One of My Students
I could have fallen in love with you the first day of class, circumstances notwithstanding. Then you spoke, and again and again, determined to show how little you knew. You were so proud of that little bit, so graceless in speaking it. Stop. For them. For you. Why not be gorgeous? Listen most of the time, for a long time. A great number of women, too many, are working very hard right now, right as you are not reading this, to be as beautiful as you are when you are silent. And that smile.
Say it, coward: I’m too simple, young, awkward, ignorant for us to be best friends. You’re heartless. I’m here if you change your mind.
Old Friend Who Called Off the Friendship
Fifteen years we were sort of together, off and on, and you tossed all of that as you might a receipt at the bottom of one of your scuffed knock-off designer purses. A year and a month and a half later I wish you would call so I could hurt you. All those blowjobs you gave me in college, and the years of sex, late-night drunken “Do you have any idea how long my day is tomorrow?” sex. What does all that sex become if it will never happen again? And all of that which was better than the sex, as I was getting better sex elsewhere: the years of conversations about our football team and murderers you were convicting and books I thought were better and my life. You do understand that all of it is now a crumple under a heap in a place people rarely visit, find no happiness in. You do know what that says about you.
I was never going to marry you. You, more than anyone, knew you were shaped like an egg. You knew how skinny and hairless I was in high school, how the girls flirted but never dared. You, of all people, knew how much of my life I would spend proving.
I’ve said everything I’ve been paid to say. Please ask someone else.
The Middle-Aged Woman I Pass in the Hallway at Work
Who Wears a Dolly Parton Amount of Make-Up
But Has Not the Means to Acquire Make-Up of the Same Quality as Dolly’s
or the Skill to Apply It as Dolly, or Her People, Do
I would totally have sex with you.
The Homeless Woman I Met Around 4 A.M. on New Year’s
I hope your daughter has found you. I hope the ending of your book was satisfying and the blankets were sufficient. I hope you found somewhere to stay when the temperature dropped even lower. I did think about you on those colder nights, when I was in my bed. I have not been looking for you though. In fact I have probably tried not to see you again. I hope you didn’t just look twenty years older than I. Do know that when I am old enough to be sure you are dead, I will regret not trying to see you again. Surely I will now.
I’ve argued the genius of Ulysses for years. I might have even inspired one or two people to read the first few pages. But what the hell are you talking about?
I know you’re a dog, don’t really fit here. But I love you, really love you, so much more than anyone I’ll be talking to. Come lick my face you sloppy dumb little love.
You’re over there praying and praying (Do you actually get on your knees?) and believing so hard and you’re doing it all, really, to avoid eternal stink and hot, and you know I’m not doing the same, so you must believe I’m going to hell.
Can you love someone you believe is going to hell?
I almost found you once, I like to believe. I searched for your address online, drove all the way to Starke, Florida where your dad took you when he took you away. (God, how did you ever live there? I mean, dude, you would think the town that executes all of Florida’s needing-to-be-executed would not actually look like a town that kills.) A nice man in the neighborhood, a few doors down, said, “Yeah, a couple women lived there. Moved about two months ago. I didn’t really know them.” After twelve years I was two months late. I wish I would have asked him, “What did she look like?”
“The—I can’t really describe her. She had short hair in eighth grade. She was then possibly showing signs that with age she might become overweight.”
“Oh, the fat one?”
“Yes. Did she have green eyes? Were her lips almost always pursed? Did she look like she would be exactly as shy and excited around me as I would be her? Exactly?”
“I don’t know. She was pretty fat.”
I will take you anyway, Vera. You could be severely burned. And I like chunkier women anyway. And diets. There are diets for us, Vera. (Now that I think about it, I don’t know if I could deal with the burns. Like if your whole left ear is gone or something? That would irritate my nice memories.)
Eighth grade. And after you and I went to Disney World with my parents to make our last memory I cried and cried in my bed that night until my mom came in and said, not in these words, “I know it’s hard now, but you’re so young and so many more are out there, young like you. You will meet them someday and they will love you and you will, eventually, hurt them worse than you are hurting right now.” I don’t think even I believed back then I would love you forever when I told you I would love you forever in fancily folded notes. But I guess the child me was warning me. I never liked that kid.
