A story. Six months later I ran into her again. I want to say it was something like "it was like we'd never been apart," but she'd cut her hair and she wasn't sure if she knew me, either. It was at a cafe and she was just staring at me for what seemed like forever before she came over and said my name, and then said, "I got a typewriter. Would you like to see it?"
And I said sure before I knew who this strange woman was. I probably should have asked just then. I finished my coffee and walked with her to the little place she called home. Never once in all the time I knew her did I ask if it was really a home, and sometimes I feel guilty for that. I have called a lot of places home and these days I'm not even sure what I mean by that.
Then I sat down on her couch, awkwardly. The typewriter was on a little desk in the corner of the room. "Do you want a drink?" she said. She came back with two cans of PBR. She opened one and handed it to me, smiling exactly like she was enjoying herself.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Who are you?"
And she smiled and told me how we'd used the word "we" and it felt so natural six months before, and then she leaned in close, her breath smelling of cheap beer just like it did six months before, and whispered "I'd hoped you'd remembered" in my ear. I wish I could say she kissed me then. I could feel her nose brush my cheek as she moved away and sat at the typewriter. "But I guess six months is a long time."
There had been others before me and there would be others after. I knew that. I didn't know why we both wanted this to be special. I'm not sure if either of us thought it was.
A story. Six months later I ran into her again. I want to say it was something like "it was like we'd never been apart," but she'd cut her hair and she wasn't sure if she knew me, either. It was at a cafe and she was just staring at me for what seemed like forever before she came over and said my name, and then said, "I got a typewriter. Would you like to see it?"
A memory:We didn't mean to meet. I say that like you normally intentionally meet people. Like everything in the world isn't just a series of perfect accidents. But we sat down across from each other and you know how sometimes you're just on the edge of the conversation with someone else? And then we went to the party that night.
It was so late by the time we realized what time it was. From one of those awkward conversations where one of you is halfway out the door to sitting on the front steps with a cigarette. One of us glanced at the clock across the street and said "That can't be the time," but it was. And one of my friends was stumbling his way home. I stopped him and asked if we could sleep on the floor, and he was apparently too drunk to notice the "we" but neither of us were.
I don't know if I actually slept. It was cold and the floor was hard and we just talked until the sun came up and the trains were running again, and with a smile and a "We should do this again some time" it was six months until the next time we spoke.
The last few weeks I've been staying with this girl I've known for years. She is a saint, or maybe an angel. It's not that she's always been there for me, because most of the time we were on our separate ways. But if I ever needed a place, like I do now--just somewhere to lie low until the bruises fade, metaphorical and otherwise, and I'm back on my feet.
I try to stay out of her way, more for my sake than hers. She only has one request of me, and that's "I don't want to be touched."
She didn't used to be like this. When we were both teens we dated for a while, like teens do, exactly like we were the only people in the world, until that faded, as teenage relationships do, but somehow the friendship never did. I guess it's because she's a living saint.
A few weeks ago when I called her and told her I needed help she said sure, as I knew she would, as I felt so guilty for knowing, and when I tried to hug her at the door she just cringed and said "I don't want to be touched," and I couldn't ask, right?
If only. A few nights in I asked and she looked at me like she didn't know what I was talking about, and I stupidly pressed the matter until I could see she was uncomfortable. I decided I'd drop it, but damage done--she wouldn't talk to me for the next week.
I'm not so good at knowing how to thank people for their hospitality so I just try to stay out of the way. Clean up, leave no messes, that sort of thing. She's talking to me again now but now I think it's time to find someone else to stay with, and I don't think there's a way I can really make it up to her.
Sometimes I get tired of telling these stories of dysfunction, but apparently someone did a study. Turns out you're better at communicating when you're in a bad mood. But it's Thanksgiving so I should at least tell a Thanksgiving story.
