A short story inspired by the Replacement's song "Nobody"
Inspired by the song "Nobody", Written and Performed by The Replacments
I’d been wanting to come back home for a long time but somehow I knew that I needed a couple of years away to feel right about myself before I could ever again show my face in a place that had made me feel so wrong. As I pulled into town I felt a certain satisfaction, having left 4 years before branded as “nobody” and coming back not a winner but at least "somebody"...somebody clearly unrecognizable, at least on the inside, to anyone who might bother to look.
To say I had not been back in 4 years isn’t really accurate. I should say that I hadn’t been back for more then a couple of days at a time in over 4 years. I visited my parents at holidays and in the summer but I tried to keep a low profile when I was in town, even when I knew old friends were just a short drive or phone call away. Truth be told I missed them, and I suspected they missed me too. I just wasn’t ready to sit around tables, revisiting the past, littered equally with mistakes and laughs.
I got to my parent’s house before either of them got home from work. I was glad because it made the surprise a little greater. They knew I was coming but they had no idea I was coming back to stay; to live and work in the area, to find my first post-college job, an apartment, and begin another chapter in my life. They thought I was coming for a week or two and then going back to Arizona to finish my degree. They didn’t know I’d already finished, a semester early, and was placing my degree on the mantel so they could see it when they got home from their jobs. I was pleased with myself, though I knew they would have come to Tempe if they knew the score. They would have insisted on a cap and gown, a cake, and a dinner. A part of me felt bad about keeping them in the dark because they had, after all, paid for half of that degree. Then again, I’d paid the other half, done the academic work, and run myself ragged my final two semesters to get out early. I knew the degree would be enough and the details of my future plans would please them.
I called my old friend Stacy on my second night in town. She was stunned but delighted and within minutes on the phone she’d already made the plans. She and I and any other old friends she could gather would meet at Time Out and have a grand old time. And it was grand. Timmy, Mike, Alison, Jen, and me all sitting around and getting reacquainted. Beth was missing. I figured the closure between she and I would never come, or perhaps it already had, only I missed out on the whole thing. I suspected she and I would probably talk eventually, I just didn’t know when. But I never guessed my simple question about her would open up such a gooey can of worms.
“Okay,” I said. “We don’t have to dance around this. How is Beth these days?”
The table fell silent and I knew instantly that everyone but me was in on some kind of secret.
“Funny you should ask,” Stacy said.
“Why is that?” I asked, suspicious of the answer but not really concerned.
“She’s getting married,” Alison said.
My eyebrows perked up. This was news.
“No kidding,” I said. “To who?”
“You remember Josh Moran?” Timmy asked.
“Fuck you,” I said, not believing it for a second.
“It’s true,” Mike said.
“She hated that prick. We all hated that prick.”
“Not anymore,” Stacy said.
They explained the whole thing. Beth went to the local junior college for two years before transferring to San Francisco State. Her first day on campus she runs into Josh, a guy who two years before wouldn’t have given her the time of day and she, in turn, wouldn’t have asked him for the time in the first place. Josh remembered her and, according to all reports, was much friendlier then he’d ever been in high school. It didn’t take me long to connect the rest of the dots.
“So when is the wedding?” I asked.
“Manana,” Timmy said.
“That’s tomorrow,” Jen said.
“I spent four years in Arizona,” I reminder her. “But thanks for the translation.”
It was Jen who pitched me the idea a few hours later as our little party was breaking up.
“Do you want to go?” she asked.
“To the wedding,” she said.
“I wasn’t invited,” I said.
“I was,” Jen said. “And Stacy too.”
“Well Stacy is taking Mike and I was going to take my boyfriend but he had to go to L.A. on business. The inivation still says Jen Zelich and guest. Why don’t you come with me?”
“I don’t want to cause a scene,” I said.
Jen smirked and shook her head.
“Wow. Seems to me I remember a kid used that used to love to make a scene.”
“Times change,” I said.
“And so have you,” she added.
“Yeah,” I said. “At least a little.”
I admit it. I was stunned. I put on a good game face for my friends but later that night, back at my parents’ house rummaging through yearbooks and old pictures I was a rapidly unraveling ball of confusion.
