Regarding the Highchair You’re Selling on Facebook
Dear Tom Hey, Tom! Hi, Tom.
What’s up? How’s it going? How are you? It’s crazy to be messaging you after all this time. Crazy because ten years has gone by and still, I’m not as old as you were when we dated. Would you call what we did “dating”? I used to begin every story about us with “When I was 18, I dated my teacher,” but now I find myself saying, “We had a two-year relationship.” But even that word —“relationship”— it feels too— what? I remember the first night we kissed. I was working at the ice cream shop, the one you owned with your mother, right next to the studio where you taught your acting class. It was a Saturday, and we had closed for the night, and I was washing the hot fudge ladles. I was washing them carefully, because I knew how tricky hot fudge could be, how it would worm its way under your nails if you let it, leaving them dirty and dark though you’d scrubbed your fingers raw. I was washing the hot fudge ladles, and you came around back and you kissed me, hard. You grabbed my face between your hands, pulled me in with such force that I felt my neck muscles go taught, felt our front teeth touching through our lip skin. I was still holding the wet rag and I felt it slip from my fingers, heard it smack against the concrete floor. “You’re supposed to use your tongue,” you told me after. “I know,” I’d said, but of course, I didn’t. I didn’t know anything except that I wanted out. Out of that town, out of those few square miles between the maximum-security prison and the Six Flags. Could you see how desperate I was? How desperate we all were, these attention-hungry, culture-starved teens that showed up to your studio every Saturday morning? How susceptible we were to your stories about New York and Los Angeles, about that MTV show you starred in years ago, the one we’d never heard of but that got you on the cover of magazines we had? But you didn’t choose any of the others to kiss in the back of the ice cream shop. You didn’t choose any of the others to take back to your room in your mother’s house, where you were still living. At least, not at first. No, at first you chose me. I must have been special. I wanted— I want— to believe I was special.
Guess we’re both members of the same buy & swap group on Facebook. I saw your post, the Stokke highchair you have for sale?
Or maybe that’s what I wanted, to be a member of this group, this place in the world you seemed to have found. It was a place full of possibilities—for yourself, mostly, all the things you would do when you left this town for the second time. I thought, maybe, I could come along too. If I could learn how to act, how to become a different person. When you would call me to meet you behind the loading dock of the grocery store or in the parking lot of the private school, do you remember how we would fall into each other? I know I told you otherwise, but before you, I had only ever dated one person, a football player from the town over, and only for three months. The problem with us was that his mouth tasted like cheeseburgers, so I never wanted to kiss. But there, in your car, all I wanted was your mouth and your hands. I wanted you to unhinge your jaw, swallow me whole and spit me back new. But that wasn’t how it would work. It turned out I was more of a forest. To be made new, parts had to be slashed and others burned. You were so good at both. You wanted more. In class, I could barely get through a sentence of my monologue without you yelling out, “More. More!” You wanted less. When I was getting dressed, you pulled me in front of the full-length mirror and slid your hands along my ribs, down my hips. You were pushing, collecting the extra skin and fat as you went so it pooled just above my thighs. “This.” Your tongue flicked at the tip of my ear. “You’ll have to lose this, if you want to be an actor.” “I know,” I said. “I will.” And I meant it that time. I knew what you were really saying— “You’ll have to lose this if you don’t want to lose me.”
I had my son in February.
And the ache of the epidural needle reminded me of you.
Whenever my back aches in a certain spot, I think of you. I think of all the times we rode from some remote parking lot back to your mother’s house, how I had to duck my head between my knees so no one could see. It was never a long ride, but somehow, a few minutes in, my back would ache— perhaps it was the position or perhaps it another pain coming to the surface—and you would reach over and lift my shirt and rub it, your hand moving its way down my back, into my shorts. I loved those times when we would stop at a Dunkin’ Donuts and you would order me an iced coffee with skim milk, though I preferred cream, because it was the closest thing we ever had to a date. We’d share food, be seen in public, if only for a moment, when I was allowed to lift my head and greet the girl at the drive thru window. The next closest was the night your mother was away and you called me and you said, “Come over. I want to show you a movie.” And I did. I dropped everything and went to you, happily. Because there were so many things in this world I wanted you to show me. For now, I’d settle for a movie. It was Wedding Crashers. You had it on DVD from one of those vending machines in the grocery stores. “Have you seen it?” you asked, and I said I hadn’t. “Oh, it’s so funny.” We watched it upstairs in the bonus room because the living room had too many windows too close to the neighbors. I lay on the couch and you lay behind me. I remember the weight of your arm on my middle, heavy. You told me when all the jokes were coming. “I love this part,” you said. Or else, “This is so good.” And in that moment, you felt like magic, the man whispering the future in my ear. It was not twenty minutes, though, before you were pawing at my buttons, before we were on the floor, me on my stomach, you on top. The weight of you too heavy. The movie was still playing, the movie you said you would show me. The movie I still wanted to watch. I looked up and saw Isla Fisher crying on the toilet. The screen was no more than three feet from my face, but it felt so much further than that. Like I was seeing the distance between what I thought would happen and what was, between hope and reality. I wanted to be mad, but I couldn’t because somehow you had managed to be right—it was so funny, what we were doing. Just not the kind of funny anyone was laughing about.
Do you have a son, too? I just assumed, because of the chair’s blue cushion.
I know you have a son. I can’t help myself. Sometimes I search for you. On Facebook. On Google. I want to know if you went on to accomplish all those things you talked about. I’m never sure what I want the answer to be. I know your son is a junior, or rather the third, you already named after your father. Did you give him that name because you wanted him to be just like you or because you were hoping he could redeem you, somehow? I didn’t think I had a preference when it came to gender, at least until I found out I was having a boy. Then I realized I wanted a girl. It seemed easier, somehow, to teach a girl how to not be abused than to teach a boy how not to become an abuser. Do you think that’s the right word? Abuser. It feels too, what? I remember that afternoon, two weeks after we kissed in the back of the ice cream shop, when we stared at the blood—my blood—on your sheets. “You said you’d done this before.” “I know.” I stumbled. “I mean, I have.” I grabbed my underwear off the floor. It was white with lace trim and polka dots the color of rainbow sprinkles. I’d chosen them that morning because I thought they looked sexy, but in that moment, they just looked young. “We aren’t doing anything wrong,” you’d said, sliding your arms back into your t-shirt. “You’re eighteen.” It’s too harsh, maybe. The word. After all, what did I want? To leave that town. To become a different person. Isn’t that what happened? And what do I owe you for that?
I’d love to buy it from you, if it’s still available.
Ten years later, and I still want something from you, but it’s not a highchair. I was hoping you could ship it. I’d pay extra for that, of course. Do you remember the only present you ever bought me? It was the night before I left for college. We’d date for my whole freshmen year, that whole next semester, too, right on through the winter. We were standing in your mother’s kitchen, and you gave me a single black pearl on a silver chain. You put it around my neck and tucked my hair behind my ear, the way my mother used to. “It’s eternal love,” you said. Which is true, for some the black pearl can symbolize eternal love. For others, it symbolizes sorrow. And wisdom. Thanks! Thanks.
Liz Breen is a writer living in Boston. Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Cleaver Magazine, JMWW, and Columbia Journal, amongst others, and she holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can find her on Twitter at @beinglizbreen or at lizbreen.com