I think this was in 2007. 2007 was a dead year for me. I was seeing this girl and neither of us really--I mean, we got on fine but there was no chemistry there. It was a relationship in the school of "anybody warm," and she was warm, at least, which was probably good because we both lost power on Thanksgiving. Her family was--I don't even remember where, somewhere on the east coast, somewhere far away. I was staying with her because I didn't want her to be all lonely. Nobody should be lonely on Thanksgiving.
Which seemed weird to me at the time. That I thought it was special, I mean. Wasn't that our entire relationship? Nobody should be lonely, so we had each other. It wasn't much but it was much better than the alternative.
And there wasn't any power so we couldn't actually cook anything we'd bought, which was mostly just canned, except the tofurkey. I suggested we find a restaurant at least and she said, "There's nothing so lonely as going out on Thanksgiving." And of course everyone was out of town so we just curled up at home and ate some of the perishables that would otherwise go to waste. It was actually really nice. Nothing else mattered and we had each other, you know?
I don't even remember why we broke up, but it wasn't for anything memorable. I think we just both decided that we could do better than someone whose only qualifications were "being there." Can you blame us?
I hadn't thought about her until just today. I had a lot of hopes for 2007 and none of them came through, but she was there and it made the whole thing a lot more bearable.
And finally there was a girl who liked taking me to explore abandoned buildings and haunted attics. We never even kissed but in public she would take my hand and we'd walk like one of those couples, with a spring in our steps, bouncing into each other the whole time.
That also only lasted a summer, but in many ways it was the most intimate I ever got with anyone. It was so quiet and perfect, these empty places. She really came alive in these places everyone else had forgotten. And though she was showing them to me it was really just for her. I don't think I was even remotely necessary.
There was an evening in an old sanitarium where we sat and took pictures and shared a cigarette and drinks from a flask I'd brought with me, and suddenly there was knocking and whispering and I'd swear there was a ghost there. She saw it too. It was frightening and worrying and exciting. And then it was gone and we took our bikes and went home.
We parted amicably at the end of the summer. She told me if she didn't have to move across the country maybe something could have happened between us. Of all the girls I've dated she's the only one I keep in contact with. We've both had other relationships since then. The moment's passed but we're still good friends.
Except that never happened. None of it. There was no haunted attic and she wasn't the one there because there was no her--it was someone else entirely, someone just as unattainable. It was a beautiful evening, but after it was like nothing ever happened. It's been a year now and every time I see her I think of that, with the last light of the day shining in through the window and leaving those little columns of light and dust.
And then there's the girl that I travelled across the country with. It was probably the best few weeks I've ever had, a late August when nothing mattered except the trip. It was the only good August I've ever had. I completely missed the worst parts of it.
It feels like we visited a hundred diners. I don't know how many it was. We lived out of her old Volvo stationwagon. Sometimes we'd stop at a hotel or a hostel for the night. We'd tell everyone we saw, mostly bored waitstaff who maybe even found our story interesting. We'd talk about what we'd seen. We'd seen a lot. We'd been to more cities than some people have ever seen in their lifetimes. We'd seen so many roadside attractions, just to say we had.
We slept under the stars in the badlands in South Dakota, where the land is still sacred, and made love under the open skies of Montana. We got hopelessly drunk and lost in Brooklyn and complained about the pizza in Chicago.
There's one moment that I remember more clearly than all the rest of them, the one I think of when I think about her now. I don't even remember where it was, or if it even really happened. It was the middle of nowhere, some town off I-90, where the waitress couldn't have been more than seventeen and thought we were the coolest people she'd ever seen, and we were looking over the maps--Idaho, it was in Idaho--trying to figure out where we were going. And as I was smoothing out the map she pointed at something and her hand brushed mine and there was just a moment where our eyes met, this moment of perfect clarity.
Before and since we'd done so much more than brush hands so many times, but that's the only moment where we both knew it couldn't last forever. We'd just set out. We tried to make it forever but there's only so much you can do.
