Saturday, February 13, 2010

What I Know Best

I feel like running.

When I get upset, when I get sad, when I feel like everything is fucked up and there's nothing I can do to fix it, I want to run away. I want to get in my car and go. North, South, East, West, whatever. Wherever it is, it is gone, and that is all that matters.

Of course, I never go. I never run.

What I crave is gone-gone, not just vacated. I don't want anything to do with personal days, slips of yellow paper signed by the chair of the department. I want new. I want gone. I want to feel like until I wanted them to, no one could find me.

This is my way of thinking I can outrun sadness, that I can trick it, fool it, leave a false trail and force it off into the woods when I've taken to the sea.

But I'm an idiot. You can't outrun sadness. You can't trick failed hope. It clings to you, dead weight, and makes you feel like you are filled with nothing but sand and rock and other heavy things.

Let me tell you a story: There was this boy.

This should be starting to sound familiar. We've been here before. Since I've come to Maine, I've taken on a new role: Girl Grieving Over That Which She Almost Had.

First there was the boy who woke one morning feeling suddenly truthful and told me, yes, well, this has been swell, but we should really probably stop doing this because I am getting back together with my ex-girlfriend.

Then there was the boy with the perfect name, the one who stayed up late with me to talk about God and the world and how he wanted to change things, be better, make things better. He disappeared the week of my birthday, and I had to cry with my face buried deep into two pillows so my father, who was visiting and sleeping in the next room, wouldn't hear me.

Now there's a third. And I swear to God--I mean, really, I swear on everything--I wasn't even interested in getting messed up in something new. When I went home I was a pile of busted limbs. The semester and the last boy had left me mangled. I was having trouble speaking in complete sentences. If you had asked me then what I wanted most, I would've told you silence. I wanted to remember what it felt like to think without hating myself so loudly in my head.

But then there was this phone call, and on the other end was a friend, and she said, "So, listen. I think you should have a fling when you're home for Christmas. There's this boy, and he's going home to Buffalo. You're going home to Buffalo. I can make it happen."

I said no. I did! Really! The first words out of my mouth were forget it.

"It'll make you feel better," she said. "Maybe you two could just make out or something."

You can guess what happened next.

Before I knew it, there were a few nights and then a New Year's and then a few more nights, and then there was the last day, and I had to force myself to get up out of a bed that wasn't my own because we were leaving, both of us, the next day, and we had to stop, stop, stop what we were doing and do other things, crucial things, things like packing and saying goodbye to our parents.

Before we got out of that bed, though, the boy told me I'd made it so he could breathe again. He'd had a bad semester, too, and he was sick of himself in the same ways I was sick of myself. But those two weeks over Christmas were new and better. For me, too.

"God I was a mess," I told him. "You put me back together."

And then we kissed and went back to our own corners of the world.


Here's what should have happened: It should've stopped there. There. That second.

When we said goodbye and I stepped outside into another ski country snow, that should have been it.

But it wasn't. And things went on and on. There were long phone calls. Late night phone calls. There were nights I went to bed at 6:00 AM just to get up and teach a few hours later. I was half-asleep but happy. Delirious. Suddenly there was a new something in my life, and that something was possibility. Hope. It was far away and far off, but there was something to look forward to, and after a semester like I had last fall, something to look forward to was the most foreign and beautiful idea in the world.

About the weather: Usually when I am home for Christmas break I end up getting caught in at least one awful snow storm, lake effect so bad that I have to turn off the radio and concentrate on my breathing. Usually this happens on the roads I know best, so, really, it's not so bad. I know the curves or I have memorized the bends or I know where the exits are.

But driving south to this boy's house was new for me. I had to take back roads I hadn't traveled since I was sixteen, back when my best friends and I would sneak off to Franklinville to go to the teen dance club there. But now I was driving past even that, driving into towns I knew nothing about, and then, eventually, out into the country where the snow drifted so badly I couldn't tell where road turned to ditch. I drove there in weather I should not have. I did that more than once. I did that because I really, really wanted to.

On the first night, after we came home from a bar where we had compared notes about the people we had in common, we sat in my car in the driveway and he said, "Do you want to come in?"

