Monday, March 31, 2008

Continuing Evidence That Demonstrates How Well I Get Along with Aries

In June, I was equal parts I don't know and can't we just have a fling? but the Boy From Work was pretty well decided on what he wanted. He'd been decided since the first night we worked together. We went out for drinks that night and the next, too. Somehow he and the guy who worked the ice cream counter at work convinced me to go to Canada with them that second night.

At first I wasn't quite sure what was going on. I wasn't sure who was trying to hit on me. When the boys had come to pick me up, the Boy From Work made the other one sit in the back, so I could sit up front with him. We rode the whole way to Canada with the BFW's hand twitching next to my bare arm. Every now and again he would pinch and poke my skin and pick-pick-pick at me. I thought, Oh. Aha. I see. But then when we got to Canada, the ice cream boy was laying it on pretty thick, too. It seemed like maybe the two of them had been abused and starved by the other girls at the diner, that they'd tried all their best tricks on them and gotten pretty much nowhere. The diner was full of pretty young things--girls with perky ponytails and low-cut tank tops and impeccable makeup. I had no idea what the boys were doing with me, a decidedly older girl with decidedly better grammar than everyone else who worked there and said things to their customers like, "Your son don't like that, do he?"

But mid-way through the night it became evident who was coming after me, and with precision and determination. The Boy From Work couldn't keep his hands off me. He tickled me up and down Clifton Hill, in and out of bars, over crosswalks and into alleys. And after I'd excused myself to go to the bathroom in the same bar where, six years prior, I'd spent my nineteenth birthday kissing a strangely tall boy from Pennsylvania after fifty fuzzy navels, the Boy From Work pushed me up against the wall and asked if he could kiss me. And I thought, Oh, what the hell? and said, "Okay."

Things moved along quickly after that.


In the beginning, the Boy From Work liked to bring me flowers. The tradition started one afternoon when a lady with a bucket of flower bouquets came in, trying to offload some of them on the staff at the diner. All the girls smiled at her and said no thanks, but the Boy From Work said he'd take some. One of the waitresses I was working with during that shift opened her big mouth and said, "Oh Jesus! They're for Jess! He's got a crush on Jess! He loves Jess!" Then she turned to me and lowered her voice. "You know, they all think you're really something." She rolled her eyes and stuck her hands deep in the pocket of her apron. "Whatever," she said.

I was not sad when she lost her job for stealing money from the cash register a month later. Still, in that moment, after she told the whole restaurant that the BFW had a crush on me, that he was buying me flowers, I thought it was incredibly important to say no, that wasn't true. He didn't have a crush on me and he wasn't buying me flowers. The BFW quickly agreed. He said the flowers were for the head waitress who was coming in for the night shift. Later, when I went out to my car to go home for the day, the bouquet of flowers was tucked under my wipers.


At first, I tried to keep the BFW at a distance. Some nights I told him that I couldn't go to the bar with him, that I couldn't come over and watch movies. Of course I could have, but I'd made a promise to myself at the beginning of summer. It was going to be the Summer of Writing! I was going to be productive! I was going to finish my book! I was going to send a ton of stuff out for publication! I was going to be a dutiful recent grad of my MFA program! There was no way I was going to let a boy ruin my plans. Besides, I had an interview coming up at a small school in Maine, and who knew where that was going to lead? But after a certain point in time all of that just dried up. I wasn't writing anyway. I'd come home from work thinking I had a ton of things to say, only to find that everything had leaked out of my head on the ten minute drive from the diner to my house. And then I'd sit in my computer chair and stare out the window, listening to the frogs and thinking about how much better it would be kissing someone than staring into the face of writer's block.


And so I stopped telling the BFW that I couldn't come out because I was going home to write. I started telling the BFW to come over to my house, that I'd fix him a meatball sandwich and a peach vodka-gingerale and we'd sit outside on the swing and listen to the night.

He was a small-town boy with a recently-shaved head and a straggly goatee. He looked like he could've been cast as Vaguely Mexican Inmate #2 in one of those gritty prison dramas on HBO or Showtime. I wasn't expecting to be taken with him. He was nice, sure, and sweet, and he really liked my company, but he was an awful lot younger than me and he had plans of his own. I just thought what we were doing was a way to pass the summer. Sometimes when we were driving the back roads in the middle of the night, the Boy from Work doing 80 or 90 until I would grip the seat and shriek, I felt like I was living in my very own Bruce Springsteen video. It wasn't a bad way to spend a few months.


Everyone knew what was happening before I did, before I could admit it. One night after we closed the restaurant, the Boy From Work and I were in the back corner tearing the tables away from the booths. Someone had seen ants, so we were trying to determine the source and what to do about it. The BFW and I were discussing the finer points of emptying a bottle of Raid onto the molding at the bottom of the booths when one of the waitresses took one look at us and shrieked, "OH MY GOD. YOU TWO ARE DATING, AREN'T YOU?!" I had a spray bottle pointed at the floor. The BFW was eyeing a small scurry of ants with a critical eye. What about that situation screamed BUDDING ROMANCE I will never know, but something in the way we were together alerted pretty much everyone else to the fact that we were headed toward something inevitable, even if I thought I was dead set against it. I kept telling the BFW that we needed to keep things loose because I wasn't sure where I was going to be come fall, but he kept on and on and on. The BFW is one of the most persistent people I've ever known in my life. And he broke me down. He broke me down good.


After a certain point, it was hard to deny what was going on. It was hard to say no to a boy with freckles like the BFW's. He's covered in them. He's got freckles on his nose, on his chin, on his forehead. He's got freckles behind his ears. He's got freckles in his scalp. And anytime I would give those freckles some serious thought, I would get all melty inside, and the thought of not seeing those freckles anymore struck me as very wrong. And I'd started realizing something else, too--it was more than just the freckles. Hadn't I been complaining for pretty much my whole life about how no good, nice, kind boys liked me? And all of a sudden here was a good, nice, kind boy who liked me and wanted nothing more than to spend his days doing things that pleased me. Sure, there were some things about the BFW that gave me pause--his car smelled like foot and black death; he had a disturbing love for barbecue sauce and Riviera dressing; he was of the "let's clean things up later--much later" mindset; his head knew only two extremes: bald or hippie--but all of those things could be overlooked. When we fell asleep at night, he held me like he really wanted to, like it was the only thing he wanted. He was everything I'd been asking for, and I'd been foolish not to realize it. But I was lucky, and he stuck with me until I did realize it.


Today the Boy From Work turns one year older, and I just want to tell him that ours is my favorite story of all time, and there is never a day I wake up not wanting to tell people about it. I want to tell him that there were so many nights when I cried myself to sleep thinking there must be more to life than loving someone who would never love you back the way you needed to be loved, and now I know I was right.


Happy birthday, BFW. You were a surprise.

I love surprises.


Casey Sween said...

I'm disturbed by how, in some of the photos, he kind of looks like your brother. Aren't they close to the same age? Yep. Enjoy that thought. I'm sorry. I had to.

Jess said...


I hate you.