By Wednesday night, your roommate, Jimmy, comes home to find you lying down, “... getting some rest.” You have a mix of Counting Crows’ angstiest hits blasting the unlit room. “A Long December” appears on the song list six times, though, in your defense, two of those times are the live version. You are bawling. Your arms are quietly flailing, trying to find a comfortable position. Writhing in your hand with motion sickness is Evan Williams—or at least his face on a bottle of his branded Single Barrel Kentucky Bourbon. Jimmy is still in the doorway, trying not to laugh, but petrified.
“Uh. Hey,” he tries.
You try not to look as dumb as you know you look. You swallow, “I just can’t...” in the form of mucus, which loses a very violent fight with your throat before it drops into your Pit Of Emptiness, and you mumble, “... get out of this rut, you know?” Your blank look compliments your heavy panting quite well.
Jimmy is a deer caught in the helicopter spotlights of a SWAT team slowly closing in. His mouth sneaks open so as not let the rest of him notice. His eyes try to run away but they hear the ready-to-shoot “click” from your eyes, unflinching and desperate. Jimmy can’t move, so he plays as dumb as you look. “Work? Ehehh... midterms ’n’ stuff gettin ya? Ehehh....” He is still frozen. The weight of his backpack goes unnoticed.
“So much work. Ya. Soooo much work,” you say. “Ha... other stuff too though....”
“Oh yeah... you’re sick, huh?” He blinks so his eyes can catch their breath. You make eye contact! Your eyes and his work the whole thing out. You both cut the bullshit. He smiles and finally sits down at the foot of his bed.
“So what’ll it be?” Jimmy begins. “Are we goin’ with ‘There are plenty of other girls,’ ‘She wasn’t good enough for you,’ ‘Look at it this way...’ or something new and exciting, like, ‘You probably shouldn’t have cheated on her all those times’?”
Your eyes are closed. The darkened outlines of the room around you are swaying back and forth on the insides of your eyelids. Either that or your head is moving around a lot. Or you might be very drunk. But one thing’s for sure: “I never cheated on her. I’ve never cheated on anyone,” you say calmly, realizing halfway through the statement that Jimmy probably knew this.
“Well, I guess we’re not going with new-and-exciting then.” He waits. The silence is either extremely comfortable or extremely uncomfortable, you can’t decide which. It’s certainly not moderately either of those. “Listen man: this is just that shit you go through," Jimmy says. "It happens, and then it ends. You know, though, this is gonna be a whole lot easier ’cause she doesn’t go to school here. You don’t have to see her, y’know?”
“Haha, yeah. Just like when we were together!” You laugh at yourself for the first time in a while—eleven days. “Man, good thing I kept the whole long-distance thing going through college,” you stammer sarcastically. “Ha... twice the talking, half the sex, and the same old break-up.” You think to yourself that you somehow miss the talking more than the sex. Or maybe you miss the sex more. Yes, you might be very drunk.
“Listen man, I’ll give you some time to just hang out,” Jimmy says. “If you need me, I’m here. You and Counting Crows have a grand old time together.” You hear him laughing on the way out. “Man, I’d almost rather drink alone than listen to that shit....”
You and Counting Crows party all night long.
You spend the rest of the week going through the motions, and staring into space. Only this time you know what you’re thinking about. Sometimes it’s a photo of her lying down beside you. Sometimes it’s a short video on Repeat of the two of you at lunch. One of you cracks a joke. You both laugh, and then stop. She stares at you, and smiles. Her hair is dark and curly, and smells like sex. She has one dimple—you’re the only one who’s ever noticed. She wears no makeup, and needs even less. Her clothes are trendy—that’s all you really know, or care about. She loves fashion. She’s looking at your over-gelled hair and “totally into it.” She sees the beard you can’t grow in, and the shirt you wore the day before covering your scrawny, stringy body. She keeps smiling. “Stop staring at me!” you both say at oh-my-god the same time! Boy... you were that couple, huh?
You call her, just to talk about things. If you talk everything out, maybe things will make more sense. “God, it’s like you’re breaking up with me again,” you’ll say after you talk about things.
Her familiar voice is tired. “Then why did you call me?”
You call three more times before the week is over. She breaks up with you three more times. You decide she only had to do it once.
You take out a sheet of paper and write a To Do list. You write until the pen is just a stick of plastic. You get a new pen and a calendar. You overfill it—the lines become blurs, the margins become scrap paper. You keep busy. You don’t know how long it’s been, but you’re sufficiently distracted. You’re getting straight A’s in all your classes, one of which is a graduate level class. You’re now the president of the Entrepreneurship Club, and you’ve joined two new organizations: “Community Served” and “Whitewater Rafterz.” Also, you’ve taught yourself how to: whistle; beat box; play the didgeridoo.