When we got back to Seattle we were exhausted, but the timing was perfect and we had just enough time to get blind drunk at the bar where we'd set out, and stagger back to her apartment and thank God she kept a spare key because she left hers in the car which was miles--years--away downtown now, we'd get it in the morning, and then she poured shots of whiskey. And she was laughing when she raised her glass to me and said "Forever!" and we drank to forever.
I blacked out. The next thing I remember is waking up next to her with a terrible headache. She was wearing my shirt. I got myself some water and stole a jacket and left.
We never really talked since. It's been a year, now. She called me once, drunk, at some bar in Ballard. She couldn't hear me, but it's probably for the best. There's really nothing left to say.
There was a girl I dated once who didn't know my real name until we'd been dating forever. Or maybe it was just a few weeks. She'd heard it once but she didn't remember. She just called me by a pseudonym she knew was false. It worked. And then it had gone past the point where you could ask, and should I have told her? was it funny? and neither of us seemed to care that much.
I'm just thinking one evening where we were watching some movie on my laptop, just lying on my bed one hot summer night, and the air conditioner was broken in my building, and she kissed me and next thing I knew the movie was over and it was hot and dark and we were naked and it was still hot out, and it seemed so peaceful and perfect.
This was early on in our relationship and she hadn't figured out my name yet. And she said something like "This is nice," and I agreed, and she laid her head on my chest and just seemed so happy, or maybe contented is the word I want, and all I could do was sit there and think "she doesn't even know my name."
She didn't know my name. She found out at a party a few weeks later when one of my friends called me by name. "Oh, your name's Rob?"
"Yeah, I guess."
Sometimes I wonder if things would have been different if she never found out.
The word rational keeps coming up in my studies. We're assuming that X are rational actors, where X is something which is at least one living, breathing human who knows what it feels like to have their hearts pounding in their chests, to love and be loved, to be afraid that they will never know that feeling again. Rational means self-interested, is ultimately what it comes down to. A rational actor is one who acts according to its own best interests--define that however you want. There is no room for sentiment here. A serious scholar has no room for the whispered promises that this moment will last forever. The scientist does not believe in moonlit kisses or escaping by sunrise.
According to academics, every action can be explained wholly rationally. I started that fight with my best friend because I thought I stood to gain from it. I ran away when he tried to apologize because I thought I stood to gain from it. It had nothing to do with the burning emotions of the moment, how much I hated him and every single word he used, how terrified I was that I'd destroyed something I loved.
Any scholar will tell you that merely because an actor is rational does not mean they will always win--that a twenty percent chance of success is better than zero percent. Any rational actor would have done the same. They do not believe in regret. They do not believe in the cold isolation of the early morning hours when your blood is no longer boiling and your cooler head prevails and you are alone with your mistakes.
Opportunity is all around us. Every day in every way we have thousands of opportunities to better ourselves, to improve our networks, to advance. That's what they tell me, anyway. Seize the day, and so on. There's all sorts of bullshit for me to buy into about making the most of what I have. Except that what I have is a lull in conversation and nothing left to say, because what can you say to someone? Are you even allowed to be sincere anymore? Am I supposed to say something clever? Is that just a sign I fucked up somewhere?
Maybe there's a lot to be said for not saying anything, but now she's smiling apologetically and moving on--not sorry to be leaving but sorry that it's me she was leaving, that I wasn't as perfect as I could be. And maybe not even that. Sometimes life just didn't work out right. The stars were wrong.
Only now we're falling into bed and it's so perfect. None of the awkward pauses and silences matter. It's all about now. There is nothing more exciting than right now.
Which is to say: nothing will ever be more exciting than this. This is the best we will ever do. Nothing more meaningful or worthwhile than this. No thrilling conversations or brilliant turns or phrase. Just the knowledge that we've peaked right where we are. We might as well make the most of it--we'll never have this opportunity again.
