I Was Acting As If You Were Lucky To Have Me, Doing You A Favor, I Hardly Knew You Were There, But Then You Were Gone And It Was All Wrong
a response to 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
Sometimes I take a page from real life when it comes to finding inspiration. Very often, like the old medicine men and snake oil peddlers, I'll rely on the old superstitions to get me through a situation I don't have the nerves for. One of those old chestnuts I seem to pull out again and again is to go bowling when I'm afraid a situation is getting too intense or too fraught with emotion, when I become a shadow feared of man. It's a crutch, I know, but it is one of many. Like running away or like running my mouth like same jabbering bloodhound, I have found this particular crutch works very well in a pinch.
The undeniable truth about bowling, you see, is that I think it's impossible to have a totally serious discussion inside a bowling alley. The cacophony of sound, the cattle of people, the abominable shoes--they all lend themselves to an atmosphere where you can't be taken seriously and where you can't have a sustained thought. It's simply impossible. I reckon it'd be like trying to track a flying goose in a snowstorm; you just can't follow it.
That's always been the theory anyway.
I don't know, though. That theory always gets shot to Halifax when it comes to Eeyore. I think that boy could engage me in a sustained discussion about world politics in the midst of your average noisy rock show if he put his mind to it. So it didn't surprise that when I felt my face redden enough to have to fan myself while we were out at the pier sitting below the ferris wheel and suggested we go look for some skeeball, that he would still manage to keep us on track. There are certain folk who have got a way about them. As Mr. Joel says, don't know what it is.
There I found myself, searching for a little brown ball to distract me from the situation at hand, thousands of miles away from home, unable to hang up the phone or step away from the keyboard, unable to put some distance between us. We talked as we walked. We contemplated and hemmed and hawed as we wove between the masses of people, a hissing two-headed snake streaming the crowd of barely comprehensible statues. It wasn't a fight. It felt more like a confession. It felt more like something one would say if one were talking objectively about another pair of people, another couple. It would have been appropriate to refer to myself in the third person, that's how detached I felt.
"The Patrick wants to know how the Breanne feels about his chances."
"The Breanne feels unsure."
"The Patrick understands."
I don't know if the conversation would have ended abruptly had we been able to find an arcade with a skeeball court. Hell's bells, I know would have felt infinitely more comfortable, that's for sure. I think the conversation would have veered slightly away from the tension and the awkwardness that seemed to dog it every step of the way. Or, who knows, it might have played out exactly the same except we would have been keeping score--in more ways than one.
Maybe we would have come up with some definite answers about everything. The Breanne definitely would have appreciated that.
"We could go to Chuck E. Cheese. They have skeeball there, sugar," I suggested, not even ten minutes after my parents had left for their romantic getaway, leaving me to mine.
It was the weekend of my fifteenth birthday and all the preparations had been set except for one--namely, the consent of the other individual involved. A minor technicality, to be sure, but still a very important one. I had full confidence that obtaining that would be like water off a duck's back, real smooth-like.
I've always had that knock against me, that when it comes to my friends or family I take things for granted. I assume that I can get my way. I assume that I can talk my way into getting what I want. It isn't vanity per se, more like a healthy confidence that sometimes spills over into a bit of arrogance. I like handling people. It's one of the few things I believe I'm great at. I've always thought that when I have the situation under control there is no stopping me. It's when I feel the situation slipping away from me that I tend to retreat and come back at it from another angle a few hours later. However, most of the time from an idea's conception to cremation I can usually finagle people into seeing things my way in one fell swoop. Sure, some people are harder to convince than others, but sometimes you've got to poke the beehive more than once to get to the honey.
Plus, I was still fourteen at the time. A small amount of brattiness came with the territory.
"What's with you and skeeball? And bowling too. You've definitely got a fetish for small balls."
"You would know, darling," I laughed. Score one for me. "Besides, you wanted something to do besides get to eating."
"I know, but it's either that or lay around in bed all night and that's just no fun. Unless, of course, that's something you're up for."
I gave him a coy smile.
That's the problem with being young. You think you know everything. I thought of everything in terms of winning and losing. I thought by getting my way it proved I was winning in much the same way I used to think my mother won because she could get me to do what she wanted when I was a little kid. I thought winning arguments, persuading people was a sign of a person's intelligence, persistence, and wits. I thought about every conversation having someone who was strong and someone who was weak--and how I never ever wanted to be the weaker person.
The truth was I was only strong when I was with him, but without him I was weak. You can't be a winner of anything if it's only you. That was something that took me a long time to learn.
I took the opportunity to casually walk upstairs from the parlor, knowing he would eventually have to follow me. It was simple physics really. This wasn't his house, he was a guest, and I was perfectly in control. Instead of leading him back to my bedroom, which I thought would be painfully obvious, I lead him back to the guest bedroom, somewhere I thought he'd be more comfortable. It took a few minutes, but eventually he made his way to me.
