Hey man. Remember that post-breakup apology letter you told me you wrote for that girl? I’ve been thinking about doing something like that, but instead of apologizing to the girl, I’m going to ask her for an apology.
You remember her, she was the one I brought to your reading at the park at the end of spring break. Everything was going really good—that sort of good where I didn’t wait to tell my parents about her. I planned ahead when I could see her. And when I opened the email she sent me at 3:33AM, the morning after your reading, I expected anything other than Hey, I hope you don’t think I’m an awful person for doing this via email...
I’m writing now because I don’t really want to talk but I also need to tell someone what happened. Plus, the plans I’m making might eventually mean that I need bail money. That’s what the cashier’s check is all about.
So. I picked her up at her apartment that Sunday—we were driving to your reading and she was wearing this translucent top and these tight black jeans that looked like they were painted on that I never got a chance to take off, and she was telling me how much she liked Murakami’s Norwegian Wood; while I told her I had just finished his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and I realized how much I liked that she was someone who liked books, and that she was someone I could take to a reading. Man, it was such a beautiful day, the kind of beautiful sunny Florida day where I could take my girl and walk around Lake Lilly and watch the kids throw breadcrumbs to swans at the farmer’s market and I couldn’t think of anything other than being so glad to be there, holding her hand.
At the reading, when I introduced her to you to as my girlfriend, that was the first time. I hadn’t called her “my girlfriend” before, though if she’d given me a B and a forward slash and an F, I would’ve slapped them to my forehead. Maybe that was what did it—too fast, too soon?
Anyway. I brain-married her when you read from your story “From Very High Up”:
You want to live a long life with this girl that you love, the one who worries, and grow old with her and get a house in the suburbs with an orange tree in the back, and work some throwaway job during the week and eat oranges straight from the branch and have sex and lie in bed with her for hours and hours on the weekends.
Then, on the way back to her apartment, I asked her what she was doing later on in the week, because I was curious to know when I could see her again. And she told me that she was performing the Vagina Monologues in a few days and was expected to wear lingerie. I would have liked to see her in lingerie. But then she said that her part of the performance was about rape. I didn’t know what to say. Still I asked her, Do you want me to come? She said I could come if I wanted to, like she didn’t care either way.
I can’t believe she kissed me before getting out of my car when I dropped her off that afternoon. Not because we hadn’t kissed—that Saturday at the beginning of spring break, the first time I came over to her apartment, she straddled me in her bed, and I remember thinking, She’s a freakin’ sophomore! But now I can’t believe she kissed me (twice, by the way) before getting out of the car, because it seems like she must have had some idea that she was going to e-mail me her breakup in the middle of the night.
After making out with her like that in the car, of course I went ahead and sent her an e-mail that evening letting her know I was going to another reading on Wednesday, and no pressure, but she could come if she wanted to and also since she said she didn’t mind if I came to the Monologues then I’d like to go; and on that note, if anything, I wanted to hang out with her on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, because I really liked seeing her.
So, when I saw her e-mail Monday morning, I expected anything other than:
You didn't do anything, but school and other stuff is kind of overwhelming me, and I just need to focus on other things. I like you, but I'm not really in a great position to date right now.
On our first official date, I almost didn’t show her my cards. We grabbed a slice of pizza at Lazy Moon. (It’s ironic that I’m working there now. I think of her every shift. But she’s never come in.) She told me about growing up Catholic and how during confirmation her parents claimed they were atheists and I could’ve kept this next part to myself, but I didn’t—I told her the reason I lived overseas as a kid was my parents were missionaries and they still work for Campus Crusade for Christ and they are evangelicals that bow their heads and bless every meal with the name of Jesus. And the Parmesan on top of that slice of my life is that I, too, am a believer—a just-returned prodigal son who doesn’t quite know for sure, except I know that there is more than this.
What made me think me and her could work was that she didn’t poker face. Her body language said, Alright, let’s do this.
