I've been spending my days down in the basement, digging through my father's old books. I tell everyone it's because it's cooler down there, but really I'm fascinated by all of this material--old books I'd never heard of, their pages yellowed with age, or sometimes utterly pristine, with only a layer of dust to indicate they weren't printed yesterday.

When I find one that's interesting I'll flip through it, see what it's about. Sometimes there will be notes inside--notes he's taken, notes someone left for him when they gave him the book. There were stories there. I wondered if some of these books he'd kept not because of the story in its pages but the story in the margins--those "hope you're wells" and "thinking of you" notes, the highlights that, bereft of context, illustrate nothing.



My letters home are read and redacted before they ever get there. My wife, she tells me she keeps them, and maybe I'll get to see what they cross out one day, if I can stand it. I understand, of course. It's for security. But her responses always seem confused, like they got rid of something important. Not just names and places and plans, but emotions. I never feel like she's responding to my letters. It's like she read something entirely different.

There was a journalist here the other week, and he interviewed me. I told him about my wife and he asked me, if I could say just one thing to her right now, what would it be? I thought about it for a while. What had I already said? "I don't know," I said. "I guess I'd tell her I love her very much."

"I'm sure she knows," said the journalist with a big smile. And I just thought: does she?


all your scars

She showed me her scars one late summer evening, as we were lying in bed listening to the crickets. It was too hot to do anything else. They all had a story, from scrapes when she was a kid to things I won't repeat here, things she meant just for me. She had never seemed so naked. She knew everything about those scars and now I did, too.

I started showing her some of mine--the ones I knew about, the ones that had stories. None of them were very good. She noticed one on the side of my knee--a long white line. "What's this one?" she asked. I looked at it for a while then said, honestly, that I didn't know. There are lots of things I don't know.


I thought she could weather anything. She had certainly suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune better than I, who had tried to fight back--to all the effect of a man shouting at the thunder from a rooftop. While I railed at the world, she endured. And if I knew my share of hurts, so did she--but quietly, always quietly.

It wasn't like she was hiding from it, or just keeping it in. There was this serenity in her eyes. She well and truly weathered it. I really admired her for it. I often told her so, especially when things were at their worst for us.

Then, one night, she snapped. We were at a cocktail party. It had been a rough week and we were both looking forward to the chance to unwind, to talk, to laugh. And at first everything seemed fine, and the night wore on and we'd both had more than enough to drink. She was starting to look a little sick. Then someone said something--some jab about something she'd done a week or so ago, something I was sure was water under the bridge.

She laughed, but her smile broke. After a little more conversation she excused herself to the restroom, looking ill and unsteady.

When she didn't return after what seemed like half and hour, I went to go make sure she was all right, expecting to find her curled up by the toilet.

The door was locked, but when I called her name, after a moment, she cracked it open. She was leaning against the wall now with an effort, her hair in disarray, her face turned so I couldn't see it. As I locked the door behind us she sank to the floor and looked at me and smiled unconvincingly, closing one eye so I'd stay in focus. She'd been crying but had stopped by now. "I was sick," she said. "I think I'm ready to go home."

"Sure thing. Do you want me to call a cab?" I held out my hand so she could stand up.

"No!" she said, hurriedly. "No, I can walk. It'll clear my head." She staggered to her feet with my help and leaned on my shoulder. "It never stops," she said. "Sometimes I can't keep up."



I have trouble falling asleep when someone else is in the room with me. It doesn't matter who, or where. If I can hear them or feel them, I know they're there. Sleep won't come. I used to be able to, before my ladylove left me, but since then it's--well, I can't sleep anymore. And in the past few months I've picked up a habit that maybe I always had.

The girls I've had over since I drove her away have never meant that much to me. Sometimes I'd pretend, and maybe even convince myself, but they were never anything to me, just something to fill the time. And the sleepless nights bothered me at first, until I started watching them sleep.