Actually, I’ve said it all already, which is part of our problem. And is why I can’t seem to start over with someone else. I mean, that was a lot of stuff I said. Who wants to do that a different way all over again?
Road-Raging Trucker Who Pulled a Handful of Hair Out of My Head
You lucky, sad son of a bitch. Only because I’m a petite man did I not follow you all the way to your next stop and beat the bad memories out of you. Oh, but had I my father’s arms and rage I would kick you back into your mother’s twat so you could start over. And if you fuck up your life this time too we can just keep on doing this until you get it right.
You were right about one thing, though. I should not have swerved in front of your semi, slammed on my breaks and jumped out of my car.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Please read this and think I’m cool enough to hang out with. I’ll trade you the “8” on my keyboard for one of your hats.
Mr. Derek Brooks
Do you read? If not, I understand. If I played in the NFL, was a future Hall of Famer—actually, if I played in the NFL and sat on the bench I wouldn’t read.
The Attendees of Mandy’s Funeral and Mandy
We must have felt similarly. Any funeral held for a suicide victim is pretty damn sad, but this one especially. Of the forty people attending, only about ten of us were truly there for her and not just for Jeff or just because we were somehow associated, and except for maybe three or four of us, we all knew we had not done much to keep her around. If each of us had spent another five minutes a week talking to her or, in most cases, had spent at least five minutes period, we might have bought ourselves time. If we could go back in time—be honest—how long would most of you continue to call her and when she didn’t answer get in your car and find her?
I sense most of you, like me, never liked her much. She was usually aloof on the rare occasions when she did socialize. Yes, I know we wanted to like her. Anyone who saw those eyes wanted to like her, a blue like blue Gatorade in a backlit glass, and the size, seemingly, because of their brilliance, of golf balls. And we wanted to like her because she had, from time to time, when she was in the mood, showed us how easy liking her was—her gooselike cackle, her capacity to shift conversation from recent psychological theory to the Simpsons to a dick joke. So good for you, Mandy. One hell of a point you made. I was mad at you for doing this to Jeff until about three sentences ago. But you were right. Fuck us all.
I sometimes think of you being in the ground, what you must look like now. The night you did Yoga on the floor in front of me and I asked you to stop, insinuating you were teasing me, turning me on, which you knew, which was, I would find out in about twenty minutes, why you were doing it: I could have never foreseen that always tugging at such a pleasant memory would be the story of Denise and Kayla arriving before the police did. They had come to see, to believe, your darkening, stiff body, the small but dense change you would force into me.
The Feminist Who Encourages Me
I found oppressive your use of the word misogyny to describe “One of My Students.” I can never convince you that I am quite capable of embracing both my hormones and women. Because I love you too, I have revised the passage:
I would have fallen in love with you the first day of class, circumstances notwithstanding. I knew some day all that potential would bloom out of those full lips and you would be loved by so many men. May they be useful, if you want them. May they not carry you but support you, not patronizingly but lovingly, if you want them to. May they see and wish to smell only you. May they walk, drive, roll over whenever you want them, and may you want them, if you want to want them, in a long life.
. . .
Please come back and tell them you were speaking metaphorically.
The People in Restaurants Who Cheer When Someone Drops Plates
You are the same people who do not look away when a man sneezes snot into his hand. You do look away from the girl in the wheelchair. And you have no trouble choosing which puppy. Oh, you hold the door open for the old man. Sure. Everyone is watching. But when you see him walking home with bags of groceries, when you are safely in your car, you drive on. You are the reason we war. You will not see the connection. So we are at war. You are the reason children are homeless. You enjoy zoos. If you have any sincerity in you at all, you are the ones most likely to hurt the ones who love you. And the ones who do not love you, have no reason to, the clerk at the gas station, you would shit on him for twenty dollars if he promised not to watch.
