Miranda July

The Man on the Stairs
It was a tiny sound but it woke me up because it was a human sound. I held my breath and it happened again, then again; it was footsteps on the stairs. I tried to whisper,There's someone coming up the stairs, but my breath was cowering, I couldn't shape it. I squeezed e!in's wrist in pulsing units, three pulses, then two pulses, then three pulses. I was trying to in!ent a physical language that could enter his sleep. "ut after a while I realized I wasn't e!en squeezing his wrist, I was #ust pulsing the air.$hat's how scared I was; I was squeezing air. %nd still the sound continued, the man coming up the stairs. &e was walking up in the slowest possible way. &e had all the time in the world for this, my god did he ha!e time. I ha!e ne!er taken such care with anything. $hat is my problem with life, I #ust rush through it, like I'm being chased. '!en things whose whole point is slowness, like drinking rela(ing tea.)hen I drink rela(ing tea I suck it down like I'm in a contest for who can drink rela(ing tea the quickest. *r if I'm in a hot tub with some other people and we're all looking up at the stars, I'll be the first to say It's so beautiful here. I only say it because I know it has to be said and I'm trying to hurry the e(perience along. $he sooner you sayIt's so beautiful here the quicker you can say Wow, I'm getting overheated. $he man on the stairs was the total opposite of me, his thing was How long can I make this last? &e was taking so long that I would forget the danger for whole moments at a time, and almost slip back in to sleep, only to be woken up by him shifting his weight. I was going to die and it was taking so long. I stopped trying to wake e!in up because I was worried that he would make some sound upon waking, like he might say )hat. *r )hat honey.$he man on the stairs would hear this and know how !ulnerable we were. &e would know my boyfriend called me &oney. &e might e!en hear my boyfriend's slight annoyance, his e(haustion after our fight last night.)e both fantasize about other people when we're ha!ing se(, but he likes to tell me who the other people are, and I don't.)hy should I+ It's my own pri!ate business. It's not my fault that he gets off on ha!ing me know. &e likes to report it the second after he cums, like a cat presenting the gift of a dead bird. I ne!er asked for it. I didn't want the man on the stairs knowing these things about us. "ut he would know.$he second he threw on the lights and pulled out his gun, or his knife, or his rope, or his hea!y rock, the second he held the gun at my head, or the knife at my heart or the rope around my neck or the hea!y rock o!er my chest, he would know. &e would see it in my boyfriend's eyes, You can have her, ust let me live. %nd in my eyes he would see the words, I never reall! knew true love. )ould he empathize with us+ -oes he know what it's like+ Most people do. .ou always feel like you are the only one in the world, like e!eryone else is #ust crazy for each other, but it's not true. /enerally, people don't like each other !ery much. %nd that goes for friends too. 0ometimes I lay in bed trying to decide which of my friends I really care about and I always come to the same conclusion, 1one of them. I thought these were #ust my starter friends and the real ones would come along later. "ut no.$hese are my real friends. $hey are people with #obs in their field of interest. My oldest friend, Marilyn, lo!es to sing and she is head of enrollment at a prestigious music school. It's a good #ob, but not as good as #ust opening your mouth and singing. 2a. I always thought I would be friends with a professional singer. % #azz singer. % best friend who is a #azz singer and a reckless but safe dri!er. $hat is more what I pictured for myself. I also imagined friends who adored me.$hese friends think I'm a drag. I fantasize about starting o!er and eliminating the thin film of dragginess that hangs o!er me. I think I ha!e a handle on it now. $here are three main things that make me a drag, I ne!er return phone calls. I am falsely modest. I ha!e a disproportionate amount of guilt about these two things and it is unpleasant to be around.

It wouldn't be so hard to return calls and be more genuinely modest, but it's too late for these friends. $hey wouldn't be able to see that I'm not a drag any more. I need clean new people who associate me with fun.$his is my number two problem, I am ne!er satisfied with what I ha!e. It goes hand in hand with my number one problem, rushing. Maybe they aren't so much hand in hand, as two hands of the same beast. Maybe they are my hands; I am the beast. I had a crush on e!in for thirteen years before he finally started liking me back. &e wasn't interested at first because I was a child. I was twel!e and he was twenty3fi!e.$hen after I turned eighteen it took him se!en more years to think of me as a real adult, not his student anymore. *n our first date I wore a dress that I had bought when I was se!enteen especially for this occasion. It was out of style but I'm superstitious so I wore it. *n the way to the restaurant we stopped at a gas station. I sat in the car and watched a teenage boy clean the windshield while e!in pumped the gas. $he boy used the squeegee with a kind precision that made you know that this wasn't #ust his field of interest, this was e(actly it, this was all he had e!er wanted to do. 2a. %s we pulled out of the gas station I stared through my perfect, clean window at the teenager and I thought, I should be with him. $he man on the stairs pauses for such incredibly long periods of time I almost wonder if he is ha!ing a problem. 2ike maybe he's disabled, or !ery old. *r maybe #ust really tired. Maybe he's already killed e!eryone else on the block and now he's all worn out. In moments I can almost see him, leaning against the banister, his eyes swimming in the darkness. My eyes are open too. e!in's eyes are shut, he is so far away and he always will be. $he silent pause stretches longer and longer and gradually I wonder if the man is there at all. $he only sound is e!in breathing. )hat if I spend the rest of my life in this bed, listening to e!in breathe. "ut lo. % strong and certain creak issues from the stairwell and what I feel is thrilling relief. &e is really there, he is on the stairs, and he is coming closer in his own breathtakingly slow way. If I li!ed to see daylight I would ne!er forget this lesson in care. &e was putting more care in to hunting me than I had e!er put into anything in my life. %nd it was worth it, because he had earned my admiration. I don't think anyone has e!er admired me the way I admired him. )hat if I were to spend this much time listening to Marilyn, what would happen+ Maybe she would adore me and then I would respect her and we would both become professional #azz singers or at least reckless but safe dri!ers. Maybe. Maybe the man on the stairs would come in our car with us and when he looked scared by our reckless dri!ing I would hold his head close to my lips and whisper, It's safer than walking. I opened the co!ers and stepped out of bed. I was only wearing a tee shirt and I didn't put on pants because who cares. Maybe he would be halfnaked too; maybe he would be headless and co!ered in blood. I stood in the doorway of the stairwell, on the top step. It was darker there than in the bedroom, and I could see nothing. I stood and waited to die or for my eyes to ad#ust, whiche!er came first. "efore I could see anything, I could hear him breathing. &e was right in front of me. I leaned forward into the darkness; I could feel his breath. *ur faces were almost together. I could smell his sourness. It wasn't good, he wasn't good, he did not ha!e good intentions. I stood there, and he stood there, and he breathed out the bitter air that makes women doubt e!erything, and I breathed it in.%nd I e(pelled my dust, the powder of e!erything I had destroyed with doubt, and he pulled it in to his lungs. My eyes were ad#usting and I saw a man, an ordinary man, a stranger. )e were staring into each other's eyes and suddenly I felt angry. "o awa!, I whispered. "et out. "et out of m! house. %fter we pulled out of the gas station, we dro!e to a restaurant that e!in thought I might like. "ut I was still thinking about the boy with the squeegee and I systematically did the opposite of e!erything that e!in wanted. I didn't order desert or wine, #ust a little salad, which I complained about. "ut he did not gi!e up; he made #okes, ridiculous #okes in the car on the way back to my apartment. I steeled myself against laughter; I would rather die than laugh. I didn't laugh, I did not laugh. "ut I died; I did die.