It is the last night of this decade, whatever the hell that was. I'm not sure where I am, but it's snowing, at least.
There's about nine hours left in the year. I don't know what those will look like. It may just be spent drinking coffee liqueur and smoking cigarettes on the fire escape, talking on the telephone to a girl who's a hundred miles away but still thinks the best way to bring in the new decade is talking to me. Maybe we won't talk at all. Maybe I'll be celebrating with someone else entirely.
Nine hours. That's five hundred last minutes. Three thousand last seconds. And then this whole decade is over. Part of me knows nothing changes, of course. It's just another day, right? It's all completely arbitrary, just a way of keeping track of time. 2005 is still just five years ago. It all still happened.
But for the past few weeks everything has been so perfect, I just can't keep from smiling. I can forget all that, really forget. And that's my introspective for this decade: I'm trying to forget, and I'm succeeding, and I'm happy, and everything is finally going well. So in what may be one of the last sentences I write in the year 2009, in the decade of 2000-2009, whatever we're calling it, I am going to just say this: fuck 2009. This year is going to be awesome.
The weather forecast says that when I wake up tomorrow I'll be looking at something clean and white and pure and beautiful, and for once I believe it.
It is the last night of this decade, whatever the hell that was. I'm not sure where I am, but it's snowing, at least.
I have a book that knows everything about me. My girlfriend gave it to me as a Christmas present, and I don't know if she knows what it does. I think she did. As I opened it she gave me a look that I only really figured out in retrospect, and even then I'm not sure why. Does she think I don't know myself well enough? Was that it?
It knows things I don't know, though. I'm not sure how I know they're true, but it knows them. Everything I do, every secret desire that I have suppressed or tricked myself into thinking I don't have, it's there. All written in this very cold, academic language. All referring to me only as "the subject." It changes, or maybe it knows everything I'll ever do and somehow I never read those parts. I don't know.
I feel like it should at least help me in some way, but it doesn't. The language is dense and hard to understand, and it's not like it helps me to know about--hang on--"latent issues with gender identity." Even if I didn't know about it already. It just makes me feel like there's nothing I can do about it. There's a page about that, too.
She asked me if I'd read it yet and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say--"Yes, thank you for the creepy book that tells me everything that's wrong with me?" I just said I hadn't. She seemed--hurt. "It really means a lot to me that you read it. Please?"
And that seemed all wrong. There's something here I'm not getting.
My mirror doesn't work anymore.
That's not quite right. It works fine. Nothing broke, I mean, and anyway it's not just my mirror. What I mean is this:
I can't see my reflection anymore.
I don't know when it started exactly, but one day I noticed I was kind of indistinct in the mirror. A little transparent and a little blurry, and I thought it was just the mirror so I went over to my sister's house and it was the same there. "Do you see that?" I asked her. She said no.
Maybe I should have stayed and tried to figure it out, but instead we went out drinking, and made fun of the dancers and got really drunk. I made my way into the bathroom at one point and as I was washing my hands I stared into the mirror for a minute before realizing I just wasn't there anymore. It was upsetting so I told my sister I wanted to go home, and she agreed to split a cab and let me stay on her couch.
My reflection wasn't back by the morning, but my sister said she could see it just fine. She didn't see anything wrong. I decided to just leave before she could decide to get really worried about it. I visited my girlfriend and kissed her in front of the full-length mirror in her room. I wasn't there. I just didn't show up. In the mirror she was just standing there, looking happy and without me.
The mirror started showing things a little different than they were after a while. I wasn't there and people were different. She didn't have the jacket I'd got her. Her hair was different. Her room was decorated different. It would have been fine if the mirror world didn't seem so much happier, so much more beautiful. It was subtle but the differences were profound.
I broke all of my mirrors. Threw them off the roof of my apartment. I asked my girlfriend to move hers to places where I wouldn't see them. Nobody knew why, of course, and she didn't question it. I learned where they were and learned to avert my gaze or close my eyes.
I just want to understand where I've gone. It seems like even in the real world now I can see things the way they would be without me, and even my girlfriend's embrace feels like I'm seeing it through a glass darkly.
For Christmas someone gave me the perfect girl, in the form of one of those little things you put in hot water and it turns into something. I didn't know what it was at first, so I put it in the water and took a nap.
