Even though I knew how badly she had wanted to go, contacting the
universities is not the most difficult of my duties. Using the past
perfect tense is more difficult, especially because our past was far
Each story I make
different, each excuse a bit more creative; present perfect makes more
sense to me, even if it’s a lie. I bet that she would have never
expected this level of creativity from me, her scientific-minded
roommate who had never written anything other than lab reports.
Hello, Katherine cannot accept your
generous fellowship because she has decided to prolong her tour of the
Congo with the Mbuti, an extremely peaceful tribal people. That’s what
I’m guessing anyway, because I sent her off on a plane two months ago
under the impression that she would return in three weeks. I haven’t
heard from her since, but her boyfriend did receive a stack of pictures:
Katherine dancing with the natives in full tribal costume. Thank you for
Sir or Madam, Katherine will not attend
your highly regarded university because Mick Jagger has hired her to
oversee his tour laundry—a once in a lifetime opportunity—so may she
defer her student status at your fine institution for at least a year?
The tour will begin in August and last until January (unless Japan books
more tour dates), or until Mick kicks the bucket, whichever happens
And my current personal favorite: Dear
Doctor, Katherine has forfeited further university studies in honor of
pursuing a presidential nomination, Libertarian party. Major Platform:
Sexism in Elementary Schools. Slogan: Kate in ’08. Please make it out to
the polls to show your support. I will send you a campaign banner once I
get them printed. I appreciate your time.
She had hated when people called her Kate,
but I think she would have made the exception for the Oval Office. Had
hated, would have made. Her future, however perfect it would have been,
will never transpire. No one told me how to deal with the still feeling
of lingering empty; the guidance ended after I forwarded the last check
to some charity in lieu of flowers. People called and people visited
before the wake, but the casseroles and tissues ended there. The quiet,
however, allows me to find myself in a continual state of nervous,
uncomfortable revision. The past becomes my present, the future my
opportunity for her to permanently join the Peace Corp in Samoa, to move
to Hong Kong and teach elementary school children English, or to jaunt
off to Antarctica where she would never open my letters and would be
angry with me forever for something as ludicrous as accidentally washing
her sweater with a ballpoint pen. The sweater part is the most
preposterous because she never showed anger at me for anything; if she
let something I did get to her, I never knew it. She kept everything
I expect responses from the schools that I
e-mail…questions, concerns, even excitement, but at most I find two
words: Thank you. I wonder how the responses would have differed if I
would have included the words regret, bathtub, sorry, pills,
He doesn’t know about these acceptance packets that keep arriving in the
mail, and even though I have ripped her name label off the black metal
apartment mailbox, the thick envelopes keep coming and I keep e-mailing.
In addition to the Congo tour, the rock-n-roll tour, and the campaign,
Kate has also taken fertility drugs and is pregnant with quadruplets;
her obstetrician has ordered bed rest, and the most she can do is
participate in the local paper’s crossword puzzles, which she doesn’t
really like to do anyway. Thank you for your understanding.
I get no response at all for the quadruplet story, or this one: Good
Morning Dr. Olson, I regret to inform you that Katherine Robertson has
abandoned literature studies in favor of discovering a cure for a
disease that millions of Americans already have but do not yet realize
it. Comparable to the fountain of youth, the secret of life? Quite
possibly. But, we will only know with further research, and Katherine
feels confident enough in herself that she will defy the challenges of
modern medicine and the Food and Drug Administration in order to save
millions of lives. I’m sure you will understand. Thank you in advance.
I wish I could turn to him for comfort
sex, but after I chug the leftover vodka straight from the bottle that I
find under the sink, I worry he has replaced the alcohol with liquid
cleanser; if he did, I am not certain that I would know the difference.
And then I worry that he has replaced her with me, but I fear that it
happened long before today, back when the past at least seemed perfect.
I don’t know why I gave into the whole emotional tryst with him anyway.
Both of us staying in the same apartment
is a terrible idea, but the three of us lived here together and neither
he nor I have anywhere else to go. Plus, I don’t think that he can deal
without me around. Someone will have to shave his thick black hair
because a comb would never go through it; I feel certain that the only
reason I don’t smell him is because I reek as well. I assume that when
he leaves the apartment everyday he is going to work, but I can’t
imagine that they would let him continue his duties of securing tennis
courts for the filthy rich looking as filthy dirty as he does.
