Constant and forward thought will keep the tears from brimming over.
I’m broken inside.
And it hurts.
I fell in love with a girl a long time ago. She was smart, capable, engaging, and a natural beauty. She brought fun into my otherwise rigid and rehearsed life. I was 11. She was a classmate. I moved away, but I kept in touch with her; mailed her lengthy letters filled with short stories and drawings. With my friend, The Mormon’s, help, I upgraded from letters to audio cassettes, punctuating our commentary with poignant songs. This went on for years. She never wrote back. But I still loved her in the way that only children know how to love: blind and unconditional.
One day, on a whim, I called her to find out how she was. She was going through a bad breakup. She was broken inside. She hurt. I told her I’d come over. I was older then. I had lived more of life. I knew that there were things that couldn’t be forced. I knew that she and I would only be friends. I was well adjusted to that idea.
We went to a coffee house that night and just talked. Outside, however, the planets were aligning and caused just enough of a gravitational field to alter her thinking. She told me she wanted to date me. Those were the only words I’d have taken over a Governor’s pardon if I were ever sitting on the electric chair.
For the first time in a long time, I felt alive. God, what a strange concept to be in a moment and realize that you haven’t lived until that moment. And how amazing is it to have it be another person that breathes life into you?
I was 17 and she lived half an hour away in another city. With my parents and my home life, she might as well have lived on another planet. My parents, my father especially, would never approve of me driving that far for a girl. He was against commitment of that magnitude at that age. Besides, he had already gone through a similar and costly debacle with my brother over similar circumstances. His long distance relationship and events contextual to that were such sore points for the family that it became easier to hide the phone bill rather than incur my father’s wrath. My slight of hand became so good, that I could fetch the mail, find the phone bill in the stack by touch alone, slide it into the band of my underwear under my shirt, and then bow and curtsy in front of my father without having the cellophane window crinkle and betray me. My mother and I went to great lengths, but they were worth it, because my father was pretty maniacal when it came to spending money on his children’s happiness. When I pre-approved a date with the girl, my father took note of the mileage on the car before and after to make sure I had adhered to my itinerary. I knew, in the deepest valleys of my soul, that if I defied my father, a grisly fate awaited me.
I couldn’t see enough of this girl.
At the time, there were very few things in my life that would be worth defying my father for.
She was one of them.
I would sail a boat on dry land for her.
We were three months in. If I ever discounted my earlier love for her when I was a child because of my age, I definitely loved her now. It permeated every fiber of my being. I took school deadly seriously, thinking that school was my foundation to build the best possible life for her. And while she never said the words, I felt loved. She gave me strength, passion, a reason for living. And her love was all I needed to take on the world.
And then it all ended.
“We decided that we should just be friends,” though I don’t remember being present when that decision was made.
And then it all turned to shit.
She dated one of my friends.
If I could have, I would have painted rainbows black, burned all the roses, and torn the blue skies.
That was the second time in my life when I wanted to die.
But I adjusted. Life gave me lemons, so I sliced them open and rubbed them over my wounds until I got used to the pain.
Months later, her relationship with my friend fell apart, so she called me. We met. It was romantic. It was physical. It was short-lived. She met someone else. Moved away with him. Moved back. I don’ know. We’d meet on odd occurrences. I’d try to make something happen. I’d fail. Despite giving her my number on several occasions, she’d never call me. Sometime, around 2000, I had found out that she was sick and in the hospital. I dropped off a Happy Birthday card and a Get Well card, hoping she would call. She never did.
I cut her loose. That was six years ago, but I only consciously stopped remembering her birthday about two.
Life goes on.
Life went on.
I still thought about her. Quite often, really. More vindictively than fondly, though.
As fate would have it, I found her online. More out of novelty than anything else, I contacted her. She replied, briefly catching me up on her life. She’s single. She has a 4 year-old daughter.
I shot off a couple more e-mails and no response from her. It was a microcosm of our relationship thus far. Realizing that, I stopped contacting her, feeling foolish for having done so to begin with.
Months go by.
Months went by.
