I should point out to everyone that criticism isn't just the bad stuff :-P
Evan loves going to weddings, but he won’t admit it. He did admit he likes boiled peanuts, but that I’ve been working on for a much shorter time. I feel like I’ve gotten a consolation prize, and it’s a ribbon. What can you do with a ribbon, really? Except feed it boiled peanuts and bring it as your date when you watch all your friends get married. We joke that the only wedding he’ll ever like is ours, which would only happen if we’re not married by forty.
We used to hang out at this park off of Rhododendron Street. There was this bridge made of wood-slats that were falling apart, and we’d jump over the rotten pieces, our cheeks flushing in the cold wind. We’d play hopscotch as if we were twenty years younger, and we’d enjoy it.
Evan and I would go there after work, me still in my pencil skirt. Sometimes Evan would bring running shorts to wear with his button-up shirt, and I always had my flip flops. We must have been an odd sight.
Sometimes we’d come from home, and we’d bring our acoustics and sing to each other on the swings. We’d try to remember all the words to Don McLean’s American Pie, except Evan liked to change the words to crack me up, and I doubt we ever got past the second verse.
Last month, the park was shut down. Hurricane Yvette really tore into it, reducing the swings to rubber mats four miles away, and my bridge, our bridge, to only rotten wood and pains in your finger, leg, or 17th story apartment window.
The county commission didn’t rebuild, and instead there’s bright orange traffic cones and mounds of dirt where we used to make memories. And soon, a parking lot. I guess they ignored my letters, and my op-ed piece on how community playgrounds were necessary for our environmental health, how children needed those green spaces to exercise and make friends. How taking away a community playground was more than taking away structures, it was taking away memories and opportunities.
On our way home from work, sometimes Evan and I walk by the lack of park. We have an unspoken rule to not talk about it, but we’re both thinking about the day he told me he loved me, and the moment right after when I accidentally laughed. I’ve convinced myself in day-to-day life that the moment never really happened. I had not intended to be callous, but apologizing now would be admitting my own participation in the moment.
So we just walk by, either singing or somehow carrying the conversation as we pass the giant orange caterpillars as they cut down trees and smooth out the mounds of dirt.
We continue walking down the sidewalk to our small apartment building, laughing as we go, up two flights of stairs to our brightly-colored funky apartment. Our walls are the brightest color yellow, and we’re not allowed to paint. When we moved in, I bought a coffee table and spray-painted it gold. Since then, he bought lamps in the shape of hula dancers, and I bought a pink chandelier with plastic daisies hanging from it. Then he bought leopard-print air guitars, which now hang in every corner.
“Our little slice of super-tacky heaven,” I say as I open the door and take off my coat in one motion. Our coat rack is from a flea market, and might very well be real antlers.
At work in the morning I’m on the Environmental Beat. Editor Robert Splinter liked my opinion piece so much I’ve moved up from Crime. It’s a great move, it’s everything I wanted, and I hate it. My articles used to be so removed. Colonel Mustard killed Mr. Body in the Lounge with the rope. Bam. Article. And now I’ve got to be objective about corporations spilling oil, killing the geese in the pond near my apartment. When you start to care about the geese, the pond, and the people affected, your work suffers. And you suffer. And you can’t think about anything else except how to heal the world. This is why I should have been a cashier, I used to be great when all I had to remember and care about was that the code for bananas was 4411.
I finished my article and put my hair up in its customary ponytail. Evan likes to remind me that I used to wear my hair long and wavy, and I like to remind him that thirty pounds ago he used to get all the girls. He stopped dating Lisa the day after our Unspoken Day. And then he stopped dating. It’s been two years.
I stood up to peer over our four foot cubicle walls, and saw Evan chugging some Mountain Dew and researching the latest murder of Mr. Body.
“Evan? Babe?” He stood up turned to me, nodded his head ever so slightly to the cell-mate on the other side of him. Leslie. 50-something, and the kind with lipstick on her teeth. Yesterday, she decorated her office with grapes. Today, she’s carving potatoes. I suppress my laughter but Evan’s keyboard is now covered in spit covered molecules of high-caffeinated green soda. Leslie looks up and now he’s got a straight face, except he doesn’t realize his crisp white shirt is now also covered in bits of the Dew. I can’t help it and laugh out loud, and then have to convince Leslie for twenty minutes it had nothing to do with her.
And it probably didn’t. Evan and I can laugh at anything. The girl who ate toothpaste in my freshman year dorm, the snooty man who looked just like his Afghan dog in the first apartment we lived in, both of their noses turned up. The guy I went on a date with who started every single sentence with the word “hopefully.” The guitar tech at our favorite music store whose earring holes were bigger than his ears.
Bob Splinter walked by and I cleared my throat ever so slightly, and settled back into my cell, ready to research something about sewage and drinking water. Mr. Body was once disposed of in a sewer. I wonder if I can work that into the piece.
The way home, Evan and I walk hand-in-hand. Around the building, behind the oak trees, onto the sidewalk, down the street. We pass the orange cones and huge ant hills.
Evan turns to me and looks serious.
“Hey…” I nod in acquiescence to his tone. “Thing is, I’m seeing someone.” His thick-framed glasses are sliding on his nose, and I see he’s sweating.
“Seeing someone?” I ask, more accusatory than I’d have liked. My tone should have been nonchalant and happy, not annoyed and harsh.
“Seeing someone,” he confirmed.
“So what are they like?” I asked, interestedly but passively, using a gender-neutral pronoun that should never really be used, ever. He notices that I specifically stay neutral.
“She ,” he said, stressing the fact that his new someone was, in fact, female, “is great.”
“Great! Good! Tell me more!” I need Evan to know I’m excited for him, but I try to play it as I’m not making a big deal. Because it’s not a big deal, right? No, it’s not.
