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Maybe It's Just My Memories

Nicole Tucker

I have one memory of him. No I have two, really, perhaps three. Memory, it comes and goes. It is constructed of, besides things we actually remember, those things we want to remember, those things we need to remember. So I might have four or five, more or less. But why is it the more I remember, the more I remember? Does it matter how many memories I have, how many are distinct or correct? I have memories, memories collected and distilled, memories that started three summers ago, memories of Bryan Milo.

My "one" memory of him, the one I immediately recall, call to mind, see, the one I know I have and will always keep without having to remember, is of Bryan Milo hunched over a book at a cubicle on the second floor of Stapleton Library. He had been there, probably, all day. He had been there, definitely, throughout the duration of our Irish literature class. I had missed him that day, looked forward to seeing him, swallowed my disappointment, endured the tedium alone. As I strolled through the stacks and aisles, after class, I happened upon him where he was, hunched over, reading. I approached unnoticed, he was so absorbed. (But who is to say he would have noticed if he weren't?)

illustration by Dan McCoy"Bryan," I started, quite delighted and surprised. I assuredly did not imagine it possible to find him in the library after his absence, not that I was looking. "You missed class . . ."

He looked up from his book at the sound of his name, smiled sheepishly, or not quite so sheepishly as mischievously, not quite so mischievously as one who is so utterly unaware of his offense that his smile, his look, was innocent. "Yeah, I started reading this book and it was just so interesting, it seemed a lot more important than coming to class . . ."

Truculence for a book, for a quiet read tucked away behind compressed wood, below florescent lights. Such an answer was apropos for him, what I would have expected, would have liked to expect. Such an answer was attractive; it intensified my desire to know him. But summer classes, seating arrangements, schedules, and stress, these things would just not allow this to be so.

But Bryan Milo, who is he? Where did he come from? Still I do not exactly know. He stepped out of one space into my own. He was sitting there when I arrived into it myself: 220 Leonard Hall. Excitement crept in through the corners of my eyes, as I entered the room. Not intending to do so, probably not even noticing me, he solicited attention unsolicited (I had not asked or intended to be aware of him; he did not ask or intend to be the subject of awareness) and impossible (comparable to the long-distance relationship in which I cloistered myself). I didn't know it then, but now, when I compare it to other memories of other men, men I never noticed, men who noticed me, I know I noticed him. And I have not often attended to such notices that slip and slide between physicality and those things unaccounted for. I knew I observed him but immediately accounted it only to fascination, to distraction, to hope, as I critiqued the dusty, mousy brown hair that framed and fell over his forehead and the clothing, nothing stylish, nothing of note in a crowd or empty classroom, nothing distinguishing, unless we say, the practical brown (or black) round-nose leather shoes that housed his feet and the sweater, possibly maroon, with a hole somewhere toward the elbow, that draped his frame.

But I didn't need to know what he wore, didn't care, didn't exactly notice and on that account my description mirrors both our concern to his stylistic flair. Shall we sum it and the memory up as nondescript, indistinct? I do not remember what he wore besides his shoes and sweater, but I can see him, sitting at a desk, one leg crossed over the other, the sun at his back, scribbling notes on a roll of cashier paper, not saying much even when pointedly asked.

What was he writing and why was he writing it on that?

These were just two questions I had of Bryan Milo. Two questions. No answers. I couldn't help watching him, searching, struggling quite amiably for some truth. He was something indescribable, mysterious, magnetic. I'm not sure if these things were him or me–that just another thing I wanted to find out. So I sat next to him when I could, took him cheddar cheese Goldfish crackers, and generally ignored the fact that I was ignoring him because I wanted to do quite the opposite.

Unfortunately, Bryan Milo provided few answers that summer and I have very few today. Of the cashier's tape, just something he was trying, like skipping class to read a book, like wearing a maroon sweater during the height of summer. I had almost forgotten him, almost forgotten my memories–except the one–when the phone rang last Friday and the voice on the other line was his. And, almost four years later, the attraction that once crept in through my eyes, whispered in through my ears. I remembered then, almost four years later, just weeks before, it had held me in its arms. And I wondered, wouldn't you, if it would not somehow manage to steal into my heart.

