dear sophie,

i think i am safe now. for the time being. we’ve holed up in a costco, me and rajeesh. he wasn’t much of a help, honestly, scrambling around behind me all panicked and sweaty for most of the way here. i think he’d be a goner in under five minutes if he were left on his own, but i couldn’t bear to leave him stuck in that wendy’s alone. i have this stupid thought- probably absorbed from too many movies and comic books- that maybe he’ll be indebted to me in some way, might save my life in turn sometime down the line. for now, he’s curled up by the deli, eating rotisserie chicken with his hands and crying.

there are other people here too, survivors who were smart enough to seek out a secure shelter with supplies. definitely not enough people to exhaust the warehouse anytime soon, but things might get tense. there’s an older korean guy, i don’t remember his name. park something. i don’t know how he got here safely- he only has a bike and a bread knife. i hope it doesn’t sound racist, but he sort of reminds me of your dad. he seems to like me more though. he was a real help in getting the other survivors organized. pulling down mattresses, setting up pretty good semblences of living spaces. he keeps talking about going back for his wife and son, bringing them here. people are trying to convince him not to go back out, but he’s stubborn.

there are a few families, a russian couple with a young daughter. they argue a lot, and i feel bad for the kid. there’s a older guy, clint, who’s a high school football coach. he’s been the muscle man, very useful in helping me and mr. park get stuff down from shelves and set up the blockade around the warehouse exits. his son is about my age, but isn’t handling the situation well. he spends most of his time alone in the produce room crying. i think his mom died on their way here. there’s also another lady, maybe in her late 30s, with a teenage daughter. both of them seem pretty high maintanence- they were way excited about the supply of shampoo and immediately set up camp in that area. we’ve had to yell at them a few times to not waste water. the mom’s been giving me looks, pretty suggestive ones. it’s been two weeks since shit really hit the fan, and i think she’s already wanting to repopulate the planet with me. gross.

i miss you. a lot. of course there’s an endless supply of office supplies here, something no one else was interested in. i have all these notebooks, and i’m going to write you a letter every day if i can. when i get out of here, i’ll find a way to get them to you. i don’t really know how people sent stuff to each other before the postal service, honestly. i assume they sent messengers on horses. maybe there will still be horses alive. i don’t know if they eat animals- they don’t in most zombie movies i’ve seen. if so, i’ll find a horse and get to you. all the cars i saw on my way here were abandoned and have gridlocked most of the roads. that scared me, in a really unsettling way. been dreaming about them, rows and rows of cars filling the tollway like it’s rush hour all day long, streaks of blood leaving handprints along the doors and windows like they were all dragged out. i hope i never see your altima among them. i hope you’re okay. i need you to be okay.

– dylan

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sheila eats a packet of peanuts m&ms at work, counting them slowly into her palms like jewel-bright tablets of prescription medication.

she stops after six, ruefully wrapping the crinkly yellow bag closed with the origami dexterity of a practiced dieter. she tells me she wants to lose fifteen pounds and i nod and smile and point at my headset to indicate i am on a call, but the hold music has been playing for half an hour and its tinny vibrato is still preferable to sheila’s liturgy about her thighs. and i think she might have once been pretty or could still be pretty, but she sits in that ergonomic office chair with the posture of the perpetually defeated, picking her nails nervously and telling dana about another blind date that never called back. dana is 54 years old and her husband died two years ago of a heart attack during a secret trip with their daughter’s french teacher, but she encourages sheila with parables about true love with this weird unhinged smile plastered across her face and i think her mind must be touching the void.

sheila recounts body language and unspoken signals, fiddling with the elastic waistband of her straining pencil skirt, and the dark red threads are worn shiny by the stress of being forced into an unintended shape. dana, greying and sagging gracelessly around her lacquered salmon lipstick, tells sheila vaguely that it’s almost lunchtime and thank god it’s friday and the two of them swap sad stories about weekend plans that i know will easily become arbor mist and seinfeld reruns. sheila unwraps a pale turkey sandwich so cold and insubstantial that it doesn’t smell like anything, and i watch her eyes dart toward the m&ms bag winking merrily at the corner of her desk.

and i think i will go home today and this might finally be the day i break up with ethan. i think i could pack up his stray socks and boxers and put them in that reusable grocery bag and take off this engagement ring that doesn’t fit and was never sized. and i will tell him that i am sick of his lies and my bruises. and i will finally use my pto and take a vacation by myself, get away from these fluorescent lights and conversations about celebrity bikini bodies. and i will be happy alone, without a boyfriend for the first time in ten years.

and then sheila finally dives back into the m&m’s, ripping the bag apart with a frenzied urgency as she laughs and tells no one in particular, guess my diet starts tomorrow. and dana reassures her that chocolate is good for the soul. and ethan texts me again to ask me when i am coming home. and i type back soon with stiff, hesitant fingers.

and i think that i will wait until tomorrow.

one day you will come home and tell me you have met someone else- a new hire in your office, an old college classmate at the bar, a friend of a friend at a house party.  one day, i will lean hard against our balcony and think about the weight of gravity.  one day, we will have the difficult conversation and your hands will abandon my own to smooth the creases in your jeans nervously, over and over again.  one day we will turn in this notice to vacate and pack our things and try not to notice that your socks cling static to my forgotten party dresses and that my heart clings desperate to your forgotten love letters.  one day we will argue about who this saucepan belonged to originally and our anger will burst and bloom into bitter poison between our teeth.  one day you will move out and she will wait for you beside the u-haul, wearing tight jeans and a triumphant smile.  one day i will find synonyms for “over” in three languages and twelve steps of acceptance.  one day you will text me awkwardly and tell me you will always care.

