Sometime in winter.
That night, it was probably mild. I don’t remember my face feeling chapped, or my toes numbing, or my lips cracking into little bloody skin pieces dangling from my body, but I was also well cushioned and I was used to walks like this. I wore fleece leggings underneath fleece leggings underneath black pants, thick socks, black combat boots, a wool sweater with a long-sleeved fleece shirt underneath, the jacket my friend found in the psych ward of a hospital (it was, unironically, the warmest jacket I owned), and a black knit cap. I was still wearing my glasses sometimes. That night, I was wearing my glasses. I remember because I checked my reflection.
I set out on the same path I always set out to walk, up the river trail, around the dog park, down Spruce to about 22nd, hang a left, head back around Ben Franklin parkway, over the bridge, home. Unless of course, I had to go somewhere. If I had to go somewhere, I just went there on the most direct path, always on foot. Unless the path to get there and the direct path were of relatively equal distance, then I took the river trail to the most reasonable exit and entered the city that way. I didn’t necessarily care for the city city. I liked to watch people but I didn’t want to be watched. Sidewalks exposed me. The river trail hid me somewhat. I could pause and gaze at the water or the graffiti on 76, listen to the revving of insecure motorcyclists, or geese returning, or my own screaming panic trapped in my headphones with relatively little interference. That night, I had somewhere to be. A friend’s house maybe. That seemed wrong. I probably just wanted to cover new ground. I retract my first sentence. I set out on the same path I always do, but I change direction suddenly without warning, and am at the whim of each breeze.
I saw you that night. Well, I think I saw you. I was wearing a Penguin Books tote bag on my shoulder. Not that you care, but that’s the only thing that would have stuck out. I was humbling myself. I was shrinking myself. My spine was straight, but my looks were tucked away. I had been thinking of you again, and didn’t want to see you at all until I was better looking. I used walks to clear my head. Let me retract that also. I used walks to hypnotize myself into thinking I clear my head. Yes. I saw you in my peripheral. I saw a guy on a bike in my peripheral circling around a couple other men who were carrying instruments somewhere. You had an orange jacket and a helmet. I thought it was strange you were on the sidewalk on your bike. I feel like that is something you would lecture about. Then, I saw the people carrying instruments and thought he must be with them. Your jacket was light, that’s why I think it might have been a mild night. It was overcast and the entire city tensed with preparation for rain. I could feel the winter tremors everywhere I went; dysphoric and bleating. Rain meant ice. Rain meant snow. Rain meant another three days inside. Rain meant facing the front of your partner, and reassuring her. Rain meant stifled domestic chaos that ended in binge eating, binge watching, binge fighting. Rain meant a persistent gray that followed you everywhere. But I was bundled and did not look up. I looked down first. I kept walking and didn’t look back. I regret that often. Had I looked back, I could have seen whether or not it was you and maybe none of this would have happened.
I didn’t look back though. I looked down and then I looked to my right, and checked my reflection. I gave myself a stern look. Lips were set in a straight line that hadn’t moved up organically in the presence of others for a long time. I turned right at the next street almost immediately and went home. I think I went to bed at 8 pm that night. I was uninterested in getting high or finishing my prayers. I needed rest.
What I did do was think about you. As I was falling asleep, I thought about what it would feel like to have a second chance at something that already happened. I just thought of the idea. What if we could do things over? Actually do them over. Not, again, but completely over. I did not take off my clothes. I fell asleep within fifteen minutes, fetal, optimistic, longing. I woke up hours later in a fever, sweat pooled between my shoulder blades, 3:33 am, and realized the heat was on in every room and it was blazing fucking hot in here. I turned and let out an audible sigh. This is when I want someone else here. To deal with. I had to pee, probably, so I proceeded to get up and turn off all of the heaters and turn on my electric blanket. I’m sure my dreams were arousing, but I had no concern for that this 3:33 am. I took off every item of clothing, and crawled beneath my slow-heating blanket. I curled myself back into a fetal ball, pulled my pillow over my face, did not glance at the clock again, and thought of you in bed next to me, fingers slowly snaking over my abdomen to intertwine with mine, cautiously and without spoken affection.