Then out of the blue, she contacts me this week. She fills me in on her current troubles, explaining why she’s been so silent, both recently and over the years. Her reasons are very good. I will do her the small courtesy of not broadcasting the details of her dire straits, but just know that they are long, jagged, and treacherous to negotiate. She says we can meet if I want.
Since I was going to be in her town, visiting The G-Man, I asked if we could meet then. She suggested we have coffee in the morning. I agreed. Knowing that I’d have to get up preternaturally early to get to the coffee place on time, I tried to go to bed early. I tossed and turned until 2:30 am. I admit it, I was excited.
She texts me the next morning to cancel. Her kid is sick. To be sure, I was disappointed, but I went about my day and hung out with The G-Man. During the get together, sometime in the evening, I stepped out onto the balcony to give her a call and check up on her. My intention was to let her know that if she needed anything or if she wanted me to come by, I would. I’d leave that very second. Unfortunately, I get shitty reception at The G-Man’s place and my phone battery has about a five minute talk-time. Moreover, I’m talking to her and I’m saying the words of my lead in when I realize we don’t have the foundation between us for me to be so compassionate, but it’s too late, because I’ve already said my lead in. So since I couldn’t move forward, we got sucked into this vacuum of silence. I ended up saying, “I don’t know why I just said that.”
She obviously picked up on where I was going, because she replied, “You can come over if you want (static, static) plans tonight.”
I don’t know if she said, “but you can’t stay long, because I have plans tonight” or “but I don’t want to ruin your plans tonight.” I wanted to ask, but then realized my phone could drop dead any second and she’d think I hung up on her. Since her number is on my phone, there’d be no way for me to call her back until I recharged. So I just asked if we could talk about it later and hung up. I left my phone on.
Hours later, I find text messages from her, spaced about an hour apart from each other, each one sounding more lonely and pathetic than the last. Worried, I call her on The G-Man’s brother’s phone to sort it all out.
I explain to her why I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I’d come over if she wanted me to. I explain my thinking on the lack of foundation between us; how we don’t know if/how we fit into each other’s lives. I tell her I didn’t want to come off creepy. Time, after all, is a gigantic barrier.
After a pregnant pause, she tenderly replied, “I know you, René.”
How could she just say that to me, melt through years of separation, tear through all my defense mechanisms, and gaze plainly at my exposed soul? I felt an immense pressure in my chest, like something grabbed a hold of my heart. It was her: a 17 year-old girl, reaching across time and space to bring me back to her. In that moment, I felt that if I could just will it hard enough, I could blink and the nightmare of my life would dissolve and I’d find myself in her arms, leaning against my Toyota Camry, with the sunset streaking through her hair. She’d be looking intently at me, wondering where in my head I’d lost myself.
But I couldn’t.
My nightmare is real.
We made plans to meet for lunch. I had two days to kill before then. So, as a nice homage to old times, I met up with The Mormon to make another recording. This time, we put it on CD. It took us about eight hours to get the thing engineered, but when we finished, it was a work of art.
What were my intentions? None, really. Did I expect something of a sexual or romantic nature? Of course not, but while I decided I wouldn’t steer anything in that direction, I wasn’t pre-opposed to it happening naturally, either.
Well, as much as I tried to delay leaving for the restaurant, I still ended up arriving early. I sat in my car for a little bit and then leaned against the wall of the restaurant, looking very James Dean-ish, if I do say so myself. She pulled up on time in a silver CR-V while I tried to control the beating of my heart.
Everything went downhill from there: The Beginning.
Ever since the phone call on the balcony, if there was one thing I wanted to do when I finally saw her, it was hug her. Not just hug her, but envelope her in my arms, let her know that I was really there for her and that my compassion and friendship were just as solid.
So she approached and I gazed at her, trying to lock eyes so that the music could swell around us, but she preemptively moved in for a hug and I guess I didn’t react fast enough, because she pulled back almost immediately and made a face that said, “Fine. Whatever.”
I salvaged the situation by pulling her in for a two-arm hug. She gave me a one-arm hug with a little pat on the back.
