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.
“Looks like your vision’s gotten stronger,”
she tells me, flipping the page of my chart
forward and back.
“Really?” I ask.
“Yes, in both eyes.
They’re the same prescription now.”
For six years,
I was imbalanced —
one eye somewhat stronger,
one side of my brain slightly weaker
than the other.
I know my body is finally manifesting
the balance I’ve been seeking.
“Wait,” he whispers.
“Let’s just lie here
a little while longer.
She rests her head on his shoulder
and stays still
that what’s done is done
and they can’t take it back.
She wakes up at home later that morning.
Her lips are swollen
from kissing him,
and her right hand hurts
where his dog broke the skin
trying to bite her
when she entered the bedroom.
and everything she touches —
in the shower,
or drinking coffee,
or opening the pack with the tiny white pill —
stings and reaffirms her belief
that she should have seen the dog
for what it was:
her own gut instinct come to life.
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.