And then that Saturday before spring break when I went over to her apartment and made her impossible broccoli pie—which wasn’t impossible or pie, but more like a cheese quiche, which we ate on her coffee table—I found out so much about her that I should’ve been overwhelmed. This is what I committed to memory:
- She loves onions
- Her favorite movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- She has perfect pitch
- She hosted a TV news program in high school
- She’s got very ticklish feet
- She actually has curly hair that she straightens every morning
- She’s got the Latin aphorism from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale nolite te bastardes carborundorum [Don’t let the bastards grind you down] tattooed underneath her left breast
- She bites her nails to the cuticles
- She was C-sectioned out, because her umbilical cord noosed around her neck during birth
- She wants to keep her last name when she gets married (which is cool with me)
- She kisses without tongue, but with lots of lip biting
After making out well past midnight I fell asleep next to her on her bed, and woke up as she pulled a blanket over us. I had to say, No, I need to go home. It was innocent, but I didn’t want to answer questions in the morning from my folks. (That’s another thing I liked about her: she didn’t seem think I was some loser because, as a college senior, I’m living at home.) It was 2:27 AM when I opened the door to my parents’ house. My dad was sitting in the glow of the living room’s lamp, in an armchair. He looked like a public access TV host. He said he was glad I was home and that he hoped I’d had a good time.
A couple of days later, I made a spring break trip to St. Pete to see my buddy Dan and his girlfriend Lauren who had just had their baby boy Daniel. Also, I knew my girl would be down there, too, visiting her family—and I wanted to see her again.
When Dan told me their baby cried on an 11PM to 4AM schedule, I txted my girl to see if I could stay with her at her parents’ house a few miles away. I knew it was a lot to ask and borderline intruding. But she txted that it wasn’t a big deal, except that her sister’s friend was already spending the night and her folks thought their house would be too packed. I wondered if she had really asked them or if she just made that up. But now, when I think about it, I’m pretty sure that she did want me there. I compromised and asked her to go out to eat with me, and Dan and Lauren. I wanted to know what they (my “couple friends”) thought of us as a couple.
At the restaurant, while Dan and I caught up, I was glad she and Lauren hit it off talking about the documentary The Business of Being Born. And the whole time, Daniel slept nuzzling next to Lauren’s thigh in his carseat. Dan and I paused to listen to them—the women in our lives. I put my arm up and over my girl’s shoulder, pulling her closer. Lauren said she hoped we would stay together (I don’t know if that was a prediction of the end), because our story was something special, something to keep. I thought how, years from then, we might need a bigger table for a whole mess of kids and I would tell them about throwing a piece of mulch at my girl’s window all High Fidelity-like, minus the boombox.
Our story is the story of how I went back for her. Here’s how it happened:
The first time we went out, it wasn’t really a date—she’s an intern at the place I was working at the time, and it was just a grab-a-drink-after-work thing. Afterward, I took her home and let the car idle in her apartment complex’s parking lot while I told her how I used to run the nearby trail. I told her about racing another runner who I thought of as my nemesis, and she laughed. I loved that she would just listen to me and laugh like that. The car quieted. She said, “Well...” then got out, closed the passenger door, walked away.
Shit, I thought, That was it! I was supposed to ask her out in that pause. As I drove away, something in my mind stirred up.
You’re just going to regret it.
But there’ll be other chances.
No. You’ll be sort-of-something, but not; then ‘just friends’; and finally nothing.
I don’t want that.
I got out of the car and stood in her apartment complex’s parking lot, not knowing where to go or what to do. I was about to turn back when a window on the building’s top floor lit up. And in the corner, in wooden blocked letters, were her initials. With my arms up and my face to the sky, I mouthed the words “Thank you” to God or whatever. I figured there’d be stairs on the other side of the building. When I got there, there were no stairs and there was no intercom and no doorbell, only a locked door. I walked back to my car again.
If you leave now, it’ll be worse.
Come on, there’s no way up to her.
She’ll see your car right in front of her window.
What am I supposed to do?
Get her attention.
Before I knew what I was doing, I bent down and picked up a piece of mulch and threw it at her window. It was a perfect shot, a direct hit. But nothing happened.
Again! I promised myself that I would throw as much mulch as it took.
So I bent over to get another piece of mulch and heard a quick sliding and then, “Hey!” I looked up and there she was, leaning out her opened window. Hey, I said back and dropped the mulch. I said, I know this is crazy.
“I’ll come down,” she said, and closed her window.
I stayed, even though I wanted to run, because I repeated to myself Wait, wait, wait.
And when she appeared around the corner I said, “I’d like to go out with you.”
She paused, considering it all, and then said, “As long as it’s not too intense.”
After our meal with Dan and Lauren was over, my girl told me she was going to see her grandma, even though I had suggested that we walk on the beach. Instead of leaving town as I had planned, to avoid rush hour, I waited for her. I sat down at a bookstore to read Jonathan Franzen’s essay collection How to Be Alone. I couldn’t really get into it. So I filled up at a gas station before the interstate. As I put my key in the ignition, my girl txted me. She didn’t have to go to her grandma’s. She was going to the beach. It was as if she knew I was still close.
