Funny the things that you remember so clearly from childhood. It was more than 40 years ago and I can still hear those words and see that small mouse-faced girl with the short-cropped brown hair. I don’t remember her name, but I can see the Kindergarten classroom and hear the snide tone of her voice. It’s my recurring nightmare to this day and a moment that shaped my life.
It was career week at my elementary school in 1978 and the assignment for Monday was to come dressed as one of our parents. If we didn’t already know, we were supposed to ask our parents where they worked and what they did at their job, and then come to school dressed as they would at work, stand up in front of the class and tell everyone about what we had learned about our parent’s jobs.
I went home with this assignment for career week full of excitement. I already knew what my Mom and my stepdad did for work. My stepdad, I called him my Ken, was a delivery driver. He drove a big truck delivering new washers and sofas to people’s houses. It was exciting for my brother and me when he would let us play in the back of the truck or pay us $5 to rub hard wax all over the wooden floor so that the big boxes would slide easily across it, but it didn’t seem to my five-year-old mind, like something exciting to tell my classmates about or to come to school dressed in jeans and a work shirt like him. My Dad did a similar job, delivering for drug stores, and although we always loved being picked up from school in his work truck and sliding around the back in crates while he drove us the one block to his house from school, I didn’t want to wear just plain clothes to school.
Yes, it was all about the clothes! I wanted to wear a costume! I wanted people in class to be impressed!
By the next day, my thoughts were focused on my mom. She worked at a bank and dressed up fancy (to my five-year-old senses) every day. She wore nice skirts and blouses, jackets and high heels. She always did her hair up nice and wore makeup. I thought she was the prettiest person in the world. I wanted to come to school dressed just like her!
I don’t remember if I worked this out with my mom. I know we were supposed to ask our parents about their work and get their help dressing as they did, and I’m sure my mom helped me with my hair (and a little makeup), but those specifics are lost to me today. I do remember thinking that I couldn’t wear her clothes because they were way too big, but I could wear my own nicest clothes and curl my hair like hers and that’s exactly what I did.
On the day of the assignment I came to school full of pride. I was wearing a frilly blue dress my mom had got me for a party we had gone to. I had white stockings on and shiny black shoes. My hair was curled, and I had a matching ribbon. And I was thrilled that my mom had let me wear just a little makeup like hers! I walked to school as if I were the queen of the world. I felt gorgeous and soon everyone would know how important and pretty my Mom was when I told them what her job was.
Parents dropping their kids off at school and kids that walked with older brothers and sisters were slowly trickling into the Kinder play area. I was too dressed up to play and waited at the door where we all would line up when the bell rang for class and soon it did. Other kids came running up to the concrete porch area in front of the door to line up behind me and another girl that was talking to me.
Most of the kids in my class were dressed up in crazy outfits that day. One I remember had a white apron on and baggy black pants with a paper hat on his head. His Dad worked at the meat counter at the grocery store. Another girl had her dad’s McDonald’s shirt on like a dress, belted at the waist, hanging almost to her ankles. One boy had on jeans and his dad’s old construction work boots. I had begun to worry. Everyone else was wearing something of their parents, no matter how big the clothes were. I was different.
That’s when I saw her look at me. That tall girl that always seemed like she was angry about something. Her snack wasn’t the right one. Someone took her pencil when it was clearly right on the floor next to her. Strangely, I don’t remember what she was wearing but I remember her walking straight up to me and looking at my dress. She gave that mousy, narrow-eyed look of a kid that’s sure you must be crazy, and said, “What are you supposed to be? Tinkerbell?”
I was instantly mortified. I had interpreted the assignment to dress up “LIKE” a parent. Everyone else took the assignment literally and wore their parent’s clothes.
I honestly can’t remember what my reply was. My memory has two versions. One is probably closer to what happened, and the other is what my older self wishes I had said.
I stammered an answer with tears in my eyes, face flushing red, “My mom dresses up nice to work at the bank.”
The other, more clever answer? “Yes. My Mom works at Disneyland and she IS Tinkerbell.”
