My on-again off-again boyfriend was travelling out west and sending me postcards from places with names like Deception Pass and Romantic Bluff. I wasn’t taking the hint.
Each afternoon I checked the mailbox hoping for word from him. I usually found disappointment: junk mail and forwarded magazine subscriptions and legal notices. I dutifully placed them in the recycling bin.
Occasionally, a postcard came, and then there was a different kind of disappointment. He said little: a capsule description of a landscape, a list of images, a skinny poem, no salutation, no sign-off, only his initial: B.
I was staying with my friend Ian. My life was a wreck—underemployed, terrible credit, deeply depressed—and Ian’s life wasn’t much better. We watched movies together and took turns running to the bodega to buy mac n’ cheese, canned soup, and alcohol. But then—miraculously according to some, weirdly according to me—Ian’s fortunes improved. My presence turned vaguely embarrassing.
Summer came. Ian was back to normal: working, running errands, and joining friends for beers. Bored and lonely, I stayed in the house, ordered things I didn’t need online, and sent flurries of text messages to busy friends. Slumped at my computer, I looked at acquaintances’ vacation photos and read their gripes and boasts.
I knew I’d hit an impasse and that I needed to move forward as people on TV and in books with long subtitles were constantly evangelizing, but I no longer felt certainty about the concept of progress. Velocity? Sure. Entropy? Absolutely. I could believe in speed and decay. There was a trajectory to them that had nothing to do with onward and forward movement.
B was quiet. Last I’d heard, he was in Boulder, Colorado.
Long ago, I’d stayed with my aunt outside Aspen where she lived in a roadside motel that had been refurbished and turned into apartments. On our biannual family visit, my mother had declared she needed a break from me and her sister had offered for me to stay the summer. I watched television late into the night and slept while my aunt was at work in the local hospital’s laundry. I picked up poetry chapbooks at a dusty store and punk albums a few doors down in a cramped room mottled with band stickers and defiant faces on posters. At night, we rode around in her bright red truck and shared joints. I didn’t want to return home to my mother and dreamed of leaving and being out on my own. A year later I would be and it wouldn’t be anything like those months.
I wanted to tell B all of that, but he hated talking on the phone and was unreliable on email and text.
In July, a postcard arrived with a poem:
nothing at all
& a stone
This, I thought, is what I get from a man I’ve been having an affair with for two years. I looked around Ian’s house at clothes strewn on the floor, dishes piled in the sink, and unopened mail cascading across the counter. I glanced at my phone where my life had shrunk down to a series of digital communications, many of them one-sided like messages in bottles.
Upstairs, I pulled all of B’s postcards from a drawer and tore them into a scramble of broken phrases. My mouth tasted sour. I threw the scraps in the bathroom trashcan and caught my frantic, almost unrecognizable reflection in the mirror. I would make a plan. It would involve phone calls with a bright and casual tone of voice, a bus or plane ticket, and the nagging idea that I might see that frantic face again in another mirror in another place. But most importantly, I would leave no forwarding address.