I want an apology. But I want to thank her, too, for standing on the shore with me, our toes pointed toward St. Pete Beach while looking down at the ice-cube–cold waves rushing over our feet, sinking us deeper into the smooth white sand.
After St. Pete Beach, I could’ve just dropped her off at her parents’ house and left. But I wanted to meet her folks. So I followed her inside.
Her mom was in the kitchen wearing tights and a polyester shirt. I liked talking to her about my love of running. I knew I could always talk about that. Her mom told me she had run a few races and I said I didn’t pay to play. That made her laugh. I already planned the next time that I was there I would ask her mom how she was doing with her mileage.
As her dad walked to the garage to ride his motorcycle off to his nightshift at the post office, I said to him, Shiny side up, the way I used to salute my friends when I rode. When I shook her dad’s hand I wanted to say, I will respect your daughter. I think he got it, because he gave me that acknowledging fatherly nod.
Before I left my girl’s house I turned to her mom and said, I hope to see you again. I guess I wasn’t sure. It was the same hope of staying together that Lauren had said earlier.
In her driveway, my girl pushed me against my car. Have a safe ride home, she said. She kissed me between each word like it needed punctuation. I drove 100+mph to get to her. But then and there I lingered in my driver’s seat, wanting to stay. I watched as she walked back inside her parents’ house and shut the door.
You were on the long list of friends I txted: So, she emails me that she thinks we shouldn’t date. WTF is wrong w/ me? Undateable?
Amongst all the txts it was yours that stood out: Nah, just lookin for the right person. You’ve got a lot goin for you, just gotta find one who knows a good thing when she sees it.
But I don’t really think of relationships like that, as roulette. It’s not about luck, but commitment.
I txted her: Would u please meet up to talk to me about all this face-to-face today?
I drove over to her apartment, because I thought I deserved more than an e-mail. When I knocked on her door, her roommate let me in. The roommate turned around and led me to their living room. I didn’t know if the roommate knew about my girl’s e-mail. Regardless, she pointed me to my girl who was sleeping on a couch. I thought if she was so concerned about focusing on school then why was she skipping class and sleeping in the middle of the day? But I didn’t ask her that.
I considered waking her up with a kiss, but her roommate rocked her shoulders. My girl kept her eyes closed. I wondered if she was faking it, knowing I was there, not knowing what to do. Her roommate tried again, harder. And finally, my girl got up and faced me.
We went to her room to talk. I asked her what this was all about. That was her chance. I don’t do three strikes. I don’t like boomeranging a breakup. I don’t like to beg. When I have something, I hold it tight. I was there for her. That could’ve been her one crazy thing. Her one forgiven, forgotten, move-on mulligan. And she had the audacity to say her e-mail pretty much said it; and added that it was about time. I had no idea if she meant I was a “time suck” or if our relationship had run its course. I asked, Why? And she said she didn’t want to fight about it. I wanted to debate, draw a pro versus con chart, show her that we had something special. But I could see she wasn’t going to have it. So, I said, Fine, I’m leaving.
Sometimes in my life there are moments of coincidence that kick me in my balls. The day of her e-mail breakup, Cellpoems.org txted me Billy Collin’s poem “Divorce.” Not the one from Ballistics about silverware, but a new one ending with an image of a clinking chain.
This was my girl’s end to her breakup e-mail: But I really hope you don't hate me. I feel like we can be grownups about it. And you know what, I really can’t believe that she thought I wouldn’t be intense. I threw mulch at her window. Mulch!
Our story could’ve been in a toast at our wedding. It could’ve been told on our anniversaries. And because of that, despite everything, I still want her attention. That’s why I’m feeling the weight of a brick and thinking I can make a perfect shot to her window again. I want a new beginning—not closure, an opening. And barring that, an apology for making me do this.
When you told me about writing your apology letter, you said you wanted it to be published online in the hope that one day the girl would search for your name and find your letter, even if she couldn’t find you. You said you felt guilty about how the relationship ended, and you wanted her to know.
I like that I’m not the only person who would do something like that, like this. Doesn’t everyone have a letter to write? A window to stand by? A piece of mulch, or if that doesn’t work, a brick to throw?
So keep your phone on, throw away this letter, but keep the cashier’s check handy. Because I may need a friend soon.