When she woke me up I understood what she was with a sort of disturbing clarity. It was like I had known her for years--and she knew all of my secrets, my hopes, my dreams. I knew everything: the way she said things or didn't say them conveyed volumes more than anyone else could possibly detect. And she had the cutest smile and the softest hair and perfect skin, and she knew me like no one did.
The card that was associated with the box she came in got lost, so I didn't know who to write a thank you letter to. I wasn't sure if it was necessary. She said I shouldn't worry about it, so I didn't. It felt like a weird thing to ask.
By morning on the 26th I was starting to feel a little guilty. She was so perfect and she seemed so happy with me, but she deserved better, didn't she? I was sullen. She asked what was wrong and I lied and made something up. I could tell she didn't believe me, and I knew that I was the only person who'd be able to tell. I felt sick.
She was sullen and aloof all day, and spent most of time cleaning up. She tended to slam drawers and cabinets, and she threw garbage. She said she wasn't angry. By that evening we were fighting our own little cold war, and she eventually shouted at me. She trusted me implicitly. She lived to please me, literally. She deserved honesty. She deserved to be treated better.
I said some things I had no right to say to anyone, least of all her. I didn't really mean most of them, except that I knew they'd hurt her. She cried and fled the house. It was snowing.
A half hour later I went outside. Her footsteps barely reached the sidewalk, where there was now a spongy piece of red foam perhaps three inches in length, cut vaguely in the shape of a woman, covered in the fresh snow. I picked it up and left it on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. I made hot chocolate and sat down to write thank you letters for the rest of my gifts.
I came home several hours later, to find her alone. She was lying on the bed with the covers in disarray, the crowbar and gun on the floor nearby. She was smiling and staring at the ceiling blankly.
I sat down next to her but she didn't stir. I said, "So, do you still want to go camping in two weeks?"
"Let's go now," she said, still not moving. "It's so perfect. We can go downtown and camp on the common and roast marshmallows on the burning buildings."
"What happened to--"
"Shut the fuck up and let me bask in the beauty of the moment," she said, and who the fuck am I to argue with that?
She lay just like that for what must have been hours. After a while I left and destroyed that last camera she'd missed, and set it down next to her on the bed. I sat on the roof of the building and watched the fires burning into the night. This wasn't mine to share.
The rioters had overwhelmed the police before they had a chance to mobilize. They were armed and angry and destroying everything in their path. With the cameras everywhere everyone had a chance to flee, or join in. They were everywhere and they were growing.
Kelly watched with that same cracked smile. "That's amazing."
"Are you going to join them?"
"No. I'm waiting here. We can play again if you'd like."
And they waited, and played chess. Some of the police managed to organize and attacked the rioters. It was brief but bloody, but the rioters won. The cops routed. Really the whole thing was like that. It was hardly even hours before almost the whole city was rubble or burning, anyone who wasn't rioting had fled or gone into hiding. And then it was over and what do you do when you've just destroyed a city?
And my girlfriend played chess with a terrified electronic store clerk, so sure that no one was watching. And after a while the cracked smile became a natural one, an easy one, one that seemed really, truly happy. And suddenly I understood very clearly that I was watching a moment far more intimate than any I'd ever had with her. I stopped watching at about that point.
I didn't watch the riots until later. It was just that suddenly everything exploded. Kelly, meanwhile, took her hostage back home and told her to sit on the couch. At this point the poor girl was terrified enough she didn't even need the threats. She sat down. Then Kelly took the crowbar and destroyed the cameras in the living room.
I ran into the living room, saying something like "What the fuck are you doing?" and Kelly pointed the gun at me and told me to sit down on the easy chair.
"I don't understand what's got into you," I said, and I realized it was a lie.
She did, too. "Get the fuck out. Get the fuck out of my house." I fled.
She walked around the house and looked for more cameras. She destroyed some things just because she could--but she missed one of the cameras. While the world was on fire I just sat and watched her.
"Can I get you anything?" she said to her hostage. "Some tea? Something to eat?"
"No, thank you."
"Would you like to play chess? I would like to play chess."
"I--I'd like that, thanks."
She set out a board. They played in silence for a while. Just the soft sliding and clicking of pieces being moved. Then, "I'm sorry I threatened to kill you." Click. "I wouldn't have really." Slide. "You seem like a nice girl. I'm sorry. I panicked."
