Soon, I am going to be getting married. Here is swan-diving into confections of lace and silk in cold dressing rooms while a long, elegant associate pretends not to notice my pale mounds, my apologetic softness. Here is the question, When? When? When? As such, I can only think in the past tense and the future, when really I need to be in the present. Feel his heat, I tell myself. Notice the moon through the parted curtains. Hold onto to the rough edges of his hands.
Past-tense, first-person, I: I was the girl they called fat and then the girl they called skinny. I held my arms close to my chest when I walked through the hallways. I was a long distance runner who woke up early for how my heart leaned against the hills. I was the girl in leggings sloped over a book in the travel section of the library, pressing my fingers against the names of faraway places. Paris. Florence. Lisbon. I was the girl who wore hats in the suburbs because in my head I was in France.
I was eighteen, in Converse, drinking over-priced coffees called Cappucinos in the Big City. I was nineteen, and then twenty, pixie haired with a silver of a nose piercing, running for the bus, running for the train, running for the plane home. I had a battered suitcase and chapped elbows and so much light in my face. I woke up early to drink coffee before my lone window overlooking the river, then the parking lot, then the neighbor’s wall. I was the young woman in heels and a cardigan hurrying up K Street who put on her make-up in the handicapped bathroom stall. In my windowsill, my boyfriend’s blue fish in a carafe, lended to me for company. I had a mattress on the floor and a school boy’s desk painted robin’s egg blue. Taped to the wall were my cherished bits and pieces, that Beirut lyric scribbled in marker on pink-milled paper: Oh, Scenic World!
I moved when the leaves fell. I moved just before the hurricane came. I got on the plane right before snow blanketed Europe.
That’s what I remember of the woman I was: the sound of my suitcase wheels cutting through leaves on the sidewalk.
And, of course, also: How electric the stars were on those northern Michigan nights opening up my heart to whoever would let me.
I miss her. Is it ok that I miss her, when here is good? I just want to hold her close and make sure she’s still there.
Future tense, plural, we: This part is easy. I have always been good at dreaming. Not, what will the joys be? Not, what will the compromises look like? But: What color will the walls be? Where will the cat sleep? Will we hold onto our goodness? How will it all show up on our faces? Will our hearts hold up, day after day, beating?
Will my parents hold hands when they come to visit and the cat hides?
Present-tense, here, me and him: This is the charged space before the joining happens. We look at each other long and hard. This face before me shaving in the mirror makes me giddy. This is the face I will wake up to.
There will be a cake glistening with sugar. For how many other finish lines did I dream of a cake and a crowd? When I became fluent in French, when I moved into my first apartment on my own, when I got accepted into an MFA program?
I think now: why didn’t I just get myself a cake?
I am a Master of Fine Arts Candidate in Fiction, English teacher, and recovering Francophile living in the D.C. suburbs with my fiancé and our cat.
Ali has taken classes with Valley.