Alex Katz, Blue Umbrella, 1979-80
Alex Katz, Blue Umbrella, 1979-80

After I finished my last exam and before I went to the station, I was supposed to see Cameron again. I met him on the edge of campus and I told him that the cab would be here in fifteen. I swallowed. I checked my phone and pretended to scroll through texts.

“You have everything?”


“Your phone – your charger? – and your train tickets?”

“Yes, Cam.”

“Ok. Stay safe. Call me if the taxi is…funky.”

“Oh. Of course.”

It had been raining all day. Steady pounding. It pooled at our feet and made the sidewalks smell like the ocean. He held my umbrella over my head for me.

He asked, “Is this a new umbrella?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I lost my old one. Actually, I think someone took it.”

“The one with Van Gogh on it, right?”

“Yeah! It cost me a shit ton of money, too. I loved that one.”

“That sucks. I’m sorry about that. I like this one, though.”

“It reminds me of a ladybug.”

The spots on my red umbrella were white, actually. The color scheme was probably more reminiscent of strawberry cheese shortcake or something, but I liked the idea of a ladybug better, a hard shell protecting the soft undercover, the soft hearts of the people standing under it. I swallowed hard.

I was debating: do it when the taxi came? Or do it right now? God, if I did it right now he’d have to stand here morosely until the taxi came. Or maybe he wouldn’t—maybe he wouldn’t wait. Maybe I had actively underestimated the active side of this boy I had been dating for six months—maybe he would drop the umbrella, walk away with long strides, and not even glance back at the girl with the ladybug canvas at her feet. But doing it right when the cab came felt like an ass move to me, too. I pictured myself, a stranger, waving with one hand as I climbed into the back of the cab, face obscured, sayonara! floating out from behind the yellow door.

The taxi appeared in the distance. Cameron helped me load my bags. I had the words ready (in fact I had three versions prepared) and my brain and my fluttering heart were rifling through them at meteor miles per hour, trying to find the perfect one, mashing some of them together, constructing and reconstructing the perfect introduction, the first words that he would hear, “Hey Cam? Hey, Cam. Cam, I’ve got to tell you something. Cam, don’t get me wrong, but…”

The umbrella slid and rain plopped on our canvas shoes. We laughed unrealistically, and I wondered if people’s voices mirror the weather the same way our behavior mirrors that of those who are near. I opened my mouth to say those first words but he beat me to it. He said, fumbling his wet hands in his wet sweater pocket, “Wait, wait. I just…I have…hold on…”

In hindsight I should’ve seen it coming, but in foresight no one ever does—I mashed my lips together. He gave me a package which was made to look like a box, but I could feel from its weight and the way it was wrapped that it was a book. The book. I moved my hand up and down. I knew what it was.

He said, as I got into the cab, “There’s something else in there. It’s kind of stupid but I feel like it’s just what you have to do when you’re in my position.”

I said, “Ok.” I felt the package and asked, “Jewelry?”

He nodded. “And there’s a little note in there, too.”

“Thank you, Cam. Thank you for everything.”

“Have a wonderful break.”

“You as well.” I put the book down on the other seat. “Get out of the rain,” I said, and something in my chest lurched so hard that I looked down at my lap. Nothing there. We waved and I was on my way to the train station. I read his note. He had written about me and my poetry and he had stitched together pieces from poems I had written him, all stitched back together in black ink which had gotten wet through the wrapping, through the pocket, and had bled in some places. The cabbie said I had a great boyfriend. I looked out the window with my head reclined as far back as possible. I put the note into my pocket and later my mom would ask me angrily, what are these permanent black spots on your jeans? But, Mom, it’s ok, they’re really not that visible on the outside—the only place that matters.

The cabbie told me he was from Honduras and that his family was still there. He had three sons. One little daughter (she was not little, he said, laughing, she was almost sixteen.) I shouldn’t have asked him, but I did. I shouldn’t have asked him with as little care and as much patronization as I had, but I did. “Do you miss your family?”

“A lot,” he said. He smiled, his teeth large and white and square, crusty yellow where they met the gums. “I think about them every day.”

I thought that there was something wonderful and horrendous about where the two of us were, Cris the cab driver and his family in Honduras, and me the college girl with warm mac and cheese and two middle-class parents waiting at home and an almost ex-boyfriend left behind on the edge of campus, a well-fed partial-aid college girl grappling with what maturity really was, and if I had it. I thought about Cameron holding my red umbrella and what I had lost during his stay. It was not a bad kind of loss, these six months. It was a liberating kind of loss which reminded me of wind over wild plains. Actually “losing” him, a year later, (“Cameron, thank you for being an amazing part of my year, but I think we both know that this relationship has been as good as it can be,” is the introduction I finally used) was not a loss so much as a recovery. A recovery of heavy things, and invisible chains; I felt as if the front door had shut and once more I was left with the meaningful closed spaces of all that I knew and was familiar with. What if Cris had been “funky?” What would Cam have done if I had called him? In truth, what would he even have been able to do?

I gave Cris a generous tip and said that he should buy something for his kids. I gave him the necklace Cameron had given me. It was sterling silver. “Give it to your daughter,” I said. “She’s almost sixteen.” Soon, I was home.