"What's this all about?" Click.
"I was just tired of--of this. Nobody's honest. It's all sideways and fake smiles. It's not honest like--like bashing in a TV set." Then she smiled a cracked smile and said, "I think I fucked up real bad." Click.
"I'm not sure I know what you mean." Slide.
"No, me neither." Click. "Checkmate."
At about this time the old air raid siren went off, and they looked out onto the streets, where around them the world was discovering the honesty of violence.
It was one of those things I probably should have seen coming. Nobody really gave it any thought when she went out and bought a crowbar. I mean, why should they? Everything was so perfect. She probably had a perfectly good reason. And when she got out her dad's old hunting knife she just said she was thinking of going camping soon. Maybe that was what the crowbar was all about.
She even invited me camping. "In two weeks," she said. "We'll go camping. It will be fun."
When she walked into an electronics store and smashed up all of the televisions and threw their shattered husks through the plate glass windows, it all seemed to make sense. The police didn't know what to do. It had been so long since they'd needed to do anything. There wasn't crime anymore. It was the strangest thing to watch. She looked so furious, just shouting obscenities at nothing at all, broken glass and electronics all around, the poor terrified girl at the counter just looking on.
They came and tried to talk to her, tried to get her to calm down, tried to find out what was going wrong. She ignored them. They raised their voices. She took the poor clerk hostage, knife to her neck, and demanded they let her go.
Then one of them remembered they had guns and drew on her. "Put them down or I fucking kill her," she shouted.
They complied, slowly. She picked one up and marched her hostage out into the streets. The whole world watched on the screens.
That's when the riots broke out.
When they installed all the cameras, all of our problems went away. Anyone could go and watch anything that happened anywhere, so we all lived perfect lives, like on 50's TV. There were problems, but it was never a big deal. We all knew everyone was watching all the time so there was no more crime, and arguments were always minor and you could always resolve them over a drink later on, and we'd laugh about it and we'd all learn a valuable lesson about friendship.
It was freeing, in a way. We didn't have to worry about privacy or anything like that. We didn't need to worry about petty gossip or conspiracy. Everyone was honest and open and accepting.
My girlfriend, Kelly, was a quiet girl. She didn't smile much. She looked out at the world with big brown eyes and never told anyone what she saw. Sometimes she'd smile at me, when we were alone, but we were never alone anymore. Not with the cameras. She pretended to like them but I could tell she was lying. We couldn't talk about it, of course. Everyone would know.
There was still the written word, of course, but she wouldn't tell me anything. She kept a notebook and never showed anyone what was inside, not even me. She smiled less and less. She stopped talking. When we were out to dinner she would just sit and stare into the middle distance, fidgeting with her hands or her hair or whatever. Sometimes I'd ask what's wrong. "Just thinking about my mother," she'd say, and it would be insensitive to pry. Everyone else seemed fine with that as an excuse.
Still, I worried. The life seemed to have gone out of her. But her eyes glittered like she had a secret, and sometimes she talked in her sleep and I felt like I almost caught a glimpse of her plan.
When I was seventeen you told me you could only love a great man, a man of magnitude. I thought we were in love. You went off to college. I almost cancelled all of my plans. Almost. Instead I carried through with them with conviction. I finished my bachelor's. I finished law school. I entered politics. I had a career. Everyone was amazed at how driven I was, how successful. They didn't understand.
You called me when I was twenty-six to say you were engaged. I asked you if he was a great man, a man of magnitude. You hesitated and said you had to go.
And I continued. I was becoming an influential figure. I was clever, charismatic, driven, articulate, perceptive. I had a future, everyone said. And I rose quickly. Everyone remarked on how selfless I was, even as everything I did advanced my career--I let others take the spotlight while I built ideas, made connections.
When I was thirty-four we met once for coffee while I was passing through and you talked about your life, and I asked if you were happy. I asked if he was everything you had hoped he'd be. You said you weren't. You continued on.
I'm forty years old now. I have the president's ear. I could make him do anything if I wanted. It's all I ever wanted. I built this war for you. Tomorrow when you hear the news talking about it--the bombs we dropped on those people, the president, grave, stern, talking about how we had to, using big words like freedom, liberty, and talking about how we were threatened--when you see the mushroom clouds and the carnage and the dying and you hear all the protests and the outrage and the hawks are supporting that decision--I want you to know that was me. I did it for you.
