Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Memoir

Well, it's been a little while since my last blog (not that I update consistently, anyway), but in my absence, I considered posting the memoir I wrote for my Creative Nonfiction course. I turned it in before Spring break, and I got it back this week with a grade I'm quite proud of, so I decided it would make a good blog entry. So, here it is:

Love is but a Dream

This is the story of how Jenny and I broke up, but it starts with how we got together. It has to. And where it starts is during the last few weeks of my freshman year at Arcadia Valley High School. My teachers were done with homework for the year, so instead of working furiously to finish it all before class every morning, I used that time to socialize. I sat at a table in the library next to my friend Corey, but a girl with blond hair that fell down to her back was sitting at the table, too. She was cute, but I was too shy to say anything to her. She and Corey were talking about dreams when I sat down in the chair across from her. She finished her thought to Corey—I suppose she was telling him what she dreamed last night—then said to me, “So Jimmy (she knew my name and I knew hers because it’s easy to know everybody’s name in a small high school), do you remember your dream from last night?”
I shuffled in my chair, gathering my wits to answer this unexpected question. “Well, I uh... I didn’t... have a dream last night, Jenny.”
“Oh, didn’t you know? You have a dream every night; it’s just a matter of whether you remember it when you wake up.” This wasn’t a condescending explanation. The tone in her voice was more like she had told a child there are no monsters under his bed.
“Oh,” I replied, “Well, then I guess I didn’t remember my dream,” as though I wasn’t fully convinced the monsters were gone.
“That’s okay,” she said with a smile. “Maybe you’ll remember your dream tomorrow.”

If I did remember my dream the next day, I’ve forgotten it by now.
* * *
Jenny and I never saw each other that summer, but after emailing each other every day and spending countless hours talking over MSN Messenger, I finally worked up the nerve to call her and ask for a date. I dialed her number and paced the length of my room while I waited for someone to pick up. After three rings, Jenny answered the phone (I recognized her soft, high voice immediately).
“Hey, Jenny. It’s uh... It’s Jimmy.”

“Oh! Hey, Jimmy! What’s up?”
“Well... you know how I told you in my last email I like, needed to call you about something?”
“Yes, I do. What did you need to tell me?”
“Well, it’s just that... I just wanted to know... if you’d... maybeliketogoonadatesometime.” I waited with my eyes closed for the impact, the explosion, anything to signal that I failed.
She laughed and I thought that was it—she thinks I’m an idiot and she’s laughing in my face about it—but she said, “Sure, I’d love to.”

It felt like I had been defusing a bomb and cut the right wire at the very last second.
“And please don’t think I’m laughing at you,” she said. “I’m laughing because I was afraid you were going to tell me someone died, or something bad like that.”
* * *
One day I was eating lunch with Megan, Lauren, Tucker, and Holli. Jenny and I had been dating for around six months, but she never ate lunch at school, so I would eat with my friends as fast as I could and hurry over to the library to flirt with her. Anyway, it was probably chicken patty day, because I remember eating hot rolls and mashed potatoes, which were always served with chicken patties. Well, I remember running a plastic spork through my mashed potatoes, as though making a soupy mess of potatoes and gravy could help me make sense of the dream I had last night.
“Jimmy, are you okay?” Megan asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. How come?”
“Well, you’re playing with your mashed potatoes, which means you haven’t wolfed them down yet.” She was always pretty good at knowing something was on my mind based on what I did with my mashed potatoes.
“Oh, well, I’m just thinking of this dream I had last night. I can’t figure it out.”
“What was it about?”
“Well...” It took me a minute to gather the dream in my head and prep it for re-telling.

