A survey of some very important people in my life.
| The past is a silk wish, something fine and delicate and ultimately fleeting. I am writing of my own because I often have trouble believing that God or coincidence can conspire so well and so consistently to make me look like a fool. I have been regarded as stubborn, kind, impatient, and have also suffered allegations of being called a romantic. Keeping these in mind, it is only fitting that, like most accounts of fools and relationships, this one necessarily begins with a dance.
When my friend Brian called me on the phone, the panic in his voice was undeniable and comedic. He had been charged with finding dates for five or six girls to their own high school prom; the stressful onus placed on him resulted in our group of friends escorting dates, each with distinct variations in awkwardness. My girl, who was about as visibly disinterested in me as possible, dated Brian a few months afterwards. It was on this night, however, that I first saw Julia, a happy girl who appeared unaware of her equally happy boyfriend.
The summer following that prom was the first time I had ever split willingly with someone. As I had characteristically been on the receiving end of break-ups, I was unfamiliar with the protocol of letting someone go. Kindly and politely, I asked the girl if it wouldn’t be too much trouble and if she wouldn’t mind ceasing to be my girlfriend. Our gang started hanging out with the new girls of the prom, I was ready to test the waters, and Julia had kicked her beau to the curb.
My crush on her grew out of fascination rather than some predestined sense of completeness. Her eyes, I’m fairly sure, were brown and unremarkable; they were, though, consistently wide and when this coupled with her broad smile, her entire face conveyed an enthusiastic welcome. All of us spent nights in a friend’s basement, and this facilitated close conversations, drawn out glances, and jolting at not-so-unintentional physical contact. As the summer progressed and ended, so did my patience. I proceeded to “man-up” by asking my friends to ask her friends if she had asked them about me. She had not, but at least there was a murmuring that she might have thought I was cute. On a late September day I put the question to her if she wanted to be my girlfriend, and the response she typed online made me quite relieved.
The relationship was typical in most aspects in that we were both balancing our school year, our extracurricular activities, and trying to find secluded moments absent of restraint and parents. Every odd weekend she spent hours with a religious organization that I had never heard of until I had met her; it seemed strange that she could never really explain what she did there, but we did go out to get ice cream frequently. The fall was replete with proud instances devoid of shame. Brian and I had decided that we were not too old to go trick or treating, regardless of what our girlfriends thought. Julia said that if we truly did want to trick or treat, we might as well try her affluent Northwest, D.C. neighborhood. I can’t remember what Brian dressed up as, but he made it hard for me to forget my costume. After borrowing a suit with bowler hat from my father’s closet and taping a strip of electrical tape to my upper lip, I believed that I was a dead ringer for Charlie Chaplin. Brian didn’t think this was the case and started proclaiming in Julia’s foyer that I looked like Hitler more than anything else. Brian forgot that Julia’s mother was Jewish. In fact, the only person in the neighborhood that night whom he didn’t ask, “Doesn’t he look like Hitler?” was the butler of the Mexican embassy, a serene man who was slightly incredulous at these teenagers accepting full-length candy bars.
My homecoming dance occurred around this time too. I recount this dance because, more than anything else, it illustrates what an eager and willing fool I can be. The dinner? Overpaid and underfed. The company? Friendly yet strained at times. But the dance itself? Purely kinetic. Chaperones sifting towards the doors, dresses and suits mashing together into cascades of sweat, and sex in the bleachers: it was all things Catholic school. A large part of the evening was spent grinding and sliding near the center of the floor; we kissed relentlessly. I only felt embarrassed the next school day when a teacher of mine cheekily remarked, “Evidently, someone was having quite a good time at the dance,” but even this was not enough to break my behavioral stride.
Perhaps nothing is more representative of the time with Julia than that strange December. Her religious group was throwing a Christmas party which, according to her, was always a “blast.” I knew it would have been a fun excuse to see her, but I felt it best to keep our worlds out of each other’s orbit. Upon hearing that her ex would be there, in addition to many other great, fun guys, I decided that my presence ought to be a heavy one.
The small gathering was horribly strained; I couldn’t go several minutes without making eye contact with an equally aimless acolyte. Julia introduced me to the thirty year old leaders who had chosen to dedicate their weekend nights to the vibrant, genuine youth; they were all vanilla and as hollow as drums. After brief refreshments, everyone was called to the front of the meeting room where an overhead projector screen was ready. I tried to sit close to her, but she held me at bay with placating care. Her eyes closed in sequence with the dimming of the lights. One of the leaders played a CD to accompany the New Age pseudo-psalms written on the transparencies. It seemed that their “praise Him’s” and “carry me’s” could have been earnest, but the red bell-bottoms I had on really prevented seriousness of any kind on my part.
