Ms. Young smiles at me while I tremble in front of the class, my nerves suffering under a weird mix of terror and excitement. There’s only twelve students scattered amongst the tables in the classroom. I know everyone in here by name. I shouldn’t feel scared of them.
“Why do you stay with her?” she asked. “You don’t have to.” The answer was true and horrible and romantic. Like a trumpet call to start a military dirge, it bounded forth, monosyllabic and haunting. I couldn’t maintain eye contact while it hung in the air, but I saw her face drop to the table in my peripheral, expressing a mixture of pity and disgust spiced with a moment of wonder about whether love really boils down to my response. The table had no answer for her, and neither did I. As the relationship with Sarah wore on, my friendship with Renisha waned, forever stealing her chance to solve my riddle.
I slid my arms elbow deep through the Styrofoam peanuts two passed two plastic bags until I felt something solid at the bottom. Grabbing on, I pulled the box straight up, dislodging peanuts and heart confetti. For a moment, as the packing material cascaded to the floor, anyone watching might’ve believed it was Valentine’s day.
I’ll never force my way past the walls of a girl’s pseudo-moral denials of pleasure.
On the way home, we discussed for the first time not how to make ends meet but what to do with the extra money. We splurged on sandwiches at The Federalist, an expense we could finally afford. Our relationship was filled with expenses we couldn't afford; clothes at the Goodwill to keep her in good spirits, a brownie for me with lunch, a personal-sized French press for her to use at work, a Virgil's rootbeer to make my nights a little sweeter. A trip to New York when she just couldn't stand Boston's rain anymore, and a trip to the North End when both of us just wanted out of town. We couldn't afford a dime of it, and yet somehow all our money came together. That night, we discussed Harry Potter; we should buy tickets before they sell out. We didn't; they sold out.
I wonder whether walking in Allen with Kalli would be like walking with God in the garden. Out in nature, commands nearly cease to exist. Kalli chases field mice and jack rabbits, and I do not worry for her. I take pleasure in the puppy-like qualities she hasn't outgrown, the smile that so plainly lights up her face when she looks back at me: she’s always fifty feet ahead, just fifty, and she occasionally looks back to make sure that I’m following her or that she’s preemptively following me. If I change directions, she’ll run past me fifty feet, look back, and smile.
Does understanding these emotions really require a dog person? Do cat persons understand what I went through? Can I ask for a little empathy from parents to picture a little puppy as a little child, afraid and frightened and alone, vulnerable without your care? Or is everyone with me, shaking with me in that stuffy little room?