Why Can't This Be Love?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I was seated in the office of M, my therapist, one recent winter afternoon.

“Do you remember the two blog posts I brought in before Christmas?” I said.

“Of course.”

“Well, I wasn’t sure if anyone would read them, but I actually got email from a few people telling me how they could relate to them.”

“That must have made you feel good,” M said.

“It did,” I said. “In fact, one of the people who wrote told me that she had something similar happen. Only she asked someone out, and then wasn't able to follow up.”

“How sad,” M said.

“That’s what I told her. But it also made me think about the one time someone actually asked me out.”

“Really?” said M. “I don’t think you ever mentioned this before.”

“I don’t really like to think about it much. But what’s odd is that ever since I have started thinking about it, I also keep thinking about another girl I knew years later.”

"Why is that?"

"I don't know. I just know they’re connected somehow."

“Well, why don’t you tell me about them?” asked M.

“I’ll start with H," I said.



***

"Hey, L? Buddy? Pal? Could you do me a favor?"

"You need the post-game audio from the wire services, J?"

"Yup. Looks like my intern is MIA today. Again."

It was almost 6:30 on a sultry late August morning. JC and I were standing in the main studio at the top-rated radio station in the market during a commercial break.

I had been working there as an intern since late spring on the morning program, "M in the Morning," which was the dominated the ratings by a large margin. While everyone on the show - M, the host, K, his on-air sidekick, and R, the show producer and my nominal boss - was friendly, JC and I had hit it off immediately.

I pulled off my Walkman, which I wore to monitor the show as it aired, and turned to R.

"Hey R, I'm - "

"No problem. Got it covered," said R, giving me a thumbs up as he pulled the carts containing upcoming half hour's ads, rapid fire, from the carousel behind the control board.

"Thanks R," I said.

"Happy editing, he said.

"Try not to lop off any fingers in there, L," M said.

Once I picked up the tape reels containing audio clips recorded from the wire feed, I would go into the production studio down the hall and manually edit them using a razor and splicing tape. It was one of my favorite tasks, in spite of the ribbing I took for the number of times I would hand over the edited tapes with multiple fingers wrapped in band-aids, blood-spattered badges of my self-inflicted wounds.

My reputation as somewhat coordination-challenged was well established by this point in my internship. I had spilled the tea with honey that M's downed each morning upon arrival enough times that he, R, and K once jokingly donned raincoats as I approached, cup in hand, from the kitchen.

I fired off a quick salute as I opened the door and headed down the hall to the newsroom. The station was still deserted at this early hour, the clatter from the wire service machine echoing down the corridor.

One fringe benefit of picking up the tapes, which J had asked me to edit regularly the past few weeks, was the chance to be in the same room as the new news intern, who had started working about a month prior. She was stunningly beautiful, so much so that even the male sales reps, a group used to attractive women, turned their heads in admiration when she walked down the hallway.

My confidence around attractive women, never high to begin with, was at a low ebb in the wake of my most disastrous attempt at asking someone out. Such was the emotional fallout that I hadn't asked out a soul in the intervening two and a half years. Just being in the same room as someone as attractive as her made me ill at ease.
But the opportunity for even the most mundane interaction was worth the jangled nerves.

As I entered the newsroom, K looked up from the newspaper she was reading at the small table squeezed into the newsroom kitchen. She waved, quickly glanced over at H, studying her own newspaper at the desk next to the chattering teletype machine, then glanced back down at her paper.

I cleared my throat as I approached. She looked up.

"Hi," I said, grateful that my voice didn't crack. "J asked if I could have the post-game audio tapes from last night?"

"Sure," she said, reaching over to the stack of tapes next to the teletype.

"Here you go," she said, handing them over.

"Thank you," I said as I took the tapes and turned for the door.

"See you next week, intern," she called out.

I stopped and turned. She looked up at me, expressionless.

"Um... why are you calling me 'intern'?" I asked. "That isn't my name."

"I know," she said. "It's L."

"Yeah," I said, wondering how she knew that. "So why are you calling me 'intern'?"

"What's my name?" she asked, still expressionless.

"I... I don't know," I admitted. I could feel my face turning red.

"That's right," she said, "You don't. Because you haven't asked me in the month I've worked here."

From the corner of my eye, I could see that K had put down her paper and was watching our exchange.

"OK..." I stammered. "What's your name?"

She shook her head.

"Ask me next week when you come for the tapes," she said. "Maybe I'll tell you then."

I was flummoxed.

"Maybe?" I asked.

The barest hint of a smile played at the corners of her mouth.

"Probably."

***

She did, in fact, tell me her name the following week. It was H, and it turned out she was a senior at the college in town. She was from Westchester County in New York, she and two friends were renting a house off-campus for their senior year. Her demeanor and appearance had led me to suspect that she came from a wealthy family; her ability to rent an entire house confirmed it.

In addition to my three-morning-a-week internship, I also attended school full-time and worked full-time, a pace I'd maintained from my sophomore year in high school. It enabled me to help contribute to paying for my college education. With a sister and brother one and two years younger than myself, respectively, my parents had a significant financial burden.

It also meant that I had little free time. This, in truth, was the real reason I maintained such an exhausting, punishing schedule. I'd been having disturbing dreams in which I was a girl for several years, from which I would wake up, terror-stricken and drenched in perspiration.

I never dared tell anyone; I told myself that I didn't understand why these dreams kept coming back, but in my heart of hearts I knew, even if I wouldn't - couldn't - consciously admit it.

As a result, I went through my days with the certain knowledge that something was terribly, terribly wrong, and the equally certain knowledge that I didn't dare tell another soul about it, let alone attempt to act on them. At least one person, in retrospect, had figured out the truth, but I simply wasn't ready, or able, to acknowledge it at this stage in my life.

It never occurred to me that the ongoing bouts of chronic illness, insomnia, and depression - not that I recognized it as such at the time - were warning signs that these feelings were not transitory, no matter how much I wished it were so.

I had tried, with increasing desperation, to find a girlfriend, hoping against hope that this would make the feelings go away. But nothing I did worked, no matter how hard I tried or how many girls I asked out.

The resulting dearth of self-confidence and near non-existent self-esteem left me unprepared for my interactions with H. My assumption was that someone with her background, to say nothing of her attractiveness, would have little to do with me. Much to my surprise, she turned out to be very sweet, down-to-earth, and friendly, seemingly unaware of the effect she had on men.

Any thought I might have had that there was even a remote chance of anything more than a casual friendship ended when a glint of light caught my eye one morning soon after our first conversation. I looked down and, for the first time, noticed what was reflecting the studio’s track lighting: she was wearing an engagement ring. I sighed to myself.

Of course shes spoken for, I thought. Not that it would make any difference if she wasnt.

That knowledge, oddly enough, had the unintended effect of putting me much more at ease around her. I was able, for once, to actually relax to some extent when interacting with someone I found so attractive.

H, in turn, was genuinely curious about my studies - we were both communications majors, albeit at different schools - and my interests. When she found out - through K - that I drew my own comic strip a few weeks after telling me her name, she badgered me until I agreed, reluctantly, to bring in a few samples. Previously, I had only shown them to a few close friends. I didn't think they were any good, and was reluctant to share details about the private refuge the comic strip had become. The strip, and its characters, were the one place where I could let down my guard, secure that I was safe.

She insisted on reading them in my presence, even though I told her it wasn't necessary; I didn't want her to feel obligated to laugh. Her enthusiastic response, laughing out loud as she read them, was, to say the least, heartening, as was her dumbfounded reaction when I told her I didn't publish them anywhere.

"You need to have people read these!" she said, handing them back to me. "These are *so* funny! You really did these all by yourself?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Wow. I literally cannot draw a straight line," she said, shaking her head. "I'd give anything to have talent like that."

I started to protest, and she raised her hand.

"Uh-uh," she said, smiling. "You'll take a compliment and learn to like it, buster. That's an order from your fellow intern."

"OK. But don't I have seniority?" I asked.

"That only means you can make me clean up at the end of the show from now on."

"I stand corrected," I said. "Wait - what do mean 'from now on'?"

"I was supposed to work in the newsroom all semester, but K said she wanted to have at least one female intern down here. I figured K or R told you."

"No," I said, "they didn't."

"Well, looks like you're stuck with me. At least once a week, anyway. Hope you don't mind sharing the fun."

I didn't mind at all.

***

It was an unseasonably warm late September morning as the show headed into the extended news break at the top of the hour.

"Boy, can you believe this weather, K?" asked M. "You know what that means, folks?"

"Wait, let me guess - " K said with a sigh before M interrupted.

"That's right; it's wiffle ball time with L! Assuming L has a few balls and a bat in his car."

I flashed a thumbs-up.

"Good man, L," he said.

"Just think," said K, looking over the board at the desk where I sat with H. "Tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, countless hours of studying... all so he can play wiffle ball in a parking lot next to a highway."

"Money well spent, K," said M. "Right, L?"

"Well, now that K mentions it - "

"Whoops, we're out of time here!" said M. "If anyone is driving by the studio and wants to stop by to play a few innings, feel free. L, go grab your stuff; meanwhile, here's B with the news."

M tossed off his headphones and rubbed his hands together.

"And we're off!"

R eyed him with the long-suffering, semi-exasperated look a parent gives a recalcitrant child.

"M, just be sure - "

He stopped.

"No, wait, let me address this to the mature one here," he said, turning to me. "Well, relatively mature, anyway, since I assume H won't be playing."

She smiled and shook her head.

"OK then. L, please make sure M is back in here, in front of the mike, in seven minutes this time? Please?"

"I'll do my best, R," I said.

"OK, Dad," said M, bouncing on his feet. "Can we go out and play now?"

R tried to fix him with a stern expression, then laughed.

