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Rebekah Matthews is a graduate of Indiana University, where she studied English and Communication. She currently lives
in Boston, where she works as an assistant editor in college textbook publishing. She likes talking about her hardships
with public transportation, and varies between being proud of and being ashamed of her recent obsession with
Star Trek:
Voyager
. She is presently working on a collection of short stories about lesbian relationships.
Rebekah Matthews
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Be Careful


I told you, "We don't really do anything together besides have sex," so we started going for runs together, every Wednesday
evening.

At a nearby university, we ran around the track, which surrounded a pond, a lop-sided oval of brown murky water and brown
algae, which stained the rocks. You had been gone for two weeks to give a presentation about your research at an 18th century
British literature conference in London, and now you were home in Boston and it was back to our Wednesday routine once again.

I was wearing an old, oversized T-shirt and a regular bra, not a sports bra, and as we ran all I could think about was how I
wanted to grab my chest and hold it still. You wore a blue headband to pull your bangs away from your face. When you sweat,
it smelled like absolutely nothing.

After three laps, we took a break. You leaned forward and put your hands on your thighs.

"Those two weeks you were gone seemed like a long time," I said.

"I won't be traveling for that long again any time soon."

"I know."

"Is something else bothering you?"

"Not really. Sort of. We don't see each other very often." I squatted to tie my shoes even though they weren't untied. "We
never even spend the night together. I waste a lot of time wanting to be with you."

You took a drink from your water bottle. A normal person would have gotten defensive and told me to deal, told me that she
needed her space. A normal person would have apologized, offered to spend more time with me. But you said, "Next time, when
you want to be with me, you should write me a letter."

I stood back up. "That's dumb," I said. "That's not going to help." I started running again, and actually did grab my boobs this
time and said, "fuck this shit" under my breath. You ran behind me, keeping a few feet's distance.

But I started writing you letters. You probably only meant that I should do it once, or a few times, and you certainly didn't mean
that I should keep doing it after you decided you didn't want to fuck me or talk to me any more. But I got so used to this — the
way it went for us, like a chain reaction — when I wanted you, the only solution was to want you more.

                                                                ~


You've just broken up with me when my mother calls from Indiana to tell me that she and her boyfriend, William, are moving in
together. She has been seeing William for almost a year; they met at their yoga class. He teaches history at a community
college, is a vegetarian and has a 16-year-old daughter.

My mother and I are mostly polite friends, seeing each other twice a year at most and strategically avoiding ever upsetting the
other. We have both gone to therapy to learn how to manage this, and we occasionally do show affection: "xxxxx."

"William will move here, to the house," she is saying. "He and his daughter just rent a tiny two-bedroom apartment downtown,
so it seems logical."

"Oh, right, his daughter," I say. I am currently trying to re-organize my room — find the things from you, figure out what to do
with them. I look under my bed. I see our sex toys, filthy with dust and lint. I wipe them off with my fingers. It doesn't do much
good.

"Her name is Trisha," my mom says. "I'm actually a little worried about how that will go. Will she want me to be her mom, or her
friend, or neither?" It is more than she usually says to me and I feel an old impulse to comfort her.

"What's Trisha like?" I ask. On my night stand, I pick up the books you got me for my birthday and a tiny bottle of the perfume
that you wore that you gave me after I said I liked yours. Underneath a pile of sweaters, I find the silver square link bracelet
from you. I don't own any other jewelry, and the bracelet is closer to something you would have bought for yourself; whenever
I wore it, I felt like an imposter, like I was doing a bad impression of you.

I can't throw this stuff away. I shove it into a black trash bag. I should hide the bag, out of my sight, but instead I set it in the
corner of my room, slightly open. Lately my room has gone to shit — clothes on the floor, half-full glasses of water on the
window sill, breakfast bar wrappers, an unopened box of Kleenexes from my concerned friend, Laura, who tells me I should cry
as much as I need. But I haven't done that once since we broke up.

