More and more often, it seemed that I couldn’t truly react to a moment until I had time to really think about it. I wanted to pause people in mid-situation to say Hey, I’m just going to go back to my office and review the tape of this conversation. I’ll get back to you after I fully analyze it.
And so I retold the same story to myself over and over again on the six hour flight back to Portland from Chicago, trying to decide what it meant.
We spent most of our time in bed, but we were barely having sex. I was still wildly attracted to Patrick and of course I wanted to be all over him. But there was just so much to talk about and well, that was what we did. Naturally there were rules. We never discussed my past life in Chicago, not even the years we had in common. We never, ever mentioned the H-word husband. Conversation was limited our lives before we met (but never our childhoods) and the year since I had moved to Portland.
I realized that we were both secretly aspiring shut-ins. My suitcase of clothes remained untouched. We had food and booze delivered. We must have slept, but I couldn’t remember it. Passing days without really seeing the sun and the moon fucked with my entire sense of time and routine.
Maybe I was getting sensitive from lack of sleep or sunshine. But it just seemed like all of a sudden he couldn’t stop giving me a hard time. Making fun of my taste in music (girly and twee), my tattoos (also girly and twee), and my longtime veganism (surprise! also girly and twee). Even worse, he wouldn’t stop calling me Angie. I hated it, despite his assertion that it was really more of an affectionate pet name. After laughing all of this off over and over again, I finally hit a breaking point. You know, saying something nice to me wouldn’t be some sort of defeat. When you really think about it, it would be a victory because you would make me feel good. And then I would want to be even nicer to you.
He laughed. You really want me to say nice things to you? Would that make you happy?
I shrugged my shoulders. Now I felt embarrassed.
Let’s go back about three years. You disappeared, you know? You stopped answering your phone and I felt a little worried. I don’t know, I guess because you kind of seemed alone after you moved down to Wicker Park. I went out to your apartment to check on you. Your roommate answered the door. He seemed thrilled to tell me that you had taken off for Mexico. Seriously fucking thrilled. I wondered if you would send me a letter or something, just saying “hey.” But my mailbox was always empty.
I tried to interrupt him, to tell him I was sorry, I didn’t know you cared, I just had to leave. But he put his hand over my mouth. Shhhhhhh, I’m telling a story.
Somewhere along the line I heard you were back and that you had married some guy you’d known for two weeks. Wow, everyone loved gossiping about that for a while. And then I ran into you. Well, sort of. I hadn’t seen you for a long time. Like maybe a year? It was probably your last fall in Chicago. I was waiting on the northbound side of the Damen station when I saw you get off the train on the opposite platform. I was going to yell your name, but I didn’t want to scare you. Before I knew it, I was exiting through the turnstiles and running down the stairs to the street below.
I don’t know why, but rather then just go over and talk to you, I followed you. For a few blocks. You dropped in a store to buy a bottle of champagne. You paused to look in the windows of the record store. Down the block you stopped to scribble something in your notebook. You were wearing this furry coat and one of those funny ballerina skirts you always wore then. You had all of these flowers pinned in your hair and it just seemed like you had been dropped out of some enchanted forest in the sky onto that street. Everyone stopped to look at you as you walked by, but you were oblivious. Just in your world not caring what anyone thought of you. And you looked so happy. And I thought, that’s the magical thing about Evangeline; she’s not the sort of girl that ever needs to hear nice things because she already knows them.
I couldn’t remember what happened next. Maybe I kissed him or maybe I finally confessed how much he had always meant to me. I could have admitted all of the times I had stared at my phone, trying to send him telepathic reminders to call me. But odds were high that I suddenly felt the need to run to the bathroom or go to the store for milk. I scoured my memory, digging into the darkest corners to figure out how I had reacted. I found nothing. The tape had run out just then.
I was making all sorts of mistakes at work: handing out the wrong change, bringing an XL customer a size S, and forgetting my alarm code. Sometimes I just hid in the bathroom, daydreaming. Someone has a case of Patrick Fever, a coworker teased. It was undeniable.
I had forgotten this feeling, but its familiarity made it less scary. And things were different this time around. He called me every day. He wanted to hear about my stupid job and the boring parties I seemed to attend every night. He issued bike maintenance advice and film suggestions. We talked about every pithy detail of our day-to-day existences. But we never talked about the future. We never discussed when we might see one another again. In the past, this uncertainty would have made me crazy. Even worse, I would have internalized this anxiety, blaming myself, when I wasn’t busy analyzing every conversation for evidence that he felt this way or that way. My craziness would have grown and grown until I did something foolish like sleep with one of his friends to prove some hazy point.
But I felt just fine. I had him in a comfortably distant way. Everything was perfect.
