For Emily

4 08 2006

She came back last week, back to us. She lied, she tried to pretend to fall out of the fold. Last Tuesday, when the autumn spell was already withering down, when Emily stepped off that shelf, we watched her cry on the worn-out bench that has always sat and will always sit on her front porch.

“Two things,” she said, “exist. There is love and there is knowledge.” A studious girl, or rather studious enough to fool us, she seemed to live and be the part. Maybe a few years younger we would have listened more closely like sacrificial lambs led to the altar. Now it’s different. We know her. I know her. More than she’s willing to tell her girl-friends. Back when she was ten, I remember having a contest with all of the boys and Emily (she never played with girls, we should have known it then too). It was a marathon race, at midnight, at the old Lincoln Park on Broad Street. Out of the twenty boys in the class, only five or so showed up. Two of them left before the race began, the Spanish-Irish twins Isaac and Jake; their parents had taken them for ice cream, they probably felt guilty. We didn’t even find it strange at the time to see Emily, being too young for the awkward self-recognition and instant segregation of puberty. Emily disappeared that night, midway through the race, dashing down the East St. corridor. Some unlit alley. I watched her disappear, I watched it, as if I had watched her grow up all along, but then some internal train drove me to run, and I kept running. I guess I figured if she made it without tripping over someone’s trash can, she’d be minutes ahead of us.

Love and knowledge. “Love is true, always. It blends the seen and unseen, the pure and the impure, the strengths and weaknesses.” Back when we used to sneak out to ride the swings after dark unmolested by the infantile tantrums of our illustriously dramatic peers, I’d always take her words to heart, as if I could understand then, even in those tired and young moments, that her brief stay meant she had to produce a lifetime’s worth in only eighteen years. Speaking of suicide, a friend of hers – James or something, called in a suicide watch. He said he saw her picking out razors and rope, and talking about it with her friends. Another person, a chronic liar, said she was reading a book about suicides.

She didn’t “simplify the situation in black” as we like to say. She didn’t save us the trouble of hearing about her true love. Emily, it seems, is one of those people whose life seems like an allegory or metaphor that we are meant to understand but cannot. Like we’re too stuck in the thick of it to understand what it means to be out. I cannot write these words any other day, any other day I might be (or pretend to be, if there’s a difference) more mature. Sitting last week, on the bench, we could almost drown ourselves in simple, pretty teenaged love. Would she cheat on her soulmate, maybe savor having one of us, settle for a night with us? Dreams slurred the speech of my friends in a warm sepia-toned drunken glow, small sensual drops wetting their impatient mouths.

Emily’s soulmate lived surprisingly nearby, only thirty-seven straight-line miles from her house to his. Yet they met in some dreamlike fantasy, a wondrous escape far from house and home. I will not say where; to have a taste of what it must have been like, imagine the glory of your high school days and the cosmic beauty of a home with parents out for the weekend. When we sent her off, we half-expected her to find a boyfriend. Not that she was famous for being promiscuous (though yes, even then, a few boys like me knew), but most thought anyone on a trip like that would find someone and fast. Her boyfriend was not exactly typical fare, he had a charm to his words, and emitted a positive radiance that shone only where it found a receptive home. Yet, he was not better than me, he is everything that I can be and less; I suppose the one time I met him, which was before he met her, I remembered him for his ability to play the piano and how envious it made me. Music attracts the girls, always. How many guitar-playing boys spend hours honing their skills just to impress their friends, I will never know.

They fell in love as people are prone to do. I asked her what she misses; and she replied that, even for a girl as experienced as she was, “I loved how he kissed me. He gave me hickeys, and still managed to kiss me differently every night. I knew then, what it was like to be turned on.” I half expected her to finished that sentence more romantically. But this is Emily. “I wanted him in the same ways he wanted me. There is nothing left to do once you have fallen in love, all actions fade away into nothingness, there is your other and only your other.” She had the symptoms, sometimes, but I always am indecisive if she had the disease. I noted that they “had sex”and not “made love”, that she “experimented with several positions” and “enjoyed missionary most”, that the sex “hurt always at the beginning” but “was worth it”. Most importantly, she “never will go out with another guy ever again, not until college, maybe not until I find the one I want to marry. No one compares.”

Always in the past tense, I noticed in our brief interview. Her “two week soulmate” and “first true love” and “best individual she’s been with”, the boy she gave her virginity to. Is she lost in her wantoness, misguided by lust, seeking her first orgasm unconciously? Sometimes the boys who know that little secret raise their hands with eager delight, as if sex is a gift, pleasing and one-sided. I ignore it, thinking only of a single kiss, imagining the slow parting of lips that would infect me with more than just lust. Emily was not worth dating, her pride and presumptuous arrogance delighted me though, enough to develop a crush. Pretty dress, deceptive makeup, playful innocence. She was going out with a guitar player then, of course, a footballer and black haired look-a-like of me. Her hair, her dress, her innocence betrayed my senses for the time being; later I became her friend and found myself glad to not to be involved in the typical high school white and trashy relationship.

I listened that night, sitting on the porch; trying not to imagine her running off the edge of the city map, into some barren unknowable distance. My head processed more than concern, I saw in myself shades of fear. Reflecting how I once held her hand, rested my head on her lap, trusted her with a look I should not have given. She could not be typical, I struggled to believe, and she would stay. More than I feared my own transgressions, I stood doubtlessly shamed at the way her life could be reduced to a paperback plot. Collapsing to her seductive, metaphysical state, I recalled watching her lips say, in quietly pink softness, “I don’t try.”

I believe in coincidence. I believe that Emily existed, as she was and nothing more, not as a sign like my grandma had said “of what must pass” and not as a message. She was a jaded girl. Only another out of many; one more soul bound for predictably sweaty-bodied kisses, miscellaneous hands groping under familiar purple cloth; hands and lips bound for an above-par school and an above-par life. And still I thought, in truth deceived myself, that she could be more.

Emily left, she’s dead, or left the county to run off with her soulmate, or perhaps joining him in the sky, perhaps making love to an image of him, or dancing outside with a boy I might know, or throwing my advice to the winds and scattering her dignity to every boy she kneels in front of, or perhaps starving herself in pious meditation. Whenever I imagine Emily, though the Wednesday paper would disagree, I like to think of her driving away on a stolen car, learning to steer as she soars along, prepared to start new, create for herself a living Emily, one without makeup, without boys in backseats, without exploring her sexuality or unfaithfully experimenting with girls, without false friends, without impulses. An Emily with morality, with a due character, a sense of limits and reason. An Emily I cannot ever get to know.




3 responses

5 08 2006

Initially I was confused, but as I reread it becomes more clear. I like it. The last paragraph especially.

5 08 2006

Very VirginSuicides-esque.

19 08 2006

I’ve always felt that every time I read something that touches me, I’m always at a loss of words to try to say how it made me feel, what it made me think, smell, touch and taste. I’m always at a loss of words. Perhaps because of that, it may just be best to describe what these readings make me do. Not to say actions would be more meaningful than words. But sometimes it’s hard to find the words that’ll convey a strong an impression as the words one’s just read have achieved. (Ok, I admit it, way too many ‘words’ in that last sentence) Regardless, this made me get out of bed, sign back in. And tell you – albeit with words – what it made me do.
Thank you.

In case you’re too bored to read what I just wrote, here’s the sparknote’s summary:
Amazing. :)

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