They look to me for guidance now. They look to me to see if they're doing it right. I'm the one this country looks up to. I'm a great man now. I'm a man of magnitude. I can shatter the world. I think I have. There's no way the world will forgive us for this. People will die--this will go down in the history books as the day the world fell. Because I love you. Because I said I would do anything for you, and I knew you'd take nothing less.
When the war came, we fled west, away from the city. This country is big enough we were sure we could hide, maybe forever. Are they really going to care about this little midwest town we're hiding in? Will the tanks roll over main street here?
Everything is so quiet here. I don't know if it was always like that. Lots of the boys went off to war, and nobody talks much, about them, or about anything. There's a TV or a radio on everywhere and it's always mushroom clouds and rubble and bad news from the front. More death totals. Every day another city fell.
I thought this would mean we'd last forever. I thought it would bring us together. But there's something cold and distant in her eyes now. Ever since she saw the end coming, she's been withdrawn. She'll say things like, "What does it matter?" and "We'll die anyway," which seems more true every day, I guess.
We were going to wait out the war together, keep hidden. It would be just us. I thought maybe it would repair those little rips we had in our relationship, that maybe the end would finally bring us together forever.
It turns out forever is a word you only see in movies.
Freedom is her hand refusing to release mine on my way out the door, her voice as she asks me to stay for one more cigarette, at least. I say, "Okay, one more," and she joins me on the porch. It's snowing pretty hard by now, and the wind is blowing so it takes forever to light up. And then we do and it's so quiet and peaceful and beautiful.
"I'm going to miss this," I say, and she nods.
There's always a moment when it snows and you're outside where the cold feels perfect, and the snow seems to make the city immortal. This moment feels like it will last forever, and it does, in a way. Our hot cider is steaming in the cold and our cigarette smoke dissipates almost immediately, and nothing can change. We're warm and cold and alive.
And I'm just about to leave, and I can never go back.
We finish our cigarettes and stay for a while longer until the cider is gone, and then we set that down and stay for a while, watching the snow, not looking at each other. Then the moment passes. I stand up and say, "Well, it's been fun."
"Thanks for the cigarette."
She kisses me once, briefly, and turns to go inside. I walk off, leaving footprints in the virgin snow. They won't last forever. Freedom is transience.
I wish I had an explanation for my behavior. Well, I do, but it's not an excuse. There are no excuses. I'd just discovered a lot of things as if for the first time. I took it all very seriously. I was young and intelligent and the world was a question and there were answers, I was convinced. I thought I was right about a lot of things.
I think love was one of those things I had just discovered. Obviously I'd always known about it, but you, you were different. It was like I'd just been born or something. Nothing else mattered. And I took that very seriously, too. I took it very seriously when you left. I thought I understood a lot of things and suddenly it was all going wrong.
That made me angry. I finally found a definition for my self [sic] that seemed complete. The only problem is that definition was basically you. Is that what love is? I don't know. Sometimes I have problems with that, the self and other. It wasn't just someone leaving me. It was a part of me--it was me, that was going away. I hated you for it, and I hated myself for hating you. And then I desperately wanted you to come back, but I knew that couldn't happen and I hated you all the more for it, even if it was my fault.
I meant only for the best. I truly meant well. Even before, the little things that drove you from me, I thought I was helping. When I talked to you about how much I hated your religion or how cruel I thought your family was I thought I was doing some good. I thought maybe you'd come around. I thought it would all end different, I guess.
I know enough now to know that I was wrong. I am blessed with enough knowledge to know I don't know anything.
You are happy now. That is what I hear. Things are finally going right for you. I'm glad, and I hope it really lasts forever for you. Or as long as you like. You deserve nothing less.
I'm sorry I thought I understood the world. I'm sorry I tried to impart my grand wisdom to you. I'm sorry I couldn't understand how you were something entirely other than me, or that I was entirely other than you, and I'm sorry that I didn't understand that thinking something does not make it so. I'm sorry I didn't treat you with the respect I insisted that every human deserves to be treated with. You deserved better, and I may never get the chance to express how inexpressibly glad I am that you finally found better.
