It comes up like a mark in green pencil on stubbly white paper, this memory of you. The flash of a motel that burned down, and the motel right across from it. A bottle of wine smashed in the parking lot, your friend lapping at its jagged neck before the principal came.
There is a story that we both know and will never tell anyone, probably not even each other. Maybe it’s about that time you got bit by a dog, or maybe it is a collection of stories about going to the Chinese buffet together. It is a story about getting so drunk on Pimm’s that my legs gave out from under me at a party, but it is also not about that.
It is about the Baha’i holy book in Spanish, and it is about that bad painting quoting Goethe I made that hangs in the same room.
Hung. Because anything can happen when someone moves, and I honestly hope she just got rid of it.
She told us about the book she was writing the last time I saw her. I was with that ex of mine you met one time. I was there to pick up all the stuff I had left there after my first big breakup at 21. Your mom let me store all my lesser books and some paintings in that back room after I left my first boyfriend, but it didn’t really make any sense to be using my childhood best friend’s mom’s backroom as a storage space when I had my own house in Grand Rapids.
Which I got kicked out of just a few months later.
It’s so easy to get ahead of yourself when the whole story is behind you. I used to get your birthday a little wrong, and now I never even think of it. I used to go to your house to get away from a thing I can’t even quite name, and it’s not even your house anymore.
I think about those times after you went away to art school. And I got to know the only other girl who ever really talked to us. You and me, we were such losers we became the coolest kids in the world. Thanks, Limewire. Thanks, Spin. You were away at art school and I did volunteer trash pickup with the only other girl who ever really talked to us.
Were we friends even at that point? I remember you not exactly being transparent about what country you were in when. Not with me, I knew, but there were a couple times I had to verify a trip that you never took. You were in a neighboring country with your lover, who spoke Polish and took photographs or something. He was a lot more interesting than me, than us. And remember how you used blinds to make sushi in your Epsom flat with the shaggy-haired one? I don’t know if he was more interesting than us, but he was BRITISH, so obviously, I mean, come on.
You got me that great book I love from some museum. I don’t mean like you went off to art school and that meant we weren’t friends anymore. I just mean that we never even thought of making sushi at home back then, even though it was a very long time ago. What I mean is that you were smart and you got out, and meanwhile I couldn’t keep my Latin cases straight.
Remember how you used to laugh at me when you tried to teach me things? I don’t think it was on purpose, not anymore. I know the people you grew up around. You grew up around stuffed-shirt academics who used their degrees like weapons. Boring, shitty weapons served at dinner parties next to the watered-down wine I never did quite get used to. Weapons made mostly of 20-year-old lectures that never needed to change because all the people they were about were dead.
I loved the books. Your mom’s house was like the best bookstore to me. Once I took a book about women in the classical world without telling her, but she told me I could keep it because it was really elementary. Meanwhile, I could hardly wring an ounce of meaning from it. One time she gave me this ethereal golden scarf from the coat rack on my way out because it was cold. It didn’t help any, but now that scarf is hung decoratively in my basement, where I keep all the books I’ve had for 20 years but never read.
You got me a replacement copy of Les misérables when a straight boy I was sprung on stole mine and I wouldn’t stop talking about it. Right there after dinner you walked into a bookstore and got me an unabridged edition of Les misérables because I just wouldn’t shut up about it. I don’t know if I really even loved the book so much as I loved the idea of loving it. I don’t know how much I loved the book so much as I loved having a story that connected me to this boy.
Why do I think of these things? Is a relationship just a series of recollections and impressions? I had a talk with a coworker one time about how love is an association based on the development of common history. You probably wouldn’t like him very much. This conversation would probably make you rock your hips back and forth uncomfortably without moving your feet, like we danced at that Shins concert in Ohio. You’d probably think this guy was a weak-faced knob and laugh and laugh about him later in that beautiful up and down way you do.
I just remembered how much I liked it when you’d laugh. If you really thought something was funny your arms would go stiff at your sides and you’d shake up and down from the jaw, your whole body undulating under your upper jaw in open-faced joy. I don’t remember what your eyes would do, but I can think of lots of different hairdos you had while laughing. A whole history of hair and laughing told in Cherry Kijafa, purloined from your mother’s cabinet of dusty imported wonders.
The imaginary teacher in my mind is addressing an audience in your mother’s dining room. It always has. Steadily throughout the last 15 years I’ve been trying to impress absent people I never particularly cared for, and desperately wanted to become. When you and your mother visited me in Ann Arbor I steered the conversation toward comparative linguistics and other such shit bants. Trying desperately with some joke about Barbie to say something about the partitive genitive over brie and grapes. Brie and grapes at a restaurant, can you imagine.
The immediate conclusion at hand is that I am intellectually insecure, and I am intellectually secure enough to acknowledge that the argument holds water. How I remember needing to stay ahead of the weasel-faced Southern one. I don’t remember what he taught. And god, his name was Davey (or something like that), I mean where did a Davey get off being that smug. I still remember that time I called Horace Greek at a dinner party. I still remember the time I said observatory when I meant conservatory. I was intellectually insecure to start off with because these people just did know more than me, and it never occurred to me this was anything but a personal moral failing on my part.
Check back for pt. 2 on Thursday.