He sat down silently beside me.
I promptly reminded him to cover his face with his hand, even going so far as to use my own hand for illustration. It was a simple act. In fact, I reacted without thinking. My mother used to do that with me when I was younger. I would sneeze and I would feel her hand immediately cup around my nostrils softly until she was sure I was done. She would tell me it was being polite, but to me it was a small sign of caring from somebody who didn't often show me caring--especially in public. I would think to myself how nice her fingers felt, how warm her skin was against my lips. I would smell the jasmine, the pear, or whatever scent she happened to be wearing that day and my heart would glow. She could have been chewing into me with an indictment of how ungraceful, impolite, or unintelligent I had just been, but when she would cover my nose for me I could suspend my disbelief of my mother's love for me.
That's probably why I let my own linger for so long on his face. I realized what an intimate act it was to let my fingers lapse there.
"We could just stay here if you want. I'm sure you must be tired from your flight."
"Actually, I do have kind of a cold."
"Really? Then it's for definite. We simply must stay home tonight--especially if we're going to do my birthday in style this weekend."
Problem solved. I win.
I put my arm around him for comfort and partially to give the illusion that I was conceding to what he wanted. I didn't want him to put together that it was my plan all along to stay home that night and that I had no intention of playing skeeball or bowling of whatever other options I might have brought up. All I wanted to do was keep it simple and spend some time at home with him. I knew he was uncomfortable and I knew he was probably trying to remain uncommitted to making the evening overtly romantic. In his head, this was nothing more that two friends visiting each other. He probably had visions of tis trip being something platonic and chaste in its tone. I myself was under no such delusions and, secretly, I don't think he was either.
It's like my daddy always says, "Other people might call sushi food, but down here we still call it bait." You can try to disguise it. You can dress it up in fancy philosophies and genteel terms, but eventually you have to face facts. There is only one big reason somebody would consent to fly to the other side of the country to see somebody of the gentler sex. And it ain't to join her sewing circle.
The fact about life is that people always wish to remain good even when the choices they make squarely put them on the other side of the tracks. My personal perspective has always been that I was born wicked, I've always had wicked tendencies, I've always been reckless and impulsive. Sure, I can maintain my composure when I want or need to, but I'm never going to be the person content to just admire the lake. I'm always going to cause waves. I'm always going to be the person throwing stones into the lake just to see what comes crawling out. That's my nature. And, that being so, I don't much use for doing something you know is bad if you waste all your time wishing you were good. Again, there's no fun in that.
What I really wanted to do was get beneath the covers with him, slip out of our clothes, and just do what comes naturally. I didn't have any pretensions of maintaining a healthy distance. I wanted what I wanted and I was doing everything I could think of to get what I wanted. You know the drill. I can only be little 'ole Breanne--no more, no less.
"We'll see. I might just try to get some sleep tonight, if you don't mind. I know it's a shitty thing to do on my first day here, but I really do want to be healthy for whatever you've got planned for the next few days."
I smiled as best I could. Inside, though, I was trying to come up with an appropriate response. On one hand I didn't want to kill the mood. On the other hand, if his illness was genuine, then I didn't want to be insensitive and tell him that getting his rest wasn't important to me. Mostly, I wanted the rest of the weekend to go according to plan.
"Oh, that's not important. I'm sure whatever we do for my birthday, it'll be fine, darling."
"No, we have to do something spectacular. After all, it's not everyday your best friend turns fifteen."
I watched as he laid down on the bed, pretending to be sicker than he really was. I couldn't say for sure, but his "illness" didn't so much come crawling in like a turtle as much as thundering in like an elephant. He appeared to be getting less composed by the minute.
It's funny, we'd been friends for over a year at that point, but I still didn't recognize the act for what it was. His faking an illness was like my looking for skeeball at Navy Pier all these years later. It was his way of maintaining his point-of-view without introducing thoughts contrary to his point-of-view. He wanted to see this as an innocuous trip to visit his innocent young friend, even though it wasn't. It was much in the same vein as my not wanting to discuss what we were in actually in Chicago for while we actually in Chicago. It was a way of protecting himself from making what was about to happen real. It was a way of blocking it out of his mind and making it less true in a sense.
Foolish me, I just wanted to be done with the pretense. I acted as if he was lucky to have me and I just wanted him to say it for once. I took on the notion that he was being a bad friend because he wasn't being completely honest with me about the way he felt. I was like the biggest star in my own galaxy, enamored with my own perfection. I never once considered that real friends take their time when it comes to big decisions affecting the friendship. I never once considered that he was being more than a gentleman, he was being someone who cared about me more deeply than anybody else I'd ever known up until that point. He didn't want to get hurt, but, more importantly, he didn't want me to get hurt either. I was acting like I was completely positive that us having sex would be the best thing for us, when I didn't know for sure. I was so caught up in showing him I wasn't scared that I wasn't allowing myself time to decide if I actually was.
