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For the next few days, I re-acquaint myself with outside life. I take walks; I buy flowers and fruit from the market. I read an entire book while sitting on a bench near the Sound, the horn from the ferryboats calling out and making me smile contentedly. I am a loony, recently released from the loony bin. How many of the people around me glanced my way and thought I was normal? How many of them did I perceive as normal when in reality they were Volas and Lyndees and Leroys? Life was creepy and people were creepier.

On the fifth day, after I take a brief call from Dr. Elgin, who is checking on me, I climb into my Jeep and drive the sixty-five miles to Leroy’s ponky dink town. I don’t want to get too close—not this time anyway—but I slow down as I pass his drive and notice his blue Nissan is no longer in the driveway. There is a minivan instead. As I watch, a mother unloads her family, wrangling bags of groceries behind them and through the front door. I lean my head back against the seat and close my eyes. Leroy had me institutionalized for long enough to sell his house and get out of town. Did he know I’d come for him again? Why didn’t he just kill me when he had the chance?

I meet Johan Veissler, a South African, who runs his uncle’s fishing business while his uncle recovers from a stroke. They are a family of salmon fishermen, my least favorite fish, though lately there is always an abundance of it in my freezer.

He’s a solid lover. My first. I didn’t tell him that as he explored my body for the first time. I watched his eyes as he looked at parts of me I used to be too ashamed to look at myself. I didn’t experience any pain, and it was all very surreal. Johan kissed me when it was over, and went to sleep. You can never tell the extent of what he is feeling on his face or in his body language. He’s meticulous in his care of me—always meeting my physical needs—asking, serving, believing. And while it is not necessary in the dealings of love, it is terribly romantic to have a man look at you like you’re the last glass of water on Earth. I wonder after my own heart. Why I need to be caressed and assured, fussed over and made to feel edible?

Perhaps because a man has already given me this gift, and I have the taste of it in my past. Perhaps television has worked hard to assure me that this is normal. But I will not be undone by the past. I will adapt. I will see love in the light of truth rather than experience. Only then will I strengthen my own self and speak fluently the language of love. That is my mantra. My saving grace.

It doesn’t work. I think only of Judah when Johan kisses me. Only of Judah when Johan touches my body. I think only of Judah when his body goes slack on top of mine, his passion spent. I think only of Judah, my elusive unicorn. Johan doesn’t notice my mental absence. He is too busy noticing the way I laugh, which he compliments often, the curvature of my legs, which he compliments often. He thinks I am strong, and thus beautiful because I am strong—like those two things go together simultaneously. A man who values muscle and capability in women, and who laughs at the debutantes who trot across the street in their designer heels. Sometimes I think he sees me more as a companion than a lover. I meet his need for camaraderie, and it leaves me feeling like less of a woman. But, still, we work, and he doesn’t ask questions.

We eat enormous amounts of seafood, and spend time on his uncle’s fishing boats. I don’t care for the water. It frightens me like it did my mother. But. I am too embarrassed to admit my fear—me, a woman who tied up a two hundred and twenty pound man and tortured him for two hours. So I join him on the water as often as my schedule will let me. I find myself making compromises in a relationship that I don’t much value. How weak I am. How much I itch to be of use, to not sit idly by on fishing boats with Johan’s arm draped across my shoulders, while the world swings by in a blur of color.

We’re now five months into our relationship of blackened salmon, grilled salmon, cedar plank salmon, mango salsa salmon, and salmon lemonaise. I think I’m going to go crazy.

Judah comes for a visit. Johan listens to me recount our friendship with a pull of tension between his bleached eyebrows. When I get to the part about Judah being in a wheelchair, he visibly relaxes. A wheelchair does not pose a threat to the tanned, rustic Johan. He insists on inviting Judah onto his boat for a day of fishing and grilling salmon in the Sound. When I text Judah about it, he expresses surprise.

Didn’t know you were seeing someone!

It’s pretty new, I lie.

I guess I should say that I can’t wait to meet him, but I’m not sure I mean it.

That part makes me smile. When I pick up Judah at the airport a few days later, he has a wide smile and a deep tan.

“Look at you! All California and shit.”

“And shit,” he says as I lean down to give him a hug. He’s wearing faded blue jeans and a tight white T-shirt. He doesn’t look like a poor boy from the Bone. He looks healthy and well. I help him into the front seat of my Jeep, my eyes scanning for any traces of my hobby, though I know there aren’t any. When his chair is folded into my trunk and we are on the road, I turn to him and find him already looking at me.

“You’re so different,” he says. “I can’t believe how much.”

“You too,” I say. “It’s like once you leave the Bone, you are free to develop into the person you were supposed to be.”

“Maybe,” he says thoughtfully. “Or maybe we just grew up, and it would have happened anyway.”

“Yeah right!” I tease. “Like you’d ever have a tan like that in the Bone!”


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