by DAN CARVILLE
Around late January, when Christmas was just the echo of an echo of crumpled wrapping paper, I ran out of ways to convince you to come back.
Apologies in advance for the second-person. I know it is the dirt worst, even worse than consecutive semi-colons, but you can lay the blame on my total lack of composure. I was pricing a belt at T.J. Maxx on Wednesday and tears ruined the buckle, rusted it out.
A lot of bad things have happened, if I’m being honest. I know in a relationship, a real relationship that is what you have to be, or it catches up to you. A phone call out of the blue announces the lie has evaporated.
I don’t lie anymore, not even to myself.
One of these unfortunate occurrences put me inside of a hospital. (It was nothing you did, and it was not really happening to me, anyway. He only goes after those we love, especially when we love ourselves too much to risk it.)
Hospitals all look the same, halls too wide for human occupation. Signs point us in the wrong direction, away from the place we need to be. I remember one time I was in a hospital; I was just a little boy, I had seen The Rocketeer; it was supposed to keep me awake, only the thing was it put me to sleep instead.
I should have known that basic irony would be the defining jest of February. The reason I give a gift is to show who I am, the kind of person I might be under better, more favorable circumstances. I guess what I started thinking is, what if I am that person now, and the gift just proves how much further I had to go.
Why you left is nuncupatory. The fact is you are not down in the Metro when I go there, and believe me I questioned city personnel. I keep thinking to myself how I never did anything bad to you except not take the trip you wanted me to. You never suggested I go, but you should not have had to ask. It eats at me a lot that I did not do that for you, but it is not even the biggest bite.
Day one of therapy was like a bunch of swarming minnows, taking plankton-size chunks. My metaphors run away from me. Writing is inadequate to this particular task. There is something missing from it that can only be conveyed by the actual passage of time, not the gasp between paragraphs.
I did go back. I also returned to where we first met, hoping I would glimpse you through an aquarium. That first day we met I was not really looking forward to seeing you. I canceled the night before, wrapping myself in a thin black blanket and reading until all my bad thoughts went away, of how maybe I was not the person you thought I would be, and would I hate myself for the lack of authenticity?
My therapist gave me this idea. He asked me what kind of person I thought I was. The only way I could answer is this: I never do things for the sake of them. He told me that some people might view that as a character flaw. I wanted to scream.
But I did not. There is no anger there, even that has faded with the time we are given to get over ourselves. The training for this in the life of a man is minimal. I am, like plenty of others, not unfamiliar with being dismissed, but the way you did it.
That has nothing to do with it. It is what I tell my class (I am teaching now, you never let me tell you, it is great fun and you always told me I should do it and I did, I’d talk to you about it in these warmer nights if you let me, my lips brushing against a pillow like a perpetual greeting). What I tell my class is, the way you say something doesn’t matter at all. If you’re saying the right thing, you could tell it backwards and we would still shake at the end.
March comes on like a refrain. Everyone is telling me to be social. “Don’t retreat into yourself,” a friend says. “It takes too long to realize nothing’s there.” I have my books and movies. I finished Carrie: the ending was just awful. I tried another Theodore Dreiser, and I noticed a theme. A woman is humbled, and she takes a man with her into the gutter. She makes a choice to save herself or save him, and whatever decision she lands on, she regrets.
You must have some regrets. I never met anybody that didn’t second guess themselves, but I suppose that is why you are not here right now. I would have liked to watch that movie with you, and I wish we had never disagreed. It is another character flaw, to enjoy bouncing hard against something soft, and then doing the reverse. I’m working on pushing the soft parts together, says my therapist.
It is the opposite of what you are supposed to do in writing, and maybe that is what I find difficult about relationships at times. It feels like pressing the cathodes of a battery against each other, nuzzling their charged tips.
I pray a lot now, which is funny considering I told you how silly I thought it was. Well, now I know why people do it: it is for when you want something real bad and divine intervention is the only way they can think to get it. I pray for you to come back in my life, and sometimes for wonderful things to happen to you. I figure if you are happy maybe it doesn’t improve my chances, but it couldn’t hurt them. Plus, you’d be happy.
That’s not where these pleas to God end, however. I don’t imagine just having you around. That’s peanuts. I imagine marrying you in front of everyone I know. It gets worse. Even though we’re already wed, I propose again. We could renew our vows. I was looking for a ring, but it wasn’t good enough. The only thing that would say what was in my heart right now is seaweed and grass. I go back to the earth — I’m even composting now. I miss you. When you walk through the door, you won’t recognize me. I ran to lose weight, and I kept doing it because I know you would have wanted me to. I’m volunteering for Hillary. I’ve seen so many places on these travels — the end of the park, choruses of concrete, metal detectors exchanging compliments, lightning bugs kneeling and circling my big stupid head. That’s not all. You’re here and praying too. My clothes are better, my spirit is larger. I am king of all the animals, and I sprinted a block to return a dollar that had dropped out of a girl’s pocket. You won’t recognize me at all.
Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.