The dream started out with me practicing in the trailer with the metal band I played guitar for at the time. We were running through our songs when a wave of kittens rushed through the doors and windows on the west side of the trailer and ran out the east side. I looked out the window to see what they might have been running from, and in the yard was a dark green couch under a tree. I saw Jenny sitting in the couch with her arms wrapped around her knees, and she was surrounded by... I couldn’t tell who they were at first. I looked harder and saw they were... me?
A group of about six or seven Jimmys were surrounding Jenny on this couch, touching her, singing to her, pleading with her, all fighting to get the most attention from her. I tried to yell at them, “Stop! Go Away! Those aren’t the real me! Leave her alone!” but I was behind a large glass window, banging my fists against it to be heard; it wasn’t working. Then I saw Jenny pull out a knife. It was about six inches long at the blade, and it glinted in the light with all the colors of a rainbow. When she brandished the weapon, the fake Jimmys all stepped back at once, fearfully. Suddenly Jenny stabbed one of them in the chest, and he disappeared like a wisp of smoke when the knife pierced his skin. She did the same to the other fake Jimmys, each time with a flat, stony look on her face. I cheered when all of them were gone, and I wanted to run to Jenny and hug her, but I was still behind the glass.
Then Jenny turned to walk toward me, slowly—the grim look still on her face and the shimmering knife still in her hand. Terror gripped me as though I had just swallowed a block of ice. My throat developed an enormous lump, and all I could do was shake my head and cough out small pleas, “Stop. Don’t do this. Please.” But Jenny still marched toward me, her resolve unshaken. She lifted the knife, and I wasn’t behind the glass any more, but hanging upside down, my hands and feet bound. I was helpless. All I could do was scream. I saw the knife glimmer like an aurora one last time before she thrust it into my heart. The instant it made contact, my vision exploded with a torrent of colors—the brightest, most vivid reds, yellows, and oranges. It was like drowning in a river of crimson, and all the time I was continuously spinning, spinning. Eventually, the yellows and reds gave way to greens and purples as shades of blue overtook them until all I saw was a swirling maelstrom of azure, turquoise, aquamarine, spinning just as fast as ever. Gradually, the speed of the colors slowed down as their tones grew less vibrant, fading to the tints of a grey-scale movie.

“And after that, I woke up.” Megan hadn’t said a word throughout the whole narration. Her only comment after I finished was, “You must have a seriously repressed subconscious.”
I had no clue what she meant.
* * *
Not long after Jenny agreed to date me, a new school year started: her junior, my sophomore. Technically, we had been together since late June, but I didn’t really feel like a couple until about the second week of school. I walked out of my biology class talking to my friend, Henry, and his girlfriend Leslie, like usual. We turned the corner of the hall and saw Jenny gathering books from her locker, like usual. We walked over to the locker Henry and I shared—which was only three away from Jenny’s—to drop off our backpacks. Like usual. And I was going to walk to jazz band with Henry and Leslie, like usual, but when I turned to leave, Leslie blocked my way, a grin resting on her face like a fox.
“Well?” she said.
“Well what?” I said back.
“Aren’t you going to say hi to Jenny?”
“Er... Yeah, of course. I always do,” I stammered. Uncomfortably, I turned around and tried to smile as I said, “Hey, Jenny.”
She closed her locker, turned to face me and smiled genuinely, “Hey, Jimmy.”
I barked over my shoulder to Leslie, “See?”
She wasn’t satisfied. “Oh, come on! She’s your girlfriend—act like you like her, why don't you?” she retorted and pushed me forward about three steps, putting me nose-to-nose with Jenny.

“Um... hey.” I breathed.
“Hey, yourself.”
“You, uh... You smell good.”
“Thanks,” she giggled. “It’s sweet pea.”
“I like it.”
“Hold her hand!” Leslie pseudo-whispered to me.
I grabbed Jenny’s hand and held it for a moment while her hazel eyes smiled at me. “What’s your next class?”
“Do you mind if I walk you there?”
“Not at all.” And we walked hand in hand down the hallway, the smile on my face now coming as naturally as hers.

