J.A. Forgione

Nine Weeks

Each day, sometimes each hour, that passed in the weeks that followed, she thought of him, and she thought, I don’t know if I can do this. Then she would tell herself that this was her chance. To have landed in circumstances that amounted to a precise iteration of old humiliation and fear that required regular leaps face-first into both, was rare luck. Besides, for all their pain, these little skirmishes were already yielding little and big victories. The grayness that had worked its way into the grain of her life since her sister’s death had magically gone poof. And she thought he might actually help her nephew, and therefore fulfill her pretext for contacting him.

Her newfound, unleashed wanting was taking her to places she yearned to go but had never been. She would do anything to come into her own now. And maybe that was worth the pleasure of noticing her body again. From deep inside her core a relentless vibration arose, revved to a subtle pitch. Her reliance on coffee faded. Food ceased to be her secret friend in late hours. Resolute, she took up swimming and yoga and weights again to contest menopause’s corrosion of her memory and its pummeling of her body. She went shopping to find jeans to fit her special-issue figure and for the first time owned more than three pairs. She haunted a fancy outlet store, meticulously combed through sales racks in small shops, and tried on items she had never thought to look at before. She bought a black dress for the theater and opera, well-made ankle boots with a modest high heel, and a pointy-toed, spike-heeled model with a cutout floral pattern on the vamp. If only she could have showed them to her mother and her sister. Her sister would have warned her that they would wreck her feet, but her pre-dementia mother would have approved. She brought home mounds of blouses, sweaters, and underwear and returned what was not just right.       

She searched “how to get back together with your boyfriend” online and, after some rummaging around, hit a site written by a man. She took notes. Don’t bank on the past relationship. Listen, be in the moment. Keep the date to ninety minutes so he will want more. Be a little unattainable. Look how you want to be perceived or imagined.

She disagreed with the part about not banking on the past. Once a connection was broken, a person could attempt to repair it, couldn’t they? For example, make an apology. The old boyfriend could forgive. As for listening, who better could he hope for than her? Playing hard to get, though, had never been her skill – she knew that she did not have the self-discipline – so, surely her marital status and his discouragement about relationships made her pursuit of him necessary. Anyway, she was stuck with the unattainability that marriage brought, right? But anyway, she was going to look good, with her nice haircut and her new, adequately stylish clothes, so that he might remember or imagine her as a trim, smartly if casually dressed, woman of a certain age. If she ever saw him again. If he ever thought of her at all.  

Later, perhaps, she would know she’d been mistaken about too much of this.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Once, when she was home for a visit after her father’s death, her mother had said with no preamble, “You’ve become more like when you were little.” Surprised, she had asked what her mother meant. “You’ve become more loving,” her mother said. She’d wanted to live those words. So now, no more bad girlfriend behavior. She would be kind, she would care openly.

Meanwhile, her scuffles with the raw fear of rejection and the certainty of never getting what she most wanted, both of which felt too big to defy, were plunging her over the same old cliff while her limbs flailed in their attempt to dance through air. And below her (not to mix metaphors) a wide, bloodied battlefield ripped through with sinking trenches, the one she had never yet mustered herself to cross, lay, indifferent to her footfall, to whether she ventured upon it fainthearted or determined, to whether she emerged triumphant or sank mired to her hips in its wastes. Fine. She would stumble and lurch to its impossibly distant horizon in her muddied new boots.

Could they be friends? What other outcome was there? What riches might flow from her efforts? No matter the outcome, in the end this was in the name of freeing herself of burdens that had sat for too long and too heavily on her heart. The deceit she had practiced decades ago on this man, when both of them had been so green and callow, she could not repeat with her husband, even if he had left the city, left her. Still, her aching and the beckoning campaign were wearing down her reticence to do things she would have to be silent about. So, if her motives were mixed, licit and illicit, and if she knew that she had to undergo this ordeal even as she could not countenance not finding him – the old boyfriend, that is – on the far side, well then. She would have to trust in a future resolution. Fuck it. Yes to this. Off the cliff she was flying, in pursuit of this thing that was no longer just a desire for a friendship conceived after a lunch date, when she knelt crying in a little church, after a break of almost forty years. Almost nine weeks ago.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

It was later – spring, in fact – when the internal pressure had become close to intolerable, tht an extraordinary windfall that she had not bargained for blew in her window: the muse reappeared. The muse that had mostly gone missing since that warm June day when, crouched at the living room coffee table, her four-year-old self had drawn the pencil scribble that she had instantly recognized to be a failure. She had known she was doomed, shut out of a life she should have had. She had no talent, would never be an artist. She had stepped out to the tiny front yard to sit on the root of the tree with the rough black bark that she loved so much. She had remained for what seemed like the whole afternoon, marshalling her will over and over to force her mind into blankness, to seal a lid over a wordless, bleak conviction that the bottom had dropped out of the world forever. Had it happened the same summer her cousins raped her upstairs in the hallway? Surely after, in any case. The world’s end had only been waiting to be crystalized by her acting out her heart’s desire for herself. Not so strange, maybe, that after years of despair, the urge to make something had materialized in the unlikely form of someone difficult and elusive. She had to write to survive this.