It feels so inevitable. I want to sabotage the system, ruin everything. But the more I try the worse it gets.
My girlfriend spilled the sugar dispenser on the table about half an hour ago. Since then we've been making little patterns, unintentionally: the waitress refills my coffee, so I slide it closer to the edge. My girlfriend adds more sugar to hers. I add cream. We take a sip. She adds a little more sugar. And it leaves these little lines and circles behind.
I don't know if she's noticed, but I bet she has, which makes me question the whole thing. I only started watching just now, and it's the sort of process that would be really fascinating if I thought it were actually random. But now she reaches for the cream and is she doing that for the sake of the pattern? Does that change anything? Does the intention change the outcome?
She doesn't see patterns, though. She only sees beauty. And there's beauty in simple things like little swirls of sugar on the table or spirals of cream in her coffee, I guess. I'm just so much more interested in patterns, in meaning. It's so intricate. The smallest variable can change the whole thing. What does that line tell us? What does it mean? And maybe she's just making pretty shapes, and does that make it meaningless or can it still tell us something?
Isn't there more she could be doing?
She asks me if there is something wrong and I tell her that everything is fine. She tells me she wants to go dancing, and at the very least there is something we can agree on.
Half-remembered conversations about that quote I've heard so many times: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Costello, I think it was. But maybe it wasn't Costello, and that's not what the conversation was really about. Or even about at all. I think someone said it once. I don't remember why, or who. Maybe it was me?
Then, a vision: me saying it, everyone looking at me, and did I say something wrong? do they know what I'm saying? do I know what I'm saying? Except that never happened. I didn't say anything all night. I drank. I drank and thought about dancing about architecture and the image is just so captivating.
There was a part of tonight when it made sense and everything was lucid and clear and perfect and I don't know if it's before tonight really started or if it's after it was all over and now I'm here and not sure if I'm trying to get my head clear. I don't always know what I'm saying, I'm sorry. I'm trying to figure this out.
I think that last round was probably a mistake.
I don't really remember anything clearly, or if I do I don't remember what I wanted it for, and it's--I'm so close to figuring it out. I don't really know what "it" is. But once I know it'll all make sense. No more worrying about the right words or wishing I'd done things different. That's what it is. An answer to everything.
And then someone quoted Douglas Adams and I said "Hey, fuck you," but I was probably smiling when I said it. I don't know. Maybe it's not important. I'm--I don't want to say something like "I'm tired of caring." I care, I do. Too much. But there's mistakes and there's mistakes and there's someone telling me we're going home.
All I remember is the city spinning past and the sense that I'm an inch away from everything there is to know, and it's got something to do with architecture.
They dance at the Sydney Opera House, don't they?
I. Something is wrong
with the weather--
I'm not laughing.
II. The rain whispers
I still accept them.
III. I wish for small things:
Things like freedom
or a less beautiful cage.
IV. Remember yesterday?
I thought autumn leaves
V. I'd rather spend today
in the rain
with the sun so distant.
VI. The stars are cold.
I mean the wind:
the wind is cold.
the Leonids peaked.
I guess that's nice.
VIII. Drinking red wine
alone in a storm,
I toast the wind.
IX. The weatherman said
the rain would never stop.
I pray for floods.
X. What have I done?
The wind has no answer
but fallen leaves.
I didn't mean for things to turn out this way. I used to be so sure, you know? Everything was going to be all right in the end. I had it all worked out. There was a future. I know nothing's ever perfect but this is as close as it gets. Or was. I don't know what the right tense is for that. How do you talk about a future that's long since past? Or I guess more accurately, a future that never was?
Listen, I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything. I can't say it enough times. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. I'd do everything different if I could. I would go back and mean every word, every single fucking word, if it would mean things didn't have to end like this. There's so many better endings, even if it had to end. I'm okay with that. I'm okay with it.
