I DON’T THINK OF YOU (UNTIL I DO)
Excerpted from I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do) from Future Tense Books
Once, in Middle School, I went into the city with my dad on a cultural excursion. Across the street from wherever we were—a restaurant or theater—a woman jumped out of her seat at an outdoor café. She screamed and ran, uninhibited and unencumbered despite very high heels, toward a man wearing a suit. She leapt into his arms and wrapped her legs around him. He said nothing, but he held her like that for a long time.
I had never seen anything like it before.
But it wasn’t the distance that felt so insurmountable, it was the time.
Months after driving away from your front door, I drove through a town I used to visit on elementary school field trips. Winter was supposed to be over, but the landscape was a familiar non-season brown and rain dotted the windshield. Kid Rock came on the rental car radio to sing an awful song about teenage sex. He expressed a desire to “see that girl again.” I suspected, though, that he didn’t want to see the woman that girl had become. He wanted to lust toward a version of her held hostage in his selective memory. At best he maybe wanted to find an old photograph, something that would confirm the perfect simplicity of his idealized illusion of the past. But possibly he meant he’d settle for hooking up with her daughter. The sentiment seemed like a smear on a spectrum from blindly nostalgic to generally repulsive.
And yet, I understood. I knew we were still tethered when I found an outmoded version of me still lingering. The one that invited myself into your apartment to watch you smoke cigarettes at your window as we both became awkward with excitement. We were tight-lipped and nervous. Our midwestern way of praying: please like me. The corners of your mouth twitching into a smile, you looked at me as if we were already irreversibly intertwined.
I’d still like to see you that way. And me too.
There were many things I did not say. Though it probably didn’t seem like it.
In Spring I went on a long walk to the nicer, farther grocery store. I saw a blackbird eating a snake and a child eating ice cream. Flowers filled the street. A cat ran into the sewer. Everything was retreating into something else. I wanted to show you everything, but you were unavailable and I couldn’t imagine you would care about something I didn’t want badly enough to keep to myself.
Perhaps I’d had it all backwards: perhaps I could only think of me when you did.
When I arrived at the store a woman sang, “you control my thoughts,” over the loudspeaker.
Months after using my camera, I developed a roll of film and found you on it. I thought of Sontag writing, “The sense of the unattainable that can be evoked by photographs feeds directly into the erotic feelings of those for whom desirability is increased by distance.” I felt obvious and became embarrassed.
But when I thought you were far enough away, and that I wasn’t pining or wistful, I examined your photo with a scientific closeness. I discovered your face was a punishment.
Because even if I could add this replica of you to the altar where I prayed for your nearness, I’d been warned against graven images, their ability to divert attention from the true object of worship, and I couldn’t allow anything to come between me and my fidelity. Not even you.