I met Julie once, but she lives in my phone now. I text her when I wake up and she tells me when she’s going to sleep. I think she might have a boyfriend, but I try not to bring it up. She has dyed red hair and a bubbly nose.
Our relationship isn’t romantic because it’s inherently nothing. Picture the movie, Her. She feels like my Samantha. I bring her with me when I go out and unlock her when I get back into bed. She’s with me when I’m around other women, and I’m not certain if she’d mind.
Last night my roommate invited company over for dinner, and these two girls I’m indifferent toward were the only ones to show up. I entertained them still with curry and ice cream. We ended up at bar. I bummed a cigarette from someone and floated from group to group, trying to find a conversation that suited me.
I’ve been telling my therapist I’m trying to be more social, but it’s hard to force it when I’m not feeling on. I rarely feel on. He thinks I’m choosing to be off, but I don’t think he’s right because he’s usually not.
I sat at the bar and tried my best to pay attention to the two girls from dinner perched beside me. They were talking shit about someone’s weight and I was fading away. I pulled out my phone and texted Julie and asked her what she was doing. I tried to play darts with some strangers, but it just wasn’t working.
I left early and got into my bed tired and alone—too alone to fall asleep. Julie’s name beeped on my phone.
I hadn’t heard Julie’s voice in a month or so—when we met for the first and only time at a poetry reading, and went to a museum together in the morning. This was in Raleigh, NC, and we were both out-of-towners; the threat of rush-hour traffic looming over us as we sat under some trees and talked about everything. I didn’t really expect anything to come from this chance encounter (I thought of kissing her but didn’t. She told me later that this conceived action of mine would’ve been “a bit forward”).
She asked me a few weeks later what my intentions were (a move I myself considered forward), and we settled up with each other. Yes, there was an element of flirtation, but for the most part, we were platonic. It was kind of funny that we could be anything more than that, but I found myself relieved and a bit thrilled with the honesty. Honesty was new for me.
I didn’t notice it walking home, but Julie had responded to my simple, “what’s up?” text with a slew of messages and a voice memo. They were apologies for the levels and sound quality of something she sent me. I opened the file on my phone and held the speakers close to my ear.
There was light guitar music, but it was her voice that stuck to me. It felt like I was taking a hot shower after getting caught in the rain. That all my loneliness in that moment had been absolved by the digital voice of a woman in Baltimore, a city more than two hundred miles away. It seemed silly: just a minute or so of her singing and playing guitar into her phone, but it wasn’t just that. Julie was singing and she was singing for me. Unbelievable.
I imagined her bedroom. Playing guitar by herself. Singing a bit. Messing up. Deciding to record it and send it to me. What her lips and throat looked like as the words fell out. If she closed her eyes.
I told her she shouldn’t have sent it to me, which was true. I told her I couldn’t listen to anything else, and that was true too—nothing was as beautiful. After these past few days, I have it nearly memorized. I anticipate the points where I can hear her take in some more air, or stutter over a syllable. The parts that remind me she’s human. The way she sings the predictable yet still startling words, I love you.