There was this girl I used to know, her name was Lisa. She came to me out of nowhere really. I wrote into a local pen pal exchange and after a few failed attempts at finding a connection I found her, and I think I loved her more purely than anybody I have ever loved. It wasn’t a trashy, vulgar, sexual hunger type of love where I wanted to rip her clothes off and throw our bodies together. It was an unadulterated love of her personality and the person I believed she was. I was moved enough to start writing for her. I didn’t realize I was actually writing until she told me how she was in tears while reading it. She was the most elegant muse in that I didn’t realize what she brought forward in me until she told me how much it moved her.
We started off writing to each other about anything in our lives. She told me about her sister and her parents. I told her about my family and she took an interest in the amount of kids I had. Three at the time.
“How can you possibly have any sanity left with so many?” She was baffled as to how someone could raise more than two children, as a lot of non-parents were.
“It’s not easy but it’s not really hard either. I think part of it is that you need to keep a sense of self among the sense of family. You need to remember that you’re still a person and not just a parent.”
I never really understood the mess that was always made when I would tell people how many kids I had. Even now, with four, they gasp and tell me they couldn’t possibly do it.
“But how do you ever have any peace? Any time for just you? How do you make it through when they’re all fighting and bickering with each other about a toy that doesn’t do anything?” I felt as if she were interviewing me. She sounded genuinely curious.
“Here’s an example of what it’s like. All day there is noise and busyness and you’ve got to be places and you can’t leave them at home because they’re too little. By the end of the day you’re exhausted. When the weekend comes around you finally get to relax and make yourself something to eat, ice cream or some kind of dessert. You’ve been looking forward to it, and when you sit down the 2-year-old waddles her way into the living room. She’s wearing pajamas and her hair is hanging down neatly after being given a bath. She walks over and stands next to you and looks at your dessert and points at it. Her little digit gets so close you think she’s going to push her finger right into it so you pull it back. She looks up at you with a smile and her finger is still pointing. She has the biggest brown eyes you’ve ever seen on a kid and her smile is beaming. She doesn’t even have to ask and you don’t need her to. You give her the first bite. You alternate back and forth and then make sure she gets the last bite too. All done! You’ll exclaim and get a hug and a kiss before she runs to her room for the bedtime ritual. Hearing that I’m sure someone without kids can’t quite feel the connection but I’m sure most parents can. To see that little smile makes it all worth it. Everything before and everything after.”
“No no,” she would reply, “I don’t know what you mean but I hope someday I can.”
The more we talked the more I enjoyed her. She was remarkably intelligent. So much so that she made me feel inferior and I wondered why she continued on with me. She spoke french and was well read. She had a cultural awareness of places beyond here that the overall community we lived in were oblivious to. We would commiserate about the quaint small town feel and how the locals reveled in it. We mocked the way everything felt decades older than it was or how mediocrity and subtle ignorance was considered charming.
Lisa shared a story with me once that defined the place we lived. At the time she had recently moved here with her boyfriend from Montreal. She was getting acquainted in her hamlet-sized community and joined a local reading group. The majority of the women were elderly white women but Lisa didn’t mind, even if she was a twenty-four year old asian girl. Plus she enjoyed discussing books and thought a differing perspective might be interesting. After the first meeting she hung around to say hello to everyone individually, as a proper socialite she found being courteous very important.
One of the last women to introduce herself exchanged a few pleasantries then asked her, “so, where are you from?”
“Quebec,” she said. Lisa instantly knew what was going on but she liked to play a game when these sort of questions were asked.
“No, sorry,” said the woman as if Lisa had misunderstood her question, “where do you come from originally?”
Again Lisa spoke with no confusion in her answer, “Montreal.”
The woman tried again, “But, where were you born?”
“St Mary’s Hospital in Montreal,” Lisa replied while trying to hold back a smirk.
The woman went a bit further and asked, “but what is your nationality?”
“I’m Canadian,” was the final answer needed for the woman to give up in a slight huff and leave a triumphant Lisa in peace.
