Today, I Run

Today, I Run
Today, I run.
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My friend loaned me her car, so I drive to a trail head I’ve never been to before. I want to explore. I want to go up the rocks and jagged pathways and be completely immersed in nature. I love DC for that. You can escape whenever you need to into a National Park.
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I’ve caved in and started using the Samsung “Running Coach” app on my phone. I pride myself on being a self-motivator, but it looks like I am falling into another millennial trap of covering up the feeling of loneliness with a button on my phone. Hit this one to find a lover, this one to help you meditate, this one to find out where you are going.
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I find it hard to believe we are still born with any sense of intuition at all.
Looks great! says Samsung.
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How the hell do you know how I look? I say back. All that matters is that it feels great. I remind myself. Getting my heart rate up feels great.  
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Keep up, you’re going too slow.
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Of course, I’m going slow! I’m going uphill on a trail, dammit! This is as hard as shit! 
I give myself the break.
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Thankfully, I’ve learned how to do that in the past four years. 
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Four years ago I was not a runner. I was not even a mover. If the doctor asked me if I worked out, I probably would say I had sex pretty regularly– does that count?  Oh, and sometimes I take a walk. I wasn’t fat; I wasn’t skinny. I just didn’t really see the point of exercise when there were other things to do.
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My mother said my childhood pediatrician told me I had a body of an athlete. But the narrowness path of public education set me up as someone who was supposed to get good grades and be in marching band. I felt embarrassed around athletic people. Couldn’t really keep up. Leave me to the brainy stuff, I thought. Forget the body.
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So, when did I start running? I think back first run I took at my summer teacher training after I had arrived in China as a fellow in Teach for China, a program similar to Peace Corps or Teach for America. We lived and worked at a rural school for a month to prepare us for teaching in our villages in the fall.
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A few of my friends would run. But they were very competitive, as many of the people in my program were in they had first arrived. Many hailed from Ivy Leagues and were used to being the best. On many levels, I felt intimidated.
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I’m going to be quite vulnerable with my readers and say I have a slight, but sometimes major, emotional trauma from childhood when it comes to becoming a part of new, big social groups. Ironically, I seek the experience out constantly. Such is the paradox of souls yearning to heal.
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On top of that, the general atmosphere our training was just, well, difficult. I had become so depressed from nights hardly sleeping on the hard-wooden bunk-bed. We had ridiculous deadlines of lesson plans to meet without any real Wi-Fi connection. One weekend, I developed a low-grade fever and just wanted to nap the day away.
I think after some lucky Skype call connection with my dad, he reminded me to try and exercise more. I remember putting on an album of Afro-Cuban music and going towards the hills, the day-time glow of a full moon in sight.
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A la luna yo me voy sang my iPod.
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I guess this DOES feel good, I remember thinking.
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The fever disappeared and I forgot I had ever had it to begin with. 
Good pace. Keep this up.
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Thanks Samsung!
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Today, I run alone. I’m going to an event later tonight with a new friend that I don’t really know. Samsung talks in my ear but grounding down into my body reminds me about real emotion.
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Slow down and keep breathing.
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Stop pretending you’re not anxious. Just breathe.
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Run at a pace that allows you to still sing a song out loud.
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To who? About what? I’m alone Samsung!
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I wonder if I can make new friends who will want to run with me. Or maybe I do have friends that will run with me; I’ve just never asked.
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I pass an older gay couple with the two black dogs, the family of four that got lost from the trail, and a mom and her daughter racing in the grass to run into dad’s arms. 
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Belonging. I think to myself. I also have that sense of belonging. Matching my emotions to manifest my needs.
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I think back to the friends I used to run with. 
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I think of Derek, I think of Brittany and I think of Li Hai Peng. My co-fellows, two Americans and one Chinese, in my village, who convinced me to start running with them.
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Derek had a long, lean and muscular build. Brittany was tall and fit and had been running cross-country for years. Hai Peng had shorter legs, but they carried him along quickly.
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The first year I attempted to go with them two or three times after dinner. Teaching most days was a nightmare. And with running, I did not believe in myself at all. Someone in my family sent me a giant jar of Nutella in a care package, so and truth be told, I just ended up eating spoonfuls of that in my room after teaching to combat the stress.