In that moment right after the bang and shattering, the person’s food on the floor, the waitress humiliated, even more busy than before and now possibly making even less money, you’re glad. You’re glad this time you can join in. The last time it happened, some other restaurant, some other humiliated person, you were too cowardly to join in. You’re satisfied to hide your jeering among jeerers. You are behind the lynch mob, not really part of it but absolutely it.
The Girl in the Wheelchair I Continue to Look Away From
I want to be better than this. Not because of hell but because I want everyone to love me. Understand why I do not smile at you: I do not want you thinking I’m smiling because you are down there, bent, not someone I would have sex with. (Can you have sex?) So what am I supposed to do? Say hi? But what if you want to be my friend? Come with me to the bar? I would love to have you, but I do not want people thinking I’m bringing the broken girl to the bar just to be charming, although that would be a reason. Yes, I know I’ve brought many broken girls to many bars. But because your options are limited and because I would be so carefully nice to you, you might possibly begin to love me. I do not want that. I know I just said I want everyone to love me. But from a great comfortable distance. Besides, I cannot do for them all that you must do to keep people loving you. No, I am sorry. I will start smiling at you, but that is it. It’s an entirely different matter to hurt a broken girl who can walk. You must be so beautiful.
I saw you in a movie some time ago and you were nice to your secretary, and she really liked you. It was easy to believe. You are a bit of the antichrist in the sense that Jesus was immortalized after dying for sins and you became immortalized, mainly, to embody sins. I guess the idea is if we can keep hating you for being so hateful, we don’t have to confront ourselves. Plus, it’s just too tempting to make evil about numbers (“He killed so many more people than I did”). That this line of thinking would likely piss Jesus off is not really what I want to say to you. What I wanted to say is only because you are dead do I not feel bad for you. I wish I could have been your secretary for a day when you were in a good mood—even though I realize your good mood might have been the result of your having killed a lot of people the day before, but that was going to happen eventually anyway. And I wish my video camera had been invented and I happened to bring it to work that day. After you were finished killing Germany and yourself, the Germany we beat into a monster and handed to you, I would have traveled with the circus, set up camp right next to the freak show, and shown people how nice you were to me, bringing me a flower, patting my hand, Eva in the background rolling her eyes.
Inventor of the Plunger
I refuse to research you. If you were a lunatic or a bore I’d rather not know. I’m thrilled to know you were thinking deeply about shit. I hope you were a woman, some nanny-deprived womb-ravaged mother who had an intuitive understanding of physics and refused to give the plumber one more penny. Your invention is so simple and perfect it has not been improved by time or better minds. I must apologize. While the plunger should be kept somewhere in our living rooms—if not for its brilliance then at least as a reminder that most of the horrifying moments in our futures have already been considered and dealt with countless times—we still hide it, if not in the corner behind the toilet, which is hidden in its own corner, then even farther away. But if you understood the repercussions of your genius, you understood the thanklessness of it. If you were compelled to invent the plunger, you understood our disgust for ourselves.
I would still rather not travel to the library, or call a librarian, but according to the consensus on Google right now, your name is Jeffery Gunderson. Barcaluv of Answerbag.com adds that you were a farmer in New Jersey who created this chef d’oeuvre after becoming frustrated by constipated cows. Oh I hope this is true. Please say poop-clogged cows were your inspiration.
Even Wikipedia refuses to verify you. So does Oxford Reference Online. No surprise there, really. Encyclopedia Britannica Online politely offers others when your name is searched: Robert Joffery, for example, who was a fine ballet dancer, and Lord Francis Jeffrey, who wore a wig and judged Scottish literature and criminals.
Great Great Great Grandmother
Some have said you were a hateful bitch. My cousin Kelli, who was born kind and taught herself to think, says you were the daughter of a white man and a Cherokee. Of course he left before you were born and, probably because of this, your mother despised you. By the time you were fourteen you would abandon your own daughter, whom I would know only as Granny, the ancient woman who broke her hip in our garage when I was twelve, then spent the last several years of her life, except holidays and birthdays, in a macabre nursing home, which, aside from the memories it resurrected, was still not as terrifying and loveless as the sanatorium in which she spent her first several years.
