The 3rd installment in Mrs.Johnson's Home for Broken Boys.
High school was over. How did this happen? I was standing there on the school’s front lawn, hugging and kissing and crying with all of my friends, our graduation caps randomly tossed into the air, and suddenly time just stood still for a moment. I remember gazing up into the air, watching those caps and thinking how they were a representation of our individual futures. Where would we land? Would someone be there to catch us? Would we have a hard or soft landing? I closed my eyes just for a second to listen to the music of my friends’ laughter, knowing somehow this was never going to happen again, at least not with all of us here.
Promises were made (“We’ll never lose touch! We’ll still cruise town. We’ll get together every home football game…”), and tears were wiped away on the backs of our blue polyester graduation gowns, and then one by one we pulled out of the school parking lot, most of them never to be seen in person again by me — the wild girl who just had to move away…big things were going to happen to me. The world was waiting; how could I stay in this tiny cow town? I took one last glance at my high school and wouldn’t see it again for 20 years…
I had moved to the city right after high school. I needed excitement, busy-ness, adrenaline. I was unprepared for how much work it was to cause those things to actually happen. I had to get this job thing while all of my friends had gone to college full-time, and I was going at night and working during the day to support myself. I was becoming so stressed and yet simultaneously bored. The work was rote key entries and data collection, just about the most mind-numbing thing a creative type like me could do.
I was about to quit when my boss said, “There’s a new guy coming to the store this morning. I may need you to show him around our department.” Still uninterested — expecting some middle-aged man with a comb over and a beer belly who wore black socks with sandals — I said, “Sure, no problem.” A minute later, across the parking lot and into my life, walked a tall, dark, and handsome man who would change the course of my life forever.
“Hi, I’m Randy Brown. I’m looking for someone named ‘Julie.’” Blinking and about to choke on my own surprise, I said, “I’m Julie,” but my voice shot up high so that I sounded like someone had just goosed me when I said my actual name. Randy stifled a chuckle and looked at me with these big brown eyes, and I was kind of hooked. He wasn’t from around here, that was for sure.
I gave Randy the tour, and we talked a while, but the guy was aloof. He seemed lost in his own world of disinterest, something that I could totally relate to. And then he was gone, off to another department.
“Emma, what’s the story with the new guy?”
Emma: “Um, I don’t know, I think he’s from Taylorsville, some kind of college kid they’re grooming to run this place someday.”
Ah, it made perfect sense. He was a corporate townie. That’s why I picked up on the disinterest and aloofness. This wasn’t his real gig. But that sweater vest, that should have been the biggest give away. Country boys don’t wear sweater vests.
Still intrigued, I continued to semi-stalk him throughout the store, peering through the bread aisle shelves to see him flirting with the girl in the pharmacy. And then I saw him flirting with the manager of the deli and the packing girl of the meat department. Jeez, what kind of guy was this?
I quickly lost interest and went back to the accounting department and focused on my work. This Randy was too “randy” for me.
“Hey, excuse me, um, Julie?”
Randy Boy was tapping on my desk window. I kept my head down and feigned boredom while inside I was totally curious about what this bad boy wanted.
“Yes?” I asked while still staring at numbers and biting on my pen.
“Could you tell me the best way to get out of here?”
This was my moment.
“Honey, if I knew that do you think I’d still be sitting at this desk?” Then I looked up at him and smiled a sly little smile, and he smiled back. It was then that I knew he got me.
“Well, since I’m stuck here for the night then, would you like to go out to dinner?”
I didn’t say a word, but I grabbed my coat, and we headed out the door. I never went back to that job. This wild boy was causing me to do new things and discover new things about myself. And I loved it.
I’d always been responsible, the oldest child, and here I was quitting my job and taking more chances with Randy Brown than I ever thought I would. We spent the summer playing tennis and basketball and then going back to his house for make out sessions. He was five years older than me and had already graduated college. I was in my freshman year and still a virgin. He didn’t know this. (I have a need for privacy that is usually a good thing but can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.)
He introduced me to wine and paddle-boating. He took me to fancy plays and concerts. We took trips to the mountains for hiking and antiquing. We even went to reunions together and looked at new places to live. We got stranded in a state park after one hiking adventure late at night, and he kept calm while I freaked out. He even ate an entire serving of my first lasagna, which was so awful I could see the pain on his face as he chewed. He didn’t want to disappoint me. This guy was a keeper!
One night, after months of getting to know each other, sharing our stories about a troubled childhood (we both had stepfathers that were at times threatening and mothers who were the strongest forces in the universe except when it came to those stepfathers), sharing our favorite literature (his was Lorrie Moore, mine was anything by Thoreau or W.H. Auden), and sharing our dreams, we decided to share each other. I don’t want to say I “lost” my virginity because that would imply I didn’t mean to. No, I gave my virginity away, only he didn’t know it.
I pretended to be worldly, and it was okay. But Randy didn’t realize the impact that night had on me. Your “first” is special, memorable. While I was falling in love, he was slowly falling apart. It turned out that he too fiercely protected his private life. It would be over 15 years later before I’d find out exactly what it was he was protecting, though.
And then just like that, while we were playing tennis one day in the glorious summer sun, a tiny little girl pulled up and took Randy away from me. Only he really never was mine. He was no one’s man.
My first love was a player.
I was devastated. Why the roses at my new job? Why the nightly sex? Why the daily tennis and romantic dinners and deep conversations about the meaning of life and what my life plan was?
I rushed over to his house to “take my things.” It was then that I realized all I had at his house was a toothbrush. We’d always hung out at my place. Just then Randy came in the door behind me, and I lunged for him. I took everything on his kitchen table with me and began throwing it at his head, screaming “Liar!” over and over.
Randy just stood there and took it, blinking in this calm and eerie fashion that made me just want to punch him. I didn’t hit him, but I wanted to. He had punched my SOUL!
And then I stopped and composed myself and looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “Never call me again.” I walked out to my car and drove off into the night, which was of course now filled with a raging thunderstorm. Aren’t all life-changing painful moments accompanied by rain? And I drove and drove, barely able to see through tears and heaves, until I came to a familiar gas station and pulled in to numbly fill my car up.
A boy I kind of knew was there, watching me crying in the rain as I pumped gas. He asked me if I was alright, and I began sobbing. This boy I barely knew came over to me, put his arms around me, and gave me the hug I needed from my boyfriend. This virtual stranger looked at me with so much care in his eyes, the kind of care I needed from my boyfriend, and I just looked up at him and kissed him, right there in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven. He took me back to his apartment and just held me on his couch while I slept. I was so lost I didn’t even care what happened to me. And then in the morning I awoke, still in this boy’s arms on the couch, and I quietly crept out of his life and out of my own. As I drove home, I realized I was moving, far, far away from this town of no hope and broken promises. Randy Brown was the last straw. I had finally trusted a man with things I’d given to no one else, and he had treated my heart lightly, failed to cherish me. Randy Brown was so broken — in ways I didn’t even know yet — but he had managed to break me more than he was broken himself. I didn’t yet know how to save him; I was too busy trying to save myself. I became dizzy thinking about it all.
Suddenly I was back at my high school graduation in my mind. The cap I’d tossed into the air was my life: Where would I land? Would someone be there to catch me? Would I have a hard or soft landing?