This is how it starts. You’re in Ballet II, and you’re watching this beautiful chick leap across the floor. She catches you staring, and so you say something witty, like “I’ve been doing that since I was five.” She flashes you a razor-quick smile, says “I knew you were gay,” and like that you’ve started the magical, effortless conversation that will carry on after you’ve made an ass of your self trying to beat her across the floor, after you’ve taken her to the classy subway for lunch to make up for being an ass in class (and paid for her footlong, hey-o!), after you’ve kissed on the SK porch, basking in the glow of the crusty yellow light bulb, freshly smoked pot, and packs of Keystone Light, after you’re lying between her warm, naked thighs, still marveling at the glory how perfectly her lips softly crumple beneath yours, and how the flash in her smile never seems to leave her eyes.

You take her out to Applebee’s for the second date, and your stomach gurgles like the swamp in every classic horror film as you straighten your tie in the mirror and brainstorm topics that will hopefully keep her thinking that you are charming, you are witty, you are creative, all those things that accidentally happened in ballet but you know from experience will never happen again. You’re just not that guy, the one that has every topic stored in his bulging muscle-brain, the guy that you can watch as he flexes his mind, unwinds the rolodex and charms every woman by having something to say on everything (Nick, I’m looking at you).

But it’s there. You pick her promptly at 7:15 (you were parked down the block at 7, still brainstorming, still on the verge of shitting yourself), and as she steps out her olive skin blazes in the fading sun, her eyes are wells of dark mystery that you feel your soul tripping into, and you say the first thing that comes to mind, “God, I’m not ready for this.” She instantly laughs, a full laugh from her stomach, no holds barred, her smile lights up her face even brighter, and your soul falls further deeper into her twin wells, and like that the conversation is rolling. You’ve forgotten every topic that you whispered to yourself in the mirror, your swamp stomach has calmed to a placid pond, and you talk the whole night through, through Applebee’s, through Emack and Bolio’s ice cream, through the goodnight kiss through the car window, through the third date and the first month anniversary and the first year.  Though her deep wishing wells, even raging spells, the words are just there. The words are meaningless really, just a menial form of sound making through which you share so much more than you ever thought possible. Even the pauses, the silences, shared gazes or not, are filled with the magical discussion that you’ve never shared with anyone before, and you’re sure you won’t have to again. It’s just there.

This is how it ends.

You’ve been slowly losing your shit all day. Over a year later you’re stomach is the bubbling swamp again, and at any moment the Swamp Thing is going to rear its ugly head. You’re back in the mirror, no tie this time, but again having an urgent, whispered conversation with yourself about topics to discuss, topics that won’t stir…anything. Though you don’t know what is going on, your internal alarm has gone off, and you are determined to set it right when you talk again tonight. She is thousands of miles away, but you can feel the distress emanating in blood-red waves, and your magical conversation that has lived through thousands of hours, miles, and problems is feeling a little strange.

She calls, you pick up on the first ring, she utters a raspy, paper-thin “hey,” and your entire body clenches like electrical wire, because it understands way before your conscious mind that something is very wrong. In spite of the sudden pain, you lob some softies to her, “How was your day, did you look at that thing I sent you, do you want to have phone sex?” Oh how you’d love for her to say yes to the last one, because phone sex is a surprisingly intimate thing. You have to be creative with that shit, you have to know what they like in order to make it work, and you have to be able to articulate it in a way that is subtle and beautiful and engaging. So if she says yes, then whatever is stalling this art of conversation that we’ve practiced for over a year, whatever block this is that we are stumbling on in our race towards nirvana, it is not enough to derail us permanently. Its funny how, in that moment, you pray to the heavens with more urgency then you have ever given, pray that she says something like “I’m wearing the blue-lace boyshorts and black pumps, what do you want to do to me?”  But she doesn’t, and in that moment you can feel this invisible wall, a glass partition that has been erected between you and her. You don’t know how it got there, but you try to shatter it with heavier bricks, “Remember that time we…I should come visit when….”…………

But nothing works, this is FBI interrogation room glass, this glass protects the President when he drives, this glass deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for stoically separating the opposition, and you have no fucking clue how this glass got there.  Your art for conversation, that magic that zipped between you two has been savagely severed, and you can clearly see now that instead of talking, instead of reciprocating her hands are pressed up against the glass, supporting the severance.

And in this moment, you would give anything to not have begged for this conversation.

In 8th grade I somehow started dating a girl who never should have said yes to me.  She was pretty, smart, huge boobs, and was on her way up in the middle school social ladder, while I was sitting near the bottom, nursing my acne, hoodies, and skateboarding shoes.  But maybe I caught her off-guard, maybe my bare soul was too much for her 8th grade self to crush, or maybe my hair actually looked good that day, but when I saw in the hallway and said, “Hey, will you be my girlfriend?”, she said yes. I hugged her, walked away, and then cowered in terror in the bathroom because I had no idea what the next step was. After two weeks of awkwardly talking, hugging, and a kiss or two, I signed on to AOL and so did she. I said, “Wat up?”, and she said “Nm but I think we should br8k ^”. I cried for days, and all I could think about was, what would have happened had I not signed on? Had I not given her an easy opportunity to back out, or given her an extra night to think about it?

Now sitting here, on the phone, glass wall in your face being propped up by who you hoped was your other half, that effortless conversationalist, you just wish you could hang up. Because she hasn’t said it yet, and if you stop the conversation, maybe she’ll ruminate and reconsider.  What if you just hadn’t answered the phone today?  But the Swamp Thing has fully emerged, your mind has caught up with your self-steeled body and you know that the magic is gone, and the conversation is about to be over. Your body is lead, your mind is mush, and you know that it is going to be a while before you can manage to crawl out of this well.

“I’m sorry.”

Published by Neil Stratman

I'm an actor currently based in Chicago. Woot.

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