"I've got to ask you something, and I want a clear, concise, honest response. Assuming, that is, that one is possible."


"Are you attracted to me anymore, and, if so, do you consider a romantic relationship, now or in the future, between the two of us?"

"Um. Not really."

"OK. That clarifies things."

I look up and down the empty hotel hallway in search of some excuse to walk away. Finding none, I take a seat next to her against the wall and wait for her friend to return from the bathroom. I think the X is beginning to wear off, but it's difficult to find the division between purely chemical depression and the emotional violence I'm experiencing as a result of our twenty-three second dialogue. I had composed my half of the exchange meticulously, even going so far as to write it down and consider the quality of language, but in retrospect it seems that I would've been better off had I spent the time on a worthwhile project.

We eventually leave the hallway and return to the hotel room we'd rented to crash in after the busted rave. I borrow her friend's notebook and spend the rest of the night writing a dozen poems inspired by the events of the past four years, while she crawls into bed with a nineteen year old who still lives with his parents. Occasionally I hear squeals and once she says, "I'll tell you when to stop. If I want you to." I don't turn around.

I drift through scenes in the past, from when I first met her, to the one year and one day we spent as a 'couple,' to the last few months. I remember how we saw one another only rarely in the recent past, and how we went sleepless in order to have more time to be with one another. I recall holding her on a sheetless mattress on the floor of her cousin's basement, running my hands through her hair at 5:30 in the morning as she purred, "I like it when you touch my hair. No one ever plays with my hair anymore."

"I love your hair," and I did. She would highlight her naturally pale brown every other month, leaving the bottom inch unbleached in order to give the impression of unmaintained color. Running my fingers through her fine hair and over her scalp I remembered why I fell for her in the first place.

I remember a letter she sent last summer, in which she told me that when we next met she'd give me the nude photographs of herself she had retrieved from her drug dealer ex-boyfriend. I didn't see her for a month, and she never mentioned the photos. I didn't know how to ask a girl I loved for the explicit pictures she'd promised me. Ann Landers never addresses this sort of thing.

I remember how she spent two nights and three days at my house, every night sleeping softly embraced in my arms, and every morning waking me with a smile. I remember how I kissed her late the first night after too much beer, and how she resisted, then said, "I don't think it'd be a good idea. I'd never see you. I'm putting up a fight, but I'm not fighting very hard." I thought she was looking for something, and I may have been right, but I thought she was looking for me, and I was wrong.

I still have the bracelet she made me the day after she half-heartedly rebuffed my affections. It broke, but I wear the beads on a chain around my neck and the pink plastic band lies in a shoebox at the back of my closet, along with a pair of sunglasses she left in my room and a sheet of tiny, blue stickers she must've forgotten to put back into her vintage lunchbox. The shoebox also holds all the pictures of her I've saved over the years, photos of her smiling in her work uniform, posing in the oversized T-shirt she wears to bed, pulling her jeans low to expose a face she drew on her stomach and the top of a brightly colored thong, and even the two school pictures she gave me when we met, complete with an amorous message she added to the back of one after we had been together for several months. I keep these things like talismans against the vain possibility of some future realization that I am, after all, the man she needs. I keep these things of hers, and she keeps a part of my mind filled with the knowledge that I may have known and loved the one woman I could have made a life with, but in a moment of confusion cast her aside.

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