It really doesn’t matter what I said, what was important was the “I really screwed up” feeling that stuck with me for the rest of my school life, my whole life if I’m honest. To this day, I am still afraid to stand out.
It’s embarrassing to admit that it still affects me, that I just can’t let it go. There’s no one to blame. She wasn’t a bad person; she was a child. Even as adults, people generally don’t say things to hurt others deliberately. She didn’t mean to cut me down or ruin my life, she just said what she was thinking, and I took it so personally, internalized it so much that it continued to direct my actions my whole life. That’s on me.
Strange to think that one incident can have such a strong impact on a life, but it did in my case. I can’t say that that girl’s remark about my costume choice changed me or if it just accentuated a feeling I already had. I had always been a sensitive and shy kid. Her remark was probably one of hundreds over my lifetime that shaped me. But should they have? Should anyone else’s opinion shape our choices, especially the opinions of people that we don’t really care to impress?
What could I have done differently? How could I have reacted differently? Was there an adult in my life that could have changed how I felt about it? I will never know.
Why did this memory come up? Because I want to go to the Renaissance Faire in the spring and I so desperately want to dress up! And you know what? I’m afraid to! Yes. I’m still afraid to dress up. I’m 46 years old and afraid to dress up and go to an event that is known for its costumed patrons! At what point does one get over these kinds of things?
How can I change this? How do I start doing things because I want to and they make me happy and not worry about what anyone else thinks? I do it in lots of different ways, but not with my clothes. I just can’t bring myself to stand out like that.
“One Arrow” simply scrawled in pencil on the back of an old faded business card with a familiar address. She grinned. This one was easy. Excitement spread through her body as she made her way through the city, not to the address on the card but to the one the “one arrow” had directed her to. He’ll be waiting there with that smile, with that touch her soul craved.
She had found the card wedged in the driver’s side window of her VW when she left work. It wasn’t the first one she’d found. She’d been seeing Jay for months and every time he was able to get away from his work, she’d find a business card on her windshield, a short cryptic message about where she could find him. She’d smile when she saw the card, pluck it from its spot and sit inside the car to muse over it and figure out where to meet him that afternoon. As soon as she had it, she’d turn the key in the ignition, fire the old bug into action, and make a beeline for the spot.
Sometimes it was a secluded part of the wilderness park, an empty lot, or some other remote outdoor location. Other times it was an abandoned house on the edge of town or a friend’s apartment that he’d secured for the meeting. Once it was a swanky hotel room in the city with a giant bathtub, eight flights up, and set in a giant window overlooking the streets below. She just never knew where he’d lead her next and that was the fun of it.
When she arrived at the “one arrow,” the big wilderness park at the edge of the city, she knew something was different the moment she saw him. She pulled her car into a parking spot and switched the ignition off as he moved toward the car door to let her out. Taking her hand and pulling her from the car, she moved easily into his arms and held him close.
Walking to their usual spot near the pond, she sensed his nervous energy. She felt as if he might take wing at any moment. Car horns, birds, a barking dog, all made him jump out of his skin. When she asked him if anything was wrong, he said he was worried that someone was following him.
“Why would someone be following you?” she asked.
“You know I’m not supposed to be here.”
“I know but…” her answer trailed off as she thought about why. He had never really told her why and for some strange reason she accepted it and didn’t press for answers. She wasn’t typically the gullible sort, but his mystery intrigued her and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. She didn’t want to.
He wasn’t all that handsome, not much taller than her and thickset. He had dark, close-cut hair and deep-set eyes that glimmered when he looked at her in the strangest way as if they had no real color. His eyes were almost silvery, reflecting the colors he was wearing or looking at. He wasn’t skinny or fat, but he looked big, well-fed and strong. It was his hands that attracted her, his strength when he pulled her close and kissed her. She felt overpowered and weak, a feeling she had never enjoyed in the past. With him, she felt safe, at home, and all the mystery only made the affair more alluring to her.
“There are things I need to tell you. Things I didn’t think I’d have to tell you, but…”
“You can trust me, you know.” She murmured, looking down at her feet dangling over the edge of the block wall they were sitting on. “I’m not going anywhere.” The park was empty this time of day. Large trees looming over them, as they sat together on the retaining wall along the edge of the park. The sun was starting to set and the shadows were deepening.
