Friday, May 11, 2012

How it will go

You'll land and take a day or two. It'll take a while to unpack, catch up on sleep, check work e-mail. You'll remember that you promised we'd talk after you got back. You'll send me a text message. It will say: "Gimme a call on my work num." I'll feel sad that it contains no term of endearment, not even a "Hey, you," which, for a while, in my need to find tenderness in your communications, I'd told myself was a sort of inverted term of endearment, an intense holding-back of emotion that revealed something positive hidden in its neutrality.
When I see your text message, I'll feel a spike of something, adrenaline or cortisol. I'll take a deep breath. I'll have a feeling that something somehow monumental is about to happen, because I always do. I'll punch in your number because I remember all 10 of the digits without trying to.
The phone will ring once, twice at most. You'll be standing by for the call because you'll want to get this done.
I'll know right away how this will go. In your voice I'll hear irritation, obligation, the dismal thud of being back to "real life," the reaping of what you have sown.
I'll try to sound mature, and at some point I'll make the joke I thought of the other day, about how I've done so much thinking and grown so much and gained so much perspective that "it's like I've been hanging out with the Dalai Lama!" This is something that might have made you laugh if I'd just thought of it, but it will come out pre-cooked and re-warmed. You will laugh to be polite.
I'll ask you to tell me about Thailand. You'll begin your travelogue, one you've already given to a few other people. "Did you know that in Thailand they blah blah blah? I had no idea that in Thailand they blah blah blah. Crazy. And in Thailand, they eat blah blah blah."
You won't mention her right away, but you'll say "our" and "we."
You probably won't mention her name, but you might, because you feel it's time, it's been long enough.
There'll come a point when you'll ask about how my life has been. You'll ask this perfunctorily.
And no matter what has happened in my life, it will feel small.

As I go about my day, I see the pictures.
The first to appear in your online album were generic: postcard images of golden temples like exotic gingerbread houses.
There was one of an Indian wedding, the groom astride a decorated elephant.
Then came one of you in khaki swim trunks lying in a shallow turquoise-tiled pool on the rooftop of the Hilton in Bangkok. The pose was so you: mock-relaxed but image-conscious, sucking in your gut, eyes shaded by tinted lenses, sunburned face to the sky. I looked at your iconic profile, your thin unyielding lips, all hard lines, a statue heartless as stone.
The next photo was of her. It was the first time I'd seen her. She was wearing a bikini and had painted her toenails tomato-red. I imagined her painting them, letting them dry, excited about seeing you. I noticed that she'd done what I do--painted her toenails but not her fingernails, and I wondered if she's like me in other ways.
A picture of her on the beach in Phuket, lovingly photographed beneath a sunset with colors more gorgeous than anything I have ever seen. She is tucking a strand of windswept blond hair behind one ear and laughing. You have never taken a picture of me.
Finally, a shot of the two of you, in front of limpid aqua water, both of you looking so serious, so worldly. "We have seen things you will never see. We are living bigger than you ever will."

In my life here, I do things. I go to work. I read chapters of a good book during lunch. I go to a jazz club on a Thursday night with a guy from work and stay out late even though I have to be at work at 7 a.m. on Friday. I drive along the parkway by the river, and the moon is so enormous and clear that I pull over, I get out, I sit on a big rock, and I look up at it, trying not to pollute the moment with too much thought.
I go out after work with co-workers, I drink too much, I use a streetlamp as a stripper pole, I go home with my co-worker, I have sex with my co-worker.
I do things, and they feel so small.

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