In the days after the paradigm shift, while waiting for Metal Nose Boy’s call, I involved myself in three primary activities: languishing in a state of hopeful reverie, obsessively journaling about all the things that could go wrong, and—in moments of desperation—consulting a Magic 8-Ball. That mystical plastic, mass-produced oracle held the power both to delight me and to send me into the depths of despair—and occasionally to unhinge me with its ambivalent reading of “cannot predict now.” “That’s not a prediction, you…billiard…fucker!” I would scream before throwing it across the room. “A prediction predicts something!”
MNB didn’t call me for eight days. We ended up hanging out a few more times in the following weeks, but he waited a long time between calls, and whenever I called, he took forever to call me back—if he bothered to call at all. He just didn’t seem interested in pursuing anything romantic. I quickly reverted to my previous picture of the universe in which I was not worthy of MNB’s affections. But within a couple of months I’d met Mr. Italy.
As I previously wrote, although I cared for Mr. Italy deeply, there was an intimacy that was missing. At about eight months in, he told me he didn’t know if he was in love with me. I started feeling disconnected and painfully alone. I sometimes thought of MNB. Our story wasn’t over, I knew. It’s human nature: the less likely a relationship is to work, the more likely we are to keep trying.
I suppose that’s cynical. I kept thinking of him because I’d felt a true connection and intimacy with him, and I couldn’t let that go. He’d called me once or twice and left rambling messages, and once, I’d run into him in the parking lot at Starbucks. We had coffee together that day and talked about writing, and he told me he was writing a book about “a guy who always goes for girls with whom he knows he can’t have a real relationship, yet passes by girls who would be perfect for him.” I was pretty sure I knew how to interpret that, but didn’t know what I was supposed to do about it now that I had a boyfriend. I thought I would feel vindicated upon telling him I was unavailable, but actually, I felt sad.
It occurred to me that maybe my life wouldn’t turn out the way I’d always thought. So far, it certainly hadn’t seemed to be cooperating. Maybe I wouldn’t get married after all. Maybe MNB and I would get together again and be like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, influencing each other’s work and meeting in tempestuous encounters, possibly even having a love child.
I cried a lot, everywhere. In my car on a rainy night in the grocery store parking lot, as raindrops snaked their way down the windshield and Pete Yorn strummed his sad songs. When I finally called MNB, it wasn’t on a night like that. It was on an ordinary, not particularly emotional night. I’d never done something so risky without drafting a pros and cons list, seeking the advice of others, and writing a script. I didn’t even hesitate. I just picked up the phone and called.
Later that week I was sitting in Panera Bread again, waiting for him to arrive and scribbling furiously in my notebook as my heart pounded. Insanity seemed imminent.
Waiting at coffee shop. When he arrives, I could be
A) scribbling furiously with head resting on left hand, intently focused on notebook, or
B) gazing absently at sign above counter, idly tapping pen on table with right hand.
I think it’s going to be a variation on A: focused on notebook and scribbling furiously, but left hand on the page instead of supporting head.
MNB arrived extremely late—a failing I promptly forgot as soon as I saw him, when I immediately thought, Wow. He looked amazing. He sat down across from me, and neither of us knew what to do. We were the human equivalent of two small dogs who had just met and were jumping around nervously and sniffing each other. We both stammered apologies about the situation, avoiding each other’s eyes. I kept myself busy pouring water from a bottle into a cup and back again. I had promised myself to be honest; I was exhausted and no longer had the emotional fortitude to maintain the superficial. “Why is it,” I asked, still not meeting his eyes and focusing on my water-pouring, “that we can connect, but we can’t connect?”
He knew what I meant, I could tell.
“I feel completely, unbearably alone,” I told him.
“Oh my God,” he said, in what I think was recognition. He touched me on the arm, and we looked at each other. “I like you,” he said.
My stomach jumped. “I like you too.”
I told him everything. Not the things I thought I should say, or the things that would manipulate him into liking me, but the real things. How I was utterly surprised that he would ever like me. That I gave up when he didn’t call. I couldn’t look at him while I talked. I focused on sucking up drops of coffee with a stirrer and dabbing them onto my napkin.
Then it was MNB’s turn. He wanted to tell me how he felt a year ago at the street festival, he said, but he was too afraid of “making an ass of himself.” He told me he had no reason for not calling, other than his fear of finding somebody “real.” He asked me out, then equivocated, saying that if I was too busy, he’d understand. Could he possibly have been as scared of me as I was of him?
By that point, I had soaked through three napkins with my drops-of-coffee project. I would have to break things off with Mr. Italy. I didn’t think if seeing MNB was a good idea or a bad one; I just thought of “I like you” and how true that was, truer and simpler than anything else in my life. Everything would go wrong, probably. He might not even call. But it wasn’t security I was after this time.
To be continued next Memoir Monday