By Alison Lapp
The posters plastered on my wall strike me as almost as haphazardly placed as the underwear and papers strewn on the floor, yet the totality of the picture fills my narrow cell of a dorm room with a nest-like warmth to which I am glad to come home. I sit on my bed that hasn’t been made in weeks and try not to hear the conversation of the girl across the hall. Little bits of it still reach my curious ears; the literary theory on which I try to focus never seems to keep my undivided attention. She is discussing who to add to her Instant Messenger list while talking over the telephone to a friend in Georgia. Oh, what an age of instant gratification and effortless communication we live in…too bad she never sees any of the people with whom she speaks.
Struggling to curtail my wondering thoughts, I turn back to the page, trying to throw myself into the words and the oh-so fascinating writings of Samuel Johnson. “…to entangle them in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppositions of interest, and harass them with violence of desires inconsistent with each other…is the business of a modern dramatist.” Is it really? In that case, whoever wrote the script for my life did a hell of a job.
I go to a ten o’clock club meeting and when it is over my friend asks me if I would like to go get a cup of coffee. I agree and descend into the dim mood lighting of Lunt Café, which hints at cigarettes and poetry and real world sophistication. I really am not part of this abstract art loving world, I think as I order a mocha with an extra shot of raspberry, allowing the sugar to cover the true taste of the coffee. My friend has a mint tea and over the steaming beverages we discuss our friendship, how it came to be and whether we will still know each other in fifty years.
The conversation is engaging and when we get up to leave I check my watch only to see that it is already 12:15. I walk briskly back to my dorm, run up the stairs and grab my phone without so much as acknowledging and of the people who live around me. I dial first a nine, then my seven-digit pin and then his phone number. It only rings once before he picks up. His familiar voice echoes in my ears. I can tell he has been waiting since 11:00, the time we arranged to talk, and I start to regret being once again tardy with my call.
“Hello,” I say, “Sorry I’m late.” “Its okay…why are you late?” “I was at Lunt Café and I lost track of time. I thought it was so much earlier than it was.” He is silent. “Are you mad?” “No.” Silence, again. “Christopher? Why aren’t you talking?” Nothing. “Are you mad at me? Please just answer me.” “I don’t know.” “You are mad, aren’t you?” “No, just hurt.”
Then I am crying, and he is telling me not to, that he is not upset, he just needed a minute to think about it. I can barely talk, my sharp sobs cut through my words and I have no breath to reform them. I am afraid that I have taken too much, pushed too far and that soon he won’t take another late call or another weekend I put off visiting him, that he can’t be the uncomplaining shoulder to lean on forever.
“I feel so bad,” I manage. “Don’t, you didn’t do it on purpose. I am just glad I got to talk to you at all,” he reassures me and I long to be able to hug him right then. It would be nice to be able to give him little, private daily basis hugs rather than having to count the days between each big, revealing, it-has-been-so-long-since-I’ve-seen-you hug in the crowded train station with its florescent lights burning our skin.
It takes work, but I come to believe I am forgiven, so we can go on to talk normally. Then he asks, “can we talk again tomorrow night because I have to get to bed early tonight?” I hesitate, “Yeah, I guess so.” “What?” “Well, yeah, we can, I just won’t get any sleep tonight or tomorrow night. It’s okay.” “Oh, we don’t have to talk.” “It’s okay, we can, this was my fault.” “No, I know you have work, I shouldn’t have asked. That was selfish of me.”
The conversation turns again, but I can feel the guilt settle into my dry throat and paralyze my limbs. I probably should just have agreed to a second call and left it at that. But as I hang up the phone for the night I can’t help but wish for a life without obligations or compromise, a life where I never had to schedule my time or balance my affections. I am resigned to living half for myself and half for the tranquility of my relationships, but as I pull the covers up to my chin I can’t help but notice that I’m going to bed with the bitter taste of resentment under my tongue.
© Alison Lapp