I mean really watching. Once I was pretty sure she was asleep, I'd whisper her name. When she didn't stir, I'd get up, slowly, so as not to disturb her, and just watch. You might expect it was fairly uneventful, but you pick up on all these little details. It doesn't mean anything, of course.

Maybe, anyway.

See, the girls I like, they're always a little fucked up. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Sometimes they apologize for it--apologize! to me!--and I tell them what may even be more or less what I really think, that nobody's perfect, that perfect people are boring, that I wouldn't be wasting my time on someone that wasn't really truly worth my time--something like that. Then I say something that I definitely don't really think, something comforting, something that says I'll always be there.

Sometimes we last for longer than a few nights. I've had girls say to me that they feel safe around me. Sometimes I'd swear that they even seem to sleep better after a few nights. Sometimes I feel like I'm making things worse.

Either way, I vanish soon enough.


I never wanted to be famous. I just did what any man would do, and I don't know if I'd go back and choose differently now if I'd have known. Maybe I would. I know I'd have done some other things different later on down the road.

I had plans. They weren't glamorous or anything. I was going to go to school, get a good degree, get a nice job. I never thought anything more would happen. I never wanted it to. I was happy with my plans. I'd have made enough money to be comfortable and eventually I could have settled down somewhere nice and maybe even raised a family.

Then they came and they offered me more money than I ever dreamed of. My sister and I always joked about how, when we came into our millions, we'd help each other out. We'd always help each other out. And I couldn't say no, because deep down we meant it, even if we didn't think it'd ever happen. A lot of it went to her. It still does. I kept my promises, even if I didn't keep anything else.


once or twice

It was an underused bus stop in one of the seedier areas of town, and there was a man waiting there for the bus, unlit cigarette in his hands. I nodded as I walked up, and he said, "You got a light?" I handed him my lighter. He handed it back and I lit up myself. "Is the bus almost here?" he said.

"I certainly hope so," I said.

More silence. I sat on the curb, smoking, watching traffic go by, feeling lost. After a moment, he said, "You ever been in love?"

It had been bothering him all night, I was sure. I thought of my old relationships, all of them ending in flames, usually my fault--thought of how much pain I'd caused, how much damage I did when all I wanted was to make things right. I smiled wistfully and said, "Once or twice."

"What's it like?" he said. He told me his story, or at least he told his story. I was probably not necessary to the equation. It had just ended for him and he was so sure that he had found the one. He would do anything to get her back.

I shook my head and said, "I know how that is." I finished my cigarette and looked up the road. "There's the bus."

still a mess

Recently, I stopped bothering to clean myself up. It's just not worth the effort. They get me as I am--lately that means looking a mess, all slapdash and unkempt.

Before, I'd made every effort to appear presentable for every meeting, however trivial. I made sure my hair was neat, my suit pressed. I made sure I slept well. I made sure my skin was healthy and clear, ate well, took care of myself. I practised my smile in the mirror, trained out the crooked tendencies. And I looked good. I regularly got compliments, backhanded and otherwise.

Things started getting tight. It was a little much to make sure I ate well and got to bed on time and look after my complexion all the time. I tried to cling to the routine, but it became impractical as stress took its toll. A few people noticed, asked if I was sleeping well. I got fewer compliments. But at least I managed to keep my suits clean and pressed, my hair neat.

As things continued to decline, and my company started layoffs, my workload picked up and I had less time and less drive to do anything outside of work. I still tried, but I slipped sometimes. People knew I'd been working hard and mostly just left me alone.

Eventually, I just snapped and stopped caring entirely. I'd come undone. I wasn't sleeping anymore, and I ate whatever I could when I could get it. And my personal life, such as it was, was coming unraveling. I spent more and more nights out, usually wasted in at least one sense of the word, and the mornings would come too soon and I'd drag myself in.

Sometimes I feel like I'm finally honest.


rain and sun

It was raining on a late summer and she said to me, "I love the rain. It's so very spring-time." I didn't argue. We were on a bench in Boston Common and watching the rain fall. It was a gentle rain, not quite like the Boston rains I'd gotten used to over the summer, and not exactly a Seattle rain, either. It was so light as to almost not be there, but with the huge drops that characterized a real downpour.