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The second year, I settled in. I had a mastery over my class, my Chinese, and my emotional well-being in general. I started doing a lot of yoga, but I got bored. There wasn’t really much to do in the village, so I joined the run.
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Today, I look up the hill I’m about the climb. I can almost hear my childish cry after Derek and I see him up ahead on the trail. 
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“Derek slow down! Not fair, you’re too fast!”
“No, Merritt, you’re fine. Keep up that pace. See, you’re doing so well! Lengthen your stride. You have long legs, you can do it.” 
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“Thanks coach!” 
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Hai Peng and Derek used to sing songs in Chinese. Derek told me he liked to run to sad, melancholy songs, rather than upbeat ones. While we ran, we would talk about what was happening with teaching, or just ourselves, and even our lives outside of that place.
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I’d wave at my students, playing outside at home after dinner. Derek would always see that 14-year-old picking grapes who had dropped out of middle school and who he had befriended.
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When I ran alone, I’d hope the stray dogs wouldn’t chase me, but sometimes they did, and it made me run faster. Adrenaline is a nice drug of choice. In my mind, I’d plan out my trips I’d take to Vietnam and Cambodia. I’d think about what kind of life I’d have once I got home. I’d look at the grape fields and the mountains, but I never thought that one day that this place would be the home that I’d miss.
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Eventually, we started training for a marathon in the nearest city, about a two-hour bus ride away from our village. Hai Peng’s friend, Kun Zai, had come to live in the village because he had a job in computers that allowed him to work remotely and have time to play lots of video games as well. He always brought along a much needed sense of joy and humor to our running conversations that were often dampened by the stress of our work in the classroom.
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The day of the race we lined up early in the morning. There was a man smoking a cigarette and with a Red Bull in hand jogging in place.
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Yeah, I think I can do this, I thought. 
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We were off, running past a large beautiful lake and through alley ways of shops preparing fresh包子Bāozi, or steamed buns, from the windowsills.
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Derek and Hai Peng took off quickly, both of them taking a stab at the half-marathon. Kun Zai promised to keep an eye on me as he and I were both attempting our first 10K. 
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Near the end of the race, I found myself alone, tired, and ready to have the whole thing over with. But then Kun Zai met up with me.
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“You can do it! Defeat the enemy!” he said, a quick as a gunman from one of his games.
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I looked forward at a girl running about 30 meters in front of me. Sure, I can do it. Why not? (Or as I was probably thinking in Chinese 为什么不?Wèishéme bù?)
I crossed the finish line and came in 9th place for the women’s race.
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I’m not really sure there’s an enemy to defeat anymore. I don’t hang around competitive people and I can’t say I’m competitive with myself like I used to be. 
The only “enemy” was the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do anything.
Now, I just enjoy the view from the run.
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Derek e-mailed me a few days ago. He still lives in China. I suggested that he and Hai Peng should make a motivational bilingual running app. It would sell millions! He said he’ll pitch the idea to him. 
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Across oceans of disconnect, it’s good to know technology can help make us feel we still belong to some greater tribe of friendship.
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 Nice job, you’re almost there. 
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Thanks Samsung.
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But where exactly is ‘there’?
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For I know with each breath I take, I have the chance to begin again.
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Simone’s Diary

(***trigger warning – graphic sexual imagery)
I feel so delicately intertwined with him, like a fly caught in a spider’s web. In the web of all life, she believed, lead people together, even into entrapment and venomous harm.
 
April 7th
It’s been a week since I’ve seen you. I expected you would call me today, but it appears that you are out of town on a business trip to the coast of Southern California.
Instead, I called my cousin, Maryanne, who isn’t really my cousin but the daughter of my aunt’s first husband, who killed himself when he jumped off the side of a bridge in the 80s. We don’t talk about that.  Maryanne comes over with a J, and we sit on the front porch. I tell her I’m not going to smoke because of the interview tomorrow, but I do anyway. We start to discuss things like how miserable we are at our jobs, the weirdest sex positions we’ve done and how the pyramids in Egypt align with the stars in Orin’s Belt. I tell her a read a book by an Egyptian author recently for my translation class. As always she nodded her head and scrambled to change the subject and not focus my college education. I know she resents me because of it.
