She was little, and a little shy, and a little awkward. It took her a while to warm up to someone new, and she’d never break the ice on her own. She was reserved, but a little empathy could see, behind that tense expression, a flood barely checked. When that dike broke, the deluge was astonishing. Out of that bound-up little package would come a light that turned on the whole world. If she could be seen like this by someone who did not immediately fall in love, I have no evidence of it.

I think this city killed her.

Once past that reserve, once through those walls, she was something unearthly. She would dance and play and charm, and nothing could hold her back. Her smile was a crescent moon, a maniac grin, full of mad beauty and laughter. She had a voice like a bell and a sway like the sea.

All was hardly sweetness and light, though; she had a crude sense of humor, and she could keep up a stream of unsubtle innuendo that would make a trucker blush. Her music was—like her—dark, beautiful and troubled.

The difference in our ages was, while uncomfortable, not enough to hold me back. Something about her drew me, at a time when I wasn’t sure that there was anyone here I could connect to. Things were slow to start, because we were both very skittish for very good reasons. We were nervous around each other, both scared by the sense of connection. Inertia will hold you still, but once things get moving inertia just carries you forward.

In a town this full of people, it’s astonishing how hard it is to meet someone. This place is full of runners who can’t see over the side of their ruts. People here will speak to you if spoken to, but when your words don’t require responses the conversation will end. Their eyes glaze back over and they continue on their somniac way. They sleepwalk down the sidewalk from their office to their home, never looking up.

She was always looking up.

I think this city killed her.

We’d talk about daring escape plans until the small hours of the morning. Plotting our getaway became like pornography for us, a new method of arousing one another. In these discussions, the thousand things that mired us home would drop away, and we’d forget family and friends, leases and mortgages, debt and logistics and supplies, and for a while we were there, somewhere. Another where. San Francisco, Portland, New York, Toronto, Beijing, the Hague. Just, anywhere. Anywhere but here.

Maybe we’d sell everything except books and a change of clothes, and just run west as far as our gas money would take us. We’d sing for our supper when the money ran out. I’d learn to play guitar and she would dance. When we hit LA, we’d be snapped up with a record contract and make dark, pretty, earnest music that would be a surprise financial success without ever breaking the mainstream. We’d tour the world, but never come back here.

We’d run away and join the cliché. She’d become a lion tamer and I’d start out as a clown. Working my way up the ranks through a combination of guile and charm—and with a few convenient Panthera leo related accidents—I’d become ringmaster, and we’d take the thing over. We’d craft a new and interesting cabaret-style show—a little bit Cirque du Soleil, a little bit Dresden Dolls. We’d rewrite the circuit route, and it wouldn’t go through this town ever again.

We’d join a van full of traveling proselytizers. We’d gradually corrupt them from the inside, turning them into a full blown cult. We’d declare this city anathema, and command our followers never to cross its borders. Eventually, our little cult would hit the mainstream, convert the country, and this city would become a ghost town. In an orgy of religious furor, we’d descend on it, razing it to the ground and salting the earth behind us.

Maybe we’d just get on the bus, or the train, or just start walking. We should have. It’s surprisingly hard to leave a prison with no walls.

Realities kept us apart. Schedules, obligations, reasons good and bad. Fear. We tried and failed, because we didn’t try very hard, but we were getting better about that. Neither of us was spending time with other people, and yet we just couldn’t manage to spend time with each other. We’d forgotten what a rare and amazing thing it was to meet anyone here who didn’t blend into the background, and we let it slip away.

They found her in her room, peacefully reposed but for a terribly traumatized cat that had been locked in with her all day. Questions were asked and only ever partially answered. It was probably an overdose, probably an accident, and there was probably no one to blame. She’d just been in pain, and took enough medication for it that her little frame was overwhelmed. The toxicology reports came back, eventually, and any doctor who looked at them would tell you that it was the morphine.


I think this city killed her.

Sometimes I think it’s killing me.