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?”


“While playing volleyball?”


“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.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


There is a Facebook group.


You will regret following me on Twitter here.


Enter your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

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.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


Syndicate: RSS1.0, RSS2.0
Links: RSS1.0, RSS2.0


© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

Tables of Contents