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Reach Out

I knew I was done as soon as I walked up behind you and ran my fingers up through the back of your hair.  You looked behind you expecting to wave off a buddy who couldn’t help but goof around.  But it was me, ponytail swinging like a pendulum as I stopped to gauge your reaction.  Shit.  I never should have touched you.

Maybe, most of all, I was afraid that I had messed up your hair.  I know you’re picky about that sort of thing.

You bought my drinks that night but I was cautious.  Don’t stand too close, don’t be coy, don’t be bold.  Drinking isn’t as fun when you have to be cautious.  Drinking makes me coy, makes me bold, makes me fall down the stairs and wonder where you are when you’re not there to pick me up. But before my first sip that night, I had done myself in by reaching out to you.  It was far too late to make it work.

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“Don’t call me that,” I muttered under my breath.

“What did you say?”  You grabbed me by the forearm as I turned to walk away.  Strands of hair stuck to my face in the drizzle as I stood there with my mouth open.

“I said don’t call me that,” softer this time, defeated.

You didn’t get it.  You didn’t realize that you only ever called her by that pet name, and that she should be the only person you use it on.  But you slipped up.  You were sympathetic, empathetic, a good friend who knew when I was hiding pain.  You reached out to hug me, there in the near-empty parking lot in the wet dusk, and I accepted, leaning into you a little too hard as I thanked you.  And then, into my neck and damp strands of hair, you said it.

You just shook your head, baffled.  You didn’t even hear yourself.

“Don’t call me that unless you mean it,” I warned, my voice shaky.  It was fight or flight.  I chose the latter.

I sat in my car and watched you as you stood alone, hands turned up at your sides, confused.  You wiped the rain off your face and fumbled for your keys, dropping them once.  I followed you out of the parking lot.  We went in different directions on the same road.

I watched the wipers leave streaks on the windshield and regretted you just a little.

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You were someone who knew never to ask anyone what their tattoos meant.  That would be rude.  Instead, you asked what it was on the inside of my wrist that night when I invited you over to see it for yourself.  You had never seen the tiny landmarks of my life, seemingly insignificant things from states you had never seen before. The ink was fresh and bled on the sheets that night, but you said nothing and snuck out in the morning with a half-assed kiss and a brush of your hand on my bare shoulder.

We fell apart promptly thereafter due to matters I could never explain to anyone other than to say that you were too young for me.

You walked up to me at the party after a year of carefully avoiding each other in public and told me you understood, finally.  I smiled wanly as you gently turned my wrist over and pointed.  “I get it now, I saw it,” you said, garnering some attention in the crowded room as you barely raised your voice.  You looked over your glasses at me as I examined the proof, the photo in your hand.  Everyone seemed to wait, to see if I would actually speak to you now.

“I guess you do get it,” I conceded.  You were still too young for me.

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About my Underwear

I should have just given up.  I was home from work, it was about to rain, and I should have called it quits.  But no.  I wanted to have a dress altered.

This dress is beautiful.  Emerald green satin, halter-top, simple and divine.  But it’s too big.  So I set out to walk the two blocks to the little dry cleaning shop.

Then this rickety-ass, needs-to-die car pulls up next to me.  He parks, then gets out and looks around a bit.  I must have looked friendly.  Too friendly.  George needs to get his car repaired, so he wants to know what the bus schedule is like around here.  I fill him in.  Five minutes later I am trapped there on the sidewalk with my red and black umbrella, wishing it would swallow me whole and teleport (umbrellaport?) me to the dry cleaner’s.  I know all about what George does, and he seems to think I want to hang out with him.  So I put his number in my phone (oops, I guess it didn’t save) and told him I’d call him just so I could get the heck out of there.

The dry cleaner’s shop is hot.  I am sweating the minute I walk in there, or maybe I was already sweating trying to come up with a smooth exit away from George.  I show the seamstress the dress and ask if she can help.  She shoos me toward the fabric-enclosed fitting room and tells me to put it on.  I come out, she pulls, she pins.  I ensure that I can take a deep breath in this baby and live to tell the tale.  Good?  Good.  She shoos me back into the fitting room to take it off.

But when I get in there, the dress won’t budge.  I’m not sure if it was the level of sweat that was accumulating on my skin, or how tightly she pinned the dress, or some combination.  But no dice.  While a man pays for his clothes, I zip myself back up and stand in the doorway.  When she finishes tending to him, I say, “I can’t get the dress off.”  She furrows her eyebrows.  “I don’t know what it is, but I can’t get it off.”

So there, in the middle of the dry cleaning shop that was thankfully empty, I stand in my strapless bra as she starts to remove the dress like I am a giant green banana.  And as a team, the seamstress and I wiggle the dress over my butt, over my “not going out tonight” underoos, and off my sweaty body.  I jump out of that thing so fast, for fear that one of the locals might wander in the open door or spy me through the window despite the number of plants shielding me from view. It’s not that I’m afraid of being half-naked.  It’s that I’m afraid of being half-naked in not-so-nice underwear.