"Just try not to hit the transmitter this time, OK?"

"Hey, that was L, not me," M said innocently.

"What?!? No, it wasn't!" I said.

"Are you two impugning my integrity?" M asked, feigning indignation.

"M, look at L," R said. "The wiffle ball weighs more than he does, for crying out loud. I hardly think he's capable of hitting a ball on the roof."

"Hey, thanks for the ego boost, R," I said.

"Sorry, but it's true," he said as H nodded. "See? Even H agrees with me."

"Let's go, L," said M. "Some people clearly don't recognize our inherent athleticism."

He turned to H.

"But just to be safe, H, please make sure we have an open line to the emergency room," said R.

"I'm on it."

M and I headed out to the parking lot, where I quickly dug out my battered wiffle bat and a handful of balls.

"J said he'll be out as soon as he finishes his spot," said M. "Here, I'll pitch to you."

He picked up a ball.

"I don't mind pitching, M."

"I know you don't. Because no one can hit anything you throw."

It was true. Since my baseball career had shuddered to an ignominious end in junior high, the only glimmer of athletic ability I'd shown was throwing a wiffle ball. Because the ball is hollow, it was all about touch rather than strength, which was fortunate for someone built like me.

Shortly after we started, a BMW pulled into the parking lot. A moment later, the driver, a well-dressed man in his late twenties, somewhat portly with a receding hairline, bounded from the car. The sun glinted off his polished loafers.

"Are you M?" he called out. "I'm A."

"I am," said M, holding the bat. "This is L, my intern."

A brushed past me.

"Hey, big fan!" he said, extending his hand to M.

"Thanks," he said. "As I said, this is L."

A glanced at me momentarily, then turned his back to me. M raised his eyebrows as he caught my eye and gave the faintest shrug. I made a dismissive gesture. M had been kind enough to invite me and other interns to several ballgames and social functions, so I was used to people being somewhat star-struck. Or, in R's case, rude.

"I'm playing wiffle ball with f***in' M in the Morning! Wait'll I tell the guys at the brokerage. I'm a stockbroker," he said unnecessarily.

"I gathered that," said M.

"Making a killing this year. Brand new fully-loaded BMW over there," A said, gesturing over his shoulder.

M nodded politely. His salary was rumored to be in the mid-six figures, but, in his typically low-key way, he never made a big deal out of it. According to classmates who interned at other stations, this was unusual to say the least.

"Hey, we only have a few minutes, so why don't we get going," said M as J, newly-liberated from the newscast, joined us.

"Good idea," said A. He reached over and plucked the ball from my hand.

"I'm pitching," he announced.

"Of course you are," J said.

A turned to me.

"What's your name again, kid?"

"Steve," I told him. J cast me a quizzical glance, then suppressed a smile when he caught my deadpan expression.

"Right, right. OK, Steve, well, you don't have to go too far back, because M's getting nothing but heat," he said.

"Actually, throwing a wiffle ball hard is sort of counter-productive - " J said before A raised a hand.

"Hey, I can bring the heat, my friend. So why don't and uh..."

"Sam," I said.

"Why don't you and Sam just watch and learn."

"Fair enough," J said, turning to me. "C'mon, Stan, let's go."

 "Right behind you."

A, not surprisingly, was less than impressive. After bouncing the ball past M on his first four attempts, J jogged behind the plate to catch. Sweating profusely, A finally managed to get enough of a feel to get the ball to within swinging distance, aided in no small part by M's 6'-4" height and corresponding reach.

"M! M!"

M looked at the station entrance. R stood, holding the door open.

"Recess is over! Time for you kids to come in for your nap!"

"We're just getting going here, R!" called M. "Just do a quick station ID, play the next hunk of s*** off the playlist, then run the spots. That gives us - "

He glanced at watch.

" - about seven minutes more here."

R started to protest, thought better of it, then headed back inside.

"OK... but that's it! Seven minutes! Am I clear?"

"Oh, crystal clear," said M, making a square in the air.

Shaking his head, R retreated back into the station.

"Give me a sec," said M, reaching for one of the sodas he'd grabbed from the kitchen on the way out. "I just need a breather. Here you go, boys, " he said, flipping cans to myself, J, and A.

As I sipped my ginger ale, A approached me.

"Hey, kid. Who's the babe?"

"Sorry?"

"Over there."

He gestured behind me.

I turned and saw H sitting on the steps, arms wrapped around her legs, her chin resting on her knees. She noticed us looking at her and waved. I waved back.

"Oh, she's an intern, like me."

"Huh. You banging her?"

"What?!?" I said in disbelief.

"I said are you banging her? Man, I'd be all over a piece of tail like that."

"No! Of course not," I said, amazed that he would talk like this to a complete stranger.

"What are you, a fag?" he said, then quickly waved it off. "Just kidding, kid."

"She isn't like that," I said, trying to control my temper.

"Don't be so sure. Classy broads like her are usually tigers in the sack."

Like you'd know, I thought.

"We ready to get back to it?"

It was M.

"I was just asking Sir Galahad here about Blondie over there," said A. "Must be a nice perk, having fresh talent every semester, eh?"

M eyed him with barely concealed distaste. While not averse to the occasional off-color joke, M was notably respectful towards his female interns. Earlier in the summer, he had insisted on hailing a cab for another female intern - and paying for it, over her protests - when he overheard her plan to walk home from the downtown theatre where we had attended a play.

"She's very sweet," M said, his voice flat. "It's always a pleasure to have her here."

He flexed his shoulder.

"I think the rotator cuff has seen enough action for one day," he said, tossing me the ball.

"Here, L. Why don't you pitch to our friend here?"

Right.

"Oh, yeah!" crowed A, picking up the bat.

"Hey honey!" he called to H, now sitting with K. "Watch this! Over the roof, baby, over the roof!"

H and K both looked perplexed.

"Let's go, kid," A said, tapping the bat on the ground. "Get ready for whiplash from watching the balls fly over your head."

Uh huh. This was going to be fun.

I let loose a slider that darted to the left as it reached A. He swung mightily and missed by over a foot.

"Strike one!" called M as he retrieved the ball.

"S***!" A said. "OK, you got lucky. Now I bring the hammer down!"

I floated a sinker that dropped upon reaching the plate as if on an express elevator. A swung even harder as the ball bounced harmlessly past him.

"That's strike two," said J from his spot behind me. M tried to suppress a smile as he underhanded the ball back to me.

"God**** it!" snarled A. "C'mon kid. No more f***ing pussy pitches. Challenge me!"

You asked for it, I thought. Time to break out the secret weapon.

I rotated the ball in my hand, making a "C" shape with my index finger, middle finger, and thumb, curling my ring and pinkie fingers around the holes. I reared back and snapped my wrist as I followed through. Screwball.

The ball veered off to the left, then suddenly broke back nearly four feet to the right, cutting in relentlessly on A's hands. He arched his back to avoid being hit and flailed wildly as the ball zipped just past his chin into M's waiting hands, swinging so hard he spun around and had to reach down to avoid falling.

"MOTHERF*****!" he screeched, slamming the bat to the ground as I did my best to look innocent.

"Game is for faggots anyway," A muttered, avoiding eye contact as he stormed past me, mopping his brow and adjusting his tie. Half-moons of sweat were spreading under both of his arms.

Breathing hard, he strode up to K and H, still sitting, expressionless, on the steps. He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a business card.

"Here you go, sweetheart," he said, extending the card to H. "Give me a call if you want to go out with a real man some time."

H took the card without comment, her eyes bright.

"Later, my friend," he said as he extended his hand to M, who instantly bent down to tie his sneaker as he did so. I noted that the sneaker was already tied.

"You bet," said M, not looking up. After a long moment with his hand hanging in the air, A headed off for his car, his gait unsteady. We all sat and watched in silence as he drove off, tires screeching.

H looked down at the card, then over at K. A moment later they both burst into laughter.

"Wait," said J. "Does this mean you aren't interested in a real man, H?"

"Yeah, maybe he knows some," I suggested.

H stuck her fingers in her mouth and made a gagging sound. Somehow she made it sound elegant.

"Well, back to the salt mine, kids," said M. He turned to me and grinned.

"Nice job, L."

"My catcher called a good game," I said.

He clapped a hand on my shoulder, then bounded up the steps, two at a time. He held the door open for K and J while H and I gathered up the empty cans.

Once inside, we deposited the cans into the recycling bin in the kitchen. As I headed back to the studio, H spoke.

"Could you hold this out, just like this?" She extended A's business card by the edge.

"Sure," I said, curious.

She reached into a drawer, withdrew a pair of scissors, and snipped the card in two.

"Thanks."

She pulled the half I still held in my hand and dropped it neatly into the trash can. She then reached over and gently punched my arm.

"My hero," she said.

***

Later that morning, H and I sat alone in the lounge, waiting for R. He was in the music director's office, culling through the latest stack of albums sent on a weekly basis by record companies.

While this was essentially a Top Forty station, the record companies sent albums from every genre. As a perk for the small handful of interns who showed up regularly - a surprisingly small number, given that we earned credit for school - R would let us pick through the albums that wouldn't be receiving airplay to take home. As a musical omnivore, this was manna from heaven.

"L?" H said suddenly.

"Yeah?"

" Thank you."

"Thank you for what?"

"For not talking to my breasts."

She was deadly serious.

"Wait. Say that again?" I asked, not sure if I heard her correctly.

"Thank you for never talking to my breasts."

"H, I'm sorry... what are you talking about?"

"When you talk to me, you never talk to my breasts," she said. "You always look me in the eye."

"Well, of course I do," I said, genuinely baffled. "You mean some people don't?"

She shook her head wearily.

"Not 'some people' - 'some guys.' Most guys, actually. Even guys who are basically nice. They don't even know they're doing it."

