The Call That Never Came

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My friend Cislyn gave me a first-time challenge: “Ferrett, will you write a guest entry for me for LJ Idol?”  According to the rules, she’s allowed one “Champion” to come in and write an entry conforming to a theme she hasn’t done.  And since I like Cislyn, and I’ve never participated in LJ Idol, I looked at her list of prompts and chose “The call that never came.”
You have to realize: she’s the only woman who knowingly broke my heart.
You could say it was only fair, because I broke her heart first.  I met Abigail when I was nineteen, and the world was so full of shallow and immature women, and Abigail was crazy-deep.  She read up on serial killers.  She wrote poetry by hand, which she kept in a velvet-bound book.  She rented art films from the Sono playhouse and played them late at night, having marathons of foreign film and obscure directors, and occasionally she even took the stage at her school plays.
I was so shallow, back then.  I’d read one book by Herman Hesse, but by God I could go on for hours about how it had transformed me.  I’d just started listening to Frank Zappa, but before I put the tape on, I’d tell people to hush – this was going to change their life.  And when they heard the music, I’d watch their faces intently in the hopes that it would go from mundane listening to goggle-eyed amazement, then a fawning gratitude as they realized the window I had just opened for them.
That never happened, but I kept acting like putting on the cassette tape was escorting someone into the Pope’s private chambers.
I stank of vinegar and water, immune to the stench of my own douchiness.  And I think I sensed a fellow bullshitter in Abigail, who I don’t think had watched nearly as many foreign films as she claimed, and she probably read up on serial killers only because she knew other people found it quirky and bizarre.
But together, we genuinely opened up each other’s worlds.  Maybe I’d only read one of Hesse’s books, but that was more than she’d read – and encouraged, she read both Siddartha and Steppenwolf.  So started an arms race, as I couldn’t admit to not having read Siddartha, so I crammed it in one night and then read the Glass Bead Game just to ensure I stayed ahead.  And together we played the “Oh, you haven’t seen that?” game, where we’d pretend astonishment that we hadn’t seen this obscure foreign film that nobody in their right minds would watch.
So, one experience at a time, we stepped away from being posers and became actually educated people.
But I was also dating another girl, her best friend, and after a while I felt I had to choose.  (I may not have had to; this was long before I heard of the idea of polyamory, and even though both were aware it felt like cheating.)  And I was too addicted to playing the white knight back then – because when I had to choose between the girl whose company I really enjoyed, and the girl who’d never dated before and needed me, I flung myself on Excalibur.  I didn’t ask “Which one would make me happier?” but rather “Which one needed me more?” – and I chose the neurotic one whose feelings would be most hurt by my abandonment.
Worse, I told Abigail that.  “It’s not you,” I said.  “It’s that it would break Alena’s heart for me to leave.  You’re stronger, you can get past that.”
Yeah, I was a fool.
So Abigail left, stung, and I dated Alena for another six months until it eventually fell apart in a tangle of mixed neuroses.  When it was done, the summer was nearly over, but I still missed Abigail.  And I missed our late-night cuddle sessions of watching Philip Glass films and cheap horror flicks, and I called…
…and she was available.
We dated for two weeks, in a flurry of intensity – seeing each other every night, knowing she’d go off to college soon, relishing every minute together because we loved each other and had re-found each other.  We drank coffee and discussed philosophers.  We exchanged poetry.  I fell stupidly in love.  I wondered why I’d ever dated Alena.  I told her I’d always be there for her.  I wondered how I could live without her when she went to college, but she promised she’d call every day and we’d be together for sure.
Then she left for college, and I didn’t hear from her for a week.
Oh, I called.  But she didn’t answer.  I called her parents to make sure I had the right number, and they answered with a strange exhaustion that yes, you had the right number.  So why wasn’t she getting back to me?
My friends told me this was common.  First week of college is hectic.  Some people get caught up.  She’ll probably get back to you.  But I curled into a ball, knowing something was wrong, a looming shadow I couldn’t quite make out.
Finally, I got a letter in the mail that I can’t tell you exactly what it said because I tore it up, but it was something like this:
“You should know that I’ve spent the last two weeks despising you.  You broke my heart when you chose Alena.  So I figured I would make you fall in love with me, and now you can know what it’s like to have your heart broken.  Nothing I’ve said to you is true, and I’ve already found another boyfriend here at Kent State.  So suffer.”
I got very drunk.  Very, very drunk.  And spent the next two weeks feeling like she’d kicked a hole in my heart.  And spent a month where none of my friends dared to say her name in my presences, because I’d go off on a long black rant about that decieving whore, and eventually it sorta healed.  But I was always furious at her for leading me on; it was hard enough for me to be happy.  Hard enough to trust.  She’d just hurt that considerably.
And, eventually, I recovered.
Three years passed.  Then the phone rang at two in the morning.
“I wasn’t sure if this was still your number,” she said, icy calm, still holding herself at a distance.  The distance she’d secretly had all along.
“So… Why are you calling?”
“Remember when you said you’d always be there for me?”
“I think I’m about to kill myself.  And you’re the last person I know who might talk me out of it.”
Well, that was a conversation starter.
I don’t remember what had driven her to suicidal thoughts so desperate that she’d call me, of all people, but I do remember there’d been some traditionally college-silly set of fights that had alienated many of her friends, and her parents were being dicks, and probably, I don’t know, her grades were shit too, why not?  All I remember was in that moment, I had a choice.
I could return hurt with hurt.  I didn’t think she was all that serious.  I’m pretty sure if I’d hung up the phone, she would have had a very bad night and maybe gotten blind drunk, and perhaps done something stupid, but she’d almost certainly have lived.
But I didn’t want to leave her alone.
So we talked for three hours, me doing my best to counsel her, asking all sorts of questions and explaining how she could dig her way out of this, and telling my signature bad jokes, and doing everything I could to make her feel human.
“You feel better?” I eventually asked.
“Yeah,” she said.  She didn’t feel great, but it was enough that she could get up the next morning and feel like there was some hope.  “You know we’re not friends.”
“I know,” I said.  “Call if you need to.”
“I love you,” she said.
“Love you too,” I said.  And those were the last words we ever spoke.
I don’t know where she is these days.  I’ve forgotten her last name, so I couldn’t Facebook her, and even if that was the case I don’t think it would actually work.  Maybe we’d be friends nowadays, maybe we wouldn’t, but I’ve got no way of staying in touch.  And if she was in trouble, that old phone number is long disconnected, and I go by a different first name, and how the hell would she find me?
Sometimes, though, I hope she’s okay.  And I wonder if my phone will ever ring again at two in the morning, with her twenty years on, needing me.
If she does, I’ll be there.  I could say that for a lot of people who no longer talk to me; I’ve made some odd promises in my time.
But especially her.  Always her.
(This story is 85% true.)

1 Comment

  1. TheFerrett
    Jul 24, 2012

    The 15% that is not true:
    The relationship with Alena was actually far better than discussed here, and if I’d truly chosen based on “who makes me happy” she would have been strongly in the running… but removing that bit of complexity makes for a more streamlined story.
    I am unsure whether “I love you” were the last words we spoke, though they were damn close to it.
    I’m making up the Steppenwolf stuff, since I don’t remember the exact douchey things we shared, but douchey things we did.
    And 8% truth lost just by my poor memory and time.

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