You understand why I didn’t see the point of attending your daughter’s funeral. It was a little late to care. Even though you were the first to abandon her, and the last with an excuse, left her in that ungodly home for orphans, invalids and crazies, her daughter came to you anyway, the one I would know as Memaw, an old woman who smoked and gave me Ritz Crackers, her skin like a discarded chamois. I could not eat Ritz Crackers for years because of that skin. But long before she was a gross old woman, my cousin told me recently, she was combing your hair and saw the scars on your scalp, the dents in your skull. You let her run her fingers over them but only said, “Ma was tough.”
Surely you have a lot of regrets. We are a very regretful clan. So you might be happy to know that the women who came from you have been very good to me and I have yet to abandon them.
Get an MBA and keep a diary.
If my pronunciation of your name is close, it sounds like someone falling onto a deck. This is appropriate since, if I were, for some stupid reason, given your masterpiece, the Lamborghini Murcielago RGT, which I also cannot pronounce, I would faint.
I imagine you meeting Michelangelo, saying in German (you are German, right?), “I’ve always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. In person. It looks so awesome. How long were you up there, on your back? That’s crazy. How did you do that? You madman! Here. I have to show you this. If you’d indulge me. It’s not the Sistine Chapel, but—I’m proud of it.” And Michelangelo, in his frill and robe, stunned still by you, Mr. Donckerwolke. Awed by your— He doesn’t know what to call it. A castle? All these clean, smooth edges and objects, the alluring wickedness. All this space and light. And how is the weather so perfect?
You lead the little old man to the Murcielago, and he, one of God’s favorites, stiffens. He doesn’t know whether he is afraid, awakened or damned. You wish he would say something. Are his eyes watering? You catch him before he hits the floor. He is frail in his robe, light. You ease him onto the floor and gently slap his loose cheek. You don’t know what else to do. Did you, after such a disciplined life, just kill fucking Michelangelo? No. No, don’t worry. Soon his eyes open. He is not dead. He is petrified, and he is still in this place, and that thing still there, demonic beauty with something like eyes, a black darker than any memory of night but a black that glows. A serpent, all head. He is sure it will speak. Satan himself will exit its jaws. “God, I have not failed you!” screams Michelangelo in what, in fact, sounds to you, Mr. Donckerwolke, like the devil’s language. Until you realize it’s only perfect Latin. “I will see this no more!” Michelangelo continues. “Get me out of here now!” The old man, with all his mortal effort, stands and runs into the door. “Open this now!” You try to sooth him. “It’s only a car. Like a carriage?” He paws at the door, a scared dog. You escort him away from your masterpiece, do not dare say the only thing you can think of: “But you haven’t even seen what it can do.”
People Who Drive, Myself Excluded
If you are a fair representation of humanity, I see no hope for peace. Most of you I hate. You ride my ass or insist I ride yours. You pull out in front of me and do not accelerate appropriately or, when I pull out in front of you, you are speeding inappropriately. And you. You who uses the rearview mirror only for rosary beads. You who refuses to move from the left lane when I’ve made quite obvious I’m faster traffic. I understand why you wonder whether God likes you. Or you, the middle manager, your suit stiffer than your cock’s been in a decade, you and your crusty briefs weaving in and out of lanes like a spring breaker. The world will not miss you. And lady, seriously? Because your turn is right up here and, after all these years, you still cannot drive empathetically and think about your coupons at the same time, are you really going to cut across three lanes? Yes, of course you are. Instead of driving on to the next intersection and turning around, instead of asking yourself, “Will my destination still be there if I am delayed three minutes?”, you stop traffic. In three lanes. You risk everyone else’s spilled coffee and insurance rates because three minutes and a quarter mile are just too much to bear. I too wonder why your kids don’t call more often.
People Who Drive, Myself Included
We are not vehicles. We are people negotiating space, and we are doing so at several feet per second, and we are doing so in a hollowed-out boulder. We have not, remember, become this boulder. We are in it, and we are propelling it, at several feet per second, at other people. That we cannot see these people as we might if they were standing in line or walking down a hallway does not mean they do not exist, that they cannot die. That they cannot see us does not mean we are not, like them, still obliged to negotiate. They and we are we and we have mothers and lovers. We have cousins who want to hear from us and old high school friends who’d rather not have their next reunion ruined by our feathery obituaries.
