KristinLWare_UndertheBridge_VirgaI have looked for you since 1982. It rained the day before. The curbs filled with dirty, driven-through water, and overnight the water filled up with tiny tadpoles. The next day, I made a pole from a stick and tied a bit of string to it. I knelt beside the puddle in my Gloria Vanderbilt cut-offs and halter-top and fished for the little swimmers. But you weren’t in that puddle.

You weren’t in the tadpoles either. I know because I looked. I scooped a pool of rainwater with tadpoles into a plastic cup from Luke’s Hamburgers. I took it to my bedroom and set it on my desk. I got an ivory-handled magnifying glass that once belonged to someone’s grandfather, a handful of stickpins, and a steak knife from my mother. With the knife I opened a tadpole. With the pins I separated strands of black and beads of brown and white. With the ivory-handled magnifying glass, I imagined intestines, a heart, an egg cluster. I didn’t see you.

In 1984, I tried to find you again, in one of five bedrooms on River Oaks Drive. I thought you drew the winter white curtains closed and set a cold bottle of Coca-Cola on the nightstand. But it wasn’t you. It was someone who sounded like you, sweet and baritone-throated. We watched Sleepaway Camp on the VCR, together and tight under covers.

In 1987 I smoked pot with a tattoo-laced girl who turned out not to be you. She crushed psilocybin mushrooms and sprinkled their smoky brown onto the clusters of soft leaves. She rolled the brown and green in cigarette paper striped with the colors of freedom. We smoked it and went for a walk. Autumn oak leaves on the sidewalk purpled beneath my feet. Later in her Mo-Jo-Rising room her father threatened to call the cops.

I looked for you in the Green Room where Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks once sparred. I saw Julius Caeser’s claim distorted on a black t-shirt—white words branded “Vidi. Vici. Veni.” The comedy lingered. I did not. A few years later—1991 maybe—I looked for you again, this time among Rick’s cabaret chairs, leather and low to the ground. I looked on the stage and at the piano. I saw Red Hat Red Shoes dance to Joe Cocker and Pink Lace Blonde lean into quiet ringless men sipping neat liquors. But you were not there. So I left.

I looked in Agnus Arnold Hall, and I thought I found you. You gave me an A for having the gumption (you called it something else) to hand in an essay without a middle. I’d titled it “The Missing Link.” You were tall and had a red nose like my high school guidance counselor had. That’s when I knew it wasn’t you, so I looked in another building. There, the you I thought was you stood five-feet-two-inches tall. On rainy mornings, we smoked our cigarettes and drank our coffee in your office, in silence.

Still I’d not found you. So I left my home and went out west. I found the desert and saltillo tiles and Tom Freund. And I learned about virga, misty trails of precipitation that evaporate before reaching the ground. But I didn’t find you, so I trekked over 2,000 miles, all the way to the mossy squares of Savannah. And you’d think I’d find you there in the dust and tarnish of stone forts and bronze statues. And I might have, but you were so small, so insignificant that you became intrusive and I had to leave.

Now in the heartland, I eat three-minute eggs and drink freshly ground coffee for breakfast. I make soups and bake loaves of French bread. The other night, while I was making dinner, I sliced my finger cutting vegetables. The knife’s tension shifted and settled into flesh before I stopped. And there you were. You looked for band-aids but there were none, so you cut squares and squares of gauze, tore pieces of transparent tape, and wrapped my cut finger. But the bleeding didn’t stop, so I held my hand above my heart.

Later that night, after the bleeding stopped, I finished making the butternut squash soup. You grilled cheese sandwiches with mustard. And we watched TV.

Deanna Benjamin teaches composition and nonfiction writing at Washington University in St. Louis. Her work first appeared in The Houston Literary Review. She is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts and this is her first nonfiction publication.

Photo by Kristin L. Ware