Take Time

Sometimes the only thing for it is to contact an ex. “I’m about to walk into a bank,” he said. “Cool,” I replied. “So . . . now’s a good time for a long conversation about rim jobs, then?” “You can talk about rim jobs all you want,” he said, “But I will be responding like a person in a bank.”

“That’s not actually why I called,” I said.

I said, I’ve been realizing some things, about anger, and sadness, and power; and you were right, I said, about what I should have done when we broke up. I should have taken some time to be alone. That should have been the whole point. I said: it was so self-righteous, being angry with you, that I felt like nothing I did after that could be wrong. That anything that made me happy was good and right, and as long as I was honest with everyone along the way I couldn’t take responsibility for consequences. But now I see the part I played, and not just in the most recent ending.

Emotions have momentum that way; they barrel through the present and scatter into the past like buckshot, lodging into that time you kissed on the porch while another waited for you at home, that time you didn’t respond to the letters (you rarely respond to the letters), that time someone pushed you away and got into his car, leaving you wobbling there, sniffling (things you said). Suddenly you’re standing under a constellation of regret.

“So how are you doing with that lately?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

I knew he wouldn’t receive it like the trophy it could be, so I told him the truth.

“Rough, rough, rough,” I said.

Photo: Found in a folder of images I’d taken in November of last year. The stone is fake, a costume engagement ring my great-grandmother used to wear. (What’s the story on that, anyway, great-grandma?)

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The Night I First Heard The Pixies

When I was sixteen I loved a boy who came up to my shoulders. We’d walk down the high school hallways holding hands, and to reach him my whole frame would shift about twenty degrees, which is I think why purses always fall off one end now. Back then we were blank slates, and attraction was a simpler thing; we had seen less advertisements and movies. We hadn’t lived alone or found necessary guidance in gender roles. Power was something our parents had.

He was beautiful: his hair was long and feathered. He was the fifth boy I wanted to kiss, the second boy I actually kissed, and the first whom I loved kissing. His smile took up half of his head and his teeth were whitewashed bricks. The first time we noticed one another we were at a playground near someone’s parents’ house. I had just jumped off a slide and landed inelegantly in a pile of wood chips. He said to me, “Adrianne, you look kind of like an egg.”

Then he grabbed my scarf and ran. My friend said to me, “I think he likes you.”

“Hmmwhat?” I said. “Who?” I watched him running across the field, my white wool scarf billowing behind him like some kind of ridiculous fantasy. My heart barged into my throat, where it remained for days.

Three months later:
He would break up with me in the school auditorium (a Teen Magazine quiz I’d taken just days before had asked: “How important is it to be a good girlfriend?” “Pfft!” I’d scoffed, confusing indifference with feminism, and circling not at all). I wouldn’t cry until the doors had closed behind me.

The first boy who’d kissed me would look up from his copy of Inherit The Wind. “What’s wrong!” he’d cry, running to me.

Four years from then:
I’d be visiting home on winter break from college and we’d go to the same New Year’s party — to ignore one another as we mixed drinks in the kitchen, then dance together near the DJ, and then pull one another deliriously toward a hallway. I couldn’t stop smiling. “Why do you keep laughing?” he’d ask.

I now know to stop kissing men who ask me this question; we have fundamental differences in our life philosophies and will never communicate properly.

Twenty minutes from then:
I hit my fist into the top of his head as hard as I could, stood up in disgust, knocked on Melissa’s bedroom door, and asked her to drive me home.

“. . . Adrianne? It’s late.”

“I know, I’m sorry. It’s just . . . I need to go.”

She wandered through the dark of her room, pulling on layers of clothing, while I stood a few feet away from his already slumbering form. He was still snuggled on the floor, dimly outlined against the blankets by a streetlamp’s light shifting through the venetian blinds. All grey and softness. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to punch him in the head again or hold him like a velveteen rabbit. We tip-toed around him and out the door: that was the last time I saw him.

But first, I was sixteen and he was fifteen, he had just grabbed my scarf a few days before, which I had spent filling a diary with declarations of his beautiful face, and now there was a party in a friend’s basement after we’d all gone sledding: our noses red with cold, bowls of chips on the coffee table, a movie on the TV, our friend Brendan sitting by the CD player and singing along. If man is five, if man is five, if man is five . . .

“Who is this?” I asked. “I love it.”

Everyone was distracted; musical instruments were brought out, Cheetos thrown. Melissa and Joel, married eleven years later, were possibly flirting. Nate was probably playing a keyboard or a bass or whatever he played. I’d loved him too, but earlier, and unrequited so whatever. What movie was on? I can’t picture it. I walked near the couch and the boy who called me an egg suddenly grabbed me around the waist and pulled me onto his lap.

And thus began a new happiness.

