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Hi, I’m bored. What are you doing? I read a pretty book today. No, not just today. I’ve been reading it for three weeks because I read slowly. I’m not stupid, though. I just don’t like missing things. If I think I haven’t completely gotten something, I have to re-read, re-read. Shall I re-read you?
The book was pretty. I said that already, sorry. You said, “Hey, I love that book. Cool.” I’m sure it was a flippant comment, because you’re made of those – you radiate them – but it made me want to cry big fat attention-seeking tears.
You read fast. Whenever I give you anything, you whizz through it. You think whizz is a funny word, it makes you laugh when I use words like whizz.
I want to go to sleep and wake up and find that you’ve called me, but instead I just pick up another pretty book and read it all night and prove to myself more and more that you’re wrong. You call me and say, “You read too much,” and I smile and say, “Yes, I do.”
I listen to bad music sometimes and you tsk and say, “No, listen to this.” Music is your passion. I think you worry you’ve offended me when you’re nasty about my bad music, which is nice. When I turn off the bad music and play one of your “more than just noise, this means something” songs, you say, “You’re kind of cool,” and my heart turns into a hot air balloon. Float, float, whizz.
I thought about you saying that over and over. Can we run away together? You have a lovely way with words.
Your music is so much prettier than mine, and it makes me smile big, so I worry you’ll think I have ugly teeth. I don’t have ugly teeth. I want you to tell me that. Will you tell me that?
I’m sorry, but I wish your teeth were ugly. Your teeth are so, so perfect. I’m so, so sorry.
Do you remember our meeting? That sounds like it was a pre-planned corporate event, like it was a thing. It wasn’t a thing. You said, wasn’t I a friend of a friend? And I said, “Maybe of a friend.” You laughed. The truth is, I doubt I was even a friend of a friend of a friend. We were vague and unconnected and hopeful. You said I was funny. I made you laugh.
I re-re-re-re-recorded my answer phone message – that means I did it five times – after you left me a message, the premiere, the number one (“Hello. What’s up?”). You left the first message on my answer phone and I thought my voice was wrong.
I want to record the sound of your voice when you laugh and print it on a T-shirt, paint it on a wall, etch it in my brain.
Your second voice message ever said, “I liked your old answer phone ….”
I’m so, so sorry. I tried to re-re-re-re-record it like how it used to be, but it wouldn’t play right, it wasn’t the same. It was just wrong.
You told me your dog died and it made you sad. I want to buy you a dog that won’t ever, ever die. An immortal dog. I hate dogs; they’re smelly and ugly and they bite and they’re similar to people, but I would give you an indestructible dog. Completely in-vin-ci-ble. If I couldn’t find one, I’d build you one. I’d put my hair into a ponytail to get it out the way and then I’d build you one out of coloring pencils and the grass we sat on this afternoon and the screen of my phone when it says ONE VOICE MESSAGE.
And I said to you the other day, “I have a secret” – because I wanted to be interesting and you looked tired of me. Were you tired of me and the stupid things I was saying? I wanted to say, “Are you listening? Can I keep talking? Do you just let me bore you?”
“… And then someone said we couldn’t take the A train because it didn’t stop close enough and we’d be too cold to walk, and did you know I have a secret?”
I said it like that.
You said, “Do you?”
Do I? I nodded and bit my lip and you bit your lip and smiled, but I didn’t take any teeth away from my lips. I thought, Ugly teeth! but I still didn’t stop biting my lip until you said, “What happened with the train?”
You wanted to know what happened with the train.
And then I blinked like I’d been hit, but I’ve never been hit – you know that, I think. I might have told you that. You can’t tell – you don’t understand that flinch. It cannot be pinpointed. Still. I told you my boring, boring story and you asked more questions and I blinked more and more and more.
My lip hurts this morning because I woke up and there were NO MESSAGES and I chewed and chewed and blamed it on the trains and my inane rambling and secrets and other girls you prefer.
My secret is that sometimes I wonder about your lips, because I don’t really know anything about them. No, I know a little about them. For instance, the border between the lips and the surrounding skin is referred to – by whom, I don’t know – as the vermilion border. The vertical groove on the upper lip is the philtrum. The skin between the upper lip and the nose is the ergotrid.
Ergotrid – you’d like that word.
