Chapter and Verse
I should tell you, really, that my history of boy-craziness is both long-standing and well documented.
When I was sixish, I shared my first kiss with a boy named Philip Elm in the refrigerator box house inside our day care center. In my mind’s eye it was a minutes-long and passionate embrace, but since at that particular point in my life I wasn’t capable of sitting still for longer than eight seconds, I’m guessing in actuality it was more of a quick and clumsy lip bump. No matter. Either way it set me on a course I’ve not veered from in the many years since.
From my first love -- and consequently my first heartbreak -- to my life’s love, boys have been the defining detail of my passage through time. My father can hear a song, any song from between 1948 and 48 seconds ago, and tell you exactly where he was the first time he heard it, what he was wearing, who he was with, what they were wearing, and so on. Music has carried him through the various chapters of his life. But for me, it’s all about the boy. Fourteen-year-old Matt -- the heartbreaker -- was the first to tell me he loved me. Freshman year of college, Scott was the first one to mean it. Brett was the one I graduated with, the one I moved away from home with, the one I danced with at my wedding, and the one I was too young to marry. Jim was the one that watched me hit 30 (or, more accurately, Jim was the one that watched 30 bitch-slap me and never look back) and taught me how to behave like a grown up, in love if nowhere else. Each stage, each learning experience, each boy a turning of a page.
But the book itself, the unfinished, mottled story that is still meandering past all these tidy, tied-up boy chapters… the book belongs to Jeff.
I don’t know when I fell in love with Jeff. It wasn’t at first sight, although I do remember the first time I saw him, spoke to him. He was teasing a girl who would become my closest friend; he knew her older sister from the very radio station where I was waiting to interview for my first post-college job. At the time I wasn’t thinking he was cute, or smart, or seemed to have a wit that weirdly and perfectly complimented my own. I was thinking how ridiculously unfair it was that this girl’s sister already worked there and that I hated the both of them for being jovial and flirtatious and overly unconcerned with things while I was trying so hard not to unprofessionally throw up.
It wasn’t the first time we kissed, bombed on a company trip in South Beach, three months after my wedding.
It wasn’t the first time he told me he loved me, over potato cheese soup at a Houlihan’s. Come to think of it I might have already been in love before the soup arrived, or I probably would’ve been pretty put off by him choosing that particular venue and meal for such a weighty declaration.
But it seems that there hasn’t been a chapter of this book untouched by him in the years since then -- ten of them, which is a lot of years when you’re not even halfway through your thirties. And it’s an inexplicable grip, seeing as we’ve never been openly together as a real, honest-to-goodness couple. We worked together, after all, so there was that. And I was married, so there was definitely that. But we were in love, complete with passionate fights and sex so good I once ripped the towel bar right off the wall in a friend’s mom’s half-bath. And we were in love on quiet Sunday mornings and during powerful talks about family and fear and the future and grand plans for moving up and on, together. We were, most certainly, in love. He made me laugh so hard once I peed my pants. He made me cry so hard, more than once, that I considered suicide. We were in love, and that is something.
I’ll give you a picture of the nature of this relationship. My best friend, the one with the older sister, calls him Lucy. Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon, because of her cruelly funny practice of holding out the football, daring Charlie Brown to run fast, throw his whole body into it, and commit to the follow-through. In this particular storyline Lucy always, always, yanks the ball away at the last second and laughs, paying no mind to the fact that poor old Chuck is on his back, windless, embarrassed at once again, and again, and again, having invested himself wholly in something that he couldn’t control, even when he was suspiciously aware of how things would turn out. We’ve never discussed how this analogy makes me the spineless Charlie Brown. And we’ve never talked about Charlie’s voluntary, recurring reappearance on the football field, or his seemingly irrepressible willingness to participate in this ugly tableau. We’ve never asked why Charlie doesn’t, just once because maybe that’s all it would take, kick Lucy instead. We just say damn that aloof Lucy and her mean games.
Those middle years between South Beach and now are sort of fuzzy, as middle years are wont to be. We tried, honestly. I got divorced, we got new jobs; those are real, intrepid efforts no matter who you ask. It didn’t work and I can’t for the life of me remember why. And through those fuzzy years came Jim, went Jim, went a handful of no-need-to-name others, a few I couldn’t name if I tried. But always, Jeff.
I’ve seen him only twice in the past few years. The first time was days after my 30th birthday. Jim and I had just broken up. When you get broken up with shortly before what is widely accepted as the worst of all the birthdays, you are, forgivably I think, weak. So when Jeff called, presumably to say happy birthday and to catch up on the year or so of my life since we last spoke, it seemed reckless-in-a-good-way to swing by, only five or so hours away. It was great sex, a bad idea, and another chapter.
The last time I saw him, about a year ago, he was throwing himself a surprise party. The invitation said something about having only one birthday party as a kid, the trauma of no one showing up, waiting a really long time for someone to arrange a make-up, and finally saying fuck it and doing it himself. I would go, but this time, no sex. I would hold on to my dignity and self-worth by refusing to give it up. It worked. He followed me like a puppy dog all night. People in corners whispered, “Who is that girl and what kind of spell has she cast over him?” He professed his undying love; he apologized for wasting so many years and causing so much aching grief. And then he passed out, sobered up, forgot it all.
It was months later, a Tuesday afternoon with no significance to it at all, when I sent him the letter.
Here's what I want.
I want us to end up together.
Here's what I need, if I can’t have what I want.
I need to be able to think of you as my deep down, secret, true love and keep it deep down and secret.
If I could give you that epiphanal moment where you suddenly, finally, completely realize that you are lost without me, I would. I need you to really, truly, undoubtedly hear me tell you how I feel about you.
I love you.
And I would hate the thought of wondering if you would've chosen differently if only... So now it’s out there, clearly, and I hope it makes me feel better.
Now go and do whatever you've got to do to make yourself feel better.
I’ve gotten no response. It’s not the longest I’ve gone without hearing from him; there were the years I was with Jim and he was with some certifiably crazy girl named Lauren who called me with mysterious and frightening regularity in his absence to tell me to fuck off. I’ve re-read that letter a thousand times, and hindsight leaves me with a few regrets: it wasn’t a particularly funny letter, and in a relationship so strongly defined by our mutually mean senses of humor perhaps the lack of comedy was a bit jarring for him. Perhaps the usage of the word