This Must Be the Place — Part 1: The Less We Say About It The Better
It started with Maria.
When I was five years old, I met a girl in my Kindergarten class. Her name was Maria, of course. She was one of the earliest forms of a best friend I knew I had. I still remember her face, her eyes, her weird earrings. This was the first time I thought to myself “I was going to remember this person. No matter what.” She was the only one I’d talk to in class. We’d stay beside each other each every day. And it was then that I first learned what it meant to know you have someone in your life who completes you. I learned what it meant to tell yourself this person is going to stay in my life and I’m going to stay in hers. I know we were five but the feeling was real. It meant something. It was there. And the best part was that she felt it too. It led to my first kiss. When you’re that age, you know… stuff like this marks you forever. You can’t wash yourself out. As much as you try.
She was gone. I was still 5. It felt like a year had gone but I doubt it was longer than three months. She had just left. No, “left” implies choice in some form. She ceased to be around. She was not sitting next to me anymore. She was not standing in the hallway with me holding my hand, smiling with those stupid earrings. She was just out.
And when I asked where she went to my teacher, she just looked at me and asked who I was talking about. When I asked my friends where she went, they just called me “stupid” and “crazy.” Nobody seemed to know Maria ever sat next to me. Nobody ever seemed to remember her presence except me. I didn’t know if she had been killed, I didn’t know if her parents moved her or anything. They all thought I had an imaginary friend.
I thought so too. After all, I was 5.
As a result, I ended up avoiding this then-unnamed feeling that I got out of her presence in my life. I moved forward only to keep living, but I didn’t know what I was going to keep myself living for. I didn’t want anything more than to have that feeling return as a welcomed friend but I didn’t know how to bring it back when for all I know, it never existed to begin with.
I spent 11 years with this on my mind. It took 11 years to start waking up. It was a rude awakening.
It came in the form of a Prom Date. It came in the form of Taylor.
My friends were all one year above me and graduating while 16-year-old me was stuck in school another year. They were all attending Prom. I couldn’t. At least, I couldn’t on my own. So, I did something I despise myself for doing. I started listening to conversations, eavesdropping on rumors, losing my focus on my homework in the library to listen in on what could be the ‘easiest’ senior.
‘Easiest.’ The fuck is wrong with me? I was a doofus, an idiot, but I wanted to be around my friends during the last days I’d probably see them again. Graduation sucks, y’know? Adulthood sucks.
I ended on Taylor Powell. The best common denominator. Easy enough when we share a class as well — 3rd Period, Driver’s Ed.
I didn’t have any methods of seduction, no plan behind what I was going to do or say. I wasn’t a ladies man, I wasn’t a tail chaser, I had no care for a relationship akin to the kind all the boys and girls daydream about around me. When the last time I felt romantic feelings ended with me being crushed by the reality of my nature, that’s what happens. Oh well. I just walked up to her one day at the end of class and asked if she was going to Prom… “Yeah.” “Do you want to go to Prom with me?” She stared at me for a bit. “Why?” “My friends are going.” “You have friends?” “Excuse me?” “Sorry, I don’t mean to be blunt. You just don’t talk in class much.”
“I don’t really see a point to.” “… Have you heard about me?” “I’ve heard your name, I never listen.” “What have you heard?” “Your name.” “That is not just it.” “I heard about some embarrassing public incident.”
“If you already know what I know, why are you asking me?”
That stopped her for a moment. She grabbed my arm and stared at me for what felt like the entire afternoon.
“Do you have anything important going on for the rest of the day?” I lied and said “No.”
There was a chemistry quiz I never felt optimistic about.
“I want to have a normal conversation,” She said. “I want to have one without the baggage of what people say and think about me.”
“That’s not really answering my question,” I insisted, but she ignored that or maybe didn’t hear it at all and pulled me over to the bleachers beside the baseball diamond in the back of the school, away from the eyes and ears of the place.
And we talked. We talked about stuff. We talked about who we were, we talked about life, we talked about what we thought happens when we die, we talked about class, we talked about local happenings and we just talked some more.
By the time we stopped I felt I knew her better than I knew the Pledge of Allegiance and I thought she might mean more to me than that. I was more accustomed to ask her if she would take me to her prom. And she just smiled… I already knew the answer.
Of course, the problem was that the talking never stopped… The people around us began integrating me into the talk of the town and Taylor was unfortunately the topic while we kept conversing. We got more and more acquainted with each other those coming weeks to Prom. By the intimidating point of the week before, I realized I was looking forward more to being there at Prom having a good time with Taylor than I was with hanging with my friends before they leave. I found myself looking forward to that so much that I had forgotten to actually get myself a suit and so when the time came, I just ran to the nearest store and bought a black dress shirt, black slacks and a belt. The real eye-catching factor was the silver tie I wore around my neck that popped out of my otherwise all-black attire. My shoes weren’t really dress shoes but they weren’t at all sneakers and that was formal enough to me.