"But it's so... disrespectful!" I said, still amazed. "Why would they do that?"

A slight smile crept on her face.

"You’re really upset."

"Well, yeah, of course," I said. "I mean, you're a lot more than your... your... you know..."

Suddenly I was trying to not to look at her chest.

"Breasts. My breasts. You can say the word, L. I promise I won't be offended."

"Right. Your..." 

I gestured vaguely. I knew I was blushing furiously. She watched without comment, amused.

"You aren't like any other boy I've ever known, do you know that?" she said slowly.

"Is that a good thing?" I asked finally. I wasn’t sure if she was poking fun or not.

"Yes, it is," she said.

"OK," I said, relieved.

"OK," she said.

She stood up.

"What do you say we go track R down? I'm not leaving here until we get our new music fix."

***

As the top-rated morning show, M’s program received a healthy share of celebrity visitors. I had been lucky enough to meet a number of local luminaries, several actors and comedians I admired, and, on one hard-to-forget morning, a shockingly sweet-natured stripper and aspiring actress. For some unfathomable reason, she took an instant liking to me when I met her in the lobby to escort her to the studio, peppering me with questions about my course load at school and what my career plans were. I endured several weeks of ribbing from M and JC as a result.

Today, though, I sensed a special buzz in the air. M and K, both admitted pop culture aficionados, had been buzzing all week about the imminent arrival of MH and JT, co-hosts of a hugely popular syndicated show. K, who usually arrived in casual attire (it was a radio show, after all) was, on this day, dressed to the nines.

An hour into the show, K, an apologetic look on her face, gestured for me to follow her into the hallway.

“You need me to go on a coffee run before the big guests arrive?” I said as soon as the door closed.

”We’re that predictable, huh?”

“Well I assume you weren’t asking me for programming advice.”

“No, not today,” she said with a grin. “Can you handle it like this though?”

She gestured to the sling I was wearing. I’d fractured my wrist and suffered nerve damage a month prior while trying to move several industrial-size microwave ovens by myself in the hospital kitchen where I worked.

“I can manage. I’ll just be careful.”

“Are you sure? I can see if H can go with you.”

I shook my head as I checked for my car keys.

“I’m fine. She wants to meet MH. Plus it sounds like she’s coming down with a cold.”

“Always the gentleman,” she said as she handed me a $20 bill.

“Thanks. Is Dunkin Donuts OK? It’s the closest.”

“Sure.” She reached into her pocketbook again. “Here, let me give you some gas money.”

I started to protest, then noticed she was looking over my shoulder.

“Oh, look!” she said, her voice rising.

I turned to see MH and JT, led by R, walking down the hallway towards us.

JT was, amazingly, even taller than he appeared on television. A quick surreptitious glance confirmed that MH’s legs were as spectacular as advertised.

K’s enthusiasm for pop culture won out over her attempts to look cool. She practically bounced over to them.

“Hello, I’m K,” she said, beaming. “It’s wonderful to meet you both.”

They both smiled widely as they shook hands. I headed for the parking lot as they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.

“L!” It was K.

I turned back. K was waving me back.

“MH and JT, this is L. He’s our favorite intern.”

“Who’s working this morning,” I added. “And standing in the hallway.”

“So you’re the person who really makes things tick then,” said JT, grinning. His handshake nearly crushed my one good hand.

“So, what happened to your arm, if you don’t mind me asking?” asked MH.

“M found a seed in the orange juice I squeezed for him one morning, and, well…”

I shrugged as everyone laughed.

“No, actually I broke my wrist at work a few weeks ago.”

“A sense of humor at 7:00 AM! The mark of a true professional,” said MH, flashing her dazzling smile.

“Not only does he work here three mornings a week,” said R, “But he works a full-time job and goes to school full-time. He just finished mid-terms yesterday.”

“That’s why I have raccoon eyes right now,” I said.

In truth, I was exhausted. I had finished mid-terms the day before, as had H. It was a Friday, and thanks to a scheduling quirk at work I was off for two days. As soon as the show concluded I was heading home to set up my brand new CD player, for which I’d saved for a year, putting on my headphones, and listening to the handful of CDs R had been nice enough to set aside for me.

“Actually, L is the most important person on the show right now,” said K as she noticed me jiggling my car keys. “He’s getting coffee for everyone. And he’s Mr. Responsible, so I can see he’s anxious to get going.”

“Well drive carefully,” said JT. “Especially with one arm.”

“Will do” I said as I somehow managed to shrug on my coat over the sling. It was a chilly, overcast late-October morning, but I’d just crank the heat in my ’72 Chevy Chevelle. Provided it started, that is.

As I walked down the stairs, I nodded a hello to the black suit-clad driver leaning against the side of the stretch limousine. He politely returned the nod and turned his attention back to the newspaper he was reading.

I took a few steps, then stopped and approached him again.

“Excuse me. I’m going for coffee for everyone. Can I get you something?”

He put down the paper.

“Son, I’ve been driving a limo for over 15 years, and you’re the first person that’s ever asked me that. Thank you. I would love a cup of coffee.”

He reached for his wallet. I shook my head.

“No, that’s OK, I think they gave me enough,” I said. “And I can cover it if they didn’t.”

He looked at me for a moment.

“You know what? Let me give you a lift.”

He was serious.

“What? Oh, no, that’s really nice of you to offer, but I’m fine, really. My car is right over there.”

“I insist,” he said, snatching his hat off the hood. “They’re not going anywhere ‘til you come back anyway, right?”

I started to grin. I’d never been in a limo before.

“Well, OK,” I said. I opened the front door on the passenger side.

“No, no, let’s do this right!” he said, pointing to the back door.

Suddenly I had a moment of inspiration.

“Excuse me… could you hang on just one second?”

“Sure.”

I tore up the stairs and raced down the hall. Standing outside the studio, I waved until I caught R’s attention and beckoned for him to come outside. He stuck his head out the door.

“R, the limo driver said he’d give me a lift,” I said, breathless.

“Really? How come?”

“I asked him if he wanted coffee.”

“Of course you did,” said R with a smile. “Good for you. Well, have fun.”

“Um… I wanted to see if it H could come too.”

R started to speak, then chuckled.

“Sure, “ he said. “I can handle things here. You’ve both earned it.”

“Thanks, R. You’re the man!”

R went back into the studio. He leaned over to H and whispered in her ear. She turned and looked at me, grinning widely as she gathered her coat.

“And how exactly did you manage to pull this off, might I ask?” she asked as I held the door open for her. Her voice was ragged, and she was sniffling.

“Well, obviously the driver recognized someone used to the finer things in life.”

She snorted. Even under the weather, H looked as if she’d stepped directly off the cover of Vogue magazine, as opposed to getting up at 5:00 AM after a week of mid-terms. And I, well, did not.

The driver stood at attention as we clambered down the steps.

“Good morning, Miss,” he said, holding open the door with a flourish.

“Oh, I could get used to this,” H said as we climbed inside. It was enormous, with all of the bells and whistles one could wish for.

The partition between the back seat and the driver lowered.

“So, where are we headed, folks?”

“It’s just over there, actually,” I said, pointing to the adjacent train station.

He shook his head.

“Too close. Let’s go somewhere where I can give you kids your money’s worth.”

“There’s a Mister Donut up by the campus,” said H. “Do you think that too far?”

“It’s a couple of miles from here,” I told the driver. “Is that OK?”

“Sure is,” he said as he shifted into gear. “And we’re off!”

H and I immediately commenced to press every button we could find, opening the sunroof in spite of the chill, turning on the stereo, and flipping through the channels on the television set.

H reached over and pulled open a small door next to her seat. She tried to whistle, but coughed instead.

“Well, well, well,” she said, “Would you look at this?”

It was a fully stocked mini-bar. She rummaged through the contents,

“So how many of these would it take before you were drunk, L?” she asked, dangling a six-pack from her index finger.

“Probably less than one,” I said truthfully. I’d never had so much as a sip of alcohol, nor had I ever touched drugs. I was terrified I would lose control and someone would figure out my secret.

“Well, we’ll just have to work on building up your tolerance then, won’t we? We don’t want anyone taking advantage of you, after all.”

“I don’t think I have anything to worry about,” I said off-handedly as I glanced out the window. “Hey, we’re here, looking out the window. We’re on.”

To this day I amuse myself wondering what the construction workers, truck drivers, and college students must have thought as they watched a stretch limousine pull up in front a somewhat long-in-the-tooth coffee shop in a slightly decrepit neighborhood and discharge a dazzling, dressed-to-the-nines blonde and her somewhat disheveled companion, spiky hair sticking in multiple directions, who from all appearances was no more than 12 years old. We were aware of everyone watching us as we waited for our order.

“Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall back there right now?” asked H as she reached for her tea and looked out the rear window. “What must they be thinking?”

“You’re a famous model,” I suggested as she pried back the lid and took a sip. “And I’m on work release from prison.”

She gagged and nearly spit up her tea.

“Don’t do that!” she said, half-laughing, half-coughing. “Oh, God, now I have tea up my nose!”

“Sorry,” I said, handing her a napkin.

“You’re just lucky I didn’t spill any on my coat, buster.”

She was right. It probably cost more than my car.

H began rummaging through her pocketbook. She pulled out a bottle of cough syrup, popped off the lid, and took a long pull.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked. “You already took some when you came in.”

“Mm-hmm, I’m fine,” she said, wiping her mouth. “I feel a little lightheaded, but mostly I’m just really tired. I want to knock this down before it gets going.”

She dropped her pocketbook to the floor and slumped in her seat. A moment later, she suddenly sat up.

“Oh! I almost forgot.”

She picked up her pocketbook again and, after searching for a moment, pulled something out and hid it behind her back.

