By Jaimie Hwang
We spent the entire summer together. From waking thoughts to goodnight kisses, we were together. Sometimes we ran into old high school friends at the video store, or we attended barbecues that felt like reunions: everyone asking each other questions about what they were doing now, who they were seeing. Nobody asked Sean or me any questions. They figured nothing had changed in our lives since they last knew us. They were right, for the most part.
I got a job at a sock shop called Zags on 48th Street halfway through the summer. Everyone, even to this day, gets toe socks from me for their birthday. If youíre special enough, I give you toe socks with pom-poms on the ankles. One of my friends came into the store a while back. It felt like I hadnít seen her in years, even though it hadnít really been that long. I stared at her for so long she shivered. But she agreed to go to Helenís after my shift nonetheless.
When we ordered our food, I noticed something peculiar. She studied her menu with intensity. Weíd been to Helenís loads of times before, so I always knew what I wanted. Kelsee took her time though, flipping through the pages, contemplating. I got my usual, no tomatoes. Kelsee ended up getting a strange deep-fried coconut tofu dish for vegans. From my understanding, Kelsee is an avid meat eater.
We caught up for a while. She asked me about Sean and I told her we were doing fine, yet I couldnít help but notice how routine our exchange was. Everything seemed scripted when it came to playing catch-up, at least on my end. I heard myself repeating events and stories that hadnít changed in years. Kelsee, on the other hand, spouted endless streams of new tales and experiences. She seemed so reinvigorated, I barely recognized her at times. Maybe it was her new hair style; she parts her bangs to the side now. When my food came, I noticed it came with tomatoes. I donít know exactly why I got so angry, but I made a little scene.
Kelsee seemed appalled, ďSean doesnít eat tomatoes either, right? Thatís why we never used to get those spaghetti carry-outs for 15 at Tonyís?Ē she asked, and I nodded in response. ďSo, why donít you eat tomatoes?Ē I paused in thought before I answered because I couldnít quite remember. Tomatoes make me gag.
That following Saturday I went to my dadís place. His new fiancťe cooked us dinner. I still have reserved feelings toward her, but I no longer feel hatred; if anything, just indifference, toward both my dad and her. She has this strange way of playing with her necklace that really annoys me. Karen twirls it around her index finger until the little silver chain looks like it will just snap in two. Then, almost like a pressure cooker, she lets it all unwind. She also wears an apron when she cooks. I donít know if most people do, but I find it overly domestic.
She made this dish with all sorts of vegetables. Green peppers, onions, green onions, carrots, red peppers, tomatoes. I tried it. I didnít gag. It wasnít all that bad.
* * * * *
Iím in Greece now. My dad knows someone here who gave me a job. I enter ďfiguresĒ into a computer all day. But the view from my desk is nice. Rocks jut left and right, ocean lapping front and back. I love it. Itís menial work, predictable to say the least, somewhat like how things were with Sean; except itís actually all different because things seem hopeful for once. Thereís an element of surprise. I feel a gripping spark of livelihood when I sit at my desk, watching the relentless barrage of waves.
I left five days after my dad bought me a ticket. I didnít tell Sean until the second to last day. He didnít say anything for a few minutes. I thought heíd hit me. Or shake me. I wanted him to. But he just stood there, speechless.
And then I cried. Not little pearly tears like in the movies. No. I just flat-out erupted in sobs: red nose, squinty eyes, the whole shebang. He didnít hold me. Itís my own fault, I know. But still. He just stood there, a good two feet from me, dumbfounded. When he finally asked why, I had snot dripping down my chin. I didnít even bother to wipe it off. Why not was my response.
ĒWhat about us? You donít love meÖ?Ē He asked me in such a funny way. The words came out separately almost, halting and sharp; the full sentences didnít quite register in my mind. I donít know. I donít know.
After that, there seemed to be nothing more to say. Because I had no explanation and he had no space for acceptance, we both went home.
Last night for dinner, I had Mediterranean food. Juicy, evenly sliced wedges of red tomato. I might still love Sean. I donít see how Iíd ever stop, really. But tomatoes donít make me gag. They make him.
© Jaimie Hwang