sweet jane

It had been years. But there she was. My memories did not fail me; it was time that had changed her face. She had hardened, evolved into a jadedness I now related to. Her words that had once been so pronounced and deliberate flowed into each other into a sort of naked, almost obscene dance. She would never take back anything she said. She meant it all.

And I would be lying to say that I didn’t still love her. But the love was buried within me, like it was with Gina. Perhaps I loved the idea of her, the memory of her.

She lifted her frothy mug of beer and gave me a cheesy grin. “Cheers!” she said, with a lightheartedness I didn’t quite remember. We clinked glasses and sipped.

What I remembered most about her were her terribly sad eyes. They would only come alive when I showed her affection, when I would forgive her for something nasty she had done. I didn’t know how to describe them now. Unforgiving maybe.

She once was very weak and fragile, full of undeniably female emotion and lack of control thereof. That had all changed. We had barely spoken a handful of words but I read her, like I read many.

I looked at her hands. I remembered them pale, with medium length nails, always painted. Her fingernails were now short and unpainted, but still shiny. I didn’t know why I was analyzing her so; there were so many questions I could ask.

But it had been years. There had been much bad blood between us at the end, and I didn’t know what questions I could ask or should ask. The last time, she had stormed out of the park, and the last thing I saw was her back, frosted by a reddish choppy a-line haircut, getting on the bus, not looking back for the world.

I hated her then. I hated her tiny vial of white powder, how she would utilize her nails to ‘dabble in an old favorite.’ How she became so wrapped up in sex it was all she would talk about. How she would insist on some form of inebriation every rare occasion we would spend time together, how she would hail cabs at two in the morning just to get her fix.

They called her my girlfriend. It wasn’t quite so.

If it was possible to feel somewhat comfortable in a classroom, this was where you would. It spoke whispers of college and the décor that came with it—a Joy Division poster on the wall, a worn-out couch in the back of the class, a large cardboard cut-out of Einstein’s face with his tongue out.

English class, in high school, was usually a joke, a chance to read a novel or two you never cared about and would never read again. This class was different. For some reason, the teacher had a clue about what kids wanted to read, which was peculiar, because it seemed he was far from one himself. He even managed to make it interesting.

Jane was sitting on the couch, as usual. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about her. Her large crooked nose was buried in a dark hardback book with several hundred yellowed pages. My friends and I made fun of her from time to time because she barely spoke, and when she did grace us with her verbosity, she would make abstract comments using big words that perhaps half the class had heard (myself being in the half that had, of course), and that the whole class would snicker at.

Not only that, but everyday she wore Birkenstocks. Not that there’s anything explicitly wrong with Birkenstocks, mind you; but in high school, where kids are the cruelest and least accepting, with every outfit you could come up with, was pushing it.

I didn’t pay much attention to her, as she seemed to fit in with that beat-up couch in the back of the classroom, but on Halloween there had been no missing her.

She was wearing an official police uniform, badge, hat, the whole enchilada, with big black boots and a pig snout. I supposed she was trying to make some statement—types like that always seemed to need to make a statement, as I would soon find out later in high school and even more so in college.

Anyway, it was another thing for my friends and I to discuss in cupped palms. And it was all right, because she snickered when my girlfriends and I would get lectured in class, for coming it late, or not at all. I suppose it’s safe to assume we were evenly matched in our hatred.

Well, perhaps hate is a strong word. Distaste may suffice. Yes. We were evenly matched in our distaste.

As it turned out, she was not only in one, but two of my classes. Journalism was the other one. Journalism, in my high school, was an even bigger joke than English. If the class was lucky to get any papers out at all, then we did a good job and all got A’s. So you can imagine I was mighty surprised when kiss-ass honor society Jane strolled in with her schedule.

She sat all by herself, in the corner, which I had anticipated. Personally, I made small talk with a kid named Rex, a punk sophomore that made me laugh and had bright blue eyes and liberty spikes.

It seemed as the days passed on in that class, Jane’s seat strangely moved closer to my own. I knew she and Rex had a few mutual friends, although I struggled to understand how. I was convinced she was devising a plan to wrangle him away from me. Which wasn’t something I was about to let happen.

