I was in the library. I used to spend a lot of time in the stacks—there was just something about how all of that paper swallowed all of the sound. I didn't even hear that high-pitched empty sound in there. Nothing, just nothing. Something about the solace that place afforded me, the delightfully irreverent metonym of the stacks—it all came together to ensure that I spent most of my time there. It’s interesting, living most of your day silently. Down on the first floor—a basement where they crammed all of the art books—were all of the study booths that no one really used. I’d claimed one for myself. A home territory, really. Fourth row back, on the left. It was a miraculous revelation when I discovered it. Silence, utter silence. Where had it been hiding this time? Sometimes I’d study there. Sometimes I I’d just go to my desk, drop my stuff off, and wander. I loved all of the technical literature. I’d pick up a copy of Linguistic Development and Child Group Dynamics and thumb to the back. Just as I’d thought—it had only been checked out twice. The last time was 13 years ago.
There was a sign in there begging you not to re-shelve your own books. If you were to place one two shelves away, it could take years to find it. And that’s if you were looking for it. Millions of volumes meant millions of spines, which meant millions of places to hide. But what if it were a book like Linguistic Development? One of those books so focused that it’s remarkable anyone ever wrote it and even more remarkable that two people had used it for a paper. They were probably just starting with a big topic, and stabbing down randomly into titles that sounded helpful.
Anyway, it was only a matter of time before I felt complete consuming the library and returned to stalking my spot. Before that, though, I had to test something out. I picked up the copy of Linguistic Development and scrolled on an index card “COME SEE ME.” I drew a little map of the library, drew the PN sign that hung over my desk, and pointed to my spot. It was term paper season, I thought maybe someone would pick it up. And wouldn't you know it, she came.
It was less than a week after I'd put the card in there. She came. That's what impressed me the most about her—not that she'd be reading such a book—just that she'd honor a request on a note card. Apparently it was her third time to come, the last two times I had been in class. We got to talking. I told her that I was usually down here, 1:30 to 4:30 if not more frequently. She thought maybe I was studying anthropology. She was. Linguistics. Made sense with the book. I couldn't stay and chat, though. I had to get to class.
The next day, there she was. She looked like she was studying. She had Linguistic Development opened before her. She was probably waiting for me. She didn't look surprised when I walked up. Expectant, really. I half expected a 'there you are;' I got it in her shy little smile. I told her to move. She was in my spot. She looked hurt. I asked her not to be.
'It doesn't really work that way,' she told me.
'Doesn't change that I didn't mean to hurt you. It’s just that you're in my seat.'
And so we became friends.
I asked her if she wanted to get a bite to eat, and she agreed to it. We had a good time, after conquering those awkward moments when there was nothing to say. She gave me her number, and asked me to call her. I did, and picked her up, and I guess we went on a date. I'd like to say it was romantic, but it wasn't, really. We stayed up until four in the morning that night, talking, just talking. She made me feel a bit uneasy, because every time I changed my speaking a bit, she’d point it out: “paralinguistic effect!” Was she really analyzing my speaking? Did it reveal things about me? She had explained the linguistics jargon twice by this time. I had gotten it the first time, there was no need to repeat. I couldn't see why else I'd still be there, so I kissed her. She wasn't upset. Things just kind of developed from there. That first night we didn't have sex. We talked about it; I told her I didn't want to. I'd been beaten up pretty badly by that kind of stuff in a previous relationship. This one I wanted to be more careful with.
That's not to say that it didn't happen, though. And when it did, we talked it out. That's just like me. To talk something like that out. I always figured it was necessary; neither one of us was a virgin, and, lets face it, sex comes with baggage. I don't necessarily think that those posters proclaiming "WHEN YOU SLEEP WITH SOMEONE, YOU SLEEP WITH EVERYONE THEY'VE SLEPT WITH" are that untrue. There's a whole life between the act. It wasn't the first date, but I wasn't really willing to wait until past the second. I wouldn't say that it was expected, but it was kind of a given. I mean, we had talked about it, and both acknowledged that it was in our future. I knew she wanted it and she knew I did. And we had tension. By that night I wasn't going to say no, and she wasn't, either. The romantic in me wants to idealize it, but it wasn't that great. It was sex, and it was nice. I'm kind of a bad sleeper, though, and I was afraid all of my twisting and turning afterwards would wake her up. But she never complained, so I guess it didn't. Either that, or she was just being sweet. I know I don't mind being woken up. It’s a nice reminder that there's someone pressed up against you. Someone willing to be pressed up against you.
