I had called the psychic as an act of romantic exasperation. Her name was Carol, and she gave me a host of information, including the pro cyclist that I’d currently had cartoon hearts for was definitely not for me. But, she said, be on the lookout for someone represented by the letter “J.” “I see a J,” Carol said, “and he will change everything.’”
A year later, I’d moved to a pleasant but boring Midwestern city. I was ready to find big romance, a partner with whom I could share my homegrown tomatoes and the Trader Joe’s flyer, someone who liked a decent indie film soundtrack and whose eyes crinkled when he smiled.
I met Joe a few months later. He was a handsome accountant who was taking painting classes, loved to run and had an ebullient Catholic family like mine. We went out several times, laughing until we closed the bar. At last I called and invited him over for dinner. I planned the menu, the music and waited for him to reply, flush with knowing that Carol was so right.
He never called back.
I threw myself on the couch on the evening of the proposed Dinner and So Much More—my whole life, really, a future, with a guy who wore his sleeves crisp and turned up twice, whose mother also love-bombed him with banana bread and questions about how often he’d been to Mass—and I cried bitter, exhausted tears. If not Joe, who? If not now, when?
A month later, I was deleting old voicemails when I heard Joe’s voice. He was sorry to be out of touch. He’d been diagnosed with cancer. He just thought I should know.
Disinterest, a lack of chemistry, these are fatal things. Cancer in the face of love—that was a plot point of a Nicholas Sparks movie. I tiptoed around Joe, baked banana bread, met for platonic brunches and supportive bike rides. After six months of treatment, his doctor gave him a clean bill of health and we celebrated at a black tie event with too much bourbon, after which he told me that, having faced down cancer, he’d never live a lie, and that he’d actually been embarrassingly, painfully divorced, didn’t trust women, would never marry again and I deserved better.
Carol, I thought, presuming she could hear me, what in the ever-loving hell?
Two sleepless days later I got a card from an old friend in Colorado. “We miss you. Come be with your peeps,” it said. I went online that same day, found the perfect job, landed it and moved to Denver. That old friend introduced me to a new one: A shy Czech guy with high cheekbones and bright blue eyes that crinkled when he smiled, a guy who would take a bullet for a friend and never showed up empty handed to dinner, who took my hand while we ice skated, held me in the firelight, and would not—no matter how much I talked, overthought things and freaked out—let me go.
“J” was the one that got away, and good thing. But Carol wasn’t wrong. He was the one that led the way, from misery to clarity and a leap of faith. Knowing what you don’t want ripens the desire of what you do, and calls it to you in the strongest way possible. The Czech and I have been married 10 years this fall, and he has changed everything.
This issue’s feature essay collection is a labor of love, as always, and centered around those things that got away from us and what they leave behind. I hope you enjoy. They are as varied and beautiful as our launched desires, all trailing streams of bright rocket flame as they call to us what’s next.