One day I was telling a story about my weekend and all the humorous chaos that had ensued in my usual way, when I noticed her looking at me, laughing. It was a cackle that filled the room like smoke. I immediately stopped talking and looked around, attempting to assess the situation. Had I something on my face? Had something humorous happened in class that I had missed? Had I spat while speaking? I assumed the worst; after all, it was Jane that was laughing.

She stopped laughing and continued to look at me. I decided to continue looking at her as well for some clue as to what happened. Perhaps she would own up to her rudeness and I could resume my conversation.

But she just stared at me. Two hazel eyes, fixated on my own. She looked down and laughed again, this time quietly. Eventually she spoke. “You’re funny. I hadn’t thought you would be.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. Half-compliment, half-insult. I said nothing instead, and half-chuckled, if that makes sense.

She continued then; admitted she had been listening to our conversation (or rather, my end of it), and was surprised and embarrassed that she found herself laughing out loud. And although her explanation was lengthy, and for the most part, explained what happened, I was still at a loss when it came to words. I choked out “Thank you” and sought the words that would end my story. It was only when the conversation ended did she begin to talk to me again.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. She ended up talking more to me than Rex, surprisingly. She seemed to have similar taste in movies and music. She followed me to my locker that day after school.

“What are you doing now?” she asked, which once I would have taken as invasive, but for some unknown reason, I didn’t this time.

“Going home.”

“Where’s home?”

“Near the mall.”

”Can I come with you?”

I didn’t know what she was thinking for asking or what I was thinking for saying yes.

Turned out, she came over a lot, at least once or twice a week. She took to my family. She seemed to fit in just as I did. They loved having her, they loved the long weekends she would spend all her time there. We wrote together, shared our old stories and poems. We impressed each other, to both our surprise.

I found myself sitting closer to the beat-up couch in class, passing notes. She wrote me lengthy, interesting letters, ridden with confessions and wit, all in excellent penmanship.

My friends who had once assisted me in the shit-talking about her had begun to think I’d gone soft, or crazy, or both. They felt somewhat betrayed, or at least that’s what I felt when I would feel their eyes on me when we spoke together in the halls. I couldn’t say that I felt guilt by any means, however; in some small way, I felt closer to her than my friends, some of whom I had known for many years.

I had taken an afternoon job near the school, which made after-school visits unlikely. Instead, she walked me from school to work, occasionally stopping somewhere for lunch and more confessions. She called them lunch dates. It was then that I discovered more of the inner workings of Jane, the plethora of drugs she took in younger years, the abuse she’d endured with her stepfather, the strange familiarity she felt with me since her departure from her stepsister, the one person in the world she felt understood her in the midst of her chaos.

She was angry at the world. She was detached from most things and most people. I felt close to her. I hugged her, as we both would often cry, liberating ourselves and each other. In her arms I wondered if this was what love was. I had only imagined the word.

She began to dress differently, more feminine. The Birkenstocks were only now an occasional staple. She wore dresses and nail polish, on her fingers and toes. She wore more makeup. She smiled a lot more; that was the one thing I noticed the most.

In the midst of our evolving friendship, I began dating Johnny. She was very happy for me, and liked him very much, believed him to be worthy of me. We hung out as a group occasionally, and it seemed that he liked her, but thought her a little peculiar. I thought he might have been jealous because it was obvious she was a little possessive. She was always hugging me or holding onto my arm. She even kissed me on the cheek sometimes. I could tell he especially didn’t like that.

Time passed, and she grew irritated with my new boyfriend (now not so new anymore) being around all the time, eating away at my time with her. He would pick me up from school and take me home, and we hung out almost every day. She grew bitter and would say mean things occasionally, acting as if she didn’t even care about me at all anymore. When I went out of my way to see her, she would turn me down or flake on me, or pretend that she forgot all about it.

She took me in the bathroom one day and told me we weren’t good for each other. Now I didn’t know what exactly that had meant but she was trying to slither out of the friendship. We both laughed and cried at how odd the situation had turned. The fact of the matter was yes, she had gone a little crazy since my relationship became more involved, more exclusive, but no, for some reason I couldn’t let her go, no matter how much my friends disliked her, no matter how much the few friends she had disliked me, no matter how we would fight sometimes.

