Saturday, December 13, 2008

Here's What I Haven't Been Telling You

There was a boy around here for a while. He was eating my cereal and sitting in my office and riding in my car. He was pouring me drinks and walking me home. He was here.

He is not here anymore. It was a quick thing, started fast and ended just as fast. It was something that happened after the Boy From Work and I broke up, after I had spent too many nights staring at ceiling tiles instead of sleeping.

All I wanted was a little something nice, a little something to make me think about things in a less tragic way. I was sick of feeling lead-heavy and dull. I was sick of being in such a beautiful state, sick of walking the streets and beaches and cobblestones by myself, sick of not having anyone to turn to when the sun disappeared over the mountains.

I was also sick of feeling quiet and simple and alone. It's been a little over a year since I moved here, and I have acquaintances and co-workers--and I genuinely like all of them--but it's not the same as having friends, people your own age to be with. It's hard being a young single girl in academia. Everyone else has their own work, their own families, their own agendas, their own patterns. I have too much free time, and they don't have enough.

There are nights when all I want to do is leave work and go to a restaurant so I can sit across a table from someone I like to talk to, someone I think is smart and funny and nice, and listen to them tell a story. There are times when I miss Minnesota and New York so badly it feels like the emotion won't even fit inside my body it is too huge, too uncontainable. And after the BFW and I were no longer together--no longer speaking--everything felt that much darker.

But then there was a boy standing in my office doorway. He was a former student, a favorite who had gone away to another school--I wrote him a letter of recommendation; for him I said some of the sweetest things I've ever said in one of those letters--but now he was back in town, and he was wondering what I'd been doing to keep myself busy since we saw each other last, since I handed him his letter and waved goodbye, wished him luck.

He sat in my office for hours that felt like minutes, and he came back a few days later, and again and again and again. He told me all his best stories, and I listened, just pleased to be in the company of someone my own age, someone who was talking to me about Maine and loving Maine, about all the things that made Maine great.

It went on easily from there. We shared drinks and watched the Red Sox. We laughed and laughed and laughed when strange men from the bar--men I'd spoken to briefly when I'd gone up for another round--bought us drinks and delivered them to the table. Later, after he walked me home along the river, after we stood in the shadows and listened to the water curve against the shore, he stood outside my bathroom and listened to me throw up into the bathtub, asked if he could do anything. It was a full moon. I was dizzy. I was certain those men had slipped something into my drink. Still, when I recovered and went back into the living room, he was sitting on the couch waiting for me, and he would stay for hours and hours and hours, until the sky was starting to pink outside my tall windows.

We shared chicken fingers and watched the Bruins play the Sabres. We sat in my office. We told stories. We laid on my bed and closed our eyes, waiting. We kissed. We drove the back roads of his hometown. We drove under the canopy of gold and red leaves, and he leaned over to point and say, "That's where I went to school" and "That's where I used to work" and "That's where my best friend lives." We stood on a hillside and felt the fall wind turn cold against our cheeks. We looked at all the red, all the orange, all the green. He said, "Isn't it beautiful?" and I said yes. Yes, it was.

We walked the uneven streets of Portland. He pointed to the water, pointed to the place you could stop to watch the boats skimming through the harbor. We bought beer at a corner variety where a woman--drunk, unsteady in her heels--made a sly comment about taking us home with her. We ran up and down the stairs of his friends' house, trying on Halloween costumes and looking at old high school yearbooks, pictures of them all in ski club. He smiled when his friend's girlfriend looked at me and said, "Oh, I like her." He said, "I think I'll keep her around."

But he didn't. And I suppose I didn't expect him to, and I suppose I didn't exactly know what things would be like for us, and I suppose I wasn't sure what was going on or where that would lead, but that was just enough for me then. I was around people my own age--people who were funny and crass and sweet all at once--and I felt, for the first time since I moved to Maine, that I belonged here, that I could be more than just a visitor, more than just an extended-stay tourist moving across the coast by herself.

But one night he admitted over drinks that he couldn't say no to his old girlfriend, and I felt panic squeeze the back of my throat shut. And I must have known. Of course I must have known. I'd been there before. I'd heard the same things from the Wily Republican. But still I let this boy reach over in the middle of the night and pull me closer, let him thread his fingers through mine, let him fall asleep there, with our heads resting on the same pillow. He would eventually go back to his girlfriend--after all, he couldn't say no--and I would sit in my new apartment and memorize the familiar weight of silence that hung there.

And what I haven't been telling you is this: it hasn't been easy. It hasn't been easy to feel like I still don't fit in, even though it seemed for a while that I might find my own small place here. He was a fix for so many things--the pain of losing my boyfriend, the pain of being lonesome so often, the pain of being far from everyone I love--and now that he's no longer around, now that we don't know what is going on in each others' strange worlds, the dark that was there before him seems even darker, even less likely to lift and lighten, less likely to disappear anytime soon.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

"It's hard being a young single girl in academia. Everyone else has their own work, their own families, their own agendas, their own patterns. I have too much free time, and they don't have enough."

I know what you mean. Except for the girl part, of course.

As I'm getting older I'm becoming more conscientious of the social pitfalls of academic life and the more sensitive part of me, the one that hides beneath a mask of indifference and a generally disagreeable nature, gets concerned when I see the lonely, aged academics who have no one and nothing but their study and their careers. From what I gather, my freshman Sociology 101 teacher was like that. He killed himself about a year ago. That's an extreme example, of course, but I don't want to be forced to choose between my career and a happy, healhty life.

But then, of course, there are the academics you and I knew in Minnesota, the ones who had more or less healthy lifestyles, who socialized and were (mostly) mentally balanced. So it is possible to make this work.

But it seems so much harder in academia, maybe because the age differences can be so dramatic and time fills up so quickly.

And now I realize I'm rambling but I guess you've touched a nerve, Jess. Take care.