I’ve never been a person who touches other people. I didn’t hug my friends or cuddle with my family. My little sister used to try and snuggle up to me when we shared a bed as kids and I’d shove her away, pressing a jagged line into our sheets with my finger. “Do not cross this,” I’d say, “or I’ll kick you.” And as I grew up, it wasn’t that I didn’t want that natural touchiness my friends had with one another; I just felt like it was too late for me by then. I didn’t know how. I was a bundle of limbs and sharp angles. I didn’t have the right. To touch was to potentially invade.

But when the boy with the beautiful hair and whitewashed teeth reached out his slender arms and pulled me onto his lap, I melted into the couch.

In retrospect I was probably crushing him. He was like 5’2″. Still, he managed to surround me, fold me in. I was mute for the rest of the party, overcome with his closeness and warmth. He didn’t let go. Time stopped, everything was feeling. No other firsts would compare with that first time of being held.

Melissa drove me home and could tell I was trouble. I beamed and stared dreamily out of her car window.

“I just . . . don’t want you to get your hopes up so high,” she said. “It seems like this meant a lot to you, and maybe it was just . . . a passing thing for him.” Her eyes darted off the road to meet mine. “You know, I hear he’s kinda slutty.”

“I know, I know,” I insisted. “But I don’t care. We could never talk again. Anything terrible might happen tomorrow or months from now, we could date or break up or he could ignore me forever. It doesn’t undo tonight.”

When I got home I opened my CD player and slipped in my Rufus Wainwright album. I lit all the candles in my bedroom (it was the late 90s, we had a lot of them) and I curled up on my bed and I made a line of pillows and I wrapped my arms around it. I felt overwhelmingly safe. The warmth of his arms remained in my elbows, and I thought it would never leave. Loved! Loving! Happy, happy, happy.

Sure, easy for us, then. I didn’t know the sting of loss; I couldn’t dread that yet. I hadn’t built a library of ways to be hurt, evasion strategies, plan b’s. No bridges had been built to preemptively cross. Just me, on my desert island, an ocean shroud all around, with its mysterious creatures lurking beneath.

The main thing was, back then present happiness wasn’t predicated on the assurance of future happiness.

Last night I was walking back to my boyfriend’s apartment from at party at 4 in the morning. It’s been snowing and sleeting and raining pretty much nonstop the entire month I’ve been here, and the streets were a labyrinth of rutted ice and deep puddles. The wind rattled in the trees. And then, everything was quiet. No cars on the road at that hour, no bicyclists, no other pedestrians. Just the ice and wet streets, the gentle chatter of my boots. The party had given a glimmer of a feeling: that envelopedness, that excitement of something new, the ocean all around. I thought about being sixteen and wedged between pillows.

Also other tendernesses, other surprise sweetnesses — other ways to have been suddenly held. None of them lasted forever; each had its tip-toe out scene, its sting or regret. But so far, none of those endings have been what has stuck. When I think of you, I think of how we met.

You’re leaning over the counter top, your sleeves covered in sawdust — “Actually,” you say, “I forgot to ask — do you want to grab dinner sometime or something?” You’re sitting on top of a bronze turtle at the zoo, one hand raised to the sky in victory; I snap the photo. I’m wearing taffeta and your sleeves are cut off: the bottle points to me. We’re laying on a conference room floor surrounded by popcorn kernels and our shoulders are connected by an electric current: I lend you my sweater for a pillow and afterwards it smells wonderfully of your hair. (I know this because I brought it to my own face, to inhale; I know this because I hoped it would.) Your hand is on my waist and you’re spinning me around the room, telling me this is how your parents met. We’re on your porch and it’s getting cold — I say “I’m going to just scootch next to you, if you don’t mind” and your hand naturally falls on my shoulder, like it had always been there. It still is.

Warm, assuring, close, whatever might happen later. We could live this way.

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Life Lesson #7

Thanksgivings! We’d sleep on the floor of your family’s Connecticut farm house on pieces of foam, heaps of blankets. We’d wake up to the little border collie snuggled in between your legs. In my memory it is also snowing outside, falling on the trees and melting into the pond and dusting the little butter-colored baby chickens. In my memory it is everything wonderful I ever saw with you, curated into one weekend. Pickled okra, stuffing, cranberries, “these mashed potatoes are so creamy!” We’d eat all day on Thursday, fall asleep on the couch to Home For the Holidays Thursday night, sleep late on Friday and eat pie leftovers for breakfast and lunch. Your mom, fixing something. Your sisters, a dance party in the kitchen. I would knit something, you would read articles on your laptop and any time you laughed I would say “what?”

It’s well over a year later. I love someone else. I am beginning to accept that I may always miss this in November.

