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select a month a year of stories - freedom of choice - by mary t. helmes

The fourth of July is hot and brilliantly sunny. And I can't figure out what I want to do.

All morning I torture my boyfriend with questions: "What should we do today?" "But do you really want to do that?" "Are you sure?" "Are you mad at me?" "Well, what do you think we should end up doing?"

When he finally says, "What is the matter with you?" I blurt out, "I want babies."

He gives me a look as if to say, "What, right now, while I'm putting in my contacts at the bathroom mirror?" He walks away.

Two days ago I had dinner with a friend. It turned out, he wanted to be more than friends. He is everything my boyfriend is not: Employed. Mature. A homeowner. He has several cars and substantial savings. I try to explain about my boyfriend, who's seven years younger than me, who's marginally employed, who's deeply in debt. Who gets stoned every single night. Who is funny and charming, good-looking, devoted and kind.

My friend says, "Hmm."

Fourth of July, this "Hmm" is in my head. It rattles and questions.

I decide nothing. I go to my boyfriend's.

Inside his apartment it is dark and hot and smoky. He says he has really good weed. We sit on his back porch on one of three abandoned sofas. I refuse to allow myself to become paranoid or flipped out. I concentrate on the tops of the trees. He clicks his fingers in my face. "Don't just warp out," he says, sounding lonely.

There is a brief romantic interlude, where sound and touch and speech don't quite sync up. Afterward, I stand at the open freezer, eating ice cream from the container. All I can taste is the coldness. He offers what seems a ridiculously technical explanation of why this should be.

We should be in a park. We should be at a barbecue. Dirty dishes crowd the sink. I am almost 35 years old. What am I doing here?

We go to an Omnimax movie and sit in the chilled dark, watching other people have adventures for us.

We go back to my boyfriend's. We sink onto the couch. Run Lola Run is on. It's as good a decision as any. There's a scene where she questions her boyfriend's love relentlessly. It feels uncomfortably familiar.

I have work the next day. My head hurts. I go home. The sun is fading out of the sky. I sit at my computer. I am glad the day is over.

I feel like I do when I eat too much junk food, or stay at the office for 15 hours. That kind of head-tired-but-not-body-tired feeling. The feeling you have any time you get something you really wanted, though you knew all along that it really wasn't good for you.

How was your July?