we were at the japanese import bookstore, kinokuniya, in san francisco. i had been staying with them for almost a week by that time, and was as confused, if not more so, as ever about why i had come, what i wanted, what i was going to do when i went back, and what i would do if i went home without telling her how i felt about her.
that was the extent of my affliction. i had come across the country, from boston to san fran, to see the only person who i felt really knew me. and all i knew was that what i really wanted was to keep her, to somehow make sure that she didn't get away from me, as late in the game as i had found her. but i didn't know how i was going to do this.
i think, subconsciously, what i wanted to happen was for me to tell her how i felt about her (i honestly felt that my immature clinging feelings amounted to love at the time), for her to realize that she felt the same way, for this to force some kind of crisis in her life where she had to decide between david and i, and for her to choose me over him. if i had had any experience in the human heart before that point, perhaps i would have known that this just was not how these things worked.
or maybe the pressure of holding my emotions in was simply becoming too much, and i wanted release in any form.
or maybe i had no plan, conscious or otherwise, and simply wanted to spend time with her because she paid attention to me, and talked to me, and listened to me, and seemed to understand me. there was something about that; perhaps because i had just never had it before; and i was hungry for more of it. starving, in fact.
and, just as truly starving man will stop caring what he has to do to get the food he needs for his body, so did i stop caring who i had to hurt or which relationships i had to bust my way into to get the acceptance and attention that i needed. even if it was that of a friend.
indeed, i enjoyed busting in and screwing with their relationship. i couldn't consciously admit this to myself, of course. but deep down, in that place we all hate to admit we visit from time to time, the attention that it got me, the animosity that i received from david, the tears i heard behind tracey's voice as she told me to stop calling and stop sending letters, these nourished me just as fully as every hug and smile i had received from her.
they nourished me precisely because i knew that i had received my last from her, and that beyond that lay nothing but an empty abyss where i would go to be forgotten; a footnote in the story of her life.
and so, if i was to be cut off from this girl, by that old enemy, time; or by geography; or by her boorish fiancé; if i was to lose her and be cheated out of eden just as i had stepped over the threshold, at least i would not be forgotten. no. never.
and this, in a very dark way, like satan luring the souls of the innocent into hell just to hear, one more time, the voice of his lost love condemning them to the eternal fire, refreshed me.
but i digress.
we were at the bookstore, and i had found a pen that, when used on the skin, left a semi-indelible mark, like a temporary tattoo, that persisted for a number of days afterwards. like a child running a new toy that he has just discovered up to show his mom, i showed it to her. she shared my wonder at it, and said we should write chinese characters on each other with it. i asked her to give me her palm.
after i had finished writing the kanji, she looked at it, pronounced it "cool," and then, slowly looking up, asked me what it meant. the bookstore around us disappeared.
i let my mask of playful self-sufficiency slip for just a moment. "forever," i said. it means "forever."
and we didn't speak for that moment, there in the bookstore, alone among the throng, her hand in mine, her cold fingers in my warm palm for what would turn out to be the last time in our lives.