I have two and a half blisters because of what you said. I decided I had to walk around the neighborhood until I wasn’t mad about it anymore. I was also locked out of my apartment and had to get cash for the lockout fee but also had to kill an hour and a half. I was wearing my new shoes too.
The last time I saw him he would look at me like he was trying to peel the layers of facade away from who I truly was. It had been a handful of years since then. Granted, things had changed; including my inclination to be swept up by unremarkable lovers; but he wasn’t even looking at me. I had been in the practice of peeling away my own unnecessary reservations, but I wasn’t totally void of a guard that needed to be coaxed into taking a step back and I was disappointed in his lack of effort.
“Come here, you,” he whispered emptily as he pulled me closer and kissed my neck. This was all wrong. We were supposed to be facing the other way in a warm room draped in California summer and stuffed with meaning.
I began I mourn the evolution of my mentality, because maybe it was just me. Being lost and open to letting someone catch my falling spirit had allowed me to get swept up in all that was him. I had felt like we were some sort of androgynous soul.
I tried to get back some of who I was in that California summer. Perhaps being slightly delusional would help me appreciate this unexpected second chance.
But when I locked eyes with him, I felt nothing. I was no longer pulled into what had once been the spirit of the world.
The train stalls just as I see he’s holding some other girl’s hand. I look up and out the window. I’m doing my quietest panic, seeing as I’d rather not give my fellow passengers a more memorable commute.
In the empty courtyard below there’s a figure dancing, headphone cord swaying. I title the display “rhythmic jumping.” My hand is burning. I look back at her hand in his. The burning spreads to my face. She has nice nails; way nicer than mine.
There was that one time we walked down that icy road holding hands for support and joking that we’d let the other fall. We had made some sort of bet back at the bar that we’d decided had ended in a draw. The stakes involved a number of kisses; which we now each had to deliver on. I used his hand’s support to catapult myself toward his lips.
The train slowly begins to roll again. I look up and catch the eyes of a fellow passenger. I then, almost too quickly, look back at my phone. As my stop approaches, I exit his Facebook page and note that stalking is not for the faint of heart.
The dead beetle’s shell had broken and expanded like wings. Maybe it was kind of beautiful. I doubted anyone else passing by the stairwell would think so. I watched as with each passing day it spread its wings further and further. It reminded me of the cheerio by the elevator that I had been nodding to every morning for months. I wondered how long it would be until the beetle spread it’s shell-wings and flew away. That day would somehow feel momentous. I would probably pause for a moment, think of how I should react, and them move on down the stairs without a conclusion. I never really know how to react when small momentous occasions I build up for no apparent reason actually come around.
I said farewell to the beetle and exited the building, greeted by the cold I didn’t really feel. All I felt was the breeze in my crotch area that reminded me that I wasn’t wearing any underwear. I was suddenly self conscious about what my butt looked like in my leggings without underwear on. It was a good thing I was only going next door, where my butt would be concealed by the couch I would be sitting on in the coffee shop. I was a bit ashamed that I was joining the culture of young adults sitting at coffee shops with their laptops open. I looked at the older man across the room who had nothing but his coffee cup on the table in front of him. He was observing us. We locked eyes in a way that was more dramatic in my head than it actually was in real life and then were cut off by some type-A college student who spoke in a billion octaves too high for an actual human who was asking him for the extra chair at his table. The study group was apparently thriving.
A girl sat down near me on the couch and opened her laptop. Her computer background said “fly” in big fancy letters across the screen. I thought that was dumb and cliche and looked down on her for being so generic. Then I kind of felt like crying because I was the numb kind of exhausted where you don’t really know who you are and if you ever really knew who you were or ever really existed in a sense that wasn’t so boringly generic. My iced coffee was sweating. It tasted like bourbon.