My mother is saying, "Trisha seems in most ways a typical girl — she talks on the phone to her friends a lot, she's boy crazy.
And she's on the Internet all the time, just like you."

"Which is clearly a sign of intelligence," I say. "Anyway, I bet if you just give her some time, she'll warm up to you. It will work
out."

It works out fine for my mother, but not exactly fine for me. A few weeks later, my mother emails me that Trisha is enamored
with the idea of having a sister and wants to visit me in Boston. I say OK, thinking that despite my general aversion to children
and teenagers, this falls pretty fairly under the "family favor" category.

                                                                ~

You came over to my apartment and did my dishes while I watched TV. I told you to stop and I'd do them later but you said,
"They need to be done." After you set the dishes out on the rack to dry, you came over to the couch and put your arm around
me and played with my hair. You asked me what I was watching and I said, "This family runs a funeral home. They get the dead
bodies ready. It's really depressing." I saw you once a week, at best, and you always said you thought staring at a TV screen
when we were together was a waste of time. But I liked to sit next to you.

After the episode was over, I turned it off and told you I had written you another letter. I went to my room to get it. I came
back out to the living room and handed it to you. "Don't read it now," I said.

"Why not?" you asked.

"I don't know, it would make me self-conscious."

You smiled and unfolded the piece of paper. A part of me had known you would do this. I said, "I am going to the bathroom."

"No you're not," you said. You asked me to put my head on your lap while you read it aloud. You were wearing a white dress
with green zigzag stripes, and pointy gold shoes. You didn't seem to own very many clothes — three or four outfits for the
summer, at the most — but they were always designer clothes, nicer than anything of mine. I still wore outfits from college,
jeans that were too small and T-shirts with stupid slogans like "My creative juices may contain pulp." I usually had to explain the
jokes to you.

Dear Jennifer

I tried to cover my face with my hands but you wouldn't let me. You held them with your own and you said, "Don't be self-
conscious. I like your letters."

Today at work the internet went out and during lunch I couldn't think of any good timewasters. So I started playing
minesweeper, have you ever played? It's a game where you have to get through a minefield without hitting a mine, and you
are guided by a system of numbers. I thought of you when I played. I thought it seemed like the kind of thing you would
enjoy, because the number system is so perfectly logical. Everything is in order.

You let go of my hands. You folded the letter back up and put it in your purse, carefully, like it was something that mattered to
you. You kissed my forehead and you said you loved minesweeper.

                                                                 ~

I ask my co-workers at our textbook publishing company what in the world to do with a 16-year-old girl. They recommend I
take her to the aquarium, so after I pick Trisha up at the airport, we ride the train downtown. We wait in line behind a group of
middle-schoolers, probably on a class field trip. The girls stand awkwardly, their arms crossed, covering their breasts, and the
boys are short and their voices haven't changed and they keep stepping on each other's shoes. At the ticket counter, I use the
two complimentary passes I got from my company's human resources department

Trisha is taller and fatter than I imagined. She wears a low-cut V-neck top, low-rise jeans and too much eyeliner. Her midriff is
constantly visible. Her voice is high-pitched, she hurries to fill even the beginnings of silent pauses and occasionally, without
prompting, she smiles to herself for no apparent reason. On the train ride, we talked mostly about the reality TV shows we both
watch.

We enter the dark aquarium. Inside the air is humid and salty, which could either be the water and the animals or the body odor
from all the people jammed into such a hot, small space. On both sides of us there are two tanks, one full of arm-sized sharks,
the other full of huge, wavering sting rays, with underbellies that look like smiley faces.

"Ooh," Trisha murmurs. "It's creepy in here."

"Is that bad?"

"Creepy is always good!"

"I was worried maybe you'd think fish were boring," I say.

"Oh no, of course not," she says. "Anything in Boston is bound to be more exciting than Indiana. You could read the dictionary
and I'd be interested."