“Guess what I found in the supply closet?”

“I have no idea,” I said.

“C’mon, guess!” she said, nudging me with her foot.

“I don’t know… Jimmy Hoffa’s remains?”

“Nooo!” she said, shaking her head vigorously. She was definitely not acting like herself.

She held out a package. I took it from her and examined its contents.

“They’re Sharpies. Right? Or am I missing something?”

“They’re not just Sharpies,” she said, snatching them back from me. “She withdrew one from the box, pulled off the cap, and held it out.

“Smell,” she said.

I held it to my nose.

“Licorice!” I said, amazed.

“See? I told you they were special. Because they’re scented,” she said with a solemn nod, her blue eyes open wide.

“Yes. I was able to determine that. I am the child of a police detective, after all.”

She thought for a moment, then started to giggle. First softly, then harder.

“What?” I asked.

She shook her head forcefully, hands clamped over her mouth. Her sides shook silently. I’d never seen H, usually so reserved, act like this before. I could see the driver looking on in amusement in the rearview mirror.

“C’mon, H, now you have to tell me.”

“Oh, I can’t.”

“Well, great. Now I’m going to be wondering all week.”

“OK, OK,” she said, taking several deep breaths. “So, your father is a police detective, right?”

I nodded.

“And your brother wants to be one too?”

I nodded again. I had no idea where she was going with this.

“So I was wondering if that meant he’d be…”

She paused.

“Be what?”

She leaned forward and beckoned me closer. She whispered.

“A little d***?”

She burst into laughter, her face turning red. I stared at her in wonder, not sure I’d actually heard what I thought I had. I’d never imagined her uttering anything resembling an off-color joke. And judging from her reaction, neither had she.

“I’m sorry,” she said, gasping. “It popped into my head, and it just seemed funny… because your brother is so much bigger than you… in that graduation picture you showed me… “

“And then I thought of… you know.” She started to giggle again as she held her hands an inch apart. ”Oh God!”

She clutched at her sides, helpless with laughter. Soon I was too. It was contagious.
The combined effects of mid-terms, months of 70 hour weeks, and the novelty of being in a limo combined to create an exhaustion-fueled giddiness.

“I am just loopy right now,” she said as she wiped her eyes.

“I hadn’t noticed,” I said. “Other than you bouncing off the walls for the entire ride back.”

“Do you think it might be from the cough syrup?” she asked, her voice earnest in the manner of a driver attempting to convince a police officer of their sobriety.

“There is that chance,” I replied. “Hey, you can just call it a day when we get back if you want, H. I can handle things the rest of the way.”

“Uh-uh!” she said, jabbing her finger at me in mock anger. “You’re not hogging all the glory, my friend.”

“From buying six cups of coffee?”

“That’s true,” she conceded. “No, I’ll stick around. This is too much fun! Besides, I’m just gonna go home and sleep all weekend now. May as well enjoy my buzz.”

We pulled into the parking lot. H grabbed the tray of coffee while I thanked the driver profusely, both for the ride and for putting up with our antics.

“Are you kidding? I wish all of my clients were as much fun as you kids,” he said, saluting us with his upraised coffee cup.

We didn’t dare look at one another as we distributed the coffee during the commercial break for fear of slipping back into delirium. But judging from the way K and R were looking at us, our attempts at a business-as-usual manner were failing.

“So, it looks like you two had a fun field trip,” observed K with a half-smile.

“Oh, you know,” I shrugged with a half-hearted attempt at nonchalance as I settled next to H at the intern’s desk. I sat down gingerly, my stomach muscles sore from laughing.

M resumed his chat with JT and MH when the commercials ended. I was scanning the Lifestyles section for possible topics when I felt H nudge me.

I looked over. She waved the package of Sharpies in front of me. I shook my head. She waved them again, more insistently this time. Sighing wearily, I pulled one out and put it on the desk in front of me, then resumed reading the paper.

Suddenly a sickly sweet smell filled my senses. Peach. H was looking ahead, the picture of innocence, as she held the marker under my nose. With her other hand she pointed to my marker.

Acknowledging defeat, I picked it up, plucked off the cover, and inhaled. Cinnamon. I loved cinnamon. I nodded, impressed, then handed it off to H. She reciprocated with her marker. Then another. Then another, as we worked our way through the box, passing them back and forth.

I was savoring the carmel flavor when I heard H suppress a giggle.

Oh no.

She held out the final marker, trying to catch my eye. I did my best to avoid both.

She reached over and tapped the side of my head once with the marker. I attempted to swat it away.

She did it again this time tapping twice. Again I tried and failed.

When she went for a trifecta, however, I was ready. I flicked my arm out and snatched it away from her. Triumphant, I placed it behind my ear.

A moment later she reached over and snatched it back. But instead of tormenting me with it, she rolled it over, then held it out so that I could read the label.

I was afraid to look. She began to move her chair closer to mine, slowly hemming me in tighter in our already cramped corner of the studio as she held the marker out. I arched my back as best I could, but my sling limited the evasive tactics available to me.

She rolled her chair ever closer. She was nothing if not persistent. Under her breath I could hear her humming the “Jaws” theme.

A moment later I was pressed up against the wall. Finally, I had no choice. I held out my hand and she dropped the marker in it. Then she pointed to the label.

Purple Passion.

I dropped the marker. This time I was the one covering my mouth. I could feel H shaking in her seat, trying and failing to suppress her laughter as well as she watched my reaction.

The cardinal rule when you were in the studio and the show was live was that you never, ever make any background noise that distracts the listener. And that goes double, if not more, when there are guests. It was simply unacceptable. And of course that made it all but inevitable that I would fail, even as I struggled mightily to maintain some semblance of control.

I put my head on the desk in the vain hope that I could stifle my laughter until we were in commercial. I was trying to convince myself I was succeeding when it occurred to me something I was hearing didn’t sound right.

Or, more precisely, something I wasn’t hearing.

I lifted my head slowly. Everyone in the studio – M, K, R, MH, and JT – was staring at H and myself with bemusement. H looked mortified.

“Don’t mind us here, folks,” said M into the mike. “That sound you hear in the background is from my interns, who are getting high sniffing magic markers.”

“So Sharpies are the new gateway drug, I take it?” asked JT brightly.

“Right. The next step is crayons,” said K. “They start with the little box, but before you know it – “ she snapped her fingers – “they’re melting down the big box with 64 colors.”

“They’re so young, it’s tragic to watch,” said M.

MH adjusted her microphone.

“I must say, you certainly have the most entertaining interns I’ve ever seen.”

“Yes,” said K. “They certainly are quite the pair.”

***

"So is this the big day?" asked K, gesturing to my now sling-free right arm.

K had joined H and I in the production studio during a news break. R had asked if we could edit down the recent air checks. It was Halloween, a week after our memorable limo ride and subsequent Sharpie-induced walk on the wild side.

"Maybe," I said, holding my arm aloft. "They're taking the cast off to see if it’s healed. If it has, then I’ll just need a brace for a while."

"Do they let you cut off the cast yourself?” asked H as she spliced together two reels of tape.

“I think so. I’ve never done it before, though.”

“Before? Before what?”

“Well, when I broke my ankle. Or my foot. Or my wrist, when I dislocated it. Or when I fractured my elbow, now that I think about it. Why?”

"Based on your track record, it scares me to think what would happen if they handed you a saw. "

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, H."

"Well, I've seen what happens when R lets you loose in here with just a razor blade. And I'm hoping today is the last day I have to carry you here," she said.

"I'll be sure to tell them that."

K glanced down at H's ring, which glittered in the light as she expertly wielded her Xacto blade.

"Oh my God, your ring is beautiful!" she exclaimed.

"Thank you," she said as she held it out for K to see.

"Have you always worn this?" asked K. "I can't believe I never noticed it before."

"It belonged to my grandma. We were very close, and she left it me in her will when she died last year."

"Well, it's just gorgeous," said K. "Isn’t it, L?"

I nodded.

"It is. Did you have it before you got engaged?" I asked.

H and K exchanged puzzled glances.

"What are you talking about?" H asked.

"Did your boyfriend know you had it before he proposed? Or had he already bought one?"

H was genuinely confused.

"L, it’s on my right hand," she said, holding it up.

I looked at her, uncomprehending.

"L, when you're engaged you wear the ring on your left hand," K said. She was looking at me oddly. “You know that, right?”

“Oh,” I said lamely.

Actually, I didn’t know that. I hadn't given much thought to the social intricacies of adult relationships. None of my friends were married yet, and I was already well on my way to convincing myself that I would never be married.

"I’m not engaged,” H said. “I’m not even…”

Her voice trailed off.

"You really didn't know, did you?"

“I’m sorry, no,” I said apologetically.

For years I strove desperately to avoid situations like this, situations that would reveal how emotionally stunted I was about anything remotely associated with intimacy of any kind. And now my worst fears were realized. I think K and H, on some level, may have sensed as much.

“You don’t have to apologize,” H said. “I just… I'm surprised you didn't know that.”

"Well, now he'll know to ask someone who already has a ring," said K. "More money for the bachelor party that way."

"Right," I said, relieved.

"So, do you want to get married, L?" asked K.

I thought for a moment.

"Well, I hadn't really thought about it... but sure. Shouldn't we wait 'til the show is over though?"

I ducked as she tossed a wadded-up ball of splicing tape at my head.

***

Several hours later we were back in the studio during the final commercial break of the show. H and I were handling our last chores of the morning. M and K were idly thumbing through the newspaper, while R updated the playlist.

"So, any big plans for tonight?" H asked me as we filed away the records we'd pulled.

"No, not really," I said.

I hadn't really done anything on Halloween since my memorable adventure a few years before when I was a freshman.

"Well," she said casually, "My roommate's sorority is having a Halloween party. Do you want to go?"

