On the Reed College bookstore counter, there is a stack of blank thank you notes left behind on the counter. They are concealed underneath my conference ephemera–the schedule, the day’s workshop pieces, an essay handed out at the morning craft talk that sends my heart into oscillating fits of adoration for the craft and devastation that I will never, ever be that good. As I pick up my stack, the cards yawn open underneath my grasp.
“Thank you notes?” I say, picking them out of my pile. “I don’t owe any damn thank yous.”
The cashier chuckles and rings up my Diet Cokes. As she runs my card I check my purse again for my keys, my wallet, my cell phone, the conference key card. I haven’t been the same this week (only a week?), not since my phone sent me untethered to the north, since my round trip turned into a one-way, until fate carved a canyon with a day: that was Before, now is After.
She hands me my bag and receipt. “Thank you,” I say and turn to leave. She squeals, and I halt, caught in some act I’m slow to sort out.
“You said no thank you’s!” she said with a smile.
I gasp, a hand to my throat. “Damn it! I’m a filthy liar.”
The plane makes its lumbering turns around the runway, waiting for its turn in line to leap skyward. The old couple in the seats next to mine have a rosary wrapped between their wrists, and they close their eyes, reciting incantations that Lutheran kids never learned. I look out the window at the Catalina Foothills now cornered by bruise-colored monsoon clouds.
This is the last time you’ll ever see Tucson. The realization hits me numb, like some pointless fact junking up my Twitter feed. “Mean Girls Turns 10 Today!”
Replaying my last conversation before we were kicked off our cell phones, “I’m sorry, I’ve been offered a job in Portland, I’m not coming back at all, I’m sorry,” plays in my mind on loop. The words should make me nauseous. Who quits a job while her plane is taking off? Who turns a trip into a move? Who are you? These are the questions the person I know myself to be would ask, but now they fail to cross my mind.
I should be feeling something, but watching the brush and dust shrink as the beads click between yellowed fingernails, all that I have is a sense of relief. The monsoon presses against the hillside, and I can almost smell the fumes from the bridge I’ve just finished torching.
“I can’t believe I almost forgot,” Matt says, reaching again for his backpack. He’s brought everything on this 1,500 mile trip, made alone, up to a house I’ll now live in while we are Apart. Everything came together so neatly, like Snow White needing a place to stay. I have a room! A friend piped up. Fully furnished, near the city, a sliver view of the river.
He remembered my loofah and my favorite body wash and the silhouette I kept on our Tucson nightstand, the one we got on our trip to Disneyland last year. Our two profiles, tucked inside one another. What else could he possibly have brought?
In his hand are a bottle of shampoo and soap. From the hotel he stayed at outside of Stockton. Alone. With all of my shit. Packed like tuna into my new car. Because he knows how much I love to pilfer anything complimentary.
“Thank you,” I say, and it’s easy. Tomorrow he will be gone, and “I’m sorry” is not.
I arrive to my conference late, after the workshop groups have introduced themselves to one another and stepped through whatever bonding rituals they may have schemed. A week with my thoughts, driving home the power of imagery in writing and emotional truth, and everything is inflating to Massively Important and Symbolic. The mounting fear over moving, change, a new job, and undetermined amount of time until my husband can join me, amplify every other feeling up to Code Deranged. In the cafeteria at dinner, I realize that I don’t know anyone clustering together at the tables, shoulders hunching into closed circles.
Two women linger next to the ice cream cooler. One looks vaguely familiar, if I squint and shrink her down to the size of a Facebook profile picture. The writer of that piece I physically couldn’t set down, even though I was dying to Google the crime she was referring to. They look back, and in a burst of clarity, we all realize we’re destined to know each other. “We’re you’re people!” Tanya says, and my relief clatters on the cafeteria tile. “Let’s find a table.”
A sullen barista has her back to the line, and could steam milk with her stare. On the counter someone has taped down a message written in magic markers: Extra Time? Write a Thank You Note.
I snap a picture before she can turn back and tell me she doesn’t accept credit cards. My friend Sharon has cash. She always saves me from myself.
My second day of work. I wake up in not-my-house, not-my-bed, and the questions are louder than the alarm. Where’s my husband? What am I doing here? How long? If, then? What next?
It’s raining in July; not a monsoon rain, but a cool, heavy, long rain that extends through the whole morning. I wear a zip-up sweater I haven’t seen since December, and the fleece against my tanned skin is joy. I never want the storm to end.
I GPS’d a fancy coffee shop on my office’s side of town, but I recalculate when I spot a Dutch Brothers on the corner. There is a line of cars ten deep in the drive-thru. It’s a beautiful day, I think as I park my car and dash up to the window. The woman hands me my medium nonfat sugar free vanilla latte before I can get my debit card out of my wallet.
“Oh no, the last car paid for your drink,” she said, and I am dumbstruck in a puddle, clutching my first coffee as a citizen reunited with the city she loves enough to go insane for, no direction for my gratitude but everywhere.