It is both excessively complimentary and slightly insulting, but I remember my own excitable and miserable adolescence, and I
say, "I know what you mean."

"Really, you do?"

"I always felt sort of claustrophobic in Indiana." We approach the indoor penguin exhibit; in the middle of the artificially blue
pool, there's a single mountain of rock and most of the penguins stand here, huddled together, looking sleepy.

"Me too! That's exactly it. Claustrophobic. That's a relief to hear. I mean — your mom is pretty nice, and Dad leaves me alone
for the most part, but I have to say, it's awesome to talk to someone just gets it," she says. "I just knew that you would."

"What about your friends?"

"They're kind of immature. No one is really all that cool, except — "

An aquarium employee or volunteer in a wetsuit descends into the pool on a stepladder and tries to get the penguins to swim
with her. She is older, with graying hair pulled back in a ponytail, and she murmurs gently, "Come on guys, come on." She
wades through the water slowly and there's something uncomfortably desperate about her behavior. When she gets a few feet
away from the mountain, the penguins hobble away from her and dive into the water. She has a little microphone wired close to
her mouth and she starts telling the audience stories about the penguins — apparently two of them have been fighting, and
pulling out each other's feathers.

I locate the two feuding penguins, swimming on opposite sides of the pool; they both have bald patches on their necks, their
grey, scaly skin showing through.

"No one is cool except who?" I ask Trisha.

"This guy who is — kind of my boyfriend — do you want to hear about him?"

Trisha and I turn away from the penguins and head outside to look at the harbor seals, who are barking for fish. They sound
like they are being tortured. Trisha starts telling me about her kind-of boyfriend and I silently debate whether this is better or
worse than spending an evening at home moping about you leaving me.

                                                                  ~

You and I were supposed to get together at my place and that afternoon you called me on my cell phone while I was at work.
You never called me during the day time, only in the evenings, so I knew something was wrong. Your voice was deeper and
scratchy. You said, "I think I caught something from my students — I might be coming down with a cold."

The ceiling above my cubicle had holes in it and that day it was pouring rain outside and water was dripping on my desk, so my
boss had me temporarily move to an office. I got up and closed the door to my new, temporary office. From the giant window I
studied the aerial view of the street, where people in search of lunch hurried by with their umbrellas — mostly black umbrellas,
but there were a few circles of color too — a yellow one, a red one.

You said, "But I might feel better by tonight."

"Okay."

"I know that you look forward to seeing me and I thought I would warn you because I didn't want you to be disappointed." You
were always arrogant and also always thoughtful. When we first started seeing each other and I had confessed that I got so
excited to see you that I sometimes couldn't eat for most of the day, you had told me you thought it was cute, which had
unsettled me as much as it relieved me.

I said, "Can I bring you anything? Soup or something?"

"No, thank you. I have vitamins here, and tea, and garlic."

The editor who had used the office before me had quit rather unexpectedly, and he had left most of his files still in the office. I
said good-bye to you and I looked through some of his folders — there was some production paperwork and old emails, but for
the part they were just his own hand-written notes, half-assed ideas for improving his art textbooks that didn't make sense to
me and probably wouldn't to anyone else, either. I put the folders back.

Later that night, you emailed me, saying you were indeed too sick to see me. I fell asleep and had a dream that all my friends
left for summer camp without me on a bus, and I watched as the bus drove away. When I woke up, I wrote you a letter about
my dream.

The next time I saw you, we went for a run together and afterwards, in your car, we got milkshakes at a drive-through and
parked and you read the letter.

"That sounds like a dream about abandonment," you said. "Was it about me?"

I felt foolish for telling you because I suddenly realized how it was so obvious. I said, "Oh, god, yeah, I guess so. Sorry. That's
annoying."

"You don't have to apologize for that," you said.

I drank my milkshake and the straw collapsed. I sucked harder. I couldn't figure out if you got off on our interaction because it
made you feel powerful, or because you appreciated my vulnerability and my trust, or because we both focused so much on my
emotions that we never had to focus on yours or your lack of them. Mostly I couldn't figure out if you even liked me that much,
or if you just liked the way I liked you, but maybe that was about the same thing.