“Do you remember Aladdin?” she asked me.
“Yeah, sure, but that’s in Saudia Arabia, not Egypt…”
“Remember the time where I put your Aladdin Barbie doll next to a hamster cage, and he bit it’s nose off?”
“Yeah, Mom thought that was pretty horrific.”
“She never let me forget it.”
“Yeah.”
“And do you remember the part when Jafar traps Jasmine inside of an hourglass? At the end of the movie.” 
“When she can’t get out and she is crying for help? And then Alladin comes and breaks the glass so she can escape.”
“Yeah. You know, sometimes I felt like that.”
“Oh yeah?” When I reveal something about the how I feel to Maryanne her eyes perk up, as if she wants to know more about me to confirm that something I feel about myself she could feel too.
 
“I never told anyone this, but I used to think about sex before I fell asleep. And not the usual kind of sex. After seeing that movie, all sorts of torturous devices came inside my head. I couldn’t fall asleep without thinking about it. I used to think of a woman inside of a spider’s web, the spider’s silk slowing wrapping around her body so that a man could later have her. I never really knew what it meant I just know I used to think about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, kind of like subliminal advertising. It gets in your head and makes you think things that you don’t wanna think.”
    
“I never told anyone this either, but our godmother’s son used to touch me, while we were playing video games. I was only nine when it started. I don’t know for how long it went on. Maybe I was only seven or so, but I think nine. He was thirteen. I remember sitting there with a controller in my hand and his arms wrapped around me, feeling me. I forgave him. I remember a voice in my head saying ‘Maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing. ‘Maybe he thinks it’s okay because someone did it to him.’ I thought my parents would be angry if they found out, so I never told them. ‘Maybe it does feel good,’ I used to think. I learned to forget about it so quickly. He used to invite me to play board games with him under the covers of his bunk bed. I remember thinking ‘Maybe if I asked my little brother to play with us, I would be safe.’ My brother shielded me. But then there was this time, I think at my dad’s work, in the childcare room at his office, and he pulled me into this rocket ship made of cardboard and pulled down his pants. All I remember was his Ninja Turtle underwear, and maybe something happened, maybe it didn’t, I don’t know…I guess I’ve blocked it out. It stopped, I think one of the teachers walked into the room or something. I remember wanting to tell my mom so badly about what was going on, but I told my best friend at school who convinced me I had to say something, so I did. My mom was shocked, but I don’t think she ever told my godmother.” I started to cry. “I know I shouldn’t feel bad right now, but I do. I don’t know why. I shouldn’t be wasting our time together telling you about this…sorry, yeah, I don’t know why I’m telling you about this.”
“You’re not wasting our time together.” Maryanne sat there pulling in a big puff of air from her the J. “I just think that it’s pretty fucked up.”
May 22nd
You asked me out and took me to my favorite art gallery where they had poetry and jazz and paintings and everything in the world that I loved, maybe, including you. We took a walk back in the cold, and you gave me a piggyback ride and I could tell you wanted to kiss me but we had to pee, so I said I had the keys to the store where I worked and where we met. Maybe my boss would be mad but she would never find out if I didn’t tell her. You kissed me and said come over, then you drove me home while the radio played a song I knew, and I ended up on your soft mattress, and I made the bed the next day after you left for work and you texted me later to say thank you. I went to work late. I think my boss was mad. But I didn’t care because I felt so happy.
June 30th
While on vacation you asked me to send pictures of the beach. I sent you a picture of a face I made out of leaves I made while talking to my father on the phone and then a picture of me wearing a mermaid’s dress made of scales. You replied hm, that’s sexy.
Today went for massage because I felt like it. I thought about how men always get tricked into a happy ending massage. After the masseuse had left I noticed the size my tits in the mirror for a bit. They used to be so firm and perky when I was in shape, but now they seem heavier and rounder. I pose in the as I imagine a pin-up model would.  I go into the bathroom and give the happy ending to myself.
