And I don’t mean latte lovers, though I myself am a lover of all things latte, and indulged in one (of the soy caramel nature) this evening after forgoing the whole Mediterranean sandwich for the half. That was before I learned that Panera’s latte (of the soy caramel nature) comprises 400 calories of genetic modifiers and unidentifiable chemical fillers. *Sigh.* At least I have my health… erm, my writing. At least I have my writing.
Really. After a 2-month hiatus, I approached the novel; an old friend back for a long, overdue visit. First for an hour at lunch, then for 2 more at Panera for dinner, hoping to soak up a little inspiration about young love, found and lost and found again. The vibe was right for writing – a mixed, after-work crowd just large enough to make some background noise. And sitting among the families, blackberry-ers, seniors, and soccer moms were two teenaged couples. Jackpot!
Couple #1, in the booth across from my little 2-top, shared a Sweet Sausage and Pepper Crispani as they laughed and told stories about their “whole four years in high school,” though they couldn’t have been older than college freshman. While neither touchy nor feely, they seemed genuinely into one another and looked like they were having a nice date.
Couple #2 sat a few booths down from #1. They were a bit younger – 15 or 16. Unlike couple #1, the #2s sat together on the same side of the booth (a new-couple phenomenon that provided hours of shameless entertainment for my food service compatriots and I during the waitressing days of yesteryear). They were all over each other, the girl even removing her shoes and stretching her legs across his lap. Moments later, he massaged her bright green-socked feet as he ate. Ahh, young love. Full of wonder. Full of hope. Full of germs.
I had a boyfriend like that, complete with germs, back in the day (circa 1988). At 13 years old, Nate was the preeminent skater on our block, and had the black Vans and hair-in-the-eyes to prove it. Nate would sail down my street on his Tony Hawk, stepping hard on the tail and kicking it up into his hands in one slick move to announce his arrival. That signature move, coupled with the jagged white scar above his lip, was all it took.
Nate and I used to make out in the driveway when I thought Mom wasn’t watching, or on his front porch before his mom got home, or in front of my locker, or at the skate park after school. That was pretty much the extent of our relationship – making out and watching skaters. Neither of us was old enough to drive, and we didn’t have Panera back then. But it was enough to tie my stomach up in butterflies whenever I saw him skate down the school stairs without a helmet (yeah, we were all Baby Einsteins back then).
About three months into our three-month relationship, Nate dumped me in some humiliating way, the details of which I’ve long forgotten, for Katie – a full year older and ready to do much more than make out at the skate park. Katie. Nate and Kate. He swore it, but I always wondered if it had more to do with my Dad’s unnerving habit of answering the door while cleaning his gun with a diaper (“What’s the matter, Nate? Never seen a gun before, boy?”).
Katie and handguns aside, I was inconsolable, spending long, weepy evenings listening to The Cure and writing poems about people who die.
About a year later, my family moved away. I went to a different school. And Nate was arrested and sent to juvey for stabbing his older brother in the leg with an exacto knife. So I guess it all worked out for everyone in the end.
Typing away at Panera about my narrator, Anna, and her relationship with the dead boy she once loved (yeah, I’ll explain another time), I pondered the fate of couple #2, the same-side-booth-lovers. Would their relationship survive the reality check of post-graduation? Would they remain so sickeningly affectionate if forced to sit across from one another? Most important – would he wash his hands before touching that sandwich with his feet-germed fingers?
Confident that I could answer at least 1 of those questions, I tuned in to the conversation unfolding with couple #1, which had taken such a sudden and unexpected turn that for a moment, I thought the boy was just telling another story about a friend or something he’d seen on TV.
- Boy: So listen, I have to say this, because I just feel like I’m leading you on.
- Girl: What are you talking about?
- Boy: I just don’t think it’s working.
- Girl: Oh my God. You don’t like me anymore?
- Boy: It’s not that I don’t like you, we just don’t have anything special. I still want to be friends.
- Girl: *Whispers something inaudible*
- Boy: Why are you getting upset? I said we can still be friends.
- Girl: Oh my God. I want to go home. I want to go now.
- Boy: But…
- Girl: *Sobbing* *Grabbing coat* *Rushing for the door*
Oh my God, he broke up with his girlfriend in Panera, after they’d shared an entire Sweet Sausage and Pepper Crispani, after they’d laughed and talked and exchanged all those stories about the good ol’ glory days of high school. It was awful to hear her, shocked and broken and mortified. What kind of guy doesn’t have the balls to break up with his girlfriend in private where she can cry in her own bed and not embarrass herself in a popular suburban sandwich shop? Well I’ll tell you what kind of guy, folks. I’ll tell you, ’cause there’s only one word for it: JACKASS. I wanted to run after her and hug her and tell her all about Nate and Katie and how everything will be okay in the end, that she can do so much better and any jackass who does what this guy did deserves to get ED at a very early age.
Of course, I wasn’t supposed to be eavesdropping and I didn’t want to exacerbate her already searing embarrassment, so I pretended to keep writing, though my heart broke for her.
Honey, if you’re reading this, just know that you’ll be all right. You’ll even laugh about this some day, and chances are you won’t even remember that jackass or why you cared about him in the first place. Good lord, I hope he at least paid for your Crispani.