Dear T.,

I no longer think about you, although you monopolized my could-have-beens for years. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was convinced that, despite all signs pointing elsewhere, the combination of you and I held so much promise.

What did I know? I was twenty when we first met. My boyfriend at the time invited you over to our place for dinner. "You're going to like each other," J. had said to me before you arrived, but he didn't intend it to be anything else. Then again, what did he know? You and I were both Chinese American refugees from the Jersey wastelands, where we spent our time thinking of how much more we could be. You made films, we both wrote stories. You loved Tom Waits. You used a pseudonym. We discovered a shared a bookcase and a music selection.

J. told me that you had said I was a badass. I reveled silently for weeks, took the cue, asked you to hang out after he left for a trip around the world and after one too many embarrassing events - me caught staring at you, poker-faced, eating a sandwich; my friend giggling and saying, so loud the entire world could hear, really, "Wow, that's him? He's so fine." And you were. I turned away. I stammered, stuttered, became sloppy when I saw you. Nobody else had ever been able to reduce me to saying nothing, although at the time I didn't realize that it might have been because there wasn't much to say.

We went out for dinner, you took me to see your favorite Hitchcock films. Sitting next to you in a movie theater, our arms touching, I couldn't replay a single scene. "You're so much like J.," you said, looking at me. "The way you talk and the way your hands move." One night, you shook my hand and ran off. Later I heard it was because you were staying over at a new girl's apartment.

There was one girl, then two - both blondes, thin, brilliant in other ways - and you shuffled between them because you couldn't make up your mind, because two was better than one. I called you late at night but you avoided the subject. You asked me what I was doing and I told you I was playing computer solitaire. Wasting time, really. I wanted to see the cards flip. My grandfather once taught me to wish before a game and that victory would bring luck. That year, I played for hours, game after game, wishing and wishing and waiting for the kings and queens to line up neatly, snug against one another in perfect succession. You asked me what my favorite card design was. I said robots. Yours, you told me, was the classic rose. I said good night, then clicked away.

J. returned to the country, moved to New York, and we were the only ones left in town. Your girlfriend - the cheerier, older, shorter one had won out - rented a place in Brooklyn. You could take me out to lunch, you said, calliing me at work. We could talk. We could talk about the greatest books list, about our jobs, about New York and the weather, then look away when the silences bubbled up. We ran through a thunderstorm, sat drenched inside a diner, and you offered to drive me down to Manhattan that weekend. I could see J. - even though we had broken up. You'd go to Brooklyn. We could spend hours together in your gas-guzzling Oldsmobile, playing tapes, smoking, talking about everything. Just one more hour with me, I thought, and perhaps you'd understand: how much we had in common, how my calls were more than a vapid crush, how you yourself were much more than "so fine."

But there was no reason for this, and you said Goodbye instead of See you later, turned your car down the street, didn't look back. Three years later I ran into you and your girlfriend in a Manhattan bar. "It's so great to see you again," you said. "We should hang out sometime." Someone was waiting for me at my table, I told you, and I'm not too sorry that I never called you back.


Friday, January 05, 2001


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