She and her parents gave me the polite “You’re looking handsome,” statement and I didn’t know whether they were faking it or actually approving of my less than polished look. Her parents bid us well and we went off into the night… The Prom was a blur. A three hour blur. The kind that lasts long enough to feel uncomfortable, but seems to move too much to have your feet on the ground. I got to say hi to people more often than I usually care to do and I got to eat some glorified undercooked piece of food that tasted unlike the real food I suffered on already in real life.
My real focus was what would happen after Prom. Taylor and I went through the motions that were to be expected. We walked down South Beach together for a little while and then we went to the cheapest possible hotel that didn’t look like a murder site and we rented a room for one night. We sat on the bed and we did what we usually did that nobody ever expected we did. We talked.
And eventually that talk went on to deeper thoughts. Not the usual blabber about the classes teaching us complex BS or the movies we watched over the weekend, but actual thoughts of the afterlife and the consciousness of the human being. She asked if I believed in a God, I told her I didn’t. She asked if I believed in heaven, I told her I didn’t. She asked why. “Because I really really really want to believe in this life before I want to believe in something after.” She didn’t ask much more about my beliefs… instead, she talked about what she wanted to believe in. She laid on top of me, her hand on my chest, and told me about how she had once had a dream for “an answer to what it means to be in this universe. This vast space where you don’t know if there’s something or nothing beyond what you see. If it means anything, if it’s a test. The fact we know literally 0 percent of the universe and everything else comes from what we want to see and know. If we really know barely anything about the universe, then what we perceive of it, it must come from what we see in ourselves.”
“Well then, what do you see of this universe?” “… I see, a better place waiting for me. Until then… I’ll just keep going.” Silence. Then she asked this time: “What do you see?” I didn’t want to answer. I didn’t want to tell her that she was about to shake me out of what I believed in for 11 years, but my world was never going to stay the same from that first time. I told her… “I have no imagination. I have no inspiration. I don’t see much in my future and I never had much of a past to believe in. I only see what’s in front of me. And right now that’s you.” A moment, then I added “And that’s just good enough for me.” And then she smiled as she pulled up towards me and she kissed me. And we kissed for a long while as the darkness of the unlit room began to spring into a black world of undiscovered hope and passion. And then we began.
Afterward, she wanted to walk on the beach. There was, of course, certainly going to be parties going on that night and bonfires, until the shutdowns get pulled whenever. She wanted to check them out. But, I was tired, I was already in bed, I told her I’d rather stay behind. She took it well enough and just kissed me before she walked out the door. My last thought before I blacked-out in the ecstasy was the confirmation of what I had once been afraid was false my entire life up until this point. I loved this girl, this wonderful, human, real person in front of me.
The next morning, I woke up and she hadn’t returned. She hadn’t just not returned to this room we belonged to. She hadn’t returned to this plane. This was only a few hours ago. I wondered if the bonfires or parties outside had been raided and I wondered if she needed to stop by someone else’s room to hide from the cops or rush home. I tried to call her cell phone, but I got a canned voice saying that the number didn’t exist. The number didn’t exist. The number I had called many times before.
Then, I bailed. I didn’t clean the room or anything, I ran like hell out of that place and drove all around the city searching for her. I returned to the house I picked her up from and I found myself devastated at what they told me.
The Powells have never had a daughter.
That was bullshit. That was not true. She was there, she was in front of this house, she lived in this room… These were my silent protests, my mental examinations. I never said it out loud because 11 years ago I and the world had convinced myself that I was crazy and I never wanted to know that feeling again… the feeling that the whole world had played a fucking cruel prank and I was the fool for agreeing that I had nothing worth knowing in my life and nobody worth remembering.
I remember well enough. That’s the game. I have to remember. Nobody else does, but I do.
I went to school the next day hating every one of these sycophantic conspirators who wanted to break my heart. Who wanted to break her. Who had nothing but rumors to say about Taylor and now they have nothing to say at all. I stopped pretending I was interested in the people around me and abandoned all politeness.
I had asked my peers, the ones I went to the Prom to see whether or not they remember me there and sure enough, I was there as far as they were concerned. Just by myself. How I got in, they don’t know. It made no sense since I wasn’t a senior, but I was there and it disturbed them and I really felt separated by them just from this one schism in this reality I live in now. I never talked to them again after that. I barely talked to anyone.
I never went to my actual prom. I saw no point. It was hard enough to go to my graduation.