Here is another grad school writing exercise that I have come across recently. I wrote this for a creative writing class. If it is not obvious, I was reading a lot of Walker Percy at the time. My style has changed somewhat (not quite as wordy, for example), but, for the most part, the way that I write now is the way that I wrote ten years ago.
Interesting back story: this is somewhat based on a true story. Right before I left for my second go-round at grad school, as I was finishing my last week working at the local library and walking downtown for lunch, I happened to view this young woman working in an office with a curbside window. I was smitten by her beauty. The next day, without any intention to meet her, I tapped on her window, pointed at her, and leaned a bouquet of flowers against the window. I still remember the huge, vivacious smile that she flashed.
After I left for grad school, she would contact me via MySpace (yep, those were the days). One of her coworkers had seen me and knew, loosely, who I was and gave her my name. This flower girl, who was from Portland and staying with her parents only for the summer, and I would go on, alas, not to date, but to build a friendship that I wish had not ended the silly way it did–if for no other reason than the charming way it began.
I followed my heart, and it led me to Portland, Oregon, on a Wednesday afternoon.
If I were writing a love story, that is how I would begin it. That is how it began with me, or, rather, that is how it led to this: selling vegan hot dogs from a cart in the morning and working at a bicycle repair shop in the afternoons. How has this happened? Let us review: the heart.
The heart. Granted the heart is hardly a reliable guide, but a guy could choose a far more arbitrary way of settling his affairs and making decisions that will irrevocably alter the ontological-heartsick status of a young man in a buzzing, flat-earth, global sort of community—a community where one can no longer find a dictionary that contains entries for words such as ontological (no real belief in metaphysics) or heartsick (no impressive belief in love)—than by choosing to act based upon the days of the week. I had to muster the foresight that would guarantee that, notwithstanding whatever day I left Meridian, Mississippi, I would conclude my travels in Portland on Wednesday, preferably in the afternoon not to appear too eager and without a modicum of tact. I could not arrive on a Sunday because Sunday is now a hollow shell of a day. Occasionally one can catch a glimpse, usually in one’s peripheral vision—the particular vision that is mainly employed to detect devious sneak attacks on one’s person as well as to pursue the fleeting evocation produced by things and people that one cannot see through direct viewing—of the sway that Sunday used to have over the religious imagination. As it now stands, Sunday is the most efficient day to go to Walmart. Monday would not work for me either. I usually spend the bulk of Monday anxiously running my fingers through my hair as I contemplate the horrors and frustrations that the following week will thrust toward me. Tuesday. Well, I oppose Tuesday on aesthetic grounds; it sounds far too close to “toot-toot,” an expression that I hate. Wednesday is the first feasible day. Plus, by the time I finally get around to thinking about it, the week is already halfway complete. It had to be Wednesday.
I first noticed Lindsey Sharp when I went to Fran’s Flower Shop on 23rd Avenue to buy a Gerber daisy. I do not really remember why I wanted to buy a Gerber, and, besides, it really is not anyone’s business. Lindsey was working behind the counter; as I recall, she was stringing together a bunch of freshly cut roses. I walked up to her and told her that, with all due respect, I have never really liked roses. She did not miss a beat or even look up at me, but with a pithy rapidity that tempted me initially to speculate that she might be one of Meridian’s few Jewish daughters, she responded, “Most women don’t either, yet chocolate usually accompanies roses, so we don’t voice our objections.” Now I remember why I wanted a Gerber! I told her that I needed a Gerber daisy because I was hoping to come across a pretty girl; that is, the kind of girl that still appreciates random flowers from random guys. She told me that she is one of those girls, so I brought one and then gave it to her.
“Well, now that I’ve gone through all the formalities, how about having coffee with me? You can bring the flower if you want.” I focused on the flower hoping that it would speak for her: Gerber daisies strike me as yes flowers.
“Sure. How about Midtown at 7:30?” She focused on me.
We had coffee later that night.
