I wasn’t nervous.
That was maybe the most surprising
of my feelings that night.
An older version of me
would have agonized
over what to say, what not to,
what to wear, what not to,
how to be part of the conversation
without taking it over.
But she is no longer me.
And we are no longer who we used to be.
Not any of us, really.
That was maybe the most comforting
of my realizations that night.
That finally we are, in some sense,
who we have always been becoming.
Just as the what-ness of an acorn is a tree,
we have grown into ourselves,
And you and I are still that familiar species of tree.
We’re hybrids mixed from an early age,
but not quite the same.
We’ve been in this forest as long as we can remember –
not together, but near each other;
growing not across, but up and out –
branches twisting and changing
and reaching towards the sky,
towards the rest of the forest,
and ever so slightly towards each other,
but never entangling.
Squirrels and birds and other life
can jump easily across the expanse between us,
and that bit of space is not a challenge,
not a torturous reach.
It’s the right expanse for air,
for room to breathe,
to keep on growing.
who we could have been.
They met young.
Everyone said they wouldn’t last,
but here they are 18 years later.
We are listening to their parents’ old albums
sipping whiskey, laughing,
and telling stories of what they’ve done,
what you and I never did.
I love who they are – together and apart.
I love that they’ve grown together,
loved together, changed together.
I watch him pouring whiskey from the kitchen,
relaxing with his glasses on,
tall and comfortable and effortless.
He is happy and shrugging and himself.
I watch her changing the soundtrack in the living room,
grooving and wearing his t-shirt,
short and strong and with her guard down.
She is happy and open and herself.
They are who I thought we’d be
The man in the middle seat
has a calm energy about him.
I am in the aisle seat,
so we are constantly playing the game
of respectfully adjusting our shoulders
to try to give the other comfort.
I pass a pillow to his wife –
she’s in the middle seat across the aisle –
and I pass him her credit card
when he buys a pack of pringles.
He makes a joke about how
he’s done nothing nothing on this flight
I laugh, we smile,
and we return to ourselves
(me, to my book; he, to his).
Despite our efforts, his upper left arm and my upper right
are touching for most of the flight.
As much as I love it when the middle seat is empty,
I didn’t realize how comforting it would be
simply to feel the platonic pressure
of his body against mine.
Tower City is beautiful
the way that broken things are beautiful.
The way that black and white pictures
of how things used to be are beautiful.
The natural light flooding the fountain area
hits these ghosts briefly before they glide up escalators
and pass through doors,
always on the way toward somewhere else.
Public Square is full of things that aren’t.
A fountain without water,
Christmas lights unlit,
colorful birds that can’t fly.
I am determined to make eye contact with someone,
smile, and say “Good morning.”
But people are cold and rushing to find warmth
and avoid my gaze.
The City is perpetual –
that’s the word.
Perpetually looking forward,
perpetually under construction,
perpetually stirring up clouds
of bus exhaust and black and milds.
Perpetually too full and too empty.
Somehow perpetually constant.
I know it, and it knows me.
We make eye contact, smile,
and say, “Good morning”
as I pass through.
It’s summertime 2001.
I’m in my parents’ kitchen
drinking a protein shake
at the end of the run home with you
after summer gym class.
I haven’t been a runner since.
It’s somewhere around 2004.
I’m in my parents’ kitchen
baking white chocolate macadamia nut cookies
that I will say are homemade
when I bring them to your dorm room.
Years later, I’ll admit I’m a liar.
It’s winter break 2009ish.
I’m wiping the sweat off my beer glass,
telling you, “No, I’m sorry”
and feeling lighter and heavier
at the same time.
It’s who-cares-when in 2013.
I’m sitting on my best friend’s floor
sipping some kind of mixed drink
and texting you the names of restaurants
where you can take your new girl
when she’s in town.
It’s still freezing in early 2016.
I’m shivering in the parking lot of my apartment
telling you I wonder whether I was wrong
and that years-before lighter feeling
was just a shifting of baggage
rather than a release of it.
It’s October 2016.
I’m standing in my kitchen
chopping vegetables and singing along:
“Put another ex on the calendar,
Summer’s on its deathbed,
There is simply nothing worse
than knowing how it ends…”
when I nearly cut myself
because I stopped paying attention.
We both believe in mad money.
Those pennies and singles and whatever else
you set aside and disclose to no one
because it’s there strictly for when you go mad.
We are excellent at putting madness off
and letting cooler heads prevail
in front of those who need to see our strength.
But it’s in the off-putting that the madness
gets to grow in its intensity
so that when we feel it – boy,
do we feel it.
We nearly crave it.
And instead of madness being a splurge lunch
or a frivolous item online,
it is a stamp in our passports,
a car payment’s worth of hair care.
We are sitting in chairs next to each other,
hair wrapped comically in foils
and damp with chemicals
that will make us feel frivolous and beautiful
and more like ourselves.
We are shedding the old
and creating the new.
We are talking, laughing, sharing,
In my mind, I see us as the cartoon women
sitting under the dryer hoods,
reading magazines and gossiping.
But by the time our hair is washed,
trimmed, and dried,
the madness has abated,
the mad money is spent,
and we’re ready to go out
and start saving again.
I hadn’t planned to stop anywhere on my way home.
That’s always how it is, though –
that whim takes you exactly where
you need to be.
I am waiting in line behind another car
to get back onto my route home
when I hear the short screech,
a sound like a baking sheet
bending in the heat of the oven,
and the grinding gravel beneath his wheels
and then beneath his helmet when he falls.
It’s all muffled from the fishbowl
of my own car,
but before I can finish thinking,
my fingers are dialing 9-1-1
on my cell phone.
I hadn’t planned to stop anywhere on my way home,
but now I am in the restaurant parking lot
listening to myself calmly give the location
and the nature of my emergency.
I am standing with the others,
telling them I’ve called
and help is coming.
Help comes, and it blocks the exit lane,
so we stand and watch them
place one man on an ambulance cot,
give the other man a clipboard to write down his story.
I am making small talk with the woman next to me,
and she comments that I seem to know
what I’m doing.
I tell her I hadn’t planned to stop on my way home,
but the same thing was also true the last time
I had to be the one to dial 9-1-1.