Published in Strangers Volume 1 (October 2016).
Who You’ve Come to Be
How It Starts
You, another woman at Palms, the martini bar—or do they call it a lounge?—mingling, twenty-six, with a tight skirt, big earrings; he was at the same bar, handed you a cosmo before asking your name and wore a ribbed sweater that hid his belly and showed off his chest, maybe a year older; you were the woman who admitted your secrets—how you would drive him crazy, what to do in bed, the way you prefer your eggs—and he was the man who listened—came up with routines to avoid freak-outs, let you be in control the first time, prepared them scrambled with no yolks and a pinch of pepper the next morning; you were the one who wanted to date, he was the one who asked to be exclusive; he always wore the cologne you said smelled like men should; you dyed your hair blonde because he liked dark eyes and light hair; he brought the pomegranate cherry juice you love on random dates; you kept a change of his clothes in your compact car for dinners.
What to Do If His Phone Rings While He’s in the Bathroom
If at home, call for him softly, if in public, simply watch the caller ID until the last ring; in the final second, answer—your voice slow and thick like honey from the refrigerator—and make it apparent the two of you are together, but without ever saying so; place his phone just as it was before he left, sure to remove your hand before he enters the room; tell him who called and that you answered, that she seems like a lovely girl and you just wish he’d introduce you to more of his friends; if he smiles, fall back into what you were doing before he left and place a hand on his strong thigh at the soonest opportunity; but if he lifts his phone to scroll through the call log or says he didn’t know she had his number, stay up after he falls asleep and sit in the dark of the bedroom—on the mattress you bought for yourself after college, between the sheets you washed just before you left for dinner—to record and double-check every phone number you don’t recognize.
When to Be Sure Your Time With Him is Up
When he stops answering his phone, which is always on, or texting back with a wink at the end of his messages; when he is late for dinner more than three times in a row and his only excuse is traffic; when he decides he dislikes his favorite restaurant, or yours, and would prefer to order take out, eat on the couch, and watch “Lars and the Real Girl” for the fiftieth time; when he no longer throws an arm over you while he’s snoring; when he begins panting too soon during sex and then strolls to the kitchen before you’ve had a chance to finish, or tells you that James was in the break room discussing the advantages of a “permanent third”; then the time has come to collect your things from his bedroom before he gets up for work the next morning, quietly shut the front door and pause on the steps to tie the laces of your shoes as you think of him—inside, shirtless, still asleep—the key to his apartment on the kitchen counter.
Why to Go Shopping After He’s Gone
New pajamas and sheets to make sure the bed doesn’t smell like him tonight; backless blouse for clubbing this weekend; Marlboro Lights, carton; necklace to replace the one he picked out; new day planner without anniversary reminders; a box of hair dye, ash brown to forget the bottle blonde; smooth metal trashcan to fill with still-framed pictures and e-mails printed to show friends; twenty-four pack of Yuengling; gasoline, at least a gallon, in case metal picture frames refuse to melt quickly; sweater to wear while building the fire; and, just in case, a flavor-locked single serving bag of the only Colombian roast he’d agree to drink.
Where to Go When You Miss Him
The Applebee’s on Main for lunch, despite the fact that he never bartends on Tuesday afternoons; a quiet café on Landon Street—isn’t it just called Café?—that he frequents after work for a chai latte with extra milk, which is better than it sounds; the loud, smoky pool hall by the Civic Center where the two of you would play poker—in the back on Thursdays—and skee-ball; the Food Lion by Waterfront Road that’s only three blocks from his apartment and has beer for a dollar cheaper than any other grocery in town; the Lowe’s you went to—the one on Corrine Boulevard—to get him a new drill and wrench set for Christmas last year; the voodoo shop on the boardwalk, owned by a woman who really is Creole and will build a doll out of a sock and three stray hairs for thirty dollars; before home, to bed, where the sheets smell faintly of beer and sand, and there’s nothing to remind you of how recently he was there.
Who You’ve Come to Be
He only likes comedies; you watch horror and romance; he loves to hike and play horseshoes; you want to swim and read; he smokes a Marlboro every morning before breakfast; you scrub and disinfect ashtrays at bedtime; he takes walks when angry, sings in the shower when aroused; you dole out silent treatment, wink when you get a glance; he never hugs strangers, leaves when someone tells him to go; you kiss everyone good bye, lock your knees when challenged; and in the early morning din of an empty apartment—sipping Colombian roast, half-watching the news—you suddenly wonder if these things are anyone’s fault at all.