That was the year that whenever I thought of time it looked like a sparkler, this close to burning out, the future no more than a plain wire stem.

It made it hard to wake up some mornings but when I did it was bright and I walked around a smirking Mona Lisa with braces; familiar men wanted to know what had changed, and strange men also wanted to know my secret. I shook my head and tightened my grinning lips.

I had always been a keeper and collector of secrets but when I grew wise to men the whole nature of secrets changed. I had begun to catalog words and gestures and most of all smells. It was better this way: I kept these thing like Mary and pondered them not in my heart but in a top secret notebook kept shut with rubber bands, teeming with the details of my adolescence, provocative at first but not, if I remember correctly, interesting to anyone but me.

I had a coded alphabet: A was the set of blonde spidery eyelashes and surgeon's hands. F was my favorite word. J looked at me through a veil of onion-cutting tears and Z was the first real pair of eyes I ever noticed, the first whose gaze affected my whole body, set off all my alarms.

If I smiled too much, I am sure that I also appeared dull and passionless, because none of these sweet nothings escaped my notebook. At the time it seemed a practical response. I could have those men in the secret, sticker-clad pages of my notebook, play out every one of my fantasies in purple ink, delighted both at the men and the words they had inspired. I could slap the book shut then and walk around stupid secretly grinning, disheveled and glowing, and no one was the wiser.

When the sparkler finally burnt to wire I was forced to consider the actual over the theoretical, these men who at least were willing to wrap their arms around me, and allow at least some of them to do it. I had correctly guessed that this would be the hard part. Not that it takes a genius of any sort, but imagine that for years you have been reading books and taking tests about something like flipping a burger or making change at a fast-food restaurant; then pin on your name tag, don your hairnet and discover that not only have you overthought it all these years, you have got it backwards and wrong, flattened every single cone on the driving test practice lane.

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