At the end of every relationship we go forward assuming the person we just broke up with will remember us clearly, and with fondness. We think we’re special, but we’re not.
There are throwaway stories about exes everyone exchanges when they meet someone new. When your girlfriend or boyfriend tells you these faceless stories, you think to yourself “glad I’m not going to end up like that.” And then one day, not long after the relationship has ended, you realize that you’ve just become the next chapter. You are now just a meaningless puff of conversation told over wrinkled sheets. Your ex won’t even bother to reach back far enough to recall your face when he or she is telling your story.
It is a lonely feeling to know you’ve been filed away in a rusty old cabinet in a rarely used room of their memory. Occasionally a stray bird finds its way in, and they are forced to shoe it out.
When I first met Anna I was in a strange numbness. My skin was getting thicker, and rougher, and so was my outlook on the world.
I’m the type of person who doesn’t believe in something like fate, but I’d like to believe in it. But, at the time I met Anna I didn’t even want to believe in it. At work for example, I cursed every person I waited on under my breath. I criticized every guy in a suit that walked in, and made fun of the old men with money at the end of the bar. I hated all of them, not because they had what I wanted, but, because I still had no idea what I wanted.
Sometimes I’d dream of being some wealthy “business” man, and sometimes I’d dream I was the Phillies third basemen. Sometimes I’d dream of the zombie apocalypse and finding perfect love amongst the ruins of civilization, anything to shield me from reality at my most vulnerable times.
I didn’t like dreaming of the little fantasies that weren’t far from my reach. I didn’t like thinking about anything real.
I had given up on the very notion of love, believing it only existed in movies. I felt real relationships were built on a mutual sharing of superficial needs.
And then one night I saw her.
It is amazing how quickly one’s slumbering notions are roused by the sight of a pretty girl.
At first glance she was just like any other pretty girl I’d see at work. I was fully prepared for the game I’d play with every pretty girl I happen to inhabit space with. I keep sneaking looks at her and kid myself into thinking she was looking at me.
I kept finding excuses to visit her table. Also, her friend wasn’t bad either.
Every time I visited I would hold my breath and wait for something to happen, then something did.
I saw her mouth open nervously.
This is going to be weird but you and I have the same tattoo.
Yes, it’s true, we actually met this way. If I overheard someone telling this story in public my hatred for that person would become very apparent.
Really? That’s crazy.
Yeah, I have that quote tattooed on my ribs, well half of it. My sister has the other half.
The quote: “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”
No way, I think I met someone that knows you. I just remember someone telling me they knew sisters with this tattoo.
We went back and forth for a minute or two. We got through our awkward introductions, and then we asked a few other ancillary questions. Then I just sort of walked away.
For the next 20 minutes I paced the nearly empty restaurant trying to find an excuse to talk to her again. Finally I saw an opening. I confidently walked up to her.
So, I take it you’re a Vonnegut fan?
Oh, no, I know the book, but I picked the quote because of a Mewithoutyou song.
Oh, cool. I like Mewithoutyou. Brother, Sister is a really good album. I love it.
Brother, Sister, have you heard that one?
No…..but I’d like to check it out.
Yeah, it’s really good.
I then walked away slowly.
For the next half hour, as I went through my end of the night routine, I wrestled with the idea of asking Anna out. I kept getting bursts of adrenaline whenever I thought of it. In that moment I had the courage to ask anyone. But, then I’d hesitate, and the adrenaline would wear off. Then my inner monologue would start sounding like Woody Allen.
Finally I saw my chance when Anna left the table for a moment. I did what any coward would do. I tried to ask her out through her friend.
Hey, so your friend, she has a boyfriend, right?
No, not really.
You think she’d go out with me?
You should ask her.
Hey, your friend said you didn’t have a boyfriend.
So, you want to go out with me?
She didn’t realize she yelled it.
For the next two hours I sat at that table across from her. We played little mind games, choosing our words carefully, along with awkward games of footie. But, I was more relaxed than usual. I knew before I sat down I loved her. And I knew at that moment there was nothing I could say that would make her not love me.
It made me want to puke, mostly in a good way.
Three days later, after some anxious text messages, and a nervous moment trying to find her apartment, we had our first date.
She greeted me at her door with a smile that would become a permanent fixture in every reflection of my memory.
Her apartment smelled like burnt cookies. A plate of burnt cookies sat on the coffee table that was obviously straightened 10 minutes earlier. She shifted slightly, with her nervous smile, and her fingers tucked into the bottom of an old Misfits shirt.
Do you want a cookie?
No thanks, maybe later.
I burnt them. I’m sorry, I’m kind of a disaster in the kitchen. Don’t eat those cookies.
They don’t look that bad.
Yeah they do.
I have a pizza I’m making. It’s not going to be any better.
You made the pizza?
Well I took it out of the box and put it in the oven.
Oh, heh, can I use your bathroom?
And so began a sometimes beautiful relationship.
We weren’t a fairytale love. It had a couple sharp edges, and an air of doom from the beginning. But it was clear we loved each other because we wanted to, because for once we wanted to be those people. We wanted the lonely ones to burn a little with jealousy when they saw us.
But, we always knew at some point one of us would want to be alone again.
When you think back to your past relationships, often times you hear subtle hints of unhappiness in the other’s voice you didn’t hear when you were with them. Subliminal messages you couldn’t hear because you were desensitized by your optimism. It is one of those nice things about love. It puts you in a perpetual state of always feeling okay. All of your worries and grudges shrink a little. You think because you got this person to love you you’ve accomplished something.
And you both keep talking, and you both keep telling stories the other won’t hear until they’re alone in the dark.