by | Nov 12, 2020 | Creative Nonfiction

ALGORITHM by Melissa Matthewson

Goddamn, I can’t remember why you even decided on the algorithm, some arrangement of numbers in bed with the glow of the lamp covered in a dyed fuchsia scarf and Edith Piaf — Il me dit des mots d’amour. I wished we were in a flat in Paris, I told you, and you said you would go with me, to Paris, and I could lay there naked with you imagining we had danced in a bar downstairs and here we were, spent and tired, having loved through the early parts of the morning until we could maybe smell yeast and butter and coffee and I said, “She lived a sad life. She was tortured.” And still, the algorithm — accounting for the behavior of bees, bats, galaxy formation, fireworks, colonization — I think it must have been the ways you loved me, but I’m not sure that’s it. That’s not what math you were explaining. We were reaching for some kind of calculation of nostalgia maybe — of a time past, because you like that. Something like Tammy Wynette or Tarheel Slim. If our love were to be an algorithm, the process by which we problem solve, then it would be the instructions for meeting at a bar on a January night, storm and wet streets, before the circus show and after edibles, then sex and semen on my body, Willie Wright on the guitar. The determination of our chemistry. Yes, I had desired all the men after my marriage was over, but when you drove away that night, I sat stunned on my bed thinking no man had ever loved me like that: direct, charged, immediate. I took a shot of bourbon then, warmed tortillas and cheese, and ate standing over the electric stove at midnight. This is a list of directives for how to love: something precise, and even though I might not believe in this bullshit of soulmates, I think the number calculated while you reasoned about synapses and neurotransmitters was really about romance, about chances of meeting, about love. Still, we can’t be efficient, not here, unless like you say, I’m the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I’ve got a glittering gold necklace on my breasts to prove it. Maybe the algorithm is this: 1. Order Indian food from the café on A street 2. Bring the food to my wood table, set it down, take me into you, tell me you can’t wait to see what I ordered, while rubbing my back, my hips, my ass, the heirloom rose bush out the window stripped of bloom 3. The thunder and air electric, yes, it smelled so good, the air and the curry 4. Pour small glasses of wine, and in my tight black dress, fuck me against the counter after devouring the pakoras and fried cauliflower 5. What happens when we go quiet then, after, and what do you tell me of meta privilege and my love, I like you when you cry to me by the window, and your heart swells up from your chest into your eyes and I say thank you. That could be our brilliant algorithm and maybe, those scientists looking for cures and making experiments can test ours and make a declaration remarkable like any number of beautiful things I see when I look out the windows of this 100-year-old house: the fir tree topped, the sky with hills gold and luster, lilacs over now in June, and all the blue jays that come around for pits and seeds, the sick raccoon dying on the grass, and that one time, the projection of imaginary scenes into each house we passed as we toured alleyways not ours — do you remember? — but otherwise, I didn’t know I’d feel this way, even if the algorithm rationalizes it. Makes it exact with rules. Says, This is how you determine love. Says, Here, take it.



Photo used under CC

About The Author


Melissa Matthewson’s essays have appeared in DIAGRAM, Guernica, American Literary Review, River Teeth, Essay Daily, The Rumpus, and Longreads among others. Her work has earned an AWP Intro Journals award and has been listed as notable in Best American Essays. She is the author of a memoir-in-essays, Tracing the Desire Line, from Split Lip Press (2019).