by Carla Sarett
Dylan is breaking up with me, before breakfast.
He’s on speakerphone, and I am deciding what to wear, my black skinny jeans or my black leggings, my white T-shirt or my white button-down. I’m all about monochrome this year.
It’s been about two months since our last break-up. Last time, it was my choice, so it’s his turn now. We rotate. We’re symmetrical.
Dylan hates FaceTime so it’s audio only, I don’t know if he’s dressed yet. I couldn’t tell you what type of socks he wears. He never leaves a trace behind, not even a sock. When he’s not here, he’s not, and I don’t have to deal with his bits and pieces.
“Name one thing you like about me,” Dylan says, as I button my white button-down.
I have to lower the volume because Oliver (that’s the cat) is shrieking in the background. Oliver needs to be the center of attention. He’s a demanding animal.
Dylan goes on: “You can’t because you only like the idea of me.”
He’s wrong. Dead wrong.
The idea of him is exactly what I don’t like. He lives in a tiny room with an aging orange cat, in someone else’s house, above a two-car garage. His Honda is ancient, it’s always broken. In another lifetime, he drove an orange Porsche, he used words like “hyperlocal,” he flew in private jets. But now, he can’t even afford airfare to San Francisco.
I don’t mind paying his airfare (or Oliver’s.) It’s the idea of me paying for it that bothers me. Really bothers me. A man of thirty should pay his own way, my mother says. It’s the principle of the thing, not the thing itself.
But I’d rather pay for his fare than fly out to some frozen tundra in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do. Although, the thought of him in that vast emptiness does make my heart stop. The snow must soak through his shoes, through his socks. Then I do picture of one of his socks in my mind, it’s brown and thick and reassuring, and besides, Oliver is warm and cuddly.
“I’ll send you a postcard, at least five things,” I say. “I promise.”
“Hmm, I like postcards,” he says.
“But listen, I’ve got work. You know, work?”
Oliver meows sorrowfully, as if he can’t bear to say goodbye. I know the feeling, I just don’t have time for it.
This week, work’s been a killer. Breakfast strategy-sessions in a stuffy conference room, every day, starting at 7, with bitter coffee, everyone’s cell on mute. Everyone’s shell-shocked. It is painful to listen to human voices for two hours, in person.
Dave, the guy in charge of User Engagement, keeps wiping his eyeglasses, as if he can’t see straight. He’s lost a lot of hair recently, he must be worried, especially in front of the attractive consultant, in her crisp white shirt and pencil skirt, her freshly glossed lips. I’m wearing my white button-down, but it’s not as crisp and blindingly bright as hers. She keeps twirling her wrists and fluttering her fingers, as if she’s in a corporate ballet.
After an endless hour, Dave looks at me, and only me. “Entertainment, relaxation, give me a break,” he drawls. “They’re tired user benefits, I mean, so tired.”
He seems to blame me for all that tired entertainment, all that relaxation. I grab another cup of bitter coffee, moving with strong, swift strokes. It steels me for whatever the pricey consultant with her fabulous copper hair will say next. She’s out for blood, that’s for sure.
“Time’s precious,” she says, briskly tapping her fingers on the table. “Look, you need to be relevant, or you’ll be dead. You understand? Dead. You’re either real, or you’re not real, if you’re not real, you are dead. You get it?”
She smiles at me, the way a dentist smiles before he starts drilling. I wonder if in a few years, she’ll be living alone above a garage, the way Dylan is, and wondering how she ever talked the way she’s talking to me.
“Dead, I get it,” I say as I take my seat.
“Amaze me, be brilliant,” Dave says, and I have to laugh, like how funny is that?
Seriously, it is not funny.
I need to get my resume in shape. This job’s not a long-term proposition; the situation’s volatile, and if I lose it, I won’t be able to afford Dylan’s airfares.
And face it, Dylan’s not exactly a good bet, even if he moves into a real house. He’s not really viable, long term, which I need to accept sooner or later. I’m wasting my time, I need to get practical. I need to formulate a plan as soon as I get home. I’ll start networking tonight, update my LinkedIn profile, redo my personal brand. I should get a haircut for a new photo, though, my hair’s limp and dull. I’ll put that on my to-do list.
But now, I stay in the moment as I walk down on Third Street, past Market, and step over a few bodies. Dangerous to lose focus in San Francisco. Any blanket can turn out to be someone’s temporary shelter, and the sidewalks have unexpected fissures, sudden dips. A few weeks ago, I fell, face down, on the sidewalk, for no reason except a strong wind, and there I was, level with a homeless man on the hard concrete. Today, though, there is no wind, it’s shockingly mild, cloudless, warm as San Diego.
My walk’s like a vacation. I could be a tourist, except that I live here.
I stop at my local community market and buy a whole roasted organic chicken, as if I had a big family, a pound of potato salad, a loaf of rustic sourdough. I throw in a bag of organic oatmeal cookies, and I imagine Dylan eating the whole bag. He doesn’t read when he eats. He just smiles like a cat, and he never leaves crumbs on the table, which come to think of it, are just two things I like about Dylan. They’re things I really like.
Really. I need to send him a postcard now. If I wait, I might forget what I like best, and he might forget his question.
“This is kind of crazy, but you wouldn’t sell postcards, would you? I have a friend who’s dying for a postcard,” I ask the freckled woman at the checkout counter.
I forget her name, but she works here part-time. The rest of the time, she’s in grad school. She’s got freckles on her fingers, not just on her face, and a ring on every finger. Her nails are painted silver. She reads poetry on the sly, and today it’s Frank O’Hara who is one of Dylan’s favorites, and another thing I like about him. A big thing.
I figure if she doesn’t have a postcard, I’ll break up with Dylan tonight. It’s crazy to bet like that, but I’m the one betting. I’m in a dangerous mood, I’m reckless, I’m a gambler. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll deal with it.
But before I know it, I’m praying for a postcard. To send to Duluth — that’s where Dylan lives. It’s not a frozen wasteland, it’s a regular town with an airport and a post office and a Whole Foods and a university. And I want to send him a postcard, just like I promised.
Why did I promise that, when I knew I’d be tied up in meetings? Why do I make promises I can’t keep? I’m a lost cause, hopeless. No wonder Dylan’s breaking up with me. Who wouldn’t?
“Not for sale, but I do have postcards,” she says, and her voice is like honey.
She casually reaches into the pocket of her denim jacket, as if she’s often asked for postcards. She hands me a few, from a local bar, and they say “Prospect,” in big red letters. Well, risky or safe, a prospect is a prospect, and I’m suddenly bursting with things to write. I’m not dead, I want to scream, I am not dead! I can fill up ten postcards, a hundred, with all the things I like about Dylan. His dark brown eyes, and his dusky voice, and the way he walks slowly, and always waits for the light to turn green.
“You saved my life,” I say.
“So who’s the object of your affection?” she asks, as she rings up the cookies I’ve bought.
The only picture on my phone is one of Dylan with Oliver, and Oliver takes up most of the picture. It’s on my screen, it’s easy to display.
“Oliver’s actually my cat,” I explain, “but he fell in love with Dylan, so what could I do?”
My voice cracks as I talk, my words get mangled and warped. Still, something comes through.
“Love,” she says. “What can you do.”