Saturday, March 29, 2008

1521.97 Miles, Part One

There are 1521.97 miles between me and the Wily Republican. There are 1521.97 miles between me and the Wily Republican and it's been two years since we've seen each other. There are 1521.97 miles between me and the Wily Republican and it's been two years since we've seen each other and it's been over three years since we last touched each other in a way that had everything to do with sex. But despite all that space and time--all that distance and perspective--the boy still manages to drive me insane.

A few weeks ago, before spring break, I had a minor crisis. This shouldn't surprise anyone, since this semester has witched my students into strange academic zombies who want to ruin my good time. And I am sick of people ruining my good time. But still my students persist in doing strange things, in thinking strange things, in just being strange. And so it shouldn't come as any shock that one of them decided to ignore common sense and boundaries and follow me home one night so he could leave a note in my mailbox.

I'm not going to go into it--suffice it to say there was a lot of unpleasant nonsense that came along with that--stuff that involved the head of security and, later, the cops--but I will say that in those first few moments after I unfolded that note and read it, I really, really needed the Wily Republican. I didn't need him for comfort or to soothe my panic (I'd already called Amy and the Boy From Work to deal with that), but I did need him to give me advice. He is, after all, a cop. He is an officer of the law. He has experience with these things. He has inside information. I thought he of all people would be able to tell me how to proceed.

So I called him. I got his voicemail. So I called again--the signal for THIS IS SERIOUS SO FREAKING PICK UP YOUR PHONE! I should've known better, though. I knew exactly where he'd been the night before and I knew exactly what state he was likely to be in at the moment of my calling. After all, the night before he'd driven down to our old college to watch the hockey team trounce their opponents. He'd also gone down to move in and out of all his favorite bars, drinking himself into a wreck as he went. And he did a fine job at that. I know because when he told me his plan for that weekend, I'd requested a call. I wanted him to tell me about the hockey game, about the bars, about everything that felt different now that we weren't a part of it. When he called, he was in the middle of his umpteenth gin gimlet, and he sounded just like he used to when he'd call me at all hours of the night: unreasonable and happy. He would pay for that happiness--not to mention all that straight gin--the next morning.

Which is exactly when I called him. I knew he was sleeping it off. I knew he was probably in bad shape--all bleary-eyed and crusty. But I needed him to wake up and talk to me, which is why I insisted on calling again. And then sending a mildly panicked text message.

When he called back a few seconds later, he sounded like death. His voice--gravelly on a normal day--was pure stone. He sounded hard and tired and mean. I had an inkling this was not going to go well. Still, like an idiot, I persisted.

I told him the situation. I told him I was a little freaked out. I told him I wanted to know what I should do. Surely he had some tips, some tricks. Maybe he could tell me about what could be done.

He wanted to know if I was certain which student had done this. I said I had my suspicions. Very reasonable suspicions. And then I wanted to know if there was a way I could find out some more information about this student, about his past. I told the WR that I'd googled this student, just to see what came up, and I found out that he had a record of some sort. I wanted to know if there was some national database the WR, the cop, had access to and if there was any way he'd do me a little favor and find out some more information for me. I wanted to know what I was going up against. I wanted to know if this student was real trouble.

The WR--still sleepy and grumpy--didn't do what I needed him to do in that moment. He didn't fill me with practical information. He didn't try to assure me that it would be okay and that I could do something about all of this. No. What he did do was this: he yelled at me.

"Oh my God!" the Wily Republican said. "People can be so stupid about what cops can or can't do and what we have access to! People assume I have allll this information about everything! This is what happens when you watch too much Law & Order."

Now it might be true that I've been watching an awful lot of Law & Order lately--what can I say? I'm soothed by Lenny Briscoe--but I don't suffer delusions that I'm hip to the inner-workings of the police department or the district attorney's office because of it. That's why I was calling the WR. I was calling him to see, to ask, to wonder. I was calling him for his professional opinion. I was calling him because he was my friend, and I needed him to talk me through something.

And I might've been okay with his rant if it had stopped there. If he needed to get that off his chest because he was in a wretched mood, fine. I could've cut him some slack for being hungover and pissed that he was now awake. But he didn't stop himself there. His rant continued. And he kept talking about all these stupid people and what they assumed he could do and how he was just so sick of it.

And in that moment something in my brain short-circuited. I took the phone away from my ear and stared at it. I couldn't help but thinking that all I'd ever done for the Wily Republican was love him and bend over backward to get his attention, to please him. I baked meatloaves and cookies and cakes for him. I proofread papers. I once even sat through a Christian revival with him after we showed up to an event that was misleadingly advertised. He thought we were going to see Charles Manson's cellmate give a talk about how wickedly disturbed Charles Manson was and what it was like to be locked into a very small room with him for years, but what Charles Manson's cellmate was actually going to talk about was Jesus--finding him, loving him, worshipping him. And we stayed for the whole thing because it was held in a small lecture hall and walking out would've been both horrifying and embarrassing--we would've been forever marked as heathens--which meant that at the end of the session, I stood up and held hands with everyone else there and sang up to Jesus and thanked him for saving Charles Manson's cellmate--and all of us--from wickedness.

I always did whatever the Wily wanted, whenever he wanted it. I was downright dutiful. I came when I was called. And what did he do back? What was easy, what was expected. He did enough to skate by. He did just enough to keep me coming back for more. But now, years after all of that, I figured he could do a little something real for me. He could help me out.

But he was still going on and on about people and how stupid they were and all the strange things they believed he had power over. He'd launched into anecdotal evidence. He hadn't even stopped to take a breath and ask me if I was okay. He didn't want to know how I was feeling, and he was definitely not at all disturbed that one of my students was following me around and putting notes in my mailbox.

I was still holding the phone away from my ear, just staring at it. I was staring at his name on the screen and the timer that was ticking away the seconds that this conversation had been in existence. I was thinking Why don't you just shut up and pretend you care about me for ten seconds? and the next thing that happened was just a reflex.

I hung up. I just hung up. I couldn't stand listening to his angry voice anymore. All I wanted to do was cry. After all, here was a moment where I needed him--really needed him--because he was the one most uniquely suited to the moment, to the situation, but he couldn't be a normal human being for even this tiny sliver of time.

I muted my phone because I knew he would call back. He would be even angrier then, and I had no interest in explaining myself or even in explaining what about his actions drove me to mine. All I wanted to do was sit and wallow in my anger toward him for a good long time.

Which I did. He called back, and I ignored. He called again. He left an angry message. I ignored it. He tried again later, but I tossed the phone across the room. He wrote an angry e-mail that said I didn't need to be "so emotional" about everything. He told me the ball was in my court, that he wasn't going to bend over backward to try to get me on the line anymore.

And I didn't respond. And I didn't call. And a week later he started calling again, and I ignored, ignored, ignored. Last night he called again, but I didn't answer, which prompted him to send me a text message that said, It's been real. Have a nice life.

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