Bent Words

Bent Words

August 07, 2007

Memories in matchbooks.

Don Giovanni was playing at the Skylight Theater on a cold, late September evening. It was their first date and she waited for him, watched for him, breathlessly – rushing to the bathroom to brush her hair, just one more time, and rushing back again to see who it was pulling into the drive. Each time it wasn’t him, she paced restlessly across living room carpet and then took a running slide over the recently mopped linoleum floor of her kitchen. It was an action meant to alleviate her anxiety but it only made her heart beat louder against her chest. With all her senses heightened, her eyes darting from one end of the possibilities this night held to the other, the last thing she expected was a cautious knock on her door.

Quietly and carefully, she tiptoed to the peep hole and peered through the distorted glass. Searching in vain for a face, all she found were flowers.

Before she could see him, she could smell him – his cologne mixing gently with the nosegay he held as the door swung open for his smile. His hair cut, “a little shorter than I would like,” he would say, and styled, his eyes dazzling with hope and a plaintive greeting to cover the tambour of his heart. She couldn’t think he was trying to impress her but later she would realize, with an inexplicit pleasure, that he was.

As recommended by her father, they first stopped at the Milwaukee Ale House. “This way,” she said, “we have a place to get drunk if the play sucks.” The bar was crowded – a meeting of the minds was taking place – but he, with a gentle sweep of his hand, offered her the only open seat in the house. They tried the local brews, contemplated dinner, and resolved that all forms of entertainment could be enjoyed with a slight buzz. With his hand upon her knee, he commented on company surrounding them – the bald heads, the thick glasses, the slightly hunched positions of those standing. “Who knew,” he exclaimed, “that I would be a theater-goer?” And she admired him, from the corner of her eye, not only for his impressive attire but for the way he shined when he smiled. He flipped a box of matches with thumb from the bar into the air and then shoved them into his pocket. “We’re going to miss the highlight of our first date if we don’t get going,” he said.

At the elegant and expensive bar, during intermission, he would order a Bailey’s with coffee for himself and “for the lady.” Her coat provided little protection from the elements but the warm drink guarded her from the cold outside. They balanced their fancy glasses on the stone ledge of the building and huddled together, watching the steam rise from their drink and commenting on the play that they wouldn’t be able to recall years later. She couldn’t help but continuously ask if he was enjoying himself and he couldn’t help but to pull her closer to dissuade her worry. “Are you kidding me?” he said, “This is an amazing first date.”

Later, he would record their triumphant evening on the back of that box of matches. After they had gone their separate ways, she would continue to use the matches until the last one was finally used. Each flame reminding her of what had been so simple, so true, so complete and so passionate. She would nearly throw away the box in moments of forgetfulness, no less than six times, but this one never seemed to get away. Even when she was convinced it would be best to leave it behind, buried with the old bills and junk mail in the garbage.

Seven years later, digging through her files for a document, she would come across that matchbox obtained on a cold September evening when she thought her heart would leap out onto the table before he arrived to her door. Along with it, four other sets of matches, four other sets of dates recorded carefully in small print and four other memories marking a spot in time which no one wanted to forget were found scattered amongst papers which didn’t seem quite as important as they had before. Turning them over and over again in her hand, she smiled, remembering each one and forgetting the day which would wash away before its time.

Not every day was bliss, not every day was pure – not all memories came crawling back complete. Some things are bound to get lost or misplaced along the way and some things are surely more beautiful once they’ve garnered such a distance. But, no matter how far away, they were magical days, just the same. Filled with faded sunshine, smoky rooms, humid handshakes and some of the brightest smiles she would ever recall. Where one couldn’t laugh too loud, act too silly or fall too hard. Where no one claimed perfection and no one bothered to even seek it out as a possibility – where even sadness had its proud moments. Revelations came easily and rapidly, music had meaning, letting loose was a priority and, no matter where you stood, life was an adventure.

It was all that. Held in the memories of a matchbook.

Written at 9:57 p.m.