                                                                   ~

There are some suspicious things about Trisha's boyfriend, whose name is Thomas. On the train ride back to my apartment,
she says he is a few years older than her and goes to a different high school so they talk a lot on the Internet; when I ask her if
he has a car, she pauses and avoids eye contact and says, "Well, yes, but he's just really busy."

As I'm preparing dinner — macaroni and cheese from a box — she opens my refrigerator and asks, "Can I have a beer?"

"Sure, but don't tell my mother."

She sits down and tries to unscrew it with her hand. I hand her a bottle-opener. She says, "Thomas doesn't drink beer."

I am stirring a packet of powder cheese into the pasta and I grip the wooden spoon as hard as possible so I can remain civil.
"Oh really?" I ask.

"He drinks cognac. He says he thinks beer tastes like pee."

While I admittedly don't know many high school boys, I cannot imagine that there is a single teenage boy in existence who
drinks cognac. "You guys ever drink together?"

"No."

"Well, that's good."

"We're really emotionally connected. We don't need lame stuff like alcohol in our relationship." She takes a sip and says, "It does
kind of taste like pee. Hey, before we eat, can I use your computer to check my email?"

                                                                    ~

I plan to sleep on the couch and let Trisha stay in my bedroom. I stop by my room because I realize I've forgotten about the
trash bag full of your shit. I shove it in the hallway closet. Lately whenever I see it, I feel some sort of hard, sinking panic.
Before I shut the closet door, I fish out the silver bracelet from the bag and put it on, testing for something.

I show Trisha the bathroom and say, "When you take a shower, you have to wait a while for the hot water to come." I also
point out her towel, folded on the toilet seat.

"Thanks," Trisha says.

I'm about to leave her alone to get ready for bed, but she asks, "Do you like living alone?"

I say, "It has its pros and cons. Do you think you'd like to live alone when you're older?"

"I don't think so." She unfolds the towel, folds it again. "Sometimes I think I like being by myself, but at night sometimes I feel
really sad."

"Sad about what?

"I don't really know. Like I'm waiting for something. Mostly when I feel like that, I just wish I could talk to Thomas."

"I thought you guys talked all the time."

"No, I mean — never mind."

There it is again — something is off. After we say goodnight, in the living room I turn on a late-night talk show, keeping the
volume so low I can't distinguish the words, and I drink the remaining beer in the refrigerator while searching the Internet for
tips on talking to teenagers about sex. I'm on my fourth beer, and I am intimidated by the Internet's advice —
your child needs
accurate information about sex, but it's just as important to talk about feelings.
Drunk, curious, and generally irritated, I view
the Internet browser history from when Trisha was using my computer earlier in the evening. There's her email. I follow the link
and the browser cookies haven't yet expired. I'm still logged into her account.

The TV sounds far away, like a song in a foreign language. The room is glowing slightly blue from my laptop screen. I have a
headache from the beer and I know I shouldn't be doing this, but I think maybe it will save an excruciating conversation with
Trisha; maybe it will clear things up and I will find out I was wrong to worry.

Trisha has written email after email to someone with the screen name TLM101. I read a few of their most recent exchanges and
learn that apparently TLM101 is well into his 30s, and an insurance defense attorney — though he can never disclose the name
of his firm, for privacy reasons, he writes importantly. He is also married and his wife never gives him blow jobs. He lives in
Louisville, Kentucky, and he and Trisha have made tentative plans to meet "in real life" but haven't yet. In her emails, Trisha
writes long, complicated sentences, so convoluted they barely make sense, full of mundane details about school, her
appearance, drama with her friends. In return, his emails are sparse and almost abrupt, and his sentences almost always end
without a period, like he couldn't take the time to bother with an additional keystroke. He throws her a bone every so often:
disaster of a bad faith claim today- swamped- but am thinking of you and your beautiful smile

I check an email with an attached file. The photo starts to load on the screen and it's a half-nude picture of Trisha, wearing a
bra, her finger in her mouth. With her other hand she is holding the camera herself, pointing it at a mirror, so the photo is
actually a reflection of her. The flash of the camera intensifies the dirty glass. Trisha's face seems more naked than her body;
her face is titled down uncertainly, but her eyes are wide open and expectant, looking directly at her reflection with a kind of
stupid bravery. I log out of the email. I shut my laptop.