M and K looked up. R stopped writing, his pen poised over the log sheet.

"Oh," I said. "Um, is it a costume party?"

"Yes, L," she said patiently. "People generally wear costumes to Halloween parties."

I cursed myself silently.

"Oh.. right. Well… I don't really have a costume."

"You're a bright boy, L,” she said. “I have faith you can pull something together between now and tonight."

"Sure," I said. "Sure. OK... that sounds good."

She pulled a notebook out of her backpack and scribbled for a few moments. She carefully tore out the page and handed it to me.

"Here's my address and phone number. If that heap you call a car is still running, why don’t you come by and pick me up. Say, 8:00?"

"All right," I said, admiring her elegant handwriting. I could print like nobody’s business – the result of years of lettering my comic strip – but my handwriting was, to put it kindly, a mess.

“Good. Pick out something good. There’s a contest for best boy and girl costumes,” she said as she pulled on her coat.

"So, do you have yours already?" I asked.

She nodded.

“I do.”

"What is it?"

She closed her eyes and shook her head slowly.

"You’ll have to come to find that out."

She cast me a sly sideways glance that said, And itll be worth it.

My throat was dry. She picked up her backpack.

"See you tonight."

"See you."

I turned to see M, R, and K looking at me. R and K were trying, unsuccessfully, to hide their smiles. M was shaking his head.

"Damn," he said. "I wish I was 21 right now."

***

Nine hours later I was lying on my bed, staring out the window at the bare trees in our neighbor's side yard. I had been there for hours, trying to fight the uneasiness that had set in from the moment I left the radio station to have my cast removed.

As I had for the past three hours, I told myself that this time I really would get up in ten minutes. If I hurried, I told myself, I could still get up, take a quick shower, and stop off at a convenience store for a costume on my way to picking up H.

What are you waiting for? I asked myself. Just sit up, grab a shower, and get your scrawny butt moving. This is what you've always wanted.

Isn't it?

It was. But why were my hands shaking? And why was my throat so dry? And why had I had a dull but persistent headache for hours?

I shook my head.

One more minute, I thought. Just one more minute.

Thirty minutes later the bedroom door opened. My brother F, who's bedroom adjoined mine, walked in. His jacket and pants were dusted with flour.

"Were you working at Tony's?"

In addition to a legislative internship at the State House, F worked two part-time jobs: one at school and one at Tony's, a local pizza shop.

"Nope. Had to break up a food fight on the Senate floor," he said as he peeled off his tomato-stained shirt.

"Good thing you were dressed appropriately."

"Yup. Glad I left the French cuffs at home today."

He was only half-joking. F was, if not a clotheshorse, someone who took the time to figure out what look worked for him (unlike myself, who didn’t see the point). I used to kid him that he was the only college student I knew who relaxed by putting on a three-piece suit. His girlfriend M joked that he loved shopping more than she did.

"How come you're up here in the dark?" he asked.

I shrugged.

“Just impersonating a mushroom, eh?” he said. "So, where are you going tonight? Any big plans?"

I hesitated, then took a deep breath.

“No. Nothing planned.”

“Really? Again? C’mon, L. You spend every single weekend by yourself.”

“I don’t feel like it,” I said, feeling sick inside. What was wrong with me? I thought.

“Well, I’m headed over to M’s in a few minutes. We’re going to rent a few movies. Why don’t you come? She’s inviting some of her friends, and I know at least a few of them aren’t seeing anyone.”

I’d once had a bit of a crush on M – a crush that was quickly snuffed out on the day she confided in me that she had a crush on F, and could I act as a sort of matchmaker? I did – in fact, I escorted them on a number of their first dates, since neither M nor my brother had their drivers licenses yet. I never mentioned my feelings for M. They’d been together for over three years, so it was clearly the right move. Nonetheless, I chose to keep my distance.

I shook my head.

“No, I think I’m going to catch up on some homework.”

“Suit yourself,” he said as he padded off for the shower. “But you can’t spend the rest of your life hiding in your room.”

Well see about that, I thought.

Once I heard the shower start, I picked up the phone and dialed H’s number. It was nearly 8:00.

“Hello?”

“Hi… is H there?”

There was a brief pause.

“Is this L?”

“Yes.”

I could hear muffled giggles in the background.

“Just a second. I’ll get her for you.”

She put the phone down. I could hear her announce, in a sing-song voice, “H, it’s L! Pick up!”

A moment later H’s voice came on the line. I could hear female voices laughing in the background.

“Hi L. How are you?” she asked.

Before I could answer the sound was suddenly muffled; I assume she’d covered the receiver.

“Would you stop it?” I heard her say. I could detect a smile in her tone, even with her voice muffled.

“Sorry about that. My roommates decided to start the party a little early, and now they’re all a little DRUNK,” she said good-naturedly, clearly addressing her roommates.

“That’s OK.”

“Are you running late? It’s OK if you are; my costume needed a little more work, as it turns out, so I don’t mind. After all, we don’t want to disappoint anyone, right?” Her words were tumbling out.

“Yeah, that’s why I’m calling,” I said, eyes squeezed shut.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. Her voice was suddenly serious.

“I don’t know… I’m not feeing all that great … Ever since I got home from getting my cast off. I think I might be coming down with that flu you had a few weeks ago.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Oh… Are you sure? I mean, why don’t you just come over and maybe you’ll feel better when you get moving?”

“Umm… I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said. “I don’t want to get everyone there sick.”

“Well, like you said, I already had it. So did my roommates. So we won’t catch anything. Just come by. If you don’t feel good, we don’t have to stay at the party. We can just come back here and hang out. I don’t mind.”

“No, I think I’m just going to call it an early night,” I said.

Inside, I was screaming at myself: What are you doing, you idiot? What the hell are you doing? But I felt helpless to stop myself.

“Are you sure? I’d really like it if you at least came over to see my costume.”

“No, I really don’t feel up to it,” I said. “I’m really sorry, H.”

Silence.

The seconds ticked by. I’m sure it was only a matter of moments, but they felt like an eternity.

“OK,” she said. Her tone was a mixture of puzzlement and disappointment. “Well, I hope you feel better soon. Get some rest.”

“I will. Thanks H.”

“You’re welcome. Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up the phone slowly. I put my head in my hands and tried to make sense of the emotions churning inside me.

Suddenly I was having trouble breathing. I could feel panic building.

Please stop, I thought, horror-stricken. Just go away! Please just go away!

I bolted for the bathroom and pounded past my astonished brother in the hallway, towel wrapped around his waist.

I flung open the bathroom door and collapsed in front of the toilet. I retched, violently.

There was a knock at the door.

“L? L? What’s going on? Are you OK?” It was F.

“Fine,” I rasped.

“You don’t sound fine,” he said. “I’m coming in.”

Before I could protest, he opened the door.

“Jesus,” he said. “You look awful.”

“I feel OK now,” I said weakly.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “Do you think you can get up?”

I nodded. He grasped my arm as I stood and held it all the way to my bedroom. As soon as we reached my bed, I collapsed onto it.

“L,” he said, his voice quiet. “What the hell was that all about? What on earth happened?”

“I don’t know,” I told him. My voice was small. I was suddenly so tired I could barely keep my eyes focused on him. “I just felt sick all of a sudden.”

“I’m going to call Mom and Dad,” he said, standing up. They were attending a Halloween party at our church.

“No!” I told him, trying to sit up. “No. Please don’t tell them. Don’t tell anyone.”

He looked down at me. His face was grave.

“L,” he said. “What’s going on? What’s wrong? Something obviously happened that brought that on. You can tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

I wanted to believe him. But I didn’t really comprehend what had just happened, or why it happened. And telling someone the secret that was forcing me, inexorably, to withdraw further and further within myself, lest the terrible truth be exposed… I knew that no matter what, I could never, ever risk that.

“It must’ve been an allergic reaction or something,” I said. “Maybe I ate something that triggered it.”

“An allergy,” he said, his voice flat. “You got from perfectly fine to tossing up your lunch in sixty seconds and it’s an allergy.”

“F, I’m really tired,” I told him. My eyes were half-closed. “I just need to rest for a little bit.”

“OK,” he said finally. “OK. But if this ever happens again, I’m telling them.”

I rolled over. Even that minimal effort was exhausting.

“I’ll be downstairs if you need me,” he said as he turned off the light. “I’m just going to have M come by here instead.”

“Thank you, F.”

“You’re welcome.”

I fell into a dreamless sleep the instant he closed the door.

***
H didn’t come in to the station the following Friday. She called R the night before to tell him she had a last-minute commitment she couldn’t reschedule.

I arrived the following Friday to find that H had switched days with S, another intern. I wanted to ask S who had asked for the swap. But I already knew.

The following week I switched my Friday assignment in order to attend an out-of-state wedding that had been scheduled months before.

Finally, a full month after our last conversation, H and I were both working on Friday.

“How are you?” asked H politely. “Feeling better?”

“I am, thank you. And how are you?”

“Fine.”

“How was the party?” I asked.

“Fine,” she said, then turned to R.

“R, I noticed the back room is a mess. Would you like me to straighten it out?”

“You don’t have to do that, H,” he said. “It’s absolutely filthy, and it’ll take you all morning.”

“I don’t mind,” she said, avoiding eye contact with me. “Really.”

R glanced at me for a moment, then shrugged.

“Sure,” he said. “Knock yourself out.”

And so it went for the next several weeks. H and I were both on our best behavior at all times during those seemingly endless shows. The strained politeness only reinforced the enormity of what I had done that Halloween night.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that most of my free time was spent trying desperately to figure out how to get back to where H and I had been that Halloween morning. It was barely a month and a half prior; it felt like another lifetime.

