You liked to talk, and so did I, but we always spoke in different ways: I am from the East Coast and liked to talk about the people I loved and the places I was attached to, but you are from the West Coast and liked to talk about whether I loved those people or why I was so attached, and I thought man this is a chick you could learn a few things from, and so we started to speak in these terms, we started to question the merits of all the things I adored, and I didn’t for one second find it presumptuous because you seemed to know your shit: I told you that Vivian had broken my heart because I loved her so, so much, loved her in a way I didn’t think I could love someone, and you said how long did you date and I said three months and you looked at me as though I’d just revealed that Vivian was actually a guy or something, and then we talked about why it was wrong to love her, and why it was wrong to even call it love at all, and why I had to cut it out, and then you told me you needed “space,” but I’m from the East Coast and had never heard that word before, not in the way you were using it, not phrased as a thing you request of someone you love very much, but you are from the West Coast and said that your therapist had taught you to use this word openly and often, to ask for it at will, this therapist who had also taught you the language of whether and why, and so “space” it was: we stopped laying all afternoon together in your studio with the high white walls and the large stone tiles and the French press and the Ikea bed that I built for you when you moved in; we stopped dancing to Al Green at two in the afternoon when we were supposed to be in class learning about the Art of the Memoir; we stopped taking walks around your stone-cobbled neighborhood, and wondering who lived in each house, and making up stories about their lives—we stopped doing all of this because you needed “space,” and when I asked you what you needed “space” for, as in what is it you do when you’re taking your “space” rather than what kind of a person asks for “space”, in other words out of genuine curiosity instead of a kind of accusation, you stood barefoot in the kitchen and rubbed your big toe against your calf like a flamingo, and I loved you so, so much, loved you in a way I didn’t think I could love someone, loved you in a way I hadn’t even loved Vivian, loved you in a way that made me want the opposite of “space,” in a way that wasn’t even physically possible, wanted to figure out how we could just dissolve into each other or melt or whatever, because I could tell you were nervous, and you never let anyone see when you were nervous, but you were letting me see, and then you said I’m confused and I said what about and you tied your hair back in a ponytail and put your foot down and said I’ve been talking to some of my ex-boyfriends lately, and when I paused for a breath, you rolled your eyes and said you need to find a way to deal with your anger, because I am from the East Coast and called your ex-boyfriend a dickhead, or something like that, because he once shouted to a passing car that he was going to quote ride you all night long unquote, and I couldn’t imagine you ever dating a person who’d say that, and you are from the West Coast and so said well, let’s talk about why you’re having trouble accepting that, and I said okay, and we talked about what was “really” the matter, and I’m from the East Coast so I said you’re selfish, and you’re from the West Coast and said sometimes in love you need to be selfish, and I could see you getting impatient and so I agreed, and then you went home for summer and we decided it would be fun to write each other letters, like an old-fashioned couple, instead of using the phone, and over three months apart I sent two a week, and you sent one a month, each letter becoming sparser in content and more clinical in tone, which was something I probably would have been able to detect sooner had I not skipped so many craft classes with you, and you came back and told me about the men you’d been with, and when I cried you said well let’s talk about why this is hurting you so much, and I managed to talk through the tears but every time we got to the part where we described what you’d done, I hit the dashboard (we were in your car in front of my apartment) with my palm, and you said see what I mean? You always turn to anger, and I said I’m sorry and I said you’re right because you were getting impatient, and ready to let me out of the car, and you said okay let’s just see what happens, and we continued on like that: we got drunk with our friends and made love afterwards when you said say it again, say the thing you wanted and I said I want to dissolve into you, and you liked that, and I liked that you liked that, because I meant it, even while drunk, and things were back on track until Halloween, when we found the dog wandering in front of the car, and we took her to a shelter but they were closed, and by then I could see by the look in your eyes that you were already in love, but your roommate had cats and so we kept the dog at my house, and called her Honey because “Wild Honey” by the Beach Boys had been playing on the radio when we found her, and she was a beautiful dog, but frightened easily during sleep, and so you started sleeping at your place, and we had conversations about What It Means to Have a Dog Together, which always ended with you saying it’s not something you were interested in doing, not with me, and you are from the West Coast and said I’ve decided I can’t take her, it’s too stressful for me, and when I asked which rescue place we should take her to, you said why can’t you just take her in? Please? and we had a conversation about what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t handle the responsibility—I had no money but you said if you love something enough you’ll find a way, and I am from the East Coast so I looked at you, and agreed, and took her in, and I did end up loving her so, so much, loved her in a way I didn’t think I could love a dog, loved her like a father loves a daughter, and then you went home for Christmas, and didn’t come back, and called me and told me about the men you’d been with this time, and said you need to find a way to deal with your anger, and said I need space, and I gave it to you, and now here I am with Honey, Honey who I love, Honey who is all I have left of you, and I think about how much I love her, and I think about the “value” of “space,” because that’s how you’ve taught me to think, and I try to picture ever wanting “space” from this thing that I love so much, and I can’t picture ever asking that of something I love, and I think about how I’d never allow her that kind of “space” if she really was my daughter and had the ability to request it, how I’d simply say no space between us, and as I lay here with her I think about why you knew everything, and whether you ever really knew anything.
Ted McLoof is a professor of fiction at the University of Arizona. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Minnesota Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Gertrude Press, Trillium, Melusine, Short Story America, and he was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Family Matters contest.