But that I could read in a book. What I just cannot pick up from a passage of writing is what your lips feel like. I can only wonder. I think they’re like the paper birds I used to make with my friends when I was small enough to believe in fairies and dreams and nightmares. And your lips are like the red flowers spilled on the floor of my apartment. And they’re like a thunderstorm that reverberates, making more-than-just-noise music, and the lightning spells out our names across the sky.
That’s what I think. People make me crazy sometimes, and I want to kiss you.
There’s a party this evening that I might not go to.
You don’t call me sometimes. I know I have to come to terms with that. That makes me laugh, coming to terms. Terms aren’t really a thing you can come to, arrive at. If you dissect it, it doesn’t make sense.
At this party they had fries, so I ate some because parties make me tired, and I licked all the salt off my fingers in case someone saw and thought I never washed my hands, that I was disgusting. I am disgusting. I couldn’t wash my hands right then, because you said, “Have you drunk anything?” And I said no and drove you home, and you said I was too skinny in the same way you said I read too much.
I drove you home and my car felt warmer when we talked about bees and stars and Traumatic Childhood Events. Your breath came out white and misty, exhaling phantoms to prove you weren’t a ghost.
We are both connoisseurs of road safety, or at least we like to think we are. So you only grabbed my hand and squeezed it when my car was parked nice and safe outside your building. You had such a strong grip, super-human strength. You’re my hero – can I kiss you? You grabbed my hand and squeezed, and I said, “What,” because I couldn’t analyze the situation and I was hoping you could shed some light. Like a butterfly shedding its cocoon.
After seven lifetimes you replied, “Nothing,” and oh, you have a lovely way with words and you’re so polite but you need to stop lying when people ask you questions, because then they try to dissect you and it doesn’t make sense, and after a while you let go and leave.
The next morning I was awake when you called because there are some nights when I just don’t sleep. You said you read something you liked. You wanted me to read it. We chatted on the phone and didn’t talk about it and didn’t talk about it and didn’t talk about it.
My car felt cold this morning. It just doesn’t make sense.
You said my music isn’t good enough for me, and you gave me these CDs. Lots of the songs are love songs, but then, lots of the songs in the world are love songs, so it doesn’t mean anything.
The songs you sent me catch in my throat a little, and one of them says “Don’t let go,” and it hurts that you think you have to tell me that, hurts like my lip when you don’t call.
I said to you, I liked the song, the “Don’t let go” one. And you said you liked that one because of the instrumental between the lyrics. And you never held my hand again, and I never even thought about it. But that’s okay, because I still listen to it lots and lots and lots and I don’t. I don’t let go.
I was ill today and tomorrow and the day after that. I floated around in fragments, thump-head, achy teeth, and chapped lips. My eyes felt warm and open and blurred. Resting in a bed felt like resting inside my own mouth outside my own skin and ah, my head. My skin felt like flannel and I remembered the cough syrup I should have taken.
You sent me a note to say get well soon but didn’t visit. This – this whole you-not-visiting isolation television imagination situation – this was expected. I was ready for your casual negligence; I always am. Back in my fever, my throat burns and it’s setting fire to my mind. I’ve been staying up too late. Three whole days in bed with too much sleep, and you don’t even visit. In my head, to pass time, I relive things. We dance. You grab my hand.
And then I’m better, I’ve gotten well soon like you said. I don’t smell like vomit and I’m good as new.
You say, “Oh, you’re so pale.”
I say, “I was ill,” and you nod sympathetically and you mean it, I think.
The next time my hands touched yours, you came to hang out with me for an hour or so and I wasn’t nervous but I managed to drop a plant because I’m so clumsy. On the floor was this plant, snapped and earthy and its pot was broken. We danced around it and the soil between my toes felt golden and bright, like a sunset.
After about an hour or so, you went to see another person, and all I know about her is she doesn’t have a silly secret about you. And she’s not pale. That’s all I know. She’s your friend. I’m the person who accidentally dropped a plant with red flowers, red flowers like my stupid secret, and it made you laugh and you said, “Let’s dance,” and I thought, Oh, so this is hanging out?
