You find an upside-down magician’s hat on a table. It’s made of velvet, smooth as moonlight between your fingers, and a stripe, broad and white, wraps around its base. No one’s around. The first thing you pull out is a wand. Next, a deck of fresh cards. Pigeons and rabbits who disappear into the dark corners of the room. These are ordinary things you’d expect to find in a magician’s hat, nothing too surprising. So, you keep pulling and pulling, magic trick after magic trick, until things finally begin. The twenty-fifth item is a red Starburst, followed by a hair tie, then a roll of peel-and-stick wallpaper, and a pack of tissues. The forty-third item is a grocery receipt, the one hundred ninety-ninth: a crumpled permission slip for an eighth-grade field trip, the five hundred seventy-sixth: a birthday card from Dave. Money comes pouring in: one-dollar bills, five-dollar bills, even a twenty-dollar bill (plus six dimes and thirty pennies). The table struggles under the weight of all these objects and you’re not even sure what number it is anymore, probably close to the thousands, but you continue. You pull postcards, letters, magazines, sheet music, instruction manuals, screws, AAA batteries, duct tape, mustard bottles, water bottles, water bottle caps, guitar picks, lottery tickets, shirt buttons, skirt buttons, friendship bracelets, hoop earrings, funky socks, plastic forks, recycled napkins, résumés, permits, credit cards, library cards, passwords, prayers, promotions, doctor appointments, apologies, manners at social gatherings, elevator conversations, sweet slices of peace—and finally, a picture of me and you.
MAP FOR A MODERN LOVE STORY
Henry and I stuck to the facts: finding out our Myers-Briggs types (he was an ENFP, I was an INTP), reading Tumblr posts of dates gone wrong, and playing The New York Times’ “36 Questions That Lead to Love.” Afterwards, it was clear that romance was disorienting and startling: a boat accidentally floating out to sea or a tiny house with just one window, and we both had to sit down for ten minutes to reel in our breaths. That night, we unrolled a large 36 by 24 inch sheet of paper on the table. With No. 2 pencils we measured distances, drew forests to explore and rivers to cross. At one point, Henry added a brown bear and then lost him on the page, but we knew he’d be roaming somewhere in the Classical Music territory. Finally, with all the STOP, YIELD, and NO LEFT TURN signs colored-in, we rolled our new plan into motion. It wasn’t easy, of course. But with a map for our expedition, we no longer found ourselves adrift, bewildered. Soon, board games stacked on top of the living room table, and we lost Scrabble tiles to the underbelly of the couch. 1000-piece puzzles framed our walls: pictures of grazing horses and secret gardens. On Sundays, Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words mused through the hallways as we completed our crossword puzzles. Our map kept growing, lengthening into a mural. We fell into a rhythm of yelling at the TV, sneezing from the dust particles, and sharing the cranky espresso machine. Just in case, we lay on a single, skinny bed. Our feet dangled over the edge, and it was a miracle our wrists didn’t brush, that our knees didn’t touch. We looked at each other in half-curiosity, half-wonder. His hair so dark, it almost seemed wet. We were happy, so one night, we ate our vitamins and danced like stupid people. It was almost a bad movie. We opened a bottle of champagne.