Saturday, July 29, 2006

Out of the Past

So I woke up again at 4 in the morning, thinking about all the things I needed to learn and do for my new job at the big tech company. While I was lying there in the darkness I heard the paper slap up onto the porch. I didn’t look at the clock; I still had hope that I would fall back asleep.

Lately I’m not always sure when I’m asleep and when I’m awake. Yesterday afternoon I was saying goodbye to a certain co-worker, with whom I’d become very good friends over the last seven years, when suddenly I was convinced that I’d dreamed that very moment, our very exchange. Or rather, that my co-worker had dreamed it, and that she’d once told me her dream. I don’t know, it was confused, like all my experiences with déjà vu, and as soon as I began to examine it more closely, it faded.

I was thinking way too hard, way too early in the morning. It was almost painful, but then I remembered it would only be a bad thing if I had an agenda for the day, and that led me back to the twelve steps and the idea of letting go of my own expectations, so I began to repeat the twelve steps and then fell asleep.

At 6:30 my wife and I got up and took the dog for a walk on the beach. The waves were nicely groomed by the westerly breeze but too small for surfing. Still, it was a pleasant, slightly cool morning, and we had a nice walk down the beach, throwing the toy to our dog.

After our morning beach walks we always go to Starbucks to get a coffee. The last few times we’ve been there I’ve noticed a girl working behind the counter who looked very familiar. Once it even popped into my head that she looked like someone from my hometown of Flint, Michigan, but my mind is a confused, drafty place and the thought soon drifted out again.
Today that particular girl was not behind the counter when we came in, but when we’d gotten our coffees and were doctoring them up with milk and Splenda I saw her come in the door and heard someone address her as “Lauren”.

“Oh, my god,” I said to my wife.
“I can’t believe it.”
“Wait until we get outside,” my wife said. She later told me that she wanted me to wait because she thought I was going to say something about the lesbians who were kissing behind us.
So when we got to the car I told her that I thought the “Lauren” from the Starbucks might be the same “Lauren” from fifteen-years-ago Flint.
“So go in there and find out,” she said.
I must’ve looked dubious. I was thinking that this might be some kind of trap. You mean my pregnant wife wants me to go in and talk to some strange girl, alone?
“You come back in with me,” I said. “Otherwise I’m not going.”
“No, I want to sit here, I’m tired. Go on, what are you worried about, go on.”

I went back in. Perhaps that was a mistake, I don’t know. Long story short, I asked one of the other baristas if Lauren’s last name was Williams, and they said that it was. Then I made my introduction.

“Hi Lauren, you probably don’t remember me,” etc. etc. “But I was in a band with Matt Bully and Elliot, remember? I used to hang around at the Eskimo house, remember?”
Her face when a little white, then red, then white again. “Oh my god!”
Of course she didn’t remember my name, I had to tell her that. She was busy at work, but took my email address, and that looked to be the end our chat until she said, “So how is Matt, anyway?”
“Oh, you don’t know,” I said. “Well, he’s dead, actually. But it’s a long story, I don’t want to tell you at work.”
“No, I’m pretty busy.”
“Right, I’ll tell you some other time.”
“I’ll email you,” she said.
“Sure, good.”
A strange, awkward encounter, but then again, how else could it have possibly gone?

Now I have to give some background on Lauren Williams. For awhile, during my sophomore year of college, she was the absolute “it” girl in our little scene. She was a thin, Nordic blonde with a haughty expression and excellent fashion sense. She was the first girl to wear blue Doc Martens (which she got in Toronto) and she had an impressive array of Cure tour t-shirts.

She was that kind of girl. I got the vague impression that her family had a bit of money – for one thing, she drove a Volkswagen Cabriolet (the sorority-girl dream car) -- but she hung out with the skuzzy guys in punk bands. Her current beaux always benefited tremendously from her presence. He could be the biggest loser in the world, the lousiest musician, with the lamest haircut, but if Lauren was on his arm, he was instantly legitimized.

Matt dated her first, and for awhile they were the first couple of Flint. When they came into a room, everyone’s head turned to watch them. I think they really liked each other, and they were quite compatible (she was pretty and intelligent, he was a musical genius), but they had one thing working against them – Elliot.

Elliot was Matt’s best friend. Now, Elliot was the kind of guy who decided he was going to be your best friend whether you liked it or not. He had tremendous energy and a tremendously strong will. In this instance, he decided that he would sleep with Lauren Williams.

I remember his campaign to break Lauren down. I was a friend of both Matt’s and Elliot’s, and I was often present when Elliot was working on Lauren, and I should note that Elliot worked on her both in front of Matt and when Matt was absent. After two solid months of turning the conversation to sex, of suggesting that he might be able to please her more than Matt, he had seriously undermined Lauren’s resolve not to cheat; I could see it coming. It didn’t help that Matt, like a lot of geniuses I’ve known, was incredibly passive when it came to relationships. When I tried to warn him, he just shrugged.

“I’m not going to stop her,” Matt said. “If that’s what she wants.”
“But it’s Lauren Williams!” I said. “You won’t find a girl that pretty again, not in Flint.”
“Ah, I’m kind of tired of the whole thing, anyway.”

It happened on a trip to Toronto to see a band (I can’t remember now if it was the Cure or VoiVod). Elliot enticed Lauren out of the bed and onto the floor of the hotel room. They consummated on the floor while Matt was passed out a few feet away. Ah, youth!

When we got back to Flint, Elliot and Lauren tried to do the switch thing, where everyone continues to hang out and remain friends, but as usual, this didn’t work. I think Lauren wanted Matt back, but Matt wasn’t interested anymore. And Elliot, well, once he had a girl, they usually lost interest. He was a hell of a salesman, but not so good at delivering on all those promises. So Lauren Williams drifted away from our little scene. She stopped coming to our shows, which immediately took our band down a notch in everyone else’s estimation.

Every once in a while I’d see her out at a local restaurant or at a club, and I’d always give her a little talking-to, just to see if she had any interest in me. I knew she was too good for me, but I had a glimmer of hope – after all, if she’d taken up with Matt and Elliot, why not me? Maybe just for a night? Nothing. No interest whatsoever. She was polite but distant, same as ever. Story of my life…

So I drove home from the Starbucks with my pregnant wife, again thinking that I’d dreamed all this before, and trying to remember how it turned out in my dream.
“What do you think her story is?” my wife said.
“I don’t know. Married someone with money, most likely, then got divorced, working at Starbucks for the benefits,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” my wife said. “I’m not sure what the story is, but I’ll let you know when I figure it out.”
Later, when we’d gotten home, my wife said, “I trust you.”
And I replied, “She can’t hold a candle to you, baby, come on.”
It was a true statement. Lauren isn’t half as hot as my wife, even at seven months pregnant. And yet, there’s always something about your past that seems so attractive, something back there that you lost, something you regret. I don’t know what I expect will happen. Part of me hopes she loses my email address. After all, what good could come of it? Then again, something that improbable can't be totally without meaning, can it?


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