Billie Holiday sings sweetly from the short square radio perched at the corner of my sand-colored desk. I listen to her and stare out the window at treetops and sunlight.
If you were mine … I’d take you home with me on breaks and show you off: my trophy-boyfriend. He’s an English major, I’d say. Give him a poem to analyze. He’s incredible.
You are incredible, right? You look it.
Daydreaming gets you nowhere, except possibly to detention. But we’re in college; detention’s been abolished for us, left amidst the demolished remains of our teen years, all ashes and twists of unrecognizable metal, smelling like gym class and pot. So daydreaming will get me plain nowhere.
I do it anyway.
And then I gather notepads, pens, and textbooks into my backpack and go to class.
You spend our Problems in Philosophy class in the back left-hand corner with a friend. Half the time you’re making erudite comments, half the time you’re laughing.
If you weren’t beautiful, you’d irritate the hell out of me.
Before Homecoming this year, I’d only noticed you in passing—one more gorgeous unattainable. Big deal.
But at the Homecoming dance, I was walking past you when the slow song hit. You turned on that smile and said, “Hey … wanna dance?”
I figured you were a better bet than the food table.
A few of my friends have stalkers. There’s a guy in Marion’s French class who won’t stop asking her out and sending sappy notes through campus mail. And we think that Shady Sean has definitely started following Tricia around.
Some days, I think: I would like to be your stalker. I would like for you and your friends to laugh together about the creepy Facebook messages I would post on your wall after you innocently, thoughtlessly friended me back. And you’d be looking at my face every time you showed anyone one of my posts. I think I might like that.
But I can’t seem to get a good enough picture.
And I would want you to respond, but if you did I don’t know if I could still love you—stalkers shouldn’t be encouraged. Catch-22. Whatever that actually means. You probably know.
When the semester ends and we leave this Philosophy class, I may never have anything in common with you again. I will see you in the hallways, on sidewalks, or leaving the library just as I’m going in. But that’s it; no excuses for discussion, nothing to bargain for your attention with. We’ll certainly never dance together again.
This is not allowed to happen.
If you were mine … other people could cry without making me feel like exploding. Girls weeping at each other in the room beside mine would not matter to me at all. I would cry on your shoulder whenever I needed to, and you would smooth my hair and tell me, in some inimitable English major way, that I was beautiful and smart and that I would be okay.
But I refuse to cry alone. It’s too pathetic; it makes me feel like some horrendous art-house movie.
So I watch a lot of YouTube instead.
Today I tell myself that I am (1) pretty and (2) vivacious. But the truth is that my stomach is bulgy with breakfast and I am embarrassed and want to back out, but I walk up to you after class anyway, because I’m a brave woman of the world and I believe in the power of positive thinking.
“Hi, I’m, uh, Lisa and—”
“Alissa? I’m Dylan, nice to meet you.”
“Lisa,” I say, and laugh. Hopefully you’ll think it’s an endearing laugh, but I’ll admit it’s unlikely. I sound kind of like a turkey having a very short, very minor heart attack. “Anyway, I was um lookingforastudypartnerbecauseofthemidtermnextweek. And you seem to, uh, understand the material. Socanwestudy? Sometime?”
Not that I don’t understand the material. I definitely do, and I’m not playing dumb. I wouldn’t do that, at least I’ve never believed I would, and anyway I’m not, I’m just looking for an intellectual equal with whom to study and possibly have children.
“Totally,” you say. “Sounds great. What’s your extension? I’ll call you.”
My father calls me every evening and makes sure I’m eating three real meals a day and reading that devotional he bought me.
Every day, he sounds a little happier, more confident, because every day I tell him, “Yes.” But I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. My thighs are getting thick, and he wouldn’t be so excited if he could see the cartoons I’m drawing next to my Daily Scriptures.
I put Johnny Depp posters all over my walls this year, because it would be too creepy to put up pictures of you. And he’s a close second.
People who visit my room think I’m normal.
Sunday you call me and say you can’t study with me; you’re too busy and you’ll have to squeeze the work in when you can. If you were mine, I could be irritated or even angry.
But you’re not mine, and you called early enough that it’s really polite, and you say you hope I can find someone else to study with, so all I’m allowed to feel is empty.
