Run Away Fast (Dylan)
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that we’d crossed a line here, and I didn’t know how to go back. Both of us had more or less admitted that we still loved each other. Both of us were so screwed up I hardly knew what to think or say.
I went to class that day in a fog. On Tuesdays I take college algebra at nine a.m. I’m already struggling with it, to be honest. It drives me nuts, because it ought to be an easy A. I took calculus in high school for God’s sake, this was practically high school freshman stuff for me, and when I was in high school, I was really good at math. Now, sometimes I stare at the problems, and I can feel the headache building behind my eyes, and the formulas just swim in front of my eyes, letters and numbers everywhere, like they’re swimming around in a god damn whirlpool.
Three weeks into it, and I was already failing the class. And the thing is, I was on the GI Bill. I couldn’t afford to be failing classes. So I broke down that day, and at the end of class that day I walked to Professor Wheeler’s desk from my own in the front row and said, “Professor Wheeler, can we talk a minute?”
He looked up from his papers and said, “My office hours are Thursday’s at 10 am.”
“This won’t take but a couple minutes, sir.”
He frowned, deep creases forming in his face below his beard, and said, “What can I do for you, Mr. Paris.”
I took a deep breath, and said, “I’m failing your class.”
He nodded. “You are.”
“Listen, sir… I’m wondering… is there tutoring available that you know about?”
“Perhaps, Mr. Paris, algebra is simply beyond you. Have you considered taking ‘Math for Liberal Arts Majors’ or something similar?”
For a brief second I wanted to punch him, to wipe that smug smile off his face. He’d made no secret of his antipathy for soldiers since I’d walked into his class. I took a deep breath, and counted to ten, and then I laid it out. That math had been one of my real talents in high school. The bomb, and what it had done, scrambling my brain so I couldn’t remember things.
“Sir… I know you don’t like me. But … I’m asking you for help here. I’m doing everything I can to rebuild my life. I need to get this. Do you understand?”
He tugged at his beard with his thumb and forefinger, staring at me. Finally, he said, “I can put you in touch with a couple of tutors.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. He wrote down the contact information, and passed me the sheet.
“Understand, I expect you to perform,” he said. “Just because you were a soldier doesn’t mean you get any kind of a pass from me, Paris. If you’re going to stay in my class, you’ll earn the grade that you earn. Am I clear?”
I nodded. “That’s all I ask.”
From there I moved on to my Ancient Western Civilization Class, which I was having a much easier time with. That night, I sent off an email to the tutors he had suggested.
I had trouble sleeping that night. And I should be clear. I never have trouble sleeping. The Army taught me to sleep any opportunity I have. Got a fifteen minute ride in the back of a two ton truck going down a dusty road in the middle of nowhere? Sack time. For the last two years, I’ve been able to close my eyes and sleep without preparation, thought or warning. But the night after Alex went running with me, my mind kept turning back to the things I’d said, the things she’d said.
She didn’t have to say it for me to realize it. If I hadn’t been such an asshole, deleting my skype and facebook and refusing to answer her emails, she wouldn’t have been out trying to date last spring. And that guy wouldn’t have tried to rape her.
It was my fault. I’d left her unprotected. I’d put the woman I loved more than life itself at risk.
That wasn’t going to happen again. It was too late for Alex and I as a couple, but I’d damned sure be her friend as long as she would have me.
I’d be whatever she wanted.
But my traitor of a mind turned to other things. It wasn’t the first time we’d broken up, not by a long shot. In fact, when we returned home from Israel, both of us said it was over. What we had was beautiful, magical… and temporary. She was going back to dating Mike in San Francisco, and I was going back to Hailey in Atlanta.
But I broke up with Hailey four days after my return to Atlanta. And she did the same with Mike.
Neither of us said anything really. It was just what happened. We weren’t dating, we weren’t exclusive, we weren’t anything at all. Which was why I found myself in bed with Cyndi Harris on New Years Eve, which was fun but… also sad. All the time we were rolling around in bed, I kept thinking of Alex, and how much I wished it were her. It made me … incredibly sad. And Cyndi knew it. At one point she turned away from me, then said, “What’s her name?”