You don’t go over your allotted cell-phone minutes for the fourth month in a row. You go home for the summer. You see your parents. You see old friends. They tell you they like your hair without the gel, and the new shoes, too. The beard is growing in nicely. They are impressed with your recent success recording a whistle/ beat box/ didgeridoo album, starting a company to market and sell the album to hundreds, and donating half the proceeds to charity, still turning quite a handsome profit to organize a week-long whitewater rafting trip.
Then, when she calls, you are in your old bedroom reading The Catcher in the Rye for the sixth time, just because you love nostalgia. As you see her name and long-lost picture show up under the little animated icon of a ringing phone on your cell phone screen, you wonder if you’re over her. You’ve been so busy you’ve just had less and less time to think about her. In fact, Counting Crows aren’t even on your iPod’s Top 25 Most Played Songs anymore. You pick up the phone. “Hey.”
“How are you?”
“I’m good. Good. You?”
The minimalist conversation so far could be transcribed for a Pulitzer. You smile. Something is wonderfully odd about her voice. It sounds... normal. Like any other person. You lie on your old bed, the same bed you’ve had your entire life, gripping a bottle of water. The Catcher in the Rye is on the nightstand, and your speakers sing quiet renditions of Queen music in the background. You realize you’re still on the phone.
“So you called me,” you start. Your pointer and middle fingers tap the music’s beat on your thigh.
“Yeah...,” she answers. “I was wondering if... if you were home... if you wanted to maybe get lunch while we’re here. Y’know, catch up and stuff.”
Your smile grows as you realize how hard it was for her to say that. “Sure, I’ll go to lunch with you. Let’s go tomorrow.”
You drive to her house and pick her up, just like you used to. She shows you her smile as she gets into the passenger seat. The awkward hug that occurs between any two people sitting next to each other in the front seat pays you a visit. You half turn towards each other and reach over the center console of your mother’s Toyota, hugging from head to shoulders, each of your seatbelts in a tug of war for their respective huggers. You take a good look at her. She’s wearing that designer jacket you never really liked. It’s pretentious, and you’re positive that has nothing to do with the fact that she told you how much it cost when she got it. Her face is plain, except for the sunglasses that are way too big. At the Chinese restaurant, she talks about her family, her semester, her friends... her dog, her favorite books, her latest embarrassing moment... her new friends, her never-again friends, her dog again. You stare at her, listening to eight percent of it. You enjoy the sound of your egg roll crunching apart in your mouth. Your teeth work to a beat; you listen to about ninety-two percent of this process. She continues talking. She hasn’t changed—this is clear. But something has. The restaurant scene behind her goes out of focus and her voice speeds up in your head, echoing about her dog.
She speaks. You answer, “Uh-huh.”
She speaks. You answer, “Yeah, seriously.”
She speaks. You answer, “No way! Really?” You are completely over her.
You drive her home. The Queen playing in your car stereo is very distracting because three completely different Queen songs are playing in your head at the same time. You stop in front of her house.
“Listen, I’m really glad we did this,” she says. “I just really hope that we can be friends.”
You think about what you’ve come to realize in the last hour about your ex-girlfriend. You tell the muscles in your face not to move with such sarcasm, but the corners of your mouth reach for your ears. A breath of laughter escapes out your nose.
“Oh, I’m glad too,” you say. You think for a second about what else you may want to say to her. A second is all you need. “But, you know, I don’t think this is gonna work out really.”
“What?” she asks.
You do the upper-body half-turn in your driver’s seat. You unbuckle your seatbelt. “Well, we broke up,” you start. “We were together. You were my girlfriend... I loved you.” You did. You loved her. “Well now that’s over. You broke my heart.” She did. She broke your heart. “It’s been awhile... and... I’m over it. I’m over you.”
Her eyes look downward. “Oh....”
“And frankly... well, I’ve got lots of great friends. I don’t need another friend. Actually, I never wanted to be friends with you. I wanted you to be my girlfriend—and you were. So we never really were friends.” Your eyes narrow in self-reflection. “We were what—I mean, we went to high school together, dated through some of college, and now we’re done. We can’t go back to high school together, so I just don’t think the whole friend thing is gonna work, y’know? I guess you can count me out.”
Her eyebrows touch. “But you don’t understand. I still love you. Not in the same way, not as a boyfriend, but still, I still love you.”
You press your lips together. “Listen,” you say. “This really is harder for me than it is for you....” You look her right in the eyes, your face completely honest.
She takes a very deep breath; the breath seems to go on forever. You wait for it to end.
You sit comfortably in the driver seat. There is some kind of weirdly entertaining Queen medley going on in your head. You wait for it to end.
She stammers, “So I guess. Um. I guess this is it. Then.”
“Yeah,” you say, and you’re not being sadistic, you’re just straightforward.
You turn, she unbuckles her seatbelt, and you hug. You do the weird kiss-on-the-cheek-at-the-same-time thing. It seems appropriate. You put your hand up as she walks up her stairs and into her house. You lower your windows and you drive away, so everything that was just inside the car is sucked out into the street, so it turns into someone else’s air.
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