I had dated Beth all through high school. And I loved her to the point of insanity. I was a teenager and in a world that seemed to never make sense, Beth was the one thing that was clear and easy. And for a long time we were good together. And then, somewhere in the middle of the 11th grade things started to change. We both knew it, but having already been together 2 and half years, a near eternity in adolescent years, neither of us had the heart to really talk about it, let alone break up. If there was any kind of turning point it was probably when she started thinking about the future. The distant future, rather then just the "two days from now" variety I liked to think of. When we graduated she knew she wanted to go to junior college and eventually go to a real college or university. All I knew was that I wanted to travel. And I wanted to be with her.
When I asked her to marry me she thought I was kidding. I wasn’t.
“No way,” she said, with a belly laugh to follow.
When it became clearer to her that I wasn’t kidding around it seemed to serve as a catalyst for a long overdue conversation that included all kinds of talk about the future, about goals, and what she really wanted out of life. Somewhere in the midst of it all she said that, at times, she felt like I was holding her back; that if she hadn’t been with me all that time that perhaps she would have studied harder and be going the four year college route instead of a lesser school. Maybe she would have had more experiences and met more people.
“Some of us have to work Andy,” she said. “I mean, you coast write on by and you bring home some B’s and C’s and your mom and dad are happy just to see you graduate.”
What started out as a conversation about me taking a year off, and trying to convince her to do the same, suddenly erupted into a side of her I had never seen.
“I guess I’m just realizing that I’ve missed so much all these years. It’s like this whole time I missed our on a perfectly normal world that everybody else lives in, just so I could ride along on the fringes with you and Stacy and Jen and everyone…with all of us trying to act like we’re above it all when really I felt jealous.”
I accused her of being ridiculous. Of being afraid. I told her I found it sad that as four years of high school were coming to a close and she still didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin and was looking for a popularity badge as some kind of reassurance.
The whole thing got ugly fast. She told me I was not half as special as I thought I was and that, in reality, I was “a nobody trying desperately hard to act like someone special”. Nobody. I remembered the term and the quote perfectly because it rang in my head over and over for about two years. I thought of it while I was packing for a train ride to Colorado. I was still angry about it on a Greyhound to Arizona. I thought that maybe she was right when I signed up for classes at the junior college in Tempe. I had mostly forgotten about when I got accepted to the University a year later. And when I pulled back into town, two days before her wedding, I thought to myself that it didn’t matter who was right. It didn’t matter who I was then. But I knew that I wanted to see her. I didn’t know if I wanted to be her friend, her enemy, the love of her life, or just one more awkward conversation before turning into a memory.
I picked up the phone and called Jen.
“Do you still need a date for tomorrow?” I asked.
“I knew it! I knew you couldn’t resist it Andy.”
“Well, I guess I am a little curious.”
“She’ll freak,” Jen said. “She will absolutely freak.”
It wasn’t until the car ride to chapel that I began to wonder why Jen, who was obviously still close enough to Beth to get a wedding invite, seemed so jazzed about the whole scenario of “The Ex-Boyfriend at the Wedding”.
“Because she pisses me off,” Jen said.
“She’s just kind of…let’s just say she has changed and not really for the best. And Josh is such an asshole,” she added.
I couldn’t disagree, although I hadn’t seen the guy in 4 years. Josh Moran had always been a popular kid. Not ultra-popular but he hung out with a circle of friends that seemed to hold me and my friends, Beth included, in pretty low esteem. Hearing that Beth was going to marry him, of all people, had sparked my curiosity even more. A part of me truly needed to see it to believe it.
“Originally I was supposed to be a bride’s maid,” Jen said. “But then I had the audacity to ask her if she was sure about Josh and the whole thing just exploded into a stupid falling out. We’ve made up since then but she said she didn’t feel comfortable with me in the wedding party since she knows I don’t like Josh.”
“And you should know that your name came up in that conversation…”
“Oh really? When was this?”
“About 4 months ago,” Jen said. “It started when I told her that it always seemed like Josh was trying to ‘correct’ her. Not so much in a mean way, but just little things. And you know me…'Little Miss Blunt'…I told her that she would be better off with someone that accepts her as she is…and she got really mad when I told her I liked her better when she was with you.”
