It took another two weeks of discussion and negotiation before the end. During that time Kristine continued to feed me inside information about what she was doing, and how things were going between her and Steve. Every mention of them made me sicker, but I couldn’t control myself. I just had to know. Knowing only made me feel hollow and empty inside. So I proceeded to fill in that emptiness with alcohol and self loathing.
Spring break was coming. From Kristine I had learned that Steve was going to Daytona, and had gone so far as to tell her that he couldn’t guarantee that he would be faithful on the trip. Surely this would convince her I was the better guy. I would be going back to Batavia for the week, and I asked her to come with me. Then to my surprise and everlasting hope, she agreed. She would spend a few days, meet my family and friends, and then I would bring her back to Canton.
The day before break began, I had planned to pick her up and bring her over to my apartment for dinner. She was going to spend the night, and leave for Batavia with me the next morning. But when she walked out of the dorm, and climbed inside of my car she wasn’t carrying a suitcase. “I’ve changed my mind.” She said. “I’ve made a commitment to Steve, and I don’t think it would be right to go home with you.”
Outside the rain drummed down upon the roof. The windows began to fog up, closing out the world outside. We sat in silence. She made no move to open the door, or leave. Finally, I started the car and put it into gear. I went on a long, aimless drive into the countryside south of town. On the back roads down near Hannawa Falls, she asked me to turn into the beach.
“I used to lifeguard here during the summer” she said.
The beach was desolate, and ringed with a crust of melting snow. The pines crowded in behind us, ringing the beach with gloomy shadows. Out on the river, the ice was already wormy and dark from the rain and the slow approach of spring. I parked the car, and we got out. She walked to the edge of the river, it was so gray in the slanting rain.
“It looks so different this time of year”, she said.
I tried to imagine how it must have looked in the summer time, with boats out on the water, and kids building sand castles on the beach. I realized that summer was coming again, but I wouldn’t be here to see it. By the time the ice was out, and the beach was open I would be far beyond the wilderness of the North Country, but she would still be here. There was no escaping it.
Eventually we got back into the car, and I drove her home.
“I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” She said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s making either one of us happy.”
I couldn’t argue with her about that. I hadn’t been happy since we had first met. The last few months I had been alternating from despair to mania, but nowhere would I say that I was happy.
So the die was cast, and my fate was sealed. In June I would report to the headquarters of ABB Combustion Engineering with all of my personal belongings in the trunk of my car. I would spend 3 days there in orientation, and then receive my assignment in any one of 9 different regional offices around the country. I would spend the next few years of my life living in hotels, and eating in restaurants, as I toured the country one power plant at a time.
She had made her choice as well. In the end I did not pass the written test, and the job was offered to someone else. I couldn’t decide which of the three of us I hated more, but the only one I could punish was myself. So I focused my energy on that. I spent the last month of college, skipping class, turning in half finished assignments, and drinking just to forget. It didn’t work, and by that point it didn’t matter. I graduated with a 3.2 GPA, and weighed 20 pounds less than I had at the start of the year. When I left town after graduation, I did so hoping never to return.
Try as I might though, I could not escape myself. As Yogi Berra would say “No matter where you go, there you are.” I moved on with my life, and eventually came to realize those moments for what they truly were, an aberration. A peculiar and uncharacteristic period in time when I had lost my mind over nothing more than a set of brown eyes, and a soft voice. As my stories reveal, I spent the next 3 years of life drifting around the country, exploring every back woods nook and cranny I could find. I met people that would have profound influences on me, and help me to find out who I really was, deep down inside that dark well of the soul.
In the twenty years since then, I have occasionally thought back to those six months, and what if anything I would have done different. Despite the pain and the heartache that I brought upon my own head, there is a part of me that thinks it was the best six months of my life. For like Cortez, if I hadn’t burned my boats on the beach, I never would have been able to commit to heading into the wilderness in front of me. In all honesty, this story embarrasses the hell out of me. I was young and stupid, and had no idea what love was in the first place. But if I hadn’t self destructed so spectacularly, I would have never figured those things out for myself.
A friend once told me that she had a rule. Don’t ever date a man younger than 25, because it takes them at least that long to figure out what they want out of life. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I’d have a hard time arguing with her on that one. It took me at least until then to sort myself out, and begin building the person that I am today.
I don’t know whatever became of any of the characters in the melodrama, besides me and Scott. I think all kids eventually learn the same lessons. We realize that the life we have lived is just make believe, like kids playing house. We try on identities, and act out roles as we think we are supposed to do. Eventually we come to realize that the world we inhabit is just a fantasy. Real life, and real experience lies in the dark woods in front of us. Some never accept it, and go on building castles in the sand. While the lucky ones step out into the forest and begin building relationships that really matter, and love that endures.