Friday, December 18, 2009

I Want You (To Tell Me If I'm Breaking Your Heart)

I saw an ex-girlfriend last night, which is something I suppose boys do around Christmas. This is all the more intriguing because her and I haven't been on good/speaking terms for nearly three years.

But seeing her again was like old times, no strange pulls between us. It was very genuine and very much like old college friends. I hadn't seen her since I was a 21-year-old drunk. Now, a mature 24-year-old semi-drunk, we went to a fancy New Orleans restaurant and I wore dress shoes, black slacks, a black tie and a white shirt (with rolled-up sleeves). At my very best, I looked like someone from Mad Men. At my worse, I probably just looked like some poser who wanted to look like a guy in Mad Men. I mostly dressed up because I was in South County and...something, something South County.

Anyway, it was a lot of sharing stories and vague allusions to us not speaking to each other for years. It was eerily comfortable. So, once the restaurant died down, we went to a bar to continue filling in the blanks of the last three years. I got a whiskey on the rocks and she got something called Cocoa Delight or something. She said she ordered it to drink summer in winter.

Everything was grand until she told me about a journal she kept for two years, keeping track of her sanity in law school. She mentioned that there were a number of entries about me from years ago. I said that she needed a new journal, now that we're friends again and she said, "Yeah, I'll need it for when you fuck up in 2010."

And then the whiskey felt heavy. And then the conversation seemed long. And then the night seemed blurry, like I were drunk driving through the motions of the evening.

I suppose that's what guilt feels like when it comes on stronger than any liquor you have in you. It becomes a smashing weight that you can't see. Suddenly, everything just feels spilled and tainted. Needless to say, I ordered two more whiskeys.

A short time later, the guilt slapped me around again. And it was somehow because of fruit (just one more reason for me not to eat fruit).

She had cherries in her drink. She asked, "Do you want one?"

"No, that's ok," I said.

"Is it because you don't like cherries or you just don't want them?"

"Which one makes me sound manlier?"

"Jake, I think we've known each other long enough to where you can be honest right now."

"Ok, no, I don't like cherries."

"You don't like cherries?" she said, laughing and appalled. "God, break my heart again, why don't you?"

I didn't say anything. I had a very puzzled look of remorse.

She laughed. "Oh, come on, are we not joking about that yet?"

"No," I told her, "because there's nothing funny about breaking your heart."

She was clearly beyond whatever happened years ago and I suppose I wasn't, and I guess I didn't know that until then. Over the years, I have somehow designed myself to absorb guilt like a sponge. Take the guilt into the very pores of my body and see how well it can run on guilt (and spite, probably). When I was younger, I think I saw it as some senseless sort of pride or inane badge of honor.

Look how damaged I can be, just as a 20-year-old, I probably once thought. The tortured artist of the 21st Century, ruined in a time and place where absolute wreckage does not exist. It was silly, but I had always had a secret wonderful fill of being a let down to women. God help me, I don't know how to explain it so that I sound like a real person.

But then I got my head together, got into a long-term relationship and came out the other side as a real person. For as much poetry I could find in it, I got shaky in a rather stressful way. Like an adult, I guess. When I was younger, the thrill of poetry in day-to-day life excused problems and excited me. Now that I'm older, I can see the poetic lines of everyday, but I can keep taking body blows every day. Everything about me is weaker, except for my integrity and my intelligence. When I was younger, I was arrogant and reckless, which makes you the strongest person (because you're too good to be no good and, ultimately, you don't give a shit). Instead, you churn out propaganda and let yourself laugh about things everyone takes seriously. You have no reason to be quiet and you have no interest in being a sap. You just become a barreling sound of laughter and yelling, constantly rolling until you hit something that won't move and you spend years dealing with the dizziness.

There had to be a few lines of poetry in me sitting in a bar, dressed nicely in black and white, drinking whiskey as a girl I haven't spoken to in years tells me that I'll fuck up in the new year or jokes about breaking her heart. And it made me laugh on the drive home, but for every laugh, there was a massive sigh that blew through my big city body with everyone asleep. Jesus, when I was 21, it was like my body was New Orleans or New York City during the Rolling 20s (riotous, careless and loud). My body is now in a terrible recession, as I learn to deal with the monumental challenge of adulthood.

What she said changed how I acted the rest of the evening. I was still engaged in what she was saying and I still had a very, very good time catching up with her, drinking myself into a stunning sobriety and then legitimately sobering up on the pier, but there was still a lingering quiet in me that lurks in the cold city shadows of a person's eternal night. There. There's a poetic line. I don't know where I was going with it, but...well, there's a place inside everyone where you need an old lantern to see.


jason daniel said...

I think you meant to say "like I was drunk", but I didn't want to point that out.

This was brutally honest and somewhat relatable. I think it took courage to write, maturity to understand what happened, and probably a lot more to experience it.

I think it's important to remember the past, because it shapes the future. But don't linger too long. Learn. Continue to grow. Mature.

You're very insightful, and I'm glad you share your thoughts with the world, sir.

jacquelynrachel said...

this might be my favorite post of yours, ever.