January 15, 2017
The auditorium smelled pungent. Axe cologne and body heat permeated from the students filing in that morning. His seat was empty. I wanted to look for him but I stayed put. Murmurs and questions of “What’s going on?” fell from the voices of the student body.
“Dear students, it is with great sadness that I tell you that Robert passed away late last night.” The stale auditorium air felt stiff and the headmaster’s words hung in the atmosphere. Then, a wail was heard from the eastern corner of the space. At first, I forced a breathless laugh.
I had developed a crush on Robert in 7th grade. I used to leave fortune cookie wrappers in the bottom of his locker. The ones with the Lucky Numbers, which were never really lucky, and the “fun facts.” I accumulated a collection of those wrappers mainly because I didn’t have many friends in middle school. Instead of going to a friend’s house or to the library with a study group, I went to the little Chinese restaurant, the one with the red neon sign that read, “The Golden Duck,” almost everyday after school. One thursday as I was walking to the restaurant, I peeked through the window and saw Robert sitting at my usual table in the corner. When I walked in, I slowed my pace and softened the heaviness of my feet to a gentle, controlled prance, to seem more graceful. But, it probably just looked awkward. Before I could even get close to his table he looked up from his book and smiled. He invited me to sit with him. We ordered pan fried dumplings and tea while we talked about our classes. In order to break the ice a little more, I confessed to him about the wrappers.
“Oh I knew. Why do you think I’m here? Not to be creepy, but, I’ve seen you here before many times. By the looks of it, you seem to be their #1 customer.” He smirked and my cheeks became warm.
I fumbled around the dumpling plate trying to shove one into my mouth to buy myself some more time to think of a clever response. He continued.
“I happen to love those facts on the backside. The science ones are my favorite. I actually want to study biology and medicine in college. And… and … I like you, Margot. Maybe we can go out, like on a real date. I feel like this doesn’t count because we weren’t really planning this.”
I froze. My cheeks piped down to the temperature of my abandoned cup of tea. But now, my heart rate was pumping to the beat of the faint radio pop music from the speakers in the background.
“YES… I mean yes.” I said a little quieter as I thought about the first ‘yes’ being too strong.
Three years of his “fun” facts at The Golden Duck and thick piles of Fujifilm prints later, and yet, it was only the beginning of our sophomore year of high school this year, when I decided to break it off. We had been growing up and apart. He had secured a spot on the Boy’s varsity soccer team for the second year in a row and spent most of his time at practice or doing drills when he wasn’t in class. He wanted to make sure he was on his “A-game” for the collegiate scouts. Meanwhile, I kept my nose in my textbooks. I was intent on keeping my grades up for college scholarships.
I refused to hear the rest of the headmaster’s announcement so I left.
“Hey Robbie, it’s me. I see you’re not in seat 301, mister :). The headmaster is blabbing today, you’re not missing much. Are we still on for Thursday? Xo Margot.”
I called him last week to set up a hang out, at The Golden Duck, and he agreed. I missed seeing the slim gap between his two front teeth and his early onset grey hairs. I wanted to hear him talk about how mosquitos are the “deadliest animals in the world” or whatever new fact he had milling around in his head. This particular afternoon, I was planning on asking him if he would want to get back together again for two reasons. 1. For posterity’s sake. I wanted to tell our kids about our dates at The Golden Duck and the fortune cookies, as if our adolescent years were a Hallmark movie, but better. And 2. Because I wanted to marry this guy. Which, I know is kinda weird to have marital ambitions as a sophomore in high school. In my head I imagined us buying a home in Lexington. A taupe colored colonial home, with a sturdy, skeletal, structure. Every year we would take our children to watch the re-enactments of the revolutionary war battles in Minuteman Park. Later, I would show our kids, three to be exact, the old pictures of us in a scrapbook with the taped cookie wrappers. He would laugh listening to me recite our story once again while washing the dinner dishes. Then, he would be the responsible one and read the world’s fattest fact book to force the kids to fall asleep.