With fondest regards,
I've read all about the problems I have, trying to blame them on my mother. Her genes, the way she raised me. The little box of pills I have set out for the week is a color-coded plastic cage, seven little containers of things I never wanted to do. Smiling like a normal person, seven days at a time. And they work, too. I laugh and smile and act like nothing is wrong so long as I stick to the routine.
They've finally found a way to make me human, I guess. My mother didn't do a good enough job.
The thing is the doctors don't know what causes it. Not really. It turns out it's complicated. It seems like all their studies have been inconclusive. They don't know if it's environmental, they tell me. Maybe it's hereditary. Maybe it's something else entirely--some wires didn't develop right, or something like that.
I just know my mother tried her hardest and that wasn't good enough. She gave everything she had for me and she didn't have enough to give. And she hated me for it. She shouted at me, insulted me, did everything short of beating me--and maybe she even did that a few times, times I can't remember or don't want to. And all I ever wanted to do was get by. I wanted to make her happy. I never did. I never got a smile.
I haven't talked to her in years. I still get so angry just thinking of her. Sometimes I get letters. Sometimes she calls. "Hello?" she'll say, and she says my name. I tell her I don't live here anymore. I hang up.
I can't stand to let her see me the way she always hoped I'd be, all happy and well-adjusted and living a normal life, chained to these fucking pills.
I've been dreaming about my sister lately. It's been years since I saw her. We talk sometimes.
In my dreams we're kids again. It's not always clear how old. Sometimes it's high school, sometimes I'm just starting kindergarten. We're always together, but there's always some looming catastrophe just ahead. We won't be together for long. Sometimes it's me who sees the disaster, and I'm trying to tell her about it but I can't explain it right or she thinks it's just another game, right up until it's too late, or sometimes not even then. Other times she's trying to tell me about it and I'm not paying attention, because doesn't she understand how upset I am over this girl, or how excited I am about this new book? Or maybe I don't understand her point, or I think she's wrong or she's just telling me about a dream.
There's always a catastrophe. A fire, a flood, a kidnapping. It's always forever. There's no chance for a reunion in dreams.
Tonight I don't remember what it was, I just remember her face and her scream getting suddenly cut off and then I wake up, screaming, too. I called her up. It must have been ungodly early there. "Hey, how's it going?" she said, still cheerful.
I say, "I'm doing all right," and decide that maybe I can tell her about the dreams some other time.
After the last forests get eaten up, thirty years from now, and the mountains are being mined to the core, stripped of anything remotely valuable in them or blasted for roads and highways, society doesn't stop working. What isn't desert waste is urban sprawl now, just miles and miles of it everywhere you go. But we keep on. Science is flourishing. They've figured out how to keep us alive forever, even without all the trees and lakes and rivers. We don't need that.
One of our best scientists invented time travel. It only goes back so far. I grew up rich and with nothing to worry about and with all the best connections, and the right training. They let me volunteer to go back, to test everything. I'm not supposed to touch anything or do anything that would change the timeline because of paradox or whatever, but I don't need to worry about that. I'm not interested in the people so much.
Do you know there's still trees here? I did some research when I got here and I found someone to take me out to some cabin in the Wenatchee National Forest. We drove over these beautiful snow-capped mountains to get there. The poor girl who was driving me thought I was crazy, all staring agape in wonder at everything.
And then we got there and there were no people around anywhere in sight, no buildings, no sprawl. Just the road and the little cabin and the trees, which were alive and beautiful and free. It was quiet.
I told her, "I've never seen anything like this," and she agreed it was beautiful, like she has never had to understand why she appreciates it.
I have stopped wondering if I could have done things different. I don't think I could. Maybe that's fatalistic of me to say. I don't know. I don't know anything anymore.
I know this: when you try to plan for the future, for a conversation, it doesn't work. It just doesn't pan out. It sounds scripted, forced. It sounds insincere. And you say the words--even the little ones you'd practised, like how you would say "hi there" instead of hello like you usually do, and you would smile, and it would be disarming. But it just comes out all weird, like the inflection's off or something. Little things.
