This essay was originally written for a creative writing class in 2018. We were encouraged to play with the format. Enjoy.
It is a debilitating mindset: between how it should be and how it is. It should be easy like peanut butter sandwiches or peeling back the tin covering on a jar of cashews. It should be easy like describing the sound of your voice to my mother over the phone. Telling her how in love with life you are. It should be easy like retelling the story of how your parents met to my mother during the same phone call with traces of your enthusiasm in my own voice. We should have melted together slowly like a chocolate friendship, adding caramel and nuts with every passing year. We should have dove into friendship like a bag of unwrappable Dove chocolate. Mutual interest would have helped, might have allowed me to justify less.
“How do you feel about it today?” my friend would ask in the dining hall as we forked oily eggplant into our mouths.
“I mean it’s the same. I still feel the same way,” I would solemnly reply, swallowing a forkful of slimy vegetable and the foreign taste of heartache.
“He has a girlfriend,” she would remind me, suggesting that technically my feelings are irrelevant, suggesting that technically I shouldn’t be hurting so much.
Other things that are irrelevant:
- Our first conversation was in late August. He told me the story of how his parents met. How easy it was. How peanut butter it was. How dripping with caramel and nuts it was. I remember the details well: the elevator ride, the chili dinner, the phone call, the years in between, the lasting friendship, a flight to Mexico. But, I can remember a lot when I want to.
- Our second conversation was in early September. We talked about ice cream. “Hands down…chocolate and hazelnut ice cream. I. LOVE. ICE. CREAM. *hands pulling on cheeks* I swear if a girl brought me ice cream, in any capacity, even a coupon for ice cream, I would marry her right there.”
- September 17th: His 20th birthday. I brought him a plastic spoon and a pint of chocolate gelato.
I knew he had a girlfriend but I walked into my freshman year of college half-blind, breathing through one nostril, and congested. I would have fallen for a box of instant macaroni and cheese (if only it had a longer lifespan). Everything tasted raw and undercooked. Everyone looked sore and underdeveloped. He looked kind of different though, like a ripe avocado sun-basking on a windowsill. His voice tasted al dente. Like a noodle. Italy would be so proud of his perfectly boiled voice. I started listening for his voice in the library. The soft rolling of water. The bubbling of hot liquid. It was a promising game at first. I heard the sound and there he was. The pot reached a boil and there he stood in front of me, leaning over a large table, holding out his hand for mine. He treats his friends so well, I thought.
More things that are irrelevant:
- I considered writing him a note. I crafted the first draft in my head during the second act of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani. The Lyric Opera Theatre of Chicago doesn’t hand out pens and paper for their lovesick patrons. It started like this, “If ever there should be an appropriate time to be honest, I would tell you this…” There was never an appropriate time.
- He was the ‘he’ in my first poem.
- I used to pray for people making hard decisions
September. October. November. Thanksgiving break. We were sitting on my God sized bed (God sized is when you push two twin sized beds together because you don’t have a roommate at the moment, thus, creating a space for sleeping that is a little larger than a king sized mattress). My friend, her boyfriend, and I. Tryptophan, carbohydrates, and glucose were still pulsating through our bloodstreams like a liquid Thanksgiving.
“…I don’t know who he’ll take now,” said the boyfriend all nonchalantly. My friend and I looked at each other suspiciously. We were both shocked and stunned at the information we had just heard.
“Yeah, they broke up over break. He said it was a hard decision but the right one.”
You know the drill:
- I wish I could ship a care package through time back to my freshman self. Amid the chocolate chip cookies and extra underpants I would tuck some Vaseline for the congestion, eucalyptus nasal spray for the clogged nostril, and night vision goggles for the blind eye.
- Swallowing excitement is not easy like hummus or whipped cream. Excitement comes in a big, hard shell that takes contractors and carpenters to crack. Then, once you’re granted access, the inside tickles your throat like cake frosting and you just want to spit it all out.
- I did not swallow excitement. I spit it like frosting.
The opposite of natural takes place when a freshly single boy collides, against his will, with a girl who is 226 months single. It was a few days after his breakup. The interaction was a heterogenous mixture of awkwardness and interest. You could have put it in a bottle, shook it, and observed the cringe fester into a moldy ball. We talked about our shared love for God. I told him that I admired his faith and how he treats his friend, and how he is so in love with life, and how contagious he is, and how if he were a virus I wouldn’t mind contracting it. Needless to say, I jumped the gun like leapfrog for young adults. I should have given him space. [I think I need to give myself a little bit more credit here because about 20 minutes after this interaction my friend told me that her boyfriend texted her saying that freshly-single-boy proclaimed, “I fucking love Kelly. She’s so fucking cool.” Not going to lie, my only thought after reading that text was comparable to the first two lines of Queen’s song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in which Freddie Mercury states, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”]
December. The month of worsening symptoms. A faint cloud in my chest, a minor wheeze, a subtle whistle, turned into full blown bronchitis and I was SO in love with a boy who SO thought of me as just a friend that my bronchial tubes wouldn’t clear up to breathe in reality. Reality stayed outside of me but I was cordial. I didn’t ignore it. I waved to it. Asked how the kids were. Asked if the rents were coming for Thanksgiving this year. I treated reality like a coworker I’d never really get to know.
It is a debilitating mindset: between how it should be and how it is. How is it? It no longer hurts. Reality is in me. I know her so well. She is less of a coworker, more of a friend. Reality lives at 8592 Berwick St, Westland, Michigan. She has three children under the age of seven. She’s introverted but loves to host Thanksgiving. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Pumpkin pie. Turkey. She makes it all herself. She’s divorced. She scoops the best ice cream cones. She’s very ambitious. She’s a great listener and obsessed with food trucks. She goes to yoga three times a week when the kids are with their father. We met at the end of January. I know her so unexpectedly well.
This is Reality:
- He was my date to winter formal. I wore a black dress.
- I guess he prefers red.