After our movie-perfect evening, which should have been the end of the story but wasn't, we exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers. He went back to Camp Lejeune, and I went back to whatever it was I did before he came along. Classes, jazz band rehearsals, long afternoon naps, and now, extended sessions of mooning and moping about. I didn't have long to pine; soon it was Thanksgiving, and he came back home to see his family. We planned to meet. At the last minute he told me that there was a slight change of plans; he was bringing a friend home with him, who would have to come with us on our date, and did I happen to have a cute, single friend who would like to join us as well? My heart sank. I didn't want to share him or the precious limited moments we would have together, but I decided to make the best of it. I knew the only person I would want by my side on such an occasion was Talia, who would be in Detroit for the holiday. After much pleading and wringing of hands, I extracted a promise from her that if she could convince her parents to leave early enough in the morning, they could probably drive all day and be back in time for her to go out with us on Saturday night. She did make it, but the night turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, nevertheless. Colin's friend was a dimunitive, foul-mouthed Marine with a Napoleon complex, an obnoxious personality, and a grating Boston accent to match. (Even after having lived here for almost five years now, I have still never found its equal). Colin thought the guy was hilarious. Talia...well, let's just say that after being shut up in a car with her parents for the last twelve hours, she was already a wee bit on the grumpy side. Unfortunately, her temper did not soon improve. Shortly after meeting her "date," she pulled me into a bathroom and hissed "You owe me" through tightly clenched teeth. (I am happy to say that over the next few years I was able to join her on several blind dates of her own making, and, in my opinion at least, more than make it up to her). The little else I remember involves Talia and I clinging to each other in the back seat of Colin's little red Neon, as he flew down back roads and took screeching curves that left us sure that each one would be our last, and trying to refrain from appearing too middle-aged in our outbursts of concern - "Don't you think you're going a little fast?" and "Oh, please, be careful!" But he just laughed and turned the radio louder.
With this date clearly a bust, I still held out hope for Christmas. He would be back, and this time with no Muppet-Marine clinging to his pants leg. I knew it would be better with just the two of us. I was sure we could re-create that magic, once it was just him and me and the stars...And so we decided to go down to D.C. for the evening. We didn't have any specific plans; just Georgetown, and dinner, and whatever struck our fancy. We decided to meet at the Metro station. After waiting outside in the cold for fifteen minutes with no sign of him, though, the glow started to fade. I wondered just how long it was appropriate to wait for someone before you could be sure you were being stood up. As every minute ticked slowly by I got colder, and more anxious. It was 1999, and I didn't have a cell phone. Neither did he. What if something terrible had happened to him? I dug in my purse for the correct amount of change and called his parents' house from a payphone. "Oh, he's not here," his mother said. "He left not too long ago to go to D.C." Not too long ago? How not too long ago? He finally showed up a full half hour after we had arranged to meet, with no apology, and no excuse. When I pointed out his tardiness: "Oh, yeah, I got caught up doing some stuff." Then, "Sorry," he added, as an unconvincing afterthought. I wasn't happy. I wanted a heartier apology, but I decided to let it go, as I was determined to enjoy the night. Unfortunately, though, the rest of the night didn't go much better. Despite our natural and unforced intimacy months earlier, we were suddenly and surprisingly awkward with each other. After dinner, with no definite plans, we hemmed and hawed about what to do next, where to go. "I don't know, what do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" We decided to walk around, but it was cold, and not really knowing the area, we ended up walking in half-hearted circles. We finally gave up and headed home, parting with a disappointing goodnight kiss in which I clung for an instant too long. In the car on my way home, I beat myself up over it, for appearing clingy and desperate for affection, replaying the moment over and over in my mind. Over the next few days, all of our (my) attempts at another date fell through. I gave up after he told me that he couldn't see me because he was "cleaning his guns."