I'm trying to choose the right words. It's hard. They never seem like enough. I scripted this whole thing out and I just can't say it anymore. I mean, what's the point? It's over. It's over and you picked a way to make it about as final as it fucking gets. Fuck you. You know I never meant to hurt you. I never meant any of it. You know as long as there was you and me I was happy, and why did you have to go and get rid of the one thing that meant anything to me? Where was I when you made your fucking plans?
I know I've made lots of mistakes. I'm not perfect. Nobody is. I did my best. We all do our best. I did everything I could, and I guess that wasn't enough for you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I couldn't do better. I'm sorry it didn't turn out different.
I'm sorry I wasted my fucking time.
I haven't really met anyone since I moved to Seattle, which isn't surprising. I tell people who ask that I've just been settling in. I'm not even sure what that really means. It's not like I have a lot of stuff. Everything is unpacked and I spend the evenings walking around Wallingford--did I get that right? I'm still getting used to the neighborhoods--or watching people from my window. It's a nice studio.
It didn't take me too long to find work. I guess I've met some people there but it's still a working relationship if you'll pardon the pun. None of them really know me. I think more important, none of them know anybody who knows me. I've got a chance to start over. I can reinvent myself. I'm going to start with photographs.
I'm not very good at changing my behavior. It's something you can only do a few times, I think. I did it a few times, when I was younger. Maybe that's just because it was the only way I could hide back then. Something happened and I'd change so that it would stop, or I'd change to get away from it, or something. It seemed so easy at the time. It was hardly even a conscious choice. It went something like--you know the saying "I became what I always hated?" Is that even a saying, or just a song?
Nobody takes pictures of me. Maybe I'm not photogenic but I think it's just the people I hang out with. But there's a few out there. It's hard to get a picture of who I am from them, if you'll pardon the pun. But that's how you get to know people now. You go to Facebook. You look at photos. You piece it together. You figure out what type of person they are. And then that's just what you think of them. Once you've figured out what kind of person someone is it doesn't matter what they do or act like. That's just who they are.
That's what love at first sight is all about, of course. You see someone and you fall in love and then there's nothing they can do to change that, until something happens that forces you to see.
So I've been carefully going through and finding photos that make me look like the kind of person people here will like. Adding this photo, deleting that one. Captioning them in just such a way. I'm building a new identity here. I get to start over without starting over. I feel sort of like I'm cheating, because not everyone gets this chance. But everyone deserves it.
For most of my life I've been stable, exactly like a gyroscope is stable. I'm sure a physicist or someone could say something more about that. When I was a kid I thought gyroscopes spun on forever, like some sort of perpetual motion machine before I'd ever heard the phrase. There was something magical about them. I know better now. Things have not been so stable lately, but I've always come back to equilibrium.
Recently there's been a girl I've been thinking about all the time, and of course I've also been thinking about thinking about her. What I like about her is that she seems like she is always enthusiastic but always restrained. I met her this evening for coffee and bad diner food, which is really my favorite place to be, especially when things are mixed up. At first I was mostly quiet, subdued, taking it all in: the way she doesn't stir in the creamer and just watches the spirals make little patterns. The way she always has that little smile, almost like she doesn't know it's there.
We talked, as I'm so fond of saying, about everything and nothing--about fear and stability. About returning to equilibrium. About freedom. Maybe it was the coffee or the time of day but I've known for a while now that I can't keep spinning forever and suddenly it seemed like I didn't want to.
"There is nothing quite so frightening as freedom," I said aloud. She smiled and took my hand.
And then it was later, and my bags were packed, because a man has to face his fears.
Fear is a survival mechanism. It triggers your adrenaline so you can fight or flee from whatever it is that's making you afraid--that's what they say, right? That's what all the textbooks say? And it makes sense, too.
I spent most of today in a good mood. It's not that anything in particular was happening but I was having fun with everything, and that's more than you can say for a lot of days. I smiled, joked, laughed. I liked everything. It was mostly solid. A few things that normally would have pissed me off happened and I just took it in stride. Like you do.
