An Imaginary Line to Which Things Recede

Before we went to sleep, he asked me how I felt about getting married in a year. Our bodies overlapped. I squeezed his arm while the warm length of my limbs curled beside him in bed. In my head, I composed a loving and receptive response, but what came out was this: I’m afraid, aren’t you?

Two years together in separate houses — and now he was ready to merge our bookshelves and photo albums and lives. He waved away the fear of divorce or being poor because his parents stayed married, his parents were never poor. Our friends are all engaged or married or pregnant, he said. It’s time we catch up with them, he insisted. It’s time for me to say yes.

39 miles.
Mount Airy. Sit on a friend’s couch with a cup of Earl Grey tea and watch her roll cigarettes. We buy burritos for lunch and wait on her boyfriend to come back from work. Later she plays her records and pours us lilac wine but grimaces at its taste, a sour perfume. The record player needle doesn't work like it should. But the candles give off a hazy glow and we can’t be bothered to stand up and fix anything.

Her boyfriend comes through the front door and crosses the room to greet her. He wraps one arm around her waist and he waves at me with his other arm. Then he goes over to the computer. She chops onions and carrots by the stove, makes a CrockPot stew with meat from the freezer and every vegetable in the fridge. The food is warm and salty and leaves me full. The wine has no effect. I am drunk on dinner.

I say something like, “I haven’t been home for the last two weekends. He’s going to think I’m avoiding him.”

My best friend in the world doesn't need to look up from her rolling papers.

“But you are.”

211 miles.
New York City. I considered inviting him along for the weekend, but he started to fret about taking time off from work, bus vs. car and hotel vs. hostel. Finally I just said that he could skip the trip — he seemed grateful for the out.

In the time before my trip, our daily phone calls morph into a few lines of text. How’s work? What did you have for lunch? Even five minutes a day starts to seem like too much contact. So I pack up my mother’s car and we drive to the city.

There is a book launch at Housing Works, plump onion bagels with scallion cream cheese, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a shared slice of chocolate cheesecake at Junior’s before The Book of Mormon. New York City provides stimulation everywhere; everyone I meet seems creative and awake. I write back to my editor, promise to meet next week’s deadline.

A week between texts from him seems hard to imagine, but the unthinkable happens. Present tense: it is happening. In the backseat of a cab to Brooklyn, I cry once. But I immediately feel self-conscious about the cliché of a woman’s unexplained tears in a taxicab. My mother squeezes my hand and doesn't say anything when I’m still crying back at the hotel room.

It takes an actual crisis to bring me back from the brink. After a fitful night of sleep, I am completely calm when faced with the smashed-in windshield of my mother’s car. A cement boulder in the passenger seat waits for me like a present. Her car’s registration and insurance papers scattered on the sidewalk, which were likely discarded in the search for something worth stealing. The cops file a report and we carry on with our Sunday plans. “We’re not letting this ruin our day,” my mother says.

There are more bagels, iced coffee with soy milk. We walk in Central Park and race uptown in another cab so I can meet a hero from my teenage years, a personal icon of feminist writing. She signs my copy of her first book and we talk about our lives like it’s the most normal thing, the two of us drinking coffee together on a Sunday. In the presence of a writer I admire so deeply, it’s hard to suppress my giddiness.

My hero writer pauses from a sip of espresso to ask if I have a boyfriend.

“What boyfriend?” I say. “He’s long gone now.”

2,280 miles.
Flagstaff. I drive forty minutes to the Grand Canyon at sunrise and manage to skip the hassle of a park entrance fee. Then I drive four hours each way to crouch down in Four Corners. Worth it. In the desert, there are Navajo tacos and prickly pears. I wind down the mountain in a rental car to the valley of Sedona and grip the steering wheel like it’s an unruly child. I find all sorts of hidden gems: a hot tub by a winding river, healing crystals, the psychic readings all booked. Before, I considered sitting in front of a stranger, letting them dictate my future, but it turns out I’m relieved not to spend the money on something I’m not even sure I believe in.

Later, I lose my blanket on a ski lift. At the top of the mountain, someone else loses a hat and the woman in front of me says that I look cold, so she passes the lost hat over to me. Back on the ground, I wander through the trail until I track down my blanket. I find a glittery purple rock on the trail and wrap my blanket around the rock to carry with me. I write in a journal. I talk to a new employee at a wine bar who’s only been working at this place for a week; she says I could love this city if I lived here.

I talk to a man but then spend the night alone. I talk to another man and his wife until my knees shake, which gives way to something else. I leave before the sun comes up to catch my plane.

Before the weekends with my friend, before the city with my mother, before the canyon on my own — there is one last thing my boyfriend asks me: “You want to live with someone. You just don’t want to live with me.” We’re not touching and my back is turned to him on the bed. We both know it isn't really a question. I won’t say anything worth remembering.

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