I wasn't awake the whole time, thankfully. I don't remember if I dreamt anything that night. All I know is that I woke up. We were at her place, and her bed was by the window. Sunlight was streaming through the blinds, casting the shade of gently rocking tree branches onto her face. She had twisted away from me, but her arm was bent backwards to grab onto my shoulder. I wanted to let her continue laying there, but I got impatient. I wrapped my arm around her chest so I was hugging her from behind. She was so warm. My bare chest was pressed against her naked back, but it wasn't enough. I wanted to wrap every inch of my skin around every inch of hers. Anything to be able to feel that warmth all over. Any way to press every seam of my body against every seam of hers. I kissed her on the back of her neck, where her spine pops out. Then I pulled up to her ear and whispered "Angela."
No response. Afraid, I said her name a bit louder. "Angela."
"Hm?" was her sleepy response.
"Wake up." I shook her shoulder a bit this time. She turned her head and looked at me. I don't know if she said anything. She uncurled from my embrace and twisted around to face me. God, she is beautiful. Wrapping her arms around my back, she pulled my head close to hers. Our eyebrows met, then she kissed me on the spot between mine. Everywhere her lips went I'd tingle. She traveled down my face until she met my lips, pulling me in for a kiss. A sleepy peck, followed by another sleepy peck, followed by another and another and another. Faster and faster. And in that moment I went from being sleepy to being alive. I was kissing her and holding her and her hands met behind my back and she was pulling me as tight as she could and I was pressing every square inch of my body against her just kissing her and feeling nothing else in the world. And it all erupted into some kind of crazy emotional climax where she wanted me and I wanted to be her and I was her and she was inside me and everything I felt was channeled out of my eyes and into hers as she owned me.
But you sustain magic forever. Every kiss has to end, and of course this one did. So then we were just laying there, on our backs, holding hands. She was talking. I'd throw out a "yeah" or "mhmm" occasionally to let her know I was listening, but really I just wanted to hear her talk. She was telling me about the time when she was six and her friend fell off her bike, and the look on her face, and all of a sudden she just stopped, and told me to wait right here, just stay put in bed. And she bounded up and left.
And in that moment I wished more than anything that I was wearing my glasses. So I just stared at her fuzzy frame and was glad that the blinds let in so much light because I could see her that much better and she wasn't perfect but she might as well have been because here she was, dressing in front of me, which no one else was doing and no one else wanted to do but she did and would. Then she walked out of the room and told me to stay put. I didn't know what she was up to, or for how long it would take. I played with my belly-button for a while. Eventually though, I got tired of waiting, so I walked into the hall. I peered into her kitchen and there she was, with her back to me, standing in front of the stove, shuffling, dancing, spatula in hand. I crept back into bed. Was she cooking breakfast for me? No one had ever cooked breakfast for me, not even Jenna. I had spent the night with Jenna all the time and she never cooked breakfast for me, never even ate it with me. I looked up, and there she was, plate in hand.
After breakfast she put the plate on the floor and pulled my arm over her. She curled up and pressed her back into me. She fell back asleep. I couldn't get back to sleep so I let her dream. My arm got uncomfortable after a while. I went back to sleep because I didn't know what else to do.
The next thing I remember was feeling guilty. The alarm clock read 13:38 in bold, uncaring numbers, and Angela was quickly getting dressed, yelling "shit, shit, shit," melodically. What could she be missing on a Saturday? She saw that I was awake. Fumbling with her keys, she tossed one at me—“Recording a Native American language. Lock the deadbolt.” Then she was gone.
I was at a loss. I'd made her late, of that I was certain. I hope she wasn't mad at me. Should she be? It was her choice to go back to bed. She caused herself to be late to whatever meeting she had. But I played a part in it. Had I not been in the bed, there, she wouldn't have made the choice to come back to bed because there wouldn't have been a choice. There would have been an empty bed.