I was supposed to meet a friend somewhere in the Back Bay and it was raining and I don't really know the neighborhood very well still. It's always been the sort of thing I'm afraid of, getting lost or stranded or whatever after the trip. I called her when I got in the area and she wasn't answering. And I stood there at the streetcar stop, and wished I'd brought a hat, and tried to find a shelter.
Fight or flight, right? She isn't coming. I'm lost now. I'm frightened. I'm shaking with all the unnecessary adrenaline. You can't fight being lost, and there's nothing to run away from. There's not even weird looks from the passengers. I'm just another guy waiting for something that's not happening.
It was a stupid fight. I knew it when I started it. We both did. But I was drunk and there was something about the way he said it--everything he said was so patronizing. Like because I'm a girl and had a few drinks he needed to protect me. Maybe he was right. All I know is the last thing I wanted was to be anywhere near him.
It had been raining real hard for the past few days and it wasn't about to let up. I'd got us kicked out of the bar when I punched him in the eye, and we were waiting in the not-so-sheltered bus stop. I don't even remember what he said. I can perfectly see his face and expression and hear his inflections--that little smug "if you're fine then why'd you get us kicked out of the bar" smirk, all innocent and concerned--and eventually I just said "fuck you" and started walking away.
"Don't be like that, Melissa," he said. "Come back."
"I'm sorry. Really. Please don't go." He was following me now. I picked up my pace. He started to jog. "Melissa!"
I ran. I didn't care where I was going. I started at a sprint and didn't look back until I was blocks away and I didn't hear him calling after me, and then I kept running anyway. The rain soaked me to the bone I had no intention of stopping. I tripped a few times. I was too drunk to be doing this, and it was wet and dark. Sometimes I slipped, sometimes I tripped on the curb or something on the sidewalk. I was wet and bruised and bleeding. And I kept running.
Somewhere in the back of my mind it registered that I had no idea where I was, that these buildings weren't familiar. If I was sober maybe I'd have stopped. But maybe not. I was drunk off my ass and running and bleeding and bruised and my jeans were torn and my lungs were burning and my muscles were sore and I was definitely alive. It was the best I'd felt since I don't even know when.
I mis-judged the curb and landed in a giant puddle, and the rush faded. I dragged myself onto the sidewalk and sat there curled up in the rain, cold and exhausted and frightened and confused. I didn't know where I was. I lay there for what seemed like hours but was probably more like fifteen minutes before I stood up. The heat had left my body, and now I was cold and numb and sore. I limped down the street in a direction that felt right until I found a bus stop. Some of the route numbers seemed familiar, and the schedule said they were still running.
Meanwhile the rain kept falling and I kept shivering and the pain from all the sore muscles and the scrapes and bruises started catching up to me and despite all that I couldn't keep from smiling.
Sometimes, there is only starting over to look forward to. Sometimes we can't even have that. I've fucked up the past four years of my life--or maybe just a little more than that now. It feels like forever ago that I was--
There was something about her smile, I think. I would have been happy spending the rest of my life making her smile. Maybe that's all there was. Maybe in the end everything was just about her smile and her lips and that spot just below her ear. Maybe we were always bound for shipwreck, and there was nothing we could do about it. There was a time I could still feel her lips on my neck, her arms around me, still hear the catch in her voice as she told me to leave. I still remember where it all happened, but as I sit there in the lobby of the hotel where she worked, somehow it's all gone.
--with her, and then it was taking flight and making every mistake I possibly could, because nothing worked anymore. I remember most of them pretty vividly. The ones I don't are usually because I was so drunk I couldn't remember anything. I still mostly know what happened, anyway. It's not that I made enemies so much as I lost friends. It was always me. Sometimes they just wanted to help.
