I rode the train past your stop tonight.I used it only once after the station opened again last winter, and I walked the wrong way for half a block before I realized I wasn't headed toward your building. Passing your stop is nothing new; every time I come home from downtown — at least once a week, on Thursdays.
"Cigar ets CHEAP," reads the flickering fluorescent Mobil sign outside the window of the El. My eyes normally glaze over the sign without thinking of the gas pumps or the convenience store, but I think of it now and decide that I would buy Doritos while you picked up a pack of Parliaments. (Which you only smoke when you're drinking. Which is every time I'm around you.) But you'd never shop somewhere with so much light; bodegas are more your style. I didn't look out the train window tonight; I know better than to let my mind go there anymore. I was watching the crying woman sitting across from me, backpack between her knees and a stuffed garment bag draped over her crossed arms.
The words come so easily when you come into my mind; it's turning them into sentences that I struggle with. I hate writing about you and admitting that you occupy my thoughts more than anyone else ever has. I hate the stone walkway into my courtyard and always thinking you'll be sitting there, waiting for me, when I round the corner, and I hate my headboard and the way it nudges the wall when I punctuate an especially poignant sentence. The sound, the jolt, makes me think of you. After a day like today, I want to melt into your chest and feel the breath return to my frame, inhaling your scent through stretched-out T-shirts that somehow never smelled like cigarettes, and just talk. If I was tired enough, the barrage of questions never felt like an assault.
You are a ghost; whenever I see a tall, shapeless man in a baseball cap, he is you, wearing the awful White Sox hat that I put on once, before you told me it had never been washed. (I nearly vomited.) I saw you the weekend before last in the park across the street. You, ghost; you were with two other guys at the baseball diamond, and your eyes followed me all the way to the bike rack. I spent the rest of the day fighting with myself over whether it was really you — and whether it even mattered. The fight ended with me crying. Big surprise, right? You always hated me crying, but I couldn't help it. Still can't.
We knew each other for less than a year. You were outside smoking when we first spoke. I never met your twin; you never met a single one of my friends. We never even took a photo together. The shoebox of mementos I allow even the shortest-lived boyfriends could simply be replaced by a makeshift rain gauge filled with my tears. And yet, I could write an entire book about you. I knew so little about you, but what I remember — the way the political cartoons you collected curled on the boards where you'd mounted them, the Chicago flag tattoo you wanted to get on your calf, the coffee-ringed mug you drank Pacifico from because you had a "thing" with cans and bottles, the living room window cracked open no matter how cold it was, your refusal to take buses because they cost a quarter extra to transfer — feels like it will be with me forever. This may be little more than middle-school melodrama in the grand scheme of things, but the pain of our failure is as fresh tonight as it was the first, second, third time we decided it just wasn't working out.
I could write. And write. And write. And it would make sense to no one but me.
You heard the fear in my voice exactly eleven months ago after someone came into my apartment, with a key I didn't know existed, while I slept; without asking any questions, you came right over and kept vigil while I tossed and turned. I took all the Frightened Rabbit off my iPod. But sometimes I want to hear our song just to cry for you again. I think they call that masochism. I guess I call it catharsis.