When it started raining, I sat at the window and stared down the street, not really thinking about anything, just smoking a cigarette and watching the smoke dissipate. It was three AM and I couldn’t sleep; what else was I going to do? But then I heard thunder and I remembered how we met…how improbable was that? I was hitchhiking west to California, and got caught in a thunderstorm. Even though no one picks up a kid alone in the rain, you pulled over. I saw my salvation in those headlights. You opened the passenger door and shouted over the rain, “Hop in!”
Well, you remember. I don’t have to tell you. You remember how against all odds, we fell in lust, in like, and in love, in that order. It’s always the details: they say it all. The harsh glare of a streetlight falling across a motel bed through venetian blinds that first night, California forgotten. The two of us dancing in your apartment to old Miles Davis records that were almost too worn and scratched to play. The dexterity of your fingers, whether they were playing piano or holding a pen to write your long, clumsy name in gilded cursive. Cassandra Hazel Jarueluski - a cumbersome name somehow stuck onto you, like a label on a pickle jar.
The cigarette had burned down so far that I’d singed my fingers, bringing me out of my reverie. I looked at the clock. Three thirty-two. My gaze fell on the typewriter. I’ll write her a letter had flashed in my mind and then I was sitting at the desk, a sheet of paper rolled into the typewriter, the keys clacking away almost on their own.
I wrote you the most gorgeous love note, Cassie. I told you all about the rain and coincidence and the Art Institute and the future. It stopped raining, but I didn’t notice. The tide went out. A sepia dawn crept over the city. By then I had five double-sided pages in a stamped, addressed envelope. I walked down to the mailbox on the corner, and was about to drop my letter in when I saw the newspaper with today’s date in the top right corner.
Today is July 11, 1959. Time is slipping away from me more than I thought… At noon a woman out walking her Labrador called the police because she thought I was drunk. I was stone sober, but I was making a scene and babbling about a dead woman named Cassie Jarueluski. They found me wandering around Greenwich Village. I must have been taking our walk. Even though some days it could take hours, I don’t remember what happened to the rest of that morning. Like I said, time is slipping away from me. It has been two years, eight months, and nineteen days since you died.
The cops figured out that I wasn’t drunk, so they took me home and made me pay a fine for public insanity or some equally foolish thing. The letter was still in my pocket, and still much too late; I tore it in half, then in half again, and in half and in half and in half until it was a pile of infinitesimal scraps on the rug. Then I took a nap, and went back out when I woke up. I walked all the way up to your apartment on 181st street, and when I got there I just stood on the steps looking at the names next to the doorbells. Apartment number 29 is now occupied by a Dr. Sylvester Ackerman. I climbed up the rusting fire escape to look in his window, to silence a nagging little voice saying you would be there. Peering in through the dirty windows, I saw a silver-haired man sitting in a muscular armchair, reading and listening to Prokofiev’s Rites of Spring. We both always hated that piece. I cringed and slunk back down the fire escape before I got caught.
After you died, Cassie, the universe realized there was a vacuum where you had been and rushed to fill it, to wipe out every trace of your existence. Your Aunt Maria from New Jersey adopted your two cats, Stalin and Trotsky, after you died. She renamed them, too - no commie cats for her - but they must still be archenemies, and I know they miss the attention you lavished on them. Your car, the beat-up old ’48 Chevrolet, the car you picked me up in, became scrap metal long ago. Maybe now it’s a part of spaceship. But probably not.
I have got to learn to let this go.
Tomorrow I’m checking into Harborview Psychiatric Hospital, where maybe I can figure all of this out. Two years, eight months, and nineteen days is long enough. I want to start over and get better and forget you if I have to, Cassie. You’re dead; I hope you understand.