“It’s getting late and I don’t want us to get caught in the dark. Not now.” They hopped off the wall and started to make their way back to the cars. She could feel his tension get stronger. Something was really bothering him. Walking up between their two cars, he took her hands in his and kissed her. She melted. All was right. She was starting to think maybe he enjoyed creating the mystery as much as she enjoyed being in it.
“Come back here tomorrow. Ok?”
“Again? So soon? It won’t be suspicious of you leaving two days in a row?”
“Maybe, but it’s important. I’ll think of some excuse. I need to talk to you, but it doesn’t feel safe right now. Tomorrow?”
“Sure. Same time?”
He pulled her close, one hand behind her head, wrapped up in her hair and kissed her deeply.
“I love you.” She whispered as he walked away.
She was only a few miles from home, but the ‘wilderness’ park was in the edge of the city and driving home just after sunset, rush hour, took her more time than usual. She pulled into the parking garage under her apartment building well after dark. Even in the familiar garage, she was never comfortable coming home alone at night.
Her reserved spot was tight for most cars, but her 69 VW bug fit with ease. Shutting off the engine, it sputtered once and died. She grabbed her bag from the vinyl seat next to her, got out and fumbled with the key to lock the door behind her. That’s when she heard the noise.
Coming home in the dark always set her on edge and even though the parking garage was brightly lit, there were deep shadows in the corners and plenty of places to hide behind cars of all shapes and sizes. She ignored the quiet shuffle and pop sound she believed came from the stairwell beside the elevator entry and walked on.
As she approached the elevator doors, she breathed a sigh of relief when she pushed the call button and the door immediately slid open. Stepping inside, turning to push the button for her floor, the doors started to close, stopped, opened, and then closed again as if someone had put their hand in the way to hold them open.
The doors closed completely and the quiet hum of the elevator machinery filled her mind as the car carried her slowly to the third floor where she lived.
That soft pop sound again. Her heart raced when she heard it, especially so close and in such a confined space. But she could see there was no one there, nothing to bother with, probably just the elevator noise she reasoned.
The elevator stopped at her floor and in a moment the doors slid open to let her out. Walking down the hall toward her apartment, she heard the doors stop closing, open, and then close again behind her. She walked a bit faster, with her keys clutched in her fist just in case, unreasonably frightened. Why was she being so skittish? Maybe his strange fear and cryptic tone had creeped her out more than she thought. But he was just being mysterious to make it more fun. It’s just a game.
Instinctively she pulled the door key out as she approached, slid it in the deadbolt lock, swung open the door, stepped inside and quickly shut it behind her, sliding the bolt back at the same time. A big sigh came from her. That felt good. She was home. Safe.
Turning into her apartment, she dropped her bag on the floor and screamed. He was there, just sitting down on the couch. What the hell? How could he be here? She had never told him where she lived.
Jumping up from the couch, he rushed to her side, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…sorry…let me get that.” The words tumbled out of his mouth as they both reached for her bag and keys.
“How in the world…?” She couldn’t even form whole sentences. Even now, standing up straight, knowing it was him not a murderous intruder, her heart was racing in her chest from fear.
“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…let’s sit down a minute. Let me get you a drink of water or something.” He ushered her to the couch and sat her down, moving through her apartment as if he had lived there for months. She set her purse down on the couch beside her and stared wordlessly as he moved toward the kitchen and reached for the cabinet to get a glass. He crossed over and grabbed her favorite whiskey, the one she hid behind the breadbox, not the cheaper mixed drink stuff she had in the pantry for parties.
He walked back in, short glass, two ice cubes, two fingers of whiskey, just how she liked it. How? They’d never drank together. He’d never been here. She just sat and stared, trying to slow her heart rate and catch her breath as he sat beside her and handed her the glass.
“Are you ok?” he asked. She hadn’t yet said a word. She just stared and took a sip, watching him warily.
“I guess, but…”
“How did I get in?”
“How did you even know where I lived and why are you here? You said meet again tomorrow.”
