I Find It Funny That You Never Even Knew, All The Time When I Stole A Look From You, Oh, What's In My Mind, Oh, They're Gonna Put Me Away This Time
I torment myself, that's what people say. I possess this annoying tendency to over-analyze every situation to the utmost and to be worrisome when there really isn't anything to be worrisome about. I'm not called Eeyore for nothing. Even when I'm rather impulsive--meeting up with people I barely know halfway across the country, spending hundreds of dollars on objects sight unseen, &c...--it's only for that briefest of instances. As soon as the decision is made or the journey undertaken, I go right back to playing out all the possible outcomes, all the possible repercussions to me. I don't know--I think it's the pragmatist in me. I can never be satisfied with just doing a thing without knowing all the angles. It's like I always say, there's always an angle.
"I just need to figure out this one out."
"You don't need to figure anything out, darling. It's an idea. That's all," my friend Breanne replied back as I fought off the urge to close my eyes once more. It was April of 1995 and I was trying to do my best to recover from a small cold, a middling cough, and, I suppose, a guilty conscience. I had the spent the better part of the day in bed, half-relishing and half-pretending to be sick. In part, it was a ploy to have Breanne play nursemaid. But the other part was to dissuade her from going through with her ridiculous idea of hiking out from her home all the way to Atlanta. I just didn't have the heart to just say no, which would have been the smart play. No, I had to practice deceit all in the name of sparing her feelings.
The real truth was I was nervous to merely say what I had to say.
"I want to go. I really do. But do you think it would be a good idea with this cough?"
As if on cue, I coughed meekly, making sure to invest the guttural sound with enough hoarseness to make it sound believable. I'm pretty sure she didn't buy it.
I laid my head back down on the pillow with the violet-strewn design and hoped that would be enough to stall her. I watched her inspect my face with her oceanic blue-green eyes, hoping to find the slightest tell in my demeanor or facial structure. I waited a full minute before I finally couldn't take the scrutiny any more. I slowly closed my eyes and waited for her to catch me in the lie. Instead, I felt her sit down beside where the back of my head was resting on the pillow. Then the unmistakable touch of her hands of my hair were what greeted me next. I swallowed a yelp as she nearly yanked a clump from my head. Was this to be my punishment for my deception? Death by scalping, one hair at a time? The next time I felt her fingers gather up a handful of my black locks I opened my eyes.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing. Shush up and sit still."
I brushed her arms away. Undeterred, she brought them back just as quickly.
"Not until you tell me what you're doing."
She continued to play with my hair before she answered.
"Hell's bells, I figured if you're just going to lay there like a lump on a log I might as well have some fun with you."
"Trying my damndest to give you a mohawk."
Again, I brushed her hand away and this time they stayed by her side.
Some couples fight by stating the obvious, going through all the rigmarole of screaming and yelling. Those type of couples usually have fights that flare up rather quickly, burn hot for a few hours, and then die out just as quickly. It's usually over and done with in a relatively short period of time. With Breanne and I it's always been a slow burn. I think the distance between us has afforded us the luxury of keeping the small grievances to ourselves. We overlook the small trivial annoying habits we have because we figure it's not something we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. So what could potentially be a dealbreaker if I had to see her everyday, usually means I can let it go and it's forgotten within a matter of days. However, when she starts to get on my nerves or I start to get on hers, the whole laundry list of gripes comes spewing out. Never in so many words, mind you, but there is usually a whole other level of frustration that has nothing to do whatsoever with the argument at hand. It's like one domino toppling the other until finally they all come crashing down in a well-orchestrated line.
All in all, it was an inauspicious beginning to the weekend. I was to be there four days. I was already recovering from a slight cold. I was already irritable. I was already slightly regretting okaying her plan to spend the next four days in each other's way. On paper it sounded good. Who wouldn't want to spend one hundred forty-four hours with their best friend and no parents to interfere? What's more who wouldn't want to spend one hundred forty-four hours with someone who usually is the picture of grace and etiquette, and someone who wasn't exactly unpleasant to look at? On paper it sounded like a good time. On paper it sounded like a fine time, indeed.
Then I realized what I was in for.
This wasn't just to be any old weekend. This was to be the weekend. It all came with strings attached of various lengths and colors.
The first string was that it wasn't to be the huge family blowout that I'd been led to believe would be happening. That had already happened the previous weekend, which she had conveniently neglected to tell me. Instead, I'd come to discover only a few hours prior that her parents would be going out of town and I was to be her impromptu chaperon/baby-sitter. I guess the rationale I was in college and she was in high school; I could look after her. I mean--yeah, I'd managed to keep to their good graces the last time I paid Breanne a visit, but that had been with them sleeping in the bedroom next door and me actually trying to be somewhat of a gentleman. Remove those impediments and you definitely had something else entirely. You had a string is what you had.
