“Am I a person?” I asked.
“No,” they answered in unison.
“Good… those are the worst. What about a place?”
“Hmmm,” I pondered over my next question. “Am I an animal?” I asked hopefully.
“No, you are not,” Jarrod answered sadly.
“Well fuck. That’s a bummer.”
On Friday evening, I was driving down Patton Chapel road with two friends: my roommate, Charlie, and my visiting friend, Jarrod. We were on our way to look at a piano. My parents gave mine – a thousand-year-old Kimball – away six years ago when I moved away from Florida, and I’ve been without one since.
We were all making small talk when I decided to pose a question.
“If you could hop into a rocketship and go up into outer space right now, but the catch was that, if you did, you could never come back, would you do it?” I already knew my own answer, and I thought I knew theirs, too.
“No way,” Charlie and Jarrod both answered.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked them again, shocked.
“It would be beautiful,” Jarrod reassured me, “and I’ve been to a lot of beautiful places, but as interesting as they can be, nothing is as unique as an individual. And I love people more than places.”
His response has been sitting with me for days.
“Just keep asking questions,” Jarrod prodded me.
“Okayyyyyy,” I exhaled, feeling exasperated. It was New Years Eve, around 11:30 in the evening, and we were all huddling in the living room together — a fire burning beside us, and plates holding pizza crust lying on the floor in front of us. We were taking turns throwing crusts over at Bruster, and since discovering that I wasn’t an animal, I’d continued to ask questions for ten minutes, questions that got me nowhere, and my patience was running out.
“Am I heavy?”
“Mmmmmm, that’s kinda relative,” he responded.
“Okay, am I as heavy as a refrigerator?”
“Mmmm… less than that.”
“Am I… in this house?”
“I don’t know…” Jarrod squinted his eyes, looking over at Charlie.
Charlie considered the question for a few seconds. “Yes!” he answered cheerfully. “You are, actually.”
My hope revived. “Okay… am I in this room?”
“No,” Charlie answered.
“YES,” he smiled.
“Great,” I grumbled. “I’m in my room. There are like a thousand million things in my room, and I’m a thing that weighs less than Silo.”
Jarrod shrugged. “Keep asking questions.”
I was standing in the kitchen Saturday afternoon, preparing lunch, when Jarrod walked into the room, leaned against the counter, and asked: “How are you feeling?”
I looked over at him, a little surprised by the question. “I’m good…” I answered slowly.
His gaze was gentle. “You just seem a little sad.”
I was surprised, again, by his perceptiveness. “Honestly Jarrod, I am a little sad. Talking with you about Chris earlier this morning, when we were at Urban Standard, just made me feel a little down.”
I stirred the elbow noodles inside of the pot slowly, cautious to position my hand safely above the rolling, boiling surface of the water.
“I just miss him.”
I’d spoken with Chris on the phone the week before, unexpectedly. During the conversation, I told him – while struggling to control the emotion in my voice – that I “just” missed him.
“I know,” he responded.
But do you know how it feels — to tell somebody that you love them, that you miss them, that you would rip your heart out and hand it over to them in a heartbeat if they needed it, and then to have them respond, I know?
It feels like you’re at a restaurant, sitting across from your very best friend, spilling your deepest secrets and sharing your wildest dreams while they’re staring down at their phone.
It feels like you’re standing beside them in a line somewhere, talking about how excited you are to see this new movie or how thrilling it’s going to be to hop into this rocketship, and when you look over at them, their eyes are glazed, like they’re wishing you were someone else, like they’re dreaming that they were there with someone else.
It’s like taking both of your arms and wrapping them around this person, telling them that they are so special, so exceptional, so important, while their hands and arms just hang there, lifeless, at their sides.
It’s like telling a wall, I really wish you could just love me a little, and watching it as it doesn’t blink, doesn’t speak, doesn’t budge. And you know, in your heart, it’s a wall — it will never love me at all, because it can’t.
“Don’t think that Chris doesn’t miss you,” Jarrod offered quietly, interrupting my inner downward spiral. “He’s just dealing with things in his own way. With how long you guys were together, there’s no way he couldn’t miss you.” He paused. “Nobody could meet you and not love you, Jace.”
“I honestly just want to give up,” I pleaded. “Just tell me what it is so we can be done.”
“You can’t give up!” Jarrod exclaimed. “You’re going to be SO mad at yourself when you find out what this is… you can definitely guess it!”
I looked at him, and then at Charlie, skeptically. The fire in the room was crackling lightly, the log now half of its original size; I just couldn’t think of what to ask next.
“Here,” Jarrod offered encouragingly, “let me give you a few clues.”
“Okay,” I leaned forward, clearing my mind and fighting to stay awake.
“You’re one of a kind; no one else in the world is you. You chose you.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“I know,” Jarrod smiled, “that doesn’t really make sense.”
“I’ve seen you move things,” Jarrod continued, “and light fires. I’ve seen you comfort people; I’ve watched you destroy things.” He was quiet. I held my breath. “You are tangible, concrete, but you represent something that only exists in a fictional world.”
I felt sad upon hearing this, like I’d lost something that I loved — something crucially important that I’d never even seen. “What? You mean I’m not real?”
Jarrod, who had drank at least two bottles of Blue Moon, looked at me with sad eyes. “People wish you were real. Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” he turned to Charlie, “if it was real?”
Charlie nodded solemnly.
And even with all of these hints, I was still absolutely clueless.
