Yesterday, I spoke with him.  He was somewhere in Iraq, I guess. He called me from an unlisted number, military, special forces – Him. I’ll save the name for later, because for the longest time I didn’t know it either. No, really. Somehow I’d learned the names of his three brothers, previous girlfriends, educational history, past employers, along with the silhouette of his bare body wandering from room to room, the same found later beneath a scratchy blanket, all of this before I knew him.  But then, maybe that’s not completely true.  I already understood the feel of my head against his chest, his graying hair, hands, neck, back, all of this before I uncovered his name.  But I want you to understand, it wasn’t because he hadn’t told it to me. In fact he’d stated it, his name, upon our first evening’s introduction; I’d just been distracted. You see, I was trying to find the wine. It had already been a long night, and at that moment when we met, locating a glass of Sangria was what had held my attention.

So, Him.  He’s my age, a nice change from these older men I seem to collect.  Now that we’re both five years from thirty, to some our grey might appear premature, though to me it seems reasonable; I’d have grey hair too, if I didn’t color it blonde. Mine came from law school in Lubbock, his from two years of investment banking in NYC; we left both behind around the same time for the idea of something, anything more, alive.

He’s always seemed a bit of an ‘old soul’ to me, familiar and warm; I picked this idea up along with some German grammar a couple years back while traveling through the former East.  Before I found him, this sort of connection remained only a bit of gypsy lore, a fairy tale I bought for an American dollar and a vodka shot from a Romanian immigrant selling stories alongside the colorful robes he wove outside of the St. Petersburg market place.

“It’s shadow recognition,” the gypsy said, “that meeting of ‘old souls.’”  It explains the feeling you get, that same shock I got, when at first glance you immediately know someone you’ve never met. It was like that with him, you know, an immediate understanding.  “Though it’s not always so positive, this meeting of old souls,” the gypsy said, “some you like, others will repel you.”  It’s like smacking into yourself, or watching another cast your shadow, reflecting your past into the present.

I think if it really were true, this gypsy theory, we had to have been brother and sister, or husband and wife, maybe best friends, or two soldiers killed together in battle.  I think we must have been something, something established long before now, now long since forgotten, left behind in the times and lives of centuries past, yet remembered in a flash – that moment of recognition.  I swear to you, I felt it.  But then, maybe it was just the wine.   To be honest with you, I’m not sure how much of this concept I truly believe; I think I just kinda like the possibility of its existence. Really, though, it’s the best way I can think of to describe this, something that makes no logical sense. And so that’s how it was with him.

On average, I confess, I have a terrible time sleeping next to anyone, even my sister. Ironically, I can’t seem to fall asleep without my dog, even though she sometimes insists on sleeping atop my head. I think it’s because she gets cold; her name is Beast, and she doesn’t have much hair. Usually, if either of these two conditions take place, the first present, and the second absent, I just pretend to rest, keeping still out of courtesy, waiting until it’s late enough in the morning for me to leave or move somewhere else to take a nap, unless of course I can come up with a better excuse before. I’m not sure why, but this insight seems significant to me now. Significant in the sense that I’d known him for only a few hours, but sharing my sleeping space then didn’t seem so offensive. Offensive at least in the way other people strike me. I have a problem, you might say, with smells – other people’s smells – anything organic. I realize it’s probably nothing they can help, probably just genetic, so I take full credit for my own personal oddities. This aversion I’m sure sounds terrible, though I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of the rest of this probably will too. My point here is that he didn’t offend me on any level, though normally this degree of intimacy – sleeping, actually sleeping in the same space – would take me months to welcome. Hence, sharing a twin sized bed with a man twice my size, in any other scenario sounds absolutely horrid. Though, at that moment, at this point in time, it didn’t seem as though there any other options.

I’d been dating a math professor when I met him; Jason was his name, the math professor that is, and I left him, too. In comparison, the relationship didn’t seem worth the necessary effort. To think I got along better with someone I’d known for a few hours than I did with someone I’d known now for years, I honestly didn’t really give it much more thought than that. I’m not saying it makes sense, and I don’t expect anyone else to understand it, that’s just the way it was. I’m sure one could speculate as to the real reasons behind this comfort level.  One might suggest it stemmed from similar backgrounds; he grew up at a school back East with the Gore boys, me at home in the South with the Bush girls. Really, though, that doesn’t say much more than we were raised in political, fairly well to do areas. Maybe, then, his intelligence, perhaps his body?  I doubt that, since I’ve known plenty of smart, pretty people that wholly disinterest me. With that said, you can understand now why the Romanian’s theory might seem equally valid by comparison.