She called me one night. Not quite out of the blue but close enough as far as I'm concerned. "I'm worried about you," she said. I told her to fuck herself. She said, "I still care about you. I--you were part of my life, you know? I don't want you to--"
I hung up. She tried again and I just let the phone ring. I deleted her number. I wouldn't see her again for two years.
After a while I found somewhere I could hide. Nobody really knew me. I thought maybe I could start over, and I did all right. I found new friends. I had a nice girlfriend. But there were always ghosts. I'd wake up--not screaming, but panicked, sweating, breathing heavily. Nightmares, I guess, but I just called them ghosts. Things that could have been, things I killed.
She called me again one day. It was winter. It was cold. She said she'd heard I was in town. She asked if maybe I wanted to get coffee. She was wearing a scarf. It's all I can think of when I think of her now. Her in a scarf and a winter coat, with her hands around a cup of coffee. Her smile is different. It's not for me anymore.
That doesn't go away if you hide. My girlfriend left--amicably, this time, headed south where I couldn't go. I wasn't sad to see her go. I'm not sure what that means. I've been seeing this new girl for a few weeks now. I think I like her, but it's hard to say. I've told her about the past four years, or maybe a little bit more. I'm trying to keep in touch with the people I ran away from.
I'm not sure if it's successful. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be. I'm not sure if this will work. I wanted to start over. Someone who wouldn't know who I am so I wouldn't have to be who I am. Maybe it's time to find a new home.
She is, if I had to describe her in a word, an excellent person. She does not agonize over the meaning of words, or the meaning of things, and I mean that as the highest form of compliment. She is very beautiful and witty and clever. I would be lucky to have her.
She says she loves me.
I tell her, "Say again?"
"I said I love you," she says.
And I can't just say, "But what do you mean?" because it's always right there. I'm not sure why my panic instincts are kicking in now, but I know she sees my hand shaking as I take a sip of wine. Crestfallen seems like the best word for how she looks here. Or perhaps deflated. She dips a finger in her water and runs it along the edge of her wine glass. It hums faintly. She does this because it means she does not have to look at my eyes.
A week ago we were in the sort of place where you do not drink wine. She was finished with her meal, and stealing what remained of my french fries. She looked so happy, sitting at a greasy dive with me, running on cheap beer and fried food. I told her I enjoyed myself, and for just a moment she seemed ecstatic. She said there's nowhere she'd rather be.
Today there are no french fries to steal and the food is decidedly less greasy. It is the sort of place you go to for wedding proposals and important anniversaries. I am here thinking about love and eternity and trying to buy time. I'm thinking about missed opportunities. I'm thinking about the future.
After all the french fries were gone, we paid the check and walked home in the cool autumn air. Cold, not cool. Just enough to be uncomfortable. As I went to kiss her good night she said she had been sick for the past few days, she didn't want me to catch anything. I kissed her anyway, because it was the thing to do just then.
Now the moment is past and she is drawing up her dignity and saying, "It's really nice here," and what else is there for me to do but say "Yes, it is, I'm glad you came?"
She's talking about something like freedom or art or something else lofty, and all I can think about is how nice it is outside, and how there's just something satisfying about walking into the wind with my coat and hair flowing--and then she's expecting a response and I start with that little shrug I do, the "what can you do?" gesture with that little apologetic smirk, and that's not enough so I say something like "yeah, exactly," and then, speech over, the conversation lulls, and right away it's me saying, "Oh man, I read the dumbest thing in the New York Times" and then it's my turn for a story, and it's the sort of sarcastic thing where I can tell before I'm finished it's going to fall flat, but she's smiling and she asks me a question about it--the sort that means she was actually listening--and I shrug and try to answer, but she's quicker on her feet than I am, I wasn't expecting a response, and now I can't tell what she's thinking, or if that smirk is because she thinks I'm clever or because she thinks I'm stupid, and then she says something else and the moment's over and she's moving past it and she's talking about something else, and now I know she's made up her mind about it already, and I don't know what her decision is so I can't follow her lead, and she's finally completely lost me.