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I Set Out One Night

The rainy night I stumbled out of our apartment to get a cab to the nearest cheap hotel, I had forgotten what breaking up feels like. Obviously, or I couldn’t have done it in the first place. Ending a relationship is a lot like moving: no one who remembers their last time would willingly subject themselves to it again. (Also, point of information, there is a solid month of both breaking up and moving which nothing is actually worth.)

The day after the breakup itself was even worse, which is also how it always is, and which I’d also conveniently forgotten. I lay dumbstruck on Jourdan’s bed, and was just beginning to wonder if I’d actually survive, when a song I hadn’t heard before came up on shuffle into my headphones.

Leonard Cohen — Undertow

I skipped back to it. And skipped back. And then I looked up the setting on my iPod I’d never used: one-song repeat, so that it would just keep playing over and over and over until I told the damn thing to shut off, which I didn’t for two days, because it was all I wanted to listen to. I laid there next to a mountain of pillows and Kleenex and thought “okay. It’s going to be okay. You know how to do this.”

I first met you during a typically spacey/humiliating moment. I’d mixed up my schedule and was an hour late to my first day of Computer Science I. I’d opened the door in horror to see a professor mid-lecture, thirty other beady eyes staring back up at me. There were no free desks. I was ready to stand in the corner like the dunce I was, but the professor told me to find you in your office.

You were tall, your hair was long, you wore glasses. In my memory that day you had a sneaky grin on, which you continue to wear in nearly every memory I have of you. Sparkly-eyed, devious about something, big-smiled. You sailed confidently into that crowded classroom and the sea of students parted, chairs squeaking; you disappeared into a back storage room and returned to me, holding a desk over your head, grinning. “Here you go,” you announced, setting it down at my feet.

I would have a crush on you starting then. I told all of my friends and they told you, as was fashionable at the time.

They said you said, “Adrianne looks good in that yellow t-shirt.”

So I wore it as often as possible when filling out my time-sheets in your office. Boss.

Important Memory #2: We are dancing in Skiff’s lecture room to A Tribe Called Quest, you are holding a drink above your head and singing along, a projector beams magenta and gold light against the wall. You aren’t wearing a shirt under your lab coat, I find this amazing.

Later you would take me outside under the cherry blossom tree. “Isn’t it beautiful out tonight?” you asked, leaning.

In your office near the fridge, I turned to you abruptly. “Two things. One, I’ve had a crush on you for three years. Two, the thing is, I currently have a boyfriend.”

You were incredibly embarrassed. You shuffled outside without even grabbing the beers we’d come in for, paced in front of Stone Row with a cigarette. I watched you from a dark window inside.

Important Memory #3: Right, I broke up with that guy months later in Boston, cried for a while, etc. Then you visited for a weekend. No big deal, we thought we’d go roller skating. Is this even a date?

“That was just as nice as I thought it would be,” I said after our first kiss. We made out for the rest of the weekend on my borrowed futon. Sunday night I walked you sadly back to your car for your drive back to upstate New York. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again.

I still smile when I think about how you’d forgotten to turn your headlights off, that whole time. You turned to me. “I guess . . . I’m staying another night?”

Your mother, opening her arms to me in your family’s dirt driveway. “She’s so talllll!”

The way we slept, the way we woke up, tangled in knots with each other’s limbs.

A disgusting slimy eggpouch thing found in a pond, rural Connecticut. I sat on the dock, legs dangling in the water, while you and your high school friends flung this thing at each other, grossing everyone out. He inched in front of me, and you paused with it held over your head, and then lowered your arm. “Oh,” one of your friends said, “of course, he would never throw it near Adrianne.”

Every wedding we went to, holding your hand. Once, on the placecards, you wrote “loves” under your name, placed it aside mine.

A late night drive through upstate New York, you think I am sleeping. You play every version of “Hallelujah”, and then repeat them all, occasionally singing along. I am safe and warm, curled up in your passenger seat, stars overhead, dark blur of pine trees at our sides.

We decided to move in together late at night, to avoid the Boston September 1st rush. It was around 3 when we finished, arms shaking with exhaustion. I went into the bedroom to put on the sheets, and when I came out, you’d arranged a living room for us, turned on a lamp, thrown a red silk blanket over the couch. “I thought you might want it to feel like home,” you said.

Anxious, I would call you. Always.

The other night, after over a year of emails, anguished conversations, potential reconciliation, talks on the phone, therapists, I suggested to Jurvis that we officially close the door on trying things again. He asked that we not speak for a while. We assured each other we’d eventually be friends.

I trudged into my bedroom, put on headphones, and gave that beautiful song one more listen.

I set out one night / when the tide was low. / There were signs in the sky, / but I did not know.

And then, without even intending the symbolism, I let shuffle move on to the next song.

And my heart the shape of a begging bowl.

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