She gives me a discount, and I may never know if it was because she thinks I’m a student from the school down the street or if she felt bad for the underwear incident.  But $23 and two weeks from now, I’ll have a smaller, cleaner dress.  We’ll see if it’s still as beautiful.

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Invisible Blacklist

“And in the window,” my mother told me, “The sign  said, ‘WE SALE WATER.’  Really!  And I said, ‘This is why she hates this town.  Can’t spell a damn thing.'”

My mother never asks me why I don’t come home anymore.  She understands.  She knows how sad I get when I see the restaurant at which I am numero uno on the invisible blacklist.  She knows how uncomfortable it feels when I walk into the bar and everyone turns to look at me.  She knows I have no answer for my high school friends who demand to know when I’ll be back for good.

So I hide behind giant sunglasses or inside a wool coat with the collar turned up for two-to-three days when I finally break down and go back.

She’s right.  None of them can spell a damn thing.

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I drove you to the hospital that day.  It was the Fourth of July and I couldn’t look directly at you, so I just drove.  You called her on the way and told her you loved her.  I bit my tongue and kept my eyes on the road.  The waiting room was this horrible dance, and I didn’t know whether to follow you or not.  I didn’t know if you wanted me.  But you beckoned, and I kept you company, and eventually a nurse came into the room to find out why we were being so loud.

We were laughing.  We were laughing about everything.  I signed your discharge papers.

I need the company now.  Someone to hold my hand when the needles hurt, to pet my hair and distract me.  You’re the one I want to drive me to the hospital.

But I can’t ask you for that.

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Easier than deciding on my own

I want you to tell me to stay.

We both know that we’re leaving, eventually, one at a time, and we’re both pissed off about it like teenagers stood up for prom.  But we’ll never talk about it like we’ll actually make a move.  We will have an awkward drink the night before I go, our elbows resting against each other on the bar.  I will tell you we’ll still be close, even though I know there will be another pair of librarian glasses waiting to step in, finally.  We both know we won’t be close.

And still I can’t decide if I want to stay or go.  You will remember me as the girl in the backless red dress, and I will remember you as a true Peter Pan, the one who just couldn’t see what I needed you to desperately to see.  You will never wear the green tights and I will grow up and pretend to move on.

I wish you would just tell me to stay.

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I sat on the step alone tonight, my step, smoking.  The last cigarette in the pack.  The last one in the house, until I am a writer again.  I knew where you were, but I didn’t dare call, not for lack of desperation, but to see if you would call me.

You never call me.

The dog-walkers look at me sideways because no one in this town smokes.  I stare at the stray embers that have come to rest on my feet.  The fireflies are here, finally.  I thought the rain would never stop.

I listen for the phone and wonder if I could get up from the step if you did call.  But I can’t, I’m too tired, I’m too old for this, but I’m too young to not try.  I am cemented, thinking of the night as hot as this one when we could have been, if we hadn’t been so smart.  If you hadn’t been so smart.

We have had our share of awkward mornings just the same, me hiding behind my bangs and you making small talk and smiling.  You always smile at me.  Had I kissed you that night, I am pretty sure you would have tasted like whiskey and Guinness.  If I had kissed you.

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The Great eHarmony Experiment: Done Like a Turkey

Dear eHarmony,

I finally realized that you left me.  No more e-mails in the morning about Qasim and feank wanting to get to know me better.  No notes to try to convince me that Dave or Marvin were my soulmate.  Fewer messages harrassing me to sign up for a paid membership as if my life depended on it.

It took me a long time to notice.  So I logged in today and realized I had reached my limit on matches and that everyone on the list you made for me had given up the ghost and moved on.

eHarmony, I think you finally realized that I moved on.

It was nice while it lasted.  Well, not exactly nice.  But it was funny.


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Someday, eventually

I can see us then. I will be smoking again (because I will be a writer again), and I fear you will be married, but the distance will have brought us closer despite our differences. We’ll sit on the front step in the neighborhood where I hope you’ll stay, me in my personal fog watching you with your beer as the sun sets. You, always with a beer. You will look at me too long, and I will shrug my shoulders and make a bad joke that you will pretend to like. Mash out cigarette on step; flick into street; look ahead; bite lip; there will be nothing new for you to see in me.

I’m not sure how, at this point, we will be in the habit of saying goodbye.

I will walk the ten blocks alone, even in the dusk and even though I will look behind me every dozen feet to see if you are still sitting there, watching me. I will smile and wave every time, but I’ll be faking it. I’ve learned that love is the saddest thing once we let ourselves get roped into it. If only we were stronger, if only we were harder, if only we didn’t care.

I will walk the ten blocks, I know where I am going even if we don’t know where we are.

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