In the summer of Erica, she said things to me. Things like “If you don’t come visit me, I’m going to skin a cat and stick it in the mail.” But then, she’d send me envelopes so thick they’d qualify as packages. There were pencil drawings in there: of her cat taking a shit, or the cute boy who worked alongside her at the post office. Quick sketches of a bird in a nest, the eggs voluptuous and off-kilter. Her handwriting was like a thirteen year old boy’s, but sweeter, ragged, violent and loopy. The pencil would smudge off on my hands.
That summer I lived at home and would fling open the top stair’s harsh gate, run down my parents’ stairway, to at least two letters a week. This week she went on a date with the cashier from the Mexican restaurant. This week she was thinking about the year her dad died and how the doctor had told her brother he was “the man of the house now.” This week she was doodling elaborate animated shits with flies licking it up like drunk groupies.
This week she filled the entire envelope with glitter and wrote in criminally huge bubble letters HI SHTINKY BUTT and this week was going to be the one where I finally told her how I felt, which was: When I moved into your dorm in December, and you painted my nails, you held my fingers like sushi and I wanted to die. Which was: When you would get changed half-in-front-of-me, flinging vintage finds off your body like tossaway prayers, I was breaking up with my girlfriend in my head, I was holding a pillow against my chest like a door on top of a door. Which was: When I first saw you, my tongue became a rock and I swallowed it and now what I want to say lives at the bottom of my stomach, collecting moss, and your sexiness is a can-opener I swallowed which is of no use to the rock. Instead I said: OK, I’ll visit.
It was summer and I decided to break my long-term girlfriend into seventy very visible sharp pieces in order to figure out the wilderness between us, which I was sure you were aware of, which I was sure, once I pointed to the fire with a wildly lit branch you would nod, and maybe take off your pants, and maybe take me.
When you picked me up at the bus stop you shrieked like a disappearing witch, but there you were: blonde, frizzy curls swept up in a manic hello. Oo-la-la-silliness curving to greet me without a hug, but with affection. Me, I was rediscovering high heels that summer. Cherry-red pencil skirt up past my bellybutton, little white tank top, bloodied lips, careful cat eyes, newly cropped pixie cut: I was a spell.
The sky was stuffed with clouds. You opened the car door for me, because I had a suitcase, and we spilled inside into our usual electric cackling.
That night, at the foot of your bed, I told you. You laughed. You bounced on the bed, like a child. You asked me how I felt, still laughing, then apologized, “Oh my god, I’m sorry, I just don’t know what to say, how good for you, how great! ” and then because we didn’t know what to do I left to sleep on three thin blankets on the floor in the other room.
There is the moment when the envelope is not fully open yet, where the finger is snagged on something what the most jagged, toughest piece of the paper, or maybe the art trapped inside is lifting its voice and its voice is so raw it clings to a nail.
There is a poet from my birthland who once wrote “You gave me a letter opener made of silver. Real letters aren’t opened that way. They’re torn open, torn, torn. ”
When I woke the next morning, you were gone. I sat at your kitchen table writing affirmations in my red spiral-bound notebook. I am happy. I am loved. I have everything I need. It was a “practice,” as I liked to call it, but truer eyes would dub it a disease. The worm of positive thinking was squirming its way through my skull, into my gut, through my hands and poof, making me a believer. Everything would be okay, love was all and all was love, or something. The mirror told a different story. The mirror showed a fading girl. A girl who was missing meals and reading too much into tea leaves and gambling with hope. Hope is a kind of terror. The mirror showed a girl who’d paid a psychic $60 to tell her what she needed to hear, which was: Erica.
Late afternoon you walked into the kitchen. Sunlight was everywhere, especially your curls. I put the pen down. You pulled up a chair. “I can’t,” you began, against what the psychic had said; you talked and kept talking until my blood turned a cool tequila, clear with fermented hope. You riddled the air with strange facts: “I even called my ex-boyfriend to talk about it; Theo would know what to do,” you said, for seemingly no reason.
Maybe I was a letter. Maybe God was made entirely of hands. Maybe tears are a form of letter-opening.
When you suggested without suggesting that I should go home early, that worm dug the dark soil behind my eyes: Everything is okay. I am loved. I am happy. With the phone to my ear I bought the next available bus ticket while you chased a fly, slapped a wall, and gave up. “We cool?” You asked, picking up my suitcase, putting it down, leaping around the bright room, not knowing where to put your nervousness. “Sure,” I slurred. The word took forever, as if it didn’t believe my mouth.