BellaOnline Literary Review
Red Shouldered Hawk by Al Rollins

Table of Contents


Things I Can´t Tell You

Cornelia L. Oancea

I haven’t kept a diary since I was 12, but Dr. G thinks I might benefit from a place to stow the things that make me think of you. I dissolved into convulsive tears on his couch again today.

“I miss him,” I said, trying to retract the mucus.

“He was very important to you,” Dr. G told me.

“I don’t think about him all the time. I don’t obsess. But sometimes there’s one thing that makes me think of him, that I really want to tell him, and I can’t. And that kinda destroys me.”

“Why don’t you try writing it down?” Dr. G looked at me with the patience of a thousand year-old tree. “It’s not like you have to send it.”

I got takeout from that fusion place whose tempura made you sick once. Orange chicken, no broccoli. It was on my way, empty, and I remembered they were fast. While I waited, I could swear the same strange harp music we’d tried to tune out was playing.

I re-discovered Annie Lennox today and listened to “Why” and her cover of “Train in Vain” on loop for an hour while crying. I thought about how you always gave me music. Then I laughed a little at how bad my taste was before I met you.

Ran into Jaz earlier. She looked like she’d jumped out of one of those fashion blogs I try to study.

“Hey there,” she said. Big warm smile, nose-crinkling and brilliant. I nearly collapsed from the kindness in that greeting.

“Hi. How’ve you been?” I looked down at my three-weeks-unwashed jeans and my baggy Fordham t-shirt.

“Good. Busy. Grad school is just crazy. You?”

“The same, uhm, good and busy.” I nodded. “Working, aka, mothering my clients.”

She laughed in that hearty, hiccupping way that always makes me feel I’ve just said the funniest thing she’s heard all week. We didn’t say much after that. You were our only link, and I wasn’t sure how much she knew about what happened. Probably more than me. Probably everything.

“Great seeing you,” she said, as we continued on our separate courses.

“You too,” I called back.

I think she was grateful I didn’t mention hanging out.

You’re a coward. I go back and forth on this a lot. But today, I think you are a coward, and weak, for what you did. And I wish I could’ve helped you be stronger, or at least been stronger myself, so you didn’t feel the need to carry both of us. Even though I never asked that of you. I didn’t ask you to pick me up and shoulder me when I fell; I just asked you to stand beside me while I climbed back up myself. But you hated being helpless by my side. It reminded you too much of your own demons and how you could never shake them either.

Went to a gallery opening with Haylee and some of her friends. She was late, as usual, and I got stuck listening to them rave about the “nuance” and “je ne sais quoi” of a stark white canvas with a single streak of crap brown paint across its middle. I wish you’d been there to let all the gas out of their egos.

I went to the Living Room tonight and heard a man play folk songs on his guitar. His voice was deep and beautiful, way better than yours. But he lacked the pain for those old ballads. I’d give anything to hear you play “This Land is My Land” the way Guthrie intended it.

The first thing I did when I woke up was reach for the phone to wish you a happy birthday. I pulled my hand back under the covers, turned over, and remembered you always dreaded the day.

I’ve started dating someone. Stephen’s tall and has an almost disturbing calm about him. You’d like him because he’s soft-spoken, and trust him because he isn’t funny. Well, not intentionally, anyway. We’ve only had five dates, but it scares me enough that I think it has potential.

I cleaned out the storage space I have in my building. Buried in a box of stuff I should’ve never kept were our photos from Barcelona. My favorites were the two rolls where you posed with every street performer on La Rambla. You worried that you looked sweaty and gross, but all I saw was your glow enveloping every one of those tourist-weary artists.

I keep seeing you. Today, you were at the Morton Williams around the corner, ordering deli meat. Yesterday, you sat three tables away from me at Land as I waited for Stephen to arrive. My heart sped up, then eased when I blinked you away. It was just someone with your build and the same hazelnut complexion.

The Holiday playlist you made me last year kept me sane through five hours of present-wrapping. So, thank you for that.

I didn’t send out any holiday cards this year, the way I’d done every year since college. Remember how you joked that it was a chicken-and-egg situation — did we send holiday cards because we were adults, or were we adults because we sent holiday cards? We never figured it out. Some days I’d give adulthood back, if it meant I could celebrate something with you again.

Stephen invited me to his friend’s New Year’s party in Soho. I spent half the afternoon rifling through dresses at Loehmann’s, and made two trips to the mobbed fitting rooms, with New Year’s Eve from two years ago replaying in my head.

Remember how we got lost going to Cal’s and you cursed for half an hour about why we were even going to the stupid party, since we didn’t like Cal or his friends that much in the first place? It was a way out of the rumpled bed you refused to remake. We were barely through the door in time to watch the ball drop on Cal’s wall-sized TV and clink half full glasses of Champagne. We spent an hour there, making pleasantries, then drove back only to get lost again. You said when we got home that you wished you’d slept through the last five hours, change of year included. I cried on the kitchen floor until dawn.

I took the wrong Subway train and ended up all the way at 125th Street at 11:49pm, just as the southbound was pulling out of the station. You would’ve accused me of subconscious self-sabotage.

I exited into the icy air and walked toward Morningside Park. The area was empty except for a few homeless people settling onto benches for the night. One of the men muttered to himself and fished a dilapidated “Happy New Year” paper hat from his shopping cart. He sprawled on his bench and placed the hat over his face.

You would’ve made me stand beside you watching him, until we were both stiff with cold, your thoughts shrouded by your set jaw and avoidant eyes. I stayed through the church bells, listened awhile to the faint hollers of celebration before heading back.

Stephen had texted three times.

As I descended again into the dry swamp of the station, I messaged him about the train confusion, apologized, said I was on my way.

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