Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Whole New Girl

I knew. Of course I knew.

I knew it would end like everything else ends.

So when I tell you I didn't know, that I wouldn't have even guessed, that I never saw it coming, you should know that's not really the whole truth.


Last night I was going over several chapters in Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty because my creative writing class is reading part of it in our nonfiction unit. Early on in the book, Patchett, a Catholic girl who was schooled by a stern set of nuns, talked about how she could no longer pray for her best friend--a girl swallowed whole by loneliness. Instead, she needed to transform her prayers into good works and deeds for her friend. After all, Patchett says, it's the work that fixes things. It's the work that helps. It's not prayer. Because what is prayer but another way to worry?


A few weeks ago, just a few days before my birthday, I woke up in a tiny room flooded with sun. The shades weren't drawn, and I could see out into the trees, where everything was green and gold and beautiful.

My body was curled around a boy, and my hand rested in the center of his chest. His hand was closed tightly around mine.

In that moment everything in my life made sense. I could feel things in my body, in my head, slide into alignment. This was good. This was what I'd been waiting for. This was what I'd been asking for. I'd never before dated someone who was a lot of the things I thought would be good for me. Keith and the Wily Republican were my opposites. The handful of boys in between were either closeted gays or country boys or wild. For years I'd dated boys who got into the habit of rolling their eyes at or making fun of the things I loved, the things that mattered to me--most notably writing and reading. This boy, though, didn't roll his eyes.

The first time we went out, we sat over coffee and talked. I would talk about something I loved, and it turned out that he loved it too. He would talk about something he loved, and it turned out that I loved it too. With every minute that ticked by I was thinking, You have got to be kidding me! You have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!

When it became clear that it was time to go, that we should go, because we'd already lingered too long over coffee--several hours--I realized I didn't want to leave. I could've stayed in that coffee shop until it closed, until I was forcibly removed.

While I was driving home, I called Diana.

"Yes?" she said when she answered. "Yes? Tell me about it. How was it? What's he like?"

"Oh," I said. "Dreamy. That boy is dreamy."

A few minutes later, he called me. "I was wondering," he said, "if maybe you wanted to come hang out with me and my brother and some of our friends for a bit?"

And I did, so I went.

Several weeks later, I was waking up next to him and thinking how nice this could turn out to be. It could be good. It could be exactly what I needed. So I closed my eyes and leaned my head against his shoulder. Dear God, I prayed, I think I could be good for this boy. I think he could be good for me. Please let me try this. Please let this stay around for a while.

At the time, I thought I was being thankful. I thought I was saying, I see what you're doing, and I appreciate it. But I wasn't. Somewhere deep inside I must have already known what would happen. Because what is prayer if not another way to worry?


"Dreamy" was right on the money. To describe him as such was the only way to be accurate. He was something out of a dream. It was like someone had plucked him out of my daydreams--the elaborate ones I muck around in when at a particularly boring meeting or when I'm driving long distances or when I'm reading a student essay that's so beyond help that my brain flips a switch and sends me to a much nicer place.

There's a line in an episode of Will & Grace where Grace is trying to explain the perfectness of Leo--her new love--to her friends, so she says, "His worst quality is that he's a Jewish doctor!" And that's how I felt about this boy. Everything about him was fantastic. He loved music. He sang. He played multiple instruments. He was hugely liberal. He was even a little bit of a hippie. He loved to write--in fact, he was in college studying writing--and he loved to read. He loved his mother. He worked with the mentally handicapped. At a party he and his friends threw one night, a boy cornered him and looked at him for a long moment before saying, "Can I just tell you something? You are probably the nicest person I have ever met."

And you should've seen him. He was really something else. Perfect height, perfect hair, perfect eyes, perfect body. It was like I had made him, designed him myself, said, "This is what I want my future boyfriend to look like." He was quintessentially Maine-y: bearded, tall, athletic, rugged. He even had a really good name. ("Extra bonus points for that name!" I said when I filled people in on the situation. "It's perfect!")

It was eerie looking at something you'd always wanted but had sort of figured didn't really exist.


What's so hard about this is I tried to be careful. I was careful about everything. Even that first night, when I decided that, okay, I would go over to his house and meet his brother and his friends, I made sure four separate people knew where I was. One of those people--Katy--requested I notify her of my status every thirty minutes or so--just so she could be certain I wasn't being hacked to pieces deep in the woods of Maine.

So, dutifully, I took my cell phone out now and again and typed things like STILL ALIVE! and DO NOT PANIC! and THE BASEMENT IS WALLPAPERED WITH BOB MARLEY AND BEATLES POSTERS. NO ONE HERE IS GOING TO KILL ME.