The TV is still muttering. On the coffee table there are my four empty beer bottles, lined up in a neat row. "Shit," I say, to
nobody. "Trisha, what the fuck are you doing?" I bury my head in the corner of the couch, where the arm and the cushion meet.

                                                                     ~

Sex with you progressed like a drastically rising line graph, or a drastically dropping one, depending what the graph was
measuring. We started having sex almost exclusively on the floor. It was awkward at first, and it took us a while for us to figure
out the mechanics of this — for example, if I stayed on my knees too long, my skin got red and raw; if you bent over too long,
your back got sore.

I was lying on my back and you were standing up, but you kneeled down and touched my thigh. You held it there and asked me
about the last time I masturbated. You never took your clothes off when we had sex. You kept on your shoes too. You were
wearing the zigzag dress again. It wasn't the first time you asked me intrusive questions while we had sex but it was the first
time you had asked about that. I said, "I did it before I went to sleep." I stared at your ceiling fan while I told you — it was on
slow speed, and it rattled as it turned.

"What did you think about?"

"You."

You said, "Repeat what you just said as a full sentence, and look at me this time."

I looked at you and I said, "I did it before I went to sleep and I thought about you."

"Were you on your back or your stomach?"

"I was on my back."

"What else?" You sat down on the floor next to me, crossing your legs. Your face was even. You weren't smiling but you still
looked happy. Your eyes are green with a little bit of yellow. Your pupils were small, from the light from the windows. Your hand
moved up a little.

"What else? Nothing else."

"I don't think that's true."

I wanted to look at the ceiling fan again. But you didn't really change your facial expression no matter what I said to you. I said,
"I imagined I had to ask you before I did it."

"Have you ever fantasized about that before?"

"Yes." I closed my eyes. "I kind of do it all the time."

"How long have you been doing it?"

"A while."

"Why didn't you tell me before?"

"I don't know. It seemed wrong."

"That isn't wrong." Your voice got soft like it only did every once in a while. "Ask me to do it now."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I just can't."

Your voice stopped being soft. "Open your eyes and ask me."

"Wait. Okay. Will you please do it?"

"Will I please do what?"

"Will you please fuck me?"

"Why?"

"Because I need you to."

"I want you to say that in full sentence, too."

"Okay. Okay. Hold on." I wanted to hide but I knew I couldn't. So I forced myself to do it, past hesitation, like plunging head-
first into freezing cold water. "I need you to fuck me." I said it as fast as I could. I was appalled by the way I sounded, pathetic
and transparent. I was having trouble catching my breath and then I realized that you were having trouble catching your breath
too. Against my neck I could feel short bursts of air from your mouth, one after the other. But you pressed your lips close and I
couldn't tell any more.

"I will." You pushed your fingers inside of me and a few minutes later you were fucking me with your whole hand. It didn't really
hurt but it felt weird but I tried to lay still and I told myself,
it's okay, it's her.

                                                                      ~

After that, you wanted me to send you an email every day telling you what I had eaten the day before, what time I went to bed,
and if I had masturbated. Every time I wrote an email, I got nervous and turned on and embarrassed and a little sick to my
stomach. You didn't always email me back right away, and sometimes, if a few days passed and I didn't hear anything back from
you, I would start to check my email obsessively, every few minutes or so. Eventually I would shut myself in my room and start
crying harder than I remembered crying before this. I felt exhausted and like I was without anything in the world to protect me
from you. But I couldn't stop it, mostly because I didn't want to stop it.