The second string was that it wasn't going to be four days at her parents' home like she had promised me. Nope, she wanted to go to Atlanta and, since borrowing one of her parents' cars was out of the question, she wanted to hoof it. I'm sure I've mentioned it sometime before, but I hate hiking. I love walking, but add a thirty-pound backpack replete with tent, sleeping bags, and whatever else, and I start turning into a crabby apple. Not only that, but I really didn't have it in me to be sleeping in the great outdoors when, frankly, her house was so nice and was always kept way to the side of frigid and comfortable. Lastly, hikes are notorious for spats breaking out. The stress of carrying a load, walking through heat, sweating up a storm, and just plain your feet hurting is enough to cause friction.
The last string was that that Sunday, April 23rd, was Little Miss Chipper's fifteenth birthday. Which I didn't think was a string but was the biggest string of all.
"Can't you just let me lie still for one second? Or do you not want me to be healthy to go tomorrow?"
"It was only a bit of fun. Calm down, dad," she said crossly.
"Oh, ha ha."
I stared at her staring at me. I'd disappointed her so far and it was only the first few hours of my trip. Friday. I had to last all the way to Tuesday.
I was a goner for sure. If I didn't stab her first, she'd probably smother me in my sleep.
As I watched her, I debated telling her my real concerns. I waffled as to how much truth the situation really called for. On one hand, it would definitely break the tension. We could finally get to the business of hashing out what needed to be said. On the other hand, it probably would only lead to more hard feelings and definitely muddle proceedings up further. I just didn't know what the proper course of action was. I also had the skulking suspicion that she didn't either. I'd never been in the situation of having to say what was opposite to what my heart wanted. I'd never once been in a conundrum of having to fight against fate.
She finally sighed, annoyed and embittered, and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Scooch," she instructed me.
I wiggled my head away from the bed and transferred onto the pillow furthest from her. It was cool to the touch, which actually served to calm me down some. I plopped my face down into its welcoming touch and tried to let the tension slip away from me. A few seconds later I felt the covers rustling and her crawling underneath them. I didn't bother to argue the choice. For all I knew, we were just going to nap it off. That usually solves a lot of problems, the tactic beaten into us since pre-school of relieving stress by sleeping it away in the middle of the day. Truth be told, it was kind of nice being able to sleep with her next to me. What with the fight, I thought that would be off the menu for the rest of the weekend.
I was almost asleep when I heard her speak again.
"It wouldn't be what you would think, Patrick."
"It'd be enough of it to make me think twice."
"It's not like I'm suggesting having your teeth pulled."
"You can't tell me it wouldn't be something."
"You know, something special. It'd be really... good."
I shook my head. If you knew me, you'd know that above all else I hate being annoyed. I hate it. I would rather have someone despise me and continually try to destroy me, then continually resolve to inconvenience me in small ways, intentionally or not. I rather like it when situations are simple. Somebody tries to kill me equals me avoiding that person from that point forward. Somebody tries to burn me equals me avoiding any fires when I'm with that person. It's this whole notion of leaving the ball in my court where either option has its merits and drawbacks that annoys me to no end. When I have to reason a dilemma out, that's usually when you see me at my worst. That's usually when I walk away from whatever's causing the dilemma rather than continually beat myself up over it. That's usually when I say, "it's been fun, but things are getting a little too dicey for my comfort." That's usually when I part ways with people.
The trouble was I was stuck there for the next four days.
The trouble was I couldn't part ways with her. The trouble was just how much I didn't want to be apart from her.
What I was concerned about most wasn't the during. I was positive the during would be exquisite. There was nothing else I could have imagined that would have been more in line with what I thought a first time should be. If all there was to the situation was the doing then I would have been fully aboard. It's what came after that concerned me. It's the aftermath, the consequences, the repercussions that weighed heavily on me. I didn't want to do something that would jeopardize what I had. What I had was a person I could talk to about my problems, I could talk to about where my life was headed, and I could talk to about how I felt. If pulled that string, opened that box, there would be no closing it back again. Instead of merely being my friend, she'd take on added responsibility. She'd become someone more. And if it all didn't work out, if we didn't work out, she wouldn't cease being more. She'd be an ex. Every time I would come to her as my best friend, I'd also have to come to her as an ex too. What's more, I couldn't treat her just another ex either. The two couldn't be separated from one another. I'd have to be mindful of both aspects of our relationship which was a whole other headache I didn't need.
