By Daniel Sitts
It was a Saturday when the package came. Of course, my parents already knew it would arrive, and so found themselves sitting on my green leather couch, waiting.Everybody sat around the coffee table nibbling away the time. My father toyed with a carrot in his hand as though someone had dared him not to eat it. My mother was talking about something or other.
Then the doorbell sounded and that was it. Habit made me stand up, but I knew I couldn’t answer the door myself. Instead I sat down and touched everything on my coffee table. My fingers violated the intricate twists of a ceramic coffee cup and familiarized themselves with the wrinkles of a tattered book jacket. My mind, a world away, stood idle. I knew that my whole life was sitting on the other side of my door.
“How often are you and your Match intimate?” He asked, his pen orbiting his fingers. I wished he’d stop the twirling.
“Well the doctor, the other doctor, has us sleeping in separate rooms. But he recommended a brief kiss on the face or neck right before bed. It’s strange. Just physically, to walk up and kiss someone and then walk away in separate directions. But I guess if everything works out it won’t be a problem anymore.”
“Yes, and I certainly wish you luck in that respect.”
It was nine days after that Saturday when I met her. We arranged our meeting at the doctor’s office. I arrived first and they hooked me up to a busily whirring machine. There was a monitor strapped around my arm that nearly cut off my circulation, and a tube inserted in the tip of my middle finger. There were Partnership forms waiting on the counter, framed by its off-white sterility. My name was typed on the blue form, and Linda’s on the pink. Linda Harrington. A thin black line at the bottom awaited the doctor’s signature. I smiled in spite of myself.
She smelled like maple syrup and some type of burning flower. Her hair was even darker than it was in those photographs that came in the package. My father and I were a little surprised that I was Matched with a brunette; in my days of pimply adolescence, I’d always had a thing for blondes.
Linda didn’t speak to me right away, but later she would tell me that her name was Spanish for “pretty.” And she certainly was. Maybe even beautiful. As she was hooked up to the machines I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. I was saying to myself, “Wow, god I’m lucky.” In a few days I knew I would get to come back to this office and fall in love this beautiful woman. For a fleeting second, I imagined that I loved her already.
“Have you spoken with your parents recently?”
“No,” I answered. “They won’t return my calls until they’re sure I’m cured. Maybe I don’t blame them.”
“Do you blame yourself?”
I didn’t know. I used to disconnect myself from all of this. My father was desperate to involve me, but I put myself so above it. I used to mock everyone because they cared so much.
“I feel ashamed. I understand why my parents are keeping it a secret. I’m an embarrassment. I can accept that.”
It was twelve days after that Saturday when the problems started. I sat in the doctor’s office, across from Linda, and waited. I had heard about being Matched for all of my life. It was supposed to be euphoric, the most unearthly of highs. My father said it made you feel like you were falling into some misty pit, yet standing on dry, solid earth all at the same time. So I waited. I waited for my body to fall forever and stand steady all at once.
Three more doctors were eventually called in. The machines were checked again and again, buttons were hit and abused. Only one nurse was so bold as to speak. I don’t remember what she said, but I’m sure she was politely asked to leave.
It must have been thirty minutes before one doctor finally decided to discretely shove the Partnership forms back into their file. With a sigh, he looked towards Linda and me. His gaze was heavy, and I felt it.
The doctor spoke quietly and slowly. “I’m afraid…we’re going to have to look into more long term options for both of you.” I thought back to snowball fights in first grade, how every once in a while someone would throw a snowball at me and it would manage to get passed the protection of my zippered jacket. The ice dripped down, wicked and wet.
Linda began to cry. “Oh, god, how could this happen?”
“Linda, the Chemicals are not entirely predictable. There are a lot of factors that can limit their abilities to recognize their counterparts.” He looked at Linda’s face. If he saw what I saw, he would have realized that she was not the kind of girl who would be comforted by logic or science. “I’ve looked over your files many times and I assure you they’ve been reviewed by many other qualified physicians. We are sure that you two are a Match.”
“Then why don’t I love him?” A mixture of spit and tears rode Linda’s explosive breath and landed on the off-white counter. Relieved for something to look at, I watched the bubbly, speckly mess as it settled and eventually evaporated. “Jesus. I don’t have time for all of this. I have family coming up from Miami to meet him. Everything’s been booked, I — ”
” — Ms. Harrington, we have to go about this the right way. If you rush the process, we run the risk of aggravating your Chemicals. If you and Mr. Bay were to consummate your love prematurely, before it was properly ignited, the cells could self-destruct.”
Linda used her thumb and index finger to subdue her tears. I noticed her nails were perfectly manicured and far too long to be natural. I wondered if this meant she was materialistic. But if we were cured, I knew I wouldn’t care. I knew I would love her high maintenance and her bright red nails, and I’d be more than happy to buy her beautiful purses and treat her to days at the spa. Finally Linda spoke. This time there were no tears or spit to follow.
“So what do we do now?” The buzz of the useless machines to my right filled a few moments of silence.
“Well, given both of your ages, I think you’re perfect candidates for our Four Step Program.” The doctor handed us brochures. On the cover was a photograph of a gorgeous woman and a handsome man in each other’s arms, very much in love. “It’s a time-consuming process, but it often delivers very desirable results.”
“Is your ordeal affecting your social life? Outside of Linda, of course.”
“Everybody knows. And I can see the way people look over at me.”
“My friends. Even my friends look down on me.”
“Would you say most of your friends are Matched?”
“Most of them were Matched months ago, and everything worked out perfectly. Jesus, one of them, his Match lived over in Africa. We didn’t know they even tested for Chemicals in Africa, but they do and their Chemicals aligned perfectly, virtually identical. She came over the next month and they got put on the machines and everything ignited in a second. I mean, Linda’s from Florida, for god’s sake.”
“Chemicals are universal, Mr. Bay. A Mismatch in Africa is just as likely as one in Florida. Or unlikely, rather.”
“I just feel useless. Everyone used to tease each other about this. We would all joke about being Single. You just never think it could actually happen.”
“They’ve found your partner, Mr. Bay. You should be thankful for that. There are people out there who can’t even afford to get their Chemicals read, and still more who will get them read only to find out that no one else has them. I’m sure any of those people would gladly trade places with you.”
I knew he was right. Every day another story came out about some mishap or another. I read that one man from Madrid spent six years raising the money for his tests, and when he had finally raised enough, the doctors found his Match’s records at a morgue i
n Southeast Asia. I read about how a grandson of the couple who discovered the Chemicals died without ever finding his Match. You can’t write this stuff, my mother had said.
“All I know is, I look at this woman every night, this woman who I was born to love, and I feel nothing. Nothing.”
It was ninety-seven days after that Saturday when we were cured. It was a routine appointment, and by then Linda and I had grown accustomed to the babble of those useless machines, to the doctor’s manufactured sympathy. But something happened, and the doctor stared incredulously at the screen. He caressed a few dials and jammed a few buttons with intent. And then it happened. My feet have never been so firmly planted as they were in those seconds when I fell forever into that pit of mist. It was ninety-seven days after that Saturday when I fell in love; finally, the euphoria I was waiting for.