How Does It Start?

Have you ever smelled something so good it’s sickening? The cloud of scent swirling around you, fresh bread, cupcakes, whatever. It’s all too good and it makes your stomach drop, you’re dizzy, nausea washes over you that can’t be escaped. The odor of something you want so badly it lifts your heart out of your chest, yet you can’t have it. At least that’s what you tell yourself anyway. Maybe the store isn’t open yet, or you’re on a diet, or you already ate. That smell. Everything you want, right in front of you, but you can’t take it. It could be a trick, a powerful air freshener. Some factory-generated illusion pumped into the air to make you visit a sandwich shop or view a house that’s too expensive. How do you know what you want is real when you’ve been burned before? When there’s nothing left to trust. In a world where anything can be transformed and people can lie to your face without remorse, how do you know that the mouth-watering cupcakes you’ve imagined and agonized over for so long will be as good as you want them to be? Or if they even exist at all?


“What are you trying to say? That you made up a guy?”

Her expression is quizzical but the rest of her lacks all enthusiasm. Which is what happens when someone has to listen to you wax on painfully about the dissolving of a relationship. I think that’s the true test of when the “mourning period” is over: when friends can no longer feign interest in your latest theory about “what went wrong” or whose fault it really is. “No, I didn’t say it was a guy.”

She leans in closer. “But you think you made them up?”

“Sure, I mean why not. People have imaginary friends, maybe I formulated an imaginary person.”

Children have imaginary friends. Lonely children.” She retreats back to her end of the table and we both take a break to nurse our lattes.

“Okay, but get this.” I rummage through my purse until I retrieve and unfurl an old college ruled piece of paper. “They match every item on the list.”

“What? This scrap of paper you made in the 10th grade?”

“I mean, I don’t think the age of the list makes it any less valid. It’s that they nail every item.”

“Ughh, this is so general: is nice, gets my jokes, is pretty/handsome, likes breakfast food. I match this list.”

“Are you asking me out?”

“Ha. Ha. No, I’m trying to point out that you didn’t imagine anybody, plenty of real people match this, and oh, I don’t know—maybe you should talk to them.”

“But how can I talk to them if they’re a figment of my imagination or a highly advanced AI?”

The eye-rolling from the other end of the table is palpable. I’m forgetting the appeal of being in love anyway. Even when it’s good and it “works,” it’s still bad. When you make it through dating, there’s the pressure of getting married; if you do get married, there’s the subject of children and divorce. Then throughout all of those obstacles, there’s the fact that you have to be responsible for and involved in another person’s life. What if the get hurt or you get sick? How do you both survive? I mean the greatest example of love I ever saw was portrayed in the televised regurgitation of an article. A Sparks-esque tale about high school sweethearts who fell in love. They stayed together for years. Had children. Then the children moved away, as children often do. Contact is lost but the couple is still together. Then one of them gets sick, I don’t remember which one. Money is tight, they can’t afford treatment and so they come up with a plan. They can’t be apart. “Murder-suicide” is plastered across several newspaper headlines. Then it cuts to their sobbing children, the ones who haven’t talked to them in years. “Well at least they’re still together,” they wail as the camera frames them in closeup.

What’s the point?


“Hey! Mondays, am I right?” That was a dumb thing to say. Why was I even born?

“Ha, I know. I’m not loving these new ID cards. Employee numbers, what even is that?”

“I am not a number, I am a man!” Why did I say that? Well, time to dig my own grave at work.

Then, a smile. “Was that a Prisoner reference?”

“Uh yeah, it was. So, are you doing anything for lunch?”