From that point on, we spent every second in school with each other we possibly could. Because our lockers were so close, it was easy to meet up between classes, so we held hands all the way to her classes and I darted through the hallways to be on time for mine. We started passing love notes to each other between classes, a paragraph or two originally, but working their way up to page-and-a-half letters. We mostly retold the dreams we had about each other. Eventually, Jenny bought a notebook for us to share. It saved us both a lot of paper.
In school, we were practically inseparable. Unless we were in class, Jenny and I were either holding hands or with our arms around each other’s waists. Even at school functions—reward trips, dances, the occasional basketball game—we were close by. But I rarely saw her outside school hours unless it was because of such a school function; apparently her parents didn’t like her going over to a boy’s house they had never met, but when I asked if I could go to her house and meet her parents, she always said no. “My mom will be gone, and Dad will be sleeping because he works the late shift. It wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Still, I never made a big deal about it. I was falling too much in love with her every day. Maybe it was how we shared books: I borrowed The Golden Compass from her while she read my copy of Catch-22. Or maybe how we always traded new music: I told her about the ska band named Catch-22, and she introduced me to Local H, a band she learned about from an ex-boyfriend. Maybe it was how we both wanted to be writers, or how we dreamed of each other every night. I suppose all those things kept us in love through the whole school year.
I suppose all those things also made me afraid to ask Jenny who Skyler Johnson was, and why he was posting love songs on her Facebook page.
* * *
It took all day finding Jenny’s house. I walked from the school’s sports complex through Arcadia to a gravel road I sometimes ran up and down during cross country season. I found out later that it is officially titled Chicken Farm Road, but I knew it from my coach and my teammates as Chicken Shit Road. I knew one of the houses on the road was Jenny’s, but after knocking on doors and asking for the Lemon family for well over an hour, I finally found out it was the very first house on the road. The one with the gate and the NO TRESPASSING sign.
It’s not trespassing until you’re asked to leave, I told myself as I crossed the property line and walked down a gravel driveway shaded by a line of tall oaks on either side. The treeline eventually opened up to a sunlit yard where I faced a double-wide trailer with a chicken coop off to the left of it. Two cats were playing with each other outside the front of the trailer’s door steps. They stopped wrestling to observe me with large, curious eyes, but then darted away when I drew near. When I reached the top of the metal steps, I lifted my fist and knocked weakly on the screen door.
Since summer break, I had seen Jenny only once; we went swimming at the local pool about a week after school ended. However, we still talked through email, MSN Messenger, and phone calls every day. I wanted her to come over to my house sometime, but she still insisted her parents wouldn’t like it. I told her again that I should meet them, but, like usual, it “wouldn’t be a good idea.” One day I typed up an airtight argument about why I should go over to Jenny’s house and meet her parents and sent it to her in an email. I waited apprehensively (I was afraid she might think I was being too assertive) for her reply. She usually wrote back to me within a few hours, but the day passed without so much as an instant message from Jenny. By mid-afternoon the next day I still had not heard a word from Jenny, so I called her house.
I started to sweat while I waited under the sun for someone to answer the door. I decided to knock again, this time opening the screen door and landing two solid thunks on the wooden door. I heard footsteps from inside and the door opened. It was Jenny’s younger sister, Sarah. She didn’t say anything, so I started, “Hi. Could you maybe get your sister—”

