300 miles was a blip.
First, it was west.
Then, it was southeast.
In neither direction did I really
understand the distance.
Our friendly game
of telephone remained —
no matter the change in route
or weather or time,
the reception and your voice
sounded the same to me:
just a shout away.
The string between our aluminum cans
was taut, but not uncomfortable enough
for me to notice the tension in the wire.
But the leap to the far-away west —
an actual ton of distance —
the mere thought of it
made my heart skip a beat.
I pictured it:
the string not taut, but snapped;
your voice muffled by static
or gone altogether;
where no shout from a mountaintop
could carry the words
that I was suddenly desperate to say —
“I love you,
and I’m sorry.”
There is a theory in physics
which states that
everything that is possible happens.
Flip a coin, and it comes up
heads and tails.
If you see heads,
it’s only that you exist
in the heads universe.
But the tails version
of you and of the world
They are extensions of you;
they are beyond you.
How many times have I,
in effect, simply flipped a coin?
Like when he asked me, “Do you think
there will ever be a chance for us?”
I exist in heads (“No, I’m sorry”),
but years later,
I swear I can hear tails (a nervous “Yes”),
that metallic ringing quarter
echoing softly behind me.
Or when I chose tails
and the leap-of-faith career,
but still I feel the tug of heads —
the straight-and-narrow choice —
a string pulling gently, invisibly at my spine.
And now, standing in front
of a goddamn vending machine,
I’m frozen by the thought
of how many different versions of myself
are living out the consequences of my choices.
We’ve only just shaken hands
and introduced ourselves —
so good to meet you,
heard so much about you —
and already she’s said “fuck”
and offered to buy me a scone.
While she’s in line,
I read a few more pages
of 100 Deadly Skills,
its hazard yellow cover
a stark contrast to the earthy tones
of the vegan coffee shop.
She’s asked me for advice,
and I mark my comments
on her paper
with a sturdy black pen,
to sip dark roast.
She takes pages of notes
in a sketchbook
with a purple marker,
stopping every so often
to try the mango cayenne kombucha.
We stand up to leave,
and as I extend my hand
to shake hers again,
she embraces me instead.
We take the same path in the cold
and say goodbye —
so great to have met you,
thanks for taking the time —
and drive opposite directions home.
I love the books he shares with me,
hate that I see them referenced everywhere.
I love that he’s so playful,
hate that it’s only a game.
I love the charm he wears around his neck,
hate how charmed I am by its rhythmic clinking.
I love the wrinkles by his eyes,
hate the wrinkle she put in things.
I love how much he tells me,
hate what I now know.
I love the truth (I love him),
hate the lie (it’s nothing).
“Shit. I left my necklace on your nightstand.”
“I’ll grab it if you want to swing back.”
I pull the car up the snowy drive
for the second time.
He holds it out —
the charm that says “wisdom” —
and drops it into my open hand.
“‘Wisdom’ my ass,” he laughs and smiles.
I smile and mutter thanks or maybe sorry
and get back into the car.
The neckace clinks in my pocket,
and I remember what I said to him
before I left the first time –
that this would be the last time.
Wiser, I hope,
and drive home.
They’ve danced before.
circling one another
with calculated patience
and anxious nonchalance.
They’re evaluating —
risk of falling.
They start to move again —
separately, but in tandem,
watching and waiting
and tensing for action.
He cocks an eyebrow,
and when she smirks,
and prepares to leap.
I scrub my teeth harder than usual.
The brush is medium-bristled,
but my gums still ache
from getting the taste out of my mouth.
I clean more vigorously than usual.
The white washrag absorbs dark dirt,
and I wonder how I hadn’t noticed the buildup.
I launder more linens than usual.
The washer vibrates with the effort
of removing stale, set-in stains.
I dust more thoroughly than usual.
If it’s true what they say –
that dust is mostly dead skin –
then I’m getting rid of my old self
with every pass of paper towel.
Within an hour,
I’ve finally given myself
a clean slate.