I was worried and ashamed. We made each other mixed tapes constantly, and shared the same bed during sleepovers. One night, a bottle of tequila deep, we found ourselves in our underclothes smoking cigars in her bathtub. Nobody knew how outlandish everything had evolved. Nobody knew we held hands. Nobody knew we experimented writing erotica together, how intense it all became. Nobody knew that her brother called us lesbians, and we would only laugh.

In my heart, I loved Johnny. It evolved naturally and made perfect sense. Jane and I, on the other hand, had evolved at lightning speed and were always panicked, urgent, dire. I loved her on multiple levels but I didn’t know if it meant the same thing. You say I love you to all your closest friends. It was difficult to determine what kind of love it was, and how deep it really ran.

I was doing a poor job trying to balance everything, that much I can admit. My friends were pissed that I was hardly around anymore, and when I spent time with Johnny, Jane would feel lonely and abandoned. When I would spend time with Jane, Johnny would become jealous, especially because he didn’t understand why we spent so much time alone together. So things changed.

She took a backseat to my boyfriend, as things had begun to really get serious in my relationship, and I thought I figured out that Jane was just my best friend. Nothing more. And that to encourage her would only cause more pain and resentment between us. I began to see other friends more, and she actually met someone herself, who she became quite enamored with. We would still write each other occasionally and hang out sometimes, but it was getting close to graduation and I was concerned about what would happen afterwards. Jane had plans on going away to an all-girls’ private school and I figured Johnny and I would go to community college in the fall until we figured out what we really wanted to do; we were evenly yoked in that respect.

In one of my last attempts to keep the peace, I asked her to walk with me for graduation, as we required partners. She denied me, claimed she had already promised someone else the privilege. It stung, but I accepted it, and walked with another close friend of mine, one I’d known since kindergarten. However, I couldn’t help but think she rejected my offer on purpose, out of spite, out of bitterness. I didn’t know how to handle the new situation. Nobody, including Johnny, had ever stimulated me mentally as she had. And I was about to lose that forever.

I tried to see her often in the summer, so we could somehow remain friends after she moved. But it was obvious she hadn’t planned on that. She was getting serious with her boyfriend as well, and she was all too happy to display that to me. She didn’t require my time anymore; she didn’t even desire it. What was worse was that I couldn’t really blame her.

I visited her on her birthday in July, brought her a Billie Holiday pillbox I had picked up in Los Angeles. She seemed grateful, and hugged me, but the distance between us was palpable. It was obvious she had edited the way she interacted with me, perhaps to wean herself, so she could move on and away without the baggage we had collected together, thrown in a huge heaping pile.

A few years passed and she came back to go to school here. This was when she came out of the closet, when she started cutting hair and doing drugs again. And I would see her, but it felt like more than just a few years had passed between us. We didn’t really relate at all anymore. Our interactions felt very deliberate, our friendship felt faked. When we did finally sleep together, it felt like a grudge fuck for the both of us.

She was on a quest to save the world and I was the impoverished student, writer, barfly. She was going to Africa and I was lucky to pay my bills. And that day in the park, I said something that rubbed her the wrong way and off she was.

That was four years ago.

Today I told her what I didn’t have the strength to then.

“We really should have dated in high school.”

Her eyes widened, and she raised her glass to take a large gulp. “But you’re straight.”

Perhaps I was, perhaps she could tell back then. The beer went down easily and soon the conversation did too. She admitted that she had loved me, but things had really changed. This woman was not the girl I had fallen in love with, nor was she the drug addict I had let try to convince me I was still in love.

She was a stranger. We spent the afternoon being self-consumed, talking about ourselves. It was nice getting to know her; it was like making a new friend.

And after losing Gina, after further examining the depth of my loss, what I really needed was a friend.


2 Responses to “sweet jane”

  1. April 15, 2008 at 10:37 am

    I feel so selfish. So nosey. I read and read, usually my eyes gain speed as the words are perused. I consume your posts eagerly, like an addict. But it’s someone’s life, not just words on a page. I’m sorry I’m a dick like that.

  2. 2 B-Town
    May 7, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Who the heck is Rex?

    If I wasn’t drunk, I might resent being misconstrued.

    ❤ B

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