“Who?” I asked.
“The girl you’re in love with.”
So, what could have been a fun roll in the hay on New Years Eve turned into me breaking down and crying, telling her how much I missed Alex. Cyndi was cool about it. She hugged me, and said all the right things, and we parted as friends.
I didn’t date again for a while. Alex and I talked on the phone almost every day, anyway. We wrote emails to each other, and sent texts constantly, and prodded and poked each other on Facebook. We were four thousand miles away from each other, and I Facebook stalked her, checking out the photos she posted, trying to figure out what her status meant every time it changed.
Honestly, it was crazy. There I was, a senior in high school. The girl I loved was completely across the country from me. One week we were on, the next we were off. Neither of us could figure out what made the most sense to do. I planned going to visit her in March during spring break, but in early January business was slow at the restaurant where I was waiting tables, and I was let go. No money meant no trips all the way across the country. So we missed each other in March, and one night during Spring break she called me. Drunk.
The words that came out of her mouth stunned me. “I wish I could make love to you.”
It stopped my heart.
So, I scrounged. I kept looking for a job, but no luck. Let’s be serious: it was 2009. Jobs waiting tables or washing dishes were going to guys with Master’s degrees. A 18 year old high school student didn’t have a chance. I pawned my ipod, my mom and I held a yard sale, and I managed to scrounge up the sum total of one hundred and twenty dollars. And that was enough for a round trip ride on Greyhound from Atlanta to San Francisco and back. I left the day after I graduated high school.
Anyway. Not much point in talking about the visit. It was… poignant… painful… pathetic. We kissed in Golden Gate Park. We made out in a photo booth at the Greyhound station before I left. We fell in love all over again, even though it was impossible. A week after I returned home, we had our first really nasty fight over the phone.
I did what I sometimes do best. I ran away fast. The morning after our fight, I enlisted in the US Army.
Is it any wonder that laying here in my bed at Columbia three years later that I wasn’t able to get to sleep.
Instead of sleeping, I thought of holding her in my arms.
I thought of the literally hundreds of emails we’d sent back and forth.
I thought of the hundreds of hours we’d spent on the phone, talking about our lives, our dreams.
After this morning it was hard to forget how much I loved her, and I needed to forget. Because the one thing I couldn’t forget, or forgive for that matter, was the last conversation we had. Kowalski had been killed that morning, and we’d returned to base, shaken, horrified by his death. It was the low point in our deployment I think, for most of us, and certainly for me. I desperately needed to talk. I needed her. Worse than I ever had before. And when I got her on Skype, she was fucking drunk. That much was obvious. I tried to tell her what was going on, but she brushed me off. She started telling me it wasn’t working, that we couldn’t be together. And then, I saw the one thing I never expected to see. A guy, walking past her in her room, with his shirt off. As he passed her, his hand briefly touched her shoulder.
Even thinking about it makes me want to vomit. It makes me want to scream with rage. I’m not over it. I don’t think I’ll over get over it. And while I can spend all day long thinking about how much I love her, I can’t forget that moment. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t say anything. I reached out and closed the connection. I logged on to Facebook and disabled my profile. I deleted my Skype account. I erased my digital identity. Then I took the laptop and smashed it.
The next morning we went back out into the field.
It was weeks before I got a chance to get to my email again. For reasons I’ll never understand, my mother brought me a used laptop when I was at Walter Reed.
I had about twenty messages from her. For one aching moment, I almost read them. I couldn’t do it. But I couldn’t delete them either. So I stuck them in an archive folder where I wouldn’t have to see them. And I tried to forget.
Like a lot of other things in my life, I did a pretty crappy job of forgetting.
This is first draft material from a story I’m working on during a two week hiatus before I start editing Insurgent. It’s a departure for me, because it falls under the “new adult” genre.You can find the beginning of the story, discussion of what NA books are, and contents of the story, here.