Lindsey, who caused me to realize the great unpleasantness that airlines and interstates have produced by alerting me to the frustrating fact a that an attractive woman could live more than two thousand miles away from me in Portland, was only visiting Meridian for the summer. Her aunt owned Fran’s, and she let Lindsey stay with her and work in the flower shop every summer. It was already the second week in August when I first met Lindsey, and she would be leaving in a few days. For Lindsey, so different is Mississippi from Oregon, her annual stay in Meridian was comparable to a work-abroad program that requires a passport and a sense of daring. She viewed passing her summers in Meridian as a sociological experiment. People like her usually nauseate me, but her odd sense of humor, her pretty feet with long toes, and the way she would grab handfuls of her dark hair and breathe on it whenever I talked to her all proved to be rather effective in the fight against Mason-Dixon nausea.
After coffee that first evening, I convinced Lindsey to come back to my apartment with the promise of homemade red curry. Culinary temptations may, after all is said and done, prove to be the surest road to damnation. After all, it is much easier to lose interest in sex than it is in a good bowl of red curry. The desire to engage in sexual antics is usually predicated upon a satisfied palate and a satiated stomach. The curry did not turn out as I had exaggerated that it would, and we ate mostly mint juleps, as it is rather difficult to screw up bourbon, sugar, and mint. After consuming a fifth of bourbon, we lay in my bed. She was the ideal sleeping partner: she did not snore and the she rested her head on my chest the entire night. At one point our breathing fell into the same rhythm—that is, the rise and fall of our chests correlated in a way that could be compared to the movements of synchronized swimmers—and I wondered if this were the closest two people could physically come to sharing in the essence of life, the very breath of existence that broods over the waters.
My God! Am I that damn lonely that I will cling to anyone with whom I am able to form even the faintest connection? Are we all that lonely that the promise of conversation and a bowl of curry is sufficient to persuade us to alter our sleeping arrangements for the evening or for the rest of our lives? What would have been considered a pathetic display of indiscretion when my parents were dating is now viewed as an acceptable but perhaps lamentable grasp for that which now evades everyone. The ghosts of intimacy still haunt our collective yearnings, yet we lack any substantial idea as to the shape of the bodies from which the spirits have been evicted. Yet, that was exactly what I was doing with Lindsey—chasing a ghost. That night, as I traced her sculpted eyebrows and the contours of her cheeks and chin with my finger, I was mocked by the fragile nature of love and the fleeting moments of beauty and the realization that nothing in this life is sustainable. As soon as two people fall asleep together and begin to partake in a somnambulistic form of communion, one of them will awake and break the spell by reentering into a reality where things and people and relationships fall apart. I knew all too well that, more than likely, we would wake up, share an obligatory cup of coffee and an even more obligatory exchange of promises to call each another.
Lindsey called the next day, and, after that, we spent part of every day that she had left in Meridian together. She often spent the night at my apartment, but I never pushed her to have sex with me. Consequently, we never had sex. My friends could not comprehend how we could sleep together in the same bed in various stages of dress and undress and not have sex. Perhaps it was the twelve years of Catholic schooling and the looming fear of mortal sin and the Final Judgment or the fact that I could not bring myself to buy a box of condoms, but, for whatever reasons spiritual or material, we did not have sex. No, in reality, it was all of the aforementioned reasons but also something far beyond them. Had we slept together, it would have only contributed to the derision that I found to be inherent in every moment that I spent with her. Every moment with her reminded me that molecules were taking their leave from our bodies and were exiting themselves into the ether between being and non-being, her lips and mine. Try as I might to contain and preserve every instant we were together, I could not conserve any amount of energy; thus, I could not stop the relentless deterioration of our bodies, and while our bodies continued their march toward degeneration and the separation of all things, our souls—the animating essence of who we claimed to be—had yet to find a point of connection. Believe me, it is not that I did not want to lay her down or did not spend most of my waking hours thinking about it and her and it with her, but I just could not do it. Having sex with her would have only heightened the awareness that any and all sensual experiences—a chili dog, a Chopin prelude, a Saints’ football game, an orgasm, a hot toddy, or a French New Wave film— are limited and cannot encompass everything and, thus, have a clear beginning and end and will eventually leave the participant lonely and alone.
“I could come back with you to Portland.” We had snuck into Okatibbee Reservoir after hours and were seated at one the picnic tables. I tightly gripped my Mag-Lite, fearing what Lindsey might say or that I might have to use it to repel any would-be rapists lurking in the area or both.
“What are you talking about? Where would you live? You couldn’t live me, you know. What about a job?” Lindsey’s eyes darting from me to summer night moist. Probably also watching for would-be rapists.
