Story Teaser- Here’s the first scene of my latest story…The Fickle Engines of Fate (or How I Met Your Mother)

”Anyone who survives adolescence has enough material to write about for the rest of their life.”

~Flannery O’Connor

We were the power couple of St. Ephrem’s Elementary School. We were Kevin and Whinnie. Zack and Kelly.  Dylan and Brenda.

Megan and I were in the throes of a modern romance for most of 7th grade. And even though we avoided eye contact, talked sparingly on the phone and when we did go on “dates” we traveled with friends to avoid talking to each other–I thought things were going great. In fact, I was convinced that one day, after puberty, I would marry her.

Then on a sun-splashed spring day Megan dumps me.  Here’s how it happened:

Megan instructs a pack of her girlfriends to hunt me down in the neighborhood. They find me playing basketball at the courts. They huddle and whisper by the metal bleachers then call me over.

They must of rehearsed because someone counted…1, 2,…1,2,3,4…  and together they swayed and in harmony they sang, “Megan doesn’t want to go out with you anymoreeeee.” Then they laugh and walk away. No explanation. No encore. No Diana Ross spreading out her arms, reassuring me, “that someday we’ll be together.”

A basketball bounces and a voice yells, “C’mon Jay its game point.”

After the game a classmate name Billy asks what the Spice Girls wanted.

Megan dumped me.

Are you surprised?

What?

I mean you guys don’t even talk.

Billy had a point. At 13, I should have known that “communication is the number one reason why 50% of all grade schools relationships fail.”

And Billy should know. During elementary school Billy’s parents got divorced and his last name changed. He was the first person I ever knew whose parents got divorced and my young brain found divorce interesting. I mean we were being taught at St Ephrem’s that divorce and remarriage were forbidden in the Catholic Church, punishable by eternal damnation. I worried for Billy’s mother. I wondered if she was aware of the ramifications of her actions, if she was willing to endure an eternity roasting in the jet fuel fires of hell just for a name change.

The next day, when the news hits school, it vibrates through the lunch room, blows hinges off the reading trailers, and grinds all recess yard activity to a halt. Everything stops. No running or cartwheeling or hopscotching. No screams, no whispers, no childish chatter. A football suspended in mid-flight. An arced jump rope– a frozen girl beneath– eyes up, arms out, little calves of potential energy. The recess yard is a photograph, a window display, a sprawling exhibit set behind tempered glass at the Natural History Museum.

Priests are made available for grief counseling. Principal Sister Mary Joseph considers closing school for a day of prayer and reflection.

But time passes and tulips bloom, hearts mend and a few weeks later I’m invited to a pool party at my friend Ray’s house celebrating the waning days of seventh grade. Megan is there and as per our relationship we keep our distance. After some swimming, some Doritos and listening to the Biz Markie CD something odd happens. Boys and girls start disappearing two at a time–hand in hand–until I’m alone, sitting at the edge of the pool with Biz Markie and a half bag of Doritos.

Apparently, this was a make out party and the teams were uneven. 6 boys to 5 girls. And apparently, I was not in the starting lineup.

Alone and with nothing to do, I polish off the Doritos, wait for Kelly Taylor to fly from Beverly Hills to make out with me and watch the darkness tip toe across the suburban sky with yellow fingertips and sad blue eyes.

To busy myself, to find a tourniquet for my little bleeding heart– I wander into Ray’s house only to find Megan and Billy making-out in a shadowy kitchen corner.

Hot cheesy fluid rushes to the back of my throat. I attempt to eke out words like “stop” and “no” but only manage little dying sounds. I can’t breathe… I can’t even blink. I forget my name and my space in the world. The walls shift like water. Time collapses into a black hollow void and there is a sucking sound and I’m weightless and floating. I’m carpet fuzz and life is a Dust Buster.

I watch Megan and Billy make out. Their kisses are sloppy and rushed. Their hands test new angles–elbows and hips– like their wrestling, like they’re actually trying to escape from each other.  I almost expect Megan to feel that sudden twinge of guilt, pull away and bring her big brown eyes back to me. But she doesn’t. She actually runs her hand through Billy’s wavy black hair, a move that looks practiced. A move she must have learned from Kelly Taylor. A move that jars Billy’s eyes open.

He sees me.

I see him.

He shakes his eyebrows and gives me a thumbs up.

Even now, as a mature 35 year old man, I take solace in the fact that Billy and his family are disciples of divorce and, if my early Catholic teachings are true, they will endure an eternity of heat rashes and pitchfork pokes while my righteous ass will be lounging with JC and his crew on cotton candy clouds, sipping blueberry wine from a gold goblet, watching Mary Magdalen bend at the waist in the first-class sunlight.

I’m 13 years old. My mouth is hot and cheesy and I’m floating. Billy Whatever- His –Last- Name- Is –This- Week is kissing the girl I thought I would marry. It’s the first flaming arrow to pierce my little heart and I’m certain my life is officially over.

And since I don’t know what else to do, I return Billy’s thumbs up with one of my own.

When my feet return to earth I turn toward the porch. I step outside where Rose and Anthony, St. Ephrem’s new power couple are holding hands and swaying to “Just a Friend”. When they see me they start laughing.

Apparently I’m crying.

~

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