“I have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do’ right Lucy?”
She just sat dumbfounded. Jokes. Right now? Maybe she should call 911. He might be crazy. She didn’t really know him that well, really. What if he turns violent? Why in the world is he here?
“Don’t be afraid of me. I’m not.”
And now confusion filled her. She started to set her glass down but picked it up again. She might be able to use it as a weapon.
He smiled sweetly. “I’ve scared you and I’m so sorry I had to do that. There was no other way.”
“No other way to do what?”
“Get away from them. I couldn’t say it out loud or even really think of it too much. I just had to follow my instincts. You’re easy to follow in that red bug, so I just followed you here tonight.”
“But how…you were here before me.”
“How? If you followed me, how could you be on my couch when I walked in?”
“That’s going to take a bit more explaining. Finish your drink while I make us a snack. I know you’re hungry at this hour.”
Just as casually as he uttered those words, he rose from the couch and went to the kitchen. The open layout between the livingroom and the kitchen of her small apartment allowed her to watch him as he moved around the kitchen with ease, throwing together a plate of salami, cheese and some grapes he found in the fridge. When he returned, he set the plate between them on the couch and encouraged her to relax and take a few bites while he told his story.
The gist of it?
Several years ago, he came here and was soon followed by three “things” that didn’t want him to be here. They made it abundantly clear he was not welcome on this planet.
“Wait, ‘on this planet’?”
“Yes. I guess I kind of jumped into that. Maybe I should back up.”
“I’d say.” He had to be crazy. She sat munching quietly listening to his story, all the while trying to figure out how to get away from him. Could she make a run for the door? Her building was notorious for ignoring the drama that went on in the halls on a daily basis. Would her neighbors just assume there was some domestic dispute going on and ignore her cries for help? Maybe she could fain fidgeting with her phone but really be dialing 911 while he spoke. They’d send someone to investigate if someone called 911 but just left the line open, right?
“I’m not going to hurt you, you know. I’m the same person I was an hour ago. The same person you’ve been meeting and loving for the past six months.”
“Yes. But…now you’re mysteriously in my apartment and telling me how you came to be on earth. I have some reason to a little wary, don’t you think?” She was feeling bolder. Oddly enough, even now, she really didn’t feel threatened by him. Just like at their meetings, she felt strangely pulled toward him. He’d always given her a safe, at-home feeling. It was why she had started to fall in love with him. What was he doing to her?
He began his story again but from farther back. He was an alien, not a non-citizen from another country, a real alien from another planet. “Right out of the movies,” she thought. It figures. The man she finally feels something for ends up not even human.
He said he couldn’t get into the physics of it, how he got there, etc. Not that she wasn’t smart enough to understand, but the less she knew, the safer she was. That old line. Really, he just didn’t think he had time to explain at the moment. The important things needed to be said first, before they found him and did what they wanted to do.
He came here to get away and figured he would just blend right in with us. It was working for a while, until he met her. At first, he was only a little interested in her. She was attractive and intelligent, fun to talk to over a couple beers and a cheeseburger. He had been on this planet for what seemed like a few years to humans, but millennium to him. He was beginning to be lonely and then there she was, someone to talk to. Why was she different? He didn’t know. He only knew that he felt safe with her, at home for the first time in eons.
The relationship progressed with ease, from dinner and drinks to long days at the beach, and then one day she kissed him and it was over. He felt that kiss all the way to his toes. He was alien, he kept telling himself. This can’t happen. But it did.
There they were, checking into a hotel, and the rest was history. It had been the best months of his long, lonely life. She touched his soul and he couldn’t let go.
“I felt that, you know?” She stopped his story.
“That instant connection.” She instinctively moved closer to him, putting her hand on his knee.
“I’ve never felt that with anyone before. I was planning on telling you tonight but you were so anxious and then we parted so quickly. I didn’t have the chance to bring it up.”
“I’m sorry about that. There’s something going on. They’ve caught on to where I am and it could be any moment that they take me back.”
“Who? What? You need to explain more. Maybe I can help?” She was starting to get caught up in this crazy story.
