Excerpt from Francis Forever:
As the days went on, my want for him felt like a burden, dragging me along with it into very elaborate fantasy scenarios. I was a maid, he: a middle-aged hotel guest. I: a seahorse, he: another seahorse. I: a scrunchie, he: an endless ponytail. But my greatest fantasy of all was the feeling that I was being watched. I thought that if I just believed he was always watching me, I’d be forced to act like the kind of woman he could marry, until I really was that woman. So I made sure to create an aura of sexiness all over my apartment. There are only two ways to create sexiness: perfume and dancing, and I am allergic to perfume.
No one knows this about me, but I am basically a professional in-front- of-the-mirror dancer. This is the kind of dance that no one sees. The secret kind. You’ve done this dance. Maybe it even took you a moment to remember that you’ve done it, but you have. You played a song, faced the mirror and started moving your body. Maybe you mouthed all of the words to a song and impressed yourself with this. Maybe you turned yourself on by rounding your hips over and over again until you thought to yourself: what if I’m sexier than I even know? You are. Don’t be ashamed. How do you think that those people in nightclubs know how to dance so well? Do you think it just happened one day? No, they spent years in front of the mirror quietly thinking: does this make me look like I am having sex with my clothes on?
I have found reasons to press all of the numbers that make up his number in succession and hit “call.” This is often followed by “end call” but not always. I space out all of these calls as if I were eating popcorn one kernel at a time, pausing to breathe between each bite. Have you ever tried this? It is hard. There is something within all of us that wants more popcorn than our mouths allow, but it is a spiritual practice to chew and swallow each one at a time. One kernel at a time I say:
“Did you hear that?”
“That sound, it sounded like an animal.” “I didn’t hear anything.”
“Must have been the wind.”
One at a time. I hold one of his empty beer cans and, swallow. I hear his voice and, swallow. I see a baby that looks like it could be ours and, swallow.
I have to go to the post office today which is the kind of thing I’d tell Francis about since our thing really got going because of a package, or date, was it technically a date? He’d probably take care of it for me if I asked but I haven’t seen him in a few weeks, and this really can’t wait. I am returning a pair of pants because I accidentally hit “small” when I meant to hit “medium” and I only realized this after checkout, so I had to wait for an entire system to run it’s course so that I could hit “medium” again. As I tracked my package on UPS, I saw it being dispatched from a warehouse in New Mexico, placed onto a truck headed to Tucson, then to another warehouse in Anaheim and finally, to my doorstep in Los Feliz. When the package arrived, I held it in my hands and felt the hands of every person that touched it, and I felt ashamed. I wanted to call them all and explain what happened. They held up their end of this and I just watched my mistake move through the country in real time.
On my drive to the post office, I started noticing signs everywhere. This is common. Signs most often appear when you are looking for them. Try it for yourself next time; almost anything can be a sign. Now that I’m in love, all of my signs are love-shaped. The license plate in front of me at a stop sign spelled out FEELNIT, a plastic bag that read Thank You, Thank You, Thank You blew from a branch like a flag and two goth teens made out aggressively at a bus stop. I kissed my ngers and gently pressed them up against the windshield and whispered “bless you.” Most people don’t know that blessings are free and you can give them away as often as you want, even if you are not religious.
When I walked into the post office, I noticed a long line of people in a kind of snake formation edging towards the exit. None of us chose each other, but there we were. We had all left our special somebody-ness in the car, or at home; none of it would be required of us here. All that was required was to move the line along, and some of us were failing. There were gaps between us. Deep valleys of open space. Some bodies too close, others too far. This is because most people don’t care. Most people don’t do the work; they don’t even show up. They turn up right at the end all out of breath and ask, “did I miss it?” And we say: “yes, we handled it. It’s over, go home.”
I looked around at the mess we had created and felt anxious. I let out an audible sigh which is like saying, “unbelievable!” with your breath. Then, I looked up at the uorescent lights above me and remembered: I am in love. I nearly burst out in laughter that I had almost forgot about this very important thing. Most people in the world right now, at this moment, are not in love. They are out of love or over love or under-loved. They are nowhere near the in part. They are typing online profiles that say “Looking for Love” and refreshing the page. I suddenly became self-conscious that maybe I was feeling so much love that it was making people feel uncomfortable. But I looked around and no one seemed to notice – that’s how rare love has become.
In front of me was a large, elderly man. He was both tall and wide, a real bottleneck for our slow moving conga line. His shape demanded all of the space that this great earth would give him, and as I entered his orbit, I feared being swallowed whole by whatever magnetic force sucks you into large, dark masses.
“We’re going to be here for a while,” he said. “Yes,” I laughed.
I thought about pretending I didn’t understand English but remembered I didn’t know any other languages.
“What do you have there?”
“Oh, it’s – I made a mistake, I’m returning something.”
Something about the soft look on his face said he was somebody’s father and he could tell that I was somebody’s daughter and because of this, he chose me as his temporary surrogate. Like a reclining chair, I relaxed into it.
“Me too, I never heard the mailman ring the bell.” He held up a note that said, Sorry We Missed You!
“I hate when that happens.”
“I don’t mind it. It’s fun not to know.”
“Yeah, but then you get stuck here on a Saturday.”
“It’s not so bad if you know you’ll get a present in the end.” “What kind of present?”
“I’m picking up a package from my girlfriend.”
The way he said the word “girlfriend” suggested this was a new arrangement. He hadn’t worn out the word yet, so it felt like a surprise every time the word exited his mouth, and every time, he was pleased by it.