I walk up the steps to Epworth every day. There are five of them - I've memorized the coffee stains, the leaf bits, the places where the paint is flaking off the railing. Five slabs of granite, then five feet till home.
It was a couple weeks into October when I first saw the tiny slip of paper wedged into the seam between the second and third steps. The size of my pinky nail, on slick white magazine stock, all it said was
I smiled the first time I saw it, wondering how I could work it into a metaphor. A canned blog post, I thought. Perfect.
The weeks passed; I couldn't find anything to do with that
Neither rain nor wind could touch it - stuck between the steps, under the porch awning, it was protected. I saw it several times a day, and it became the litmus test for my day. It was a cheerful and; a mocking and; an expectant and; an impatient and. Slowly, it began to tease me.
You've turned in your application, and?
You've got a recommendation letter, and?
You've got three papers to write this week, and?
Your boss wants to fire you, and?
You are imperfect
your life is incomplete
your best efforts are not good enough
you are alone now
Jeannie came to visit this weekend. Standing behind the counter at work, I heard someone say "hey" and all of a sudden I was trying to hug her around the display case and then we both ran to the door and we were laughing at ourselves and I was thinking how silly, how biologically improbable it is for one second with one person to encompass everything, the whole range of emotion and anticipation that's built over months and months of nothing.
Chameleons can point their eyes in two different directions at once. I try to imagine how they process what they see, and for a heartbeat Saturday night I felt it - one eye knew for sure that nothing had changed, ever, that neither of us had left and the past semester was compressed into a day, a second, a vacation from which we had both just returned. The other eye saw nine months past and 36 hours to come and then who knows, a month or a semester or a year or who knows, who can say, nothing's permanent, new history now on both sides, different people, familiar but changed.
I stepped around the counter and the two visions snapped, clicked into one: everything is different and everything's the same. Love is love; love endures.
We came back from the basketball game sweaty and dehydrated, put bids on shower order. I went first, hurried through the hot water, tried to be the gracious host. Jeannie and Brian and Sarah lounged in the living room. Jeannie called to me as I stepped out into the hall with a towel on my head.
"Brian wrote some magnetic poems on your fridge, you should come look."
"Good," I called back. "Glad somebody's using it." My hair was wet, and I bent down to rub it dry.
They left this morning. I woke up to say goodbye with hugs all around, then stumbled back to bed. When my alarm went off twenty minutes later, I leapt up - the room smelled like them and I was confused. I plodded into the bathroom. A small black speck lay embedded in the bathmat. I knelt down to pick it up. It was a magnet. The reverse bore a single word: