John was just too nice; a sweet and stable and easy-to-get IT guy. No darkness, no complexity, no artistry… none of the usual stuff that really wakes me up. We went on a few dates together and the last one was on his couch, watching old episodes of Parks and Rec.
He’d thrown a frozen lasagna in the oven, and while he went to check on it again, I watched his dog destroy a stuffed animal on the carpet in front of me, tearing out the eyes first and then the mouth and then drawing the white stuffing out slowly, forming hazy clouds with it. His dog seemed darker than he was.
I began noticing that each time John returned to the couch, he sat a little bit closer to me, and it was making me panicky. I knew by now that I only wanted to be friends with him, but I was so afraid that he was going to stick his arm around me and then that would be it; I’d be his girlfriend, we’d be dating, game over, because he was too sweet and stable and he was trying too hard for me to reasonably say no.
After I left that night, he texted saying he wanted to see me again soon, so over the next couple of days, I spaced my replies out further and further, shortening them more and more until he finally understood. I didn’t have the heart or bravery to say no, so I let the distance and silence do it.
Brandon was fun, but I knew from the get-go that he wasn’t a good idea. For one thing, our first date got messed up when a chef called out on him. As head chef, he had to bail on our 9 PM drinks to close the kitchen out. He felt really terrible but I told him not to worry about it — I just assumed the universe was saving me some time by giving me a sign.
So when he wanted to reschedule, I was hesitant but thought: If ANYONE believes in second chances, it’s me, because I’ve been waiting for mine for forever now, so I invited him to swing by Red Cat, where I was studying.
He texted that he was already on the way and warned that he’d be wearing a murder jacket. I laughed. He walked in — so tall, so handsome — and I shrugged at him: “Your jacket’s not that murdery?” When he hugged me, he smelled nice.
We talked inside for a while, his elbows on the table as he leaned across it to look down at me, and his eyes were big, colorful, expressive. I asked him about being a chef, asked him about his hobbies, and he told me he and his friend had once written a jingle for Burger King. I was extremely impressed by this.
When I asked him to sing it, he said no, but he was already pulling up the background music on his phone and then singing it quietly across the table, making me laugh. It was just as ridiculous as you’re imagining.
We wanted to walk at the park across the street but after thirty seconds of doing so, I couldn’t stand it. “It’s just too cold out here, Brandon!” He was relieved I’d been the one to say it. We ran to his jeep then, me in my many layers and him in his murder jacket. He turned the heat on and left the car running while we talked some more. His mom’s becoming slightly racist as she ages, and he hates it; he has anger issues; he’s also got an apartment and an estranged father and a dog; sure, he’d love to go on a picnic with me sometime. I’m learning things, the car is nice and warm now, and we’re pretending to plan things.
When I say I’ve gotta go, he says he’s walking me to my car. I tell him it’s too cold and he says it again, I’m walking you to your car.
I hug him again and notice, again, that he smells nice. I say goodbye and that’s it, because I know better. He texts me once, twice, and I don’t respond the second time.
With the other one (whose name I can’t even remember), I knew the second he stepped into the diner that I wasn’t interested. What was I even doing at a diner? I’m not a diner kinda gal…
“Just two?” the hostess asked and I nodded, uncomfortable to be one of the two.
We sat across from each other and placed orders: he got a reuben and I got an avocado wrap. The wrap was messy and I didn’t care at all; good, this will make me very unattractive to him! I thought, letting the whatever-kind-of-sauce drip down from my fingers to my wrists.
I quickly mentioned making lots of NICE FRIENDS using the app and asked him a million billion questions about his music: What instruments did he play? What system did he record in? When did he start playing? What’s the music like over in Iran, where his family stays? Is he so excited about flying out there this year?
“And who knows who you’ll meet while you’re there!” I clapped happily, smiling.
I got out of there in 52 minutes, thinking to myself, that’s it. I’m fucking done meeting people. For REAL.
So I’m taking a break from the app again. BIG SURPRISE, HUH? Oh, Jace is done with the blog forever; oh, Jace is done dating forever; oh, Jace is done being a crazy ex forever. Ha! I drive MYSELF crazy with these bold and impossible declarations.
Because as the following short story illustrates, I’m still not done being a crazy ex. Apparently.
Our professor asked us to write four character sketches this semester, and the last one I wrote was about Christopher (duh) and how I delusionally imagined him missing me someday. Pathetic, huh? Sure, I guess you could say so, but I don’t actually think so.
I believe unrequited love is something you shouldn’t be ashamed of and that honesty is liberating for the soul, and I also know I’m doing everything I can to be a decent human being about it (by never ever speaking to him or looking at him or telling him how much I miss him and how I’d still want to be with him even if he lost his legs and arms and went deaf AND blind).
Anyways, after signing up for the first group of short stories (where we have to expand one character sketch into a full story), I knew my expanded character sketch had to be Christopher’s. And I’m kinda hoping that writing about us from “his” (fictional) perspective will be therapeutic for me. So here it is — my first short story of the semester. And it’s a work of fiction, of course.
Songs She Wrote
I just said “I know” again. Every time she said what she did, I said “I know.” And I know it upset her because her eyes would flicker, changing their light just a little. It wasn’t anger, I don’t think… it looked more like surprise. I think she knew I still loved her too, and every time she said it, I think she was thinking I’d finally say it back to her — this time, that time… I just couldn’t though.
For one thing, there was too much there — the history. And she was too wild, too unpredictable. She changed a lot, all the time. It was exhausting, the idea of even trying to keep up with her, with who she was now and how she was now when it changed so freaking fast. She was like a wild horse, and a rogue rabbit — running fast, like running would keep her alive.
And the second thing is that I had a new girl by then who mostly sat still, mostly moved slowly, basically stayed the same. It was comfortable. We worked.
So yeah. The last time I ever heard her say it to me, all I said to her was “I know.”
Of all places, I first met Rose at church.
After touring with a band, goofing off, and studying new age philosophy for a while, I decided to give something else, something more traditional and southern, a go. I definitely noticed all of the girls when my friend Tom walked me into church that morning, and I also noticed them noticing me: my long hair, full beard, green eyes. Girls always liked me.
And Rose was there that day… skinny, long hair, long skirt. I saw her at the far end of the sanctuary, sitting with two other ladies, family members maybe. She was pretty but plain-looking, wearing a hat and reading a book, and she didn’t seem to be looking back at me. I remember thinking she had a queer awkwardness about her, and even from all the way across the room, I could sense her being much older, in her head, than she was or looked.
Well eventually, later on in the program, somebody at the podium was saying it was time for special music when that mousy girl got up. Suddenly, she had a guitar with her, and then bam, she was up on the stage, quietly mentioning the song was an original and telling us the name of it before she began strumming and singing it. I watched her closely the whole time, noticing she kept her eyes closed. While her and her family dipped out pretty quickly after the service ended, I was able to find her name printed in the bulletin: Amber Rose Roderick.
Later in the week, Tom’s grandma Shirley (who goes to the same church) said some girl named Rose had called her, asking for my number, and now she wanted my permission before giving it. Rose was a young musician at the church who wanted to play music with me, Shirley explained. I couldn’t believe my luck. I gave Shirley my number right away and then waited. Rose texted me before the day had ended.
Much later on, years later, Rose’s own grandma told me she had noticed me watching Rose sing and play that day. She’d said it with twinkling eyes, a mischievous smile, ankles crossed out in front of her as she pet the dog on her right. We were sitting outside in lawn chairs, Rose and her mother cooking a vegetarian lunch inside.
We dated for two months and then got married. Crazy, right? We both just knew, this is it.
I’m making it sound fast and easy, but it wasn’t, really. Rose and I ended up playing music together after she got my number that day, and then I quickly found out she was moving down to Florida. Florida! What the fuck! We were recording some of her songs out in my garage when she said it, and she seemed to study me carefully after sharing the news. I played it cool. Told her that sounded exciting, I was happy for her, whatever.
Because the thing is that she was already seeing someone… some home-schooled boy up in Connecticut. I knew that, if she spent more time with me, that wouldn’t last long, but her moving ten hours away kinda complicated things. So I kept in touch with her when she moved… calling her every couple of weeks, emailing her updates about discovering Jesus and getting baptized and visiting this christian college up in Tennessee. She seemed very approving of all of this. I was basically building street cred with the girl. Pretty funny that we both lost our religion together, years later.
Anyways, one night about six months after she’d moved, she finally called me, telling me what I already knew: She’d broken up with the guy. I stayed on the phone with her for two hours, hearing her stifle cries now and then, that mousy voice dropping to such low tones I could scarcely hear her.
When she mentioned being in bed now and the lights being off now, I decided to tell her a story, something I made up as I went. It was about a fox named Caldwell happening upon a scared little rabbit in the forest. They quickly became best friends, falling in love and going on all sorts of adventures… and I’m pretty sure she fell asleep in the middle of me telling her about them.
But the next day, she told me she remembered Caldwell Clyde, and for years, I was that fox. The fox that swooped in, sidled up next to her, and saved her from her loneliness. Our place became littered with fox-everything… pillow cases, mugs, plates, cards.
I’d known that if I just waited long enough — steadily keeping in touch so I’d stay on her mind — we would happen, and we did. It worked. And I guess that’s part of the problem: Because it worked once, I thought waiting would always work.
We were married for a long time. At first, it was great; the sex, the food, the music. We started a band together, played shows… went to school together, got degrees. When she first mentioned wanting to go to school, I imagined all of the dudes in class who’d want to bang her, so I said I wanted to go to school too. And when she mentioned deciding on a degree, I said I wanted to pursue the same one.
So we ended up taking all of the same classes, evening classes, for four fucking years straight. When we finally got those matching degrees, we celebrated with a Redbox DVD and an oven-baked pizza from Whole Foods: bell peppers, onions, mushrooms.
We also got a dog together, and a new car, and a house, and we collected lots of other random shit: furniture, photos, music gear. Got a Netflix subscription and stopped talking as much. She’d come home from work, I’d already be there, we’d eat something while we watched a show and then go to sleep, probably without any sex. She started being too tired all the time, and then she started being something else…
Weird. She started acting really weird.
Like, she shaved her head. Donated more than a foot of hair to some charity for kids. That was intense. And she stopped shaving her legs. That was fine, I was cool with it, but still — it was different. And then she started wearing lots of black, lots of dude stuff. Lost a bunch of weight, too much. Started going to meditation meetings downtown, hanging around coffee shops. This was weird because we’d always just stayed at home together.
And then after too many nights of her having a headache and turning away when I’d go to kiss her, she finally fucking said it… it was four in the morning and I was pulling on yesterday’s pants for work.
“I can’t be with you anymore.” That’s what she said. She was crying. And I was yelling. At first, it was because she was transgender; then later, it was because she was gay; and then she wasn’t sure, really — maybe she was just bisexual…
And then she finally told me she’d fallen in love with someone else.
I told her I’d do anything.
I’d get a sex change if I needed to; we could invite someone home if that would make her happy? She cried, saying no, no. None of that would work. She just couldn’t be with me anymore. It was her, she assured me, not me, but yeah, it was also fucking me because I was the one she didn’t want to be with.
I was sad at first but that quickly changed to angry. I hated her. I hated the person she loved. I hated the house and the car and all of those dumb foxes and pictures on the wall. Everything was stupid and insane and upside down, and we were definitely all the way over.
I moved out as soon as I could, taking everything with me… all she wanted was the dog and her guitars. But before I moved out, there was a roach in her room once — she’d started staying in the guest room. I remembered us painting it “November Skies Blue” with our friends Cate and Mitch years before, paying them with pizza and beer the weekend we moved into the place. We’d listened to Daft Punk’s new album so many times that weekend, brushing the plain walls with blue, green, yellow, brown… earth colors. She loved earth colors, open windows, burritos, me.