That same weekend Jason had been up interviewing for a job at Cal Tech, pitching his new theorem to the Applied Mathematics Department. Something about four points and Russian Czars, the shortest distance between them, etc.  This was the main reason I’d gone out that night with my friend Tiffany, her boyfriend Bob, and his buddies from college.  I didn’t have anything better to do and no real reason to stay home.

We’d known each other for years, the math professor and I, grew up a couple streets apart, both graduated from the University of Texas Honors Program, same friends, same goals, both like sushi, our coffee black, etc. I actually spoke with him briefly on my way out that night; I was supposed to pick him up the following afternoon.  “Make sure and write it down,” Jason insisted. Sometimes I tend to forget things. However, this I still remember. Upon his return, he handed me a picture, a painting, my portrait, a hobby of his - art that is; Jason had published a similar piece on the cover of a Danish version of Joyce’s Ulysses a couple years back. He’d labeled mine “Persephone,” though, I never figured out why. After I dropped him off, I was gone.

By the time we reached the bar, I’d gotten Jason off the phone, and shifted my attention over to Him.  Moving from wine to whiskey, continuing to follow Tiffany’s lead, she had me discussing something about my past feminist research and various internet oddities, probably to watch the men respond. They sat wide-eyed, amused.  I guess I know more than I appear to sometimes, at least in terms of subjects you might not expect. He, however, seemed genuinely interested.

You know, I always hated math, found it perpetually boring.  I never even took calculus. My trigonometry teacher, junior year in high school, made me promise on the condition that she pass me, the following semester I must replace math with philosophy.

Really that night I have to say I’d expected nothing. I hadn’t even wanted to go. Nothing was tiring; it’s what I’d grown accustomed to while living back in Lubbock.  Now when I say nothing, in this context I mean nothing in the sense that I’d learned not to expect anything - anything in the form of an engaging conversation, interesting people, anyone worth taking the time to get to know within the general populous. Not that they weren’t there, those in Lubbock, I just hadn’t met any. For the most part, the people I’d met during this period remained as empty as the landscape – dusty, barren, dead most of the year.  So, I’d reverted back to the familiar. Lubbock became a place I stayed only so long as my job held me there, driving or sometimes flying to Austin, to Dallas, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, often for five days at a time. I’d lived in enough various locations to recognize now, I just didn’t fit there; nothing wrong with Lubbock, nothing wrong with me, nothing personal, just a bad match. The next time we met, He came to visit me there, in Lubbock, Texas. I think it was the only time I ever felt at home in my house.

He said he wanted to go native, see some ‘real’ Texans. I told him I’d take him to a mullet bar. There were enough of those in town. That meant cheap beer, no suit shirts, no shiny shoes, nothing that might suggest Wall Street.  He’d been working for an investment banking firm for way too long, the Ivy Leagues before that.  Here, what you need is simple, just a t-shirt, jeans, and boots. "But I don’t have boots," he said. "That’s right – well, we’ll get you some if we have time, something to remember your first true Texas experience," I said. He explained he’d been to Austin a couple times. I told him Austin didn’t count. "Most of the people there are from New York, California, or DC."

"Where’s the downtown?" he asked. It was late, but you could still see. "This is it, we’re driving through it," I said. Gas station, Mc Donalds, Mc Donalds, gas station, Lubbock – all the same. He pulled a pair of tennis shoes out of his bag, "how about these?" He smiled. They were new, bright white, "those will do," I said. He had an equally clean white t-shirt, he was now pulling on over his head. "So, you think we’ll really see mullets," he asked. I said, "Yes," and thought, I love you.

