I remember the slant of the sun on the wall.
I remember the honeycomb, just so, on the pancakes you made. The rest of the day, a blur.
Until that night…when I lay on the couch with your hand on my leg and let the tumult of many months well out of me and soak into your pillow. You didn’t say a word. And I did not know I needed that until you gave it.
I met you, when the strange blue jellyfish washed ashore and died on the beach—every June they did, up and down the Pacific coast. You saw me first, standing by the side of the road, the ocean to my right, a mountain to my left, the breeze whipping my bad haircut, and my clothes impractical for nature and the chill. You drove past, you told me later. I couldn’t understand how I’d attracted you in such a flash. But a fine breeze will stir up mystery in anyone.
As wedding guests gathered, we ran the trail the next day—you saw me wheezing, bent over, unable to. It was the poor sleep I’d gotten, the lower altitude. It was you, I wanted to say, watching, judging. When we came through that grass tunnel to the deserted beach, I was free. Put my arms up, my face to the light. I was still young back then; you could see it on me, the years ahead. I could feel you looking at me. I could tell you were plotting the next several hours.
The wedding, the reception, the walk up the hill in the dark in my high-heeled sandals. The lighthouse was a piercing carousel above us. Your hand on my back. Your arm helping me down. At the party later, your attention made me squeamish. It was the DJ I wanted. He spun the records, let me try out his headphones. I tried to talk to him, but it was too loud, and he was busy. My bad haircut is turning him off, I thought. There was a movie star there, married to the brother of the bride. Twenty-four hours before, I had stared at this brother as he walked through the door, kicked in the gut by his beauty. Now I stared at her, the movie star. She had bad hair, too; on her, it was charming. Everywhere, people were lovelier, better, more sophisticated than me.
But had they seen the jellyfish, I wondered. Had they touched reasonless death.
The night reached a climax. There were practicalities to consider. I sized you up. Shorter, balding, strange, you were. An architect. A snob wearing a suit from the seventies, with a cocktail I didn’t know. A marathon runner. A question mark.
You took me back to the place where you were staying, and you kissed me, and kept kissing me, and we strangled and bruised each other on the couch until morning when I finally got up, battered, high. A fork in me. All the differences between us. Would you scale them, I wondered. Did you even have to, with the life you lived and the friends you had and the places you went for fun.
You had asked me something: had I ever been engaged?
No, I laughed. One way, I noted. One tiny way I was more evolved.
It was those differences that incited me to change. To get another degree. To shore up my goals. Bolster my confidence. Spit-shine my mantle of woman desired, woman admired. To change meant getting rid of him first, the old him back at home, the him that had haunted me for years, the him that had never, ever worked out.
School beckoned. Another Pacific city.
Before I made my escape to the edge of the continent, I arrived on your doorstep. A last hurrah, they called it. We had a good night, then a bad one. You were not really available, it turned out. There was someone else. And your couch was as fine a place as any to tell me. I don’t want you, I didn’t say. What I needed was the friction of a human body without walls.
Because…I hadn’t let go of the old him back home, truth was. He’d let go of me. And I hadn’t bargained on your rejection. Didn’t know your secret moral dilemma.
The sun on the wall was orange in the low evening light. I closed my eyes. The music was Brazilian, a woman singing.
I cried. You listened, waited, sat with me.
We went to bed. You came in close, arm over my ribs. There was a reverence. Human pain is familiar, baked into our bones.
Weary gratitude lulled me to sleep.
In the morning, my flight home.
The sun on the wall was bright again, in a blue sky, above a green meadow. Someone painted that for me, you said.
Squaring off what would never be anything other than a time, a person, an experience shared. No bleeding edge to the soul, no dirty canvas revealing the rest of the story. Just the sun and the sky and the meadow in a square. And you standing there.
And me leaving. Forever, maybe…