Sara’s handwriting covered both sides of the index card. She’d scribbled down to the last empty space.
The first night, obviously. Victor says it was love at first sight, but I was too tired that night to fall in love. It was after one of my little happenings. I remember I was exhausted, I wasn’t out to impress anybody. Then he came up with a drink and I thought, Well, he’s tall. The kind of guy who took himself seriously, straight out of Brooks Brothers, with pens in his breast pocket. Not at all my typical fan. But I could tell he wanted to kiss me. I made him want to kiss me. That was the whole idea.
New York, August 1971. I was renting a studio on West Eighth Street, back when it was dingy. Men found it avant-garde, the exposed pipes, the working bathtub in the kitchen. Victor and I caught a movie, then we drifted back to my place to listen to some Chicago blues records and drink whiskey sours (I only drank whiskey sours that year). I probably lit some incense and talked a big game. There was a point, I remember, when we discussed our favorite books. We had three in common—that seemed important. But he didn’t come on to me. I started to worry I’d read him wrong. Then he asked me, after one of those prolonged quiet moments (I never liked quiet moments), “So, what’s your secret?”
He had this earnest, really lovely look on his face. His seriousness didn’t waver.
“Deep down, what’s the one secret you don’t share with people?”
“You first,” I said.
After a second, he said, “I killed a friend of mine.”
Not what I expected.
“No, when I was a kid.” He sort of laughed. He wasn’t self-conscious, but it was a big deal. “When I was twelve. I’m not sure.”
“Whether you killed him?”
“He killed himself. But I could have stopped him.”
Well, I scrambled to think of something. “I hit my mother one time. I punched her in the mouth.” After a beat, Victor said, “You might have something there,” and then both of us started laughing, just crazy laughter, and that was that.
Normally I gave away my love in dribs and drabs, but not this time. As though I’d stumbled into a cause; perhaps not right for anybody else, but all mine.
Sara’s handwriting covered both sides of the index card. She’d scribbled down to the last empty space. I put the card back where I’d found it on her desk, tucked into a book with dozens more.
She might have written it just after our counseling appointment, sitting in her car while I pulled out of the parking lot.
Weeks before California.
Some theories said the most accurate memory was one that’s never recalled. The more the mind retells a story, the more that story hardens into a basic shape, where by remembering one detail we push ten others below the surface and construct the memory touch by touch. A sculpture between the neurons that looks like its model, just not completely.
But I hadn’t brought this one up in thirty years. And Sara recalled that first evening perfectly: the movie, the music, the whiskey sours.
What we said. How it felt.
But I didn’t remember that we’d gone to a movie.
I barely remembered that evening at all.