I was careful in other ways, too. For example, I was careful not to go too fast.

"No kissing for at least three more dates!" Diana said the morning after our first date, when I called to tell her how it had been going over to his house.

"THREE MORE DATES?!" I said. "That's ludicrous! That's insanity!"

"Three more dates!" she said. "I mean it, Jessica! You want him to take you seriously! Don't you? Don't you want him to take you seriously?"

"Fine," I sighed. "Fine. Three more dates. No kissing. Got it."

And later, after the kissing had been done, there were other things to worry about. I was careful about those, too, which means I did not sleep with him. But I thought about it and wanted to. Often and a lot.

But I was careful. I'm not a fool. I know how much harder it would've been for me had that happened. So I tried to be careful with my heart. I tried to hold myself at a distance. I tried to keep the word "maybe" in my vocabulary at all times. If someone said, "It sounds so promising!" I would say, "Maybe." If someone said, "We can meet him when we come to visit!" I would say, "Maybe." I didn't want to start writing the future in my head because that's when I get into trouble. After all, I'm a writer. I can build a pretty good future. A specific future. One I can really see. One I can fall in love with. And because of that, I didn't want to get too far ahead of myself.


If you had seen me at the end of August or the beginning of September, I would've seemed like a whole new girl. I was in tall red heels and wandering the streets of Portland at night, boy at my side. I was sharing a bottle of wine and leaning across the table to talk about writing. I was tucked underneath a blanket and a boy's arm while we searched the sky for constellations. I was staying up late with him just so we could talk about God.

It was really something. It was nothing I'd ever had before.


And so came the morning I woke up happy, the morning when I prayed. What happened next is what I can't make sense of.

The boy woke up. He asked if I'd slept well, and I said I had. He asked if I was hungry. I said I was.

"Then I," he said, "am going to make you some breakfast."

And then there were eggs and toast and orange juice, and after I finished my plate I tied my hair--which was still bed-wild and tangled--back in a ponytail.

"It was delicious," I said. "That was some fantastic toast."

And then I, making sure I didn't overstay my welcome, said I'd duck out, that I'd get out of his hair so he and his friends--several of whom were strewn across couches in both the living room and basement, still recovering from the previous night--could do whatever they needed or wanted to do for the rest of the day.

He walked me to my car. Outside, one of his roommate's fathers--a temporary roommate himself--was sitting on the edge of a dew-drenched patio chair and strumming his guitar.

Once we got to my car, I realized I'd forgotten something inside, and the boy dashed back in to get it. While he was gone, the father--long-haired and hippie-ish himself--readjusted his guitar, looked up into the sky--blue, perfectly blue, and clear--and started playing "Here Comes the Sun."

When the door swung open again and the boy reappeared, he was grinning.

"Hey," he said. "Here's a good song." And then, at the chorus, he began to sing. The whole world was green and gold, the whole world was sun and sky, and a boy was coming down the stairs toward me, and he was singing.

And then he kissed me. He kissed me once, twice, three times, and he tipped my head up to the sun and kept me there, kept me close while he said goodbye.

That was the last time we spoke. I never heard from again.


I can say it as much as I want. I can say I would've never guessed it, that there was nothing about that day that would've made me think it was going to be over quickly, succinctly, that I would never hear from him again, that he would never return the phone call I made to invite him over for dinner a few days later, but of course I could have guessed it. It was everything I was afraid of when I decided to start dating again. It was the nightmare scenario. It was getting to see everything I wanted and then having it taken as quickly as it had been given.


It's helped to write this. It's helped to see the words on the screen. I am less heavy now, less full with the desire to shape this into a narrative. I've been writing it in my head for weeks now. I've been examining things and trying to see how they fit together, how they make sense. And now that it's written, now that it's here, I don't have to worry about it anymore. This is simply what it was: For a brief time I was happy.

But now that happiness is only a string of events, a few hundred moments when I wondered if maybe I'd happened into something good.

Now that it's out, it will be easier. My head will be less busy. I won't need to spend much time trying to give this shape and sense.

There is no shape. There is no sense.

And that is all.


howard_emanuel said...

Bless you Jess, you didn't deserve that ending.

Diana said...

This breaks my heart.

Nathan said...

The heart is a muscle, and like the muscles in your arms and legs, when it gets used or worn or torn, that muscle grows back stronger. Unfortunately in between the use and recovery we have to deal with the pain and the cramping and the soreness.

Very sorry to hear this.