You are a catalyst, I decided. Catalysts are chemical; they are unchanged by reactions and they make things happen. They can work together with heat, or oxygen, or continuous stirring, but sometimes they will kickstart the buzzing fizzing all on their own. They don’t kill people, catalysts. Catalysts speed things up. Come on, let’s go. Let’s start. You have a lovely way with words, and you probably held your friend’s hand much tighter than mine.
You’re a catalyst.
You’re a scientist.
You’re a newly discovered vitamin pill.
You’re a start-whistle but less shrill.
You’re a solemn warrior in the dark, saying, “It begins.”
You like that movie, maybe just because I don’t, and I’m grateful for that. For disagreements, and for movies, and for vitamin C and omega-3, self-improvement programs. I’m grateful for my vitamin and mineral friends, their laughing and therapeutic conversation and, “Hey, listen to this,” like dangling by a thick, sturdy thread.
You give me a slice of cake one day, and we watch a movie and wittily disagree and don’t talk about the girl with no secrets about you. I see her again with someone else. It makes me feel refreshed and revitalized like someone in an ad with low-cholesterol and decreased heart problems. Omega-3 and vitamin C. Health food.
Even before you held my hand and then didn’t talk about it, I used a notepad and a pen to call you. I have to write down what I’ll say, how I’ll start, word for word.
Hello, you. Want to know something funny?
When I get the guts to call you, I read off a script that I’ve written, and I know you think I’m a bad actor, but that’s only because I told you I was. I said, “I’m a bad actor,” and you said, “So?” But it’s easier when I’ve written my own script. And you think how I write is pretty, so do you think what I say is pretty?
It’s quiet so I tell you I’m not cut out for this. You might not be a catalyst, sometimes my metaphors don’t translate to anything. I don’t say that last bit, so you ask, “Not cut out for what?” And I say, “Oh, sorry. Ignore me. It’s not important. Forget it.” I meant, Oh, please. Notice me. It’s important. Remember it.
Next morning, there’s ONE NEW MESSAGE and you’re saying, “Hi, how are you? Let’s meet up later.” You say that, not me. You’re a bad actor too, and you’ve never mentioned writing. Complete improvisation.
How am I? I’m fine. I’m fantastic. I’m wonder-kid with a bright red cape, with an air balloon heart and chapped lips and super-duper love, and I think a lot about words you like, whizz and November and syrup, and your grin carries me all along the phone line.
One of my orange-juice kind-face friends says I seem happier. Bubbly. I laugh because I can, and ask her if she means like froth, and she says yeah. I buy a hot coffee with lots and lots of froth and it’s warm and sweet and I called you two days ago without writing down a single thing, not a word.
I’m following your lead and improvising more and more, and we’re spending less time blinking and more time smiling, and my ugly teeth stay away from my lips; and I dare myself to give you nicknames. You say, “Hey, remember that time we danced around your red plant?”
It’s great to be your friend.
Your message this morning didn’t scare me. Nothing scares me. I’m Sonic, I’m Jonny Bravo, I’m Superman, I’m not scared of anything. You said you wanted to talk, when you know I’ll only start rambling something stupid. Do you want to hear that? You’ve heard it before. You say you just want to talk.
The sunrise this morning was so elaborate it made the sky strange and green, but it only reminded me of envy. And if the sunrise can morph itself today, then what?
I think maybe you want to tell me you’re moving away. Or you just don’t want to talk to me anymore. Or you’ve found someone; you’ve fallen in love. You just remembered that we held hands once and you’re asking me to please not tell anyone. I never ever know.
If you want to talk, I’ll buy you coffee with vanilla in it. If you like. You say you don’t want coffee, you want to talk. You want to go and buy me a scarf because I always look cold. And I blink at you and say, “I always look cold on my neck?” But what I mean is, I thought you wanted to talk?
You hold up a dark blue scarf. I like it in your hands – it looks soft, and you tell me I need to eat more. I say, “I know, I know.” You remember the time when you held my hand, and ask if I minded that. Did I mind?
And then – oh. Oh, I see.
As it happens, kissing feels like kissing, you feel like you, this feels like home.
We’re still in the scarf shop, surrounded by patchwork fabrics, and everything is suddenly easy and sweet. You’re stroking my knuckles like there’s a treasure buried just beneath them. There isn’t, but I don’t mind if you want to keep looking. Just in case.
You buy me the dark blue soft warm scarf and I wear it all day.