After their tears had dried and my roast beef sandwich had settled, another leader brought out his DJ kit; at its core, her group served as a venue for social exploits. The DJ played mostly disco and Christmas music, but at one point, he selected the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.” Julia and I took up twisting positions, arms length away while our feet wretched and pivoted. For about a minute we did our thing when a leader approached us from our flank and, with hands clapped together, plowed through us in a dividing motion. He said, “Leave room for the Holy Spirit,” causing Julia to smile and me to fume at this bloated Moses.
Two or three weeks later I was to hold a Super Bowl party at my house. Julia had been on a long ski trip with her religious group. Before she left, she came to say goodbye at my house; we kissed once, genuinely so, and I said I’d see her later. On the day of the party I was a little concerned since she had come back the previous morning and not gotten in touch with me. Early in the evening I went online; I didn’t wait to talk to her and received replies of cordial nothingness. My stomach sensed that something was not right long before my brain did so I asked her if everything was fine between us. There was a pause in the conversation, and she then said, “I’m sorry…I should have told you earlier.” I signed off immediately and retreated to my basement where Brian and another friend were shooting pool. I paced around the table for maybe ten minutes, trying to avoid the jutting cues and a hounding imagination.
Returning upstairs to sign back on, I found an email waiting for me. The near two pages of text extolled all of the great reasons why I would make someone else happy. She felt that during our time together, her relationship with Jesus had taken a regrettable back seat in her life. Evidently, she said she had to “grow more in Him.” The email I responded with was not understanding. I went downstairs and informed my friends of what had just transpired. Initially they thought I must have been joking, but they realized this really was the omega. Brian, half-laughing, asked me what I said to her; I told him that I wrote, “Looks like I lost to the better man.” Of course, the party was cancelled, and I can’t recall the game at all.
College happened. Overwhelming freedom happened. A “serious” relationship, born out of defeat and ballasted by constancy, happened. And a knock on the door that convinced me two years dating would be too long happened. It’s difficult for me to find exquisite facets to our first encounter. The three of them were hyper-neighborly, primarily for the shock value, I’m sure. They introduced themselves, Jane on the right and smiling while the other two affirmed that they’d be seeing me around. I pictured her as the girl without fault from the nation of next-door.
The first semester of junior year I shied away since my crush appeared enormous and blatant. Whether at football games or in academic halls, I learned that Jane remained untouched by the rubble dust left by my discouraging failures. Even when I witnessed her walking out of an elevator so stoned that her face blazed like one hundred small, immolated hills, I could invent an adequate justification for the action. Our interactions for the second semester increased and were surprisingly incidental. I had been given advance screening movie passes, and after one of her roommates had said she couldn’t go, I offered her the ticket which she eagerly accepted. To make the outing entirely clichéd, I recommended that we get dinner out; this suited her as well.
We discussed the standard areas of life but didn’t get to any fundamental essences of person. The evening processed quickly, faster than I would have liked, and when we were walking out of the theater, I was already planning how I would say goodnight. Hug? Kiss? The precarious lean-in? Once we arrived at the dorm, a significant tension murmured our speech while the situation became apparent. Reaching her door, I panicked and gave her the peace sign. This might not have been an inexplicable mistake had I not heard her roommates yell through the door, “You’re back! How was the date?” as I returned to my room.
It took six months for me to put my hat in the ring, possibly because so many opportunities were too chaotic or too contrived. Could she have honestly believed that my art history and Spanish finals were so daunting that I needed to spend an egregious number of hours in a study lounge which I knew she frequented? When she and her three best friends cooked me a surprise birthday dinner, what kind of good host would I have been if I ruined the celebration with my personal plight? If she was involved with something, an unspoken necessity mandated that the something could never be solid or predictable. I couldn’t have planned drinking in a pool at midnight and discussing the impossibilities of Jane with her best friend who was leasing a room in the house of an offshoot cult of Jehovah’s witnesses where also a Uranium miner (kicked out of his mansion during divorce proceedings with his wife) came out to openly discuss the South American model siphoning him of money, but I feel like I couldn’t have avoided it either.
I relented to be upfront with her only because two more botches provided the non-gentle catalyst I needed. The first offered a variety of reasons to drop out of a date she had promised, and the second one bonded with me so quickly that I wagered this could be no mere act of friendship. Instead, it was the earnest half of a pendulum swing associated with a bipolar disorder. I mention these errors in judgment to highlight my shrewd foresight: not only did they turn out to be good friends with each other, but both of them had extremely close friendships with Jane.
Although my college’s homecoming dance had probably existed for many autumns, its last chance nature focused my efforts. I harmonized my most overt traits, confidence and stupidity, into a helical action that would indicate whether or not I was to be privileged with hope. Because she enjoyed 80’s movies above all else, I dressed up as John Cusack from his infamously melodramatic scene in Say Anything. With the help of her roommate, I found her window (during an hour in which I figured a minimal amount of pedestrians would be returning from class), held up a truly derelict sign with “Homecoming?” written on it, and text-messaged her to look outside. The response was a swift, emphatic yes, and it was the first time in a long time that I believed I had made a person’s day.