He sat bolt upright at a sound she didn’t hear. “What?” she asked, “What’s happening?”
He looked into her eyes, took her hand, and suddenly a feeling of complete peace. She saw nothing, felt no physical sensation whatsoever. There was only thought, presence.
“I knew it!” She felt him think. She felt it. She couldn’t hear it or see it. The thought was just there.
“You’re one of us!” His elated astonishment washed over her like a wave of warm liquid.
“One of what? What’s happening?” She wanted to panic, knew she should be panicked by this sudden lack of physical being, but she couldn’t. Just like the first time she saw him and that first kiss, she felt at home here, as if she had always been this way.
Just as suddenly it was gone. Pop, they were standing in the park hand in hand. She collapsed to the ground under the sudden return of weight on her consciousness. For a split second it was devastating. She gasped for breath, feeling her lungs fill with the heavy physical air. He knelt beside her, reassuring her that he was still with her.
“The first time is a shock. I’m so sorry you have to feel it. It gets easier.” He whispered to her as she took another breath and attempted to slow her heart rate.
“What the hell?” Losing her physical body for a moment was exhilarating, coming back to it was terrifying. How did it happen? And how could anyone get used to it? She felt crushed and smothered by the weight of the universe. That’s when she threw up.
“I’m sorry. Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry you had to go through it like this.” His cooing over her was becoming annoying now.
Getting herself under control, another deep breath, she stood and straightened her shirt, shivering in the cold. Too bad they couldn’t have manifested some jackets when they popped out of and back into existence!
“We need to move.” That was the soundest thing he’d said so far. Walking would keep them warm and distract her from the thoughts racing through her head. “We may have escaped the moment, but they won’t be distracted for long. I’m afraid I’ve dragged you into this now.”
“Dragged me into what? What just happened, Jay? What are you?”
“Alien to this world, but it looks like you are too. Did you not know?”
“I’m not alien! I was born right here in this city. I know my parents. We have never moved to another neighborhood, let alone another planet. You have the wrong girl.” This was insane. Clearly he had drugged her or done some hypnosis trick on her to get her to think this was all real. It all seemed like a pretty elaborate hoax to get her to run away with him. And completely unnecessary. She’d already started to fall for him. Why must she always fall for the crazies?
They walked quickly toward a thicker stand of trees and away from the entrance of the park.
“Where are we going? I’m freezing and I’d really like to go home now.”
“There’s a cave further into the park. It’ll be safe there for a while and we’ll be warmer.”
They walked in shivering silence for several minutes. There was nothing she could do. She couldn’t run from him here. It was dark and cold and no one was around. The park had been closed for hours, no rangers or park attendants to help. She was stuck. She thought maybe she could humor him for a while until she found a way to escape, all the while not really wanting to. It was that safe feeling again like she was where she was supposed to be. So strange.
“Here it is.” And he pushed aside some branches to reveal a small hidden cave dug out of the sandstone. It was just surreal like she’d stepped into an old movie. There were a few blankets and bottles of water stored away in the back of it. He rummaged around, picked up a flashlight, turned it on and set it up on its end to shine on the ceiling of the cave, casting a warm glow around them.
“There. That’s better.”
“Is this your house? Do you live out here?” She looked around her, the flashlight lantern dispelling the darkness to the far reaches of the cave and revealing a small homey interior.
“Well, not really. Not all the time. It’s just one place I like to come to when I need to be alone. For some reason, they can’t find me here but I can’t stay in it forever.”
He bustled about making tea on a small camp stove, like an old frontier woman. Shaking out a sleeping bag and draping it over a rock, he motioned to her. “Here. You can sit here and keep warm in this for now.” She reluctantly sat as he draped the sleeping bag over her shoulders.
“How long do we have to stay here? Who can’t find you here? And what in the hell just happened?” Her questions came pouring out of her as she became more and more aggravated by his empathy for her.
“I know. You have lots of questions. So do I! I had no idea that would happen. I’m as shocked as you are really. I know we had a connection, but I had no idea it went that far. I had no idea anyone else could do it. I thought I was the only one!”