There was this day in the middle of the summer that must have been charmed. The planets had surely decided to align in all of the most favorable ways. My friends and I snuck into the pool of an apartment building. We laughed triumphantly as we paddled around in the over-chlorinated water, feeling as if we were getting away with the crime of the century. Later we ate quesadillas by a fountain downtown, watching children play in the water. The mere fact that it was completely acceptable to swim in a public fountain proved just how magical this city was. We finished the evening drinking beer along the waterfront. While we were sitting in this secret rock formation that we called The Cave, a family of otters swam right up to us! Like, less than six inches away. It was just too much for my heart to handle. I was really, truly crossing back to the land of the living.
When I finally crawled into my bed, I knew that I had to share my day with Patrick. He listened patiently as I raved on and on about how amazing my life had become. It wasn’t just that day; it was everything. And he was part of that! I was speaking in exclamation points!
He interrupted me. Listen, I’ve been thinking and thinking, and well, this is what I’ve decided: I love you, Evangeline. It’s been a long time coming, I guess. And listen, we’re both damaged and nervous, but I think we should just do this. I’m going to move to Portland.
I dropped the phone, stood up, and started jumping on my bed. This was great, right? Hadn’t I always wanted this, even years ago? I had, right? Right?
If he moved across the country for me, I would be forever indebted to him. I would have to take care of him for the rest of his life. I would be an indentured servant. A slave. He probably would have a difficult time finding work so I would be supporting both of us with my shitty retail job. And then I would also be cooking his dinner and folding his laundry. Performing half-hearted blow jobs so I could get some sleep afterwards. He would probably drink too much. We would fight. He would drag me around by my hair. I would fantasize about fucking my coworkers and he would be able to tell by looking in my eyes. We would have some sort of final showdown which would result in his storming out of the house. He would be too upset to look both ways before he crossed the street. And he would be struck by a huge car driven by a nervous teenager with a newly minted license. He would lie in the street bleeding and the last think he would think forever was “I never should have moved to Portland, Oregon.”
That is why I had to push the IGNORE button every time he called.
That was why I had to finally seal my phone in a plastic sandwich bag and bury in a potted plant on my porch. So that I wouldn’t be tempted to call him back.
It was for the best.
It was my noblest sacrifice so far.
My dead husband came to me and asked me to take a walk with him. It’s so late at night, I don’t feel safe just strolling around like this. I gestured at my sheer nightgown.
He laughed at me. This from the crazy girl who walked all the way home from the meatpacking district at three AM in her bare feet. Bare because she had lost her shoes at the party.
I couldn’t deny that, but I also didn’t know how he knew about it. My official story had always been that I had lost him at the party so I had decided to take a cab home. I had never mentioned the shoes because I was still embarrassed about it.
Oh yes, I always know a lot more than you think. Hurry up and get yourself ready because I don’t have a lot of time. He gestured toward the faint halo of the sun appearing at the horizon. You have to wake up for work soon.
We walked all the way to the river in silence. Forty-nine blocks. I waited for him to tell me something important. Or encouraging. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, so I was hoping for a huge declaration. Or a hint of my future. But he just stared ahead, walking faster and faster, grabbing my arm to steer me around fire hydrants and potholes.
When we finally reached the water, I started to tell him about the family of otters I had seen in that very spot. He shook his head. I have to go now. You know what you have to do. Use the walk home to think about it.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? My scream reverberated against the proper city-sized tall buildings on the downtown side of the river. You brought me down here just so I could march up Stark in my bathrobe in broad fucking daylight? This is my new life and you don’t get to ruin this one. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate you sometimes?
But he didn’t hear any of this because he was already gone. I sprawled out on the ground and just screamed and screamed until it was time to get up for work.
The post office closest to work was about fifteen blocks out of the way and it only sold stamps in booklets of ten. The clerk insisted that sheets of twenty did not exist and never had. But I was skeptical because I had sent a lot of postcards in my twenty-seven years of existence.
And now I was mailing one to Chicago every single day–except Sunday, when I wrote a whole damn letter–which meant I was using seven stamps per week…which then meant that I had to go to the post office about every eleven days.. So basically I was biking 30 blocks out of my way every 1.5 weeks. And then there were the side trips to Powell’s to buy more postcards. Or a quick stop at Utrecht to buy more Uniball pens because ballpoint and pencil hurt my wrist. I laid in bed at night trying to calculate the mileage I was racking up. Numbers and equations covered the backs of my eyelids as I wondered just how far I would ride to make Patrick forgive me.
The postcards were almost always the same. Dear Patrick, I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I miss you. Love, Evangeline
The letters dug a bit deeper. I was confused. Becoming a widow has made me afraid of everything.
I made promises. I will see a therapist. I will wait for you forever. I will be whatever you want.
I confessed. I dream about you every night.
I could only fall asleep by imagining Patrick opening his mailbox. The tiny gold key sliding into the lock. The combination of turning and wiggling to get the steel door to pop open. And then his long fingers retrieving that day’s delivery from Portland.
It had been 93 days. 13 letters. 80 postcards. I would not accept defeat.