“You keep doing that!” he teased me.
“Okay, okay, it was a mistake. let’s move on.”
“The freeway is clearing up so I should be there in about a half hour, I think. then I think I’ll move in, in about four months. We will get engaged a year after that and married within a year after that. I think we should have time alone together before we have kids, don’t you? so maybe first kid at thirty. second at thirty-three or thirty-four. I’m fine to have three if we have the money to do it comfortably. so, with your biological clock, let’s try for the third before thirty-eight or so. kids will be out of the house and in college around fiftyfive. We can be empty-nested and retired by sixty-five. travel around the world a few times. I mean, sixty is the new forty, you know? We’ll still be spry and lively. Back from world travel by seventy, which gives us about ten to twenty years to spend time with our grandkids.you can garden, and I’ll start sculpting or something. dead by ninety. sound good?”
I laughed. “you didn’t account for your midlife crisis at forty-five, where you leave me and the kids and start dating a young preschool teacher with a big boobs and a small ass.”
“Nah,” he said. “that won’t happen.”
“Oh no?” I dared him.
“Nope. I found the one. those guys that do that, they didn’t find the one.”
He was cocksure and arrogant, thinking he knew better, thinking he could see the future. But I loved the future he saw and I loved the way he loved me.
“Come home,” I said. “er, here. Come here.”
Ben laughed. “you have to stop doing that. according to the plan, I don’t move in for another four months.”
I lie in bed all morning until ana shows up, and she tells me to get dressed because we are going to the bookstore.
When we walk into the behemoth of a store, I follow ana along as she picks up books and puts them down. she seems to have a purpose, but I don’t much care what it is. I leave her side and walk toward the young adult section. there I find a trio of teenage girls, laughing and teasing each other about boys and hairstyles.
I run my fingers over the books, looking for titles that I now own on my own bookshelf, their pages torn and softened by Ben’s fingers. I look for names I recognize because I got them from work and brought them home to him. I never guessed correctly, the books he’d want to read. I don’t think I ever got one right. I didn’t have enough time to learn what he liked. I would have learned though. I would have studied it and learned it and figured out who he was as a book reader if I’d just been given enough time.
Ana finds me eventually. By the time she has, I’m sitting on the floor next to the e-F-G section. I stand up and look at the book in her hand. “What’d ya get?”
“It’s for you. and I already paid for it,” she says. she hands it to me.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan didion.
“Are you f**king kidding me?” I say, too loudly for a bookstore, even though I realize that’s not the same as a library.
“No,” she says. she’s taken aback by my reaction. Hell, so am I. “I just thought, you know, it’s a really popular book. there are people out there going through what you are going through.”
“You mean there are millions of misguided friends buying books for their sad friends.”
She ignores me.
“There are other people that have gotten through this, and I wanted you to know that if all those stupid people can do it, you, elsie porter, can do it. you are so strong and so smart, elsie. I just wanted you to have something in your hand you could hold and know that you can do this.”
“Elsie ross,” I say, correcting her. “My name is elsie ross.”
“I know,” she says, defensively.
“You called me elsie porter.”
“It was an accident.”
I stare at her and then get back to the issue at hand.
“There is no getting through this, ana. But you won’t ever understand that because you’ve never loved someone like I love him.”
“I know that,” she says.
“No one could. Certainly not a goddamn book.”
My job is books, information. I based my career on the idea that words on pages bound and packaged help people.that they make people grow, they show people lives they’ve never seen. they teach people about themselves, and here I am, at my lowest point, rejecting help from the one place I always believed it would be.
I walk out of the bookstore.
I walk down streets with cracked pavement. I walk down neighborhood roads. I walk through large intersections. I wait at stoplights. I press the walk signals over and over. I avoid eye contact with everyone in front of me. I get hot. I take my sweatshirt off. I get cold and I put it back on. I cross through traffic jams by weaving in between cars, and somehow, I find myself in front of my house, looking up at my door. I don’t know how long I’ve been walking. I don’t know how long I’ve been crying.
I see something at my door, and from a distance I think maybe it’s the marriage certificate. I run up to it and am disappointed to see it’s just the Los Angeles Times. I pick it up, aware of the fact that I have been so unaware of current events since the current event. the first thing I notice is the date. It’s the twenty-eighth. that can’t be right. But it has to be. I highly doubt that the L.A. Times printed the date wrong and I’m the only genius that figured it out. all of the days have been blurring together, bleeding from one into the next. I didn’t realize it was so late in the month. I should have gotten my period days ago.
you’re a goddess,” he said to me, as he lay down on his back, sweaty in all the right places, his hair a tangled mess, his breathing still staccato.
“Stop it,” I said. I was light-headed and my body felt hollow. I could feel sweat on my hairline and upper lip. I tried to wipe it away, but it kept coming back. I turned toward him, my body naked next to his. My nerves were overly sensitive. I could feel every place his body was touching mine, no matter how subtle or irrelevant.
It was quiet for a moment, and he grabbed my hand. He pulled our clasped hands onto his bare stomach and we rested them there. I closed my eyes and drifted off. I was awakened by his snoring and realized that we should not be napping in the middle of the day. We had movies to see and plans to get dinner. I got up and cracked a window. a chill quickly took over what was a muggy room.
“ugh, why did you do that?” Ben groaned. I stood next to him and told him we had been sleeping long enough. He pulled me back down to the bed. He put his head on my chest as he tried to wake up.
“I have to say, I am really glad you went on that nuvaring thing,” he said, once he was alert. “I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just fall asleep after.”
I laughed. so much of Ben’s happiness was based on his love for sleep. “It’s not in the way or anything?” I asked.
He shook his head. “no, not at all. It’s like it’s not there, honestly.”
“Right,” I said. “But it is there.”
“You saying that just made me paranoid.”
“You can’t feel it at all? What if it fell out or something?”
Ben moved his body upright. “How would it fall out? that’s absurd.”
He was right. that was absurd. But I wanted to check just in case.
I walked to the bathroom and shut the door. I sat down and braced myself but . . . it wasn’t there.
My heart started beating rapidly and my face began to turn hot.the whole room felt hot. My hands were shaking. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. and soon enough, Ben knocked on the bathroom door.
“uh . . .”
“Can I come in?”
I opened the door, and he saw my face. He knew.
He nodded. “It’s gone, right? It’s not there?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know how! I don’t understand how.” I felt like I had ruined both of our lives. I started crying.