I am convinced that one of the many side effects of global warming is that the world is getting smaller. It’s the only explanation I have for why I keep running into people I wish to pretend I never knew while I was someone else with someone I wish I never knew.
I hear someone yell out, “La!” from behind me, and I flinch because I know that very few people this south of New York and this east of LA call me that. Especially not in this town. And sometimes, whether or not I really choose to admit it, I wish that La would die right next to when We did.
“Oh my god it is you. I almost didn’t recognize you!” I cringe inside our stranger’s hug at that insult disguised as observation.
“You hair is amazing. I thought about going that color once. But I couldn’t, ‘cause, you know, I’m a lot darker than you are.”
I never liked this bitch.
We make small talk, the kind you make when you haven’t seen someone in years and when you did see them often, you didn’t really talk even then. I cast my eyes all around her, looking for an escape and hoping for just a moment that the mom with the double stroller runs into me.
I tune in to her words just long enough to be assured that she is only in town temporarily and not to stay, and my tension dissipates a little.
A moment too soon.
She says his name, lips curling back over the syllables like a snake, and instinctively I draw back. Her eyes, sharp and probing, are all over my recoil in an instant, taking in my reaction and pushing for more.
“You know him, right?”
“I thought so.” If she was smarter, or I guess, if she cared more, she would have caught the implication behind my words.
“I heard he just disappeared.”
In my mind, I’m strolling down a crowded street, a drink in one hand, a hand in my other, brass band music braided into the humidity in the air.
“My friend was telling me that everyone was talking about some girl he was all in love with that lived outta town that he just up and disappeared on, and how he couldn’t really seem to get over it even though he was fooling with all these hoes.”
“Such is life.”
I’m on a beach, sand gritty under my red toes, my words caught up in wisps of white fabric, smiling at the sunset and knowing what the next sunrise will bring.
“I hear he has a kid now.”
My mouth falls open, my lips running away from each other too rapidly for me maintain my facade of cool.
“Yeah. A little boy I think they said.”
Just like that I’m a hunter, blindly pursuing information like prey, completely oblivious to what dangerous ground it might take me to. I’m Captain Ahab, and I refuse to go crazy not being able to slay this goddamn Moby Dick.
“What’s his name?” I ask. And she tells me, my exhale loud like the slap of a door opened suddenly against a wall. I’m light headed with relief.
I guess it’s only slightly better it’s not the name we chose.
After more casual conversation on far less treacherous ground, we say our goodbyes. She’s barely out of eyesight before regret kicks me swiftly in the back of the knees. I crumble, right there on the curb, doubled over myself like I’ve been injured.
And I have.
I put one hand to my mouth, the other to my chest, the first doing nothing to cover the sounds escaping but at least keeping me from tasting salt. The other, pressed firmly in the hollow of my chest, is shaking. But I feel it. My heart is still beating, albeit faintly.
And that’s all I need to know.