I Wonder if She Misses Me Now
“So why do you wanna know?” I ask.
“You were perfect for each other. I just don’t see how it fell apart,” James answers.
The November breeze bites my ears where they poke out from beneath my wool cap. Amber leaves cascade around us from the wispy trees lining the pavement. The leaves crunch under our boots like brittle bones.
“It fell apart the way it always does. It’s like I have it down to a science. A subconscious science.”
James face contorts. He looks puzzled.
“Look. First, you get someone to care about you. Take her on cute little dates. Surprise her at work with fish tacos from Cafe Habana or something. Make her know you care, ya know?”
“Sure.” James is walking against the wind with his head down. The lapels of his wool coat flap like the wings of a bat. I pause to light a cigarette with the butt of the one I just finished.
“Then you start having sex. Not just fucking, but really passionate sex. Where your sweat pools together and she leaves trails of scratches down your back. The kind of sex where you finish together and lay there panting on top of each other while she runs her fingers down your ribs. That kind of sex shows that you really love each other, whether or not you’ve said it.” As these words dissolve in the air, I realize, once again, how much I miss her. How I miss the way her hair would tangle in my scruff when we kissed. How I looked like a smitten clown when she smudged her lipstick around my mouth. She’d smile and apologize. She’d rub it off, and I’d press my lips to hers again.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” says James. “When you start fucking like that you know shit is getting real.”
“Not fucking. I’d call it making love, but that phrase makes me cringe. It’s like a fucking Marvin Gaye song.”
“What do you have against Marvin Gaye?”
“Nothing. I just can’t stand him when I’m falling out of love.”
“Makes sense, I guess. And then?” We pass the tuck shop on 2nd Street and the smell of piquant, savory pies floods my nostrils. I consider stopping, but lately the thought of eating anything makes me nauseous. Time has not yet healed all. A tinny cathedral bell clangs thirteen times in the distance. I flick the remainder of my cigarette toward the street.
“Then you start pushing boundaries. Testing the waters to see how far you can get before she gets ticked off. When she gets pissed, back off. Apologize and say you’ll never do it again. Then you repeat the first part, but you try harder. Instead of bringing her Cafe Habana at work, you take her to Peter Luger for a really pricy and pretentious steak. When you travel to Des Moines, you bring her back a stuffed doll. A plush corn husk with a silly, shit-eating grin on its face. Little gifts like these are tacky as fuck, but they remind you of her, and she loves them. Because you thought of her when you were hundreds of miles apart. She will take you back and your bond will probably be stronger than before. Now, when she gets out of your shower in the morning before work, she will start rummaging through your closet for your favorite flannels that are too big for her. She wears them because they smell like you. She wants a reminder of your presence when you aren’t around. She will do the same with your hoodies, sweaters, and the Joy Division shirt you don’t wear anymore.” We stop at the corner of 2nd Avenue and let the cabs turn before us. A beautiful woman with long hair and a dark freckle above her lip pauses next to us. She is walking a tan corgi, panting with its tongue dangling out. I half-smile at her, but she doesn’t seem to notice.
“That’s always been my favorite stage of relationships.”
“Mine too, but it doesn’t last long.”
“Because now you begin pushing new boundaries, usually by accident. You care so much about her, and are falling so fucking hard for her that you can’t help it. You get selfish. You ask what she’s been doing all day that was more important than calling you back. You get suspicious and ask if her friend Ricky really is just a friend. You get pissed when her mother comes to visit and she doesn’t make time to see you. You get selfish. Selfish because you care too much. Because all you want is her and when she’s trying her best, it’s not good enough. You’ll eventually get in a huge fight over it and spend a couple days not speaking to one another until you get over it.” I think of the fights we had over the phone. The fights that didn’t matter. I think of when I was in Austin, pacing in the dusty parking lot of Barton Springs. Children in neon bathing suits whizzed around me with rainbow snow cones and soft-serve ice cream while others squatted in the dust, feeding pistachios to squirrels. She was yelling at me from 1,700 miles away and all I could do was try to keep my cool around these little kids. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about. It didn’t matter. But I remember the way we vowed to end the conversation on a good note, and the way, after all the yelling, she softly whispered that she missed me. I wonder if these moments still play in her head like they do in mine. I wonder if she misses me now.
We are walking past the New York City Marble Cemetery. The lofty, crumbling obelisks marking graves cast thin strips of shadow across the sidewalk. The breeze picks up the leaves and sweeps them in tranquil surges across the pavement. We walk in silence. The rusted black wrought iron gate looms to our left with its heavy padlock and chain.
A crow perching on a tombstone caws. I continue. “When you get over it, you bring her a bouquet of roses and cook her salmon for dinner or suggest watching “My Best Friend’s Wedding” or another shitty chick flick you know she really wants to see, and things will get better. But eventually it will happen again and she will start seeing you as more of a leash than a blessing in her life. This vicious cycle will repeat for days, months, maybe even years, until your relationship starts to feel like walking through a mine field in Cambodia, and when you finally step on that mine, it’s gone. Blown to smithereens. A leg you can’t reattach. You lose her. The one you thought would put up with your shit forever because you thought the love she had for you, the love that radiated from her eyes, would never fade. And you couldn’t have been more wrong.” We are approaching the entrance to Lucy’s Tavern.
“And what then?” James asks. I push open the heavy glass door and we step inside. The tavern is dark and the light from the front windows streaks across the dusty air in thick white beams. The bar is empty except for the bartender and four college students huddled around the tarnished pool table in the back of the room. The bartender, a thick dark-haired woman with a black bandana around her head, looks at us and sets two rocks glasses down on the bar. I turn to James.
babies cry because they know how much debt they’re going to be in once they graduate from college