(M)Emory: Eight Years Later

I’m drinking water and I can feel it seep down into every little pocket and crevice of my body. Since I began taking the medicine, the playful little orange pills, I have forgotten to hydrate as well as eat—quenching my thirst with only the robust jolt of black coffee. Pair this weeklong behavior with two days of unabashed debauchery in New Orleans in the name of no longer having to punch a time card, and finally with a day of rocketing through the sky in a dry metal tube..I am dehydrated to the point of looking pregnant and experiencing severe cramps and dry mouth.

My heart keeps racing probably due to the five servings of caffeine I’ve consumed today and the little go-go pill that’s become my new best friend. And yet, there’s another reason. Every moment that transpires as I sit here in one of three different first-class cabins, every moment spent waiting in some swanky Delta Sky Club location across the country, every single second that I’m shaking—my designer watch jingling on my spindly wrist—or bloated or my head is pounding…that is one less moment until I see Emory again.

Emory. Emory Adler.

His name is carved into my brain. It’s not simply a schoolgirl’s nostalgia. It’s years of my mind involuntarily repeating that name, folding it into little tiny creases on the papers of my memory until there’s no other way to think it, say it, remember it other than the way a favorite old pair of jeans fits or how the sentences written in the best book you’ve ever read realign in your brain and you can only go, “Oh yes, this again.”

I immortalized him. Eight years ago, we were children yet also on the cusp of adulthood. I knew, though, that we were closer to being kids than adults. I felt like a fraud, I felt like I was playing a grown-up’s game and foraying into feelings that I didn’t need to have just yet, feelings that I didn’t have to feel if I just walked backwards out of the room in which I had so relentlessly tried to enter, nearly breaking down the door. The first time I felt like we might have been too young, that we were getting in over our heads: I was confiding in Erica about the most personal thing I knew at that point. Should I have sex with him? Should I give away this irreplaceable piece of myself to him? Sure, he was special enough, he was worth it. And yet, he had an expiration date. But maybe it’s better that way? My mind raced with algorithms and formulaic weighing of options, of “if this then that,” of “if x happens, then y could possibly occur, leading to a potential z…” And Erica responded—in a playful nonchalance—as if we were women twice our age, “You could just let him go downtown.” And I agreed, wringing my hands and sighing deeply, that that might be best, but what if he didn’t like the fat pooled on my thighs? What if he found me disgusting? What if I did something wrong? It was summertime, and sun hung deceitfully in the sky for twelve hours a day. The heat was taking over its throne again after a winter that seemed to fold into its own brevity, causing me to sweat even more than the prospect of someone’s mouth being between my legs. How did adult women handle that? My brain—just a speck of cells a mere fifteen years prior—was swirling now and unwrapping itself with questions whose origins didn’t make sense, the roots of my problems stemming from soil I didn’t want to cultivate. This aberrant vortex to a world in which I didn’t necessarily have to live first beckoned me with its promises of pleasure, yet then banished me when the guarantees came fraught with more obligations than payoffs. But Erica’s main concern was by far the most damning:

“Oh, I forgot. That’s a bad idea. What if you get caught in his braces?”

The imagery stopped me cold: he, a boy still in braces and me, entrenched already in my ambivalence. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with this affair anymore—this process of sexual exploration—of first-time encounters sealed with a flimsy kiss, a kiss that was supposed to erase the fact that a week later, those same lips would be speaking another language in another land on the other side of the world.

What am I doing? I questioned myself time after time as days spanned on toward the day we had agreed to meet, the day that was to be our final meeting. I had only physically seen him three or four times. Less than five, definitely. And here he was, ingrained in the side of my mind forever. And so as the days stretched on, whereas I initially couldn’t wait to see him again, I came to dread it more and more. What if it was awkward? What if it was bad? What if he didn’t think I was attractive with all my clothes peeled off and strewn in a pile on his floor?

That night, that sticky summer night eight years ago as I sat in the shower with the water flowing down my back, warm and comforting, my soul was nourished. I needed the pitter-patter of the water’s massage. I needed the warmth. I needed to just sit in the shower with the water rubbing my back, telling me that it was okay, that I was okay, that everything that I felt crumbling away was, in actuality, going to be okay.

It was awkward. It was bad. It was everything in a first sexual encounter that diluted my brain to the point of using blasé adjectives like “awkward” and “bad.” I don’t know if my fears of seeming unattractive were ever a truth in his mind, but it was an unfair end to us, that’s for sure. I wanted more. I needed more. Not because I enjoyed it, quite the contrary. I had built it up so much in my mind over the years, placing this act of sheer humanity high on a shelf of illustrious achievement. And then, when he waltzed himself into my life—when he made my lips expand across my face in that super-secret algorithm that was subconsciously reserved just for him—I had to rescue myself from the tidal wave of worry every time he crossed my mind. Worry about being cool, worry about being sexy, worry about being good enough. So much worry for so little time. And when we got dressed afterward, our backs to each other in a muted shame as we both faced his peanut-butter colored walls, I felt like a child again. I felt like a child caught in the unfamiliar web of an adult’s game and I was unable to find my way out.

The very last time I saw Emory, his mother, warm and loving, came to the room to inform us that my mom, cold and sterile, was parked outside. There’s no more demeaning feeling than the months just shy of sixteen. I turned to face him and kissed his lips, unexpectedly childlike when he didn’t open his mouth as he had before. It was passionless and two-dimensional, unlike the kisses he had always given me. I figured at that point, crushed and silent, that there had been an inevitable change; an invisible yet powerful wedge between who we were before, and what squalid corpse of what we’d become in the wake of it all. Turning around to leave the room, I saw that his mother was still standing there. He saw her, but I hadn’t. I felt embarrassed as she escorted me out, beaming that her son found someone, and yet more than lightly humiliated, I found myself feeling cheated. This wasn’t how I pictured it to end. This wasn’t right. It wasn’t heartfelt enough; what we had was a beautifully intricate origami crane that was reduced, at the very end, to just a few strips of deflated paper, flat on the ground.

That was me at fifteen, expecting so much more from life. Little did I know that that was the first of so many disappointments, so many situations that would seem so promising yet end not necessarily in utter, pure tragedy but in a manner far more insidious: just so nonchalantly, so much potential drained away to be something so ordinary.

That was my first dose of real life.

And now, I’m getting to, essentially, go back in time. I’m getting to write a different ending to the story. I can only hope that I create the correct string of words.

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