A couple of lifetimes ago, before I was lucky enough to fall madly in love with the right person at the right time; before we ran away to Prague, living for a year on a lovely little cobblestone street in a walk-up flat owned, we’d later discover, by the Russian mob; before we eloped; before we had a beautiful little boy who reminds me every day what’s truly important in this messy, wild life; before the word “love” meant poetry and sunshine and profound possibility as opposed to fury and loneliness and fuck it, I’ll freeze my eggs, get a turkey baster, and have a kid with my gay best friend
; before all of that
—I’d ask my friends in relationships, “How do you, like, know?”
I wanted a mathematical equation, some John Hughes character arc, some logical, rational, self-help step-by-step of finding my perfect person. If there were steps, I could execute them. I could work towards something. I could be an active participant in not only finding love but finding it now
But, of course, it doesn’t work like that. It works like this:
You say, “How do you know?” and they say, “You just do
And then you sit on your hands to keep from setting their pretty little relationship-having faces on fire.
I wanted a mathematical equation, some John Hughes character arc, some logical, rational, self-help step-by-step of finding my perfect person.
So one night, I’m over at a friend’s place, we’ll call him Kyle, and we’re studying for some exam or another when the phone rings. This was forever ago, before cell phones and caller ID and all of that, so Kyle just picks up and says hello. Then his eyes get really wide. He says things like, “No, I just didn’t expect to hear from you,” and “I mean, it happened so long ago,” and “Well, I guess I can try.” What happens next is me sitting on his futon for over two hours as he paces the apartment, trying to explain to his ten years ago ex-girlfriend
why they hadn’t worked out. Apparently, as he told me later, she’d recently turned thirty and had enrolled in some relationship self-assessment seminar, the point of which was calling every ex, and sort-of ex, and were we even together long enough to be ex’s?
-ex, in order to discuss, ad naseum, what she’d done wrong.
The feminist in me finds this appalling. The writer in me finds it fascinating. The friend in me wants to make her a really wicked mixed CD full of early PJ Harvey, buy her so many martinis that chandeliers will look like the night sky, and keep her forever away from seminars.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of me gets it.
The need to, like, know
When Kyle finally gets off the phone, he needs a drink (or two or five), so we walk down the street to Foremost Liquors. “I didn’t know what to tell her,” he says as we browse the aisles. “We only dated for a couple of months and I don’t—” he pauses here, because he knows he’s about to say something Not Nice, and truth be told, he’s a very nice guy. Was back in that
lifetime, still is in this one. “—I don’t really remember her,” he finishes, and I nod. I get it. I don’t remember all the details, either—do you? Why we fell in or out of love? The thing that was said that pushed us too far, the reason we knew it wouldn’t work? Sometimes there isn’t a reason. One day he smells right, the next day he doesn’t. We’re pissed she didn’t call, pissed she called too much. I remember one guy, while getting undressed, took his socks off last
which made me so furious I wanted to scratch out his eyeballs—and why? There’s no logic to any of it.
I remember one guy, while getting undressed, took his socks off last which made me so furious I wanted to scratch out his eyeballs—and why?
Here’s some logic for you: I decided I was going to marry my husband because he took me out for sushi. We’d been living in Prague for nearly six months, and if you’ve never been please know that it’s beautiful and wonderful and magical but finding good sushi there is nearly, if not totally impossible, which, for me, was torture. I was a Chicagoan! I had a post-it note stuck to my computer that read I didn’t get laid last night, but at least I had sushi!
I loooved sushi, was dying
without it, and somehow, he’d found a place, buried deep under the Kafka and cobblestone and beer-soaked cabbage. How ever many lifetimes I’m lucky enough to have, I will never forget biting into that tuna nigiri. It was perfect. It probably cost more than our rent to the Russians, but who cared. This was the moment that the fury changed to sunshine. This was the moment when the equations ceased to matter. This was the moment when I looked up at Christopher and… knew
Megan Stielstra is the Literary Director of 2nd Story and co-editor of their print anthology, Briefly Knocked Unconscious by a Low-Flying Duck: Stories From 2nd Story (Elephant Rock Books 2012). She’s told stories for the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Poetry Center, Neo-Futurarium Theater on the Lake, and Chicago Public Radio, among others, and is a regular performer with 2nd Story, The Paper Machete, and Write Club. Her story collection, Everyone Remain Calm (Joyland/ECW 2011), was a Chicago Tribune Favorite of 2011, and her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, PANK, Make Magazine, F Magazine, Other Voices, The Nervous Breakdown, Fresh Yarn, Pindeldyboz, Swink, and elsewhere. She teaches writing and performance at Columbia College and The University of Chicago.