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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

What I Was Told

"Do you think he might be checking up on you?" my friend asks. We are chatting on Facebook

"Oh, no," I say, "The cafe is in the same building. He was going to eat. Or write. I know him," I reply.

The fact that a man I knew, who parted with me on bad terms, came up to me in a barely lit place, after nine at night, did not bother me, nor that we crossed paths exactly as I got out of my class, did not worry me. We had a brief, cordial conversation. He went on and I went to the parking lot. He had parked one or two spaces next to my car.  There were many other open parking spots.

"Do you think he might be trying to intimidate you?" my friend asked. I do not tell my friend how the childhood sing-song phrase applies so well: I know something you don't know.

  I said no to my friend. I was happy to feel that the cordial exchange meant this man was not mad at me anymore. I suddenly think of the way I have always driven away when I have spotted his car in a parking lot. There has been no reconciliation, and I do not want to intrude on his life, even if it means going elsewhere to have coffee, to shop. Was he meeting someone and could not go elsewhere, that night? Then why park almost next to my car? Why not go over to the other lot, a matter of five minutes, and slip into the cafe? He would know why I was there: we danced in the same classes for many years. He knows the dance studios are on that side of the building. Why was he parked so close to my car? Had I seen it in the lot that way, without him, I would not have known what to think. I might have been afraid.

I do not think much about it further. I have a thought flash through my mind, of how he looked when I saw him by accident, truly, a month before, of his flushed face as he walked by, hands held in front, balled into fists. I thought weirdly at the time that his hands looked like the way a kangaroo has its arms held in front. I call and leave a message on his phone later; I have not called since the day we became estranged. I have not called since, though I did send a Christmas card, worried he would have no cards from anyone. I will send no more cards to him again, or call.  I say to the voice mail that I hoped the chance encounter had not bothered him, that I had no idea he was going to show up there. I said  I was sorry for the anger I had expressed when we ended, that he was a good person, that I hoped he might forgive me one day. I mean these things. I do not expect a call back, and there is not one.

Benign encounter, and we sat far apart in the same coffeehouse, but I felt something at that time: a sense of angry vibes coming at me, knives of cold fear. I have felt these before, and never with anyone else, sometimes when we were apart, sometimes not. It always happened that he was furious with me. I knew it, I tell myself. He was angry with me. I told myself that every time.

I did not have the same fear when I saw him at the dance studio place, but have small misgivings now, for another reason.

The day before Easter, our paths cross, in our cars, not close, but close enough, in a parking lot. Is that him? I wonder. Oh well, it has happened before; we have passed on the roads in different directions. This time, though, I think he has seen me. No big deal. He was just leaving the restaurant on that side, or the Walgreens. I intuit that he has seen me. I just know it. He turns right, out of the parking lot; I see his silhouette. No one could ever mistake him for someone else. I briefly wonder why he went the way he did. He is a creature of habit, greatly so: I have never known him to shop at the grocery store he is heading towards. He must be going to the movies, I think. He goes on. I head to Walgreens; CG is driving, Thistle in the back. I am sick, asked CG to drive me; Thistle needs things for her Easter basket. When CG pulls up to Walgreens, suddenly I see the other car, heading back down the parking lot "aisle", directly across from me, a little distance, but not very far. I can easily be seen. His car is inching along. I remember he never drives that slowly in a parking lot; this is a snail's pace. He must have made a U turn at the store, an unusual maneuver he would never do when we knew each other. Why is he inching along like that?

CG lets me out a short distance from Walgreen's and heads off to the grocery store; the other car is inching along still. CG is now nowhere near the other car. I do not tell CG what is happening and do not know why, in retrospect. Perhaps I am just being stupid, I say to myself. I get out of the car, all the while telling myself it is silly. Then the other car puts on its brake lights, right across from Walgreens. He is waiting for people to cross over to Peets, I rationalize. But he has braked so far away from that place, and he waits. If cars were behind him, which there are not, they would start honking their horns. Perhaps he is waiting for the light to change. But he is so far back from the light, and I see no cars in front of him, though it is hard to see clearly.

Suddenly my mouth goes dry and I begin to shake. The car does not go away, and neither does the heavy tidal wave of fear. Never in years have I felt these things, this jolt of pure adrenaline, this fear. You are being watched, the feeling screams. I dash into Walgreens and wait by the front glass doors. The car's brake lights go off; he goes away, but my fear remains.

Later,  I tell CG I have to get something at CVS, and there is the car again; it is parked, empty; he must be in the coffeehouse. I tell CG to drive away, tell him at last about the slow car, the brake lights, the car's make, model, license plate. Be careful if you borrow my car and see that other car, I tell him. My mouth is still dry.

For two days now, I have not been able to shake such a feeling of strangeness, disquiet. It was nothing, I tell myself. It is something, I tell myself. I am on his radar. No, it is nothing, I tell myself. I have been sick for a week, in bed, not myself: just silly, paranoid. I write a little about the good things, things I still miss. Never would he try to scare me, I say, then think the opposite, my mind flipping like sides of the same coin. I have read the book The Gift of Fear, which pleads with the reader to not ignore the warning bells, the intuition that something is wrong. Do not talk yourself out of it, he writes.

Either way, I do not know what happened. That is what I come to, now.

I was told once that Asha intuited the very name of the road and creek where her body would be found one day, though she did not know it then, long, long before a man named Michael McClish entered her orbit. Later, after she died, a local woman whose stories of Asha, in news forums, seem sort of odd at times, said that Asha once asked her, "If I disappeared one day, would you look for me?" At times I wonder about this woman, how much she knew about Asha, if that conversation ever really happened. Yet I can't dismiss it, ever, just as I cannot dispel this little shadow of disquiet in the last few days.