I won’t bother you with the details of the lunch, because to write them would only bore you as much as the real events bored me. Suffice to say, we do not jell as people and I said as much to her. To illustrate: because I’m a charming man and because I want to make a connection with her on as many levels as possible, I extended my hand, palm up, across the table so that she could place hers in mine. She did so and I cupped it with my other hand. In this manner we talked while I played with her knuckles. We got to a point where she made some comments that seemed contradictory to earlier statements and I called her on it. I jokingly repeated her earlier comments in an exaggerated affectation of her voice, which is just my way.
She shit a chicken.
She violently yanked her hand out of mine and crossed her arms, asking if that was how I thought she really sounded and how dare I mock her voice and her earlier comments. I simply sat with mouth agape while she bent my ear. I clarified to make sure that she was truly offended and then said the only thing that I could say.
“It was not my intention to offend you and I won’t do so in that manner again.”
I couldn’t say I was sorry, because I wasn’t. In fact I was prepared to call it a day, but I gave it one more push and asked, “Should we call it a day or can we get past this?” She begrudgingly agreed to move on, but the conversation had already jumped the shark, so we left a few minutes later.
Outside, I gave her the CD that The Mormon and I had made for her. She affected surprise and opened it up. She saw who it was made by and asked, “Who’s [The Mormon]?”
I was astonished. In years gone by, I never made an audio recording for her without The Mormon. We were a comedic/dramatic duo. Inseparable. You can’t have audio recordings from me and not have The Mormon. She might as well have opened up the CD and asked, “Who’s René?”
I watched her drive away and I was left feeling completely unfulfilled. In any kind of relationship, being able to communicate effectively and satisfactorily is a prime requisite. If you gloss over that fact it will fuck you later on, I guarantee it. People really take conversation for granted, but they don’t realize how much conversation says about you. When I sit down and talk to someone, there are a lot of things I pick up on.
Does this person cut me off while speaking?
Do they make listening noises or appropriate reactions?
Do they make relevant interjections or do they try to steal the conversation away?
Do they follow the story?
If they must interrupt you, are they able to get you back on your train of thought?
And a thousand other tell-tale signs that a person does or does not care about you and what you have to say and how courteous they are. Then, of course, there’s the psychological part of what you say and how you listen to it, but that’s a whole other level, entirely.
The conversation at lunch was very one-sided and mostly about her. When I’m with a girl, I don’t mind talking about her, but there’s only so much I can do to that end. I knew the conversation had slipped into the point of no return when I said, “I like your eyebrows. Do you pluck them?”
The problem here is that throughout the rekindling of our relationship, I was operating on old programming, v1.0. Romantic, Altruistic, Knight in Shining Armor. I allowed it to override the current v9.7b programming. Logical, Fair, Realistic. Granted, it’s my own fault for keeping legacy software installed, but that’s a moot point since I can’t remove it. Subsequent programming was built on v1.0 architecture. It’s integral to who I am. The best I could do was build around it and hope I didn’t leave any holes in the security. Apparently, I did.
The day before lunch, I had asked her why she pulled me back into her life after so many years.
She said, “Because you make me feel special and I wanted to feel special.”
I was offended and touched at the same time. After careful scrutiny, I realize that I should have been neither. I should have just taken the situation as someone needing something from me. She might as well have called asking for money. v9.7b would have cut things off then and there, but v1.0 had infected too much of the programming and I gave her the benefit of the doubt that there was more to it.
And I think that is where she and I fail as people in each other’s lives.
We don’t really exist as people to each other.
To her, I’m a mechanic. When her life breaks down or she goes through a breakup, she comes to me to get fixed. I make her feel great again, restore her self-esteem, and then she’s off and running to the next guy who’ll disappoint her.
To me, she’ll always be that 17 year-old girl, embodying the love that could have saved me.
After too many cigarettes and a good amount of time patching the software, I’ve decided that I will still be there for her in her time of need. But I will only regard her as one person reaching out to another person for help. It was foolish for me to tangle emotions and history into this.
I don’t think we left things very well after lunch, so I don’t expect her to call any time soon.