolling dark cloud. Then we take the Denny Way exit and we're in the fog, and she's talking about how it's so weird. "It's been like this for . . . God, it feels like months now," I say.

We get off and walk to a bar several blocks away. It's fairly quiet and we have a few drinks, chat with the bartender, then walk out into the night. The fog-shrouded city is ours. It's so quiet, so private. We walk up to Gasworks Park. It's a long walk and we sit down on the concrete and stare out at the fog as it conceals the skyline we both fell in love with years ago. We talk for hours until the fog encapsulates us again.


non smoking rooms

An alarm started going off in the parking lot just after she walked into my hotel room. It was fairly unobtrusive as far as alarms go, just a quiet, steady chirping sound in the background. I was lying on the bed, reading a mediocre whodunit by some British author. My sister sent it to me in the mail. I didn't look up. She sat down next to me and lit a cigarette.

I said, "You know these rooms are non smoking, right?" She lay down, putting her face next to mine, and said, "Yeah, and?"

I could have said anything just then. I could have said that she wasn't worth the fees they'd charge me for smoking in the room. I could have made a quip about it, something clever about health--the sort of thing smokers hate to hear. Instead I just shrugged and closed the book. The alarm chirped in the distance. I shut my eyes. It only made the smell of smoke stronger.

There was silence for a while, some dirty looks exchanged, some words I've still got my whole life to start regretting, then it was hours later and she was walking back out into the fog that had settled over Seattle since I'd gotten into town, cigarette in her hand, trailing smoke, breath hanging in the air. I watched her from my balcony but ducked out of sight by the time she looked back.

The alarm was still chirping in the distance, and I told myself that's why I couldn't sleep.


what i've written

Yesterday I watched a movie that matched in near-perfect detail the story I've been working on for years. I tried telling the host, a dear friend of mine who has been reading as I write, about it, and she laughed at me. The themes are different, she said. The wrong character is moving. There's too much infidelity in the movie, it's more about connection than disconnect--but I continued to insist it was the same story. And, worse, I became convinced that my story only really works as a movie. On paper it is lacking, the pacing is wrong, you can't convey a lot of it.

But it loses everything in the conversion. The theme changes, the characters change places, the story becomes more about connection than disconnect. It was a brilliant film and it was my story, but there was nothing left of the original story there. I still can't quite explain. I'm still writing, of course, especially now that I know how it ends.


ice, reprise

I spent most of the day hiding indoors after my girlfriend of three years broke up with me this morning--there was really nothing in the outside world that inspired me to head out. All of yesterday, the weather was what the weatherman called a "wintry mix," which meant it was freezing rain last night, turning the snow into sheets of ice. This morning it was forty degrees and sunny, and as I sat on the couch staring into the middle distance, sheets of ice kept falling from the roof, making loud crashing sounds all around me.

I knew what it was and that it was not going to harm me, but it left me rattled regardless. Even the weather is collapsing all around me. I'd never had a winter like this before, and I never thought it would end like it did--everything falling all at once, leaving me cold and frightened and confused.


certain types of madness

Today I had a friend tell me she thinks I get depressed around the holidays. This made no sense to me. I have a wonderful time during the holidays. I love seeing my family again, my nephews and nieces so excited about their Christmas presents, filled with that focused enthusiasm. I love celebrating the new year with my friends, raising a glass of champagne to happier times, talking about auld lang syne, preparing to make new memories for the next year. I told her I was perfectly happy during the holidays.

Then I started thinking about it. This was the first year she had known me for the holiday season. Maybe it wasn't seasonal at all but something could still be bothering me. But what? Have my other friends noticed it? Have I been unusually surly, more quiet than usual, more prone to sarcasm and cynicism?

I was restless by the time I got home. I prepared a cup of tea and drank it as calmly as I could, then got up and started to pace furiously. Now my mind was in gear I kept thinking of times I was uncharacteristically short, times I said something I wouldn't have otherwise. They seemed innumerable. It seemed impossible that I should have missed them all. My friends were saints for even enduring it--and they did so without a word of complaint!

Then I wondered if I had missed them at all. Perhaps they were normal, all in the course of a day. Was this indicative of a prevailing mood? Was something even the matter with me? Was she just mad herself, or projecting her own feelings onto me? Was she trying to force me into a fit of introspection, to ruin the positive feelings I had about the new year?

