This was months ago. April, maybe May. The weather was foggy. So was my brain. I saw you again in the Cubism section. I was standing in front of “The Actor” by Picasso. The second I saw you, I smiled because you looked so nice. I was about to approach you when I felt a pair of eyes burning a hole in my face. You started thinking, "Hey, no one else really thinks about this woman but me." Then it was clear, probably to both of us, but certainly to me, that we were not romantically suited for each other. It was clear as crystal.
Then, after that, nothing.
I think you left before security got there.
You got on the bus, and you sat next to me. Deliberately. There were dozens of empty seats on the bus, but you chose to sit down next to me. I didn't make conversation. I just smelled you the whole way downtown. What was that glorious smell? I have searched in vain for that scent since meeting you.
If you read about this in the news the next day, I'm the girl from the elevator. Middle class. Pregnant, not dead. A mean cat. Will probably bite and scratch you. Will pee on your carpet. Will not go out of the house. Has to go to new owners. I ingest Rohypnol, and you strap my body to yours and take me along on a jog. Three nights a week.
I love you. I need some help. Please just let me talk. I’m married, but please listen. I’m not interested in getting chopped to little pieces here. I'm not trying to meet someone. I'm no bumpkin. I can go from jeans to a cocktail dress in 10 minutes. Listen to me.
I actually went home. It was one of the toughest things I've ever had to do. My husband keeps deleting numbers out of his phone, deletes his text messages as soon as he reads them, talked to a woman named Jeanie for 10 minutes on the phone after we got back together. When I bring it up, he tells me I need to give him a last name.
I told him about you. I wanted him to be aware that other men occasionally want to be close to me. He felt the slight threat that was implicit. He fucked me hard for a couple of weeks. You made transportation tolerable; you improved my love life. Please come back.
The last time I saw you, you had passed and seated yourself farther back. It was hard not to stare at you. You saw me smiling. You took out a book and pretended to read it.
We met a year ago. I was in my bikini at the Circle K when you came in with your short shirt and your bike shorts on. They were white. You got 11 sticks of beef jerky and a gallon of whole milk, then rode off on your bicycle. I know it was you because you paid in pennies. I wish I could have jumped you in the parking lot.
Is it too late? I pass you almost every day in town. You gave me a ride home. You wore a white dress. You had just left the court house. You were crying as you walked. You thought you scared me. I think your name was Hayley. You know who you are. Where have you gone?
I don't want you sexually. I don't even want to talk to you. I just want to feel that odd tension again. There’s nothing there anymore.
I’ve been married for years. I’m nearing towards my due date, and I’m miserable. I just don't know how to get out of this. I know you'll never read this, but I just felt like reaching out to you, or someone, or whoever. I really hope that this finds you, though. You can't hide out forever. I want you to know I still love you. We've been through a lot. I just haven't met you yet.
My heart and better half, please don't let me be sick. I’m a lonely pile of dirt. I need a hole. I’m a loyal pile of dirt and will not run away. I just need a hole.
When I watched the news all these years about people dying in the heat, I could never imagine what that would feel like. Well, yesterday made me understand. You were naked on the train screaming racial slurs. I was holding a cell phone and filming every moment of your beautiful insanity. For a moment I was sure you locked eyes with me. You asked me to "get off this fucking train" with you at Hunts Point Avenue before removing the final shred of your clothing for me and unveiling your beautiful body. I did. But the cops carted you away before I had a chance to say anything. I wish I'd said something sooner.
Lately, the majority of people I see look dead. Battered. Beaten. Tormented. Old ladies with whooping cough. Girls no older than 12, dressed like complete mini-whores. Children whose faces are completely obscured by snot. Young white men who think they are big black men. iPod-wearing business men with long, long legs and a clear disgust for the fact that I have come to a solid conclusion.
When you get right down to it, we're all just really trying, right?
That's what I'm thinking, anyway.
I wish we'd met sooner. Now I'm married and stuck in this bumfuck town. You're so close now but also so far away. It really sucks. I wish we could just meet again and be together, just to see if this is real or not (I know it is).
Well, you play the hand you're dealt. Whatever.
Somewhere along the way, you hit me, good and hard across the face. I probably deserved it. I watched as you blasted me with insults, never admitting nor denying that you intended to leave me in the cold. Your visage melted from rage into a pool of confusion as I just sat there and listened. By the end, you were reduced to a puddle of tears, and as gratifying as it was, it’s these empty moments that remind me why I hush my inner child to sleep, and open the door for you, and buy you presents, and walk your dog, and keep you warm, and give you kind smiles.
When you tried to leave, my body took over. I hopped up and called out to you. You turned around, and I threw my arms out. "I'm sorry!"
You just looked at me, and through the tears came a genuine moment, full of the confusion and joy that comes with being twenty-something. I appreciated it. With that, you told me that you were okay, that we’re only human, that you value people over right and wrong.
Isn't this just pathetic?
I sat at the counter of Waffle House on Tunnel Road, wearing clothing (underneath I was naked). You knew it was me because I ate Bert's Best Bowl of Chili.
After you identified me by my chili, you took the stool beside me. At first, I wasn’t sure it was you. When the waitress greeted you, you didn’t need a menu. You told her you'd have hash browns, covered, diced, peppered and topped. You didn't eat it; I knew it was you.
After the waitress walked away, I asked if you'd like a spoonful of my chili. You looked me in the eyes, squinted slightly, then opened your mouth, stuck out your tongue, and received a spoonful of Bert's Best. You tasted the chili: sautéed onions, melted cheese, smoked ham, and spicy jalapeño peppers. The peppers were hot, so hot your drool carried a little piece of ham from the corner of your mouth down your chin. You let it drip.