Anyways, there was a roach in her room, and she knocked on my door, crying; would I please get it out of there? No. She asked again and I said no again. I listened to her cry on the other side of the door for a while. Not sure how she handled the roach situation.
I went drinking with friends a lot, did whatever drugs they handed me, passed out in places and then woke up in other places. Rose stayed in touch with me, checking on me now and then. I know she was worried about me and felt terrible for doing this to me. We both blamed her; SHE was doing this to us, it was completely HER fault, but also, I could see something was happening to her. Some invisible something was acting on her in some way. I don’t know.
I tripped on acid once and it was really intense — called her crying and she said she’d cook me dinner. Stayed on the phone with me for two hours while I ranted about everything I was mad at her for… then I drove out to the house and she handed me a warm tupperware of chili. The dog was really happy when he saw me again, crying and jumping on me; she told me later that he threw up right after I left.
As we passed through winter on different parts of town, she kept mentioning there was a friend of hers she wanted to introduce me to. I knew what she was getting at and I wasn’t interested. But finally, one night, she lured me out to this Mexican restaurant. Her friend was there.
I talked to Rose at first while Rose talked to me, and I listened while Rose and her friend talked to each other, and then me and her friend were commenting on things Rose had said to the other, commenting on those comments, beginning to look at each other while we commented, talking (finally). Rose went and paid her bill quietly then, smiled at us, and left. I called her a little while later, while she was still driving.
“Hey!” she said, too happily. She sounded congested.
“You alright?” I said.
An exhale. “How did you know?”
“I know you.”
She wrote a few songs later that year — one called “Alright”, the other “I Know You.” Not sure if they were about that conversation or not, but maybe… I think they were. Rose really only wrote sad songs; if she was depressed about someone or something, she at least got a good song out of it. I always wanted us to do some happy jazzy pop shit, stuff crowds could get on, but she never had it in her. Sad old soul.
Anyways, that was the real end of us, that night at the Mexican restaurant, and it was also the start of the next big thing. I stayed with that friend of hers for a really long time.
After Rose figured her shit out, and it took years, it turned out she was a straight girl after all. Go figure. I know she missed me after she was, as she put it, done being crazy. She obviously wished that things with us could go back to what they had been, but I was too tired to make any big changes, too unsure of her to take any chances.
She flew out to Denver one year and wrote a book about a fox and a rabbit. Self-published it. Her best friend, the guy she fell in love with while we were still together and then broke up with later, drew the pictures. She handed a signed copy to me when she was passing through the bakery once. I flipped through it, looking at some of the pictures, but I didn’t read it because I didn’t need to. I already knew she’d end up killing me off.
She passed through the bakery a lot. Normally, she looked steadily away from wherever she seemed to suspect I was; I’d talk a little louder sometimes, just so she’d definitely know I was there, but her eyes still wouldn’t move. The floor in front of her, the drink case to her left, the display of muffins to her right all seemed to interest her more.
And when she’d occasionally pause in front of my work area to slice a loaf of rosemary sourdough bread, I’d watch her bite her lower lip, massage her hands, tap her foot… eyes seeming to follow the cut of the machine. She looked desperate to me sometimes, like she almost wanted to throw herself in that machine, to end whatever strange thing was happening to her.
Did I miss her? Hard to say. I stayed busy — my relationship, job, music. I wasn’t playing with anyone anymore, and I rarely recorded or uploaded anything, but I still played on my sax, bass, and electric guitar. Focused on piano less as time went on, but I came up with some really good chord progressions on the other stuff. She’d always written songs based on my progressions, because mine were great and hers were basic… incessant childish loops of D Am C G. Her melodies were good, and her words were good, but she needed my progressions.
