I met Sebastian in a summer writing program to which I’d applied as a result of feeling lost again (my standing motivation, it seems, for anything). I hadn’t really expected to get in.
“Why do we write?” we were asked, the first day.
I found the question generic, and I leaned forward at the table I shared with him so as to be able to turn my my face in his direction, fan my hand out along the side of my cheek, and give him the exclusive pleasure of watching me roll my eyes.
It was a lot of effort to go to simply to demonstrate that I was feeling nonplussed.
Especially considering that it was ignored completely.
“We write for the same reason we breathe,” he instead answered, rather largely.
“Because to not do so is death.”
I swear the professor swooned.
Normally, an answer like that would become the punchline to an acerbic account of university life with which I’d later regale someone.
But Sebastian wore gauzy linen shirts on his swarthy skin, was over six feet tall with tomb-like eyes, and had the longest, most poetic fingers I had ever seen.
So rather than criticize his flair for drama, I decided to try it on. Intimately.
* * *
“I had a dream about you last night,” I whispered to him the next day, sliding into the empty chair next to his.
I was late and the class was busy writing. I saw the speed of Sebastian’s pen momentarily slow before his write or die status reasserted itself.
“There’s a prompt on the board,” he informed me.
I eyed the chalkboard.
From a third person perspective, write your own obituary.
I scribbled the words, “She got hit by a bus,” and continued.
“I dreamt you were a soldier in the Spanish Civil War,” I told him.
“How very Hemingway of you,” he smirked, and turned his back on me, his large hand barricading his paper as though my interest in him revolved around plagiarizing his response.
“Take you me for a sponge?” I muttered.
This actually got his attention. He raised his head and gave me a quizzical look.
I swiveled in my seat so that I was turned away from him and spread my fingers over my six-word response.
It would have been better had I not given him any attention after that, but I couldn’t resist. And when I peeked at him over my shoulder, his smile was devilishly pleased.
“Wait for me here,” he instructed, at the end of class. “I fear I shall lose sleep should I not hear how I fared in your dream.”
“Excuse me, Miss Hall?” he then called, beckoning our retreating teacher.
“Oh, please! Call me Linda,” she spurted, when she saw who it was.
I rolled my eyes by myself again.
* * *
“Call me Linda? That really happens?” I bitterly quizzed him, over absinthe.
“Are you often jealous?”
“She’s supposed to be a writing teacher! A creative inspiration to me! That’s the best line she has?”
“Maybe that’s the only line she needs,” he teased.
“Shut up. God.”
* * *
The professor was, of course, published; I hadn’t bothered to read her work. Nor did I plan to.
But I poured over every story Sebastian submitted.
And with good reason. Sebastian was by far the best writer in class.
We could all feel it. If we weren’t so young, it would have been embarrassing.
As it was, we all just tried to make sure we never had to follow him in a reading.
* * *
“I don’t understand you. Do you even really live here?” he asked, the night he finally saw me home.
“Just look at it.”
I looked. A mattress with a feather topper on the floor; a long, low table running along its end; a glass of water half-full.
I thought about that.
“I think that’s what I like about it,” I told him.
* * *
“What’s wrong?” he asked, the night he finally slipped naked beneath my covers, and I found, to my complete surprise, that I couldn’t respond to him.
“I don’t know, Sebastian. It’s weird. You’re beautiful, but I feel cold next to you. Corpselike. I can’t explain it.”
“Do you want to go to Morocco with me?” he asked.
That really took me off guard.
“At the end of the summer. Let’s go to Morocco.”
* * *
About six years later, I returned to the university town where I’d met Sebastian. I was taking a tour of my past, with a baby on my hip, trying to figure out how I’d gotten where I was.
In a cafe under a viaduct, I ran into Sebastian, working as a barista.
“Sebastian! I can’t believe it! How are you? Are you writing?”
“Do I know you?” he asked.
“Are you kidding me?”
He wouldn’t look me in the face.
“We were in a creative writing class together,” I stammered, even though he knew. It was a betrayal to choose that detail after everything else we had been. But I guess it hurt me less than anything else he could have claimed to forget.
He took a rag and started wiping down the already-clean counter.
“The first day of class we were asked why we wrote. And you said that to not write was death.”
Something happened with his nostrils then. Something so subtle and fast that I don’t even know what it was.
“You must be thinking of someone else,” he said, and he seemed so angry.
I didn’t know what to do. I was, in that moment, a woman I no longer knew, living a life I could no longer navigate.
So I left.
And as a result, I never found out if Sebastian was angry with me, or if angry was just the direction his life had taken.