The gloom that I felt inside – but carefully hid, as always, behind a seemingly cheerful demeanor - deepened as the calendar inexorably moved towards Christmas and the end of my internship.

My final semester course load was so demanding that something in my schedule had to give. I needed to work both jobs to help pay for school, so my only choice, much as it pained me, was to give up the non-paying internship.

R was disappointed but understanding when I broke the news to him. He informed me that H had also decided not to return for another semester. The final show before Christmas, on December 23, would be the last for both of us.

On the Friday before that final show, R asked if I could come in on the following Monday, the 22nd, as a personal favor.

“I know it’s the first day of your vacation,” he said, “But almost all of the other interns are out of town on winter break. I’d really appreciate it.”

“Sure, R,” I told him. “No problem.”

I wasn’t sleeping anyway; what difference did it make if I was exhausted at home in bed or sitting in the studio?

A heavy, wet mixture of sleet and snow was falling as I drove to the station in the pre-dawn darkness. The gloom matched my mood. One more day, I thought, and after that I never see H again. And I have absolutely no one to blame but myself.

Because I was the only intern, and thus was responsible for keeping track of the ever-changing list of school closings, the show flew by. I didn’t have time to stop for a bite to eat, or even a cup of coffee.

The show over, I was pulling on my work boots and figuring out where to stop for breakfast when JC approached.

“L, I really, really hate to ask this,” he said, “But I desperately need someone to go through the game audio. Is there any chance you can help me out?”

I groaned inwardly. I was hungry, I wasn’t in a good mood, and I had a headache from lack of caffeine. The last thing I wanted to do was spend 90 minutes listening to surly professional athletes mumble clichés.

“Oh, gee, JC,” I said, “I wish I could. But I really need to get out of here.”

“Please?” he asked. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t really need it. Just one more time?”

I hesitated as I tied the lacings on my boots. JC was easily the nicest on-air staff member, always willing to listen to the demo reels I created for class assignments and offer his advice. More importantly, he treated all of the interns as fellow professionals. I felt like he was a friend.

I sighed.

“OK,” I said. “Where are they?’

He brightened.

“In the production studio. There aren’t that many; there was a light schedule last night. Thanks so much, L!”

Sure,” I said, smiling. “What’s one more time, right?”

JC was right; the stack of tapes was barely a quarter of its usual size.

About ten minutes after I started there was a knock at the door. Before I could pull off my headphones, I heard it open.

“Mind if I come in?”

It was K. She was holding two large cups of coffee.

“I brought you breakfast,” she said, placing a bagel in front of me.

“Hey, K,” I said. “What are you doing here? You have a long ride home.”

“You stuck around to help out JC,” she said, “I just thought I’d keep you company.

“Besides, it gives me an excuse to put off Christmas shopping a little longer.” She shook her head. “Do you know how hard it is to buy something for M? What do you give the man who has everything?”

“Porn?”

She laughed heartily.

“Like I said, what do you give the man who has everything?”

We both laughed. She took a sip of coffee.

“I’m really going to miss you. R too. And even M. He won’t tell you, of course. But he will.”

I swallowed. Hard.

“I’ll miss all of you, too,” I said.

Damn. I was feeling even worse. I didn’t think that was possible. I absolutely adore the Christmas season, but even that couldn’t help lift my spirits this year.

We drank our coffee in silence. K looked as if she wanted to speak several times. Finally she did.

“L,” she said, hesitant. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

“Sure.”

She paused.

“Why didn’t you go to the Halloween party with H?”

I looked out in the hallway. The lights on the Christmas tree in the lobby cast a reassuring glow.

“If you don’t want to answer, or if you want to tell me to mind my own business, go right ahead.”

I shook my head and stared into my coffee cup.

Because shes beautiful.

Because Im not.

Because Ive never been with a woman before.

Because I hate my body.

Because I want my body to look like hers.

Because I know that will never happen.

Because if I let her get close to me, shell figure out who I really am.

Because I dont deserve someone like her.

Because she doesnt deserve someone like me.

“L?”

“I was afraid,” I said.

“Afraid?” she asked. “Afraid of what?”

“Her, I guess. I mean… just look at her. And…”

I gestured.

“Then look at me. I mean, she could have any guy she wanted. Right?”

“Oh, L,” she said. “You don’t get it, do you?

 “She didn’t want any guy. She wanted you. She asked you.”

“But why? That’s what I don’t understand.”

“Because you like her. Not just her looks, or her chest, but her, as a person. I’ll bet that doesn’t happen to her very often.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

I considered this for a moment.

“Well, even if that’s true, she must hate me now.”

“She doesn’t hate you, L. Trust me. She doesn’t.”

“And how do you know?”

“I just do. I do more than just laugh at M’s stupid jokes in there, you know. I see what goes on, and I see how she looks at you when you aren’t looking. And vice versa.”

She smiled as I turned red.

“It’s not too late, L. Talk to her tomorrow. Just tell her what you told me.”

“That I was scared? She’ll think I’m an idiot.”

“No she won’t. She’ll think you’re really, really brave. How many guys do you know who would admit what you told me?” She shook her head. “Not many, let me tell you.”

For the first time in weeks, I felt the stirrings of hope.

“So,” I said. “You really think I should try again.”

“Absolutely,” she said firmly. “I wouldn’t say it unless I meant it.”

K stood up.

“K?”

“Yup?”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

She reached for the door.

“Hey, K?”

She turned, her hand on the doorknob.

“Did you have JC ask me to edit these tapes so I’d be in here alone after the show?”

She looked at me for a moment, poker-faced.

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

She smiled.

“Probably.”

***

“Oh, M, it’s beautiful!” exclaimed H.

It was 24 hours later, the final day for myself and H. The entire morning show crew was in the studio as M handed out gifts.

H held up a scarf.

“Is this cashmere?”

“I think so. To be honest, my wife insisted on picking something out for you. Count your blessings: if it was me, you’d have wound up with a portrait of Elvis on black velvet.”

“Well, please give this to your wife from me.”

She stood, walked around to where M stood, and hugged him.

“I’ll do that,” he said, smiling. “L, this is for you, buddy.”

He reached across and handed me a small box.

“Thank you, M.”

“Well, your Mom sent in all of these goodies,” he said, gesturing to the huge tray of fudge, cookies, and hand-made candy she had prepared.

“Hell, give that back to me. R, let’s go get L’s mother something instead.”

“Too late,” I said as I carefully removed the wrapping paper and ribbon.

“What is it?” asked H, leaning over to see.

“Oh, wow, Polo!” I said, holding up the blue bottle. “I’ve never used cologne before, believe it or not.”

“Oh, we believe it,” said JC. “We thought deodorant would be too obvious.”

I threw the wrapping paper at him.

“May I?” asked H, gesturing to the bottle. “I just love how this smells.”

“Of course,” I said, handing it over. She opened the bottle and sniffed, then sighed contentedly.

“There’s something I never understood about women’s perfume,” said R. “H, maybe you and K can help me out.”

“OK,” she said.

“The whole idea of perfume is to draw a man closer, right?”

H nodded.

“So theoretically it should smell like something that interests a guy. So how come perfume always smells like someone has been rolling around a flower bed?”

“Good point, R,” said M. “It should really smell like steak sauce.”

“Or maybe a carburetor,” suggested JC.

“Or pizza,” I added.

H rolled her eyes as she handed me back the Polo.

“And to think I’ll be leaving all of this behind,” she said, shaking her head.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said M. “We’re going to keep calling you at home every morning even after you leave.”

“It’s true,” said JC ruefully, patting his belly. “They called me last week at 6:30 in the morning when I was in Pittsburgh.”

“We described the entire box of donuts to him,” said M.

“On the air, of course,” added K.

“Of course,” said H.

R cleared his throat.

“Everyone, we’re back on in five, four…” He silently counted off to one.

“We’re back,” said M. “Well, while we’re all excited about Christmas, today is also a sad day for us here on the M in the Morning show.”

“That’s right,” said K. “Today is the last day for H and L, our two favorite interns.”

“We’re going to miss them both,” said M. “And not just because L is the only one who has my tea with honey ready every morning when I come in.”

“And not just because I go on a shopping spree after seeing H’s latest outfit every week,” said K.

“Wait a minute, K,” said M. “Why are we sad for them? They get to sleep ‘til noon and drink as much beer as they want now!”

“That’s true,” said K.

“To hell with that,” said M. “H and L, you’re staying here. The rest of us are going back to school in your place.”

“If that means H and I get to split your salary, you’re on,” I said.

“Whoops, would you look at the time, folks,” said M as he cued up the show’s closing credit music bed. “That’s going to do it from here. From myself, K, R, JC, and, one last time, H and L, Merry Christmas! We’ll see you all next year!”

Everyone in the studio clapped. JC and R hugged H, then shook my hand, wishing both of us good luck.

M was next. He hugged H again – “This is from me, not my wife” – and started to shake my hand.

“Oh, who am I kidding,” he said, and wrapped me in a bear hug,

“Good luck to both of you,” he said. “I wish all of our interns were like you.”

“Thank you, M.”

“You’re welcome. Now get out. Kidding! I kid!” he said, winking, as he ambled into the hall.

That left K.

As she and H embraced, both started to tear up. K whispered something into H’s ear. She smiled as she brushed away a tear.

“C’mere, you,” said K, holding out her arms to me.

As we hugged, she stood on her toes to reach ear level.

“Now’s your big chance,” she whispered. “Go for it!”

She squeezed my hand, turned, and exited the studio. H and I were alone.

H, folding her scarf, smiled.

“So, this is it,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”

We looked at each other for a moment. H started to speak, the closed her mouth. She picked up her pocketbook and slowly began sorting through it. The tension was palpable.

Its now or never, L, I thought. Time to step up.

“H?”

