Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ms. Direction

This girl I was seeing for a while asked me once if I was ever going to write about her. She was an elusive type, appearing and disappearing all the time. We’d talk on the phone, exchange text messages, or meet for drinks on occasion, and then she’d be completely unresponsive for a week or more. Drove me nuts. I kept trying to assert some direction for us, to move us toward something that more resembled dating. But every time, she sweetly dodged my suggestions. And every time, I let her. It was one of those situations where, looking back, you wonder why you ever thought that would change.

In the time I knew her, I was forever steering the conversation toward defining what we were really doing in spending time together. I wanted to reel her in somehow. So when she asked me if I was ever going to write about her, I said, “Well, if you play your cards right.” I thought that seemed cute and flirty, maybe a little bit provocative. It got the soft, appreciative laugh I’d hoped for. It even seemed to inspire another date, much to my surprise. After all the frustrating silences and delays, it seemed like we were finally moving toward something again.

But then we met and she broke the news about the guy she’d started seeing. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t me. Although for one sliver of a second as she started to tell me that she’d met someone she was really, really interested in, I believed it might be. But, no, it wasn’t me. It was he. I didn’t know or care who he was, actually. I’ve been on the losing end of my fair share of he’s. Doesn’t help to know how you stack up against the competition. By that time you’ve already lost.

I decided right then that I definitely wouldn’t write about her. I mean, why would I? If I did, and then she recognized herself later in my story, that’d just be to her satisfaction. She might get the impression that she was compelling enough, potent enough, to cut a guy loose and still have him wanting her. I couldn’t have that.

Also, if I wrote about her, she’d know that I’d been thinking about her. A lot. Enough to have built a story around her, to have written it, to have rewritten it, to have edited the thing a dozen times, and then to circulate it. That’s a lot of energy and attention to lavish on someone who just told you that they want someone other than you to lavish energy and attention on them.

It’d be obvious in the details I chose too. If I tried to disguise her identity, then I also gave some thought as to whether or not she would ever see the story. I’d have to consider her qualities in detail to decide what to change. Add a few inches to her petite figure? Disguise her cute, crooked smile? Switch her bay-blue eyes to sea green? Make her a brunette? A redhead? Cast her as less klutzy, a better driver, more punctual? No matter how I changed her appearance or mannerisms, it’d be obvious to her and to others that I’d turned this all over in my head for hours and hours. Not that it would surprise them.

At the end of that terminal date, we finished our sincere little hug goodbye and she dashed off to make plans with the new he. I didn’t know why I felt so stunned, because if I had written it all up as a story, that’s probably the way I would have ended things too. She’d let me go as gently as she knew how, and then she’d run toward her exciting, unknowable future. I’d have to let her play Muse to somebody else, somebody who at least got the benefit of her sweet but scattered attention.

I remembered that she’d told me more than once what a difficult person to date she was. I knew I shouldn’t have doubted her. My experience showed it to be true. And I knew from the little she told me about her previous relationships that a few other guys out there knew the same. But I’d heard that warning from others before her. It never works. I never really hear them until it’s too late. Love or infatuation or alarmingly strong attraction—whatever—is blind. And I guess it’s deaf too.

As I wandered off alone across the park and tried not to look back at her, I knew that if I wrote about her, I’d probably want to change a lot of details about what happened. I mean, how great did I look in the situation? We were a dozen years apart. Anybody reading a story that mentioned her being only a couple of years out of college could see what was coming. What other kind of foreshadowing would they need? A young woman facing endless life choices? Meeting new people her own age all the time? Taking endless care of her appearance to present the slimmest, prettiest package to the world? It was only a question of time before she found someone as confused, excited, and appealing as she was. I wouldn’t even know how to start writing a story like that without my character looking foolish and deluded. Probably better not to try.