Girl in the Wheelchair After I Smiled
You looked away? Not even an acknowledgement? Both times? After all that? We should make out.
Those Who Have Divorced Because of Money,
Sex, Interference of a Third-Party,
No shame in being the majority. We must all learn the hard way that love is a liquid, not a solid, and some of us will.
Freaks Between the Ages of Six and Thirteen
All of you, the gimps, the pant pissers, the too-tall and the late blooming, the birthmarked, the beaten, the narcoleptic, the hypersensitive, the abandoned and the all-of- the-above. The worst of you are, in fact, the luckiest. You are dumb and cannot become much smarter. You will never know how much they could hurt you. Stay with your loving mom. Or your dad. Live in his attic. Live in her basement. You’ll have many happy years before he or she dies, and then your greatest pain will probably be your last. If neither your mother nor father loves you, find the people who need to love you. They are everywhere. If even this thought scares you, color. Paint. Someone will insist on protecting you. No one knows what we are capable of.
The rest of you: get good at something, anything. Now. To hell with your childhood. It is ruined. This will not matter someday when all these beautiful people are confused and nostalgic. Ski, read, find a horn and blow. If you’d rather get laid sooner, sing or learn the guitar. Best case scenario, do both. Play the harmonica for all I care. Just play and one day love will smother you. Of course you will be hurt a lot along the way, but this is good. You will sound much better.
Unlike real people, fictional people exist only as long as they are wanted. And so you are finished. You have become irritating.
Your mother and father, whom you’ve cut from this in a grandiose act of cowardice, could have been mature and enlightened before they conceived you, one an architect, the other a pathologist, inculcating in you a firmer sense of logic, a broader imagination and a healthier notion of mortality. You could have been lovely and quiet. You wouldn’t do that to yourself, though, because then you wouldn’t need you, and then they wouldn’t have existed, nor would have Jesus, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., coupon lady, etc.
So go speak one last time to whomever. Try not to make an ass of yourself.
I hope you would call if I gave you my phone number. I can’t, though. A better writer has already done something like that, and it didn’t work out very well for him. Not to mention you would be very disappointed. If I were able to put my best self forward in real life I wouldn’t do this crap.
Even though I know how detestably you can need their affection, I suppose you cannot love anonymous people. So I won’t say I love you, even though I kind of want to. Plus, loving abstractions is childish and cruel. I had a girlfriend do that to me once. What she wished I was she stapled to my forehead like a photo of Johnny Depp. I didn’t even realize she’d done it, I was so in love, until the worst possible time: when she was dumping me. The wind—nothing more, really—had lifted the photo from my face one too many times. Ever been through that? Most deflating breakup ever. There you are dumped and for the first time realizing you hadn’t even been loved. All you can do is pull the staple out, look at the photo and weep. At least when you get dumped by someone who really loves you, or really had loved you, you can hate yourself and grow. But now, on top of that sense of your own impending desperation, you see for the first time two people can actually only think they are in love, and one of them can be you. She said things like, “Someday you will understand,” and I didn’t know whether to die or kill. No longer do I question the romances that end on the news.
Anyway, this is all to say I want to love you. I hope we meet again like this, disembodied and hopeful. You mean too much to me.
Ryan Meany’s work has appeared in Story Quarterly, Crazyhorse, Confrontation, The Pinch and other places. It’s forthcoming in Otis Nebula.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: I think I was fantasizing about telling people I know what I really really thought.
Q: What writers do you consider to be your primary influences?
A: Among others: Barry Hannah, Padgett Powell, Emily Dickinson, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver (of course), James Dickey, and Robert Bly.
Q: What’s your ideal place to write?
A: On the couch, feet on coffee table.
Q: Who plays you in the movie in the movie of your life?
A: Someone with little more than a Wendy’s commercial and community theater on his resume.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A poem about a maiden on a horse with a knight who has just saved her from a dragon. So far she’s bracing herself for the terrible things about to happen to her.