“She’s a law student.” I wonder if she’s younger than me and if she wears her hair down.
I ask more relevant questions but I’m not really listening to the answers. If I just nod in all the right places and laugh when Evan’s being funny, he’ll think I want to know.
I wasn’t really listening to Evan, and he knew it. He knew it the moment when he told me his new girlfriend had bludgeoned three kids to death, and he knew it even more the next moment when I said “mhmm, that’s nice.” And then he blew up.
“I just can’t BELIEVE that I waste SO MUCH TIME listening to you about your stupid dates and you can’t take FIVE MINUTES out of your day to even CARE about what’s going on in MY life!” I check my watch and it’s been twelve minutes since he told me about her, twelve minutes since we passed the place that had the swings where he used to push me.
“It’s all about YOU, it’s always been about you and what YOU want, no, don’t worry about Evan, he’ll be around, he’ll be your roommate, he’ll be your best friend, he’ll be your back-up.” He stopped cold. “Listen…. this just isn’t working. I’d better go.”
The next morning my coffee timer thunked, and the paper was outside my door, and my shower knobs scorched my fingers, and it took me exactly twenty-three minutes to get to work. Just like yesterday.
Evan wasn’t in his office when I got there, or fifty seconds later, when I checked. Or three minutes after that. Everyone was asking me where he was. Bob, Leslie, and Janey, the office gab.
“Hey where’s Evan?” said Marc, the newest and youngest Crime Beat reporter. The fiftieth time that morning, or so it seemed. I was tired of telling people I didn’t know where he was, and even more tired of people assuming I’d know. Why would I know? I wasn’t his keeper, I wasn’t his girlfriend.
“Marc,” I said oversweetly, as if I was speaking to a five year old, “He’s not here. Why don’t you go do your work, and let me do mine?” I’d never speak like this normally, and he, normally dumbfounded, started to get the face of a puppy who has just been disciplined. After that no one asked, and I wanted them to.
I started bringing up his name in our Thursday morning meeting. “Evan says that the death count in Luke County is higher than that of Romer County.” “Have you heard about the Graphic Design position opening? Evan said you’d make a good candidate.” It was word vomit and I couldn’t stop it. Everything reminded me of Evan and I only wanted to talk about him. I didn’t meet my deadlines.
I’d walked home without Evan before. There was the time he had the flu and couldn’t come into work, there was when he visited his mom in the hospital last year, there was the day he played hooky because he hadn’t finished a story, and there was today. I walked by our place, now with a plastic sign advertising a construction company. And I sat in the dirt where our bridge used to be, and I cried.
I didn’t wipe my tears and I didn’t care, and my blue button-down blouse now had dark spots, and it looked like Evan. Rationally, I knew it wasn’t him. Rationally, I knew it didn’t even look like him, but I spoke to him anyway.
“Evan, what is it? I know that something’s wrong, and I know I’m an idiot, but we’ve never fought before. If I fight with someone it’s you I want to talk to, and now I can’t. I can’t! Please come home so I can talk to you. I miss you. I miss you so much. I…”
I loved him. Not like a brother, not like a friend. I was romantically, enchantingly in love with Evan Brewer. I didn’t mean to be, but I was.
A brilliant fictional character once told me that when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start right away.
I called Evan that evening, and he didn’t answer. My former self would have waited for him to call back, but my former self didn’t know what she had to lose, if she waited. I knew now that I had Evan to lose.
And so I called again, and when he didn’t answer again, I e-mailed. I messaged him in every form of online communication I knew, and I drove to every one of his friend’s houses looking for his car. I figured he was staying with her. If only I had listened, I’d know who “her” was, and you can bet I’d have shown up there too. I needed to talk to him.
In one final desperate plea I left him a phone message asking him to meet me, in our place, the next day at 7 p.m.
At 6:15 I showed up, and I waited. I wondered if I had remembered to say 7 p.m. I wanted to make sure I said where. I wanted to call and know if he was coming.
At 6:30, I started to worry. What if he didn’t return my feelings? What if I was too late?
At 6:45, I was sweating.
At 7:03, he arrived. I broke into a nervous grin. My hands were clammy and my glasses slid on my nose. I walked up to him.
“How are you?”
I was breathing heavily. I was scared to use real words, scared to start, scared to pour out my heart. I didn’t know if people got more than one chance to do this. In the movies, it’s just the once.
“Evan… I miss you. I miss you and I love you. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I’m so sorry it took me so long to realize, I’m sorry that I was so wrapped up in myself that I didn’t even realize how much I loved you. I love you. I love you.”
“I… you… the,” he stuttered. “Thing is, I’m seeing someone.”
“I know… I know you are. I was just hoping… since it’s me… it’s me and it’s you… isn’t this how it is supposed to work? Aren’t we supposed to live happily ever after now?”
“Thing is… I can’t. I can’t do it. I’m in love with someone else. You had your chance. You had all your chances. I can’t.”
I was hyperventilating and I couldn’t help it.
“You’re… joking? With me? Now? I love you!” It was real to me and it was important. It wasn’t about knowing that he knew and it wasn’t about me wanting to make sure he was happy. It was me, needing him, wanting my life with him.
“I can’t. I’ll always love you, but I can’t. Not now, and not ever.” Evan sighed and took my hand, and we sat in the dirt together. A bit of hope crept up my arm, and then he took that hope away again. “I just can’t. You should go home and get some sleep. I’ll see you at work, okay? You be good.”
At that moment I started crying, and loudly. He started walking away. I didn’t know what the next step was and I wondered who was going to get the plastic daisies. I didn’t know, but I had to know. And the silverware? Who gets the silverware?
“Evan” I called, “Evan!” He turned around with sadness on his face, and I asked, “who keeps the silverware?”