The Right Words and Other Things I Can’t Find

Hello Mr. Magazine - - NEWS - Text by Michael Speyer Pho­tog­ra­phy by Sa­toru Tada

I was ly­ing on my bed hold­ing my phone tightly be­tween my ear and shoul­der when I fi­nally con­cluded that I am in fact my par­ents’ child. It was De­cem­ber. Win­ter in western Mas­sachusetts is bit­ter and cold, and the room was swel­ter­ing, the knob on the heater stuck on the high­est set­ting.

The per­son on the other end of the line was im­por­tant to me. Cor­rec­tion: Is im­por­tant. Sec­ond cor­rec­tion: I’m just not very sure. Once upon a time, months prior to this phone call, on the other side of the planet in Beijing, I de­scribed him as a “friend.” My mother re­ferred to him as “a spe­cial friend.” But the im­plied air quo­ta­tions had since van­ished – I was back in Amer­ica and this phone call was with just a friend, full stop.

The oc­ca­sional post-China phone calls were usu­ally harm­less, al­ways nos­tal­gic. “Do you re­mem­ber that time in Beijing when…” “Re­mem­ber the host­ess at that place in San­l­i­tun who…” “Re­mem­ber how it felt when…”

But this con­ver­sa­tion reached a point of con­tention. We were talk­ing about the hol­i­days, and he told me he was Catholic. Cor­rec­tion: He re­minded me he was Catholic. I shouldn’t have cared, but I did. It was not really the fact that he was Catholic that both­ered me, as much as the fact that I felt bad for not al­ready know­ing, or for not re­mem­ber­ing. The dis­tance snuck up on us. It had been months since we’d last seen each other. He knew I was caught off guard, and I be­gan to ask my­self when our phone calls be­came so com­bat­ive.

“It’s fine. I don’t care. Not that I should care. I mean, I’m bap­tized. It doesn’t bother me. Not that it should,” I told him. Each word worse than the last. Si­lence. “Yeah.” He said. More si­lence. He asked me what his sis­ters’ names were. I couldn’t re­mem­ber. More si­lence. The room felt really cold and the white light on the walls seemed to be painted in streaks with long dark patches in be­tween.

Time and space had crushed our youth­ful op­ti­mism and some im­mea­sur­able dis­tance had formed be­tween us since our un­of­fi­cial breakup. Say some­thing, I thought. More si­lence. I felt it on my skin. Just say any­thing. Tell him you hate him. Tell him you love him. Af­ter a while the low buzz of the phone dis­ap­peared: The per­son on the other end of the line hung up. In the si­lence I felt an eerie fa­mil­iar­ity. This space is fa­mil­iar, this mo­ment is fa­mil­iar.

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