While she was shocked, scared, and a little hostile, his line of questioning was excited and curious. The more he rambled on about transbody experiences and “they” and how can this happen, the more irrationally irritated she became.
“Stop, Jay. Just stop. You need to slow down and tell me what’s happening as best you can. I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
“Oh yes! I’m sorry. I’ve just been alone for so long. You have no idea how lonely it is. I mean, I’m here walking among you but connecting with no one. Surrounded by people but completely separated. The very idea that one other like me could exist never occurred to me.”
“One other like what? What are you?”
“Well, that’s a good question. Since I always believed I was the only one, there is no definition, no simple title. You could be called a woman, a human, an American, but me? I’m nothing. I belong to no group that helps others define me. I’m…a…me.”
She just sat staring at him for several minutes while he sat across from her smiling like the Cheshire Cat. He was shivering and instinctively she pulled him close and shared the sleeping bag with him. There was that feeling again, that home feeling. She turned her head to look at him and he was still grinning.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You did it. I can’t believe it. I took your hand and you just gave it up, your whole existence in a flash. It was unbelievable.”
“I didn’t do anything. You did it to me. You took my hand and pulled me somewhere.”
“No,” he said shaking his head, “that’s not possible. I’ve done this a hundred times over the years I’ve been here and no one has ever come with me. I was only feeling bad that I was about to pop out of your life to get away from them. You just came with me. You trusted me. You instinctively let your physical self go and POP we were gone. You’re different.”
There was silence between them for quite some time. They huddled close together in the warmth of the sleeping bag, both considering what had just occurred. He was right. She had gone with him, voluntarily. The moment he took her hand and looked at her…
Never before had she felt so complete. All her life she’d struggled to fit in with the people around her. Her parents were good people with honest intentions. They loved her. She knew it, she felt it every day. But something was missing. The people she had met at school, at work, online in chatrooms and social media groups, filled her life with obligations and responsibilities. But every day, she came home to her apartment alone. She had never felt connected to them, never felt a kinship. It was like there was an invisible bubble around her that kept her from actually reaching out. She had begun to believe something was wrong with her. Had she created that bubble? What kind of person can’t love?
And then she met him and it all changed. It didn’t creep up on her. It didn’t slowly seep into her consciousness. It hit her. The bubble burst. No, he walked right into her bubble and they were in it together. The rest of the world didn’t exist to them.
He didn’t need to explain the details of his existence. He didn’t need to comfort her or take care of her. They were home when they were together and nothing else mattered.
He sat upright again listening. “What do you hear?” she asked him, knowing already what it was. Footsteps nearby, several heavy people shuffling through leaves and murmuring in hushed tones. The sound of quiet searching.
“They can’t see us here. They’ll walk right by. They know we’re close but for some reason this place shields us.”
“But we can’t stay here forever.”
“No, we can’t.”
She took his hands this time, looking into his eyes. And POP. They were gone forever.
The letters stood out black and heavy on the clean white wall of her cell. She sat there before them, cross-legged, and puzzled.
How long had she been here, she couldn’t say, but she did remember when they arrived to take her. She could still hear the doorbell ring. She flew, freshly showered and barefoot, to the door only to find three men in black suits instead of the friend she expected.
These are no salesmen, she thought, immediately trying to close the door and blot out the vision before her. Before she could get the door closed and latched, a heavy arm clothed in black polyester reached though and stopped it. She could still see his hand on the door, his fat fingers curling around the edge, and the door suddenly pushing open into her face, the blinding pain as the door hit her nose and knocked her backward.
As the doorknob pulled from her hands, she reflexively reached to her face and stumbled backward into the foyer. The first man at the door entered quickly, the other on his heels, the last turned to shut the door behind him.
He strode quickly toward her and grabbed her upper arms to stop her from falling completely to the floor. The man behind, taller and thinner than the fat-fingered man that had hit her with the door, moved lithely to her left side and behind her, holding her shoulders so tightly she knew there would be no struggling against them. They had her pinned. She was upright but not standing on her own two feet.
The third man, the one that turned to shut the door as the first two entered, stood quietly by the door. So surprised by the sudden attack, she wanted to scream out but could not find the breath. She was held between the two men in shocked silence.