After a few minutes the sun came out and it was still raining, and I said to her, "This is as late summer as it gets." She smiled but didn't say anything for a while. Then we talked for a while, and as the sun was starting to set we got up and started to walk home. After a few minutes, with the rain still falling, the mostly cloudy sky was all pink and grey and orange in the sunset, and it was warm but there was a cool breeze and she said to me, "No, this is."



The sense of smell, they say, is hard-wired into memory. Certain smells will bring back poignant images of old events. Perfumes will remind you of the girl who wore them. The smell of cinnamon rolls will remind you of Saturday mornings when your mother would still cook. And so on.

The association is never there for me. I can smell just fine. I like some smells, hate others. But I never think of the past. Cinnamon rolls only make me think of cinnamon rolls. My ex-girlfriend's perfume just smells like the flowers it's supposed to smell like. I've heard people say they smelled a girl's hair once who used the same conditioner as a girl they used to love, and the memory was too overpowering for them. I've just made note of it and moved on.

Perhaps I just don't develop those memories. Perhaps I'm so detached from events it just never happens. I couldn't say.


you look so happy

I always told her the only thing I wanted in life was to make her happy, and I meant it every time. Since we first started dating, it was the only thing I wanted. I gave up so much for her. I gave up a career, even moved across the country, ended up in a city where I didn't know anyone. I did what I could, found work, tried to help.

She dumped me anyway, found someone she liked better, and after too many painful confrontations and hateful words on my part, I left town, and moved down to Portland. I figured it was easiest.

From Portland I went to New York, and then west to Chicago, where I ran into her at a diner. She was at the counter and I sat down next to her, not knowing who it was. I'd stopped looking around much anymore, but she ordered just after I sat down, and I'd know her voice anywhere. I said her name, and she looked at me and smiled.

We talked for hours, through several cups of coffee, and later in the evening, through several beers. We mostly talked about where we'd been. No, she wasn't seeing anyone right now. She was going to grad school now. She seemed happier than I thought was possible. Her smile seemed so real and uninhibited. She wasn't just content, or resigned, but really happy.

After we parted ways and went home with a hug that was still awkward despite several drinks between us, I spent the evening trying to figure out how I felt about this. At first I wasn't convinced. Then the thought came unbidden: maybe I just didn't want to believe she could be happy without me?


heat wave

The temperature lately has been overwhelming, though it's finally cooled off. Nobody has air conditioning here, except a few offices. It's never important. So most of us have spent the last few days doing nothing, or wishing we were.

My girlfriend has an air conditioned office, and spends all of the worst parts of the day there, cool and comfortable and unconcerned. She comes home when the temperature's receding and laughs at the rest of us, covered in sweat and lying sprawled wherever we can sit, drinking all the water we can in the vain hopes it will cool us off. Some days, I think she really doesn't understand that it's hot out. Others, I'm sure she's just mocking us.

I set up a fan in the living room today in the hopes it'd cool something down. It didn't work but it was better than nothing. She came home and looked at it, puzzled, and asked when we'd got a fan.


creative differences

When she and I split up, the public story was "creative differences." Publicly it was really just the artistic team splitting up. As far as anyone knew or cared, we were still dating--and would stay that way until one of our friends leaked to the press. We said it was amicable. It was a brilliantly perpetuated lie, right up to the kiss on the air for our interview.

You could even call it that privately, if you don't mind lying to yourself. We first started bickering over stupid things--she wouldn't like a word I'd used. I'd complain that I didn't like the color she was using. It expanded to broader accusations--failing to capture a mood, creating something entirely opposed to the intended finished product--and from there it became personal attacks.

Sometimes, I still tell myself it was really just irreconcilable creative differences, that there wasn't anything more lurking underneath, that we'd never done any wrong to each other before that. I know she does the same. We've even talked about it a few times, pretended we were still good friends, recited some platitudes. But we both know we're lying to ourselves.