I waited a full three days after he kicked me out of his kitchen to call him. Finally, my heart in my throat, I dialed. "Hey, I haven't heard from you lately," I said. "What's up?"
"Nothing," he said defensively, "just been busy is all." But when I prodded, "Oh that," he said. "Yeah, I just don't think it's going to work out." I took a breath and sputtered "but buts" like a lawnmower starting.
"But why?" I finally got out.
"You're leaving for school in a couple weeks," he said, "and I'm not looking for a long distance relationship."
"But it's only 45 minutes away," I said, believing that at this point I could still change his mind, that the game was still winnable, if only I could come up with the right arguments.
"I know, but I want a girl who lives close to me, who I can hang out with on a weeknight or whenever, who's just...there."
"So you're telling me you want a girlfriend who lives on your street?" I ask. "Anyway, I live 45 minutes away now, and we hang out on weeknights. I don't understand..."
"And plus you're starting over at a new school, you're going to meet lots of new people..."
"I won't!" I insisted.
"You will, and you don't want to be held back by a guy like me."
"But, what if I do?"
"Look, it was fun, ok, but... anyway, I have to go. It's my dad's birthday and we have like a million people coming over. I don't have time for this."
I hung up the phone in disbelief. That had not gone at all according to plan. But underneath it all, underneath the hurt and the outrage, something was becoming clear to me: he was scared. Yes, that was it, he was scared of his feelings for me! I had seen enough sappy movies by now to know how this worked. Guy meets girl, guy freaks out and pushes her away. Now it was up to me to gently reel him back in. With a little bit of time, I knew, he would realize his mistake, realize I was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Where was he going to find someone better than me? Him? Puh-lease!
I somehow made it through those next two awkward weeks at work and then left to start my sophomore year at a new school, where I did not suddenly develop a new, bubbly personality and meet "lots of people," as predicted. I was lonely and homesick, and I reached out and sent him an e-mail. And he...didn't answer. I fumed. I was obviously going to have to try harder here. I sent him another e-mail, not so subtley guilting him and goading him into responding. Something along the lines of, I am here (sniff!), all alone (sniff!), and you can't even take five minutes to write back to me! And then, he did write back. And it was...not good. He was pissed.
I had knee surgery and I'm on pain pills, I'm still working at the pool and I'm in school full time, and every spare minute I have I'm studying chemistry, because school doesn't come easy for me like it does for some people, he said. I will not be guilted into responding to you. If you can't handle it, that's your problem. That was the gist of it, anyway. But now I was pissed. How dare he speak to me like that! I sent an indignant retort saying that I wasn't aware that he had had knee surgery and I hoped he felt better soon, and that I didn't think I had done anything wrong except want to be his friend, and he wouldn't be hearing from me anymore, good day sir. And oh, if only I had left it at that. If only...
How are you guys feeling about a part five to this story? No? God, fine. You guys are like slave drivers. Don't you know how hard this is for me to write about? Don't you know it is late here and I need to go to bed? No? Fine.
So, fortunately or unfortunately, however you want to look at it, it turned out at this juncture that I discovered a portal into Jeff's mind. Sort of like that John Malkovich movie, except instead of a hidden doorway my portal was a young lifeguard named Mary who worked at the pool with Jeff, and who also happened to be good friends with my sister. Mary became Jeff's sidekick and confidante, and he would tell her things, things about me, that she would then tell my sister, who would in turn tell me. Things like, for instance, he felt really bad about the mean e-mail he sent me. He was on a lot of painkillers at the time and well, he regretted what he said.
Well now, this is an interesting turn of events, I said. Or thought to myself. Or said out loud to myself. What? I had a lot of alone time, ok? Anyway, rather than take it for what it was, I decided that, even though he didn't know that I knew that he was sorry, I should let him know that all was forgiven and there were no hard feelings. I wanted to wave a white flag, submit a peace offering of some kind, as it were. But how? And suddenly, I knew. And it was brilliant. (And here is where I start to cringe...) I decided to e-mail him a poem. A poem I had written in high school. About my foot. It had actually gone over really well in our social studies class when our teacher had for some reason instructed us to write a Shakespearean sonnet for homework. I decided to show him what I thought of his assignment and wrote an ode. An Ode to My Foot. It, perhaps not surprisingly, got a lot of laughs, at the time. (Some excerpts from the opening lines: "My foot is a very dear friend/It has been with me always, it will be with me 'til the end," and the closing lines: "And every time I wear a sock, shoe, or clog/I thank god that I am not a frog.") So, Jeff's dad was a podiatrist. I started the e-mail saying that I had actually gone to a podiatrist myself recently (I left out the part about the nasty toenail fungus that occasioned the visit) and that it had got me to thinking about him, because I knew his dad (who I had never actually met) was a podiatrist, and hey, did he want to hear a poem I wrote about my foot? Well, say no more! I closed with what I thought to be a very Seinfeld-ian "Hey, what's the deal with podiatrists anyway? You go to med school for all those years, you pick one part of the body to focus on in minute, excruciating detail for the rest of your life, and it's the foot? Well, it could be worse, he could be a proctologist, hardy har har!"
I'm cringing right now thinking about it. I mean, obviously. Obviously this was a horrible idea. If I had asked anyone, anyone before sending it... Anyone would have told me it was a terrible, horrible idea. But you have to remember- I had no friends. I was on my own, and so I sent it, and the absolute worst part was, I honestly thought that it couldn't fail. I never had that oh shit moment after sending it; I thought it was golden. I mean, this was my white flag, waving. And then he replied. And then... oh shit.
He said what anyone could have predicted he would say, what I should have been able to predict if I had stopped for a half a second to think about it. He said he was proud of his dad and grateful for all he had been able to do for him, sending him to college and all, by being a podiatrist. Oh, and also? His dad had had colon cancer, and if it wasn't for proctologists he might not be alive, so he was pretty damn grateful for proctologists too. He never mentioned the poem.
I briefly considered dying of shame and humiliation, but when that didn't work out I sent a very short e-mail basically saying, I'm sorry.
And, again, that should have been that, except that it wasn't. Oh no, it's still not over yet, folks. Seriously.
And really, I'm sorry to do this but... stay tuned for part five and my brilliantly humiliating downfall. Really this time. This story must end!