There is a moment, when you’ve knocked over a glass, and it hasn’t fully fallen, where you must decide between letting it hit the table and catching it, saving just a mouthful of its contents. I wanted her to shut up, so I kissed her.
The next day she was in Michigan. Something in my spit must have given her the idea that she cared about her father again. She said not to call and that she didn’t know when she’d be back.
I left my phone off the hook, too. Just in case she changed her mind. What a thing to do. Watch it lay in the fetal position on the kitchen counter, its spiraling umbilical cord still shoved into the wall.
She had what she called an uncomfortably good memory. Supposedly the doctor’s wording. That’s what she told me. I found it, at first, endearing. I thought she was saying, “Don’t you break my heart. Don’t you say something hurtful, or I’ll never let you forget it.” I was honored with the mission of guarding her heart. I was to load my mouth with poetry and stand still, wait, even in sideways rain. Because buried in a tomb was something onlookers could not see, but somehow knew was worth the valor. That’s what I thought it meant, anyway.
What it really meant was that there was long list of lovers, each one fired like a slug from a gun and embedded into her memory. To remove even just one meant certain death from bleeding out. There was to her no harm, however, in recollection. Running her finger over the scars from their entry wounds. Each one was a broken boy, now, I learned. One was back with his wife, but was still addicted to drugs. One of them got a new girlfriend and had become addicted to drugs. One of them took a break from drugs because he feared they interfered with his art. The results have yet to be seen.
I came to know them all. I knew them well enough to hate them. Except the artist. I grew to love the artist. I learned of their families and how she’d found her own place within each of them, and every now and then she’d stop, sort of gasp in a halfhearted way, and say, “I can’t believe I’m telling you all this.”
I could. It was all beautifully recited. Which meant it was all beautifully rehearsed, which meant it was memorized at work and on train rides for some reason I could never understand. Her tears, though called upon in acts of desperation, were drawn from a very real source: a well deep enough that if you screamed down into it, you could hear yourself, louder, reverberating off the stone the story of the time you sat in a circle of people you didn’t know, but still made that joke and felt so embarrassed.