Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Five Years Ago

The Asian Food Store

I dreamed I was home, in our hometown Asian Food Store, and there you were, in the condiment aisle. Your long, ratty blonde ponytail hung halfway down your back as you frowned at the row of bottles. I stared. Little strands of hair clung to your face. Your small hands, rough and calloused, picked up a jar of yellow miso. Your face was red and shiny from the heat and your lips parted slightly, breathing through your mouth. You licked your lower lip as you read the miso jar label. Suddenly I felt your hands on me, sliding up the sides of my torso, rough and warm and strong. I stared at the miso jar, feeling what it felt, your hands on my skin, and I gasped for breath. My bag of rice noodles rattled in my hand.

You looked up and saw me. You said nothing.

I said “Hi.”

You said “Hi.”

I stared dumbly, wishing my toes weren’t showing through my sandals, that I’d washed my hair that morning, that I was anywhere but here.

You said, “How are you?”

I said, “How are you?”

You said, “Good, I’m good.”

More silence. I tried to smile.

“What are you doing in town?” you said.

“Visiting,” I said.

Then we just looked at each other. I could see your eyes swirling, maybe ten or twelve different shades of blue, brightening and fading like tiny ocean pools. You seemed to be processing seeing me, how I looked, how I seemed to be, turning over in your mind what might be best to say next, whether to get the hell out before we embarrassed each other somehow. I could see all those questions churning behind your eyes, just as they were all churning behind the deep plowed-earth brown of my own eyes. The whole universe faded away, except you and I, and the things our eyes said to each other. Gradually, gently, my eyes followed yours, flowing over me like a warm shower, until they came to rest on my left hand, and they took in my wedding rings, blazing in the sunlight.

Smiling brightly, you raised your eyebrows in appreciation, looked into my eyes, and said “Congratulations.”

I froze. My breathing stopped. I think the whole world stopped. Something exploded outside, a tire or engine or maybe my left ventricle. I dropped my rice noodles. I didn’t hear them crunch to the ground.

“It’s great seeing you,” I finally said.

The July air around me thickened hot and foul as I slowly turned and walked out of the store. I don’t know what you did then. I just walked down the street, toward my car, the world whizzing past me on either side. I didn’t hear traffic. My ears throbbed with pulsing blood, drowning out the world. I thought I might combust. All I heard was your voice echoing, “Congratulations.”

I woke up.

Did you call after me? Did I stop halfway there and come back to talk more? Did we have coffee and conversation for a while? Or did we just have a conversation in the parking lot? What would have happened had I not awakened just then?

What does it matter anyway? I’m awake, you’re gone, and I’m married.

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