playing the victim

“He left a voice mail,” I muttered, eyes locked on my cracked cell phone screen.

“He did what?” Izzie called, her head stuck inside the kitchen pantry. I waited until she re-emerged to respond.

“A voice mail. He left a voice mail on my phone. Last night.”

“Well,” she spun on her heels, thrusting a wooden spoon in my direction, “What did it say?”

My gaze shifted from her to the phone. “I . . . I don’t know,” I stammered.

“You don’t know?” she called back, her body returning toward the stove.

“Yeah,” I replied softly. “I don’t know. I haven’t listened to it.”

But Izzie was humming to herself now, reading the directions on the back of a box of whole wheat pasta, focused on the task at hand.

I sighed, turning my head from side to side, popping the tense muscles in my neck. It’s just a little voice mail. Fifty-eight seconds. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Maybe he called to say he made a mistake. That he can’t stop thinking about me. That he was a fool to let me go. Maybe he called to confess how I haunt his dreams. How he wakes every morning in agony, groping the sheets in search of a trace of me, to find my bones buried among the wrinkled cotton. Maybe he called to say how he has to breathe in my scent one more time. That he needs to wrap my hair around his fingers. Feel my hips press into his.

Fifty-eight seconds. Surely, he must just miss me.

I rose from the couch and moved to my room. Sat down slowly on the end of the bed, surrounded by all the shirts I tried on this morning, but didn’t wear. With my heartbeat rising to heavy strum, I pressed the play button. And held my breath.

His shallow breathing panted in my ear. “Claire? . . . Claire, I need to tell you something . . . I made a mistake today . . . I stole a purse . . . That sounds crazy, right? . . . It was just some random woman on the street. I saw her go into a building – carrying this yellow purse, and then I waited for her outside. When she came out, I grabbed it and ran. She chased after me, but I got away . . . I know. I know how this sounds. But Claire. I had to do it . . . I needed to know what it felt like. To take something that didn’t belong to me. To have no remorse. To run from something with complete abandon and never wonder what disaster I left in my wake . . . Don’t you see, Claire? Don’t you get it? You’re nothing more than a petty thief . . . And this time, I guess you got away.”

I stared blankly at the phone. Did I cause this? Did I do this to him? To me? All this time I pulled away, isolated myself, ignored his phone calls and texts. Created space so we could have a clean break. Sabotaged the good. Severed ties before I was too far gone.

I stood up and looked in the mirror and saw something poking from underneath the bed.  Whipping around, I threw myself on the ground to grab it.

A yellow purse. Deflated and worn. Nothing left inside.

Through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned.

who knows

B: Do you think it would help if you talked to him again?
Me: (sips coffee) . . . I don’t know, really. I mean, if I talked to him and he said what I wanted him to, then it would help.
B: What do you want him to say?
Me: That he knows I did everything, tried everything to make it work. That he knows I was wonderful. I was great. I was the best thing that ever happened him and he screwed it up. That he destroyed it. Pulled it out of the ground with its roots still intact. . . . That I gave everything. And he gave up.
B: But don’t you know that already?
Me: (shrugs) I want to know that he knows.

david’s “logic”

DAVID: They’re having a violent video game burning in some city near Sandy Hook.

ME: …

DAVID: Why don’t they burn violent books?!?!

ME: They would, but children don’t read anymore.

DAVID: Why don’t they burn violent movies?!?!

ME: Most parents don’t let their children watch violent movies.

DAVID: It’s the parents’ fault then!!!

ME: That’s the common argument.


the letter

Chloe: What did it say?
Me: That he hasn’t stopped thinking about that day.
Chloe: Who even sends letters anymore? That’s so World War II.
Me: That he closes his eyes and it’s like he can almost get back to it. That he goes home each day and locks himself in his room. Draws in the curtains, turns off the lights. Puts “Hear You Me” on repeat on his iPod. Lays down and just dwells in the memory of it.
Chloe: He sent a letter just to tell you that?
Me: He pulls the covers around his chin and one by one, he considers every detail. The torn booth at Waffle House. A waitress with a spider tattoo behind her ear. The smell of burnt coffee and cigarettes and butter and syrup. The long drive. My feet hanging out the passenger seat window. Mustard ballet flats and Jimmy Eat World. Running out of gas around three in the morning. Sprinting hand in hand toward the nearest exit, laughing the whole way. The rain. The rain. The rain. The sting of the tall grass on our ankles. The heat rising off the wet asphalt. A red gas can and a six-pack. The long walk back to the truck. The sunrise over the ocean. The stillness of both of us in the sand. Side by side. Trying to figure out some way, any way, to keep the sun from rising. To keep the night from ending. To stay in that moment forever.
Chloe: I feel like he could have just called.
Me: He said he’s scarred from it. Marred by the flawlessness of it all. He’s terrified nothing will ever compare. That will always be the best there ever was. He doesn’t know how to move past it. He’s not sure he really wants to.
Chloe: Are you going to write back?
Me: Yeah, I guess I will.
Chloe: What are you going to say?
Me: I’ll ask which scares him more, ruining the most perfect thing that has ever happened to him or never knowing if something that great could be even better.
Chloe: That’s it?
Me: Yeah, that’s it.
Chloe: You should probably just send a text.