The next day I am happy to see three
envelopes stuffed in the mailbox, and I get to work.
To Whom It May Concern: Katherine has
hired me to write you and let you know that she will not attend your
university because she has signed a deal for a barbeque cookbook tour
complete with presentation and taste testing. She just could not turn
down the opportunity to throw down with Bobby Flay. If everything works
out as she has planned, you will see her as a challenger on the popular
television show Iron Chef America.
Dearest Sir or Madam: Ms. Robertson cannot
attend your program because she has felt the sudden need to revert back
to nature, become feral, and attack people who decide to cross under the
Ferrington Bridge. Please do not, I repeat, do not, report her to the
Dearest Madam: I am sorry to tell you that
Katherine will not be attending your outstanding institute of research
and study because she has received the benevolence of God and has
decided to open up a no-kill animal shelter for partially and fully
blind cats and dogs.
Thank you, thank you, thank
He and I never go out anywhere together—I
never go out at all—and we don’t talk about her. It is clear, to me at
least, that we won’t last past the end of the month. We know too many
secrets about one another that frighten us to talk about; she was the
only one who knew everything about each of us, and it doesn’t seem right
to talk about it to one another and not through her. At first I made the
silence into a game, just wondering how long we could go without saying
a word, but it turned out to be easier than I expected. I just pretend
that he is a ghost, an entity not even real. He goes outside to piss,
even though it’s early March and still cold. Neither of us has taken a
shower since he found her there.
The responses to the letters keep me busy.
Miss, Ms., Mrs., or Mr.: I regret to inform you that Katherine has
recently changed her name to Starr O. Destiny because of a gender
alteration and desire to love the night life, love to boogie. Therefore,
she will not attend your university come fall semester. But, I would
like to cordially invite you free of charge to the shows that she puts
on every Friday night.
Or this one: Dear Acceptance Committee,
Did you hear about the experiment where NASA chose five ordinary
Americans to live on a newly discovered planet? Katherine Robertson and
the other four subjects (all male; imagine the responsibility on her
shoulders!) will reside on planet Alikari—which was just recently
discovered and isn’t even in the Milky Way Galaxy, mind you—in order to
build a successful colony complete with crying babies and hopefully,
hula dancing hyenas and singing squids. Thank you for understanding.
I didn’t remember that I had stashed her
cell phone away in my desk drawer. The phone vibrates while he and I are
trying to sleep—something we’ve mastered faking since he found her —and
I hop off of the bed and dance as if I am being electrocuted.
Shock wiggle shake.
Shake boom shicky shake.
He either pretends not to see me or just
doesn’t care. Dancing takes less energy than crying, and I need a
physical release. Her phone vibrates again and I decide to answer,
despite that the night is half over and no one would call her at
two-thirty except for a drunken sorority sister from her undergrad. As I
walk towards the desk drawer, I consider the possibilities: a strange
offer to be a permanent extra for a well-known studio in Hollywood; a
decision to immerse herself in researching undiscovered Commonwealth
literature and forming an international conference on the subject
matter; or, an acceptance of a position to reorganize the rating system
for new albums reviewed by Paste magazine. The name on the cell
phone screen says Bree, a mutual friend from high school who married a
Hawaiian soldier and disappeared from our lives months ago.
--She’s fucking dead. Katherine died.
--Sorry, wrong number.
He still pretends to sleep as I press the
End Call button on the pink cell phone; I toss it on the floor and hope
that it will buzz all night long and he will eventually have to say
something to me, even if it’s just Turn off that damn thing or
For the love of God, stop dancing. Maybe that would break our
silence, or maybe it wouldn’t matter; nothing either of us can say will
bring her back to life. The only possibility for a chance at perfection
in our future is that we haven’t ever touched; the two of us haven’t
ever done anything physically incriminating. The emotional stress we
caused had done—and is still doing—enough damage. Innocent talks late at
night that were not that innocent, yoga that twisted our minds as we sat
cross-legged in the apartment complex workout room, and his phone calls
to me at our apartment while both of them worked, his job as a desk
attendant at a tennis club less active than her telemarketing gig. She
called strangers while he called me. Each present day ate away at the
possibly perfect past until there was not an appropriate action verb to
describe the situation. He had wanted to tell her, I didn’t, but neither
of us had to say a word; she had always been able to read every word
that was written across my face.