I wasn't only worried that she was so much younger than me. I was worried that what we had was way too young to be placing such a heavy burden on it. I really was happy with her as this swiss-army of friends, encouraging me when I needed encouragement, kicking my ass when I needed a good ass-kicking, &c... I really didn't think we were strong enough to handle anything more.
Moreover, it couldn't go anywhere. I was way over in California and she was... She was, well, here.
I couldn't on good faith follow through with a plan that, while tempting, would ultimately end with someone in tears.
I'd like you to fall for me but it would soon turn lousy and wrong
I turned my body away from her. I heard more than I felt her turn hers away from mine. We laid like that for quite awhile, neither of us knowing what to say next. It wasn't like there was a point we could progress to from there. Personally, I didn't foresee us quite being able to do anything else for the remaining three days. After all, how do you say no to heaven and where do you go from there? It's like giving up on your dream and trying to welcome back the real world. The real world sucked at that point and all I could think of was trying to sleep my problems away.
That's when I heard her sniffling too. Except hers wasn't because she was fighting back a cold. Hers was for a different reason.
As soon as I heard it, it bothered me. I can't stand to hurt her on purpose like that. I never could. It will never sit right with me.
I said whatever came to mind to appease her.
"It was never a choice, you know, Breanne? It was always decided for me.
"I could never look at you and just say, yeah, that's what I want. It was always something that was off the table. Pretty soon it just became habit to focus in on the other stuff. There's so much other stuff I like that I tried to babble my way through not seeing that other stuff, the complicated stuff.
"You're my friend and you always will be. That has to be rule number one."
I gave her an opportunity to come back at me with a response, but she didn't budge. Not even a peep.
I wish she could have said something. It would have been easier to stick to my guns if I had some kind of words to play off of. How do you fight nothing? How do you to retort to a non-response. You can't. The only thing you can do is continue with your original train of thought, reiterating your basic ideas, without anything to add. You can only do that until you talk yourself through to somewhat of a conclusion, even if that conclusion is miles away from where you intended to arrive. That's how it always is. It's why salespeople are trained to let the customer talk until they say the word no, because nine times out of ten customers will talk themselves into the sale with the proper guidance. It's why in any type of negotiations the person who talks first loses. It's not because they want to lose. It's because when you're on the defensive enough to have to fill silence, you usually fill it with words contrary to your own initial position. You usually fill it with words to appease the other party, to make them want to talk to you again. Nobody likes to sit (or lay) in silence. Nobody. The weak-willed people, like myself, will usually make the first move to fill in that silence.
I needed her to talk to me again.
"You have to know how I see you, Breannie. You have to see it in the way I look at you. I may be able to hide it from you when I talk to you, but you have to notice how I see you."
I put my head back down on the pillow and waited. I couldn't hear the sniffling any more, which was a good sign. I also couldn't hear her even breathing, which wasn't such a good sign. I rested my eyes, breathing out sharply as I lay.
A few minutes later I was holding her in my arms. There was no fighting against what I wanted and it was pointless for me to try. There were just some things that were meant to happen, courses that are laid in front of us that we can't avoid. I had plenty of opportunities to pull myself away from her and walk away. I had plenty of chances to see where the road was leading and to start backing away. It could have all ended differently--not better, not worse, but different. That day wasn't one of those chances. I'd come way too far with her by that point to protest that it wasn't what I wanted all along.
I knew what I was getting myself into the instant I told her I could come celebrate her birthday with her. I couldn't say no even if I really wanted to.
I was stuck. For better or worse.
You know the rest. We hiked and camped. She ceased being someone I could trust and started becoming the only person I've ever really trusted.
Yet I find myself with the same type of qualms. I've never been able to resist her even though it's against my better judgment to allow her to dictate how our relationship is to progress. This time, instead of being too young for me, she should be completely out of my reach. And yet, and yet, and yet, she still places me at the crossroads of having to say no to something I really want for myself. Again, she puts me in the position of having to fight against fate.
If you've been reading anything here for the last few months, you know it's been bothering me again and again as to what the proper course is. I know what I want but I also know what I should do. It sucks they aren't the same thing.
I know I want to see that person who I've always felt nothing but close to. What I don't know is if I'm strong enough to resist the person I know I shouldn't be with, the person who will never move to California, the person who still treats me as sloppy seconds unintentionally sometimes, the person who's married.
I know what to do. I just don't know how I'm ever going to accomplish it. And I know how this is all going to play. We're going to have laughs, make a lot of good memories, and have big fun under the Chicago sun.
Then one of us is going to end up in tears.
I just hope it isn't me this time.