                                                                       ~

Trisha and I are riding a taxi on the way to the airport. The driver has a double chin and wears a Red Sox baseball cap and a
cheap leather jacket, and when he hears that Trisha is flying back to Indiana, he shares that has very fond memories of Indiana
and the Midwest in general. He is especially enthusiastic about the cost of breakfast food at their diners. The back seat of the
car smells like Trisha's cheap raspberry body spray.

I mostly ignored Trisha for the remaining two days of her visit. I said something urgent had come up at work and I had to go
into the office, and Laura, my friend who knew something was wrong, took Trisha shopping and sightseeing. In the evenings,
the three of us watched rented movies at my apartment and I tried to talk as little as possible. When Trisha was in the
bathroom, Laura asked me how I was doing, and I said, "Has Trisha been having an okay time, do you think?" I have been
learning, fast, how to deflect.

I also called my mother and told her about TLM101, that he was old and married, but I got off the phone before we could
discuss it in much detail. "Just talk to Trisha," I said. "I don't want to deal with this."

This afternoon, in the taxi, the driver runs out of comments about breakfast food in Indiana, and turns up the radio, where NPR
is listing bad news item after bad news item. Earthquakes and dropping stocks and athletes on steroids. I debate whether or
not I should say anything directly to Trisha about what I found out about TLM101. I have been thinking I would prefer to avoid
the confrontation, but I notice that she seems quiet, maybe disappointed; her suitcase rests on her lap and she clutches the
handle so tightly, and suddenly I feel sorry for her.

"Trisha," I say. "Do you know very much about Thomas?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do you know how he feels about you?"

She says, "He thinks I'm pretty." She laughs self-consciously. "He understands me."

"That's good. Just… don't let him take advantage of you."

She doesn't respond.

"Be careful, okay?"

"Okay." She adds, "What does that really mean?"

"Be careful," I repeat. "I don't actually know."

The taxi driver tries merge onto the Mass Pike and honks and swerves when the other cars won't move out of the way. The
sudden motion makes Trisha lose her balance and slams her shoulder against my shoulder. She apologizes.

                                                                        ~

One night, after six days had passed since I had heard anything from you, I took the train to your place and rang your doorbell.
It was a horrible idea; not only did you hate surprises, but you went to bed before 10:30 every night and it was almost
midnight. When you answered the door, you were wearing a red terrycloth bath robe and your feet were bare and I realized I
had never seen you in pajamas before tonight.

"Valerie," you said, "Are you okay? Why are you here?"

"I know I shouldn't have come without us having plans beforehand, but — I really wanted to see you."

You shut your door behind you and stepped onto your front porch. You weren't going to let me in. This was going to end badly.

"Is there some other reason you're here?" you asked. Your hair was sticking up in back and you tried to flatten it.

"I get so tired," I started, "I think sometimes I'm going crazy."

"From what?"

"From how I feel about you."

"How does that make you crazy?" It was our established routine, question and answer, and temporarily I believed we were falling
back into what we were. But this time was different, because you didn't want the answer.

Finally I said, "You already know, don't you?"

You sighed. "Yes, I suppose I do." You crossed your arms. Your porch light buzzed from the little black bugs trying to touch it.
"I wondered if something like this might happen. I thought that our dynamic was going to work well, but this is getting too
intense for me. You can't be showing up to my place in the middle of the night."

"I'm sorry."

"Maybe two people aren't supposed to do this with each other." Then you said slowly, like figuring out a math equation in your
head as you spoke it aloud, "I don't think I want to do this any more with you."

"Why not?"

"I just don't. People change what they want."

I tried to keep my voice steady. "You just — you just change your mind, like that?"

"Look, you sound traumatized by this whole thing, and I'm sorry. Maybe you should try not to think about it."

"How could I do that?"

"We can still be friends."

"What?"

