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The Part You Throw Away November 8, 2009

Posted by monty in books.
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As promised – and against my better judgment – I’m going to begin posting what was originally intended to be (and which may or may not continue to be) the first follow-up story in a series of related episodes revolving around Garrett’s hapless attempts to fall in love.  This represents the first few days of my still-stalled attempt to write a novel in thirty days.  As I wrote yesterday, I may still pick it up again, but it all depends on A) what kind of feedback – if any – I get from you kind folks, and B) how I personally feel about it now that I look at it after taking a few days off.  So, here’s the first few pages.  Enjoy.

(P.S. You can find links to all the parts of the previous story right here.)

*****

June 1991

If there were a line, a demarcation, where sea met sky, Garrett couldn’t find it.  He could see the waves tumble onto the beach from the base of the dunes where he stood, but as his eyes drifted toward the horizon and the whitecaps receded from view, he strained to find the point where slate-gray sky turned into slate-gray sea, the hinge on which the aquatic and the empyrean swung.  Rain was on its way, but in this moment Garrett hung suspended in ash, in asphalt, looking for a crack at the horizon into which he could latch his fingers and let in some sunshine.

This was a year ago, when Garrett had spent two weeks in the Outer Banks with his parents. He had spent most of the time sitting on the beach listening to The Cure’s Pornography on his Walkman and waiting for his sentence to end.  In retrospect, he realized that this habit hadn’t done much to alleviate the purgatorial nature of that vacation.  But that day especially, as he looked for a way to poke holes in the gray scrim that stretched from sea to sky, had seemed to stand still.

This is how Garrett felt when he woke just after 10:30 on Sunday morning.

This is not how Garrett felt the previous evening.

June 22 – the night before – marked his six-month anniversary with Rachel Nelson. He had known and been indifferent to Rachel for years.  They had attended the same elementary school and junior high, and had even traveled in the same circles in high school – those reserved for the chorus nerds and drama geeks – but it wasn’t until her senior year that Rachel became even vaguely interesting to Garrett.  The previous  summer, Rachel had spent several weeks visiting her older sister at Antioch College, a hippy-dippy liberal-arts school that specialized in turning previously staid, apolitical youth into progressive rabble-rousers fond of Che Guevara t-shirts and the ACLU.  As a result of three weeks in Yellow Springs, Rachel returned to Edgewood at the end of July with a penchant for the music of The Velvet Underground, the art of Andy Warhol, and pot.

On the first sweltering day of school that August, Garrett had slouched into the choir room and was virtually struck dumb to find the previously-plain Rachel Nelson caterpillar metamorphosed into a butterfly with smudged eyeliner, blue jeans torn out at the knees, black Converse hi-tops, and an Iggy Pop t-shirt.  It wasn’t love at first sight, but Garrett suddenly believed in destiny.

Their courtship was conducted over the next few months in a runalong rush of conversation about music (Elvis Costello’s solo albums just weren’t as good as his work with The Attractions), movies (the pottery scene in Ghost had reduced both of them to tears of laughter), and books (she got him interested in Kerouac; he turned her on to Lovecraft), and when they suddenly found themselves making out in his parents’ car on a December evening after seeing Edward Scissorhands, it didn’t really surprise either of them.

Six months on, and Garrett wanted to do it up right.  Unfortunately, in a town of 15,000, “doing it up right” meant something entirely different than it would have meant had they lived in a more cosmopolitan area.  He took her to see City Slickers at Cinema 6 (the same four-screened dump that had been the site of his ill-fated date with Steph nearly two years previously), and then they went to Luigi’s, the one decent restaurant in town, where the tablecloths were actually linen, and the menus didn’t have pictures of the entrees.

Dinner came and went, Garrett tried not to balk at the cost (which he would be paying for out of his meager salary bussing tables at the country club), and, when the waiter had left, he made a show of lifting his water glass and proposing a toast.

“To at least six more wonderful months,” he said.

With a flourish, Rachel swept up her half-empty glass and made an ostentatious show of clinking rims with Garrett. “Hear hear,” she proclaimed, her phony British accent dragging each word into double syllables.

Garrett watched as she took the straw between her lips. “I like the way you do that,” he said.

“Shut up.  Jerk,” she said, kicking him beneath the table.  Then, for added emphasis, she opened her mouth wide and bit down on the straw, grinding it between her molars.

Garrett winced. “Okay, okay” he said, smiling.

“You mean that doesn’t turn you on?” Rachel asked coyly, batting her mascaraed lashes at him.

“Strangely, yes,” he said, and grabbed her hand.  Her fingers were still wet and cold from the water glass.

They sat that way for a silent moment, his fingers wrapped around hers across the table, and Garrett wasn’t entirely sure what he was feeling.  The familiar warmth he felt every time he met her green eyes was smoldering in his chest, and he felt his breath stuttering slightly as she smiled at him.  He hated that in these moments the song that invariably came to mind was Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Try as he might to think of something else, Lou Gramm’s soaring vocals perfectly echoed the starbursts that happened behind his eyes whenever Rachel, in her numerous and varied ways, let him know they were meant to be together.