She had previously told me that she was Filipino. I hadn’t asked but we had known each other for a few weeks and had exchanged pictures and she admired that I refrained from the typical interrogation tactics she experienced. She wasn’t offended as much as surprised at the forwardness of some people. I figured she was Filipino being from a highly Filipino populated town in California. She looked it but I never asked because I didn’t really care, I was preoccupied with enjoying her company.
I never met her boyfriend. She never met my wife either. We would always meet at peculiar times, typically the time when a pair was committing adultery even though our conversations never revolved around sex. We met at lunch, late in the evening, at a movie, whenever our partners were out of town. I can’t tell if it was on purpose for both our parts or if it was just happenstance. I always think that we didn’t want to share this little piece of whatever it was with our significant others. It was our private friendship and left us to be the only two people left in the world and we liked it that way.
Sometimes my lunch hour would open up and I’d ask her if she wanted to meet at subway and we would savor the smell of the fresh baked bread. Or I would tell her I was going to a movie and hated going alone but my wife didn’t want to see it and she would tell me she would meet me there. On random Saturday afternoons she would ask what I was doing. If my wife was out or busy I’d tell her, “nothing.”
She’d invite me over to binge a show on Netflix. I would throw popcorn across the room into her mouth as she was draped over the love-seat and I was sprawled out on the couch. We’d follow the torrid goings-on of the Underwoods or a thrilling movie we had both already watched so we could talk and not feel like we’re missing that much, but still shush each other at our favorite parts before re-enacting them in a melodramatic way.
She even called me once out of the blue. It wasn’t completely unexpected because I had told her my wife was going out to dinner with a friend. Lisa asked why I wasn’t going. I told her I wasn’t invited and was relieved actually. The entire dinner was going to be my wife’s friend’s annoying stories about her family. I was happily spared.
She called to ask what I was doing. An innocent question but I was flattered she wanted to know. We had never talked on the phone and only met a handful of times. Most of our communication was done through email. We had told each other early on that we were pen pals first and foremost and we were not to disparage that sacred relationship. We traded phone numbers in case of emergency due to a story she had heard on the news and had a panic.
A woman in our community had stabbed her husband for perceived infidelity. She didn’t think it would be me but couldn’t help but wonder as we only emailed every few days to every other week and couldn’t wait that long to find out if I was in the hospital with stab wounds.
She asked for my number and said, “I will only use this if I think you have been stabbed, shot or maimed in someway.”
“I’m flattered you would be so concerned about my well being.”
“Don’t be. If you committed adultery then you deserve what you got.”
“But it wasn’t me.”
“Doesn’t matter. I thought it was and that is the only reference I have to this situation so I can’t imagine it happening for any other reason.”
“You’re a strange bird, you know that Lisa?”
“Don’t at me, bro”
This preceded one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had with another person. We talked for about an hour and only hung up because my wife texted me that she was on her way home. Lisa said she was bored and in bed but didn’t feel like typing so she gave me a call before nodding off.
“So, you never answered. What are you up to?” She hated having a question asked and not answered.
“I told you. Nothing much.”
“That isn’t an answer. Nobody is ever doing nothing. Don’t ever say that. You’re doing something and I want to know what it is.”
“You’re lucky I’m not gross or you would be getting a terrible answer,” I was smiling when I said this and she could tell.
“Stop smiling. You’re not gross and I know that so I was never in danger of you saying anything of the sort.”
“Fine. You win. Again. I’m just watching TV. And before you ask what it’s some weird show on Netflix that I can’t even begin to describe.”
“Now was that so hard?” She often would ask a question and not give me a chance to reply. Obviously rhetorical but a bit unfair considering her twitchy-ness in not having her own answered. I never minded though.
“Absolutely painful, actually.”
“Shut up. I wanted to tell you about an article I was reading called, The Death Switch.” It’s a service that you sign up for that requires validation every so many weeks, days, hours, whatever. If this validation is not confirmed in that time frame then the death switch is thrown and a series of events take place.”
She began talking as if she was reading directly from an article but spoke without hesitation or pause as if it were memorized. It was an experience to witness even if it was only audible.
“The gimmick that is typically used in movies or television shows as a safety device for a villain has been put into real world applications. You can now send a loved one an email after you’ve passed or set milestone letters to be sent to your children throughout their life if something terrible happens to you. You can plan your death when you’re alive and speak from beyond the grave.”