I was walking in the rain today. I knew exactly where the umbrella was — lying on top of my leather jacket, on the floor of the passenger’s side of my car – but I didn’t care to retrieve or use it; the raindrops — cold, small, and sick of trying to hang with the clouds — felt wonderful on my skin, felt perfect, making my hoodie heavier, my lips quiver, my hands shake.
I sat down on a bench that was at the edge of the park and watched a train go by, remembering two weeks before, when I’d been watching a train pass with Ryder.
We had been standing on a bridge, looking down as railway car after railway car hurtled along beneath us. We talked about jumping onto a moving train; how to do it safely, how long to stay on, how we could safely get off…
I squealed with delight a few times, imagining doing something so brave and dangerous and uncharacteristic; jumping off of a bridge and landing onto a train. I wished I had the guts to do it, but my mind was too concerned — there were too many questions I couldn’t answer, like: lying on top of the train, would I have enough clearance to make it safely underneath the next bridge, several hundred yards ahead? How would I get from the top of a box car to the bottom of the train? And then, once I did, how would I safely jump off? What technique would I need to use — what speed could I do it at? And if I jumped off, would I land on glass — get cut, get infected, get some kind of disease? If I was unable to jump off and got stuck on the train for as long as it was in motion, where would it take me? How would I get back to my car, and my dogs, or report to work on time the next day?
Today, sitting alone and watching another train move slowly by, I cried. The tears were hot, and they made my whole face feel hot, emanating a warmth against the rain. I was wearing earbuds and listening to one of the last original songs Chris and I ever recorded together (you can listen to it here, if you’d like), and I was mourning losing yet another best friend.
It took you seven years to stop pining after Melissa, I reminded myself. How long until you get over this one?
I love him more than I loved her, I answered, so I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
“I just don’t know,” I whispered, feeling truly desperate. And not knowing made me feel bad; I wished, so badly, that I had the depth, the imagination, the intelligence and the determination to discover what I was in this game. But it just wouldn’t come to me, and I felt tired of trying to lure it in.
“Come onnnnnnn,” Jarrod cheered me on. “You’ve learned a lot so far — you know that you’re a thing, that you’re powerful, that you are unique to your owner, that–”
“Wait,” I sat up quickly, feeling dangerously hopeful. “Am I a PATRONUS?”
Jarrod looked confused. “A what?”
“Oh, you knowwwww… the Harry Potter thing…”
His eyes widened. “Oh — no, not that, but that was a VERY good guess. A very, VERY good guess. Back up just a little, Jace.”
I thought about it, beginning to feel despondent again, but then I looked up.
“Am I a wand?”
“Yes,” he repeated.
“Like, ‘I’m on the right track’ yes, or yes, that’s what I am?”
“That’s what you are,” he smiled.
I couldn’t believe it! I took my headband off and read the word he’d scribbled across the card. I was a wand.
I’ve seen this thing move things, light fires… comfort people and destroy things… and everyone wishes this was real; wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was?
I dried my eyes and raised myself off of the bench. I looked at the people walking around the park; there were only a few today: a couple in workout clothes; a little girl with her father, who was running along ahead of her, trying desperately to make a kite work; a security officer; an old man with a limp.
I had noticed the old man earlier — not because of his limp, but because of how well he was dressed; wearing shiny brown shoes, a corduroy cap, khaki pants, a green scarf, and two other, layered shades of green, he looked very handsome. And I was actually approaching him, because of the direction I was walking in, and as I began to pass him, we both looked over at each other and smiled.
I whispered hi, and I thought I heard him ask me a question — it sounded like: “You enjoying the day?”
So I unplugged one of my earbuds and offered: “Beautiful day! I don’t mind this rain at all.”
“Me neither,” he nodded in agreement, leaning heavily onto his right hand, which held the cane. “I used to work in it a good bit.”
“Oh really? Where did you work?”
“US Steel,” he responded, “and one day, I was working out on the tracks — trying to reattach an engine that had derailed itself — when I felt the rain coming, not in drops, but in waves.” He stopped walking and placed his left hand on a telephone pole, stabilizing himself. “Turns out, I was working in a tornado! But I had no idea,” he continued, shaking his head. “No idea until I turned the news on later that evening.”
“That’s insane,” I whispered. “I guess it would be hard to tell if you were right in the middle of it.”
We continued chatting, and then he said: “My name is Elijah.”
I smiled. “My name is Jace; it’s nice to meet you, Elijah.”
I was leaving an Indian restaurant Friday night when the waitress – someone who I can only describe as looking intrinsically magical – came by the table to drop off our checks. “2017,” she whispered excitedly, smiling and shaking her head softly. “What year would you go back to?”
Jarrod and Charlie both responded, and the waitress shared her answer, too, murmuring that she’d return to 2013 because something very special had happened that year. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was, and if she hadn’t had so many other tables to tend to, I would have asked. I listened to all of them as they responded and then I gave my own answer.
“2010,” I said out loud, thinking to myself, I would go back in time and not get married.
But that didn’t sound right.
“Actually, 2015,” I corrected myself. I’d go back in time and not get divorced, so that Chris and I would still be best friends right now. But that didn’t really sound like what I wanted either; if I hadn’t got divorced and given myself a whole lot of space, I would have never come to the realizations I have and developed into the more real and more sane person that I am now…
“I… I honestly just wouldn’t go back at all,” I answered for the third time — but this time, silently. “I don’t want to change anything. I just want to keep going.”
I scribbled a tip and a quick note onto the receipt before she grabbed it.
“I hope that 2017 is as magical for you as 2013 was.”