Objects of Affection

The Book of Us

The unofficial Poet Laureate of Athens, GA asked for my phone number after a swimming pool party secretly thrown to set us up.

I was damp-haired, tequila-flushed, and giddy.

In the moments leading up to his request, he had shuffled his feet beside my car door as I cocked my head slightly to the side, coyly, wondering how long it would it take for the small talk to drain and for us to discover whatever lay beneath: affection or affectation. Upon retrieving his flip phone from his back pocket, he diligently typed in the last name that I gave him, intentionally misspelled. Having learned earlier in the evening of his love for New Orleans, I had added an -eaux suffix. But, he wouldn’t get the joke until after I had driven away.

Months later, he would ask me with a smile why I had fibbed like that, and I just would shrug my shoulders and laugh because I knew it was a rhetorical question that he would answer with a kiss on the cheek.

The night of our first date, I wore lavender cotton. I collapsed in tears soon after I got home. It was the evening of the summer solstice, the longest and hottest day of the year so far, the sun lingering high like an unwanted party guest. He wore a long-sleeved button down rolled up to the elbows and jeans, not a lick of leg showing. A thin lacquer of sweat sat on my upper lip and slicked down my stomach as we sipped beers outside a ramshackle music club while inside a friend’s band attempted to reinvent Pavement.

I was so nervous I couldn’t eat. As the night wore on, my stomach audibly growled, and he bought me a slice of pizza. Afterward, in the front seat of his car, he haphazardly kissed me, awkwardly clutching at the seat belt strapped across my chest.

I don’t remember riding home because I was black-out gone on those lips alone, over the moon and then some.

In bed, I searched online until I found one of his poems, reading and rereading the only verse available. Sitting cross-legged and sniffling, I was love-sick already, bowled over and done in by the effortless way he could lace up words like a sleek pair of sneakers. A couple of weeks later, while browsing through a bookstore, he showed me an anthology that contained one of his pieces, and I welled up all over again just seeing his name in print.

At the time, he was vying for a poetry book of his own, for tangible proof of his legitimacy and talent beyond hometown adulation. So for a year and half as we thoroughly lost ourselves in each other like a hamper filling up with a hodgepodge of clothes, he shuffled and reshuffled his canatadas to Marvin Gaye and Elvis and Sam Cooke and their fellow music-makers into a manuscript, which he continually peddled to publication contests, literary agents and poetry presses.

All I could do to help spit-shine his opus for success was paginate. And so I coaxed those pesky numbers to hop, skip, and jump across tables of content, chapter titles, and dedications with relish. Every word in that digital document belonged to him and some footnoted crooners, but its page markers were my handiwork, my song of adoration, my minor gift. His future happiness hinged on its publication, my future happiness hinged on him, and that manuscript became our survival guide of sorts.

It was the book that would stitch everything together, that would convert our ellipses into periods, and we were left merely to wait for its acceptance like watching a flour-dusted ball of dough balloon and rise as if by magic.

In the meantime, even when I didn’t have any Roman numerals or whatnot to edit, I would revisit my favorite passages—the lovelorn elegies that beat their chests for some Southern brunette he had long since forgotten by the time we met. I would stare at the syntax seeking secrets that might emerge about who he was in the interiors, how intensely his heart had broken in the past and how much he loved me compared to the rest. Otherwise, in conversation, when prompted for stories about the women before me, he would refuse any poetic details, insisting that only the present bore relevance.

Months down the road, the mailbox delivering only rejection after rejection, our care frayed into concern, and I began to harbor a nagging jealousy of those fictionalized and romanticized sirens contained within the manuscript, wishing for my own typed-out proof of precisely what he cherished about me, itemized and arranged in iambic pentameter. Petulantly, I would ask for the whereabouts of the poetic primer of why I mattered at all. Didn’t I melt his heart as hotly as that cotton-clad debutante who waltzed in and out of those sixty-odd pages?

Repeatedly, he said that I did, and repeatedly, I refused to believe him.

Then, just like those other Southern brunettes for whom he had swooned so desperately in the summertime swelter of Athens, GA, I lost my faith in his lyricism, quite by accident—and ran.

The book never made it to press, but I eventually got my poem after we parted ways. I stumbled onto it on a New Year’s Day, hungover, nostalgic and searching online once again for any of his work. And suddenly, there I was, jittering gold and jagged, not at all that precious thing in purple who shivered in the dead heat of the summer solstice from so much excitement.

But by the next couplet, we were smeared like butter and vanished.

Cristen Conger is an Atlanta-based writer, a podcast co-host of Stuff Mom Never Told You, and the internet's unofficial Curator of Lady Knowledge. Her work specializes in all things women, gender, sex, and getting laughs. Not always in that order.