What follows is technically a work of fiction. But I suppose it bears mentioning that sometimes fiction lets us cut a little closer to the truth.
Show up. Be nice. Wear the magic black tank that flatters in all the right ways.
You are bored or indifferent. You are anxious or grumpy or tired. Google your date in the cab on the way, where you learn he has two children. He has yet to mention them. Wonder how, if ever, they will come up.
Show up. Be nice. Greet a person who in no way resembles his photos. Resist the urge to bolt because Buddha probably wouldn’t.
Drink past friendly and straight into weird. Hope your grin looks sincere and not like an aggressive badger. Three vodkas deep, your date’s eyes morph into one Cycloptic orb, which is kind of a relief, because now you don’t have to choose which one to focus on. Eye contact can be tricky.
Show up. Be nice. Same old black tank, same stories with the well-practiced punch lines. But this time, it is different.
You smile without effort. You laugh for no reason at all. Spend an easy eight hours together. Blink and there goes a workday, an entire night’s worth of slumber. You are seen, heard, counted. You feel like you, which is a feeling you’d forgotten.
Picture your spawn. Map his natal chart. Call all your friends and even a few blood relatives. Cross your fingers and knock on wood, but know in your heart there’s no need for superstition. This has wings, which means you do, too.
Exist, for a heartbeat, in that magical place before attachment. Maybe two weeks, three weeks, four. One night, as you’re falling asleep, he breathes into your hair and whispers that he loves you. He isn’t quite conscious, but still, this must count. Wonder how you ever got so lucky.
“For the first time,” you tell a friend, “Everything feels like an answer instead of a question.”
And then, so slowly you almost don’t notice, start to feel bad. Grow restless or suspicious or defensive. Read into pauses and in between lines. Respond to every doubt with three decades’ worth of anger. An ally would surely understand. You know it isn’t fair, but then again, neither is anything.
Doubt your shape, your status, your sense of humor. Feel those wings that you grew start to shed. There you are, taking screenshots of inspirational quotes. There you are, checking your horoscope again, like somehow it might change.
Take a little longer than you should to respond. Attempt to reclaim power you’re not sure you had.
In your spare time, read a book about animal mating habits. You are bolstered by the mantis and its head-biting ways. You remember the lobster. You ponder the wolf. You look in the mirror and you’re still a person.
At a party, a friend describes you as “good at relationships.” Make a mental note to take up a hobby. Serial monogamy has granted you nothing. Knitting, at least, would yield hats.
The very next day finds you watching him leave. He forgets only his hat. Irony, you think, is phenomenally irritating.
“Sounds like you dodged a bullet,” says everyone, which proves how little your own friends know you. What you wanted was to get shot.
You are haunted by a lot of things, but this one the most: You didn’t know, the last time you kissed, that it would be the last.
You are left with songs, with nicknames, with memories ripe for dissection. There are movies you will boycott. Streets you will avoid.
“Why didn’t we…?” You wonder aloud, to a room full of no one. Fill in the blank a thousand ways. You cannot distinguish between truth and myth. Perhaps it’s for the best.
In your youth, you forgave everything. Wish you could remember how.
Show up. Be nice. Grab your coat; the seasons have changed.