by Kevin Dublin
Most good stories by guys begin with girls. The girl in this story taught me that “you can’t buy love, but you can rent it” before I knew who Jonathan Larson was. It’ll soon be ten years since our last I love yous were exchanged, and one week later it’ll be a decade since she died. I don’t want to use names for fear of triggering any Google Alerts and raising more pain, but I’d like to share a story.
In another reality, I’m 79. It’s March 12, 2067. At 3:26 a.m. the next day, I’ll be 80 years old. In this reality, I want to live to be 80. That’s it. Why? Because even the Kevin Dublin of this alternate reality sets arbitrary goals for motivation. alt-Kevin Dublin is better, though. He keeps up with his daily yoga and meditation, and he’s overcome his hypersensitive taste and “selective eating disorder.” He’s scheduled and neat. This Kevin also has one other significant attribute that I don’t: he has her.
On the morning of July 7, 2003 in Pennsylvania, there was no accident, and an entire family did not die. It’s kinda like that indie movie Another Earth (2011) starring the lovely, Brit Marling because that’s really the only difference between Kevin’s world and alt-Kevin’s world— well, there’s one other difference: Joss Whedon wrote and directed the film version of The Last Airbender, not M. Night Shyamalan. The film spawned two sequels and a Legend of Korra sequel trilogy. Enough of that, though.
Seventy-nine-year-old alt-Kevin wakes up to first light reddening his eyelids and blurring his blinks. He walks to the bathroom. He pees. He washes his hands and face. He does his daily yoga routine and then steeps some acai-infused green tea while sitting on his condo’s balcony overlooking the waves. He closes his eyes to better hear the seagulls’ squalls. He calls her. It rings and rings and rings, and now I am him.
“You’re late,” she says. “I’ve already started cooking breakfast here.”
“You could’ve just come over. You have a key.” I say. “Or you could’ve come yesterday and spent the night.”
“That wouldn’t have been a good idea.”
“I’m coming.” I say.
“Oh, stop it.”
“I’ll be a dirty old man tomorrow; I’m getting an early start.”
On the short train ride to her place, I see a young Black guy reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems and a young Latina writing in a notebook. I creep over to sit next to the young guy.
“Are you a poet?” I ask.
“Yes.” He answers.
“Bishop is my favorite twentieth century poet. Well, she and Ted Hughes.”
“I love Ted Hughes!” He exclaims as he shuts Bishop’s book and pulls Hawk in the Rain from his satchel. “We just read him in school. We read a lot of his poems and that one by—umm, what’s his wife’s name?”
“Plath. Sylvia Plath, but no one reads her anymore. Could I suggest two things?”
“One: if you haven’t read them, read Thomas Sayers Ellis and A. Van Jordan, two excellent early 21st century American poets. Two: you should go talk to the cute girl with the notebook. Carpe diem, homey.”
“Yeah, we’re studying them next week. I dig this Dublin guy too. He was really influenced by them. You should check him out too.”
“I will.” I say and wave and get off at my stop.
On the walk to her condo, in the gray haze of the morning, I think of how many times she and I had dated and broken up— how we had married and divorced, married and divorced, were partners and separated, dated other people, were co-parents—how throughout it all, we were best friends.
I entered her place to the smell of bacon, eggs, and pancakes.
“You’re always late.” She says.
“Then why do you still expect me to be on time?”
“Because I’m insane.”
“Because I like insane.” I say as I sit. She still waddles when she walks. I notice it as she places the last plate in front of me.
“Close your eyes,” she says. “I want you to try something from the fridge.”
I abide. I try something cold and mushy: a texture that I hate. I cringe. “What the hell is this?”
“Squid.” She giggles.
We argue for ten minutes about why she shouldn’t have done that. I say, “I’m sensitive to that stuff” and “Why would you have me try something that you know I won’t like?” and “You’re ruining my Birthday Eve Breakfast” and “Stuff like this is why I divorced you.” She says, “Be a man” and “You won’t know until you try it” and “There’s no such thing as ‘Birthday Eve’” and “I’m pretty sure that I divorced you both times.”
We’re angry, and we eat. Through her window, I notice that the overcast has receded, and the sun lightens the green of a branch’s leaves.
We apologize and reminisce.
“Do you remember when we were in high school?” She asks. “Do you remember how even afterwards you’d say that you believed ‘people are most in love during those years’?”
“Yeah, I think it’s for several reasons. You know, biologically, ideologically, and chronologically it just made the most sense,” I rambled.
“Do you still believe that?”
I pause. I look at her thinning grey hair. I am unable to distinguish the furrow of her brow from the wrinkles in her forehead. Her crow’s feet are deep with years of anticipation and smiles of success. Her lips are as full as ever and slightly parted. “I did,” I say, “Until right now.” I stand, and she stands, and I kiss her because biologically, ideologically, and chronologically it makes the most sense.
“Did you do your yoga and meditate this morning?” She asks.
We share a day walking on the beach, reading in a bookstore, eating lunch at a café over Scrabble, seeing a play in the afternoon, and she cooks dinner in the evening. She makes my favorite dish from her restaurant. We talk. We talk more deeply about religion and philosophy and television and film and sex and the Internet and the Polish swim team that is training for the Olympics until we are too tired to continue. It is 9:30 p.m.—way past our bedtimes. I told her that I wanted to wake up next to her on my birthday. She smirked.
Around 12:30 a.m. my prostate sends me to the bathroom. When I return, she has shifted into my spot. I spoon her. I fall asleep. I fall asleep to dream of this reality, to die. I fall asleep to wake back up in my own body, in my own reality, typing flash creative non-fiction that is borderline creepy. I want to end it with a line like, “I never woke up knowing what it was to live a day without her,” but it’s too sentimental already—too melodramatic, so I don’t. Instead, I think of a way to say that some losses, some scars, they take a long time to fade. I go to my bookshelf and take down Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems. I read “One Art.” I pull out a notebook and scribble a poem. It isn’t much good, but I feel better after writing it.
About the author
Kevin Dublin is a writing consultant, part-time micro publisher and poem busker. His work has most recently appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Connotations Press: An Online Artifact, Aries: Journal of Art and Literature, and Strong Verse. After earning his MA at East Carolina University, Kevin is currently pursuing an MFA at San Diego State University.
Kevin, this is really beautiful.
I was really excited to get this piece because it definitely fits our criteria for “true stories” in that it is about the ways that you cope with the loss of this very important person but it is also a science fiction story as well. It was a joy to read, thank you.
Thank you! This started as another attempt at keeping a dream journal. I feel like all the cool writers kept journals, and I thought a dream journal would work because I’d only have to write when I had a dream. The origins of this are the single entry in another composition notebook. Failed again. One day I’ll actually keep it up.