There was a time when words mattered. But then it stopped. And nothing was left but vague gestures. But then at that very moment, you entered the room. Suddenly all of our hairs stood on end. The dogs. The cats. The rabbits. And myself.
I was afraid to ask where you had been, after so many days and interminable nights. Who knows how many? I guess I never really thought of counting. But where were you?
We could tell by the scent of your hair that you had come from somewhere far far away. So far away that there wasn’t a map that could find it. But it was a familiar scent. Like burning raisin toast. Or an empty humidifier. All of us agreed that you were was very hard to locate. And even harder to find.
We could speculate that you came from a distance. Perhaps from some netherworld. Or perhaps from some laundromat. Or maybe a car wash? You had that washed away look in your eyes. It was pretty unmistakeable. I wish you could have seen it.
I thought of you a lot while riding the train. Glancing out the window passing towns and forests that bubbling with life, even in the winter, even in the dark. I gazed in wonder at this marsh I must have seen 1000 times by now. But I never realized it was there until just before I got home, just before you walked into the room.
Some of your features had changed. Your hair was thinner but just as unkempt (which is not a criticism). Your skin was greener than I remembered. Fluorescent green. It didn’t dawn on me that you were standing beneath a fluorescent green lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. But it was a nice mystery while it lasted.
But you did look more stern. Maybe you had forgotten how to smile. It’s so easy to forget. I imagined that if you could smile, it might take all of your effort. And I didn’t want to exhaust you. I mean you had just gotten home. What kind of welcome would that have been? Not a very welcome welcome. The thought that I might be asking you to smile against your will was not something I could endure. It’s never very good when things become unendurable. Although some people are into that.
I could not tell if you had noticed that our home had been transformed into an Extended Stay America. Finally, we had a place to stay for as long as we wanted. I would have asked if you would like to stay, but I thought that maybe I should wait until you had actually entered the room. I might build up to that later. Or maybe that would be too manipulative. Maybe I should ask you to stay right now. But I thought if I had asked you’d be out the door in a flash.
But if I didn’t ask and you had left without my asking… that was not anything I could ever endure. I was at wit’s end. What would it be like to live in wit’s beginning? I wish I had thought to ask you that.
Instead I found myself staring at your shoes., You always had such cool shoes. And I loved the colors of your shoelaces. You wore these dark brown boots leather grained like footballs. And fluorescent orange shoelaces. It was so perfect. I wish I had your sense of style. I never really knew what to wear anywhere. I never really thought of who might be looking. It just never occurred to me, for some reason.
And that scarf you were wearing. It looked exactly like the scarf I saw in the photo of that guy in the newspaper, the one who claimed he was a data architect from New Zealand but who turned out to be a registered foreign agent lobbying for some fascist regime. But it was such a great scarf. I could not blame you for wearing it. You just didn’t fit the type.