She reached out to say she was back in town, just for the weekend; I didn’t know she had left in the first place. I was always the one with the car.
“Where are you living right now?”
“Back at my mom’s.”
I was actually grateful she said that. It did suck, but even I got sick of complaining.
We went to this small photography museum that was “pay what you can” for admission, and in the time that had passed between us I had learned to carry cash. I paid for both of our tickets and, at the end when we perused the gift shop, a postcard for each of us. She got one with Marilyn Monroe eating a hamburger. I picked out a John Gutmann photo called Apology that’s just chalk, or maybe scratches on concrete, that says, “To my best pal I ever had. I’m sorry I did you wrong, Glenn. From, Clarence.” I held it up for her to read and she squinted but didn’t move any closer.
“Who’s who?” she said.
“I just thought it was funny.”
She shrugged so I put it down and got a postcard with a picture of toast and a mountain of beans on top, overflowing onto a plate that sat on a red checkered tablecloth. She didn’t think that one was funny either, so I wished I had just bought the first one, but then again, maybe it just would have made me sad to look at it every day and wonder who was who.
Before that, the museum itself was cozy and impressive in its own way, and small enough to keep our attention without wearing us out. She kept calling through the displays.
I was so grateful for clothes that day, that when she was close she had something to tug on and could drag me over to whatever picture she wanted to look at. I got close enough to breathe on the frames, cyclones in the glass.
“What do you like about this one?”
“I just think it’s cool.”
The whole museum was a teensy loop, and I started to panic when I saw that we were back at the gift shop up front. The fountain in the park across the street was under repair, which felt like the last excuse for us to sit outside and chat a little longer. When I dropped her off at her hotel, that was probably it.
There was one more corner before we were really at the end of the tour, and when we turned it there was this empty, neon frame right in the middle of the room that hung from the ceiling, hovering above the floor. You could see right through it.
“I wish that was a door.” I tugged on her sleeve this time. “I wish that was a door and I could walk through it.” It was hard to tell if I was on the other side, if it was enough just to say it. She didn’t hear, or pretended not to, which felt familiar and obligatory.
This was the routine: me as giddy and then exhausted and then starting to feel sick. I imagined myself as very colorful in the mostly white room, mauve crescent pouches that hung in the corner of my eyes and nose; my hands blue and white—it was very dry. “You’re almost green,” she said once about my skin, “it’s very cool.” My skull tightened, and I was feeling my nose and cheeks turn red and wet.
It felt very dull, suddenly, everything that had happened between us, and then it was so heavy I had to sit; I found a cracked leather bench against the far wall. She came and put her arm around me, can you believe it? I shrugged but she held on, moved her hand back and forth along my sweater twice and then tugging on the loose thread below my right shoulder blade, which was soft because I wasn’t smoking anymore, and my mom was dating someone new and nice, someone who cooked.
After the panic there was a type of clouded calm, and I came to some sort of agreement with myself, understanding that it was in fact grief that I had always felt, but that it was benign. I missed myself then, finally, how thin I was and also how sweet, the clothes I wore in pictures with the two of us, heartbroken that I’d ever gotten rid of anything, sweaters and meaningless belongings. There would be better things, but I was disappointed in possibility.
I wished to be less heavy-handed. I wished to be sophisticated, or just less harsh on myself. Even the sadness was starting to feel like sadness with her; it had always been that easy to admit. Every day had been “just like old times” between us, from the moment we met, the day before, I swear.