There was monotony in her voice, but purposely put there. It was a deep and emotional topic but all she was doing was sharing the information. She found it fascinating but didn’t want to sway me one way or the other. She wanted me to find it as interesting as she did and pull that excitement out of me that she felt when she read or experienced something she loved.
She continued, “it also allows you to clean up your digital footprint. You enter all of your accounts and subscriptions and everything you’ve signed up for that you can remember. You give the death switch access to all of this and upon your death, or lack of validation, the wheels are put in motion to actively close every account attached. Your facebook will be set to an in memorium account. Your twitter and and instagrams will be closed or deleted. Your emails will be closed or have a forwarded reply set to let them know of your passing. It would be your own personal notification service to let all current and future interactions know of your passing.”
Lisa was right too, she had me riveted. An idea that seems somewhat dull in passing had me enthralled. I didn’t know if it was the narrator or the topic but I could have listened to her go on and on about it. She didn’t though. She nearly jumped from one topic to the next that seemingly had nothing to do with the other. It was as if the article she was telling me about was a lead in to what she really wanted to say and she needed a running start.
“Have we ever discussed lucid dreaming?” she asked.
“I can’t remember if we have or haven’t yet. It’s where you’re aware that you’re dreaming and in some instances you’re able to control what’s happening.”
I was aware of lucid dreaming. Not that we had discussed it before but I had run across it at random and thought I might have experienced it once or twice, taking over my dreams and controlling them for a few blinking moments. The idea that she presented was beyond anything I had ever thought though. It sounded like both definitions of the word dream.
She continued, “I thought it’d be really neat if we were able to visit other this way and how awesome it would be if the both of us could hang out there on the other side. It’s really lame and insipid but I have this weird fantasy where you and me are having a picnic and I made you tacos because I know you love Mexican food but you’re berating me because it’s the most un-picnic food ever. Fine, more for me then! I would say while trying to eat all the soggy shell pieces falling apart and its subsequent innards with my fingers. You’re so disgusting, you’d say watching me as i’m attempting the most inelegant of feats. Naw, you love it, I laugh and throw a tomato bit at you and catching me by surprise, you deftly catch it in your mouth and smile big daring me not to be impressed. And then we high five and your hands get greasy too by consequence. Ha, you’ve got the taco cooties now too, so you might as well! And then we keep on eating messy tacos from my bottomless picnic basket until we can’t move and lay down and watch the clouds until we fall asleep again back to the waking world.”
It’s a funny thing when someone tells you something you never knew you wanted, but once they do it turns out to be the only thing you can think of until you have it. It was at this moment I realized that I actually had feelings for her and at the same time she might feel the same. She made me happy when I saw her, or heard her voice or read her words. I always smiled but my smile for her was unique from the one I gave anyone else. The curves and the width and the depth of it pushed beyond politeness and even fondness. If there ever was such a thing as a soul mate she was it for me. But like all good things this had to end too.
I’d like to say that there was a big emotional release that came before the end of our relationship. I wish I had an epiphany and realized the depth of the feelings I had during all those times we were together and I didn’t want it to end because of how I felt about her. I want to be able to remember that I made an impassioned plea to her and she stood there with tears streaming down her face as I tried to tell her that I love her, that I wanted us to take a chance on each other and be together. I wish I could say that we shared a moment that could only be alive in Hollywood and that she told me she loved me too but she couldn’t leave her boyfriend. Maybe he just proposed to her. Maybe she loved him too much to hurt him. She would have told me that I couldn’t leave my family. That we were perfect together but we met at the wrong time in this world. I want to say that this was a gut-wrenching moment in each of our lives but we were able to let it come to a close. That we were able to hold each other tightly and say we loved each other for the first and the last time and have it be done.
