My earliest memory: I was three. My father, just home from a business trip, dropped his suitcase on my hamster Harry. Instead of being happy about my father’s return and the little bars of soap he brought, I cried for a week. I’ve never been able to look at travel-sized anything the same way since. At six, my cat got stuck in a tree, then my father got stuck in the tree trying to get the cat down. My mother, so nervous that she sucked the smoke out of her cigarette with a single inhale, pushed the ladder into the soft earth so hard that it sunk to its bottom rails. The mud created a vacuum and we haven’t been able to move it since. I’m pretty sure the ladder grew roots and now believes it’s a tree.
Since then, my neighbor euthanized my goldfish, I’ve broken my big toe. I’ve been in love three times, each relationship ending like a piano being hoisted up the outside of a building on rotting rope. My first boyfriend, third grade, broke my nose in a fiercely competitive game of dodge ball. My college boyfriend, Hank, accidentally fell into bed with my best friend, Hannah. My last serious relationship ended when we realized we’d gotten lost in the mundane routine of tolerance, a place neither one of us wanted to stay.
Five months ago, my roommate got hooked on Red Bull. One night, ripped on caffeine, she broke every bowl, plate, and dish in the apartment while baking Christmas cookies for her office party. While she was in the process of smashing my collection of pint glasses, a shard of glass bounced off the windowsill, rebounded over the countertop, soared through the entryway, and landed in my right eye. That night, she was admitted to the psych ward with caffeine-induced psychosis. I spent that night in the ER, a compress pressed to my eye, surround by accident-prone people like me. After I explained what happened to the nurse, she made me explain what happened to the doctor. The doctor brought in another doctor and then another nurse. The shard of glass, they all said, had followed an improbable path. Someone even suggested that I had stood in its way.
Space is big. Really big. Bigger than big. I think most scientists would agree. But when people talk about space, unless they’re a special sort of scientist, or me right now, they’re really talking about the things floating in space: planets and asteroids, comets and stars, things that kick around like hand blown marbles on a black top. It’s amazing with how much space there is that things bump into each other. But just last week I bumped into a screen door. You’d think with all the space out there and here on earth that things like that wouldn’t happen, that atoms would politely move aside and let us through. They don’t.
Space is everywhere, in the most crowded cities, in the smartest brains, and biggest muscle bound bodies. Molecules crash and smack and spin like bumper cars driven by drunken teenagers. Yet, despite this overabundance of emptiness, it will always, always hurt to walk into a wall.
I was pretty depressed when I first started wearing the eye patch. For one, I use my eyes to see, and only having one gave me headaches. I couldn’t work for a while. In the dead of winter, when the trees were wrapped in ice and every slushy step was an accident waiting to happen, I was afraid to do much of anything. I stopped washing my hair. My clothes grew wrinkles. It was hard to get out of bed. When I did, it was impossible to leave the apartment.
“Get out there, seize the day,” my mother said when she called me, her voice raspy from smoke.
“Kiddo,” my dad said, “life is meant to be lived.”
No bubonic plague-carrying rats had moved in. I took comfort in that. My gas stove pilot hadn’t gone out since I last turned on the stove, and nothing had exploded. My neighbors were actually being nice. One baked me a cherry pie. On the coldest day of the year, I jammed my feet into my snowshoes and gathered the courage to tromp through the icy wind to the Cosmic Diner, just around the corner.
The Cosmic had red booths and personal jukeboxes on the tables. The catalog of songs never changed, the songs’ titles and artists, sometimes typed, sometimes handwritten on little tabs beneath the glass, and you’d flip through them with a dial on the bottom of the chrome casing. They rolled their silverware in cheap napkins and the line cook was always yelling, but no one could tell what he was saying. I started going there every morning at eight.
Every morning, I’d order something and the waitress, Dinah, would bring me something else. It seemed as though my eye patch made it hard for Dinah to hear, but it was good to get out, to watch the world slip and slide from the safety of my window.
I cried a lot those days. One morning, when Dinah brought me gravy and grits instead of pancakes, I was so sad I could barely eat. It was a dreary day, the sky spitting pellets of hard rain. The wind blew my umbrella backwards and brutally bent its skeleton. I knocked over my coffee, the cup on the diner floor. I whacked my head on the table after mopping the mess with napkins. I wasn’t sure how I’d ever make it from Point A to Point B in one piece. I poked at the congealed gravy with the prongs of my fork as a yellow cab pulled to the curb outside the window.
He stepped out of the cab and into a spot of sun. His hair was warm brown, perfectly tussled, with an endearing cowlick by his left part. He said something to the cabbie and laughed. He had stubble on his chin and wore a grey slicker, slightly too big. He had hands like a sculptor, and when he moved them through the air, it was as if the air were playfully tumbling out of the way.
He reached into the cab and stood back up with a shivering dog in his arms. She blinked at him and he smiled at her and when he set her on the ground, she swayed on the sidewalk, trying to find a little balance in this tilting, turning, twisting world. There was a freshly shaved patch where her front leg used to be.
Dinah watched with me, snapping her gum, one hand resting on her jutting hip, the other holding a coffee pot.
