Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Eighth of August

It was a warm night in Minnesota. It was late. You could smell the soybeans from the processing plant across the river. Everything was as it should be.

I was on the sidewalk with the Wily Republican and his best friend and his best friend's girlfriend. We'd been bouncing between bars for the last few hours, and now we were hungry. What we wanted more than anything in the world was fried mac-n-cheese from one of the bars across the street. So we were paused at the intersection, waiting for traffic to go by so we could cross.

"I was a cheerleader, you know," the girlfriend said.

"I would've guessed that," I said. She was a peppy sort--bright, bubbly, full of spunk. She was smart and had freckles. I liked her.

"Watch this," she said, and she flipped into a string of cartwheels she unraveled down the sidewalk.

The boys whistled. I clapped.

"Very impressive," I said.

"I know," she said. She stood back up and blew her curly hair out of her eyes.

The light changed then, and we went across the street and into the bar where we could get our food. The Wily had worked there once, his first semester at school, and back then I would sit at the bar and watch as he brought cases of beer and liquor out from the back room or stood watch at the door, sending away the undergrads who were testing out a new fake ID. Those were some of the moments I remember most about my time with him, and they were moments that happened before we kissed, before we screwed everything up just by being us. Back then there was nothing better than sitting there sipping a lime vodka tonic and smiling at him when he smiled at me.

Inside, the WR and his best friend went to order our food and talk to the guys behind the counter, who they knew a little bit, and the girlfriend grabbed my arm and dragged me into the bathroom.

We stood in front of the mirrors and fixed our hair, leaned in close to consider our makeup.

"Wily loves you," she said.

It came out of nowhere, that statement, and for a second I thought maybe I'd hallucinated the words. I stepped away from the mirror.


"Wily," she said. "He's in love with you."

And standing right there, in the bathroom of the bar where it all really started, my heart broke open from the weight of all the blood that had flooded it, frantic and excited. I couldn't speak. I opened my mouth. I closed my mouth. I opened it again.

She was still in the mirror, looking back at me through its pane. She smiled. "It's pretty clear," she said. "I've never seen him act like this around a girl before. Never."

"Like what?" I asked. "How does he act?"

She waved her hands in the air. "Oh, you know. Like he does. The two of you are very cute together. And you should hear how he talks about you. He talks about you all the time."

"Oh my God," I said. This was better than any number of dreams I'd had about the Wily Republican--and there had been some pretty fantastic dreams along the way.

The girlfriend finally turned away from the mirror and wrapped her hand around my arm. She leaned in close and pressed her shoulder against mine. We were conspirators. We were insiders. We were drunk, and we were in love with best friends. We thought we knew things.

"Don't worry," she said, squeezing my arm. "You'll be at my wedding, and I'll be at yours. I'm sure of it."

Here's what I can tell you now: that girl did marry the Wily's best friend, but I wasn't there. And today the Wily will stand at an altar and wait for his bride to come down the aisle, and that girl won't be me. In fact, I won't even be in the audience. Instead, I'll be here, in Maine, and I'll be thinking about him.

The fact that the Wily Republican is getting married today doesn't make me sad, but it does make me reflective. It doesn't make me want to stay in bed all day with a pan of brownies on the pillow next to me, but it does make me remember things. It does make me amazed by things.

Like it or not--and I know a lot of you (and me, sometimes) won't like it at all--the Wily Republican really got inside my head and shook things up, changed me, challenged me, made me the girl I am today--the good and bad parts, both.

This summer I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and in it she wrote about her own maddening, toxic, unshakable relationship, and how she recognized her man was wrong for her, that he was making her crazy, that he was like a drug, but at the same time she was sure he was her soulmate. Of course, for Gilbert, the definition of soulmate isn't the one we throw around often--the one that's fizzing with hearts and exclamation points. Instead, this type of soulmate is a person who comes in and picks you up and challenges you and makes you crazy because they are the opposite of what you are--or close to it. That kind of soulmate is your balance. That kind of soulmate has the potential to teach you immeasurable lessons about yourself. With that person in your life, it is suddenly that much easier to define yourself, to say, Here I am. This is who I am. Love me even if you think it's a bad idea.

That can be a hard love, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth having. And I think at that point in his life the Wily Republican really needed me. When he's feeling kind and generous, he tells me I'm his voice of reason, that I'm the one he needs around to say, "Listen. You're unreasonable. You're wrong. Here's why." And I did that for him for years. I said, "Wily, you're an asshole. Do you want to know why?" And he always did. He always does.

And at that point in my life, I really needed him, too. An MFA program is fraught with all kinds of drama, and it's incestuous and intense, and there were days in Minnesota when the last thing I wanted to do was talk to another sulky writer, another frowning English major, but I was surrounded by them. That's when the WR came in handy. That's when I called him and said, "Please save me." The Wily Republican did not want to discuss what was literary and what was not. He did not want to tell me that all I write about is sex and that I should stop it, for Christ's sake. He did not want to get drunk and talk about killing himself. What he wanted to do was tell me I was fun, I was a hippie--a sweet one, but a hippie nonetheless--and I wrote things that made him want to read. What he wanted to do was get drunk and kiss.

It wasn't a bad life, but it's not mine anymore. It hasn't been mine for a long time, and it seems strange to me that today it becomes someone else's life. He's marrying the girl he wanted: a pretty little Republican doctor, someone who smiles at him and says, "Yes, Wily, yes. You're right about that. You're so right." She shares his ideals and has what he refers to as a "strong moral code. She won't be any trouble for him.

But he's always been trouble for me. He's always been the one whose memory I can't quite sweep from the darker corners of my heart. And today I won't even try.


Kristin said...

This makes me proud of you, Jess:)

Casey Sween said...

A hippie? I'd like to see you go a day without a shower.

Jess said...

I did when Diana was here! I didn't shower allllll Sunday!

I practically launched myself into the tub the next morning, but still.

Diana said...

It's true! She didn't shower, and Katy, she REEKED.

Casey Sween said...

I'll give you that, but would you go a week without shaving?

Jess said...

No. It's summer, Katy. I need to shave EVER DAY. People are seeing my legs. I don't want to look like a wookie.