“I didn’t mean to presume that I would live with you….I could find a place. And as far as a job goes, I can wait tables just as easily in Portland as I can in Meridian, right?” I quickly looked behind me, believing that I just heard either a raccoon or a rapist.
“Casey, listen to yourself. Your family is here; you were raised here. Every time I talk about Portland, you roll your eyes. I really don’t think that you would like it there. Anyway, I thought that you were adamant about going to Southern Mississippi to pursue a master’s in philosophy? I mean, come on, you seem to have a real knack for that stuff.” Lindsey plopped her hand on top of mine. Her hand felt surprising fleshy for such a skinny hand.
“I roll my eyes only because you talk about Portland all the time. If I lived in Portland with you, I would be there in Portland, so there wouldn’t be a need to talk about Portland, Portland, Portland. Besides, Portland has philosophy. Portland philosophy.” My litany of Portland’s justified sandwiching her hand between both of my hands.
“Casey, do you think that anything we’ve done justifies this kind of thinking? I mean, you’re a great guy and I like you and everything, but….” She removed her hand—leaving me with a sandwich with only the bread.
“Everything? If ‘everything’ were involved then there wouldn’t be a need for this discussion because everything would be settled, right? I guess that I’ve jumped the gun, Lindsey….” I jammed my hands into my pockets.
“Yes?” She responded to a question that I had not yet asked, so I asked one to keep her from embarrassment.
“Are we still strangers?” I started to drag my pointer finger across the table.
“No! What do you mean? Maybe. What do you mean?” She started to drill into the table with her finger.
“The first night that we spent together, we didn’t really know each other, but it was that night that I became convinced that I wanted to be with you.” Our fingers met.
Despite Lindsey’s protests, I decided to follow her to Portland. I projected that I would need six days to travel from Meridian to Portland, and because I wanted to arrive on a Wednesday, I left Friday morning. I traveled on I-20 until it turned into I-10 that turned into I-8 and finally I-5. I-5 would take me right into Portland. Because I was an entire day ahead of my allotted schedule, I passed nearly an entire day in Eugene, Oregon. I passed most of the time talking with a communitarian-neoluddite-anarchist in a coffee shop, because, quite frankly, I thought it would give me a story to tell Lindsey. The only thing that I would not tell Lindsey would be how attractive I found the anarchist.
“Theodore was absolutely right: we will not know freedom until the industrial system along with its concomitant technocratic domination is reformed. He was correct in that the system is hopelessly beyond reformation.” I admit: she had a great rack.
“Theodore! Like you know him? Please…So, do you think, then, that we should just go around bombing people who stand in the way of this freedom? Freedom to do what?” I think that I directed my questions to her breasts. She was not wearing a bra, like a true anarchist.
“Freedom to be fully human! And why not call him ‘Theodore’? That’s his name. Besides, ‘Unabomber’ is such a pejorative name. And, hey, fuckface, why not look at my face for once?” Damn anarchist.
She went on and on about the bravery and fortitude of the Unabomber and about how she had become a pen pal to the Unabomber, but when she discovered that I had voted for Bob Dole—rightly or wrongly, I must admit—in my first presidential race, she left in a huff. That was fine; she smelt funny anyway. Nice rack, though. In summary, I drove from Mississippi to Oregon and traversed the five states in between, but I will not elaborate regarding any of my experiences because they all remind me of Lindsey, and I really do not want to talk about her more than I must for the sake of this story.
I do not think that Lindsey thought that I would follow through with my plan to follow her to Portland. Because we exchanged addresses to send Christmas postcards to each other, I was able to find her apartment with the assistance of Mapquest.com. It was Wednesday, and Lindsey had been in Portland for nearly a month. During that month we talked a few times over the phone and sent each other the sporadic email or text message, but I could not help but get the impression that every time that I called her there was somebody else listening to our conversation. At first, I thought that I was being silly and, even now, I still think that I was being silly, but I just could not shake the feeling that there was an intruding presence that had worked its way into our formerly dyadic relationship. Silly or not, I would arrive at her doorstep and tell her that she was only one with whom I had ever shared a true intimacy, and that there was no way possible for us to still be strangers. Every moment that we shared we baptized with the promise of new life—a life that would be understood only by us. We would create a world that would exclude everybody else, thereby making us the only two people remaining. We would have no choice but to know and love each other; there would be no room for awkwardness, or there would be all the room in the world. Either way, the world would be ours, and we would recreate everything and rename all the animals and plants and rewrite all the words in the dictionaries, so, wherever one looked, one would see the proof that we knew and loved each other.