The door shutter, also clothed in a fine black suit, clean-shaven and serious, like the characters in Men in Black, looked from his steel-blue eyes and blankly stated, “You know why we’re here.”
She stared. “I do?” she stammered out.
“Don’t play stupid, Carrie. We know who you are. You can’t talk or buy your way out of it this time.”
With a flick of his wrist, he signaled to her captors to bring her toward him. Turning to the door, he opened it, took one quick look down the street, saw no one, and motioned them to follow. They lifted her like she were a floor lamp, clamping a smelly cloth over her mouth as they approached the door.
That was all she remembered. When she woke, she was unmolested. Nothing hurt but her nose from when the door hit it. She was dressed the same as when she had so eagerly answered the door. But now she found herself in this empty, windowless room, with these letters hastily painted on the wall before her.
Where was she? Why did they call her Carrie? And what did these letters mean?
“I love you and I don’t want to.” She whispered as she lay there beside him. Her back against him in the dark, she could feel him breathe beside her, quiet, rhythmic breaths that indicated deep sleep. He couldn’t hear her. If he could she wouldn’t have allowed the words to slip out.
A deep sigh escaped her lips as a tear fell from her eye and hit the pillow, audible in the quiet darkness of the night. She started to spill the rest of her feelings, quietly beside his silent form.
“I wanted a night or two, maybe an ongoing thing to return to when I felt the need to let loose. I wanted a place to go when I wanted to pretend I was young and free from all the responsibilities I’ve built up over the years. And now here I am, falling in love, feeling that pull to care for you, to need you. The feeling scares me. It gives me more to worry about instead of less. I’ve added more responsibilities to my life, not escaped the ones I had. I don’t want this.”
In his sleep, he turns to her and pulls her close to him. His hand runs over her hair and he sighs, resting his hand on her hip. Her tears flow as she realizes how special this moment is, how much she doesn’t want to lose this man that has worked his way so deftly into her heart. But how?
Can there be other ways to love a person? Do all romantic relationships have to follow the same course? If I love you both, do I have to have two husbands to care for in the same way?
Hours later, she’s restless and rises to shower and dress. As she’s gathering her purse and keys, he raises a hand and beckons her to him. She sits at the edge of the bed beside him and leans in to kiss his face. “See you in a few weeks?” He quietly asks in that sleepy satisfied voice she loves so much.
“I love this.”
“Just like this. As long as you want me.”
She smiles and runs her fingers through his hair, kissing him before she leaves. It feels so good. Maybe it can go on. Maybe she can love him just like this.
“No meat? No meat at all?!” I heard my Grandmother exclaim when I told her I was bringing my new girlfriend to Sunday dinner. Cary told me not to bother explaining to my Grandma, that she’d just take what she could.
“Don’t tell her, she’ll only make herself crazy trying to make something I can eat. And then what if I don’t like it? Then I’ll feel terrible that she went to all the trouble for me. She’ll hate me.”
I pulled her into my arms and kissed her cheek, “No one could possibly hate you. You’re too sweet.” I kissed her neck and nibbled her ear. “Mmm…definitely sweet.”
“Stop. I’ve got work to do. Call her and tell her we’re both coming on Sunday, but don’t tell her I’m vegetarian. I’ll just make do around the meat.”
But I had to tell her. My Grandma does not take “no thank you” for an answer. She’d be offended if someone at her table didn’t eat something and then if we explain during dinner why Cary is saying no, she’ll be angry that we didn’t tell her earlier so she could make something special for my “new little friend.”
Man I hate it when she says that. I’m 27 years old. Cary isn’t my new little friend, she’s a woman, with a career and her own apartment. We’ve grown really close over the past few months since we met, maybe a little too close. I’m actually thinking about proposing for crying out loud. She’s my girlfriend!
“Grandma, it’s really no big deal. She isn’t a picky eater, but she doesn’t eat meat, any meat. She’s vegetarian. She said she’s happy to eat any beans, bread, or vegetables you make. Don’t go crazy trying to make something special. Please. I just wanted you to know before we got there.”