But at the same time, Garrett know that in the space of two months both of them would be heading to different colleges.  Rachel had been accepted to the University of Indiana in Bloomington, and Garrett was headed to Ohio University, nearly six hours away in Athens.  It wasn’t transcontinental, but for two eighteen-year-olds without transportation, it might as well have been on the other side of the world.  He didn’t want to lose her or these moments, and his awkward toast had been his way of broaching the subject.

“So, I was thinking,” he said, and trailed off.

“Dare to dream,” Rachel responded, and squeezed his fingers before letting go.

“No, really.”

“Oh.  Okay.  What’s up?” This was another reason he liked her.  They were both fluent in the language of sarcasm, teasing and mocking each other incessantly, but Rachel could always tell when Garrett was being serious, and she never pushed the joke too far.

“Well, I was thinking, you know, about this fall.”  He paused, trying to read in her eyes just how reckless he should be in moving forward. “And school.  And us.  You know?  What do we do?”

“What do we do about what?”

“About, well, us. Garrett felt the dam breaking and, rather than try to mend the seams, let it fall.  “All through this winter we waited to get our acceptances and then we got them and we started making our individual plans, but we’ve never really talked about what happens in August.  Do we stay together?  Do we break up?  If we stay together, how do we make it work?  If we break up, what happens next?  We haven’t talked about any of this and it’s going to be here before we know it and I feel like I need to know what to expect.”

Rachel sat back and smiled slightly, the right end of her lips curling up in the way that usually drove Garrett crazy, but which he was too distracted tonight to notice. “You worry too much.”

“Rachel –“

“No, just.  Look.”  She picked up her straw wrapper and twisted it around her forefinger.  “I don’t know what’s going to happen, Garrett.  And so I don’t worry about it.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is.”

For me it’s not that easy.”  He was suddenly having trouble meeting her eyes, and his gaze skittered across the tabletop, briefly taking in the water glasses sweating through the linen tablecloth, the salt and pepper shakers, the tiny candle, the fake roses. “I worry about losing you, like, all the time.”

“Garrett, I like you.  I do.  But –“

That single conjunction caused his eyes to swivel upward. “But what?”

“But I can’t make you any promises.  I wish I could.” Garrett started to interject, and Rachel grabbed his hand again to silence him.  “Just wait.  Things might turn out great.  Maybe we’ll get where we’re going and figure out we’re miserable apart.  But we might just as easily get to school and realize there’s a whole lot of other people out there we’ve never met.  It could happen for you just like it could happen for me.”  She let go of his hand.  “So I don’t know what will happen.  And I like you too much to lie about it.”

“But, Rachel,” Garrett could both feel and hear an edge of desperation inching into his voice, and he tried to tamp it out.  In the same instant, he suddenly heard himself say the thing he’d been hanging onto for the perfect moment.  This wasn’t that moment, but he said it anyway. “I love you.”

And now she looked at him with undisguised sadness. “Oh, Garrett,” she said.  “Let’s not do that.”

He drove her home without talking, and Rachel knew it was serious when he didn’t even bother to stick a tape in the car’s deck.  It started to drizzle, and the crows’ wings of the windshield wipers punctuated their stony silence.  At her house, she half-heartedly invited him in to watch a movie, and was relieved when he declined.

That was their six-month anniversary.  Garrett got home, crawled into bed, and welcomed oblivion with open arms.

But now here it was, Sunday morning, and the hornet of last night’s conversation furiously banged itself around in the Mason jar of Garrett’s skull.  He lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling, putting off for as long as possible the moment when he’d have to get up and face the world.  The stars and planets that glowed comfortingly above him at night were now just cheap vinyl stickers, and that transformation seemed to too perfectly mirror the overnight change in his relationship with Rachel.

He spent some time trying to spin their conversation in a positive light.  She said she liked you, idiot.  That it was entirely possible she’d be miserable without you.  She just doesn’t know, and she’d feel bad lying to you.  She’s smart and she’s honest and if she didn’t care about you she would’ve just lied to you because it’s easier.  Think about it.

And he did think about it, and it was comforting for a while.  But if there’s one thing Garrett was rapidly discovering about his own brain, it’s that the orderlies who wheeled his thoughts around were often cruel – or at least criminally negligent – in the ones they brought to him for his perusal.  Because now, the file marked “But If” was handed to him, and its contents read like this: But if she really liked you she’d be willing to make the commitment.  And if she really loved you she would have said it back.  She didn’t try to comfort you because she’s planning on bailing the first chance she gets.  You’re just the transition until she finds something better.  Think about it.

And so Garrett thought about that for a while, and in the end, he didn’t know which to believe.  His first inclination was surrender.  Garrett knew he hadn’t learned much from the Steph debacle two years ago.  He remembered feeling powerful and in control as he drove away from her that night, ready and willing to strap on his boots and initiate Operation: Reclaim Girlfriend the very next day.  But of course he hadn’t.  The task was too daunting; his lie about the tape too humiliating.  He gave up before he had even begun, made himself forget about Steph, and chose instead to look forward to the day when he would be imbued with Swayzian or Crusian savoir faire, and all this awkwardness would be nothing but a memory.

*****

Current listening:

David feelings

David Byrne – Feelings (1997)

Last movie seen:

Poltergeist Poster

Poltergeist (1982; Tobe Hoober, dir.)

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