There wasn’t much I thought about during the summer I was fourteen and basking in the glory of living in 1993. What I did think about that summer, I really thought about; so that I made sure there was no room to think about the other stuff. I stuck my tongue through endless blobs of pink bubble gum to get just the right amount of pop in my fading pink bubble. I would lie out on my chair at the end of our lawn in Apple River, Illinois enjoying the fact that my figure was beginning to attract attention. I let Marshall Ponce, older than me just by a little, walk by me five or six times in an hour without stopping my Discman to tell him to scram. Man on The Moon by R.E.M would be on constant replay in my ears. I would think about what “the game of life” really was, as R.E.M. sang about it. I thought about what ice creams my dad would bring home that night after his managing duties at the pharmacy ended for the day. Because my dad worked a lot I thought about different meals I could plan for the two of us if he wasn’t up for cooking. Sometimes over that summer I thought about the guy in the news whose wife had cut off his penis and thrown it on the road. I read about it in the paper after Marshall Ponce shoved it in my face during one of his trips by my lawn chair.
That was also the summer that I thought a lot about changing my unfortunate name. My name stirred up comments such as ‘What the heck?’ because of the effort it would take to say it. It’s one of those names that you have to consciously think about while you’re trying to sputter it out. I asked Marshall Ponce more than once what he thought about my name, and all he could come up with was, “Meriwether MacGinnis, you better not change that name of yours.” He really had a way with words, that one. But not really. He was always all awkward and greasy but he had a nice face. He was also the closest thing I had to a friend after that other stuff I was talking about happened; the other stuff that I tried to avoid thinking about.
That was also the last summer that the pack of girls, who Marshall Ponce said were just jealous of my “smokin’ hot bod,” would make up stupid rhymes about my name. A lot of times it went like this, “Meriwether Macgi-MESS, what a mess, she can’t even wear a dress because of her big fat chest.”
These girls were so stupid they couldn’t even come up with a proper rhyme. I also had plenty of dresses that fit. Whenever they would walk by my chair on their way to the community pool, Marshall Ponce would stand by my side all puffed out like a guard or something and covering his crotch just in case the girls decided to pounce.
So I was fourteen with a pervert for a friend who wouldn’t stop staring at my “big fat chest,” and a few thoughts to keep me company. Those thoughts were a pretty dark at times, so I should probably tell you a little bit about that other stuff. By now when I say “that other stuff” you should know that it’s the stuff I tried to avoid thinking about but couldn’t really completely avoid. Before Marshall Ponce came along as a stand in, I had a friend named Allen McGee. He was the one person who offered to let me ride on his bike’s handlebars home from my mom’s funeral so that I didn’t have to ride in the ugly, stale smelling limo again. That was the summer when I was nine and he was ten. He was at the funeral because our school had sent out some big announcement and his mom was big on “community,” whatever that means. Allen McGee was soon upgraded from “friend” to “real-close-best-ever friend.”
Anyway, he was fourteen the summer before I was, and that summer he decided to blow his brains out with his dad’s stupid gun. I walked home from that funeral and didn’t speak even a single word for a month. I started speaking again when I found some brochures for a children’s grief support group in my dad’s room. No way was I going there to be forced share my feelings. So that’s that other stuff I tried not to think about the summer I was fourteen and was really missing Allen McGee.
That summer is really important because that was the summer that something kinda happened. Besides for meeting Marshall Ponce, I mean. I had seen him around in the past; he was one of Allen McGee’s baseball buddies. Whenever Marshall Ponce would pick Allan McGee up from my house to go to baseball, he would always politely wave in his quiet little slimy way. I guess he kind of felt responsible for me after Allan McGee had given up on everything. The summer of 1993 was the first time Marshall Ponce had made his own trip by my lawn chair. So what happened that summer was that I was sitting on my lawn chair like usual, halfway through my fourth piece of gum for the day and listening to some other songs by R.E.M, when Marshall Ponce showed up. I hadn’t seen him in four weeks. Apparently his parents had banished him to summer camp for a session. And let me tell you, Marshall Ponce looked different. In that month he had turned fifteen and lost all his awkwardness and greasiness. It was weird; he actually looked about as good as Allen McGee had looked last summer before he fed his brains to the yellow walls in his parents’ living room.