It did not occur to me until much later that it was daft to even be worried about it.


photographic memory

I've started taking photos of things and then never looking at the pictures. It's not intentional, I don't think, but it's something that sort of worries me. I'll see something and capture it in photo--the place where the plow just drove down our useless little side road, just as a car is driving through; some interesting items in a store; some signs that caught my eye at Harvard Square. It's not something I look at later for my own enjoyment. I usually just delete them all when the camera is full. But I always remember the picture. It stays with me. Sometimes I tell stories about how I took a picture of it later, like somehow that makes it more real.


remarkable meetings

I really just wanted coffee. I was tired and hadn't slept and far from home and about to start the long drive. I needed coffee and some change for the tolls on the way out. The only thing I really knew, the only thing I cared about, was that I got out of Illinois tonight. I would crash in some nowhere town in Wisconsin or something, sleep in the back of the car. Chicago had been somewhere between a great success and a complete disaster, but I needed to get out. There was construction for miles up north on I-90 and I really had no interest in falling asleep and driving into a concrete barrier.

The waitress was not interested in my existence. I was contemplating waiting until she was out of sight and just doing a runner when an old friend walked in--someone else with no business in Chicago, he should have been in New York or California or something doing great things with great people. He saw me and waved. I waved and gestured at a seat, so he joined me. He probably should have ignored me.

We both expressed surprise at seeing the other, both dodged the question about what we were doing here. He didn't comment on my appearance--the greasy hair, the rumpled clothes, the dark circles under my eyes. It could have just been that I'd been up for a long time. I don't know who I was hoping to convince, but it didn't work for me.

The waitress returned with more coffee for me and a menu for him. It tasted terrible but it was hot, gave me some life, at least. We told stories, none of them consequential, while we ate our dinner and drank our coffee, and then after too much coffee, shook hands awkwardly and parted ways. I think he was headed for New York. I drove north. I was going to drive through Wisconsin, but sleep finally caught up with me. I found a parking lot in West Salem and slept until someone knocked on my car window in the morning to make sure I was okay.


two letters to two people

To A____, who is far kinder than I deserve.

Your smile is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and I usually reserve such judgments for fear of changing my mind later. I hope you know I am terrified of disappointing you or displeasing you despite knowing--knowing, with a certainty that so few ever have access to--that you will forgive me anything I will ever do to you. It is perhaps my fear of never seeing your smile again that makes me so certain I do not need to fear. I have certainly not missed the paradox, but it is your paradoxes and ironies that I love. So near, yet so far. You are perfect and immutable even as you change day by day, so I will remain

Immutably yours,
R____ M____

To S_____, who is certain.

I'm not sure if there are words left. You have robbed them all of their meaning. Every single word there is, you have destroyed. If I apologize I am a liar; if I do not I am unfeeling; if I ask you to stay I am controlling; if I send you away I am a monster. I do not know what the future holds, but I know it does not hold more words from me to you. There are no words: I cannot speak nor write them. I cannot even silently mouth them, or type them only to delete them, write them only to cross them out, or shape them with a pen whose ink is long dry. This is the last time I will be

Sincerely yours,
R____ M____


some way to greet the year

I flew down to Florida just after Christmas to spend the new year with a good friend of mine, who was down there for work and decided the Boston winter was too cold to spend a week there--"I'll visit when it's nice"--and she took me to a house party of one of her coworkers. I didn't know anyone but they soon figured out I was from up north, kept telling me how it must have been so cold there, they don't know how I can stand it, it's freezing enough down here, how cold is it there right now? We looked up the weather. Eight degrees and dropping. It had just snowed six to eight inches. The wind chill was negative fourteen. I told them that was nothing.

I had a small but captive audience as I told some of my stories. Getting arrested in Minneapolis, getting lost in LA, running into an old friend at a diner in Chicago, protesting in New York. My friend, I assumed, was mingling or talking to someone elsewhere. I was a hit at her parties because I had such a checkered past. I had adventures behind me. I had stories to tell. She was brilliant and successful and had brilliant, successful friends, and I was worried they'd think I was useless, but I think I was too fascinating for that.

I saw my friend duck outside and joined her. I asked if I was boring her with my stories, and she said no. I asked if something was wrong and she didn't answer, but she nodded. I asked if she could talk about it and she said no. I asked if I could help and she said no.

Someone inside shouted "two minutes!" and she stayed and stared out into the dark ocean. She didn't cry, or ask me to hold her, or say anything. I stood and watched her, entirely unsure of what to do--if there was anything I could do. Inside, they started counting down. Everyone shouted "Happy New Year!" and glasses clinked. My friend smiled weakly and said "Happy New Year," her voice barely more than a whisper. She kissed me on the cheek and pushed me back inside. A few moments after she was back in with me, like nothing had ever happened, asking if I'd told them the story about New York. Asking if I was glad I was out of the snow.

"I don't know," I said. "I'm not sure what I'm missing."