I left, then, not five minutes after she did. Got dressed, locked the door, and left. I didn't know what to do with the key. Do I hide it? I stuck it on my key ring. I went home and busied myself; cleaning and reading. I didn't want to think about her. But of course every phone ring and phantom phone ring made my heart ring strongly and quickly. There was nothing I could do to quell the disappointment that every other messenger brought. I began to wonder if she'd call at all. I made the decision not to call her, though, at any cost. I just wanted to know if I angered her. I couldn't deal with her being mad at me.
She never called that night. I never asked her. I guess it amounts to a power struggle; I was waiting for her and she was waiting for me. I figured that if I held off long enough then she would call, that she would want to talk to me. But I did and she didn’t. Either that, or she had the same thought that I did, and we both just waited each other out. That’s very likely. That was the first roadblock, though. God, only two dates in and already a problem. Maybe I should have taken that as an excuse to get out unscathed. “Angela, I don’t want to cause any more problems like this in the future.” How simple it would have been. The next day I didn’t see her, but we talked on the phone for a few minutes. I asked if she had Friday plans yet. She didn’t. I wanted to make her dinner, I told her. She liked that idea.
I had never made dinner for anyone before. I mean, not romantically. But no one had ever made me breakfast before. An eye for an eye, or an egg for an egg, or something like that. Once, when I was a kid, I wanted to surprise my mom with dinner. I opened the cookbook and made the first thing that we had the ingredients for—a quiche. I liked the name and the way it tasted, so I adopted it as my dish. So that’s what I made Angela. A quiche lorraine. I wasn’t sure what she’d have, so I brought everything: the dish, the flour and egg and bacon. I figured she’d have flatware and dishes. I wasn’t incorrect.
She teased me; “I have eggs, you know.”
“Yeah, but this is supposed to be me cooking you dinner. I didn’t want to use your eggs because then it’s not my gift.”
Damn, no tapers. Should I have brought some? Is that too stereotyped? I sprung up after dinner and started to wash the plates off, but she wouldn’t hear of it. “Look,” I said, “it’s my dinner. My labor.” Too bad, she said, I’d have to accept her help. It wasn’t worth fighting over. She set the plates in the sink and walked back to me. She sat down.
“Well, what now?”
“I was thinking a movie. I brought a few of my favorites over, or we can go to the theatre. My treat.”
She said was too tired to go to a 9:00 show. A few seconds later, she got a phone call. Fifteen minutes after that we were walking to her friend’s apartment. So much for a movie. So much for me treating her for the night. So much for so much. At least I finally got to meet this Jamie I’d been hearing so much about.
It was some kind of party. I didn’t even really see Angela for the most part. She introduced me to some of her friends. She called me her boyfriend. We hadn’t had that conversation yet, I guess she just assumed it. I’m glad she did; it made me feel secure. For most of the night, I just sat on the couch and talked to the two people whose names I could remember. Angela and I left sometime past midnight. So much for being tired. I was upset, but I wasn’t going to tell her. I tried hiding it, but I guess I was a little withdrawn. We got back to her place and got in bed. She started cuddling up to me, and noticed that I wasn’t being responsive. She asked why; I told her it was of no importance. She kept pestering me. “Is it because we went to Jamie’s?”
“Yeah. It’s because we went to Jamie’s.”
“Why didn’t you object?”
“Because, it was my night to treat you, and its what you wanted to do. It’s not something worth fighting over.”
She started to lecture me on why I should stand up for myself. Why I should just grab what I want, just take it. I started to defend my reasons, air my grievances, but she said that they weren’t really good reasons, that I was just looking for excuses to not have what I wanted because, who knows, if I were to get it then what would I do? She saw my life as being based on pursuit.
“I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t want to be here right now.”
She didn’t say anything else. She pulled away from me, and we fell asleep.
Over time, we got into a comfortable routine. I brought up that instance where she introduced me as her boyfriend, and she told me “yeah, that was purposeful.” I asked if we were a couple. She said that she thought we were. She hoped that we were. I didn’t know how to properly respond. I wanted to jubilate, but that would have been too much, I was sure. I think I came off as disinterested, though.
