The streets of downtown Cincinnati were so deserted, I briefly believed we had hit the end of time, and I missed loud signals on that cold spring night. I was lost and full of fear. There are different types of fear, but no fear is more gripping than that fear that a loved one is about to hurt you deeply.
Laura wore a dark maroon dress with a hemline just above her knee, and that night more than most, I remember thinking how beautiful her legs looked. They had a perfect shape. My eyes could feel the smoothness that my hands luxuriated in earlier in the afternoon. Laura carried all of the beauty I had ever seen in her. I held her hand lightly. The fear was crawling in my throat and I had no idea what the source was. Her fingertips never gripped tightly, which always bothered me, but on that night, I remember that they were repelled from my hand.
Really, it was the end of time. I had no future. I presume Laura felt that meaninglessness about me. She was allowing me to have an intuitive signal about her leaving me for a better man.
Most of the streets we walked had very little concrete. There were grates followed by more grates and all of the grates had different patterns. Laura struggled in her heels and I could feel her shoulder lean into my arm at intervals. The only comfort that night was when she leaned into me and needed me. Where there were no grates, the sidewalk looked like a cardboard façade covering a pit full of angry rats. It was quiet enough for rats. Part of the oddness was that lights were not left on in the office buildings. The street lamps were bluish, not yellow. It was as if all of the buildings were off the grid and only rows of street lights shone. I remember a foolish prayer, asking God to maintain the Marriott in a live form, but I also thought that slow dancing with Laura in a perfectly dark, empty ballroom would be a blast. In the darkness I would need to gently place my right leg on the inside of her left and push her leg gently so that her foot would not be stepped on, and she would slowly move her leg to let me know how deeply she was into this.
It was a terrible waste to be called on a mission to keep her company in a city that clearly had no soul but also appeared to have no life. That rotten fear spoke to me. It told me that we would be better if I caught a bus to Alabama. Alabama was far away from anyone who could hurt me, it ought to be warmer, and people from the South might be gentle with me.
Initially, I thought Laura inherited much of her kindness from the South, but I soon discovered that it was solely from her mother. Her hometown of Springfield, Missouri has no sympathy for the traditions of the South, and as a matter of fact, as far as Laura was concerned, it was a drug-infested snake pit. I never could understand how she escaped the drug life in the way she did. She came to our school and she was as delicate as and as courageous as a ballerina. Her body was no longer ready for the nasty perfectionism of ballet but it had a structure of powerful grace and beauty. Her gait was enthralling, enticing, and it made me want to walk by her side so that she could add to my vitality. When she played the violin, her face became one of a goddess, with fierce determination that only added to the beauty. I cannot remember ever seeing a more beautiful face.
It took us a long time, but after she had a couple short-lived flings, we started dating. We started dating a short time after I made a weak attempt at suicide. The contrast between the two periods in my life was powerful, and to this day, I cannot remember being happier than during those first two years when we were seeing each other and lucky to be living in the same town. I reflect on the contrast, and it occurs to me that my relationships with women or lack thereof are often a key indicator of how happy I am. Some will judge me as incredibly delicate and weak for relying on others for happiness, but it seems to be a major part of my fulfillment, what I like to think of as my mission. I am a romantic to a tremendous fault. I only wanted one mission, and that was Laura, and I wanted it to go forever. We told each other that forever was a good thing. We dreamed it, and it made each day and each moment of the day so much more tolerable. I had thought that death might interrupt us somewhere far out in the unforeseeable future, but it was our fallibility that would suddenly end the mission. Our fallibility nearly destroyed my heart, but I suppose it is our fallibility that has brought us back together.
The most frightening thought about that night in Cincinnati is that I cannot remember one thing that we said to each other. I feel as though we did not say anything all night, but that cannot be a real memory. The hotel room was filled with these shanks of ice crystals, visual not physical, most numerous between the two of us, and making love was not the activity we normally anticipated with excitement, but I remember we tried. At one point, after she had fallen asleep, I remember regretting that I had not drunk nearly enough alcohol that night.
I missed so many signals that night. Tonight, I sit here praying that I am not missing more signals. Yes, I miss signals all of the time, but I have learned to pay close attention to this fear that comes up from the bottom of my gut. I feel that tightening pain, and I know it is time to carefully listen and watch for those signals of my impending destruction.