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That’s Not The Way Things Go

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I can still remember the first time I saw her. She was wandering the bookshelves at Barnes and Nobles, and she was shaking like a leaf. Her fingers tugged on her left earlobe violently, and her other arm was wrapped around her stomach, as if she would be sick. She was beautiful. Not beautiful as in the cliché-teenage-supermodel-in-a-teen-novel kind of beautiful. She was beautiful in a way I had never seen before, not beautiful, per se, but haunting. Her skin was so white it was almost translucent, and she had dull brown hair that wasn’t like the other girls I knew—shiny and pin-straight. It grew in wild waves that stayed close to her head, clinging to her neck and shoulders as if someone had desperately tried to control it.

And every time she reached for a book, she hesitated, as if unsure as whether to unwrap an arm from her stomach or to remove her hand from her ear. It was always the stomach though. She would look furtively around to make sure no one was watching, and then gingerly remove her hand from her stomach, reaching out to grab to book and read its jacket quickly, so as to replace it as soon as possible. I can remember watching her from the Europe 1600 aisle, which, as far as I knew, no one inhabited. She would scurry past the science fiction, and their buxom alien babes, and past all the supermodel autobiographies. The tugging on her ear would grow relentless as she passed the magazine racks and the issues of Maxim.

I followed her, and I only saw her take her hand away from her ear once. When she did, to steady herself on a bookshelf, I could see that the ear was a bright, violent scarlet, because she had been clamping it so hard. She slid along the bookshelf onto the floor and began weeping. I could see a shelf of Japanese comic books in front of her, filled with thin, happy girls. She reached up and began tugging at her ear quickly, tears still trailing down her cheeks, unsteadily climbing to her feet.

I would later learn that the tugging kept her balanced. Grounded. Like when you’re a little kid and you have to stand on one leg. Tugging your left earlobe kept you in check. But with her, it was all the time. She felt like a leaf about to blow away in a gust of emotion, and the childhood habit was all that she could cling to, the only thing she could anchor to. I can still remember her, clear as day, shivering as though she were in the Antarctic, so fragile that she shook.


I could never really understand why. Why her? And why me? I guess that at the time, I saw her as a problem. The only problem I knew I could fix. How was it that the only problem that wasn’t my responsibility was the only one I could solve? Thinking about it, I mean, I had no business stalking her that day in the bookstore. And I certainly had no business asking if she needed something warmer since she was shaking so hard. But she enchanted me. I wanted to fix something. So many things were wrong, and I needed to fix the only one that there was a remote probability of fixing.

Oh god, I miss her. She was so skinny that day in the bookstore, the day I met her. The arm. The ear. I should have known! I should have never asked her to a cup of tea. Never gotten involved. Never thought that I could fix something so broken. But I didn’t know. And by the time I did, I loved her too much to leave her stranded. So I sat with her at the dinner table and watched her eat a miniscule amount. I sat with her in the bathroom and watched her throw up, and then pretended it was OK. I wanted to fix her. I thought that maybe I could. Maybe, for once in my life, the big guy would be on my side? But no. That’s not how things work in the Jack Lansing universe. That’s not how things go. You can’t just cut me a break, huh, big guy? It’s not enough to make me let go of my home, my life. You have to take away the one thing that made it seem like I mattered again. And that’s why I’m here. Because I mattered once, to one person. To one person who I could talk to. I mattered to one person; I could help one person, be needed. Delia Natterly needed me.
And that’s why I am speaking at her funeral.





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