July 31st
I came over hungry even though I already ate dinner and devoured some peanut butter cups you had leftover while you taught me to play chess. We watched the news, and you said wow shit is seriously messed up out there, cops killing people. I said Maybe they shouldn’t carry guns. You said Yeah, but we don’t want cops who are pussies you know. Later you ate me out on your kitchen counter-top beside the chess set.  In the morning you left for work, and I ate the rest of the peanut butter cups while I watched TV alone. You texted me to tell me you ran into the homeless lady that we fed and housed a few weeks ago outside your workplace on the other side of town. While watching TV, I learned something about those indigo children on Ancient Aliens. Then I read an entire book by Herman Hesse. It felt good to be fed by you and be given the to keys to your empty house.
August  14th
Let me tell you a little bit about the way we have sex. I don’t feel like I need a shield with you. You talk about things I use to fantasize about often, like getting spanked or choked, saying please before I came or do anything you asked me too. It scares me a bit, and I think you know it. I had a boyfriend who used to do things I never asked for but he’s in the past.  You changed your tone a bit one day and instead started saying “May I touch for my own pleasure?” and honestly I had never felt so liberated by a question. To be used for your pleasure and knowing you would be pleased by it without having to communicate that.  Knowing I could use you back too in any way I choose.
You asked me How do you feel when you watch porn? I said that I don’t. I used to I always felt kind of gross afterward. You said Yeah, me too. That’s why I don’t either anymore.
It never felt like we had a separate transition into sex. It was foreplay, all of it. I would look at your body, all of it, even the light bluish glow that surrounded you from the motion light from the house across from my window.
I had a lot of beliefs about myself that would simply disappear from my mind. 
“I’m nothing more than a sex puppet cashier from the store you frequented.”
“Sex with my ex- was better.”
“I’m only attracted to your material wealth.”
“I never really thought I was sexy until you said it.” 
You clung to me afterward. We moved to separate sides to sleep then embraced in the morning. You asked me what I dreamt about, and I always told you. Sometimes I dream about you and sometimes about you and your mother. And then I asked you what you dream about and you just said Your dreams were strange. I made your bed again after for you after you left for coffee with your friends. I sat on your porch and read a book that my mother sent me in the mail about love while I combed my hair. 
Between the things you tell me, I suppose you are seeking freedom for yourself too. I have a question for you. If you too are a seeker, who knows God’s power constantly and asks God consistently for guidance, and with whom I feel God’s love considerably, why do you still reject anything that resembles intimacy?
August 20th
After work, you said I want to take a walk with you. I took you to a log I liked in the woods. You said I can’t help but feel like something is missing between us. I said Yeah, Maybe we need to end this. I straddled the log, and then I kissed you. You said Okay, maybe we can keep trying for a little bit and see where this goes.
September 18th
Took a bath in your tub after your house cleaners let and you left and read this DH Lawrence Poem.
 
THE DEEPEST SENSUALITY
The profoundest of all sensualities
Is the sense of truth
And the next deepest sensual experience
Is the sense of justice.
Then I tried to send you a picture of me naked in your tub, but I don’t think it went through to you.
I never read DH Lawrence before today, but he reminded me of my uncle who wrote a book about him.  When we traveled together, he would look at the advertisements in the airports and tell me which models were also porn stars. I asked him how he knew that (because I didn’t think he had the Internet) and he would say Well, I’m a man so of course, I know that.
November 11th
It’s a holiday, and I text you Do you have the day off?
     I am about the head into the woods.
     I am in the woods right now.  I said. Come chase me down.
     Let me know when you’re out of the woods. In the meantime, I’ll come try to find you.
     Okay, see you in the meantime.  I wrote. But then I changed my mind for some reason. I write I mean, see you then.
Ten minutes later I saw you pass me in your red sweatpants and we went down to the river together where we sat and watched a little boy skip stones into the water. I held you on a rock where we sat and I said I think my high school boyfriend may have emotionally and mentally abused me and you said If I ever had a kid I’ll name him Nico like the boy who was skipping stones.
December 11th
I had a dream that you put a ladder against my window and climbed in. You joined me on my bed on the floor and cuddled with me amongst my pillows. You seemed safe and cozy in my arms. You put your head in my lap and cried started to confess everything to me until you changed to topic to my mattress and said I’d like one of these too. Even in my dream, I remember thinking how That’s so like you, to change the topic to a material object like the mattress before you got real with me. And then to put everything you desired in the future tense, and never think of the having of it now.
So I just said Thanks for coming over.