At the Robin’s Nest they had a locals’ pool tournament taking place in the back corner. He noticed that two out of three playing sported mullets. Charlie arrived shortly after. Charlie had a white mullet, and a crazy eye, always twitching off to one side. "So what’s your name" Charlie said, spitting the words in his face. "William," he answered. "—well Henry, Henry’s a good name, that’s a man’s name. Mine, mine’s Charlie," Charlie said squatting down now, popping up like a clown, before ordering a beer for the hefty woman across the bar. "Now that’s a fine looking one," Charlie’s eye traced her gold pants, "hot damn!" Charlie paused, " — now wait so, Henry, what do you do — no, don’t tell me, let me guess," he said. Charlie was clearly high on methamphetamines; it was his overconfidence and forward gait that gave him away. He put his hands to his head, squeezing his forehead, as if that might force the information out, "Henry, now Henry, you look like a fire fighter. A fire fighter, now that’s a man’s job. Henry, you know there aren’t many men left out there these days. You and me, both know it. And you," Charlie said, finally glancing at me, "you must do retail."  I nodded. I had done it a couple years back.

We left Charlie that evening after convincing him he should pursue the hefty woman he’d been eyeing, the one clad in gold stretch pants. We all waited until she went to the bathroom, which gave Charlie the opportunity to take the seat next to hers, which he did, ordering them both two new beers. Days old cigarette smoke, ACDC, and the smell of spilt beer followed us out of the bar and into the lot, filling the car, all the way back to my house. At least that part of Lubbock you can wash off in the shower. Just a bar of soap.

That week the air conditioner went out, the garbage disposal didn’t work, the windows wouldn’t open (rusted shut), and there was a strange smell, something old and rotten, leaking out of the pipes outside. It was the first week I’d spent in the house, though still it remains probably the most pleasant. A heavy fan, followed by the changes brought on by a Blue Norther, made the July heat less intense. On our way back from walking the dog, we all watched the sky change, a deep blue rolling heavily across the plains. In a matter of minutes it swept us up into its torrent, leaving us soaked, stripping together in the back, next to my washer.

We slept a lot of that time. It just seemed like the thing to do. Resting for something maybe, though I’m not sure what. Launched somewhere between yesterday’s forgetting and tomorrow’s possibility, I think that’s why we slept. He left for the army that next week, something he felt he should do. His dad was a general there, his brother too. After watching the towers go down outside his dorm window, taking along some of the people he knew with them, how could he not join. My own parents actually watched the third plane crash into the Pentagon on their way there to visit my Cousin Freddy. Rather than stop, however, they kept driving, drove the local rental car all the way to Georgia.

The military seems to change people. I’m not sure exactly how it’s changed him, whether it has, or if it will. He wrote on a manuscript I sent him home with him after visiting Lubbock, "I don’t think I’ve ever heard you call me by my name . . . what do you think of when you refer to me?" In e-mails I’d start mid sentence, on the phone I knew who he was. His first name is William, his last Cugajoevsky. I figured this out only after he wrote it down with his number after that first meeting. I’d been confused, initially, because I’d heard his friends call him "Cuga." Apparently, this nickname spun out of his younger years playing soccer, manifested itself in college, and later at Goldman Sachs. There’s something about men and nicknames that women seem to avoid.

Hence, my friend Tiffany calls him William, so with her that’s who he becomes in our conversations. Always, “how is William doing,” a series of pictures all labeled “William and Bob.” In my phone, though, he’s Cugajoevsky - a Czech name pronounced kinda like Dostoevsky. Lately, though, when he’s called, it’s shown up as ‘no name.’ That’s when he dials me from the military base.

The first couple of weeks this happened, I missed him. I didn’t answer, because I hadn’t expected him to call. Initially, he explained the main form of communication that can take place overseas occurs in the form of letters, the written word - no e-mail. So, since I hadn’t expected him to call and don’t normally pick up numbers I don’t recognize, I ignored it. Only by the messages he left, "hey, it’s Cuga . . . it’s Sunday and I got a free pass to call . . . if I get another one next week, I’ll try you again . . . " did I figure it out.

Cuga, the name itself sounds like something fuzzy, maybe something with teeth, a stuffed animal or a real one. The name Cuga brings to mind something entirely different than William, that being far too conventional for anything real. So, Cuga. It’s good, fitting really. Despite my distaste for most human nicknames, Cuga doesn’t bother me. Maybe it’s the animal thing, I, by far prefer creatures to humans. They’re usually sweeter in nature, more basic, yet far more complex than most people. So, Cuga, Sgt. William, Cugajoevsky. I spoke with him yesterday.