You were never invited over for dinner. You never sat outside in your car staring at a corsage in its box, wondering if she’d like the flower your mother had picked out. When you went on the two dates you went on, both of them movies, you were never alone. The first flick, about an odd couple turned grumpy old men, you watched with a gaggle of her friends from Catholic school. The second, that was the one where she brought her sister; it was about dog sledding in Alaska, and you would have put your arm around her in the cold of that theater, if only you hadn’t been afraid about your fingers brushing against the shoulder of the brat beside her.
When she broke up with you by proxy, asking a friend to call you from the pay phone outside their school’s cafeteria while she sipped on a Diet Coke two feet away, you spent the afternoon tearing your room apart. You hoisted the mattress off of its box spring and hurled it against the wall. You emptied a box of comics onto the floor and considered trampling across them to the beat of some angry pop song she would’ve laughed at you for liking; it was the 90s, and flannel didn’t fit you.
But then, then she started showing up at the roller rink on Friday nights. And the metalheads liked her, bought her French fries even though she didn’t wear a leather jacket; in fact, maybe they liked her more because she didn’t. And she’d say hi to you, and hug you — her body closer to yours than it had ever been when you were “dating” — and it was all too much.
You found her address in the phone book, comparing the number you’d dialed incessantly for those two weeks you’d been together with the numbers of every person with her all-too-common last name. And then you found a map, something from AAA that your parents had around from a road trip years ago but never threw out, and you used it the first time. But after the first time, you knew it by heart.
What an odd expression, you think to yourself now. Because, in order to know something by heart, don’t you need to first know your heart? And you’re not sure, even twenty years later, if you know the first thing about the muscle that aches beneath your breast, about the sore, near-broken thing that beats now only because it’s too scared to stop.
You wonder if you could still get there, if you wanted to, or if you’d have to rely on GPS. You wonder if her kids are happier than yours, if her husband knows which movie to pick at the end of a long day, if he knows which foot to rub first, or whether to skip the feet and go right to the neck and the back. You wonder if she taught him all the things she never taught you, that you never learned with any of the women since, that the woman sleeping beside you is too tired to show you now, that she still can’t believe you never picked up somewhere along the way.