Nothing arrives in the mailbox the next
morning, so I sit in my pajamas all day and eat red licorice and potato
chips. Although I haven’t watched daytime television for three years, I
still know what is going on in the soaps. I haven’t attended classes
since he found her three weeks ago, but with all the writing I’ve been
doing, I wonder if a double master’s in zoology and biochemistry is
really what I should put my efforts into; still, I don’t feel like
putting any effort into the future of my life. I only put effort into my
lies. Writing for her makes her seem less dead, like she’s in a coma and
we’re waiting for her to wake up. The most I can fathom doing right now
is compiling my e-mail responses and turning them into some sort of
memoir based on truth; people have believed things more bizarre than
developing a patent for a suitcase liner while simultaneously recording
the actions of hermaphrodite polar bears.
Yet when I check her e-mail later that
night, an electronic rejection re-inspires me. I start typing and can’t
stop: Thank you for rejecting Katherine Michelle Robertson from your
mediocre institution, because she would not have been able to attend
anyway. I regret to inform you that she has taken a role in an
off-Broadway production that requires her to practice three hours per
week, which I realize may not seem like an extended amount of time, but
being the dedicated person she is, Katherine has decided to devote her
spare time—as we say in the business—getting into her role as a
chimney sweep. She has planned to volunteer sweeping chimneys for anyone
who would like their chimneys, well, a bit cleaner. If you’re
interested, do not hesitate to contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you, Marissa M.
McMichaels, McTalent Agency, Inc.
I wish he would find his own apartment,
but I don’t know how to tell him without sounding cruel. I don’t want to
see him express any outward emotion, because then I might have to do the
same. Sometimes I think he would find comfort in making me watch him
Katherine had trusted both of us. Katherine had known that she would get
into almost every Ph.D. program that she applied to. Katherine had loved
both of us more than anyone. Katherine had had an accident, I tell
myself. She had taken the sleeping pills, and she had fallen asleep in
the bathtub. She had not done it on purpose; she had not done it because
she knew that her best friend and boyfriend no longer talked in her
presence. She had not done it because she had been clinically depressed
(who isn’t these days?), and she had not done it because she had no
I search through her desk and find the list of schools she applied to:
fourteen in all, more than most hopeful Ph.D. candidates ever attempt;
she wanted to secure a way out of the life she had lived for the past
two years, and the more applications she sent, the better she felt her
chances were at acceptance. Working telemarketing never agreed with her;
she missed classes, studying, learning, researching, writing. Katherine
spent all morning on purpose statements—each one tailored to fit each
school’s professors and special library collections—and then called
people during their dinners to badger them for past due credit payments.
I always had admired her because she worked as a telemarketer as long as
she did. Imagining what she would have done with her future makes me
want to wretch.
Three credit card applications arrive for he in the mail the next day,
and I fill each one out in block letters so neatly that it appears
someone has typed them. I pick out the mini-sticker card that shows a
palm tree and placid clear water and place it on the appropriate space.
Then I rip up the applications into scraps and dust them to the floor. I
don’t care if he sees them; I will be the one to pick them up and I will
pick them up when I feel it is time.
Although I could have loved him, I would have discovered that eventually
realizing I loved him would have only led to me eventually realizing I
would want to leave him. Perhaps then the future would have been more
perfect. We sat together at the funeral because we figured that if we
didn’t, people would find it strange that Katherine’s best friend and
boyfriend didn’t turn to each other in this severe time of need.
We didn’t think about what people would think when he continued living
in the two bedroom apartment after we buried her under the mud and the
tears that people shed over someone dying so young, and with so much
No mail has come for four days now, but the absence of acceptance
letters hasn’t stopped me from writing on scraps of napkins and
receipts; the stories get more morbid the more I write: I feel like my
creativity begins to fit the current situation. On the front and back of
a napkin: Katherine would love to attend your university, but she has
decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a mortician;
well, not a mortician exactly, but a Makeup Artist for the Dead—I cannot
remember the correct terminology for Makeup Artist for the Dead, but I’m
sure you get the gist of the situation (think of the movie My Girl
if you’re having trouble picturing it)—in order to keep the family
business alive. She has high hopes that you will keep her in mind for
the next few years in case being a Makeup Artist for the Dead becomes
too grave for her to bear.
