previously published

How To Fall in Love by Melissa Swantkowski

 How to Fall in Love

Touching is a human thing. I don’t mean touching like with your boyfriend or with your mother when her uterine cancer comes back even though she doesn’t have a uterus anymore because they took it out the last time. That can happen, you know. Microscopic cells can be left behind and after weeks or months or even years can wake up and grow again into the pelvis or around the intestines. This is generally very bad.


What I mean is the touching that happens in a museum where there are “Please Do Not Touch” signs in bold print all over and your touching happens in between two of them. You are touching something like a Renaissance painting or an ancient stone column without even realizing it. Sometimes no one notices your touching, not even the guards. Or sometimes, the only people that notice are other museum goers who are just glad they are not the ones doing the touching. Sometimes everyone notices your touching and you are asked to leave.

Or the green and purple cabbages that grow outside fancy buildings. These are not the kind of cabbages grown on farms and sold to grocery stores, but cabbages grown just to look at. But if you didn’t know that, and you walked by, you might touch their leaves or even try to pick one. Especially if you were hungry.


What I mean is the touching that happens before you even know it.


In the emergency room, they sometimes have to take your temperature. They do this with a thin piece of glass in your rear end. Sometimes the nurse will ask if you want to insert it yourself, but listen to me, it is much more comfortable to just lie there and think about other things. One thing that is really nice to think about is the Zen Progression Alarm Clock(TM). That is, an alarm clock with a mini gong that gently wakes you from sleep instead of beeping like a regular digital alarm, or playing an annoying song like a cell phone or blasting news into your ear like a clock-radio or ringing like one of those old-fashioned round clocks with the bells on top. How it works is, you set it for ten minutes before you really have to get up and the gong goes off at specific time intervals until finally it is gonging continuously. I don’t have the intervals memorized, but if you looked in the Information and Instruction Manual that comes with the Zen Progression Alarm Clock(TM), you could find out.


The best thing about the Progression Alarm Clock(TM) is that the mini gong and the digital clock are both inside a real wood box and when you close it, you would never know that it is an alarm clock. This makes people surprised when they open it or receive it as a gift. And the box is made of such nice wood that people always want to touch it when they come in your room.

Another time when it’s good to think about the Progression Alarm Clock(TM) is when they have to look into your throat. They do this with a long rubber tube, but the catch is, they have to put it in your nose. I try to tell them it makes more sense to look in your mouth with a flashlight and that I could even bring one from home because my dad has about fifteen different kinds. He even has one that policemen use when they are out on the streets, which means it is very heavy, large and powerful. But if that is not the right kind, he has a very small one that can fit in your shirt pocket. I can also open my mouth extremely wide.


I have never seen a commercial for the Progression Alarm Clock(TM), but I am always on the lookout, because I would be perfect to act in one, or even read a script on the radio. Once I see a commercial for the Progression Alarm Clock(TM) I am going to tape myself in the same format and send in the tape and hope they hire me. I don’t want to do this in advance in case they are one of those companies whose CEO or founder has decided not to spend money on advertising and just rely on word of mouth or something.

Rehearsing in your head for your career in commercials can pass a lot of time. I already know what I would say: “The Progression Alarm Clock(TM) gets me up to get where I have to go. I am never late! After ten invigorating minutes of progressive awakening, I stretch and smile and am ready for the day! Every single day!” This part would be me, but in a voiceover. And then the commercial would show me sleeping in bed and the gonging and stretching and smiling and getting up to do yoga and drink cashew nut milk and eat goji berries for breakfast because that is what the Zen eat.


Another thing that happens in the emergency room is that they put you on ice. If you have ever been to a grocery store that has a fish counter, you know what I mean. This is one reason I would rather not be in the emergency room. If you opened your eyes really wide and smooshed your lips together, you would look like a fish on all that ice except they use blue ice packs instead of real crushed ice. Sometimes I open my eyes very wide and make my lips into a kissy face but most people don’t understand what I am doing and only ask if I am OK. What I don’t understand is how all these really smart people can miss something so obvious. Don’t they ever make fish faces at their kids or their dogs?

But then I think about how once I read that the most searched question on Google is “What is love?” and how that must mean that millions and millions of people in the world, even the really smart ones who know which needle goes where and not to pick the purple cabbages still might not know what love means. There is even a page that shows you that “What is love?” is the most searched question so that all the people who don’t know what love means won’t have to feel bad. I have considered making a dating service for all these people so they can meet and not feel alone and maybe even teach each other what love is. Plus no one would be embarrassed because that part would have been taken care of at the beginning when they signed up. I think being in the same place can be a very important learning experience.

Once I told this to someone who came into my room and she told me it was a little too ambitious for someone my age. I made a note in my head to include her in the dating service because she seemed like someone who might have searched “What is love?” because she seemed to be very good at checking charts and my temperature, but didn’t seem to understand how important it was for me to be ambitious.

The second thing people search a lot is “What is life?” This is another one of those things you can think about when you need to be some place else besides where you are. I like to think about how many people had to search “What is life?” for it to be the second most popular question and that also means how many people go about living and don’t know why. Once I told this to my friend and she started to cry and said I was morbid, but I think that is only because she didn’t understand. If that was true, I would think, “What is death?” I like to think about all these millions of people at their keyboards, thinking to themselves, “What a good day at the office, now I wonder, What is life all about? I better ask Google.” Sometimes they are young like me with ponytails or else grandmotherly types with cats and crocheted afghans on their laps or even dads waiting for dinner to be ready.

I tried to look up “How to kiss,” but decided before I even hit enter that it was pointless because what can a computer screen actually teach you. You might think that means I am naïve, but it’s not like I don’t already know all about porn, it’s just not what I need. And I already know it is another one of those things that people might say is a little too ambitious for me, so that limits who I can ask.

So besides the commercial for the Progression Alarm Clock(TM), I am on the lookout for someone to teach me how to kiss. I have a friend who is a little older than me who had her first kiss in a closet and said it was mostly teeth and afterwards she was very concerned that she would have to go to the dentist. Luckily, she is OK. She says not to worry, it will happen. But if you ask me, that sounds just like what you would say if it already happened to you. 


"How to Fall in Love" first appeared online for American Short Fiction in August 2009.