Those first few months were wonderful; we saw each other frequently and talked when we couldn’t meet. Spring break was spent lazily, every day waking up late. Afterwards, though, school began to pick up for both of us. For some reason, I had an onslaught of tests after break, and she had more interviews to conduct. I couldn’t see her when she wanted me to, and I guess I didn’t do a good job of communicating this to her, because she seemed kind of put off by it. It’s not that I didn’t want to see her, because I did. I just didn’t have the time. I had friends in all of my classes and so we’d study together, but half of the time our study group would just devolve into hanging out, which was always when she’d call me and then she’d get upset because I was having a good time with my friends and avoiding her.
Then she got her job. Which I was happy for, I truly was. She had been worried about money for a while, and I didn’t like to see her be stressed out. I couldn’t help her with the money situation—I didn’t have much myself, and even if I did it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to support her. So she started working. Paying off some of her debt. She was used to living off of a little, so even with paying off bills this was a step up for her. Then she started taking me out, treating me. She’d done it once or twice , but now she did it more frequently, to pay me back for the past few months. I didn’t need to be paid back, I told her—that money was mine to spend however I wanted, and you don’t expect a store to pay you back as thanks for buying their shirt. But she didn’t listen. You just can’t argue with someone over something like that. She wanted an equal footing in the relationship, and this was her manifestation of attaining that feeling. It got me down, though. I felt that it cheapened my gifts.
But that wasn’t the real problem with her job. The real problem was her schedule. Or lack of one. Each week she’d have a radically different set of hours. Some weeks it’d only be 4 hours for the whole week. Some it would be 24. And she’d never find out until Friday if she’d have to work the next week, which means that we could never make plans for anything other than Friday and Saturday, because those were the only days we had more than two days’ notice for. And all of a sudden where I had previously found myself rather comfortable, I now felt completely uncertain. I didn’t know how much time I’d get to see her. Most days I wouldn’t even know if I’d get to see her that night because of both of our homework situations. I mean, it’s not like I used to see her every hour of every day, but moving from a steady three nights a week to sometimes only one was pretty hard, and after a while that uncertainty became crushing. I knew, logically, that she wouldn’t hang out with me because she couldn’t. But I internalized it: she wouldn’t hang out with me because she didn’t want to. And this whole time I was trying to be as supportive as possible. “Look, baby, I don’t want to be a burden on you. School comes first, and work too.” She told me to stop worrying about it.
Secretly, though, I really did want to be that burden. I didn’t want her to prove anything to me by buying me something—that I could do for myself. I wanted to inconvenience her, to be a priority. And I thought about that moment, so long ago, when she woke up late and in a frenzy and gave me her spare key for the day. That’s what I wanted. Except, in my rerun, she’d wake up late, say “shit, shit, shit” and then turn to me, and realize why she was late, and decide that her meeting or class or whatever it was she was late for just wasn’t important and she’d snuggle back up to me and fall back asleep. Or at least bask in my warmth.
And then one night I was making her dinner when the phone rang. She couldn’t make it. Work had called her in and she really needed the hours that week.
“Are you mad at me?” I think she heard the detachment in my voice.
“Kind of. Not necessarily mad. I was making you dinner.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. But I have to go now, okay? I’ll call you afterwards.”
“Okay.” She hung up the phone before I had the chance to say anything else. Was she sorry? I wasn’t really sure. She had said that she was, but she sounded so distracted. Why did she ask if I was angry? Of course I was. But she always asked me that whenever she thought she’d upset me. And honestly, I wasn’t usually angry. I usually brushed off the question. I was usually sad. Whenever anything else made me sad, I’d turn to her, like that time I called her in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because I was so stressed out about this paper I couldn’t write. She just told me to come over, and when I got there she pulled me into bed with her, and she kissed me while we spooned. That wasn’t something that she could do when I was upset, but was upset because of her. Right now I was mad because I wanted to see her, but couldn’t, and the only thing I could think of to cheer me up would be to see her. I ended up taking a nap because there was nothing else I could do. At least in sleep I wouldn’t be thinking of her. I set my phone on loud and put it right next to me, so I knew I’d wake up with her call.