She walked away and called out, “Jenny...” before closing the door on me.
Jenny didn’t answer the phone when I called that time. “Hello?” said the woman who answered, and I knew it must have been her mom.
“Uh, yes, I’d like to speak to Jenny, please.”
“Who is this?”
“This is Jimmy.”
“Well, Jimmy, Jenny’s not around right now. She’s out with her boyfriend.”
I waited another minute and started to feel the sun burning the skin on the back of my neck. I heard more footsteps from inside just before the front door opened once more. Standing before me was a guy who stood about a head taller than me, but because the top step didn’t quite reach the door frame, he seemed to loom over me. With straight, light brown hair and a recently-shaven face, he looked at least 20 to me. He wore gray basketball shorts and a black t-shirt sporting the name Local H.
“Her.. boyfriend?”
“Yes,” said Jenny’s mom. “Skyler Johnson.”
He looked at me and said, “What do you want?”
“Well, I... asked for Jenny. Can I talk to her, please?”
As I held the phone, I tried to fight the terror freezing me in my spot. Jenny’s mom broke the silence before I did. “Do you want me to leave her a message?”
I thawed out to reply, “Er, yeah. Just let her know I want to talk to her, okay?”
“She doesn’t want to talk to you,” Skyler said.
“Well, all I want is to ask her if— I just want to tell her— Can I see if she—” Suddenly, I didn’t even know why I went to Jenny’s house.
“Look, man, she just does not want to talk to you, or even see you. Now, I’m watching the house while her parents are gone, so I’m going to ask you to leave before I have to call the cops.”
“Well, then... can you step down here so I can at least talk to you eye to eye?” He sighed and we both walked down to the gravel and faced each other.
“So, I know you must be Skyler,” I started out. “I’m... Jimmy.” I offered my shaking hand.
“Nice meeting you,” he replied and gave my hand a quick shake.
It had been a week since I talked to Jenny’s mom on the phone. Ever since then I had been rehearsing all the things I would say to Skyler Johnson if I ever met him. I tried my best to salvage the speech, but standing across from him now, it seemed so childish.
“It feels weird meeting you, because I always imagined you as some wicked person, like the villain swooping out of the night to take Jenny away from me, but now that I’m face to face with you, I feel more like I—”
“Skyler, please come inside.” Jenny was standing in the door frame with her arms crossed.
“Just a minute, babe.”
“No, come inside now.”
I tried to speak up, “Jenny! Can I just finish—”
“Skyler, please come in now.”
He looked at me apologetically. “Sorry, man.” And he followed Jenny into the trailer.
On my way back to the sports complex, I stopped by Megan’s house. Girls are easier to cry around than guys.

* * *

It took multiple months and I had to put forth quite an effort, but I feel like I’ve basically recovered from our breakup (neither Jenny or I explicitly said the word to each other, but our relationship was clearly over). But, when I try to make sense of the ten or so months I dated Jenny—rereading our love notes, going over the things she said, analyzing the dreams I had about her—one event sticks out to me now more than ever.
See, every few years, Arcadia Valley hosts a Celtic festival at the Fort Davidson park in Pilot Knob. This usually lands on a weekend in October, like it did the year Jenny and I got together. We had been together for almost three months. I didn’t go that year, but all my friends did (I want to remember having a noble excuse for skipping out on it, like being sick with strep throat or swine flu, but in reality I probably stayed home to play video games); they told me all about it in school the following Monday.
By the third class period of everyone talking about the necklace they bought, or the weird food they ate, I was tired of hearing about the Celtic festival. I bulldozed my way out of my algebra class to get in the hall before someone else could ask me if I went. I was good five feet down the hall when Megan called out, “Jimmy, hey!”
I hit the brakes and whipped around to see her pressing through the busy teenagers to get to me. “What’s up?”
She caught up to me and asked, “Did you go the Celtic festival?”
“No. Why? You look worried.”
“Sigh... I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but I went to the festival, and... I saw Jenny kissing another guy.”

I told Megan I’d ask Jenny about it during lunch. After eating as fast as I could, I hurried over to the library to confront Jenny. She greeted me with a hug and a “Hey, cutie!” as I walked in.
“Hey, Jenny.” If I hid the apprehension on my face, then it must have seeped through my voice.
“What’s wrong?”
“Well, I just, uh...” I stared into her hazel eyes for a moment. Then I ran my fingers through her blond hair and kissed her. “I just didn’t study for a test, that’s all.”
Megan confronted me again after lunch. “Did you talk to Jenny?”
“Yep!” I smiled. “It’s all cleared out.”
I never again brought up that year’s Celtic festival.