But I still followed Rose’s music. She’d put stuff out on the internet sometimes, on Spotify and in other spots, and I could tell she was still writing about me. I’d listen to her new stuff now and then, noticing increasingly more piano in her tracks than before, but what I tended to replay most was the old stuff. She’d put some of our old tracks on her first album, ones from way back, and I couldn’t help but cry a little when I’d hear those.
I’d remember recording in that hot garage in Pelham, and then go back to that tiny apartment in Hoover, and then re-enter that big old house off of Valleydale, making music and then dinner and then love. We had it good, really good, for a while. I wonder sometimes what would’ve happened if she hadn’t lost her shit like that, hadn’t called it off the way she did. Who knows.
All I know is that, when we were us, Rose and I played music together wherever we went, and that wherever she is now, whoever she is trying to be or trying to be with, she’s still playing for me.
Her sad voice, those basic chords, that glossy, gorgeous Ibanez…
I actually did try to tell her once, way later on, but it was too late.
I dressed up and drove out to her house and everything. I always knew where she stayed with the dogs. I was really nervous about it because it had been years since we’d said anything to each other, so I’d been practicing what I’d say all week.
I’d finally called it off with the other girl; things had been comfortable between us but they hadn’t really been much else. Rose was still going to be wild, yeah, and that was kind of terrifying, but she was at least wild about me. I could feel it, see it in her crazy eyes… the way she’d get so secretly mad at me when I’d just say “I know.” The other one wasn’t crazy about me at all, and I always knew that. Anyways, I couldn’t wait to tell her, to finally say it again… I hoped she’d still feel the same, but it’s also like I didn’t need to hope; I always knew she’d always feel the same about me.
When I pulled into her driveway and it was empty, I figured she’d finally started parking in the garage. About time. I put the emergency brake on, took a breath, opened the door, let it out, dropped my boots to the ground and went up to her front door, blue now. Heart pounding. Hands and forehead sweating.
I knocked. Tugged on my shirt a little… god, I was sweating so badly — and it wasn’t even summer! It was fall, her favorite season. The timing was perfect — later than she’d like, of course, and same, but still. I knew she was going to be so mad at me; I imagined the subtle flicker, the sudden fire in her eyes, and it made me smile. Finally.
But when somebody I didn’t know answered the door, I stopped smiling. I was too shocked to say anything. She’d moved out to Colorado, the lady said. How the hell did she know that? Who was she, even? Colorado? When? That rabbit, running off into the woods… had she left with somebody? She didn’t know.
So that was it, then. While I was waiting, Rose had finally done it… gone off with the dogs, the guitars, all those plants she’d fussed over.
I tried to find her; I actually went out there and blindly looked for her, checking cafes and yoga places and feeling even crazier than I always thought she was. But I never got to tell her, and those new songs of hers stopped showing up on the internet. Don’t know if she stopped writing altogether or just stopped sharing what she was writing.
And the very worst part is that I don’t even know how late I was — very late, or just barely.
Since the story references my songs a good bit, I’m sharing some of my favorites below. You can listen to ’em on Spotify, iTunes, and etc., and yes: All of these (and more) were inspired by Christopher. He even produced slash mastered some of them (the best ones, honestly).
I’ll get over him someday, I know, but I’ve grown weary of well-intentioned people telling me when and how this will happen — TRUST ME, I’ve tried everything: yoga, thinking about him, not thinking about him, dating other people, not dating other people, eating, not eating, taking melatonin, not taking melatonin, drinking coffee, taking a break from coffee, donating tons of clothes, bringing home cozy old sweaters, remembering the things I didn’t like, refusing to remember him and us at all, telling myself that he’s changed, reminding myself that I’ve changed, telling myself that he’s happy, asking myself why I’d honestly want to interfere with someone I love already being happy…
So I’m just doing the best I can, folks. Trying to wait it out as peacefully as possible and to be healthy, happy, kind, and alright.
- Bleed Me Dry
- It’s Real Cool
- Let It End