When my body stopped convulsing from sheer ecstasy, I put a $20 bill on the counter. Then I got up slowly and walked out the door.
My arms are intertwined, and I’m squatting. The last time I was in this position was in the womb, but I'm in this for the long haul. All I can think about is holding a cup’s worth of hot sand in my mouth. I can’t remember what an ice cube is. I can’t remember what snow looks like. My only escape might be to crab walk across 15 bodies on the floor and then out the room. I’m paralyzed.
Well, "for better or worse" is what we committed to, so we press on.
I have to move. I have to raise some funds. I need an attorney.
I have loads and loads of ladies’ clothing for sale. Some formal, some casual. Some excellent quality, some just so-so. Skirts, pants, boots. Formal dresses. I hate to part with these, but he never thought I was worth taking out anyway. I just play dress-up with myself. All alone, late at night, when it's quiet, I can put on my Lady Diana black cocktail dress, the simple black one, and pretend for a while.
I've got some cookbooks, too, including a brand new, never-been-used copy of Desserts by Pierre Herme. I used to have these two wonderful cookbooks from the 1950’s that disappeared. One was called Never in the Kitchen When Company Arrives. I wanted to do some entertaining. Too bad those books are missing.
I have a lot of books, though so many of them have been lost or loaned to people who never returned them. Some are just missing.
I also have a student violin in excellent condition. It was used for music lessons and recitals at Meredith College. The case says HYUN JIN on it, and it has zippered compartments. When I opened one of them, I found a list of songs to practice. "O Come Little Children" is one of them.
Maybe I'll sell my head. I’ll soak it in vinegar overnight in the kitchen sink. Good as new, or so I'm told. Comes with a photographic memory that won't leave me alone.
Why doesn’t this just make sense? Is it me? Or is that just dumb? I should probably cry, but. I don’t know.
I dreamt about you all night long: a girl sat down beside me. She pulled something out of her pocket. Her face reminded me of the time I had captured numerous fireflies in a jar with a hole-punched lid. She pulled away the corners of white cloth to reveal a heart. She handed it to me, grinning lop-sided. Without waiting for a reply, she stood and walked away.
You’ll die at the beginning of next year.
I’ll spend an evening with your mom and dad. We’ll go to that Italian place in Wicker Park, and they’ll seem to be coping. I’ll get everyone together for my 25th; it’ll go well. Ellen will turn up the heat on Steve who’ll soon be forced down to one knee. Just like you predicted.
I’ll finally clean your clothes out of the closet, and I’ll invite your friends over to take what they like. They’ll take them more as a favor to me than anything else.
Liz will cry when we pull out all of your shoes. Miranda will join in, then Catherine. It’ll be strange to stand in our bedroom surrounded by three crying girls, and I’ll make a joke about them crying for joy about all the free stuff. They won’t find that very funny. You would’ve found it quite witty, I’ll think.
I’ll find one of those hair tie things that you somehow managed to squeeze into every crevice in the apartment. It’ll be under the bed. I’ll sit on the floor holding it and crying. Until then, I’ll hold it all together, but it will just come flooding out after that.
Every morning, I’ll forget for a fraction of a second that you’re gone, and I’ll reach for you. All I’ll ever find is the cold side of the bed, and my eyes will settle on the picture of us on the bedside table.
It’ll be a rough year, darling.
A little about me: I'm a Libra, so I live life to the fullest. I don’t have the best body in the world, but I do amazing things with what I’ve got. I am not scarred, maimed, overweight, a fast food worker, cock-eyed, or bald. I'm sure you’ll come up with something, though. Once the skeletons in the closet start clanging, it will be "adios." I can hear it now: "Due to personal reasons and for the benefit of my family, I am withdrawing from the race." Another one bites the dust. You get the idea.
I would like to get to know you better, too. You're probably not up for this, but I might as well ask. There might be some sort of Robin Hood-like pity in your burglar heart.
Do you like movies? Music? Reality television? Can you cook? Are you racist? Don't eat meat? What do you know about experience? What will you do when civil unrest and social breakdowns occur in the not-so-distant future? Are you looking for the most kick-ass fucking roommate that ever lived? Want to get pregnant? How’d you do yesterday? Today? I'm not so good.
Is it the fluoridated tap water? The anti-depression medications? The fast food consumed on a daily basis? The chemicals in diet sodas and chewing gum? This madness has got to stop.
A gush of hot, dry air rushes through me, and I feel the need to be as near to naked as possible. The shirt and sweats have to come off. I’m covered from head to toe in sweat. It’s stinging my eyes, and I can no longer see.
We will date. We will bond. We will make love after class. I will lose consciousness. I will lay sedentary until the aid unit arrives. I will buy this building and then have it destroyed.
Ten months and sixteen days ago, I left my heart in Vancouver. Today, I will be reunited with my heart for good. Tonight at midnight, the one you love will remember how much they loved you. At 9 a.m., you'll check your emails and read missed connections like you do every day. At roughly 12:45 p.m., you'll answer the question I've been dying to ask for the past three and a half years. You will get the shock of your life tomorrow.
The end is near. The Earth shall burn up. You’ll burst into flames, be reduced to a smoldering pile of ash. Your son’s and daughter’s blood will be used as the oil to grease the war machine. The Earth shall burn.
And you’ll get the shock of a lifetime tomorrow, a real good one.