“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Memory Lane: Twenty Seconds

A few nights ago when I was just recovering from surgery and not on full-out Insane Germophobic Overprotective Mom Mode (which ends up with raw hands from cleaning and a LOT of laundry, among other things), I begged Joe to rent We Bought a Zoo. I don't know why, but this one caught me from the first trailer I ever saw. I don't even like Matt Damon all that much, and I'm not a big Scarlett fan, but I think there is a big part of me who is still a shiny-eyed, dreamy seventeen-year-old girl who believes buying a zoo would be magical. So I wanted to watch it.

It was a pretty good movie. I cried, but we'll blame that on the meds that hadn't yet worn off. There was one line I loved, where the father says to the son, "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." 

I loved the line, of course, and I loved where it took the movie. I sat there wondering, What have I ever done with twenty seconds of insane bravery? I've definitely done a lot of really stupid, unthinking things in even less than twenty seconds. They are the kind of moments that keep me awake at night, cringing at my own idiocy. But that is not the same thing. 

And then I remembered. 

Everyone knows that I met Joe and became his friend when we were only fourteen. Everyone knows that I loved him a blind, all-consuming, not-so-secret secret way. That we had dozens of tiny moments that all seemed to be leading us somewhere. That's our magical story, of course.

But of course, there was a time when I, being a pretty strong-minded, independent, and halfway intelligent person, got fed up. We had started college together, at the same college, and I saw Joe every day. We met for lunch often, hung out and watched movies in his dorm, and, one weird random time, went out for Chinese food. He paid, only adding to the bizarre ambiguity of our friendship. Our knuckles brushed when we both reached for the white rice at the same time. Crazy stuff like that. And then, one night, our friendship ended. Just like that. And I met someone else.

The most uncomfortable part was that Joe and I still saw each other all through college. Sometimes I would spot him coming down the long wide hall in Old Main, his eyes shiny and his keys a'janglin'. And I would duck into the ladies' room, waiting until I was sure he passed. Other times, he would deliberately seek me out in my favorite corners, like the basement of the library, all the way at the very last table in the back where no one ever went. I used to go there to read and write really bad poetry because I thought I was deep. Really, I was probably hiding from things far more meaningful than my poetry. Either way, sometimes I'd look up and Joe would be standing over me, a small smile on his face as he leaned in for an awkward hug and said, "Well, hey there, beautiful."

I hated the hugs and the endearment, at the same time as feeling some sense of relief that someone had found me there. He'd sit on the edge of my table, shaking his keys around, for as long as I'd let him. It was never long, because I was always too afraid of why he'd really come. Of having to be his friend again, and feeling that old familiar ache return every time he smiled into my eyes. I'd met someone else, and it wasn't okay to ache for Joe. It never really had been. You shouldn't spend time aching for people who only confuse you. Ugh.

But then, four years later, I needed Joe.

There's really no other way to say it. I had gotten myself into quite an extraordinary life mess. At least, it seemed like one to everyone who knew me. My mom, my sister, my dad...even my brother were at their wits' end trying to help. Help was good. But I also really, really missed my friend. A person who had known me well, loved me anyway, and had tried, against all my willpower, to stay my friend when I'd given up on him. So just when I'd almost given up on myself, I called Joe.

That's not the twenty seconds of bravery. It wasn't really that hard. I knew he'd talk to me.

The twenty seconds came later, on a cold winter night. We'd been outside, and our noses were still cold. Joe walked me to my apartment door to make sure I was safe. It's the sort of thing he does. I pulled my keys from my pocket and leaned up to hug him tightly. It had become a routine.

"You know," he said quietly into my hair, "I really am so glad you called me." I knew what he meant. Not only that we had reconnected, but that when I needed someone, it had been him I'd chosen as my person.

"Me, too," I said.

"I wish things were different right now," he said then, looking intensely at my face. But he always looked at me intensely. The old frustrations filled me. What did it mean?

But I wasn't seventeen anymore, and I was tired of wondering. So I asked.

"Why do you do that?" I said.

"What?" he asked, blinking, completely losing his moment of passionate/friendly intensity.

"Why do you look at me like that?" I swallowed, and forced myself to say it. "You look like you're going to kiss me."

"I don't," he said unconvincingly. 

"You do, too," I said. "I think you've always wanted to." His cheeks turned pink, but I was on a roll. "I think that deep down you always wanted to, and you were too scared to do it."

"Well," he began, and then hesitated. Clearly though, I wasn't letting him off the hook. "I did," he said finally. "I do. But I don't think this is the right time."

And that's when I had my my twenty seconds of bravery.

I didn't think. I didn't breathe. I reached for Joe Bielecki's great, big head, pulled him right up to my face, and said, "I. Don't. Care." And I kissed him with everything I had. Which after so many years, was a lot.

Twenty seconds of bravery, and all my dreams came true.

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