“Mm-hmm?” She looked up quickly.

“Do you have a minute? I, um… I have something I need to talk to you about.”

“Sure.” She nodded slightly. She was chewing on her lower lip.

Wow I think shes nervous, I thought. Go figure.

“Can we go someplace quiet? “ I said. “They’ll be in here for the next shift any second now.”

“Let’s go to the production studio,” she said.

We packed up our belongings in silence and walked down the now-familiar hall.

“So,” she said as she sat down. She absently played with her hands in her lap.

“H… I owe you an apology.”

“OK, but… why?”

“For not coming to the Halloween party.”

“Well, you said you were sick,” she said.

“Did you believe me?” I asked.

After a moment she shook her head.

“No. Not really.“

In spite of herself, she smiled.

“You’re a terrible liar, you know.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” I said, my face flushing. I shook my head ruefully.

“My friends B and T used to tell their parents they were with me when they went drinking, which worked fine – except they never told me. Then I answered the phone one night when B’s mother called, and she asked why I wasn’t with T & B. I made up some lame story, and she just laughed and said I’d make a lousy poker player.”

“She was right,” H said. “You don’t do deceit very well.”

“So if you didn’t believe me,” I said, “Why did you think I canceled?”

“To be honest… I just assumed you weren’t interested.”

I was astonished.

You thought I wasn’t interested?”

“Well… what else would I think?”

She looked at me, curious.

“Why do you sound so surprised?”

“I just… what would make you think that?”

She laughed.

“L, you called me five minutes before you’re supposed to pick me up, claiming you weren’t feeling well. I just assumed you got a better offer from someone else.”

“A better offer?” If possible, I was even more astonished. “What could possibly have been better than a date with you?”

Now it was her turn to blush.

“Thank you. But… so why did you cancel, then?”

I took a breath.

“Because I was scared.”

“Scared?” she asked. “Of what?”

“Of… you.”

“Me?” she said. She looked incredulous. “You were scared of me? Why?”

She spread her arms wide.

“I’m not exactly intimidating, L.”

“You are to me.”

“But why? How? I don’t understand. Please, tell me,” she said, her voice earnest.

She really wanted to know.

“You don’t know my track record, H,” I said. “I’m not exactly Mr. Smooth with women.”

“I’m beginning to sense that,” she said wryly. “So what I took for you being cool and mysterious all this time was really - ”

“Terror. Sheer, unadulterated terror.”

“Well, how could a girl resist that?” she said. That familiar mischievous gleam, the one that made her irresistible, was back.

“H… I’m really, really sorry. You deserved better.”

“It’s OK, L. Really. So… what do we do now?”

My heart leapt.

“Well… I could try to make it up to you.”

“You could,” she said.

“OK… Well… would you like to go out some time?”

She smiled.

“I’d like that very much.”

Seven weeks of agony lifted off my shoulders.

“So would I.”

“I’m leaving for home right from here,” she said. “So we’ll just have to let the tension build for a few more weeks. Won’t we?”

“I guess so. I’ll work on some bad jokes in the meantime.”

“Please do,” she said. “I’m going into withdrawal already.”

“Hey,” I said. “I just thought of something. What was your Halloween costume, anyway?”

“A cat.”

“Whoa.”

You really did blow it that night, I thought.

She flashed her mischievous smile.

“Well, we can always try to think of an excuse for me to wear it again.”

“Let’s work on that.”

“”Deal.”

 She stood up.

“Thank you for telling me all this, L. You don’t open up easily, do you.”

“Well, not really,” I said. “But you’re worth it, though.”

“Thank you.”

I reached for her coat.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Holding your coat for you,” I said. What else would I be doing? I thought.

She shook her head again as she held out her arm. I slipped on the coat.

“You really aren’t like any other guys I know.”

“Can I walk you to your car?” I asked.

“Yes, please.”

I held open the door for H. As we walked down the hall I saw K watching us from the now empty news studio. I winked and gave her a wave.

“Thank you,” I mouthed silently.

She clapped. “Good luck,” she said, beaming.

“So did you remember everything?” I asked H when we reached her car. Boxes were stacked neatly in the back seat and passenger side. The brilliant late December sun glistened on the newly fallen snow.

“Mm-hmm,” she said, fishing her keys from her pocketbook. She opened the door, then stopped.

“Wait,” she said. “I did forget something.”

She leaned over and gave me a quick kiss.

I was too stunned to move. It was the first time I had ever been kissed.

She flipped her new scarf over her shoulder.

“See you next year, intern.”

She climbed behind the wheel, backed up, and waved.

I waved back, dazed, and watched her pull out of the parking lot and onto the street, stopping at the intersection as the light turned red.

A hand clapped on my shoulder as I stared at H’s car. I turned to see M.

“Ready for Christmas, buddy?” asked L.

“I am. How about you?”

“Yup,” he said. “I’m off to pick up one more for my wife, then I’m done.”

He extended his hand. We shook.

“Merry Christmas, M.”

“Merry Christmas, L. Hope Santa brings you what you want.”

I watched as the light turned green and H’s car faded into the distance.

He just did, I thought.

***

The following three weeks were a study in contradictions. I always loved the holiday season, but this year I simultaneously wanted to enjoy them as usual but also fast forward to the end of the Christmas break, when H would return from New York. There are worse problems than having to wait a month for a date with H, I thought.

Assuming she would need some time to settle in – and not wanting to appear too eager – I waited several days after her return to call.

It was a Sunday evening when, without hesitation, I picked up the phone and dialed her number. After five or six rings, a female voice answered.

“Hello?”

Her voice was as refined as H’s. I had labored long and hard to lose my “townie” accent after hearing a recording of my voice in a speech class I took my junior year as part of my Communications studies. Putting aside the natural discomfort most people feel when hearing their own voice, I was appalled at how it made me sound. After nearly two years of hard work, I had managed to eradicate most of it, but I was always aware that it didn’t come naturally when speaking with someone like H or her roommate.

I could hear the clinking of silverware and the hum of overlapping conversations in the background.

“Hi. Is H there?”

I made a concerted effort to pronounce the “r” at the end of “there.”

“She is. May I ask who’s calling?”

“This is L.”

“Ah,” she said. Her formal-but-polite tone abruptly shifted.

“So this is the famous L,” she said with warmth. “This is A. I’m one of her roommates.”

“It’s nice to meet you, A.”

“You too, L. Hold on for just a minute. I’ll go get her.”

“Thank you.”

“Boy, H wasn’t kidding - you really are polite.”

“So this would be a bad time to belch, then?” I asked.

She laughed.

“And she also said you had a sense of humor. She was right again. Hold on and I’ll go get her. It was nice talking to you, L.”

“You too, A.”

She put down the receiver. I could just make out the sound of her heels clicking on a wood floor over the hubbub of what sounded like a substantial number of people.

Nearly a full minute passed before I heard footsteps and someone picking up the receiver.

“Hey, you,” said H with a smile in her voice. “Happy New Year.”

“And Happy New Year to you too,” I said. It was a thrill to finally hear her voice again. “I hope you had a nice Christmas break.”

“I did.”

“Did I call at a bad time?” I asked.

“You did, actually,” she said apologetically.

“Yeah, It sounds like there’s a convention going on over there.”

“No, my roommates and I are hosting a dinner party,” she said. “We invite friends from our sorority and a few of the fraternities.”

A dinner party, I thought. I’d never attended a dinner party, nor had I ever been invited to one. For that matter, I didn’t know anyone who had attended one.

The parties my friends arranged consisted of downing case after case of cheap off-brand beer, huddling against the elements inside the remnants of an abandoned factory that had been torched in an insurance scam. After attending several while in high school, a tacit agreement was reached: they never invited me, and I never asked to attend.

“I wanted to invite you,” H said apologetically, “But I didn’t have your number.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I never thought to give it to you.”

“I realized it on the drive home,” she said. “I called information as soon as I got there, but they didn’t have anything for you or your family.”

“Our number is unlisted,” I said with my eyes closed, rubbing my head. I was such an idiot. “My Dad is a cop, so he doesn’t want it in the phone book.”

“Oh. That makes sense,” she said. “Anyway, I feel terrible. I wanted you to come meet my friends.”

“It’s my fault, not yours, H,” I said. I was getting angrier and angrier at myself. Calm down, I thought. Just calm down.

“Well, you’ll just have to meet them another time,” she said cheerfully. She hesitated a moment.

“I feel really awful, but – “

“I’m keeping you from your party, H,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

I could feel the sweat trickling down my back.

“You don’t have to keep apologizing,” she said gently. “Really, it’s not a big deal. Just give me a call this week so we can pick a good day for both of us. Any night but Thursday works for me; I have an evening class that night. OK?”

“OK,” I said.

“It’s so nice to hear your voice again, L,” she said. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” I said. And I did. So why did I feel as if I would burst into tears at any moment?

“Well, I better get back,” she said. “I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.”

“Bye.”

After hanging up, I lay down on my bed, suddenly exhausted. A familiar drumbeat was pounding in my head.

Who do you think you’re fooling? Do you really think you belong with her?

I shook my head.

Stop, I thought. Please. Just… stop.

I felt helpless.

Forget about being out of your league; she’s out of your solar system. And you know it.

No, I told myself. Don’t do this. Not again.

You have to call her.

YOU HAVE TO CALL HER.

***

I stood next to my bedroom window, receiver in hand, staring at the first flakes of snow as they danced in the frosty air. The forecast was for a major storm – at least a foot.

It was the following Sunday, a full week since H and I had spoken last. I hadn’t called on Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or any day.

I had tried. I stood, in this spot each night, vowing that I would call as soon as one more minute passed. Then another. And another.

But I didn’t.

