Love

You were dancing at the tailgate party, and I heard people call you Lorraine. I was too shy to come up to you, but I have eyes. You look like another girl I used to know.

My brother-in-law has gotten sober, and it’s like he’s got religion. He always has the answer, no matter what he thinks my question is. The other day he said that once we turn 30, our main task is making right everything we did wrong up till then. Sometimes when I think about things, the shame boils up my throat like vomit.

Lorraine, I’m sorry. It didn’t come out the way I meant.

I’m a grown man, remembering a girl he hasn’t seen for ten years. Going over every memory, and then making himself stop, in case a memory can be worn out and then he wouldn’t have the clamp at the heart. The worst thing I can imagine is not caring that once you turned your head when you heard my voice. Just that. You were happy to hear me, and turned toward the sound. This is pathetic. I know.

There is nothing wrong with a paying customer going to Greek Burger. There is nothing wrong with saying, “Hello, Lorraine.” Don’t make me feel worse than I already do.

When a person is lonely, everything he says comes out sounding like a threat. This is not a threat.

I stayed employed right through the recession. Sometimes I fed my sister and her husband. He told me that I should talk about the things I was proud of, so I told him I was proud to be bringing home a paycheck. I didn’t mean it ugly. My sister said that not everybody had my advantages, and that made me laugh till I choked.

Driving home, I saw a girl who looked like you. I pulled up next to her and smiled when she glanced my way. She smiled back — a kind girl, like you. Then the light changed and she pulled away and I was left with my heart feeling like it had gone through the shredder.

No, Lorraine, you do not owe me a single thing other than correct change. I understand. But I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m clumsy, I know. That isn’t a sin.

She was right to leave. I was gentle around her, as if I was trying to coax a bird to come, but sometimes she’d glimpse a harder side, and I could see her step back. No one can be gentle all the time, and eventually I would have frightened her. If I could have had one more month with her, watching the light fade from her eyes, would I have taken it? This is how stories about domestic battery get started.

After enough time passes, memories aren’t memories anymore, just habit. So when I think of you after I get up in the morning, it’s not because I miss you — I’m just in the habit of thinking of you as my legs swing out of the bed where I sleep alone. My brother-in-law explained this to me. I picked up his Coke and poured it in his lap. In my truck, I turned the music up as high as I could stand it. That’s my habit.

I don’t go to Greek Burger anymore because I thought you didn’t want to see me again. If I’m wrong, I’d just as soon not know that.

For a while, I avoided your old place. I didn’t even drive past it, so it took me half an hour to get home from work instead of fifteen minutes. I thought that I was being healthy. Maybe I got sick again. Or maybe I figured out that whether I drove past your place or not, you still weren’t there. Now I drive past every day. When your sister sees me, she waves.

Mindy, the receptionist at the shop, tells me I’m a catch. “No kids, no record, decent hair. Just go to a bar. You’ll be looking good.” My sister says I’m attractive. My brother-in-law says I’m a tragic hero. I don’t know who they all see when they look at me, which I wish they wouldn’t. I look at myself and see a mug shot, even though I’ve never even had a traffic ticket. People can’t be arrested for what they think, but maybe they should.

After you left here you lived for a while in Philadelphia, and then Connecticut, places so far away that I wonder if you’re trying to get away from me, though I shouldn’t give myself airs. On search engines your name is still associated with your sister’s, which makes sense. It’s also associated with someone named Amelia. I don’t think she’s a girlfriend, but what do I know? It’s easy to get a little bit of information. Every day I promise myself I will not look, and most days I don’t.

It’s not when I’m drunk that I look. When I’m drunk I whack off and go to sleep, which is why I like going to sleep drunk, no matter what my brother-in-law Jesus has to say. I look when I’m stone sober, moving from room to room and feeling the pressure of you like a tightening headache. I watched “The Avengers” over and over, and went to the condo gym eleven times in two weeks. But sometimes I look, just to ease the pressure. If I know where you are, I still feel a little bit close to you. I know something about you, even if it’s only 1415 Stanley Lane.

Lorraine, I was not following you. It was coincidence. I live in this town, too.

Knowing one thing makes you want to know another. That’s obvious, isn’t it? Like Newtonian physics, which I spent half an hour reading about on Wikipedia. Energy cannot be destroyed or created, only changed.

After you’ve drunk all you can, and jogged through three pairs of shoes, after you’ve watched all the movies and talked to your family, after you’ve visited the animal shelter to feel miserable about dogs you’re not home enough to take care of, after you’ve tried other women and shied away from the possibility of men, after you’ve eaten and gone without food and played Minecraft until your eyes dried out, after you’ve envied your brother his kids and your sister her asshole husband, after you’ve gone without sleep for a week and then fallen asleep in the Hardee’s drive-thru, after you’ve rethought every thought you ever had and didn’t need, after you’ve tried religion since you were on your knees anyway, her image might start to waver a little. There are things you don’t remember. Maybe it doesn’t matter that you can’t recall her license plate. Your fingers, white from gripping, start to slip, and you see the hole your life holds, cut to her exact size. A thousand things could fill that hole — coaching basketball. Making beer. This isn’t hard. You feel a light, cooling breeze brush the edge of your superheated heart.

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