She is obsessed with locks and keys. She picked her first lock on her sixteenth birthday. Now she collects old keys, and she knows exactly what each one of them goes to. She likes to say that every key has its lock. There is a line in Pink Floyd which uses "pick her locks" as a euphemism for sex, and it is her favorite line in music, though she can't quite explain why. It has something to do with exploring, mystery, and freedom. As far as she is concerned, freedom is defined by boundaries--boundaries which exist to be broken.
She doesn't know how to tell the boy she has been casually dating that she is not interested in a relationship, especially because it is only true concerning him, specifically. She doesn't know that he isn't really, either, and is just too nice to tell her and too introverted to try to bring it up. He is philosophically inclined and wishes he were more adventurous, but he is afraid of everything--but most of all of being chained down.
His ex-girlfriend is primarily his ex because she was not philosophically inclined, and he mistook this as meaning that she was not intellectually curious. She is not worried about the meaning of things. She likes secrets, especially when she can share them with someone, and values spontaneity, though she sometimes wonders if this is a fault.
Before him, she dated me for a few weeks until the summer was over and I decided it was better to fly across the country, because my idea of adventurous is abandoning a good thing to go exploring something completely unknown, I think just to remind myself I'm still free. And mostly I'm happy with that, except last night I was drunk on the floor with my girlfriend, and it was 4 am and we were staring at the window and I asked her if freedom is worth it.
Freedom is her lips on my neck as she whispers that it definitely is, so long as freedom means us. It's a red wine hangover in the morning and going to brunch in the same clothes you were wearing last night, and telling stories over bad coffee about the little town you left behind. I'm not sure if it's worth it, but days like this it sure feels like it.
We've been waiting for the train for days now. Maybe even weeks. It's hard to really tell, because time has stopped. After the train went by without stopping, everything else stopped. The station clock has been at 2:18 in the afternoon since it passed. And we're here, sitting, waiting, talking.
I want to say it's beautiful. It was, too, when I first noticed. It's one of those moments I always hoped would last forever: where nothing really matters and you're just killing time. There's no objective, no expectations. Just words, idle chatter to pass the time. A conversation with infinite potential. A conversation that will ultimately be interrupted.
Except this one hasn't been. She hasn't noticed, or if she has, she hasn't let on. 2:18. She is cheerful and noncommittal. She smiles easily, she jokes, she laughs. She is enjoying herself because she knows that as soon as it is not 2:18 it will all be over and none of it will have made a difference.
And I apparently have all eternity to make this moment matter.
I didn't manage to save much from the fire. Just my bag, which has a notebook and a netbook and a change of clothes. Everything is gone now.
It's not like I had much to begin with. Some books, some CDs, some clothes, some other random things. I used even less of it. It was just stuff. That's what I always said. I wasn't worried about it. It was fine. That's what I said when I called her asking for a place to stay. "That's terrible," she said. "It's just stuff," I said. "It's fine."
She picked me up outside. We drove around for a while, not saying much. Eventually we stopped in front of her place. "Thanks for letting me stay," I said. She nodded. We went inside. I sat on her couch and she went into her room and came out with a blanket and a pillow. Her blanket. Her pillow. "Let me know if you need anything," she said.
Then she saud, "You sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine, really."
"It's just, you're always smiling. Except you're not now. I've never seen you not smiling."
"It's like you said, right? It's just stuff. And stuff just ties you down, right? Look at me. I can't leave this place."
I looked around. It was a nice place in a great location for a good price. "I guess."
"So you're free now. You can go anywhere. It's--God, I'm almost jealous."
I didn't ask if almost was the key word. Instead I tried to smile. "Yeah. I guess you're right. I'm free."
She stared at me for a long while, then said, "I'm just--let me know if you need anything."
She was probably right. I was free. I spent the rest of the evening sitting on her couch, staring at her wall.