I gave her my last cigarette. The worst part about it all is how calm she was. She just watched me and smoked, her expression blank. Or maybe it was even a little annoyed? I don't know. I just know that I had to throw the script out because it wasn't the right one. I still think it was scripted in a way, though. I don't think it could have panned out different. I think that the conversation we had was the only conversation it was possible for us to have.
People tell me that's fatalistic. Maybe it could have been different. Maybe even little things change it. Maybe I shouldn't have let her have that cigarette, which she just used to keep me so far away. I don't think I'll smoke again. I'm done with coffee, too. But I know it would never be different. The things that would change it could never change. I will always give her my last cigarette. I will always be a few minutes late.
And always, after I'm done talking, after I've given my desperate speech, the one that I know I'll regret even while I'm giving it and I do it anyway, all fragmented and pleading and demeaning, all crazed ultimatums and insane declarations, after all that, she'll pause just a little too long, and she'll put her cigarette down--it is hers now--and she'll take a sip from her coffee liqueur, and she'll set that down too, and she will look me in the eye. She'll say, "I'm not sure how you expect this to continue, Rob," in that icy tone.
And I will always say, "Please?" as if the word would change something, or for that matter, as if wanting something so desperately that all you can say is "please" would change something--to which she will always reply, "There's really nothing more I have to say to you."
And she's right. That's where it always ends. There are no farewells. She packs up her things and leaves, her drink unfinished, her cigarette still smouldering in the ashtray.
"There must have been a moment, at the beginning, were we could have said no. But somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time." Stoppard said that, and it's comforting in times like this, with the city on fire in the distance and the sirens finally dying down. They'll be here soon. I don't remember ever thinking about it. I don't remember there being a choice. Not even that moment of paralysis where you're afraid to do what you know you have to do.
It's almost quiet now. The bombs have stopped going off. The little crackling radio my ladylove found is telling us the fires are under control, that it's over. It's going to be all right, they keep telling us. And we hold each other's hands and hope that it really, truly is.
We've done something ugly. We can't take it back now. I don't know if we ever could. I don't know if we could ever even stop ourselves. I'm just gripped with this weird certainty that if we were ever free, it was only right now. When the glass broke on the windows of those faceless offices, when the fires blossomed out, that is when we finally started being free.
If even then. We had no choice, or we missed it. Can you really be free if you didn't choose it? We're dead either way.
They probably think I haven't noticed, but I have. The world stops spinning when I'm not around. I don't think I phrased that quite right. It's hard to explain. But nothing happens if I don't notice it. It's not a solipsist thing. There's definitely other people there. But they are frozen when they are offstage. The sets get all rearranged and they only spring to life when I walk into the room.
They try to hide it. They try to make it seem really uncinematic most of the time. Of course, why would we only start it here? If the world were just here to convince you that it's real we'd probably do some much more interesting things than this! But I know. I can read between the lines. The way things are always so perfect, and of course the way they're not.
Of course, that's why the world is playing games with me, too! It understands the narrative even if no single person truly can. That's why things happen the way they do. Just when it seems like everything's going so well the one thing that truly matters slips away. Oh, sure, it looks like a coincidence. That's the whole point. That's the genius of it.
I just want to get her back. That's all I've wanted this whole time. I let her get away and I am so sorry. And now that door is closed forever. Just one evening! That's all I wanted. Is that so much to ask? One evening? I'll never get that chance again. And it all happened so perfectly naturally. I was ready to take on the world and pretty sure I could win. Then, as worlds do, it all came crashing down.
I can never remember dances the morning after, and last night we danced longer than usual. It is, perhaps appropriately, a blur of motion and passion and music. And we danced until we couldn't dance anymore and then went back to her hotel room and talked about how sore we were, how sore we were going to be, and it was in happy tones--it was a good kind of soreness. We didn't want the night to ever end but we were too tired to keep it going. I took a shower and by the time I got back to bed she was sound asleep, still wearing that red dress. I smiled and climbed into bed next to her.
Somehow morning changes everything. I was still sore and not at all in a good way. She woke up when I stirred and sat bolt upright, hair a mess, no longer the peaceful image of a girl who'd danced until she couldn't keep her eyes open but someone who's been disturbed and isn't happy about it.
"What time is it?"
"I don't know. Morning."
She grunted and laid back down on the bed, draping an arm over her eyes. "It's so bright. Make the bright go away."