The interim between my request and the night of the dance was filled by a disappointing, unsurprising silence. Aside from questions concerning times and pre-parties, she didn’t speak to me. When the moment came for me to pick her up, invariable sweat was peeking through my shirt despite direct orders to do no such thing. There is no need to describe seeing her in a Jazz era, black dress: with these situations the beauties are typically staggering while the suit-wearing duds are less than inspiring. On our way to the pre-party, she asked me repeatedly about the details of the event in a semi-veiled manner to make sure that there would be booze and, yes, other people there.
At the party, strangers became good friends and good friends became even better. A hometown friend, Eric, was such a welcome sight that I really didn’t mind his excited introductions of her to haphazard partiers as “this is Ryan’s girl” or that he called her “Dane” the entire night. For a few minutes she talked with an underdressed underclassman, an ogre who had just as much place at the party as he had in my life. She and I drank shots, beer, and took more shots to stabilize our limbs for when we’d eventually get around to the main attraction. I was unaware of what I was saying, and I’m positive she had no idea what she was doing because she slipped her arm in mine as she slipped in and out of conversations.
Fate and the college police allowed us through sobriety checkpoints and metal detectors despite Jane’s insistence that I should leave my gun behind. We ran towards the tented pavilion where the crowds sloughed off of empty space, imploding into the surrounding dancers. Every minute of every hour we danced, except for the five minute interlude of Eric, our friend Nick, and I rushing to the bathroom coincidentally at the same time. I wondered why the DJ chose not to play a slow song for the last song, but then understood that the pressing issue was to find ways to prolong the night. We agreed to get food since we were already sobering up. Over day old chicken fingers she complained that her friendships didn’t feel all that meaningful and that (“I hope I’m not being weird...”) she couldn’t find much importance in the friends she had. Somehow, the topic of dating came up and she revealed a passing interest in “that guy at the party” whom she talked to but didn’t think it was anything special. I automated and declared that her friend, one of my prior botches, was a current interest; most likely, the truth would have been off-putting. Soon thereafter I escorted her to her room, and we wished one another a goodnight. A majority of people, when asked afterwards about their homecoming experience, criticized it and cited the chilling cold of that night, but it was not something I could have related with.
Although she thanked me several times for taking her, communication lines went quiet and, aside from assembling a personalized birthday gift of low priced baubles, my contact with her waned. Overcome by a creeping urgency prevalent in all seniors, the need for my Alamo had arisen. On a random day at what I hoped was a random quarter past four, I called her and asked if she wanted to go out sometime, to which she said yes without much hesitation.
Later we solidified what time she would be ready in addition to the appropriate dress code. I was to take her to a nice (but not too nice) restaurant that I had never seen and was recommend by a three dollar-sign rating on Yahoo. I dressed in business casual, a fitting irony since I loathe business and with an open cuff due to a missing button, one can be nothing but casual. When I picked her up, she looked great and this time I told her so; she said thanks, but I received nothing in the reciprocal.
En route to the restaurant we said very little, but I piqued her interest with the mention of “…very good martinis, supposedly.” As we arrived in the downtown area where the bistro was, a lone trumpeter cajoled sweet holiday music that bounced off the empty brick plazas; it was unmistakably intimate, and we knew this. We turned left at a notable landmark, excused ourselves from a homeless woman, and became lost going down streets with dying bars. Both of us, myself more noticeably, were getting frustrated, but a last ditch street proved to be correct. Walking beside the bistro’s outer wall, I could feel its mellow perfection before we had even entered and, once we did, a hostess greeted us for our seven o’clock reservation that was only one minute old.
We were shown to our table, and I removed her coat while trying to place it on the chair which I was simultaneously dragging out for her. The tables around us were empty, creating an insular amphitheater in which older and more pathetic couples sat in clumps along the periphery. Our red clay candle bowed and arched against a nonexistent wind. We ordered martinis and I looked at her in lucid disbelief: a dream was before me. In the next two hours, we discussed so much about friends, books, dating, and vampires that we felt exhausted. The distant tables erupted with the exclamations of the least sober person present while spouses tried to douse the fun, and friends egged the loudmouth on; Jane and I would look at each other cockeyed, trying to stifle our own laughter.
