You don’t want me, and the force of you not wanting me creates a shape; the presence of an absence, like an amputated limb. Here’s the courtyard you aren’t crossing. Here’s the stone step under mossy tree where you don’t sit, pulling me down next to you. You don’t take me to a coffee shop on Hawthorne where we sit head to head, drink five-dollar cups of coffee, and talk about books. We should be able to talk. You said that once. You don’t follow me for 150 miles and text from your truck in the parking lot. Your left breaklight is out, you don’t say. You don’t leave an empty cup from the coffee shop on Hawthorne under my window, outside the college dorm where I’m staying at a conference for a week.
I stare at the pile of condoms in the unisex bathroom each day of that week, left by the 20-year-old RA. You don’t startle me outside the dorm as I rush to a lecture. I don’t blush, because I was just getting sad about condoms. I can almost touch your phantom here; can almost smell it’s woodsy smell. Then it’s gone.
It’s never over, Jeff Buckley sings from my iPhone, which I’ve wedged into a coffee cup on my desk. I write a one-sentence letter that I don’t send. Buckley was wrong.
I don’t see you in the basement of the dorm, flattening a dollar bill against your thigh, feeding it into the washing machine. I don’t see you slink behind a tree in the courtyard just before the evening cocktail hour. The setting sun doesn’t send shards of rose gold into your hair while you tilt your head back to drain the last of your beer.
You do want me. I think we both know that. You want me and it’s precisely the force of this want that keeps you away. Like antigravity, the opposite of a black hole. I’ll return to the conference year after year, just in case. I’ll tell myself that you have nothing to do with my returning. I’ll get older. It’ll no longer be reasonable for me to attend conferences. Cross state lines. Drink five-dollar coffees. But I’ll sit on the stone step in the courtyard anyway, arthritis in my knees. I’ll lean against the tree, let its bark snag my vellum skin. When I can’t lean anymore I’ll lay down under the tree until my skin, and hair, and bones dissolve, and then I’ll be dirt that holds the tree that someone else, unwanted, leans against.
Cameron Dezen Hammon is a writer and musician whose work has appeared in The Literary Review, Gigantic Sequins, NYLON, the Houston Chronicle, Columbia Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She is an alumni of the Tin House Summer Workshop and has earned her MFA at Seattle Pacific University. She is at work on a memoir about religious culture shock and lives in Houston with her family. For more info on the author, visit her website (www.camerondezenhammon.com).