"I'm afraid I can't."
She sighed. After a long silence she looked at me with one eye and said, "Well, I had fun last night."
But there was something about how she said 'last night' that made it more than just that. She italicized the words. She distanced herself from them. It was emphasized in just such a way, as if to say, "The fun did not survive to the morning. It stayed in the evening when we were dancing and happy.
I tried to ignore this fact as I asked if she wanted coffee. She said, "Do you have any earl grey?"
Every song I listen to is just variations on the same theme. Every picture I see is hers, her eyes so bright, her smile so free. Everyone I talk to uses her words. L'enfer, c'est les autres. Hell is remembering. Everything is different now. It's been years. I've made many more mistakes since then, and a few good decisions. I have fallen in love with someone else entirely, a punk rock girl who has me completely enchanted. She is not the first girl I have fallen in love with, but sometimes I think she may be the last. I have met many people and forgotten most of them. Right now everything is beautiful.
There is a picture where she is holding a cigarette. She is smiling and saying something to the photographer. There's a moment that was captured there and there was a moment, many years ago, when I would have thought I'd be part of it. I don't know who's behind the camera. I don't know what she's saying. In the next shot her eyes are closed and she is laughing. She looks so happy. She looks so different. It kills me that I can never know that.
I have made many mistakes. I have missed opportunities. This morning it was raining and windy and bitter cold and I forgot to smile at someone who smiled at me first. I regret that. They say things like "hindsight is always 20/20" but they are full of shit. Hindsight is blinding. I don't know if I'd be happier if I hadn't fucked up. I know that everything would be completely different.
There is a photograph I still have of us. It's the most candid photo of me I have. We're both on the floor, laughing, exhausted, like there isn't someone there taking our picture. It's so unselfconscious. I feel so weird about it now because there was someone there and what were we doing? Didn't we care what we looked like?
I have the most beautiful girl in the world and I am sitting here worrying about the mistakes of years ago. I am so happy and so lucky to have her and she helps stabilize my fractured self like no one else ever has. I don't know how to write about that.
I spent today travelling. There's not much left to say except that I'm tired. It's not a lack of sleep, or not wholly. Some days I'm not even sure what it is. Living eventually catches up to you.
And tired is really all that I am. I could be angry or upset or depressed or frustrated. Instead I'm just tired. I've finally alienated everyone I cared about. Normally I'd be talking about how you only get so many mistakes even with saints but let's be honest, she wasn't a saint. She was a good person but she made her mistakes as well. It's just she finally had enough of mine.
So there's nothing keeping me here anymore, so I left. After all the posturing, all the fighting, all the words--the ones we'd take back if we could and the ones we wouldn't--it was over. I packed my bags and I left. I could have felt regret or longing or nostalgia, but it's over and I just want to rest.
Maybe it will all come rushing back. Maybe I'll see some Brooklyn girl lighting up a Parliament and I'll remember that evening when we drank coffee liqueur and smoked Parliaments and I kissed her because I wanted to and never could explain to her what that meant. And I'll wonder if I'd explained if things would be different. Maybe she'd have been able to endure a little more for me or from me if she knew, if she really knew, how much it all meant to me.
I know there's lots of little things even on my person, in my bags, that will make me think of her eventually. She gave me this jacket. She's the reason I bought these shoes. But the emotion seems so distant now. Does meaning fade with time? Can your attachment to something finally die?
I hear it snowed today. I wonder if it's white and beautiful out, all hushed and peaceful before the city wakes.
I spent most of the afternoon browsing a local record store. It was one of those days where I felt like listening to something new, but I didn't know what I wanted--I so seldom do. So I browsed. The store was mostly empty, except for one or two other people and the girl who was working the counter. I'm not sure what the right word is for that. Is it clerk? Is she a record store clerk?
And then I guess because I looked uncertain and it's her job anyway she says, "Can I help you?" and there's so many ways I could answer that without even getting to the obvious innuendo you could make there. I mean, how do you say "I want to listen to one of those bands that was really good but never had a chance to go mainstream because they weren't lucky or didn't have the business savvy or never wrote a single that caught the right person's ear so they probably just opened for some of the more famous local bands a few times and did some aggressive touring and maybe even made a CD which a few people listened to and thought was really great, but they never took off or made it big, or even really made it locally. I want undiscovered gems. Can you even ask somebody for those?