I cringed at the thought of the conversation between the two of them.
“And she said had no idea who she was back then and what not. But of course she couldn’t help asking if anyone had heard from you.”
Jen turned from the passenger seat and looked at me directly. I kept one eye on the road and looked over at her.
“Should I be telling you this?” she asked.
“Probably not,” I said.
“Are we the two worst people on earth for doing this?”
“Probably,” I said. “But it’s cool Jen. If it’s weird we’ll just leave. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. I just want to witness it. I want to see her marry this guy and be able to say either ‘What a fool’ or ‘Wow, she’s changed too’.”
We pulled into the church parking lot.
“Ready to turn a few heads?” Jen asked.
“I don’t think anyone will even remember me,” I said.
“And her parents,” I said.
“And maybe the groom,” Jen said. “And a handful of the guests too. We’re going to hell for this, huh?”
I took her arm and smiled.
“Well, I don’t know about hell but I’ve been through the desert a couple times and I can handle the heat if you can.”
There were definitely some double takes from people as we sat down. We were seated near the aisle and I insisted Jen let me set to the right of her, one in from the aisle. As the crowd waited I saw a few eyeballs spying me and even a pointed finger followed by a huddled whisper.
I recognized about half the groomsmen from high school. Josh appeared a little while later, looking no more or less aged then any of the rest of us and basically the same as he always had: handsome, poised, and confident. Same cocky smile. I wasn’t so much jealous as I was puzzled. I knew, or at least thought I knew, just about everything about Beth. If she was at all the same person I’d known it was easy to understand how someone, even someone as obnoxious as Josh Moran, could fall in love with her if they just took the time to get to know her.
“How did he propose?” I whispered over to Jen.
“He took her up to Napa for a weekend and did it over dinner at a restaurant.”
“Is he still a prick?” I asked.
“Pretty much. More mature now, thank God, but still kind of a snob. They usually socialize with his friends and co-workers. Not so much with us anymore.”
The wedding march began a short time later and the flower girls made their way down, followed by Beth’s side of the wedding party and then, accompanied by her father, Beth herself. She looked really good, though I couldn’t see her face under the wedding veil. She was eyeing side to side as she made her way down the aisel, smiling at friends and relatives. From across the aisle I could see Stacy and Mike moving their eyes like they were playing Pong, first to me, then to Beth, then back to me, then waiting to see how Beth might react if she saw me.
She was almost past me and Jen without incident until, at the last second before she moved beyond us, she turned her eyes to Jen, smiled instinctively, and kept her smile for whoever Jen’s date was, someone she didn’t know. And then, of course, she realized she did know. For a split second there was a moment, one of shock, panic, or fear that lasted about half a second but felt like a slow motion shot. It was one of recognition. Her face lost it’s smile for a beat or two and then instinct brought it back. But there was no mistaking it. She saw me as I saw her. We saw each other, with her cheeks, eyes and jaw saying, “What are you doing here?” while my expression read a message of “Remember me?” And then that was it. Her eyes were off to the next person, then focused on Josh, the minister, and the ceremony at hand. Within 30 minutes they were husband and wife and I was nothing more then the ex-boyfriend in the 11th row, one seat in from the aisle.
The reception was held in the recreation room of the church where the wedding was held. Jen and I walked in and found our seating assignment. Thankfully, our table was far from the wedding party.
“Having fun?” Stacy asked as we sat down at the table.
“So far,” I said.
“It was a nice ceremony,” Alison commented.
“Yes, it was,” I said.
Their eyes were all on me, waiting for me to react in some particular way. I didn’t know what they were expecting. Did they want me to make a scene, to try and stop a wedding that had already happened?
“Did she see you?” Mike asked.
“Just for a second.”
“And nothing,” I said. “She looked surprised for about a half second and then she put her game face back on.”
Jen grabbed my arm and pointed to the other end of the room.
“The receiving line,” she said. “Do you want to go through?”
“Isn’t that the standard thing to do?” I asked, offering my arm.
The first person I shook hands with that I knew was her father. He had never been really crazy about me but I didn’t have any fears of being thrown out or anything.
“Andy,” he said cooly, neither pleasant or rudely. “Long time no see.”
“It’s good to see you Mr. Williams. Congratulations.”