A flower shop happened to be located near Lindsey’s apartment, so I purchased a Gerber daisy and headed toward her apartment. Her apartment was ground level and her window blinds were drawn, so I decided that I would crawl until I reached her window, and then I would charmingly rise with a Gerber daisy in my hand as I thrusted it to her and to the constellations that we would rearrange better to suit our tastes. I placed the daisy in my mouth and went down on all fours and started to crawl toward the window. Before I could get to her window, Lindsey walked out with a man more beautiful than I could ever be, even if I were recreated in Heaven.
“What the hell are you doing here, Casey? And why the fuck are you on the ground creeping around like a peeping tom?” Lindsey clamped on even more tightly to Mr. Beautiful.
“Lindsey, this is for you,” I said as I stood up and handed her the daisy that she refused to take from me. “I want to be with you. You are the only person that I have ever felt close to. I have come to live in Portland so that I can be close to you.” I briefly examined the ferocity of the musculature of Mr. Beautiful’s forearms as he started to clench his fists.
“I don’t believe you, Casey! I told you not to move here. Whatever happened in Meridian was only for Meridian. It doesn’t apply here. Listen, Casey, I’m really creeped out right now.” Mr. Beautiful directed Lindsey behind him for protection. Yeah, protection from a guy holding a Gerber daisy.
“Lindsey, I thought that you…,” I tried to project beyond Mr. Beautiful to Lindsey.
“No, that’s your problem! You didn’t think about this, or you thought too much about it and projected your own silly fantasies on everything!” Lindsey grabbed Mr. Beautiful’s shoulders as if she were going to faint.
“Lindsey, who’s the guy standing next to you? Has he been listening to our telephone conversations?” Mr. Beautiful flashed a perfect white smile as if he were glad that I finally had acknowledged his presence.
“What the hell are you talking about? Not that you deserve to know, but this is Randy. We’re dating, okay?” Correction: Mr. Beautiful was not perfect. He had the stupidest, most smug “Aren’t I Lucky?” shit-eating grin that I had seen this side of 50s television.
“But, Lindsey, I thought that we….I mean, we used to sleep….Umm….I….For God’s sake, I’m selling vegan hot dogs and working in bike shop just to afford a shitty little foxhole in this city.” For some reason, my hand made a hot dog holding grip.
“Casey, I hardly even know you, got it? It was a fun summer fling–that’s all.” Lindsey and Randy started to walk away from me. I was still holding onto the air-vegan hot dog.
“But we’re not strangers, we’re not strangers….” I threw it to the ground.
I am now writing this love story. I am still in Portland, like I mentioned earlier, selling vegan hot dogs from a cart and working in a bicycle repair shop. Occasionally, I see Lindsey.
As strange as it may sound, I now feel closer to—more connected to—Lindsey than I ever did while I was with her in Meridian. I have not talked to her since that Wednesday she found me crawling on my hands and knees. I really want to talk to her, but I figure that Randy’s presence encourages Lindsey to forget that she and I once knew each other. Then again, maybe we never really knew each other. Perhaps we were both grasping at something that we could not quite define or explain, something that lay just beyond our reach, but, in the process and for the meantime, we discovered that we—two lonely but warm people—were within reach of each other. Even though I work two jobs, I often lack the money to eat. Soup kitchens are everywhere, however, so I am usually able to eat at least one meal a day. Every now and then, though, when I make enough money to both pay rent and eat, I will take the remaining money and buy Gerber daisies. I must confess, Portland does not have as many pretty women as Mississippi, but the ones whom I discover, I offer to them Gerber daisies. Granted, the random women to whom I give my hard-earned daisies are strangers, but I have accepted this non-relationship state of being. Maybe we are all strangers passing by other strangers. Occasionally, in my peripheral vision, I think that I see somebody whom I know and who knows me in this stranger city, but, as soon as I turn around to look, that person has vanished. Perhaps the truest things—the things that last—can only be seen out of the corner of one’s eye.