"It's like skeeball," I suddenly ventured.
"Sometimes we do things to take our minds off of what we're actually thinking of doing."
I was confusing him, but part of that was intentional. I was working at starting a conversation that would lead him to where I wanted him to go. Everyone knows you don't start a conversation with what you want, you end on it. If you start on something small and meaningless, and work your way towards the goal then it's more effective.
"I just think sometimes you worry too much about what I'm going to think. It's okay if you want to do something--I don't know--spontaneous... something you're not sure of."
"You're running me around in circles, Breanne. What are you talking about?"
"I think we should hike to Atlanta and camp along the way. I think that'd be fun--just you and I alone for three or four days. Don't you think that'd be fun, sugar?"
I can honestly say I've never wanted Patrick more than I wanted him then. It wasn't just that I wanted him to be first, it was the fact that I felt it was my idea and I didn't want to give up on my idea. It was also the fact that he was so hesitant about it. I was like the dog who was normally docile, but give her something to chase and suddenly I become a greyhound. I wanted it more because he was trying to take it away from me.
But mostly I wanted to have sex because he really was (and is) my first love.
However, his answer left much to be desired.
"I just need to figure out this one out."
"Do we really have to talk about this now, Patrick? Can't we just enjoy each other's company without trying to figure out what it all means?"
We walked over to the railing and admired the view of Chicago's skyline while I tried to compose myself.
had no idea how much I cared
Maybe I didn't care. Maybe I never really cared at all. Maybe all trip was my attempt at recapturing that spirit of my youth. Maybe all this was was an opportunity to do something that people were telling me I shouldn't be doing, an opportunity to break up the feeling of monotony that I had been experiencing lately. Maybe I never really appreciated what he and I had all along, and to talk about it openly in the throng of the crowd like that would expose just how shallow I really was.
I turned to face him and looked at somebody impossibly, improbably was then standing in front of me.
Of course, I cared. Of course, it was real. It was because it was so real that I didn't want to be talking about it.
Nothing had changed. I was still married. I was still going to have to go back home which was till three thousand miles from his home. We were still forever together, yet forever apart. It made me sick to reflect on it, but unlike Eeyore's psychosomatic version, mine was real. Mine was the heartsickness of somebody who didn't want to figure out what was going to happen next, didn't want to open my mouth one peep as to lend creedance that there was a next. I wanted to keep my faith in that the now was all there was, that wanting there to be more would be a mistake. I wanted, to borrow the phrase, to fight against my fate and stop trying to get what I wanted. I wanted to firmly believe that there is at least one thing that I just couldn't have.
"Is that what you really want?"
"What I really want is for the two of us to enjoy the beautiful view because in a few days we won't have it. Do you think you can do that, sugar?"
It took a few moments, but eventually I heard him answer.
I walked up behind him, both of us still at the railing, wrapped my right arm around him, and laid my head on his shoulder. It was a pretty view. It really was, but all I could see was one thing, that this would probably be one of the last views we would be sharing together.
"I don't know whether to say I'm only twenty-seven or if I should be saying I'm already twenty-seven. I don't know if it's too late or to be reassuring and say we still have time left, Patrick."
"That's all you. You're the only one who can decide that."
"I don't know--you're the decisive one, you're the strong one."
"Only when I'm with you. Without you I'm weak."
I heard him laugh.
"Now that's completely untrue. You're the strongest person I know, Breannie."
I was a mess. I am a mess. Who am I? I'm just the woman who went on a vacation without her husband and with the man she lost her virginity to, that's who I am. I'm just the woman who should have said no and left the whole hurricane behind her. I'm the person who's completely untrustworthy, who's completely impulsive and reckless, and who's completely out of control.
Who am I?
I'm that wicked person parents and the church teach their kids not to be. The Wicked Breanne.
I'm also the person who is still in love with her best friend.
"I want to talk about this I really do. Just not here. Can it wait till we get back to the hotel room, until it's somewhere where folks won't be too appalled seeing me blabber like a drunken idiot? Something tells me this conversation ain't exactly going to be a hoot-and-a-half to have, sugar. I just don't want to be crying in public is all."
"It's alright we don't have to talk about it if you don't want. I understand."
I placed my other around him from behind and buried my head in his shoulder. I let out a barely inaudible sight. It really was a great view of the city. It really had been a great vacation overall, considering. I really was going to miss everything about it.
"But what about us?" I asked him nonchalantly.
"We'll always have Chicago."
Then it was my turn to laugh.