Beth’s mother was next.
“My goodness,” she said, giving me a hug. “Andy Carver. I thought you’d fallen off the face of the planet.”
She, unlike Mr. Williams, had always liked me.
“Not the face of the planet,” I said. “Just Arizona.”
“Well it’s good to see you,” she said.
Things were going smoothly. When I came to Josh, the groom, I felt my heart rate begin to rise.
“Congratulations,” I said quickly, shaking his hand.
He gave me an odd look and I could see him flipping through the cards of his memory's Rolodex, and when he stopped on the one labeled “Andrew Carver, Ex High School Sweetheart of Beth”, his face was taken over by a far less pleasant smile.
“Thank you,” he said, almost whispering it.
Beth was next, with Jen one step ahead of me in line. They hugged each other and were all smiles.
It was my turn.
“Congratulations Beth,” I said, giving her a light hug, just close enough to whisper in her ear. “I mean it.”
“Why are you here?” she whispered, never removing the smile from her face.
“I just got back,” I said quietly. “I had no idea.”
She looked over at the rest of the line to my left.
“I’m very happy for you,” I said, then moved down the line.
Jen immediately pulled me over to a corner.
“What did she say to you?” she asked.
“She just asked what I was doing here,” I said.
“Well…that’s nicer then what she whispered to me.”
“What did she say?”
“She whispered to me…and I quote…’Get him out of here’.”
“How rude,” I said.
Jen nodded in agreement.
“Well, it’s her wedding, We should obey her wishes.”
“And miss the free chicken and drinks?” Jen asked.
“Yes,” I said. "I'll buy you dinner."
“Okay,” Jen said. “But I’m going to run to the bathroom, okay?”
She was gone a few minutes before I headed toward the men’s room myself. It was in the corridor just around the corner from the bathrooms that it all went down. Jen was coming out and Beth was headed in. And I heard everything.
“How could you bring him here?” Beth said angrily.
“I didn’t think it would upset you,” Jen said.
She was lying and I knew it.
“Well it has. So please…make a graceful exit, okay?”
“We’re on our way as soon as soon as I can find him.”
I walked out to where they could see me.
“You don’t have to look, I’m here.”
I motioned to the exit and Jen began to leave.
“I’ll meet you in the lobby,” I said.
Jen looked surprised but walked away as requested.
“I meant what I said. I’m happy for you.”
“Thank you,” Beth said. “Now please go.”
“Okay,” I said and I started to walk out.
“Where have you been?” she called.
“It’s a long story and I don’t want to keep you from…anything,” I said.
“Someone said Arizona,” she said.
“So you got back into town and decided to crash my wedding?”
“I’m not trying to crash anything,” I said. “Jen and Stacy told me, Jen invited me, and quite frankly I wanted to see it…to believe it.”
“So you’d ruin my day over your curiosity?”
“I didn’t know I was ruining anything.”
“Give me a break Andy. You came here to cause a scene. Or to hurt me. Or both.”
“That’s not true. If I wanted to make a scene I’d have done it by now.”
“Is that a threat?” she asked.
“No. I’m just saying.”
“You’re such a jerk,” she said.
“Well that’s a step up from the last thing you called me,” I said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” I said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m leaving now and you can go begin your…marriage.”
“Don’t,” she ordered.
“Say ‘marriage’ like you think it’s not for real. Just because you don’t like Josh or you’re jealous or…”
“I’m not jealous. Go back to your reception Beth,” I said. “People are going to get worried.”
“Please. You were always jealous of guys like Josh. So you’d pick on them or act like you were cooler then they were when really you wanted to be like them. Well, grow up Andy. Okay?”
I shook my head but smiled.
I began to walk out but I called back to her.
“You don’t remember what you called me, do you?”
“Does it matter?”
“Not anymore,” I said.
Jen was waiting in the lobby.
“How did that go?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said.
We were almost out the door when Jen motioned to a table by the entrance.
“We never signed their guest book,” Jen said.
“Why bother?” I asked.
“Oh come on,” Jen pleaded. “She needs to always remember you were here."
I shrugged my shoulders, walked over the table, and grabbed the pen. On the very last page, under the column labeled “NAME”, I printed out in capitol letters: