Sometimes I wish I weren’t such a prick. Yeah, I know; I’m not blind—I know exactly what I am. Once upon a time, I gawked at people like me, back when I hung out with the band geeks. Somewhere along the line I found out about culture shock, and popularity, and biker bars, and it changed the way I interpreted life. Sitting here with Rachel along the side of the road eleven miles from home, watching her cry, really makes me wish I could return to the band geek days, look for that poor little kid who assumed he was cool when he really wasn’t, lock him up in a closet for the next ten years, and let him out only when he figures out how to treat a woman right. Maybe that kid would’ve put a smile on this girl’s face.
No introspection in the world will give me the power to time travel, though. This is my reality now. I’d forgotten how to be that kid.
It’s funny, really; funny how things work. I grew up without any major conflicts weighing me down, yet I still took this road. Some relational scholars would call me an idiot, a moron, a retard, a dimwit, or a crackhead. I know the empty spot on the road where our Jet Skis should be would prove all of that. It’s no secret that I’m brain-damaged. I mean, for gosh sakes, how did I lose our Jet Skis? Most guys don’t sit around expecting good things to come to an unlocked SUV with its keys in the ignition. Some guys don’t veer off into a gas station just to avoid answering his ex-girlfriend’s questions. Yet I managed to do both. And yet this girl can still find an excuse to sit by me. Is she an idiot, too?
Sure, the redness in her face reveals those discernible shades of anger, but I suppose the tears helped in her discoloration, so I’m still the moron. All she wanted was to give me a chance. After all the hassles she had with other guys, including some dude who was already married, she really wasn’t in the mood to talk that day all those months ago. But I had to be curious about that love machine of hers—the Jet Ski for those with short-term memories—and find out all I could about it. So I was the moron back then, too. I still had Abby and our silent nights on the couch in front of the television, but that day at the park gave me the chance to have a new life of excitement and a decent girl to enjoy it with. And the girl loved me. Abby never said “love” the entire time I knew her. Rachel, on the other hand, said it and probably meant it. These were the things that the band geek kid in me had once dreamed about all those years ago.
Deep down, however, hearing those words triggered a feeling too intense to handle, and it helped me sabotage Rachel’s chances at happiness. Therefore, those relational scholars would’ve made an accurate assumption about me.
I actually remember the first night she said it. We were driving home from the lake, as one might expect, when she asked me to stop along the side of the road. I can’t tell from the lack of landmarks, but I think it was close to the spot where we’re sitting now. There was an exposed stretch of road that ran through an expansive parched field, with a few foothills in the distance and a small block of woods far behind us. As the sun neared the horizon, and the mosquitoes made their way into the rift of our spatial circumference, the crickets chirped and the breeze that blew through the area faded.
There wasn’t any reason for us to stop other than to talk face to face. And Rachel knew I was uncomfortable talking to any woman face to face, but she asked me to pull off to the side anyway. And sure enough, she wanted to talk face to face.
When she opened the door and stepped onto the grass, I assumed I was off the hook. I figured she just needed to take a leak and wanted me to stop so she could get out and dig a hole. But then I remembered that girls don’t pee on the side of roads like guys do and that Rachel wasn’t so well-disposed around me, so I was confused.
She stood silently by the open door for a good twenty seconds before walking around to the front and leaning against the hood. I remained seated for a few minutes before getting out to see what in the world she was doing—I thought maybe she was reflecting on the recreational day we had. She took my hand and smiled when I leaned up next to her.
And that’s when she said it—the word love—to me. The very first time. Yeah, she said it a bunch of times since, but that was the first.
I released her hand and returned to my seat. That was the moment that changed everything. And all the stinking mosquitoes were biting me.
I’d say that at least two months passed before I made my big snap at her. Maybe three. To be honest, once those words started leaving her loose lips, all my days started blending together. It was grating on my nerves—not because I disliked her, but because I wasn’t ready to accept her feelings. My true ambition was to have fun zipping across the water. And I thought that’s all she wanted, too. She had been in one bad relationship after the next for at least two years; I figured the last thing she wanted was to stick herself in another one. So I had no desire to bring our relationship closer than what our Jet Skis allowed. To even mention the word love would’ve only complicated such contentment, becoming dangerous for both of us.
She broke our unwritten boundary when she brought it up. And then she continued to break it when she started sneaking me kisses and such. Although the kisses were within reason, because who really hates being kissed by a pretty girl, everything else spelling love and romance and deep relationship with her just seemed like too much.
I arrived at the point where I couldn’t handle the direction she was steering us. The last thing I wanted was to cause more relational tears, so I forced myself to hate her, just so I would be the one to break up and spare her the agony of going through the same crap that she’d gone through with everyone else. I didn’t want our days of jet-skiing to take the road of sacrifice, but our dating relationship had to end.
Of course, that ultimately introduced us to a new set of problems. Our casual dating fights escalated into ex-boyfriend/girlfriend flame wars. When those transformed into insult matches, I could no longer stand the idea of being anywhere in the same proximity with her—except for those times when we were on the lake.
Eminent disaster fell at last.
And yet here we are staring at the fields, sitting side by side, waiting for a passerby to notice us, wondering what to say to each other should no one mount our rescue. It’s painfully obvious that I’m the one to blame for our stranded state. And though I’m sure I could fabricate some excuse about how it’s really all Rachel’s fault, I just don’t feel like it anymore. I suppose that’s a step forward.