It had been three hours since the announcement and I never got a text reply back from him. I slammed my phone down, cracking the screen. But, I was especially mad that I found out about Robert in a dank, dingy, high school auditorium.
January 16, 2017
I had been told it was a suicide. To dodge the peering eyes of the students and the awkward waves from faculty out of pity, I swiped my phone open. My thumb just barely grazed the sharp edge of cracked glass above my home button as I typed.
“I bet you didn’t know this one. A human heart pumps more than 2,000 gallons of blood a day. Yup, gallons.”
I walked into class. When my phone went completely black I saw my reflection through the jagged cracks.
August 20, 2017
“Today I learned that bones are 4 times stronger than concrete.” The text bounced back.
I believed that a life with him was still possible. That there was still a chance for our children to rummage through the picture from freshman year of me hugging his sweaty body after his soccer game in Brookline. I believed that he would have filled the kids’ brains with facts such as, the longest word in the English dictionary, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a kind of lung disease, that the kids could use to throw around and impress their teachers and classmates. I ignored the red error messages because I believed that there was still a chance, an opportunity for this life that I wanted to create with him.
“Blood donors in Sweden are sent texts when their blood is being used. Can you imagine a message saying ‘Patient X’ is using all that liquid that was once inside of you? Weird.”
Sometimes I didn’t know what to say but still talked about the mundane events of the day. I mean, how was I supposed to communicate with a dead person? There was no rule book to read or some common-knowledge spiritual manifestation practice.
Every night, I woke up drenched in my spit and sweat. My dreams, like a movie, played out the same way. In my dream, I would hear our children laughing in the backyard from my office with their dad as he would teach them how to properly punt a soccer ball. “Ok kids, now one foot in front of the other. Soon you all will be better than your old Dad. Remember, you always want to move your bodies to keep your lungs strong so you don’t get…” “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” they would all say in chorus as he chuckled. I would wake up in a breathless panic and then change my soaked pillows.
November 15, 2017
It had been months since the loss of my boy. Besides his talent for coming up with useless facts to tell me, he taught me one last thing. Mom went to bed at 11 p.m. I waited until 11:30 p.m before digging my eyes into the cotton ripples of my pillowcase. To punish myself, I would continue to lie face down dry heaving into my pillow making it hard for myself to breathe for almost an hour. Afterwards, I would go to bed with pounding temples and a dull headache. I hated this lesson the most.
December 14, 2017
It had almost been a year and no more red, error messages popped up after my texts. I clutched my phone firmly, tightening my knuckles. I was in the hallway with the lingering Axe scent that came from the boy’s bathroom by the corner. I sent him the first text of the day.
“This one will make you laugh, Robbie. A womans’ heart beats faster than a mans’, maybe this could explain why I seemed more nervous than you, when you first asked me out.”
As soon as I pressed send, a text bubble appeared. I stared at the bobbing dots shifting from left to right. My heart felt like it was doing overtime to keep up with my respiratory system so it didn’t collapse. I could hear the children laughing from my dream. I could hear his deep voice going over pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis in our Volkswagen SUV as he carted the children to school.
“Hi, I’m sorry, who is this? I think you have the wrong number.”
I glued my eyes to the message and read it over and over again. This was the last time that I would ever text him. I slammed my phone down on the ground as hard as possible. This time, the cracked glass screen finally shattered. I cut my thumb and watched the blood drip down to my wrist before sucking on it.
I left school and walked to The Golden Duck. I sat at the same table in the corner and asked for a fortune cookie. They were under new management and I did not recognize any of the workers anymore. The paper tucked in the folds of the cookie didn't have a quote but my “lucky number” was three. I thought about our children. I wanted him to know that I only wanted to marry someone who told me nerdy, health facts every waking moment of the day. I wanted to ask him why he did what he did, why did he have to die and kill the life we could have had together. I never got any of my answers. I sat at the table where he asked me out, until someone came over to check on me. It was hours before the manager came back to tell me that they were closing and I had to leave the establishment.