So I just said, "You know, I don't really know."
"What are you looking for?"
"Haven't the foggiest." And I smiled, because there's a lot to be said for admitting that you have no idea what you want. "Sorry."
And I almost feel like her smile in response was genuine.
The most important people to me are those I've wronged.
I don't mean that like "I always hurt the people I love." That's probably true but that's not what I meant. No, I mean that these people know me the way nobody else does. I've said and done some fucking terrible things to people. And you know what? That was I. That was me. I did that. Me. And then you just move on and pretend it never happened. But they know what happens when I'm not smiling my crooked smile, or making dismissive jokes about the world, acting like I don't care about anything. They've seen the fire in my eyes, tasted the poison on my tongue.
I'm remembering a time when I was breaking up with a girl whose name belonged in poetry--or I guess to be accurate she was breaking up with me--and we were arguing and we both hated each other so much, and we knew each other so well, and we both said a few things. They were the sorts of things where it doesn't matter if it's true, or if you really mean it. Just the act of saying them is unforgivable. By the time she stormed out of the room we were both crying. By the time she slammed the door we knew each other more intimately than we knew anyone else.
If this were a movie we'd be best friends now. We'd be there for each other and keep each other sane, because we know what monsters we are under everything. We'd keep the monster in check. She'd be dating a boy from California with an indomitable spirit and an acoustic guitar, and I'd be dating an adventurous Brooklyn native whose many piercings are only outnumbered by her many talents. Some cute indie pop band would do the soundtrack, and we'd go on an adventure across the country, just the two of us. We'd fight when the car broke down in Wisconsin, and in the Infinity Room at the House on the Rock we'd see something hilarious and we'd both laugh and hug and promise never to fight again. Then we'd fix the car. The credits would be a montage of us driving home and laughing, windows down, hair flowing in the wind.
Since this is the real life the last time I saw her was a few years ago, and we sometimes keep in touch on Facebook, but nothing substantial. We've both tried and we just can't really talk anymore. The last time we met was when she was moving away. We ate at the diner where we had our first date, not quite on purpose--for either the first date or the last meeting--and we spent most of the time staring at our meals and making awkward small talk.
"So, how was your day?" "Are you excited to move?" "Is everything packed?" "I'll see you around, I guess."
Whenever I think of her I think of her with her beautiful eyes brimming over with tears, her voice hoarse from screaming at me, but the white-hot fury of the moment was fading, and I could tell I'd hurt her, and I just pressed on. And then she said all sorts of things to me and stormed out, and when the door slammed I felt like the worst person to ever live.
I'd be so afraid that part of me would be lost to the history books, hidden under my little facade, but I know she remembers. I hope she'll pass it on. What's the good of owning your mistakes if they're forgotten?
A confession. I'm not actually sure if both of those stories are about her. I mean, they definitely happened, I think, and I'm pretty sure it was her. But the memory's a tricky thing. You know how people can shift from one person to another in your memories? And maybe that's why she didn't look familiar. The more I think back on our time together the more I find that my memories are like that. She could have been anyone. Like my memory of her is nothing more than my memories of everyone else I've ever been with. There's only one that I really remember--and that's the last night we were together.
A memory. She had just gotten a kitten. I stopped by her apartment to find her playing with him, and she just looked so happy. I think we'd just been fighting but I don't remember about what. She looked up, and the smile faded, just a little bit, and she said "Listen, we can't do this anymore."
There was a finality about the way she said it. The kitten attacked her hand and she laughed.
Everything in her apartment, I noticed, was in boxes now, many of them bearing fresh claw marks. A few things had been left out, like the typewriter on the desk in the corner. I remember that. I walked over to it, but she stood up and blocked my way. "I'd like you to leave."
I gave her a few days before I tried going back, only to find the apartment completely empty, except for the typewriter and a single sheet of paper, on which was typed:
don't leave. don't leve.i have to l;eave im sorry
followed by her signature, unsteadily.
I tried calling but her number had been disconnected. My emails were returned undeliverable. None of her friends knew where she was. Her family responded to my questions with hostility--"That's not funny," her brother said, before hanging up the phone. As far as I could tell she'd completely disappeared.
Including, apparently, from my memory.