So, long after nine weeks had passed, early on a Sunday morning, she sat at the table under the living room bay window and poured out a raw account of their first meeting, making up what she could not remember anymore. From that artless try at calming the ceaseless itch of her dilemma, the muse stayed to perch by her, and the vista beyond the far edge of the slough sometimes shimmered palely.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

A few weeks after the lunch she messaged him. Saw my nephew last night, seems he’s changed what he wants from you. I’m concerned he’s asking too much-could we possible chat? Trying to school him on how its done.

A lengthy and overly revised text, all pretext, but with a couple errors so it wouldn’t seem worked over. She was not in the least concerned about what her nephew asked him for, now or later. If anyone could be hardened against someone wanting something, the former boyfriend could. For twenty-four hours she was sure he would blow her off or ask her to stop bothering him. Despite her apology, despite her cajoling, he wouldn’t want to know her, and this battle would be for nothing. Oh, but it’s never for nothing.


It’s all good, no worries. Give a call next week. He included his phone number.

Exactly a week later she texted back.

Hey! Is tomorrow a good time?

He replied a few minutes later. Not positive what I’m doing, depending on time should be good


She called the next evening. She restated her made-up concerns about her nephew.

He laughed. “I can take care of myself,” he said.

“Good,” she said. “I really appreciate what you’re doing.” Then she said the sentence she had honed and practiced over and over. “We should hang out sometime.” She held her breath.

“That works for me,” he said.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

By early October she dared to text again. She would ask to join him and their old friend, Leo, as a way in.

I’m pleased you and my nephew have been in contact. I wd like to get to spend time again too. Lunch again sometime?

He replied the same day. Sounds good to me as well. Kinda busy, check back in a couple weeks.

She typed and retyped but all she could think of was Ok

After the required two weeks, she called and left a message.

He texted back.

Hey been working.. this weekend isn’t good. My sched should clear up in a week or so.

Ok – then, Happy birthday.

thank you.

She remembered that for half a year she was two years older than him, not two and a half years.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Eight days later, just short of twelve o’clock, as she walked across campus to the building where she taught her second class, she screwed up enough courage to call him. He picked up. His voice was tense.

“I can’t talk now. I’m having a really bad day with my sister.”

“No problem,” she said.

“I have to go.”

“Of course.”

They hung up. She sat on a damp concrete ledge under an overhang, out of the light drizzle. He’d picked up the phone. She shivered. She was overwhelmed and terrified by their compressed exchange. He was talking about the sister with cancer. What kind of a bad day? It was time to go upstairs. She dropped her things on the instructor’s desk then went to the bathroom. Locked in a stall, she cried for a few minutes, then quickly washed her face and hurried back to begin the class.

Late that night she sat on her bed, staring at her phone. She typed and retyped. Trembling, she hit send.

Remembering and thinking about what an amazing and wonderful person you are

Thanks, Nice to hear on a tough day. About to hit the hay. My sis passed away this afternoon.

Today? This afternoon? She stared at the screen, stunned.

Do you want to talk?

She added,

I can listen.

Not tonight thanks I’m kinda cried out talked out. But thanks for asking.

He added,

Very sweet

Ok, whenever you’re ready. Have been there. You too – sweet.


He had thanked her in the throes of the harshest of crucibles: the absolute severing of his tie with a human being he loved. He had texted back from that desolate clearing. She marveled that he had picked up the phone, that he had written back, when she was probably bothering him. He was suffering as she had suffered.

Sweet, though? Is he blowing me off? Of course he doesn’t want to talk to me. Death.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

It took a couple days for her to be aghast at herself and her miscalculations: inserting herself where she didn’t belong, filtering his reaction through her preoccupation with her own feelings, thinking he might want to talk. She was appalled at having counted on a connection submerged by forty years of nonstop work, a string of girlfriends, and too many life events of which she knew nothing (her would soon tell her about the decade of addiction and the overdose death of his best friend). And that was just his life. The mess she had been was a winding story too, or, worse, it could be summed up in a wry couple of sentences. Like his. She had been pretending that they could have something, but anything was going to take more time than she could bear, might never happen at all. If it did, with it would come the nastiness, defensiveness, rage, and feelings of victimization that were not on display yet because she was not in his life. For now she was subject instead to his habit of brittle courtesy. The forsaken and dismal landscape was complicated, she saw, by his trauma perfectly overlaying it. And me? Do I really know how to be close? The situation was hopeless, just as it had been long ago. But long ago, had she tried over and over, dragging herself from one more defeat, trying again? Maybe it was not endlessly hopeless. So she had fallen into the first trench. 

J.A. Forgione (she/her) teaches writing at the Fashion Institute of Technology and has a background in fine arts. She has been published in A Feast of Narrative, an anthology of Italian American fiction, and in the Paterson Literary Review. She is working on two collections: one of short stories and another of poetry. She lives in the Bronx.