So he caught me off-guard, again, even though I knew my space would collide with his. I had waited, two large, heavy, upright black pulleys at my side, in an artificial night. Darkness had fallen but the glow of the streetlights, the stream of headlights, the wattage that spilled through the windows of the airport's glass walls made patches of the night, cast shadows, made the landscape fuzzy, hazy, irritatingly warm and aglow, as people, luggage, and cars milled, moved, motored through the scene. Drained, I longed just for darkness, longed even more for Bryan's arrival. My weary eyes scanned each vehicle looking for the dark SUV that had once collected and carried me to this very address, one night in December after the summer I had met him. He had given me a ride home. I watched and waited, wondered if I would actually know him, especially after mistaking someone else for him in the arrival's hall. I wondered, I waited, I watched.

This time, he noticed me, but only because he had to. He had pulled onto the opposite side of the street, out of the traffic, stepped out of his car, a green BMW coupe, and called my name. Spotting him, I moved with the milling travelers in the direction of familiar, the someone who has come to rescue you, as it were, from the lost and found. That's how I feel, sometimes, waiting to be collected, waiting to go home, watching as everyone else who was once lost, is found. Crossing the street, I left a piece of luggage behind me, dragged the other closer to his car. He seemed more anxious about my bag as I approached; it was heavy and I was happy to release it to him with only a quick hello and half hug before turning heel for the other. But these gestures, they were proper, both considerations of protocol, politeness, and good breeding, what friends do when they meet after a long time, I guess.

We shoved and squeezed my luggage into the trunk and back seat of his car respectively and were on our way. The darkness I longed for flooded in through the windows. I was hungry and tired and cold or hot as my sweater and the air conditioner went on and off. I really had not much to say except nothing, so the conversation flickered on and off, too, and up and down, like my companion's air conditioner, my sweater, my body temperature, my emotions.

Indiana, PA, was not that far away but we arrived upon it faster than I would have expected, faster than I would have liked. Shortly after we were shoving and squeezing my luggage into his car we were squeezing and shoving it out again; my shoulders and back strained at the job. He deposited me, as he had before, upon a quiet, dark emptiness. That December he deserted me to an airport; this night he deserted me to a seemingly empty house. Its contents asleep, I felt just as alone now as I had then. Taking our leave, we hugged again. His arms closed around me; his head nestled into the crook of my neck. He held me, rested against and into my body, as if he were breathing me in, trying to remember something he had forgotten, or to remember something he wouldn't forget. As I waited in his embrace, I wondered what he was doing, what he was osmotically absorbing from me, of me. This goodbye I thought would be as quick as our hello. But as I stood there, folded into his body, enveloped by his arms, I became anxious that this wait I had not expected would end. And it did as he gently released me. We slowly stepped apart and looked into the other's eyes. My face near his, I could have kissed him, longed to kiss him, almost . . . doesn't count.

This moment, just like any other, just like all others, evaporated as quickly as it condensed. We didn't stand there all night. We didn't say anything profound. We didn't even kiss. I wish we had. I wish we had done one of those things. As I lugged my bags over the cobbled path and into the house, he slowly backed out of the drive and disappeared into the night. We both disappeared into that night. I thought, maybe he'll call. But he never did, until now.

"Hello, Nicole. How are you . . ." this call commenced with the casual, usual chit chat, until he said, "I want to see. When can I come?"

"Whenever, you decide, my schedule is pretty flexible, especially after the 11th." I thought, he isn't serious; I'm not even taking him seriously. Let him show up. Then I'll believe it. This train ran through my head as he spoke nostalgically of touring Indiana, IUP, his favorite haunts, and seeing me. But that wasn't the Friday he called. The Friday he called, he called twice, three times even, maybe more. "I woke up with this urgency to see you. When can I come?"–the same voice on the phone, the same question in my ear.

"Well . . . you can come on Saturday or Sunday. But the campus will probably be closed. It's up to you. Make a decision," my voice trailed off as I listened to him thinking.