On the back of a receipt, in teeny-tiny print: I regret to inform you
that Katherine will not partake in your Doctorate of Philosophy in
English because she has decided that literature is the biggest waste of
time; she has decided instead to focus her efforts on opening up a
suicide hotline center. In case she didn’t put this info on her
curriculum vita, she is well versed in the poetry of suicide. Knows it
so well that it almost seems she has done it before. I appreciate your
When he comes home, I am already
in bed. I hear him take off his clothes, turn off the television, and go
outside to relieve himself. I wonder if he brushes his teeth while he’s
out there, or if he’s just quit grooming altogether. I haven’t paid the
rent for this month, but I have the feeling that he has put a check in
the mail; he likes to mail letters to people he knows, he likes to get
up and go to work, and he likes to pretend like nothing ever happened:
no girlfriend, no sleeping pills, no emotional connection with her
roommate and best friend, no bathtub, no cold blue body. I like to sit
in sweat suits, like to eat Cherry Garcia straight out of the freezer
burned carton, and like to receive acceptance letters in the mail that
aren’t mine, and then e-mail people I will never see and was never meant
to. This is our present perfect state; in the past three weeks, we have
not attempted to deal with our grief, and we have succeeded miserably.
He climbs into my bed, his
back facing my stomach. I don’t blink. We lie—I am not certain of the
correct tense, but lie fits the current situation so well that I must
leave it— in the white-walled room, and I feel like I am a long, loose,
never-ending sentence that wants to end but can’t; I feel as if I am
floating on the surface of a page, wanting to organize myself but unable
to, wanting to reach in front of myself and dot the end with my
ink-dipped—the ink nearly dried because it has been on there too long—
pinkie finger. I reach my arm out to touch him but can’t bring myself to
make contact, can’t bring myself to touch the end of me and him, the end
After he leaves for work the next morning, I stay in bed until I know
the postman will bring her mail to me; the trip to and from the mailbox
is the only exercise I have gotten since the suicide accident happened.
As I see the manila envelope in the box, I know it’s the last
acceptance. Big envelopes mean yes, small ones no. I open the envelope
up while I sit at the computer and prepare my story. I bite my lip and
Dear Committee of Ph.Ds,
I regret to inform you that Katherine
Robertson will not be attending your university. She had suffered from a
long history of mental illness before ending her life one night in the
bathtub of the apartment that we shared. To be completely honest, I
think she did it because she knew that her boyfriend was eventually
going to leave her for me, her best friend and roommate who was supposed
to be honest and stand by her at all times. I failed, and I feel that
this caused her to falter in her judgment; she took an entire bottle of
sleeping pills and then drowned herself in the bathtub.
Although this is probably too much
information, I should let you know that I am leaving the apartment
today, so please do not send any correspondence via the U.S. Postal
Service; please use my e-mail address instead. I have decided to
hitchhike to Detroit, Michigan, where a hot air balloon conductor (who
hustles cocaine on the side) has agreed to let me hover over the world
an unlimited amount of time for the small fee of 1.5 million dollars.
Don’t worry about the cocaine thing (I have a stronger willpower than
one might expect), or what I will do when I return from my gliding
station of a home. After my return to land, I hope to start my own
business: creating a new brand of candy bars made from fabric cleaner.
For so long fabric cleaner has received a bad wrap, and I feel it is my
job to set the record straight. If that doesn’t work out, there’s always
speechwriting for potential Academy Award winners.
I wish that I would have done things
differently, but the past is never as perfect as we wish that it was.
Zoe Vespucci Trump-Stern Federline
I print off my e-mail response, rip it into tiny pieces, and throw it
with the rest of the scraps on the living room floor. The pieces look
like little paper flowers scattered around a grave. As I pack a small
bag and walk out the door, I hear the sounds of the jungle calling me to
uncover its secrets.