My mother e-mails me YouTube links and news stories and pictures of her new puppy and her latest photo-fake smile. She’s wearing a lot of brown-toned makeup lately, but she fails at looking earthy.
Do you know how badly I want you? I don’t think that you do. Let me explain. I would go to Earth Keeper meetings for you. I would study for every single class. I would join rec. sports and finally get in shape. Seriously.
If you were mine …
I would achieve balance. I would suck it up and face the facts and I would bloom where I’m planted and follow my heart and search for the truth.
But You’re Not.
I do not study for the exam. I think I do okay on it anyway. You see me in the hall after class, and you say, “Hey, sorry about that.”
I say, “No problem.”
You say, “Look, do you want to go for like, coffee sometime?”
I die. I am reabsorbed into the earth from whence we came. Mother Nature and I seriously bond. God and I hang out, and I tell Him that I always knew He was keeping an eye out for me. (Also, it turns out that God is male after all, which is surprising, but not as alarming as you’d think if you hadn’t been there. He’s wearing jeans and a green T-shirt and He looks like the father figure you always wanted even if you were a little ashamed to admit it.)
Then I come back to life, ready to appreciate every moment from now on. And I say, “Sure.”
When I tell my dad I have a date, he says, “Get something besides salad. Guys hate it when a girl just picks at a salad. It makes you look insecure.”
Thanks, Dad. “It’s just coffee.”
“Well, get a muffin.”
I e-mail my mom about it. She affects nonchalance. Her reply says, “First of many, sweetie. Knock ’em dead. Oh, little tip: Offer to pay half. If he accepts, walk. Too many fish in the sea, baby.”
Tricia says, “You should smell good. Use my perfume. Seriously, use it. I swoon for a good-smelling guy.”
Although I am tempted to remind Tricia that she’s not my target audience, I refrain. I borrow her perfume, which I like anyway.
Marion says, “Posture, posture, posture.” Marion has never had a date in her life. I ignore her advice.
Counting you, I have been in love with 4.5 guys in my life. The .5 was the only boyfriend I had in high school. We went to junior prom together, he was a fabulous dancer, and I was half way in love with him but over the summer he started smoking a lot of pot and come September, I couldn’t stand to be around him.
In middle school, I was entirely head-over-heels for Josh Hartnett.
There was a boy I met at an amusement park. He knew some friends I was with, and he was the funniest person I had ever met, besides being gorgeous.
And of course there’s Johnny Depp.
So you can see how having an actual date with someone I’m actually in love with could be intimidating slash the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.
Marion keeps reminding me that coffee at the Union doesn’t necessarily count as a date. Marion wants to die alone.
We meet. I eat a muffin. You pay for everything. I smell like Tricia. We laugh a lot about Problems in Philosophy. When I get back to my room, I friend you on Facebook immediately. Within the hour, you have accepted my request.
My Daily Scripture says, “Rejoice in the LORD always.” All I draw next to it is a smiley face.
Two days later, Facebook informs me that you are In a Relationship.
I write on your wall, saying, “Congratulations! When do I get to meet the lucky girl?”
I lie on my bed with my computer beside me, waiting for you to reply, to tell me that of course it’s only a Facebook thing. After all, we just went for coffee. What kind of guy do I think you are? I want you to be indignant.
I lie curled up, hitting the refresh button every few minutes.
But you don’t get back to me.
And then a day later. you do.
Your post says, “Thanks! I’d love to introduce you.”
I get to Problems in Philosophy early, because my life has lost all meaning, but clearly this is a mistake since you are there early too and you decide you’d like to talk about it.
“Hey, thanks for being so cool,” you say. “Jaimie and I had a big fight, and I was trying to move on or … Anyway, I’m sorry if I led you on at all … ”
I say, “What’s coffee between friends?”
And you laugh, and smile like you’ve been absolved, and class starts. And I want to stave your heart in with a chair leg.
But I guess we’re just sophomores. I guess there’s still time.
I’m not sure if this ends hopefully or not. Maybe you should pick. I sit with you at lunch on Friday. You smile at me. You ask me about my day, you commiserate about classes. You introduce me to your new girlfriend.
But she’s not that pretty.
—Brynn MacNab has been reading speculative fiction since before she knew there was any other kind, and writing it for almost as long. You can find links to more of her work at brynnmacnab.blogspot.com.