Sweet Hearts: Part One

Hannah had a vision of nights wasted away inside richly timbered Portland house with light hearts and well-matched silences. And for many of the years since high school when they’d first partnered up, if two words could describe her and Ryan, they would be some combination of “in” and “love.”

But other words, might have been selected as well. Words less grand, like “grumbling,” and “selfish,” (from Ryan to her), or (from Hannah to Ryan), “vindictive” and once in a hiss, “shithead.” Sweet impish-eyed Hannah with her soft mouth spat out the worst names she could think of.

They were inevitably linked up together their junior year of high school. Ryan had played varsity basketball since sophomore year and since the Central High School team was among the best in the state, he and the other ball players were among elite high school society. Hannah was, simply put, too pretty to go unnoticed, though she had only two friends. With these two friends she had formed the school’s Students United for Nature club, membership of five. Ryan never went to this club, but the classroom in which the young environmentalists gathered on Wednesdays was across the hall from the gym. He had seen her dancer’s body presiding over the group when he passed in the hall and one day he paused to scrutinize the trophy case outside the classroom.

On Hannah’s way out of the classroom, she mistook him for a student who had emailed her about joining the group. For a while they spoke of the group before talking about their classes and then movies. “How have we never spoken before?” he wondered aloud. Ryan had never seen a Cohen brothers film, which was enough for Hannah to order him to tag along with her and the SUN kids when they went to see No Country for Old Men that evening.

In the dark times that come, years later, Hannah comforts herself remembering how—from the corner of her eye—she could see him watching her duck her head during the movie’s scary parts.

Monday through Friday: Terrible.

The weekend: Longer stretches of melancholy with occasions for happiness like windows opened for the first time in early spring. Too much alcohol, of course, but sanctioned on Saturday night. Sunday afternoons were mysteriously the time in which he’d pull off her sweatpants and dig into her. The dog, Ryan’s dog, was panting on the other side of the closed door the whole time.

Weeks after he breaks off their engagement and six-year relationship, she will drive up to a park with a view of the city. On sunny days, they would have a picnic up here with wine. Hannah often catches herself rushing through traffic to get there in time because she is anxious not to miss him.

But she can never land on the correct timing when he’ll appear across the lawn with a basket of food and wine. She imagines his walk across the grass like a show horse, nothing like Ryan’s heavy-footed amble.

In college, it was easy enough for the two to get along since they barely saw each other; Ryan went to school in Seattle and Hannah in Eugene. They talk on the phone once a week and then have a date once or twice a term and over the breaks. Each time they reconnected, they discovered new things about the other person: Ryan wanted to get his degree in business. “It’s so interesting to tweak the numbers and see how that shakes out the company’s profits,” he said and Hannah took him at his word. She was General Studies, which, very generally, resulted in her telling Ryan stories about the strange Eugene people she’d met outside of class.

They both liked Portland, so Ryan got a job up there and Hannah joined him after her own graduation. Days were spent sitting at a desk downtown inside of a cubicle inside of a windowless office inside of a tall building (Ryan) and selling lighting fixtures to people at a quirky Portland store (Hannah).

“It’s funny that you, of all people, sell people lights,” Ryan observed once when they were eating at a burger joint near their apartment in Northeast Portland.

“Hey, I’m not arguing in favor of returning to kerosene or something.”

“No, but, well, they use electricity. And some of those elaborate fixtures probably take a ton of power to keep going.”

“Well maybe there are other factors involved.”

“Such as?”

Hannah rolled her eyes and took a big bite, a tactic she used when changing the subject.

But let’s back to those five days at the very end; each stretch of those 24 hours is a chemically perfected toxin only strong enough to lengthen the day.

End of Part One

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