Whatever was attained, whatever transient bond that had been transfixed between us, had to do with a shared sense of humor. On our way out of the restaurant, a limousine was waiting at the end of a side street. We signaled the limo with confused gestures that questioned why we weren’t worthy enough to enlist its services without paying. The homeless lady hadn’t moved since the previous encounter, but there was no second request. The ride back was predominantly silent. As I finally accompanied Jane to her door, I hugged her and stuttered out, “Would you want to go out another time when the next semester starts?” She responded with, “Yeah…I think I’d like that.” I walked away only to run down her building’s stairs, breaking through a frigid, New England night that could only regard my heat and happiness as unfamiliar.
Over winter break and two weeks of the new semester, I kept up cursory contact so as to maintain a sensible balance in relations. Under the flimsy pretense of buying an academic book from her, I went to her room, greeted her, and got updated on vacation stories. On my way out, I asked her if she still wanted to go out; she looked somewhat surprised, saying, “Yeah…I’ll give you a call.” But that was the last time we ever talked. I’m not sure if there was a specific cause for this, but it was affirmed when she ceased to dignify me in public. I think she might have collapsed into her own world, or at least into a rootless society that equates detachment with free thought or independence. By my record, she still owes me a rejection.
I have sought explanations since ending ties with the aforementioned “people,” and the results were often confusing or infuriating. To a degree, and I admit it may be an unimpressive one, these recent months have allowed me to see beyond my own pettiness. It is not through my doing but that of a girl who became close to me and whom I associate with unconditional kindness. My propensity has always been towards possessiveness so I am choosing not to use her name; accounts like this can belittle both the subjects and the writer, and I’d rather limit her involvement in this muck.
Her entrance into my life was neither expected nor understandable. I figured that she would be a passing phantom, and I would not see her after an initial meeting. Until late February this held true. A mutual friend invited me to come out with them to go party hopping; my boredom and desire for free beer trumped what I guessed would be an empty night. Nothing was happening, however, as the police were out in force and shutting everything down. Our friend wanted to keep trying in case something came up, but she and I had endured enough fruitless walking. I joined her on the long way back to our dorms, and I asked why I hadn’t seen her around that often. She opened up to me about her personal life, and I wasn’t sure why she enacted this breach of isolation, but I did my best to listen.
Each weekend she made a guarded inquiry asking if I had found anything to do; despite my persistent failing to offer her an option, she would call nonetheless and I began hoping for these calls. I flirted with her unconsciously and incredulously. The real problem, though, was my inability to identify if she was even recognizing my attempts. Whenever I would shift closer to her, she wouldn’t move away and then, as if her body was catching up with an absentminded decency, she’d separate. She was disarmingly pretty and personable: these were perfect criteria to add her to the growing list of the Never Meant To Be’s, not to mention the list would have been garnished with an international flair given the fact that she’s from a considerably foreign country.
To forgo any loopholes in subtlety, I wanted to be blunt; no matter what we would be, she would have to decide it. She had rung, asked to come over, and I cleaned my room and myself to an extent. Yes, she was here against me, but I know I wasn’t there. It wasn’t like I drifted outside of my body; instead, I had never been so hyper-aware of my actions to the point that I was visibly laughing at myself as I asked her, “Would you like it if I kissed you right now?” Her stare at the wall verified my running self-commentary of “Geez, did I really just do that?” and an insistent, negative response especially affirmed this. I didn’t want to intrude any longer and shimmied my arms off of her. Seconds later she apologized and said she didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. She welled up about it; I went into consolation mode and assured her that it was only my idiocy, nothing more.
I was certain that her visits would come to a permanent halt, but soon after this she called again. We chitchatted, but I didn’t know why she was still bothering with me-probably to alert me to the restraining order. But she told me that she wanted to address the other night: all she would say was that she didn’t express her real feelings. I tried to sense if this meant a round two, but she ignored me and continued insisting that she hadn’t been honest. We didn’t stop meeting and didn’t stop going steady; if she was going to trample over me one day, I knew she’d be courteous enough to mind her step.
But this was far from what actually happened. Most of the problems endemic to dating we faced and beat in a matter of weeks. Dilemmas faded into obscurity. I became very caught up in her because of what she took for granted: she expected to hold onto my arm, she demanded that I make time for the guys, and she assumed, of all things, that she was lucky to have me. Her importance was elevating itself each day we were together; I tried my hardest to deserve her. At a French grille I told her that she would be in a story I was going to write; this intended flattery flashed over her but she replied with, “I need to die in it…that way it won’t be boring.”
She waited to fly home until the last possible morning. Our goodbye left me raw; I cried in spasms while I showered, and I’m sure her cab driver would have been inhuman not to feel some sympathy for the beautiful wreck in his back seat. Circumstance had lacerated my reality and left me empty in its wake. If I think about her with enough effort, my mind is overcome by an electric mist, and I am with her. I speak to her on the phone, and sometimes I can catch her unique facial expressions in a word or phrase. She was, without question, the best girl I have ever known. The past is a silk wish, something fine and delicate and ultimately fleeting.