Each blade of grass pressed by the bottom of my feet, I walk in open opposition to those seated at the wedding where I should have been your groom. I had learned to speak American through a series of tapes that arrived in the mail, being out of place more a mood than the actual spot where I buried my face into a pillow.
You look at me the way women look at the rib cages of Victorian corset wearers, holding the strings in their mouths while tightening the straps. Cordial cherries I bought at the drug store and administered to those I disdain. A drawer of zip ties and rubber bands. The way Sarajevo means something to those with a past and a passport.
A cat with a factory of purrs, and I will write the pen from the table and across the linoleum. The monotony of friendship, mathematical imprecision at the shoulders my head tucks into, a story of revolution where no hero, no David or Goliath. The haves and have nots both own flat screen TVs, microwaves, bicycles with the hand shake of handle bars, and froyo on almost every corner.
Every 50 years, a family tree re-written, two people fall into the pre-divorced state of marriage, followed by children. Desire on every billboard, commercial, college application. We are being marketed a version of ourselves: improved, enhanced, saddled with one more vacation getaway, a car more indulgent than the last. Was this where I lost you?
Life has starved the emotional connections on the vine so that social media posts trigger feelings. The Christmas commercial for a grocery chain prompts tears as I realize what a dead grandparent truly means. The time we stood on your apartment balcony and caught snowflakes on our tongues.
The boy at middle school whose mother packaged his sandwich in carefully folded wax paper, he experienced just a bit more love than the boy with the dollar bill for a hot lunch. Doubt is the real currency of capitalism. What if my future kids think I don’t love them because I didn’t buy them Lunchables? What if my future wife realizes all that’s stopping her from sleeping with other men is whether I bought the best patio set?
The landscape architect says he can tell your husband loves his family before steering him to the deluxe package, with swimming pool and white picket fence: vinyl, maintenance free, years of family parties before the inevitable divorce. My mind is a pocket cactus I take out and set on the window sill in the kitchen.
During a recent lunch with a co-worker, I learned she was on marriage number four. I loved them all, she said. There’s just a sort of magic that takes place in the first three years that she can only catch in a new one, a new ring, proposal, honeymoon, getting to know someone all over again for the not first time.
Even the waiters are singing along to the Christmas song amidst the clink of dishes and glasses filled and refilled. Not to trouble you taps the outside of my car window, but it’s awfully cold, and how much alive do I want to feel on my ride home?
A $5 bill I keep in the center console for such occasions. The truth in giving isn’t the size so much as the convenience, how paper currency folded in half and slipped like Cold War secrets takes me back. The time I fed scraps to the stray dog, and he came back with friends, so you called animal control. For their own good.
The amount of trouble caring takes depends on the make of the car and the condition of the roads. Under my seat, the ashes of a favorite uncle sealed in a cardboard box, waiting for just the right time I’m not sure will ever come.
At the crossroads of empty gestures, I wonder if tipping the barista is a way of asserting my humanity. I sit in front of my laptop, my finger hovering over the track pad uncertain whether to accept your friend request. I wonder why you are circling back to me: perhaps an inventory of paths not taken, perhaps an easier way to measure the years and ultimately keep score?
This poem appeared in The Write Launch, July 2020.