So my pervert friend, who didn’t look like such a pervert anymore and wasn’t even sneaking peeks at my boobies, was standing in front of me kind of looking like a god. I don’t mean he was sexy as all that, I just mean he was blocking the sunlight so it was glowing all around him. And he wasn’t so bad looking anymore. That’s all. I’m giving you all these details so that what happened next makes more sense. What happened was those stupid girls who didn’t know how to rhyme walked by my lawn chair right at that moment on their way to the pool. When they saw Marshall Ponce, they did something so unbelievable. One of them tapped him on the shoulder and asked, while twirling her stupid blonde lock of hair, if he wanted to go to the pool with them. They were so stupid! How could they expect my pervert friend to go to the pool with the same stupid girls who made up stupid rhymes to make fun of me? I’m the girl he stood watch over for goodness sake! They never paid him any attention then! What was so unbelievable was that Marshall Ponce actually said yes. He said yes!
I was so mad silly that the rest of the afternoon I sat in my living room on the dumb yellow couch. I was so mad that I even took off my headphones and stopped listening to Man on The Moon. I didn’t even pop a new piece of gum in my mouth after the piece I had been chewing started to taste like plastic. I felt like dismembering Marshall Ponce in his crotch region and then throwing it on the road. But realistically, I debated about whether or not to run to the pool and grab Marshall Ponce by the neck and drag him back to the side of my chair. I wondered what his neck would feel like, now that he wasn’t awkward and greasy anymore. Then I told myself to shut up and stop being attracted to Marshall Ponce’s traitorous neck.
About twenty minutes after Marshall Ponce deserted me, I heard an incessant knocking at the door. It was Marshall Ponce! And you know what he was holding? A huge bundle of everything the stupid girls had brought to the pool, including their bathing suits! I walked outside and saw that he had pulled another lawn chair right next to mine. Marshall Ponce was brimming with excitement. After I came outside again, he made a trail of the towels and clothes that stretched all the way down the street. When he came back he was all flushed but in a nice sort of way and I was still standing idiotically on my front stoop.
“Meriwether,” he said as he dragged me over to the lawn chairs, “come sit down, you’re gonna miss the show!” I let him touch my wrist without even slapping him. An hour or so later, after I had given Marshall Ponce a piece of my bubble gum and he had started telling me all about summer camp, the angry girls walked down the road. The three of them were trying to cover up with some gross towel they had found in the corner of the pool house. They gave us nasty looks and called us names as they picked up their belongings all the way down the road. I guess I should tell you that they weren’t the only ones throwing out the name calling. I told one of them that she was the queen of cankles.
For the rest of that summer Marshall Ponce left his lawn chair next to mine and he would sit by me during those summer afternoons. We talked about music, life, cooking, and that guy’s severed penis. At one point we even talked about Allen McGee and we were able to miss him together. We talked and talked and it turned out he really did have a way with words.
As the promises of summer and graduation, approached, I swear the girls got hotter and hotter. Christine and Nancy had developed significantly under the loose sweaters of winter and as we passed them enjoying some sun over the weekends we would make a whole charade of covering our crotches. The girls would roll their eyes but everyone knew Nancy had a thing for Ryan and that Christine had been caught during senior retreat on her knees behind the bushes with Shaun. Anyway, the girls were good sports about it underneath their own eye-rolling charade.
This was the first time in basically forever that my parents were out of town for the weekend. They left muttering something about rekindling their marriage and how there’s some frozen chicken in the freezer. I don’t eat chicken. I threw a party instead. The party had picked up speed a little after midnight. I was getting a bunch of pats on the back accompanied by some exclamations of “Great party Jason!” and other sentiments to that regard. Christine and Nancy had already attached themselves to Shaun and Ryan. The four of them were of the more rowdy of the guests. There were some hot chicks here and there who I danced with. We were at that point in the year where popularity just didn’t matter. I danced with nerd girl who had suddenly turned hot. I danced with weirdo emotional girl who had a ridiculous butt. I danced with them all and I felt great about it. It was the perfect buzz of beer and excitement and the freedom that comes from just not caring. The art of not caring rolled off me like a pro and I could tell that people found it cool. Not caring about shit in high school is just about the coolest thing ever. After high school that whole not caring bit turns into people seeing you as emotionally stunted.