He shipped off to Japan soon after that. We kept in touch at first, rather more enthusiastically on my part than on his, it must be said. I agonized over the perfect wording of e-mails, hoping to strike the perfect balance between light-hearted and tender, to find that elusive area between cool nonchalance and warm allure. He would send back two- or three-line responses that almost always said pretty much the same thing. "Just got back from a mission. It was awesome. Have to go sleep now." Not surprisingly, our correspondance soon tapered off, from infrequent to not at all. I heard from Julia who heard from his sister that he was dating an Australian supermodel. I remember thinking that if it was true, I wouldn't have been surprised. I moved on, but I still thought about him sometimes. More about our one amazing night together than anything that came after, I must admit. I thought about his smile, his shoulders, and how for one night he made me feel like the most beautiful and intriguing woman alive. But mostly I thought about how it didn't seem finished, somehow. Every good story deserves an ending, I thought. Or at least a P.S.
Several years later, I had graduated from school and spent a year in France teaching English. Having just returned to the U.S. a few weeks earlier, I went back to school for the graduation of several of my friends, most of whom were a year younger than me. I came up the night before their graduation ceremony to hang out, drink, and visit my old stomping grounds one last time. I slept on the couch in Julia's on-campus apartment. The next morning, as there was only one bathroom and four girls who lived there, I decided to let them have the shower first. They were the ones graduating, after all. By the time everyone else got ready, though, it was time to go, and so I went to the graduation ceremony in the gym looking like I had just come from working out. Greasy hair, shiny face, no makeup. Plus, the outfit. I wish I didn't have pictures to remind me of this, but even without them the image would still be burned in my mind. A beige shirt that so exactly matched my skin color that once when I was wearing it, someone told me, "Oh, phew! For a minute there I thought you were naked!" Lest you mistake naked for sexy, I'll just tell you - it wasn't sexy. It was drab. Drab beige shirt, beige sweater, and long, black skirt. Was I going for the Puritan look? All I know is that at some point in time, long, ankle-length skirts were in, although whether they still were at this particular juncture is subject to debate. It was in this state that I sent my younger friends off to face their destiny, to go, grow up, and change the world. (I was nothing if not a
Before the ceremony started, I crossed the lobby to head to the restroom, and that was when I saw him. Him. Standing head and shoulders above the crowds of people milling about, he was unmistakable. Hair a little longer now, just as broad-shouldered, just as handsome. I could have just as easily kept walking, and he never would have noticed me. I could have smiled to myself a secret smile, kept going, and never said a word. But we all know avoiding confrontations isn't my style. So I stopped. I planted myself directly underneath him, angling my face up at his as he ignored me and continued to scan the crowd over my head. But, ever persistent, I stared him down, finally forcing him to look back at me. "Hey," I said. "Hey?" he said questioningly, his eyes blank, confused, frantically searching for recognition, for a way to place me. No, I thought. No no no no no. This was the worst thing that could possibly have happened. Oh my god, he doesn't remember me. Finally, though, after an agonizing few seconds, something clicked. "Oh," he said, "Rachel, right?"
"Yeah," I said. "Colin?" As if I didn't know. "How've you been?" The wedding ring was the first thing I saw.
"Oh, good. I Just got back from Iraq, actually."
"Oh, wow. How was that?"
"Crazy. Totally...crazy. So...how are you?"
"Good. I just got back from France."
Just then someone walked up and stood beside him. The someone he had been scanning the room for. The other half of the wedding ring. I don't remember exactly what she looked like, but she was no Australian supermodel, let's put it that way. Average height. Roundish. Nothing special.
"This is a friend of Caroline's," was how he introduced me. Ah...a friend of Caroline's. Right. Though his sister had once been my friend Julia's roommate, we weren't friendly, and I don't think we had ever spoken two words to each other. A friend of Caroline's. It seemed like my cue to exit.
"Well it was nice seeing you," I said. "I was just on my way to the bathroom. Bye!"
And suddenly, just like that, the story had an ending. All of the loose ends that had been blowing about now pulled together in an infuriatingly tidy little bow. And it was funny...after having wished so long for closure, I realized the irony of it is that once it happens, it can't be undone. Closure is closure, the end. And with that finality, the story becomes a little less interesting. So maybe instead of The End, next time I'll just finish with The...