I’d love to say all of that but it didn’t happen that way. It happened in the most empty way possible. There was no closure, no final goodbye. There was nothing said between us. A week or so after calling me for the first time she went away with her boyfriend to see their family for Thanksgiving. When she was due back I never heard from her. I messaged her and emailed her and let her know I was hoping she was okay and still she said nothing. No response of any kind. She just disappeared. I worried something happened to her but I didn’t hear anything on the news of anyone local being hurt. I looked at her hometown and there was nothing. Its as if she vanished. I emailed her again and asked if she was okay and a week after that email she responded. She said she was sorry for taking so long to get back to me. She prattled on about a few of the goings-on in her life but didn’t address where she had been. I didn’t pry because if she didn’t feel like telling me who am I to tell her she has to. But that was it. I never heard from her again.
I could have called her or driven by her house. I could have went to where she worked to see if she was still there, but I didn’t. Part of me doesn’t know why, the other part of me argues that I was scared to find out. I decided to revert our friendship back to its core and our pen pal exchange. I felt this was safe for both of us. Really I was just scared at what it meant that she wasn’t there anymore and why. It’s amazing what fear keeps us from.
I responded to her last email a dozen times over the next year and with each press of the ‘send’ button the ache grew a little more dull and the emptiness felt a little further away. I held out hope though. If something amazing happened that I would have shared with her I’d send her an email in hopes that it would find her. In fits of sadness and anger I deleted every message that had anything to do with her.
One time I deleted everything in my inbox that I had saved. I saved them because I enjoyed looking back at our conversations, even when we still were talking. I’d send her a quote from one of our emails when we first met. She thought it was adorably sentimental. I was depressed and lonely and deleted all of them because I couldn’t stand looking at them every time I logged in to see if she wrote me. Another time I remembered that all of my sent mail was saved and I looked through everything I had ever sent her and grew bitter with each message. I deleted all of them too. I wanted to scrub her out of my life.
Finally I found two emails that she sent that I had saved in a folder. One was a picture of her and her sister. Lisa always called her sister a mermaid because she was the most beautiful person she ever knew. Lisa’s sister was better at everything they ever did together according to her. She was taller and stronger. She was smarter and possessed more wit.
“That’s false,” I said after she spilled her list of inadequacies, “there isn’t any way someone can be more anything than you. I can’t fathom it.”
I paused for a moment and then started up again before she could present her rebuttal, “except the height thing. That I can believe. You’re probably the shortest person I know and I have a 2 year old.” She threw an ‘Elaine Benes’ shove at me and yelled “Get-Out!” then told me to shut up.
The other email was a picture of just her. It was early on and she wanted to send me a picture of what she looked like. She took it just for me and even gave me a slightly mocking ‘duck lips’ face to ensure I’d love it. My first thought was how pretty she was and how she couldn’t possibly be real. My second thought was after I sent her my picture she would most likely de-escalate our contact until it became nothing. That didn’t happen though. The beautiful girl continued to talk to me because it wasn’t about what we looked like but that we had so much fun talking to each other.
Looking at the picture and thinking of her made me mad but mostly confused. I didn’t understand why this would have happened. If we were so great with each other why did she abandon me with no trace? No goodbye. Nothing. I didn’t delete the pictures though and they are still in my email right now. I hold onto them with the thought that I wanted to have something heartbreaking that would eat at me years after it happened and I got that, it just wasn’t the kind of heartbreaking moment I was expecting. I knew that my love for her wouldn’t die because of that. She left me as magically as she came to me and maybe that was how it had to happen. We knew each other for a short period of time and I don’t regret any of it. A love like ours always finds tragedy, it goes out in the middle of the night to search for it. Maybe it was even better this way because if she didn’t feel the same it would have been even more crushing.
I still love her though and I foolishly hold onto the hope that maybe someday she will come back. Maybe she’ll message me and tell me a story that she left because she couldn’t continue on like we were. She knew we could never be together and she needed to be with her boyfriend, now her husband. That they had a child together, surprisingly because she always told me she would be a terrible mother. That her child came up to her the other day and looked at her and she remembered the look I once described. That she remembered me and a flood of other memories came pouring back. She couldn’t help but email me and ask how I was and we would continue on like nothing happened. Both of us now more mature and able to handle an adult relationship between a married man and a married woman with separate partners. Maybe we could end up loving each other again in a more appropriate way, or maybe we’ll just have the time we spent together and the time we knew each other and that would be enough.