Cutter was a guy in college who left my bed for a weekend with his parents. I went alone to get the morning after pill and sat through the nausea all weekend. He didn’t call and didn’t introduce me to his parents. I wasn’t his girlfriend, this much he made clear. He had said to me the last thing he wanted was a relationship. He also said that he didn’t touch me in public because that was just the way he was raised.
A couple of months later photos were posted on the internet of him and his girlfriend cuddling on the main green. He waited to tell me about her—up until just before Valentine’s Day. We were in a pizza place. He had written me an email asking if we could go to tea and mentioning apple picking, what we did on the first day we spent together. I was so happy. Over winter break I had written him a love letter wondering what his home was like. As it turned out she was there then, meeting his parents.
My Mongolian teacher Toya found out recently that she was pregnant. Toya, the person with my very favorite laugh, called me on Sunday to ask if we could meet later than planned because, she said in a weak voice, she had lost some blood from her body and was going to the doctor. I was on a street corner in the cold and the bright. I said of course, and when she didn’t call again that day I felt what had happened.
After tea, and a walk, and pizza, Cutter finally got around to telling me about her. “Is it a relationship?” I asked him. “I didn’t expect it, but that’s what it amounts to,” he said, and then scoffed at me, “I don’t know what we were.”
I didn’t either. The last night we’d spent together I had swallowed him down my throat and then he turned away. The next morning I touched his back and he got out of bed. His was the first I had ever swallowed, and he knew it. I guess that was our last kiss. There in the pizza place I felt like I was hearing him on a train; there was a roar in my ears and a vibration in my skin.
I sent him a note saying that it would have helped if he’d offered an apology or an explanation for why he chose to handle things the way he did, because I was in a lot of pain. His response was to take her to the poetry series I loved and had introduced him to. And certainly no apology, not then, not ever. He made that very clear, more than once.
Here in Ulaanbaatar it snowed for the first time last week. The clear autumn puddles grew skins like hot milk. They grow cloudy when they ice over even as the cold wipes even the idea of a cloud off the face of the sky. I walked by myself in the late Sunday light to Gandan Monastary, less than ten minutes from my one-person apartment in the center of the city. Incense, pigeons, bronze cylinders, such dry cold air if you licked metal it would stick. The sky against the pagoda-like chapels was pale and in that freeze it was endless, endless.
Toya says that more and more women have miscarried in the last three years because the air in Ulaanbaatar has gotten so much more polluted. Amraa, the night we went dancing, said that women miscarry a lot in Mongolia because they have abortions a lot; sometimes four or five in a lifetime—it’s been legal since the eighties.
I’m no better at knowing why things remain than I am at getting them to stop remaining. I have ceased waiting to get out of that pizza parlor, that roar through my body across the table from him laughing openly at my saying I would have loved to be the girl visiting his home. Waiting to stop that freezing walk home from the pizza place in early February 2006, loathing the sound of my own sobs. Other men since have said things that should help wipe him away but it’s like they speak to me through glass or ashes or sheets and sheets of rain. In a bottle in a landlocked ocean of dusty, magnetic tundra, slow as molasses and older than love. I move about the arid freezing air in the company of strangers with faces like hazelnuts. It is the opposite of desolate. I would not be anywhere else in the world.