"OK, I'm going to think about it and call you back." We hung up and I thought, Really? He called back–really–not five minutes later. "How about today?"

"OK? . . . OK . . . " My mind whirled as he gave me a run down the rest of his day, as he mentioned another call to alert me of his estimated arrival. "Yeah, great, call me when you're leaving Pittsburgh," I echoed. Not only would I need the heads up, I needed to be sure he was actually coming. Bryan and I, we've tried to meet at other times besides those rides to and from the airport, we've exchanged emails, conversed casually and occasionally. But, somehow, somehow, his phone call would let me know whether this was just another somehow.

The phone rang, again. I picked it up and looked at it: Milo calling.

"Hello," I said.

"I'm on my way . . ." And that was that. It wasn't the worst, it wasn't even another somehow.

He called; he was halfway here. Called again; he was lost. Still my phone rang, "I'm outside in front of building 2200. Where are you?"

"I'll come down," I said, slipping into my shoes and grabbing my purse. I emerged in wedge heels and a short, ruffled denim mini skirt, both to accentuate my legs, both to feed into a fascination he'd mentioned about them. His one memory, ironically, finds us once again at Stapleton Library. We met there, and as chance would have it, I wore a denim skirt. He remembers that skirt (somewhere now long forgotten, except by him) and my legs. So I emerged in a denim skirt, one shorter and sexier, not purchased but selected from my closet with him in mind. I hoped the change wouldn't be too disappointing, knew it wouldn't. But, you never know with men . . .

I found him rollerblading about the parking lot, wielding his hockey stick. Straightaway, he sent me back inside. I remerged with rollerblades and socks and wondered how I would manage in this very short skirt.

First stop, the library. We parked there, pulled on our blades, and started skating down memory lane, for Bryan. His adeptness amazed me. I floundered behind, knowing I would have outdone him if I could. As I watched him whir ahead, I marveled at being caught up in this whirlwind of nostalgia. He pointed to places he'd lived, buildings in which he'd studied. We even skated over carpet and linoleum in a few. The, rest, unfortunately were locked, or we would have done them all. Leaving the campus, we glided, gracefully and without falling, effortlessly and with some effort, toward the town. Over bumpy and bricked, cracked and cobbled sidewalks, we wheeled our way to a place of particular significance–Spaghetti Benders. Bryan always ate there, had even invited me to eat with him once or twice that summer we meet. We'd even been there once, together, with other people. In four words, I'd never gone back. But we had to stop here. And Bryan recalled past meals, conversations, TV shows all in that place. He pressed his face against the glass, a kid outside a "candy" store, as I watched and smiled and maintained my balance.

We returned to campus, meandered through the Oak Grove. He took a paved path toward his car. I took one for a chair, a bench really, cast iron and apparently rigid. It, not as uncomfortable as it looked to Bryan, went unnoticed as we sat there, talking of anything, until the tension of waiting for the moment to end eventually evaporated. We outlived it together until we skated together, with his hands gently on my hips, guiding me, moving me through the most beautiful oak grove–the most beautiful memory.

Bryan will remember that we returned to my apartment. He will remember that as he approached the door I arrested him, "I didn't tell you you could leave." He will remember my finger scratching his eyebrow, or that holding me felt good and natural. He'll remember that once he left he wanted me as he never did before.

I will remember Bryan sitting with me in the Oak Grove, his telling me all these things: how he loved the word amalgamation, Sheetz smoothies, tofu, and podcasts, how he'd never tasted honeydew melon, never "tasted" love. And when I walk through the Oak Grove now, I, I will remember him.

Bryan Milo has not given me any more answers, only more questions. That's apropos, what I would expect, would like to expect. But he has given me one more memory, maybe two, three or four, maybe less or more. Life, Bryan especially: it creates questions; it creates memories. Answers, they are there, somewhere, I'm sure, I want to hope, have to believe. But if not, I can't help watching . . . searching . . . struggling–at least–for the truth, whatever that is anyway. Maybe it's just my memories.

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