“What a handsome guy,” she said.
“Uh huh,” I muttered.
“More coffee, hon? Decaf or regular.”
“Regular,” I said. She poured decaf.
Time’s a lot like space. It goes on forever in both directions. You can’t touch it. You can’t hold onto it. It’s always running ahead or lagging behind, folding and unfolding. Sometimes time humors us, let’s us pretend that we’re in control, but it always goes where it wants to go, no matter how hard you yank at the reigns.
For a while, I started to enjoy the solitude of living alone, the quiet nights and uncluttered mornings that sprawled open like a story written so well that you forget you’re reading. The snow and slush turned to rain and puddles. The sun grew bolder. My eye patch, I hardly noticed it after a while, and my first day back to work, the secretary baked me a cake.
I ate breakfast at the Cosmic every morning. I sat at the same table and waited for the handsome man and his three-legged dog to pass by. She grew confident over time, hopping up on her hind legs, leaning her front paw against his shin.
“Go out and talk to him, hon, I’ll keep your coffee warm,” Dinah said one morning.
The thought made me feel flush, but when I smiled, the edge of my eye patch chafed my upper cheek.
“Look at him,” I said.
She snapped her gum. “He’s cute. He is. But what’s it to you?”
“The doctor said my eye is never going to look the same,” I said.
“Oh, kiddo,” Dinah said. She blew a bubble and sucked her gum back into her mouth like a machine. “What d’ya want to eat.”
“An egg sandwich,” I said. “No mayo. American cheese. On a roll.”
“Decaf or regular?”
“Regular,” I said by mistake. She poured decaf.
Outside the window the man stepped on a piece of gum and reeled backwards as it attached itself with viscous enthusiasm to his shoe. He lost balance and tripped on the curb. The dog jumped out of the way, yanking at the leash, which caused him to spin into an oncoming bike messenger. I pressed my hands against the glass. The biker swerved and the handsome man caught his balance on the corner of the brick building. He brushed off his hands and scraped the gum from his shoe as best he could.
Dinah set a plate of steak and eggs in front of me and said, “Will that be all?”
I told myself that day it was better to love the man from afar. That way I couldn’t hurt him. One day, he had a cold and blotted his nose with a light grey handkerchief. Another day, the three-legged dog had a haircut, her coat cut close to her skin aside from a paint brush of fur left on the tip of her tail. Sometimes his cheeks were flushed from rushing or the wind. Once he missed a button on his shirt and from his collar to his shirttails he was crooked.
I fantasized once or twice about the two of us dancing. I pictured what it would be like to have a picnic with unbreakable stemware.
Then, one morning, while getting ready for work, I knocked over a tray of beads. They scattered across the hardwood floor. I swept, but the beads rolled. They lodged in the treads of my shoes and made a pitiful clacking sound when I walked, an uneven tap-tap until I picked them out with a crochet needle.
It was then that I realized I was late for breakfast. Late for the man and his three-legged dog.
I ran down the apartment building stairs and burst on to the street.
The impact of our collision knocked the glasses off his face. I stumbled backwards and crushed them with my heel until he caught me by my wrist and reeled me in. And then, I was face to face with the handsome man.
“Are you okay?” he said, squinting to focus on my face.
I handed him his glasses. The lenses were shattered. The frame bent out of shape. “I broke your glasses,” I said.
“Are you hurt?”
I shook my head. “No.”
He leaned away from me and further squinted his eyes. “I like your eye patch,” he said.
“I… liked your glasses,” I said.
His little three-legged dog sat by his foot.
“Well,” he said, “When I can see again, maybe I’ll see you around.”
I stood there for a minute after he had left. When I got to the diner, a bald man was sitting in my booth. Dinah was pouring him coffee. She saw me and shrugged.
I skipped breakfast that day.
From that morning on, the man always saw me on the other side of the glass. Sometimes he’d wave. Sometimes he’d smile. Sometimes he’d lift his little dog up and let her sniff the glass. And then, one morning, he motioned for me to come outside.
“Go ahead,” Dinah said. “I’ll watch your stuff.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
She said, “Go.”
I checked my shirt for stains. I brushed my hair back with my hands.
Dinah smacked her gum, “You want decaf or regular, hon? I’ll keep it warm for you.”
“Decaf, please” I said, slipping out of the booth. She poured regular.
I couldn’t stop myself from smiling.
He said, “hi.”
Then I said, “hi.”
He smiled. It was the warmest smile I’ve ever been in the way of. It hit me like a falling piano.
Love, like space and time, is squirrelly and hard to catch. It’s everywhere and hides in plain sight. No one understands it, but everyone wants it. And if you’re like me, accident prone, it’ll strike you like lightning on a clear day.
I’ve had the eye patch for six months now. It’s coming off today. I’m sitting at the diner in my corner booth, looking out the window and waiting for Jake and his dog to come by. I’ve ordered a yogurt parfait and I’m hoping Dinah brings me French toast. Some people say there’s no such thing as an accident, but I don’t agree. What’s an accident, anyway, but a moment in time when two bodies in motion can collide? In this great big universe, where there’s more space and time than anything else, accidents are nothing short of a miracle.