“Of course, honey. You worry too much. Hmm…maybe I can make a vegetarian lasagna. Carol brought a vegetarian lasagna to the potluck last week and it was wonderful, but your Grandpa hated it. He told her too, right to her face. He said it wasn’t lasagna at all, just vegetables with sauce. He’s always been such a crab to her. It’s like he just loves to upset her.”
“Or maybe I could make a tofu turkey! I saw that on a tv show. It was so funny! It didn’t look anything like a turkey and no one would eat it.”
“What about pizza? Does she like pizza? We could make a bunch of pizzas and everyone could put what they want on them. I love making pizza. It reminds me of my Grandma. She always let us have a ball of dough of our own and my brother would eat it raw.”
“You’re going to make a big deal out of this aren’t you?”
“How could I not? Especially when you’re bringing your new little friend to meet us for the first time. It must be serious!”
“I love you. Do you know that?”
“Yes, I do. I love you too. My very favorite grandchild.”
“Grandma, I’m your only grandchild.”
“Still counts! I’m going to make those little won-tons you like so much for an appetizer. Be here by one or your uncle will eat them all himself.”
A big round number, the first of the double digits, brings me to this point. I’ve watched her for ten cycles. Ten times the clock has come round to 8AM. I can’t really call them days, since “days” brings me back to Earth. I no longer orbit that fiery ball of gas but how else do I measure the time? And should I bother at all?
Here I float in the darkness, stranded, not knowing how much longer I have in this existence, but here I sit, watching her. Shouldn’t I be spending my time more wisely, living in the moment, seizing the day? That is what I intended to do once I realized there was no going back and no going forward either. Sure. I’m alone. Stranded in a strange place with nothing beyond the scant supplies I have on hand and the tin can they called a transport. Why should I not enjoy the last few days I probably have?
Thirty days is a long time to spend in solitude, but the lure of a new world, the prospect of a whole new life was worth the seclusion, worth the risk of travel in this god forsaken can. What would I find there? Who would greet me? I’d heard wonderful things, fantastical things. Would the reality be anything compared to my imaginings? Probably not. But anything had to be better than the hell I was leaving, so I went.
Then that noise came, that quiet thump, a small tick I believed was only my imagination for days, until it became louder. And then suddenly, nothing. No sound at all. The physical sensation of movement ceased completely. It took me a few days to realize my situation. Something had gone seriously wrong and I was stuck with no way to communicate with the world outside my craft. And I was alone.
Until I saw her. And now I lay watching. Day ten. She climbed to the top of my bunk and spun her futile web. There are no flies to catch, my dear. It is only you and I…for eternity. She doesn’t seem to mind. She can’t conceive of the future. She only spins and crawls. My only friend. I wish I were you.
There he sat in the living room by the sliding glass door. It was an active area. He enjoyed watching the people come in and out of the house all through the day, a fresh blast of desert air every time the door opened. Every time someone walked by he would stretch his leaves as far as he could, hoping for a caress or a kind word or two. But no one ever noticed him. He sat there breathing in and out, slowly extending his leaves, day after day with not ounce of encouragement.
Short and stout, he didn’t feel nearly as lively as the creeper with his trailing tendrils and new leaves seemingly every day. And that smug shamrock in the pretty orange ceramic pot, touting her delicacy and begging for water on daily basis. Who did she think she was?
He looked down at himself. Small pot, long dark palm like leaves, slightly browning at the tips. What did she expect? He had been in this pot for ages. Why did she bring him home if he was only going to sit here unloved, unappreciated? He breathed the CO2 as well as the others! Didn’t he deserve just a little love for his efforts?
He was sedate in his antique copper pot. Growing always came so slowly to him especially in the bright fake light of the grocery store where he grew up. But he was reliable! He didn’t ask for much. He needed only a small space, a little natural sunlight, and taste of water now and again, to survive. But he wanted more than just to survive.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be caressed every once in awhile, like the shamrock and its tiny flowers? Wouldn’t it be heavenly to have the soil amended and his container changed every year like the creeper? What was his purpose here on the mantel?