When People Leave Early, In the Middle Of Winter.

From the hotel’s stairs I assured William that his car would be safe.

“I’m not used to leaving my car with someone else,” he explained, his entire schtick an odd mix of control versus letting go.

“I mean just look at him. He seems like a good guy,” I said, locking eyes with valet and grinning.

“How do you spell your name, Miss?”

“A-u. T-u. M-N.” As I told him he scribbled it on a ticket. For whatever reason the cameras in my head were recording and I could feel the grey wind and the Chicago rain starting to fall.

Of all the random moments in ordinary fashion I captured the part where William looked up and asked, “There’s an ‘N’ in your name?”

He liked silent letters, he said, as I saved it.

***

I tried a few times, to use the camera. In the Lego store, pointed at the endless bins of every color block. In the lobby, to try and capture the way the chandeliers lit every detail in the Blackstone ceiling. Every time I tried and looked at the result, the images just weren’t there. I couldn’t capture the feeling. Looking back it seems peculiar that I would travel somewhere and neglect to take photos. But I just couldn’t explain anything adequately.

I still don’t know if I can.

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After we got off a train from some point to another, there was a footbridge over the middle of a busy street. I stopped and looked through the thick plastic, wet with water drops, at the city. The sights in passing that no one else seemed to notice. The bright lights in a darkening sky. Random commute path, this is where I absorbed the image as long as I could until William looked back.

“It’s kind of slick here, be careful,” he was always saying, every road, every street where the winter was being difficult. I don’t think I told him about my fear of ice, but it was probably obvious the first time my boot started to slide across the sidewalk and

Woah, you don’t walk on ice. You avoid ice. This, no – you don’t do this.

You have to walk. You’re walking down the sidewalk. You can’t stop.

A little slower, plantigrade like a polar bear at times and looking down a lot while trying to forget the way I felt, I walked on ice and sleet.

Thank you for understanding that I have to be careful.

***

He kept asking me where I wanted to go, but the truth was that every map just looked like a bunch of names. What did a park mean? What would you do with a tower?

I went up to someone working a ticket booth and I asked her…

“Where should I go?”

And she looked at me. She could have suggested anything. But she didn’t have an answer as she pushed a few pamphlets through the bottom of her window.

***

The taxi rides were astounding. I could not believe how the lanes seemed to be decided last minute, as everyone veered and came inches from crashing in to each other at every turn. It was exciting, but I couldn’t always entirely stand it and I’d grab at the denim over my knees and close my eyes as if we were about to crash.

William was happy, constantly moving. The elevators rocked sideways. My ears popped. My stomach would turn from too few calories. Always moving, do we have to be always moving?

“Isn’t it great!?” he asked. “By the way. We were at the top of that building.”

The monster structure outside my window had a little bit of sense on and off with his help. So many windows, so many shops and always the black interiors of the cabs as I went back and forth between being there and watching the abstract forces moving outside.

“So weird,” I commented when it was painfully obvious that my hand seemed to be shaking. I held it up in front of us, trying to steady it.

William just said, “I noticed that earlier.”

Too much on my mind. Too much missing in the casual conversations about gum or umbrellas.

And I worried…if that disappointed him. If he wanted the loud party persona.

So I would constantly wage a silent war, on whether or not I should just have a few drinks and put more distance between myself and the cocoon where I consciously tried not to show any emotion.

Then what would happen if you added carelessness here?

***

It was the night before the aquarium – before I would be staring at jellyfish, mesmerized by the nonchalant way they drape over each other as they trail through the water. Before the flat tire. Before the face paint. Before the big stuffed jellie in the gift shop that I would use for a pillow.

We went to dinner, him in a bow tie and me in my socks. The food was ridiculously pompous and bloated, but it was ordered for the experience. Through the restaurant window I could see the park benches covered in snow…the same stretch of property that inspired a fantasy about some chick named Faith Rivada.

It was never about me, though. It was about holding the charger plug just right to his phone so we could follow Google maps. It was about changing out his CDS and how the rain actually worked in favor of his haircut. I was just the creepy girl in the moon who was always watching, anyway, always analyzing and getting close from a distance. I may as well have come along anyway.

“You know what I really want?” he asked, prelude to a confession I didn’t see coming. He always says ‘know what we should do’ or ‘know what would be great’ – and it’s never that big of a deal.

“What’s that,” I asked, comfortable in the octopus and lamb and lots of little light bulbs that hung down from long cords.

“I want a girlfriend. I just…want…someone who will be there. Who cares about me.”

I was recording how the liquid in my glass moved out of my sightline and down. That tension in my chest as everything tightened to brace for William’s vulnerability.

“We wouldn’t even have to sleep together, I mean, just someone… to sleep with.”

I’m not sure if I broke in to a thousand pieces or if I was just floating there, a disorganized tangle of tentacles. Forgetting about my life I had secretly put him under my skin and now he had started glowing. I didn’t let him see me grasp for my heart.

There was this young man whose manners were older than he was, who did everything right. Right there, doing everything perfectly while I mumbled something about how women were expensive. And treacherous. You’re wonderful and everything should be okay, I don’t know why it’s not but it had better fucking be and if I find a way to fight for you I will.

Later on I looked at the ceiling from my bed and listened to him move the sheets around. I had wondered if the red eyes I sometimes saw were from insomnia and I had worried that sleeping would be awkward. It wasn’t a problem for him. When he started taking longer breaths I listened to that too, and then I left the room.

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I watched the staff clean up from the balcony. I tried to find as many doors left unlocked as I could. I sat in the lobby with a picture book and monitored the sort of traffic that came and went at 2:30 A.M. One of the elevator floors took me to an art gallery and I stared at colors I couldn’t feel. Tall ceilings, long rooms, empty benches…those are the sorts of things that I liked being there for me while something else very crucial, important and grounding in my life… was clearly absent.

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