I‘d had the entire house to myself since mid-day Thursday. The rest of my family had gone on a ski trip with a youth group from our church. As I had done so often in the past, I chose the safety of solitude over the anxiety I knew would come from the endless bus ride, the crowded hotel rooms, and the kind of late-night conversations such trips invariably engendered – conversations I desperately wanted to avoid. It was hard enough to lie to myself; the burden of lying to others was too much to bear.

My father had called nearly an hour earlier to say they were nearing the state line. I had less than 15 minutes to call H if I wanted to ensure no one would hear.

I tried to swallow, but my throat was parched.

Just dial her number, say you weren’t feeling well all week, and ask her if next Friday works. Just like you wrote it, I thought, staring at the script I held in my hand. The sheet of paper was wilting from my perspiring hands. 

My hand trembling, I lifted the receiver.

I punched in the first digit.

Then another. And another.

In rapid succession I entered the next three digits.

One left.

My finger hovered over the last key.

Go ahead, I thought.

Just press it, I thought, pleading.

Please God.

Make me press it.

I moved my finger to the key.

Then I heard the dial tone.

"We're sorry; we are unable to complete your call as dialed. Please check the number and dial again, or call for directory assistance."

I closed my eyes and slowly placed the receiver back.

The mix of rage, despair, and terror I had been fighting desperately to hold in check for a week suddenly burst.

I slapped myself in the face with my right hand. My glasses flew off and clattered to the ground.

I slapped myself again, this time with my left hand.

Then again.

And again.

And again.

I was in a frenzy, slapping myself as hard as I possibly could.

Right.

Left.

Right.

Left.

It continued for what felt like an eternity.

Suddenly I stopped, turned, and threw myself onto my bed. I buried my face in my pillows and screamed.

I continued until my throat was raw, pounding the bed with my fists. A lifetime of horror and abject terror threatened to overwhelm me entirely.

And then it was over.

Chest heaving, I lay face down for several minutes, trying to regain some semblance of control.

Slowly, I rolled over and swung my feet over the side of the bed. I had never felt so exhausted in my life.

My glasses lay on the floor beside the bed. The frame was badly bent, and the left lens had been jarred loose when they hit the ground.

I reached down to pick up the frames. The glasses clattered back to the ground.

I realized my right wrist was throbbing. I attempted to move my fingers, to no avail.

Good, I thought bitterly. Good. You deserve this. You SHOULD hurt right now.

Using only my left hand, I somehow managed to pick up the glasses, replace the lens, and straighten out the frames enough that I could wear them again.

Utterly drained, I stood and slowly shuffled to the mirror atop the vanity chest. My breath came in short, hard rasps.

I stared at my reflection. My dull, lifeless eyes were bloodshot and swollen with tears. My nose was running. Multiple hand imprints were clearly visible on both cheeks.

What is the matter with you? I asked my reflection.

What the f*** is the matter with you?

Who are you?

Who are you?

***

“L.”

“L.”

“L.”

I looked up. M was staring at me.

“Let go of your wrist, L,” she said quietly.

I looked down. I was squeezing my right wrist so tightly that my knuckles were white. I slowly let go.

“No wonder you wouldn’t let yourself think about this,” she said.

I nodded. I felt utterly drained.

“What happened when your family came home that night?”

“I lied and said I had fallen down the stairs. I’ve always been clumsy, so they bought it. My parents took me to the ER.”

“And?”

“I had re-fractured it and caused more nerve damage. It never really healed, to be honest. To this day it bothers me if I try to do too much typing. I have to wear a brace.”

M thought for a moment.

“So…” she said carefully, “You never called H?”

I closed my eyes. A moment later I shook my head.

“And she probably thought you simply weren’t interested. When in truth you were…” She searched for the correct word. “Paralyzed. You were paralyzed.”

“Right.”

After a few moments M spoke again.

“If H were sitting here, right now, on the couch next to you… what would you tell her?”

“I’m sorry.”

I swallowed hard.

“I’m so sorry.”

The room was silent.

“Why don’t you tell me about R,” said M.

After a moment I nodded.

"Let me start near the end," I said.

***

While I’m a casual Van Halen fan at most, I chose the title of a song from their 5150 album for this blog posts for two reasons. First, both the song and album were omnipresent during my entire tenure with the station. Second, and more important, I realized as I was writing this that the title was, sadly, all too appropriate.

In truth, though, it’s another song from that album that holds bittersweet memories for me. “Love Walks In” was the track that was in heavy rotation during those intense few fall months. In fact, it was playing during that memorable limo ride. To this day I think of H, and wonder what might have been, each time I hear it.



8 comments:

Jessica Lyn on February 22, 2012 at 2:20 AM said...

I'm not exactly sure what to say about this. On one hand you obviously couldn't have had a lasting relationship with H, but on the other, you could have at least tried. I mean if you did call her and ended up in a relationship or even marriage, you never known what could have happen, she may have accepted the real you and stayed with you. Or it could have ended up as my ex-wife and I did, friends.. good friends actually. She excepts me and even asks my opinion on guys that shes with now.

The way I see it, you and H were friends. Sure you were both interested in each other, but you could've remained friends and still kept in contact.

I'm curious, have you ever heard from her again or at least heard about what has happened in her life?

Kelly on February 22, 2012 at 3:13 AM said...

To answer your second question first... no, I never spoke to, nor heard from, her again. I was too ashamed. And frightened.

As far as your first question... everything you suggested may well have happened had I called. That's why this haunts me. And why it still hurts so much. Because I'll never know. She was certainly special enough that those things could well have happened.

But the thing is… I simply *couldn't* call her. I wanted something from her - and from every other woman I ever fell for - that they could never give me: to both be *with* her… and to *be* her.

I wasn't able to understand or accept that truth back then. But I do at least understand it now. The acceptance part is going to take some time.

I'm not sure if you've had a chance to read The Healing Game post, which I wrote after finishing this and Right Now, the next one. It addresses the questions you raised here. My therapist, M, helped me see that I did the best I could at the time, which helped enormously. I'm very fortunate to have her as my therapist.

I'm glad your ex- is still your friend. Don't ever take that for granted. I would give just about anything to have someone to share my life with. That's why I write these things; to help me understand why I did what I did in the past, and to hopefully be able to do better in the future, should I ever be fortunate enough to meet someone as special as H again.

I hope this helps answer your questions, Jess.

Jessica Lyn on February 23, 2012 at 1:19 AM said...

I understand completely.

And no I haven't read ahead to the newer posts yet. I'm on "Right Now," uhh.. right now.. well not obviously right now right now, since I'm commenting, but well, you get the idea!

This post took me 3 nights to read!

Kelly on February 23, 2012 at 3:45 AM said...

Besides my new t-shirts and coffee mugs for TBFKAKQ (tm) ;c), I think I might work out some sort of a deal with eye doctors, given the eye strain these epics of mine are causing! Thanks for slogging through them, Jess. :c)

== Cass

P.S. Just finished watching Alien and Aliens back to back - first time in at least a decade that I'd seen either. Man, is Ripley a badass or what?!? No wonder Sigourney Weaver was nominated for an Academy Award...

Leslie Ann on February 13, 2013 at 4:30 AM said...

Oh, I see so much of myself in your story, Cass. Girls...worshiping from afar mostly, afraid to speak to them. Utterly fascinated. I'm sure my hollow stares had me pegged as very creepy with whatever girl I was infatuated with. How I hated myself.

And, yes, I would've failed in very similar fashion. I ache for you and for me.

Cassidy on February 13, 2013 at 1:52 PM said...

Thank you, Leslie. And I'm deeply sorry for you.

There were many, many others besides H... but she is the one who haunts me. She was the only girl who ever pursued me, other than a classmate in junior high. That ended very badly as well.

I'll write about her as well someday. It may be the only other post that could be as difficult to write as this was. But doing so takes a great deal of their power away, and is crucial to healing and growing.

Thank you again, hon. I hope we both find peace.

Hugs,
Cass

Becca on February 17, 2013 at 5:05 AM said...

You must have replayed those moments over in your mind so many times. I know I would do .... have done so.

My history has similarities .... I knew that I would mess things up - seemly powerless to stop my hated self blundering when the unbelievable happened ... someone was interested in me. I always felt that a girlfriend was a cure, the cure for what I was feeling. To lose the chance when all it took were the right words was hard to take.

I agree that writing about these things takes the power away somewhat ... and time and talking will help again. As painful as these memories are perhaps they help fuel your drive to make the changes you need to make - to allow yourself to be a whole woman, not a shadow of a man.

I read your latest post this morning which made me feel quite sad ... for us both in truth. Really reminds me of how I struggled and brought tears to my eyes.

You write so movingly and beautifully Cass. Thank you

Cassidy on February 17, 2013 at 7:40 PM said...

Hi Becca,

Thank you for your kind words. I'm so sorry that you struggled as well. I would not wish this on anyone.

I think I've said this before elsewhere, but posts like this one are more like exorcisms; I just *had* to get them out.

I quite literally thought about H every single day for many, many years. I used those memories as a way to beat myself up, and I was merciless.

I'll never know what would have happened had I had the courage to follow through; that's why it will haunt me for the rest of my life. She was one of the very few women I knew whom I think could potentially have understood.

A close friend encouraged me to write this post, and the others in The Chronicles of Cass. It's a necessary - no, crucial - part of transitioning. Along with Right Now, the post that follows this one, it was the most difficult thing I've ever written. But I'm grateful I found the strength to do so.

There was only one other girl who ever pursued me; that ended very badly as well. I need to write about those events, and I will, but working up the courage to finally face it head on takes time. But I *will* face them. I've come too far not to.

Thank you again, Becca. Sending best wishes your way that your current medical woes are resolved forthwith. You obviously have a great deal of courage, which will serve you well.

Hugs,
Cass

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