I was just about to “accidentally” boob swipe soccer chick when Sage caught my eye. She had a red dress on that night with a deep scoop in the back. Her hair was up in a big bun on top of her head with little pieces falling out over her delicate face and the back of her smooth neck. She held her black kitten heels in her hand and she was dancing without inhibition. She looked more alive than I had seen her in years.
I had started noticing Sage our freshman year of high school. She always hung with the social rejects of the school and I found that there was just something about her. Last May her boyfriend open-fired at our convenient store down the road and then shot himself. Shaun, Ryan, and I had gone down to the convenient store earlier that day to pick up snacks for the party. There was a whole memorial set up in the middle of the store there with plaques and painted outlines of dead bodies. It’s pretty gruesome but it’s meant to keep us remembering the tragedy. I had seen Sage once in a while at the store buying herself some frozen lemonade. She always breezed right by the memorial without even glancing at it. She acted like it didn’t even bother her. I always wondered if it really did.
As she stood barefoot in my barn in that red dress I looked at her as a beautiful tragedy and I suddenly wanted to be close to her. I wanted to run my hands along her smooth back as we danced. I wanted the wisps of her hair to brush against my face in a slow-dancing embrace. I also wanted to do dirty things to her but somehow those took a backseat. I found myself sounding like some sort of sissy, but I just wanted to kiss her hard and hold her in my arms.
Looking back on it, in that moment I was in love with Sage. The energy of the night just scooped me up and made me hers. Her eyes were closed as she danced and enjoyed the music. I reached out and touched her fingertips because it was the only thing I could think to do to let her know I was there for her so fully and completely. She flinched a little but smiled at me as she opened her eyes.
“Thanks for having me, Jason,” She said as she came closer to dance with me.
“Well thanks for coming Miss Sage,” I said as suavely as I could muster.
“Miss Sage… I like that,” She said, and her sad eyes let through the twinkle of a smile.
“I hope I can show you a few other things that you’ll like tonight,” I said, but then faltered and cleared my throat a little too noticeably because I didn’t want her to think I was coming on to her in some sort of creepy innuendo way.
“Well Mister Jason,” She said, unfazed by my foolish exhibit, “I like the moonlight. You can show it to me if you want.”
Just like that, she felt like mine. I held her hand and brought her outside the barn and down the path to the clearing by the river. The river was high and fierce and the grass was just turning soft; just warming up and forgiving the winter months. As we neared the river Sage gasped at the beauty of the moon reflected in the water. She dropped her heels and danced over to a spot of soft grass, falling with a blind joy to look up at the moon, her red dress spilling out to her sides. I grabbed her heels and went to lay beside her, holding her small hand in mine.
“Why do you like the moon so much?” I asked.
“Because of its unassuming glow. When the moon shines you can look at it in all its glory,” she said, and then she leaned over and kissed me hard. I looked at her then, in all her glory, and I swear I was totally and completely in love.
“It will never be mine, Jason,” she said as she stood up and began to dance to the far-off music, “It can never be mine.” I propped myself up and watched her dancing with a feverish haze next to the river. It seemed like she was talking about the moon but looking back on it I’m not so sure what she was talking about. She stopped right at the edge of the bank and looked at the reflection of the sky. There was suddenly an eerie calm to her that laid stark against the fierce river, and in that calm she was suddenly gone. Without a splash, without ceremony. Panic attacked my throat as I tried calling her name. I stumbled over to the bank and looked for any sign of her. I ran with a pounding head down the river looking for any sign of her, hoping she had grabbed on to something.
She was gone. I walked back to our clearing staring at the reflection of the glory. She wanted to be swallowed by the moon, and in that moment, on that night, I wasn’t one to deny her anything. I was suddenly lost in the idea of her and there was nothing else. I was gone just as suddenly as she was. So I took her heels and I let the river swallow them whole. I then walked back to the perfect buzz of beer and excitement and the freedom that comes from just not caring.