.

 

Until the Water Boils

...something you do with cloth and paper.

The view from the roof of my apartment building.

I was in love. It was that simple. Everything was clear through that lens. It lasted 8 months. The plan was I'd move to Cambridge, MA in August, to be with her.

Things were lately difficult, and that part of the plan fell apart, but it looked like we could make it. We took the bus and laughed. We yelled and wept. The good hours shone like the aurora borealis, as I've seen it in pictures, a light hanging above everything.

Then tonight, between 9:42 and 11:58 Eastern Standard Time, via mobile phone, each voice beamed and narrowed by diligent application of Claude Shannon's information theory, which squeezes words to their essence, I heard that tone of resignation pronounce itself ever clearer, until finally she said, “I don't want—”

We battled a last battle. I requested a last request, sobbed, listened, yelled, apologized, listened, and finally, I said, “Let me tell you about the time I was happiest with you.” After I told her, we spoke a few words, and then there was nothing but the terminal click.

I tore a map of the Boston T and a postcard from the wall and crumpled them up. I went to get toilet paper and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror with my mouth open, sobbing, my eyes creased and pink. Ugly and animal, that face, with the veneer of contentment and comfort stripped off.

.  .  .  .  .  

I talked to an old friend. I said, “Yesterday, I had a plan, a future home, a future wife, future kids. Maybe even a cat. I was so certain.”

“It's good to know you want that,” she said.

A little later, in a calmer moment, she said, “I just bought a beautiful book of Sappho's poetry. I spent too much for it, but I'm still glad. I was first introduced to Sappho—”

“In a woman's locker room?”

“No—”

“While playing volleyball?”

“No—”

“On the Independent Film Channel?”

“I'm glad you're still a bigoted asshole,” she said. Then, “Go up on the roof for a moment. The night is beautiful.”

It is two AM. I am tired. I have four hours of work to do and I am cast adrift, all out of stars to guide me. I went to the roof, moments ago. In an apartment across the street a woman is at a table about her work. Her work is something you do with cloth and paper. An F train passed, each window lit, on its way deeper into Brooklyn. A breeze came up from the ocean and pressed on my face, neck, and mouth. I came downstairs and put the kettle on.

An editor, could I persuade one to read this far, would correctly say, “where is the story?”

My weak reply: this is not a story but a marker. People will find it in the future, as they come across these pages, and they will see that after the water boiled and I drank my tea, I kept writing. 2004, 2005, 2006, 2020.

Other failures and successes in love and work will be marked on the same long tape of language, unspooling from its reel until cancer, or the nuclear suitcase, gives the Fates cause to snip it. I can look back at the last 6 years, the last 1000 attempts to put an idea into a string of words, and know that nothing is finished, that no matter how strong the sense of lost hope, there is always going to be sleep. And then rising, feet on the floor, blinking hard at the light coming in through the blinds. It is not enough, but it is enough for now.

.  .  .  .  .  

See also: How like the sound, Personal.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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