Monday, February 16, 2009

Redemption Songs, Part 5

I got a letter a while ago. It seemed like the sort of thing that should have floored me.

"I just wanted you to know that I found someone," it said. "He's kind, loving, generous. I think you'd like him."

No guy ever does. I think there's some unwritten law. No matter how well or poorly the relationship ended, the next guy isn't going to be liked by the last guy. It's probably some sort of caveman competition thing.

Hell, I dated a girl just after high school. It ended extremely badly. She turned out to be a total bitch. A couple of years I ran in to her and she said she was getting married. I hated that guy for no damn good reason.

Maybe it's just one of those things. We know she's a bitch, or at least was, but we want the thing that happened to mean something. We want to believe that there was something good going on, that it wasn't just a waste of time. So when some new guy shows up even if we laugh and say, "Best of luck, dude," we're secretly thinking, "I hate you, jerkass."

Or maybe it's just me. Maybe I just suck at getting over it. Okay, there's no "maybe" about it.

Anyway, the note continued. "We're getting married in May. I can't believe how fast this is happening.

"I hope that you've found happiness like I have. All my love.


There was a picture. She was standing on a street corner, all smiles and joy, arms wrapped around some guy who looked like he'd just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

I hated that guy.

Even then I thought it should have been me. That, by the way, is what I like to call a red flag.

See, I got a call. The university wanted me back. A position had suddenly opened up and I was the only one with the right curriculum. I'd made the logical, rational choice, left Sophie's warm embrace and headed home.

She'd kissed me one last time, blinking away tears, and said, "Be happy. Be loved."

The shit of it is, at first I was happy. I was back at work, filled with purpose. It was what I wanted to do, what I was good at. I loved it.

But every night I returned to an empty, cold bed. I start going to clubs, finding girls with the same look of desperation I was sure I had. I drank too much, partied too hard. I nearly got caught one night in an empty lecture hall with one of my students. She was a dark haired freshman with big, bright, green eyes permanently open to a look of wide-eyed innocence that she most certainly did not still possess. She liked older men with authority, even the minimal authority granted an adjunct faculty member. She liked it best when I bent her over a chair, lifted her skirt, said, "We'd better do this quick."

She snuck in to my apartment one night. It was forbidden, exciting, I wanted it to go on forever. Then, as the sun began to peek through the window, she'd grunted out the word, "Daddy."

I stopped. She looked at me, confused. "We can't do this anymore," I said.

She looked at me for a moment in confusion. "Okay," she said finally, shrugging, "Can we at least finish this up?"

I switched from clubs to dive bars. I spent my weekends drinking in dark caverns with all the other hopeless, angry wretches that the world leaves behind, listening to sad country music and hoping that one day things would change.

It was at that point she found me again. I was staggering home from another night of using Maker's Mark to punish my liver for all my heartache and suddenly she was there. She told me later that she was on her way home from a complete failure of a date and she just happened to see me, took pity on me, drove me home.

It was a miracle of sorts, I guess. Or, at least, that's what I thought when I woke up the next morning and felt that familiar body pressed against mine and found myself inhaling that familiar, intoxicating scent of her hair.

We spent the next couple of days talking. I was so relieved to have a friendly face around, so convinced that maybe this was a sign that there was some sort of god, that I forgot all the shit we'd been through the first time around. I told her I was sorry, that she was right. I hadn't tried particularly hard when everything had gone to shit. I told her I hadn't deserved her.

She'd apologized, too. She told me that she'd been too uptight, way too freaked out by the idea of being punished by god. She told me she'd started going to a different church, one that was more about love and forgiveness than spite and anger. She'd asked me to go and I'd said yes.

It wasn't Sophie's church, but it was a far cry from the old one. She hadn't sat there with that tortured look on her face, hadn't spent the service in tearful, silent prayer.

She spent Sunday night in my bed. Some part of me feared that the pattern was starting up again. The old pain didn't return, though. I thought maybe we'd learned, that maybe we'd finally figured out how to meet in the middle instead of standing on our own sides of a vast canyon and yelling across, imploring the other that it would be okay if one of us just agreed to become exactly what the other wanted.

A funny thing happened when we took away god as the convenient guilty party to blame for all of our problems, though. We learned that we didn't actually like each other that much, anyway.

She started blaming me for shit that I'd never done. She'd done it before, but I'd assumed it was the guilt trips from god. Turns out that was only partially right.

For my part, I started to get absorbed with all the thoughts of who she should have been. It wasn't that I saw some girl on TV who was better looking or anything. It's just that I had this idea in my head of who she was supposed to be and the reality never matched up.

Hell, maybe she was doing the same thing. I don't really know. I never thought to ask.

It was at about that time I got the wedding announcement from Sophie. All those memories of that summer came flooding back. I realized that I was forgetting everything I learned from Sophie, everything I'd learned about myself.

I broke things off with her, took her number out of my phone, deleted all her emails, erased all the pictures of her from my hard drive. I couldn't call her now if I wanted to and she hasn't been trying to reach me. The look of relief on her face when I said we needed to move on told me she never would.

At the end of the school year I took a different job out in the south suburbs. It's not a dream job by any means, but I needed to get away from the college girls. I needed a change of pace and scenery, too.

Still, I couldn't help but go to the city. I loved my city. The first time I took 55 up to the Dan Ryan I realized there was something different about seeing the city from the south. I'd almost always come in from the north or the west before, mostly on the El, too.

It was different from the south. Or, maybe, I was different and it was the same.

I started going to concerts all the time. I saw Local H, the Lovehammers, Lucky Boys Confusion, bands that just screamed Chicago to me. I caught pretty much anyone who came through town, too. I went to big venues, small clubs, and dives out in the suburbs.

I'd feel the music wash over me, feel that sense of community and purpose that comes from a really good show. Then I'd go home, alone, and find that it wasn't so bad. It was actually kid of nice.

I guess that time really does heal all wounds. Although I think you have to keep yourself distracted long enough for the universe to mix up that magical poultice of distance and space.

All I know is that one day I was ready. I was standing in Millennium Park staring up at the city reflected in the curves of the bean when I suddenly realized that I wasn't alone.

I turned and found my unexpected new companion smiling at me. I decided I liked that very much.

"Hi," I said.

"Hi," she replied. "I'm not intruding, am I? I mean, this isn't the sort of thing I usually do..."

"Don't worry," I smiled. "I was just about to go have lunch. Would you care to join me?"


And the rest...well, that story hasn't been written just yet.

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