When I woke up it had gotten dark. I fumbled around, trying to see what time it was. Three in the morning. I had zero missed calls. Now I was angry. I wasn’t sure if it was worth calling her and waking her up just to yell at her. It seemed like a pretty inappropriate thing to do. But I had barely seen her as of late, and she knew my stance on it. This broke me a bit too much, and the more I got to thinking the more furious I became. I tried to go back to sleep, but I ended up thrashing with anger. Hugging a pillow didn’t help; it only reminded me that I was angry because the thing I wanted was withholding itself from me. It seemed almost an oxymoron, being so angry at the thing you want the most. I realized that I had already made up my mind to call her, and I was just putting it off for as long as I could. So I did it, I called her.
“Hello?” she answered sleepily.
“Why didn’t you call me?” I demanded
“What? Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I got home and…”
“Are you really sorry?”
“…fell asleep. Look, it wasn’t purposeful, and yes, I’m sorry. Are you still mad at me?”
“I won’t lie to you. I’m really fucking mad at you.” I made sure to emphasize the ‘fucking.’
“Listen.” She took a defensive tone. “It’s too late, I have to get up early. We will talk about this tomorrow. Goodbye.” She hung up. I fell back asleep, slightly placated, to be awoken in the morning by the phone. It was her. Tonight. 7:00. She was coming over. Something in her delivery wasn’t the same. She seemed to be the distant one this time. Were we going to break up? Was that unlikely?
I spent the whole day with knots in my stomach. I felt like a dead man walking. That day was the end, my last day, an indulgence. But no one else knew that I was a dead man walking; to them this was an ordinary day full of ordinary classes. I became engrossed in every lecture that day, anything to keep me preoccupied. I ate more than usual at lunch. Figured I might as well indulge. 6:00 rolled around and I went home and started to tidy up. I wanted the place to seem casual, so I didn’t make it too clean. I put on music, but only at ten till. And then I just waited. She arrived remarkably on time, although time seemed to be running slowly to accommodate her. She asked what had made me angry, and said that she didn’t want to see me livid. I told her that I couldn’t stand not seeing her anymore, and that last night really hurt me because she just ignored me.
“Remember what you told me?” She asked. “‘Look, baby, I don’t want to be a burden on you. School comes first, and work too.’”
“Yeah, well maybe I lied. Maybe I want to be a burden on you, because its the only way I feel like I mean something to you anymore.”
“I can’t drop my life for you. I’m twenty-one, I can’t be making sacrifices for you already! I can’t just carry debt with me for my whole life because of some silly little choice.”
“I just want more time.”
“Well I don’t have it. When I came over here, I thought we’d just work things out, but it’s obvious to me now that we broke up the second I walked through that door. I’m leaving.”
“What?” I didn’t like the way she snapped at me.
“It might be over, but it doesn’t have to end on a bad note. Just a few more minutes.”
She sat down, and a minutes later I sat down next to her. She put her head on my shoulder. “I want you to know that I love you.” She said it neither pleadingly or full of sorrow. Just a plain, emotionally true fact. I kissed her on the temple. She gave me a shoulder hug, and got up and left. I had been under control the whole time, but when the door shut I lost it.
We didn’t talk for five days. No contact, no running into each other, nothing. I barely even ran into any of her friends. It was unbearable. Beforehand, even when I didn’t see her we’d talk. Now she just didn’t exist. I began to make a list of everything I’d left with her. It was my only excuse to talk to her, to see her again. And on that fifth day I summoned up the courage to call her. She said that she had actually gathered all of my stuff that she could find and put it in a box. I was welcome to come pick it up.
I went over that night to get my box. There she was. It was weird. No hug, no kiss, no tumble onto the bed. Nothing that I associate with her place. She was wearing a shirt I’d never seen her wear, and her contacts were out so she had her glasses on. She looked so alien. I didn’t want to stare at her, but I almost couldn’t help it. That face used to be an inch away from mine. Now I didn’t even recognize it. I had been so unbelievably familiar with her body, and over the last five days had craved its every curve and scar, and none of it, now, none of it seemed the same. And even though I wanted, more than a drowning man wants air, to touch her, and feel her, and kiss her again, in that moment I had no desire for her, no drive to do anything with her. And I swear, in those five short days since we had broken up, she changed more than she did in the months I had known her.