She’s gone now. As in dead. I hadn’t seen her in years. I’ve bought three houses and sold two and cleaned my fridge maybe two hundred times and shaken out clean sheets over two different quilted mattresses about seven hundred times. I’ve made love over and over and slipped my head into the laps of a parade of women. And still. She still sits in my lap with a cardboard book of matches, lighting one after another and giggling when the cardboard strips fizzle. She still sits in my heart, building bonfires and pumping the billows. I smell like sulphur and have spent years in the burn unit.
I met her in an economics class when I was doing my undergrad. It was the second time I’d taken the class. I failed the first time and cried for two days. I was ashamed when I walked in to class the next semester. Same classroom, same teacher, same anxiety. I sat beside her and we were assigned a project together. We made plans to meet at the library.
She was just biding her time, waiting until something came along that was a joy. She kept waiting for joy. I told her over and over that that wasn’t how joy worked. Joy wasn’t going to come along and sit in her lap, letting loose a bouquet of balloons into a sky washed with a paintbrush dipped in blue. Joy didn’t work that way. I didn’t realize that that was exactly how joy worked for her. Moments of joy strung like pearls until the thread snapped and so did her neck. I still find pearls that have rolled into corners or under the bed. They are warm in my palm and in the beginning, I swallowed them with a moutful of wine, but I don’t do that any longer.
She didn’t listen to me and my grand philosophies on joy. She would hold my cheek in her hand and laugh at me, saying, “My Monica, my love. What do you know about joy? You run from joy like it will burn you. You are too afraid of everything to really know anything.” Her eyes snapped their fingers at me when she laughed. I’m sure her eyes snapped their fingers for everyone. I didn’t know that then. I thought it was for me and when her eyes snapped and she called me her love, I curled into her lap like a pill bug and kissed her neck and pushed myself all the way inside her. We were Russian dolls, and I made a nest for myself in her body. I did not run from joy. She was wrong. I was serious, but joy was serious, too. You had to move inside of joy or else it would move on. I moved in and it moved on anyway.
I was desperately in love with her. Desperate love is unique and it is a drug that will get you higher than any chemical out there. I wanted to name each curl that sprung from her scalp. I wanted to give them middle names and throw each curl a bat mitzvah and a confirmation party and a sweet sixteen. I was at all times twisting garlands of paper streamers and breaking broccoli trees into manageable little bushes to roost beside bowls of dip. She was the party of my life.
This is what happened. I can tell you exactly what happened. She said, “Do you want to go to a yoga class with me? It’s on Sunday afternoon. You don’t have to pay. Just bring like a can of soup or something.” And so I did. I showed up with a can of beef barley and I took the class and bent over and twisted and pulled my toe over my head and then we settled onto our backs for a meditation at the end of class. Hear me: I did not love her before this. She did not twist my heart. She did not sweat from my temples. She did not shake the heady perfume of lilacs into the air. Until we went to yoga. And we lay supine beside one another, and I looked over at her. It was a stolen look. A look pushed down into my pocket. She will never know how many times i pulled it out. Tears rolled over her cheeks. I will never, never forget how the tears looked skimming over her cresting cheekbones, fighting to top the swell of her cheek. I fell in love right at that exact moment. How many people know the moment I fell In love. I knew the moment I saw tears riding her cheekbones.