I saw you at the party with a cup of coffee in your hand. You said you always fell asleep and left too early. You and I took a walk in the park. You said butterflies were impervious to looks. I said the angel at Bethesda Fountain looked a bit like a pretty boy. You said you didn’t like Woody Allen, he made Manhattan look too easy, so we saw the film with Dolly Parton instead. You thought the tree at Rockerfeller had too many lights. My left hand wandered your knee when we sat down. Your right foot invaded my side of the bed. You read too much fiction; I didn’t read enough. In Boston, the color I chose for our room was too muted. Time passes so quickly not to have bright colors, you said. I disagreed. You said you would wash every dish in the sink for me as a romantic declaration. I broke the TV antennae and it resembled a forlorn rabbit or a half-hearted sign of victory. You said you missed Veselka, the other Hungarian place, and the basement restaurant with your favorite malbec and the single, modest chandelier with prismatic crystal tresses. I said the winters were just as cold. You threw away the gossamered catalogues we received in the mail. I asked what you really said, and you told me that my hair looked nice. My work clothes were always left on the floor. You left the meeting early to watch Luke and Laura’s wedding on General Hospital. Your father said I had many prospects. My sister wanted to know if you wore the pants in the relationship. The doors of the T clamped my briefcase, and you helped me tug at it to no avail, until their jaws acquiesced at the stop in Central Square. You said the stonewashed baby photo of me in the small train at the suburban mall was adorable, but I looked like I had a touch of Downs Syndrome. But what can’t you do with a drunken sailor, I asked. You got lost in the not-so-nice part of Jamaica Plain after you fell asleep on the bus and found a record store that sold vinyl for fifty cents a pop. I moved the record player and put on Sam Cooke in the kitchen. You stepped on the Inca-yellow sleeve and your cat-claw patterned footprint remained. My appetite would make me fat one day. Your bladder was the size of a thimble. My mother was the kindest woman, you said at the funeral. My belt loosened, became too loose. Your shorn hair on the salon floor like decimated mica. Cognitive dissonance is a blessing and a curse, I said. You finally made a turkey with all the trimmings, the bronzed juices blistering on the sides of the wide, crust-dimmed pan. My new work number was easy to memorize. I thought your margined sketches were more than liner detail, were miniature marvels in ballpoint. The used car with the silver door was charming. My savings could afford Paris, but your schedule got in the way. Your stomach ulcers worried me. I predicted male-pattern baldness. You woke up to blood-spackled sheets while I was at the conference. I thought of that Ernest Hemingway tidbit; For sale: baby shoes, never worn. You confessed that the off-white, brown-rimmed rosebud geraniums were nice, but I had never even asked you about your favorite color, even after all this time. The viscera of your laugh-lines. In method, there is still madness. My father asked why I hadn’t proposed yet. All stories are old stories, you said.
And during the story of us, here is what happened: Mount St. Helens erupted, Ronald Reagan was almost assassinated, a hotel walkway collapsed in Kansas City, killing 114 people, the Columbia shuttle was launched into the heavens. A baby got lost in a well, the Dow Jones fell on Black Monday, the Challenger became a diaphanous grief, Gorbachev and Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Yellowstone caught on fire. Charles and Diana parted ways, Jimmy Swaggart confessed his predilections, the Berlin Wall was consumed. Massive flooding along the Mississippi River, swallowing livelihoods.
I had left long before I had the bag in my hand, you said.