January 4th
When I remind you all shadows need light, you asked me Okay, what do you mean by that. We suddenly hear two cats screaming, and we look out the window to see on a patch of grass a black cat and a white cat staring at each other waiting to see who will back down. You remind me animals never hold on their fight or flight response.
January 20th
I brought you over and said maybe we should end things and you said maybe we should just be friends without sex. You said that You’re really messed up in the head and I asked you how. You said it’s hard for you to see women as people not just sexually.  You said Your mother never said anything nice to you.
I said that reminded me of a story I heard once about a man who watched City of God and then couldn’t get the thought out of his head that he wanted to kill his wife for months so he started meditating so he could stop thinking about it.
I thought That sounds like something I heard my aunt say about my uncle and why he never slept with any of the women he worked with.
February 2nd
You held your palm to my head one morning while I verified the meaning of the soul.
“Your soul is that part you loved when no one was around, when you were free, when you did the thing you loved for hours and felt like you were lost, could never get out of it, felt like you were at peace, like your parents didn’t even exist, and you were pure.”
You said do you know what that is. I said Yes, of course, it’s writing and working with children and I can never doubt that.
You gave me a hard kiss, like the kind of kiss that says damn I love you, and then you hurriedly wrote something down in your notebook.
I got dressed. For some reason, I couldn’t find my bra. I walked out, and you said I like your bright red pants.
February 4th
On your birthday you sent a car for me. I could taste a bit of alcohol on your breath, but I liked how you weren’t sober like usual.
In the morning you asked me Why are you bothering to stay here with me? How do you not find me annoying? And you looked like you wanted to cry for the first time.
I said because I guess I care about the people in my life. And you are someone that I care about. I am there to emotionally support them.
I thought When I met you I felt my whole heart open. I draped myself living room couch unable to move and my roommate saying I’ve never seen you so happy.  I wanted to listen to voicemails to hear your voice and now I have it hear.
A month ago I decided by the end of the month I’ll stay or go. We decided to be just friends and not sleep together, but did we really decide that? Now you want to open up even more, but your mother never loved you, you never felt whole as a child. I thought What’s that all about? what the hell am I supposed to do about that? I spoke to you in a way I had never spoken to anyone. I never told you I made a promise to myself to fall in love this year and maybe that’s why I’m still here.
February 22nd
I came to your house to retrieve the bra I left and watched you do your work. I sat across from you at a safe distance and drank the water you offered me. I don’t believe we leave the things behind by accident, a part of us always wants to come back to claim more than the object itself.
I’d listen to you type away furiously. I needed to sit near you. I needed to read all you had written, some critical report you had completed yourself. Seemed to me to be more about the economic fate of some developing country with no option to opt out.
You began to massage my wrist delicately  Suddenly I knew why were hurting me. I said I need to talk to you. I need you to see more.   I asked What value am I to you? You said I don’t know.  I thought maybe I am just a whore to you. I said Look. I really like you. Look. You are hurting me. I couldn’t even look at you. I started to cry. You said nothing. I asked you What are you thinking? You said I’m thinking I’m worried I’ll run into you again at the store where we met. I said You know I don’t work there any more. You just stared at me. I said Why are you looking at me like that? You said Well, Why are you staring at me? I said I’m sorry for taking you away from your work. I thought Why the fuck am I apologizing? You said You don’t need to apologize. I thought I just want you to say you love me. You said I’m glad you were brave enough to do this. I said I need to leave now.
At the door, you stuffed your hands into your pockets so tightly that your veins were protruding and you hung your head down. You asked me Do you want a hug? I said  Yes, I do. I started to cry over your shoulder. I said Look, I know you are a good person. I thought I don’t know how you managed to be both an abuser and my healer. You said Tell me how I’m a good person. I said You think about it. I thought You know it’s not my duty to heal the depth of self-loathing you’ve had last April. Your roommate was coming in the door and I didn’t want him to see me so I left right away.
When I got outside, I folded myself in two on the stoop next to your house. I started crying. In the dark, at least ten people walked past me before a man wearing ragged clothing stumbled past.
“Yeah, the same guy just did that to me too,” he said.
He moved forward a few more feet before turning over his shoulder and looking straight at me.
“Do you think we need to go back there and tell him how we feel?”