Time Travel, Avoidance, Options
In bed David talked about time travel. His voice was raspy, a staccato rhythm, and maybe ten minutes into his wormhole chatter, I opened my eyes and gazed at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling, watched, even against darkness, as he traced a line in the air. “Right there,” he said. “We could just jump from here to there,” and he lowered his finger from our imaginary flight to lap circles around my navel.
I met David at First Friday where I was supposed to be taking notes to write a review on some schlocky sculpture exhibit. In the gallery, the artist slunk up from behind as I stared at his mixed-media flowers, thinking nothing of the soil and petals and semi-toxic glues he’d used and everything of walking from gallery to gallery alone, my ex-fiancé now living with Mandi the Stylist — I swear, a freaking pointy little “i” punctuating the end of her name like a drawn sword. The artist said I had a good eye, that the piece I looked at was his personal favorite and moved his palm to my lower back, so I yawned without covering my mouth and he walked away, said the same thing to a girl all of four feet over. On my way out, I collided with David, and he snatched my elbow to keep me from knocking over a vase filled with dirt and papier-mâché orchids. Close one, I said, or something just as embarrassed, but he smiled and said that there are no accidents, that every atom in the universe is hurtling and smashing into itself and us and that we are nothing but a collection of these particles, of things meant to bump and knock over vases filled with shitty, hardened flowers. I looped my arm through his and we walked the city for a few hours until crossing into a dive bar and tequila, then my gated community and the stairs to my apartment and the doorway to my bedroom. That night, after he came and I pretended to, we lay on our sides facing one another and he told me about entropy, how an egg dropped from a counter to the ground enough times would eventually reassemble itself. I decided then, in that moment, that maybe I loved him and fell into a beautiful, black sleep, my best in months.
But my therapist Dr. Bob said it wasn’t love, that it was just grief — that the two are damned near the same thing — and when I shifted my gaze to a bird fastening bits of its nest outside the window, Dr. Bob leaned in closer, his knees perched on his elbows to say again, slowly, that it wasn’t love. When I left his office, I walked the long way home through Fairmount Park and cried on a bench surrounded by bushes and loose dogs and pairs of sweaty joggers. Back in my apartment, I baked David a cake, a chocolate spaceship for our one-week anniversary, scrawled “I love you” on top of the hull next to an icing alien waving his elongated fingers. When he came over that night, he slowly ran his hands through his hair and laughed, maybe a little too loudly, then led me to the bed where he undressed fully and lifted my dress just enough to grind against me for twenty minutes. “Want some water?” he asked after he’d finished, and I shook my head no. A minute later, I heard the front door open and close, the wind and smack of it, so I rolled onto my back, stared at the constellations burning from my ceiling, wondering how to get to anywhere but here.
Robert tells me I talk about food when I’m not getting any. He says, “People turn all tuna tartare when sex isn’t an option” as I recount the seafood bisque I had with Greg, my latest ex, the night we broke up last week. A couple of years ago Robert and I started messing around out of boredom. Some Jodie Foster number on cable and my hand worked its way under his belt, slid beneath the band of his boxer briefs until he leaned into me so close I could feel the hiccups of his body. Eventually, the fooling around stopped. He said handjobs without love just don’t amount to much.
He asks me what happened with Greg, pours us oversized chardonnays, and I’m quiet, knowing that your friends keep you honest and honesty isn’t what I’m ready for. Robert presses me, kicks the arch of my foot with his big toe, promises no judgment, but I sip my wine and let the memories flash, picking up speed like a snowball that gets dirtier the faster and farther it rolls downhill.
I stuck with Greg for just under a year, aiming at that marker as if it proved something. Robert continues nudging my foot with his toe, and the contact feels good. I say the game’s about to start, avoiding the truth that I manipulated Greg into loving me the way I’ve twisted every man I’ve ever dated. That I wrote him letters of pure fiction, inflating his sense of self-worth with lines like, “I love that you make up songs about everything,” when in truth, it killed me every time he hummed a bar. That I once whispered, “I’m bored” while we made love me and when he heard, I lied, assured him that I’d called myself a whore. That none of it was true, not a stitch, that the whole goddamned thing made me nauseous.
“Seriously,” Robert says.
“Seriously? Let’s watch the game,” I say and rest my foot on his knee. “Or maybe go to Buddakan.”
“Pan-seared duck won’t make it go away,” he says. But then he sits back in his chair, pats the top of my foot, and turns his face to the TV — an act that strikes me as so kind that I want to straddle him and squeeze him tight with every bit of my body.
By the end of the 3rd quarter, we’re at the bottom of our second bottle, sharing a couch and laughing, and though I know I don’t want him, my hand quivers. Twice I inch toward his waistline but reach for my glass instead. I’m sure of little, but I think, lucidly despite drinking, that I’ll do almost anything to feel affection. Tucking my knees to my chest, I sit on my hands, worried that I don’t quite know what I’ll unleash on him if I don’t learn to keep to myself.
I’m in Target, my handcart filled with panties all glowing pink and orange because a cart full of black would tell everyone too much about my recent break-up. I haven’t noticed the two holes in the bottom of the 25 lbs of cat litter I’ve trailed behind me, two fine lines of gravel like cartoon gunpowder tracing my steps from the corner of the store to check out. When I slam the box down on the conveyor, a mound forms, and I tell Tanya, the clerk who hasn’t seen a comb or bra in years, that I don’t want it. Just the panties, please. She rings it up anyway, and when I tell her no one would want a box with holes, she looks at me and tilts her head, tells me she has seven cats.
In the next line someone calls my name, a colleague from work. Marge is in grey sweatpants, the fabric bunched at her ankles, post-baby fat still clinging to her midsection, hair pulled loosely into a ponytail, no make-up, a canister of Scrubbing Bubbles in front of her. Tells me it’s her fifth anniversary, that they’re headed to Sonny’s BBQ for dinner, and I envision her hunched over the tub, a towel beneath her knees to keep the pressure of off them, her gut squished against the porcelain. I slip my hand onto the counter to keep from falling over.
I’m so shaken that I screw up the credit-card screen, hitting “cancel” instead of “okay,” trying my damnedest to cancel all of it. Behind Marge, a student of mine waves fervently, her mother by her side, buying her a plastic set of drawers. When she turns, I study the long line of my student’s legs, the tattooed zippers that trace the base of her ankles to somewhere under her shorts, and I think of how many times she’s come to my office to talk about writing. She’d asked just the week before, “Are you happy?” and though she meant with my career choice, all I could think about was how two days earlier, I dug my heels into the small pebbles of my driveway and told my boyfriend who sat, chin quivering, in his 1988 Toyota pickup, that he should drive into a tree on the way home. Thought of how I’d allowed nine months of dick pics to other girls to build, to tsunami at my center, how it all came out, insults sharp as scalpels.
In the store my knuckles are still gripped in white fury to the counter. I want to jump up and scream at my student that this is what she’s headed for: cats or disinfectants. That one day, she’ll say the meanest things she’s ever said to a boy then return to her apartment, dig into those plastic drawers, and destroy his drunken letters. That one day every drawer in her apartment will be empty because after a certain age, nothing is worth saving.