"Valerie, it's late. I need to go back to bed. I have to teach early tomorrow morning. We can talk about this later, if you want."
You offered to call me a taxi, but I said I didn't want you to do that, I just needed to go. You tried to hug me. It was stiff and
forced, like distant relatives hugging. You turned around and opened your door and went back inside and shut your door. In
your front lawn I saw a flash of something, a small rodent, a rabbit or an opossum, dart through the grass. I tried to follow it
with my eyes but it was too fast, and it disappeared.

You haven't contacted me, since then, but I never believed you would.

                                                                         ~

In autumn, I start running again; I try to go three or four times a week. I go to the places we went together, like the college
campus lake, but I also take the commuter rail to different towns like Dorchester and Fitchburg, where people are friendlier than
in Boston, and there are more trees, and the train stations and even the roads are so much less crowded. When I am running
in these strange places, I feel like I am lost.

One evening, after work, I shop downtown for a new sports bra and new sweatpants. At an overpriced department store, I
model a pair of running pants in the dressing room — stoplight red, and tighter than I'm used to — as well as a few new outfits
I picked out. Besides the running, I've also started shopping constantly, more than my paycheck allows. My credit card debt is
beginning to get overwhelming, but I ignore it.

The mirror in the dressing room must distort my image, because in the reflection I look thin and almost tall, especially when I try
on a little navy blue dress, sleeveless, with an empire waist. My cell phone rings. I'm alone in the dressing room and I see it's my
mother calling, and since I want to find out what's going on with Trisha, I answer.

"I can't talk for very long," I say quietly. "What's up with Trisha?"

My mother reports that when confronted, Trisha turned hysterical and threatened to run away. She's grounded indefinitely, and
William has installed some sort of parental-control software to prevent Trisha from having conversations with TLM101. I don't
think this will actually keep Trisha from finding ways to still talk to him, but I don't mention this.

"Hey, Valerie," my mom says, changing the subject suddenly, "Are you seeing anyone these days?"

"What, like dating?"

"Yes, dating."

"No."

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"Really?"

"Didn't our therapists tell us that honesty isn't always the best policy?" I retort. Thankfully, before I have to apologize, two
women enter the dressing room together, loudly complaining about their big thighs, and I tell my mother I have to go. I put the
cell phone back in my purse and turn so I can see my backside in the mirror. I straighten up, put my shoulders back. I am
growing my hair out, so it's past my shoulders now, and I straighten it every morning. Combined with the new outfit and
flattering mirror, for a second I don't even recognize my reflection.

The other two women begin to talk loudly through their stalls to one another about the dangers of buying 100% cotton shirts.
One of them says, the sound of her pants and belt falling to the floor, "And then you're gesticulating wildly and you have giant
underarm sweat stains and you don't even know it." They laugh.

I touch my hair, feeling how smooth and even it is. I'm still not used to it. The appearance-alerting is deliberate. For a while I
thought I was doing it because I missed you — that if I started doing things like you, if I turned into you, even just a little, you
wouldn't feel so absent. But maybe that is not all of it. I notice that the mirrors in this dressing room are clean, no fingerprints,
no grease smudges. I remember how when I saw that picture of Trisha, I recognized in her expression something that had gone
from me, that I would not get back — the ability to reveal myself and think: It doesn't matter how scared I am to do this, how
ugly or weird or inappropriate I might seem, because somebody else sees it and likes it. But I won't think like that again. You
aren't looking any more, maybe because what you did see, you didn't like.

I unbutton the dress and pull it over my head. I put it back on the hanger, back on the hook on the door, and I look away from
the mirror. I try on the next dress, black with short-sleeves, button down, and a thick belt. I zip up the back, with difficulty; I
have to inhale so my chest becomes smaller. I deliberately avoid looking at the price tag. I look to the mirror again, hoping. It's
not so much that I want to be you. It's just that I want to be somebody else other than myself. It's just that I want to be
somebody who has stopped writing you these letters.