I looked out the windshield. The snow coming down was the best kind. It was huge and weightless, the kind that would drench you without your knowing it. Stand under it for even a few seconds and then, once you walk into heat, you'd realize how much you'd collected in your hair, your eyelashes, the folds of your jacket. If it kept up like that, the drive home would be horrible.

I should've gone home. I should've waved goodbye and wished him a good semester. But, instead, we got out of the car, and we stood in the driveway under all that snow.

"Wait," he said. He looked up into the sky and watched the snow come down. "Listen," he said.

I tipped my head up too, and closed my eyes. I was thinking Oh God oh God oh God. I didn't know what I was doing. But I let the snow cover me. And then we went inside.

Later that week, the morning after New Year's, he and I were leaving a diner after breakfast, and it was snowing again. It was the same type of snow--impossible and perfect, a postcard. I had my hand on my car door, and I closed my eyes, felt the snow brush against my cheeks.

"It always snows the most beautiful snow when we're together," I said.

Later that week we would be in bed, half-asleep, and he'd quote that line back to me, and I'd hide my face in the pillow, embarrassed. "Oh God," I said. "You remember that?"

"Yes," he said. "I liked it. No one ever notices those things. No one ever says anything like that to me."

And then I wondered if that meant something, if all that snow and beauty really meant something, but of course it didn't. It really meant nothing at all.

I wrote recently about being happy. The last paragraph I wrote was about superstition, about how I hoped I wasn't tempting fate by admitting to my happiness out loud.

Would you like to know how much time it took after I said the words out loud, after I admitted it, for everything to fall apart? Six days. I didn't even get one last full week of feeling that way.

Listen, let me be honest: I don't know if I really wanted to be with that boy--after all, what did I know about him? I knew as much as a girl can learn over two weeks of seeing someone in person and then a few more weeks of long phone conversations. But already I was addicted to certain things. I was addicted to an idea of a maybe and the way I felt when I heard his voice. I liked having someone to tell me goodnight, sleep well.

I had vague ideas about what was happening between us, and all of it seemed okay, right up until the moment he said, "I guess I should tell you about this girl I've been seeing out here."

There was a hangnail of silence between that and what I said next--which was something like, "Yes, that sounds like very important information for me to know."--and in that moment of silence everything went black. No, that's not right. Nothing went black; it was already black. I was standing in front of the desk in my office, and after he spoke I lifted my eyes, I looked out into dark of night, saw the shapes of the pine trees outside my window, and I thought of course. Two words. Of course. I thought of Keith, of the Wily Republican, of the Boys of Maine, of everyone who chose someone else over me. I thought, This is what you know best.

I walked back into the living room and sat down on the couch. Then I got up. "I think I am going to pour myself a very large glass of wine," I said, "and you can tell me whatever you need to tell me."

And so he did.

After this boy and I got off the phone the first time--we would finish discussing things later--I called the Wily Republican. I did this not because he's my closest confidant but because I wanted to yell at someone.

And so when he answered I cried and I yelled and I told him this was all his fault. He'd made me this way. He'd made me hurt and crazy and fucked up about men, and I kept wandering into crazy and fucked up things with men.

He listened to all this and then, finally, said, "Well, what does this guy want to do now?"

What the boy wanted to do was anything he wanted. That's what he told me. He said, "I just want to do whatever I want to do for the rest of the time I'm here in Minnesota, and then, later, like this summer, when we're both home, we can worry about whatever we're doing."

And I said, "So you just want to fuck around as much as possible for the next five months?"

And he said, "Yes."

When I told the Wily Republican all of this, he wanted to know how I'd handled it, what I'd said and done.

"I told him that didn't seem very fair to me. It just didn't seem fair to say, 'Hey, I think I'll want to be with you eventually, so let's keep things like they've been--let's keep talking for long hours and everything--and maybe I'll get around to wanting to be with you.'"

"Okay," the WR said. "What else?"

"I said it was simple," I told Wily. "I told him I'd done something like that all through grad school. With you. And I wasn't going to ever do that to myself again. So I said I couldn't keep letting myself get attached, so we would need to stop talking. Completely."

"He'll come back," the WR said. "He will. He'll realize."

"Don't tell me shit like that," I said. "It doesn't happen. It never does."

And then I cried because that was right: No one ever chose me, and no one ever came back. I was once again passed over, left behind, just some girl this boy used to know for a little bit.

It is what I know best.

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