one day i will sit down at this keyboard and finally exorcise your name from my mouth.

one day i will sell the story of our nights spent sweating, my incisors at your neck.

one day i will replace you with paper and ink.

i want to believe in it, you know. the greatness, the all-encompassing massiveness of the thing. the unsinkable, unbreakable, unchained, unkept and recklessly inconvenient enormity of it. i want to believe that i was shipwrecked and storm-tossed into your arms, your island, safe harbor in an unforgiving sea. that love- true love– really does transcend life and death and space in ways that has our bodies meeting in different forms, different cities, different centuries until the end of time. and your fingers will always trace my cheek the same way, in this smoky bar, in this leather chair, in this studio apartment, in this hospital bed, in this cold coffin. that each time i will find you over and over again, and nothing will ever possess the power to come between us. i want to believe that love triumphs destiny, that we will move mountains with bleeding, slippery hands to bring you back home to me. that this is real– unknowable, untamable, untouched by cynicism or restraint. that i will wage wars and set fires and rewrite history to keep you safe. that it will only ever be you that i feel this much for.

and it will only ever be you who’s worth this much and more.

when i was young i discovered how to not fall asleep.  don’t lie down.  you never learned this lesson; you are asleep now beside me and your jaw is relaxed, unclenched, that face in beautiful repose against this worn-out futon.  and i am always awake beside you, tracing the bones in your hands, wondering how i can dismantle you in pieces.  waiting for the backlash that never comes.

and i tell you a bedtime story while you sleep.

the one about the dimly lit house party, cheap rum mixed with off-brand cola in grimy plastic cups worn slick with sweaty hands, a collision of cigarette butts and confused bodies, coaxing little blue ovals into my palm, a man’s voice in my ear and his hands on my waist in the upstairs guest bathroom, his tongue in my mouth- probing, hungry, then his cock in my mouth- frantic, urgent, then your name in my mouth, head swimming, vision blurring, as my hips matched his in a rushed and graceless tempo, drumming a miserable beat across cold, relentless tiles while your messages lit up my phone during every gasping breath.

these are the words that undo us and you are not awake to hear them.  they pour out of me in toxic relief, and i have honed each syllable to hurt.  you stay asleep, curled up beside me, one hand clasped between mine.  defenseless, dependent, alone.  and so i tell you the next story.  and another one.  then several more in unrestrained succession, these things i have done, these things i will do, these things that will wound you with every waking breath-

– these things that spill out, a tapped vein welling to the surface.

it occurred to me last night while i was waiting for the train- it’s been since the 10th of last november that i’ve kept my arms clean.

and i think this could be growing up, growing old, growing better- but i have never forgotten the memories of years spent sinking into that sticky black couch with the duct-taped corners.  you eased the needle under my skin like you were lowering your body into me, so careful, so slowly, a heartbreaking magnet into my veins.  and my skin was paper; your arms were summer; the carpet spun gold for miles to oz, and someone greater than god cradled me and crooned promises of infinity. we spent those hot summer nights sweating against each other, sticking skin-to-skin with your mouth pouring smoke between my lips or tracing patterns on my bones or stretching the syllables of my name for hours, days, years.

– and they tell me that it’ll get better, that time heals all wounds, but i am finding your face in the bottom of shot glasses every single night and i think the next drink could take me further from here.  and your parents call to check on me, and the counselor writes dates on business cards, but i am tasting your lips on strangers’ cigarettes and i think the next inhale could bring me closer to you.

closer to that place with my back shoved against craig’s guest bathroom mirror, your fingers digging into my thighs, prying them apart on that cracked porcelain sink and your teeth at my neck (always, those teeth at my neck) and we are laughing or gasping or moaning in that dizzying amber light and i am falling asleep beside you on a stranger’s futon, in your childhood bed, on our living room floor, on blankets in the wild- my head cradled in your arms and you are stroking my hair and whispering stories about all the lives we could live together, you are saying mimi, i am going to love you until the day i die- and then i am clutching you from behind while you are sweating, shaking, coming down hard, and i am wiping the tears from your face when you grind your teeth and beg me eloquently for just one more fix to get you through the night, and then we are driving thousands of miles cross-country in your dirty grey jeep stealing packets of peanut m&ms from gas stations and eating burnt hash browns in late night diners or we are running through rain-slicked streets holding hands and laughing breathlessly while the wind whips through our jacket hoods and you are flushed with whiskey and pushing me hard on the kitchen floor and my head is snapping back from the force of your blows and i am finding your name in my mouth like a speech defect, catching on my teeth and tongue over and over and over again while i choke hard on the sobs and you are telling me, baby i’m sorry, and i am believing every single word and i think i could live like this with my red lipstick stains on your clavicle and your smoker’s cough across static phone lines and our hands locked in this perfect destructive grip but we are crashing through that guardrail spectacularly and your face is washed in brake lights and cold fear and i am waking up in a hospital bed alive with plastic tubes and rubber hands and they are reading me the coroner’s report they are running toxicity labs they are telling me stories about funeral homes and in lieu of flowers i am digging hard into my arms to bring you back to me-

– and i think i will find myself running back to your grave, over and over again every night, feet pounding on slick grass and carbonized corpses.  and i will find you beneath layers of dirt and sediment, i will find you and bring you back with every clawing handful deeper and deeper down until my fingers brush your bones again.  and then i am awake on my bathroom floor, naked and shivering against that full-length mirror, staring wide-eyed at these pale legs covered in bruises-

realizing that i never knew what my body looked like before you shaped it with your hands and mouth.