Just two days after graduating from Whitman College we put all our possessions in my stinky brown station wagon, and headed west. Portland was sure to be the place where we’d finally be as close as I knew we were destined to be.
We weren’t — or should I say, she wasn’t—ready to live together, so we took apartments ten blocks apart. The rent was high in Portland’s Alphabet District, but Julie liked the old buildings and tree-lined streets, and I liked the dive bars and bookstores. She shook her head and joked about my peerless wit when I told her friends that we had “taken” apartments, like we were New York intellectuals or Irish poets.
Despite the fact that she didn’t always return my phone calls right away, and even seemed a little annoyed when I would spend the night in my car in front of her building just so I could give her a kiss on her way to work, we were happy for the first few weeks. She temped at an ad agency and I worked with troubled teens at an after school program. On the nights she didn’t have a headache or plans with some mystery girlfriend from work, we’d get together for pizza and movies, and laugh at the irony of our jobs after we made love. Despite our deep bond, or perhaps due to its overwhelming nature, she didn’t feel comfortable having me sleep over, so I’d always walk home afterward.
She called me at work on a cool, drizzly, June afternoon. She wanted to meet at Simon Park. It was really just the neighborhood dog park, tucked away on a quiet dead-end street, equidistant from our respective flats.
“Luis,” she said as she picked at her cuticles and bit her nails, “I think its time for me to move on. I need more freedom to see other people, and I don’t feel like I’m being fair to you. And I have to be honest—you kind of scare me lately. I don’t know what you might do from minute-to-minute.”
“Move? To where? You can’t move. You have a six-month lease.”
“Luis, it’s a metaphor. I mean move on from our relationship. Move forward.” She fluttered her lashes. “My God. I’m not actually going anywhere. You can be really dense sometimes.”
I dropped to the ground, landing on my knees. I rested my butt on my heels. I could feel the moisture from the wet grass penetrating my jeans. I clawed at the ground, ripping out a handful of dirt and grass. “But you can’t just move on. We came out here together. We even took apartments.”
I sat as long as I could, in my perfect Japanese seiza position, wondering if the symbolism would invoke her pity. Due to my large thighs, the pain was unbearable after a few minutes, and I concluded it was a good thing I was born in Idaho and not the land of the rising sun.
She sighed and started to leave. When she was about 10 feet away I threw my handful of dirt. It was a direct hit; right in the butt.
She turned back and said, “Luis, maybe you should get some help.” She brushed the dirt off and left.
I called her when I got home, but found myself talking to her machine. “Honey, I know you’re confused. But it’s OK. Just call me when you feel better.” She didn’t call back, and I left the same message four times in the next hour. I left at least ten more unreturned messages the next day, varying the wording a bit each time.
Just after I left the final message I decided it was time to make a statement, something worthy of the intellectual nature of our relationship. I grabbed my small camping shovel and a brown sheet, and headed to my station wagon. I laid the rear seats down and carefully covered the back with the sheet.
I drove to the park. I found the spot where she had dumped me, my knee prints and claw mark still visible in the damp grass. Using my shovel, I loosened a one-foot circle around the spot, and carefully removed the grass and about an inch of dirt below it. I carried the wet sod on my outstretched arms, and ran back to my car.
I went home and ate a quart of strawberry ice cream and the last half of a large pepperoni and pineapple pizza we had shared a few days before. I cried myself to sleep at 2 a.m., watching home improvement shows. We’d never resurface a bathtub or install a septic system together.
I still had the key to Julie’s apartment I’d made the weekend she’d ask me to take care of her cat when she was gone. I went there at ten the next morning, knowing she went to work at 8:30. Still wrapped in the brown sheet, I carried the grass into her building.
Her neighbor Sue was on her way out, her excited dog pulling the leash.
“Oh. Hi Sue,” I said.
“Hi Luis.” She was suspicious.
“I guess Julie told you.”
She feigned concern, trying to control the anxious animal. “Yeah, sorry to hear about it.”
“I’m just returning some clothes she left at my place. Trying to make a clean break, you know. Well, toodles.” I closed the door behind me, quickly.
I plopped the grass circle in the middle of her kitchen floor. The ice cream and pizza were signaling that they wanted to see daylight again. I pulled my pants down and released them, and whatever friends they’d made inside me, onto the grass patch. I deposited it near the edge, careful not to cover the knee marks or small claw-hole. I pulled a blank piece of paper out of her printer and grabbed a purple marker off her desk. I wrote: JUST A METAPHOR — LOVE, LUIS. I placed it on the ground next to the turf. I wiped myself clean with a previously unsoiled corner of the sheet, and put it in her sink.
I sat at her kitchen table for 15 or 20 minutes, eating some mixed nuts from a bowl I’d made in ceramics class when we were still in love. I put the bowl under my shirt and left.
Sue was outside, apparently returning from her walk. I looked at the plastic bag in her hand, noting the doggie doo. I said, “It’s great to see a responsible pet owner. Simon Park can get so gross sometimes.” I opened the back of my wagon, and put the bowl inside. I brushed the bits of grass and mud into the street, then waved goodbye and blew a kiss toward Sue as I drove off.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
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