Deanna Collings’ apartment / Monday January 8, 1979
“Jackson…” Deanna held on to the door of her apartment, backed it open. “I know how you feel about my apartment. I don’t know why you can’t understand that I don’t need a separate life, I never have. Mom just needs me to have this. Will you sit? Somewhere? Please?”
What he’d come to expect from her apartment, the couch as clean clothes holding zone was covered in boxes. Both chairs the same, the kitchen chairs pushed against the wall, the kitchen covered in new, unused pots and pans and gadgets her mother had loaded her up with two and half years ago. The pink bean bag chair that had spit little white balls since Deanna was in junior high wasn’t inviting.
“You’ve always kept your life separate, Deanna, and I’ve been sitting.”
“I need to…” She paused and let it all out in a rush. “I’m leaving for Cambridge, the one in England, on Friday. I can finish my degree and maybe get a double masters in three years on their system because of no minors and different timing…” The look on his face…“I’ll even get specialized individual study between sessions. I need to do this. I need to know I can do it. By myself.”
“You’ve known this since October 28th? The day your post-grad adjunct friends had their Halloween party?”
“How do you know? About the twenty-eighth?”
“That’s when I started making love to the couch.”
“That’s when the last of you disappeared. I didn’t know you were cutting it this close on cluing everybody before you skated.”
He was too aloof, too —
“Thanks for trusting me, Deanna. I need to go.” He reached for the door that had never quite closed. “Good luck in England. Take a coat. I worked with a guy from there who said it’s colder and wetter than the postcards and paintings.”
“I knew you’d leave me. I knew it. That’s why I couldn’t tell you.”
“You knew? You fucking knew? Sometimes smart girls don’t know shit, D. Here’s what I fucking know. I should have told you and Amanda to shove all your ‘we’re too perfect’ ‘They’re the perfect team’ ‘Jackson’s our boy’ game up your asses. I should never have listened to any of you, or ever gotten roped into this farce. You can do whatever you want, wherever you want, with whoever you want. I told you that the last time you came home with a line of shit a mile —”
“And I told you I didn’t want it that way.” She swallowed, hard. “You promised to love me forever, Jax, no matter what.”
“You, of all people, Miz rising star of feminism, should know that just some guy like me would say almost anything to get in your pants. All of your ‘I’m a virgin, promise me,’ crap. Fuck that. You were the first non-bar maid piece of ass I’d gotten since September. I’d have promised you a gold plated, life-sized statue of yourself to get out of that room smiling.”
“You can’t say that! It was true! You didn’t believe me? Ever? You just did that with me, made me feel like that and didn’t believe me?”
“Come on. You went all ice maiden on me about something that afternoon. All of your ‘I don’t do that, take me home’ stories. All your ‘Love is one of the big words, Jackson. But thank you’ bullshit. I’ve always been a convenience. That’s why you have your own separate life. You need it to keep me out of whatever your real life is.” He raised his chin, rotated it around her apartment. “This is yours, even if you’re never here you know you have it. Your mom riding your ass not to live with me never had anything to do with it.”
“That’s not true and you know it. I don’t care how mad you are or how mean you are, you’re it, Jackson. Only you. Ever.”
He looked at her, he thought for maybe the last time. “Yeah? Then why has it been impossible for you to talk to ‘only me’ about this until the door is hitting me in the ass? Why does who we are always feel like a dodgeball game, huh? Why am I always getting the shadow of where you were instead of you? Good luck, Deanna. I hope you can find what you’re looking for.”
She yanked his arm back from the door. “Okay, maybe I’m sick of it, too. You and Amanda with your little secret nobody knows, and all your godammit, Deanna, listen to yourself, Deanna, what the fuck was that, Deanna? Why don’t you care, Deanna? Dammit dammit dammit, Deanna. Well fuck you all. You and Amanda and fucking too sexy and smart Alix and Stacey and her BAM words and all that, all of you telling me the stuff I need to read and understand for myself. Maybe I hated being the organ grinder’s monkey…” She smacked him hard in the chest with both palms.
“As much as I hate grinding my organ for the monkey?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Good advice is always late.” He rubbed his chest. “I get my shot now?”
“Jax, goddammit don’t. I’ll be back. You can’t hate me. You can’t.”
“I can’t hate you, Deanna, but ‘us’ being ‘it’? I just found out how much of ‘us’ I’m not. Did you think you could drop ‘Oops, I’m leaving for three years’ like ‘Oh yeah, forget to tell you there’s a dead mouse under the sink?’ I was supposed to figure all this out by ESP because two months ago you turned me off cold like a shitty cry baby song on the radio?”
“Great. Deanna’s special universe where nobody gets it but her.” He picked up her Day-Timer, flipped to the back where they put all the calendars for ten years out. He circled Valentine’s Day, 1983, ripped it from the binder. “You want three years? Lucky fucking you.”
He pulled open the neck of her sweater, wadded up the day timer page and stuffed it down the front. “There’s four years, five weeks and two days. Five Valentine’s days. If you think there’s anything left of this, of us, if you aren’t married or pregnant or in a coma, rich or famous or a euro jet-setter? If you come home and need somebody to do your laundry, keep your car running? Look me up. I shouldn’t be hard to find.”
She’d never seen his eyes as cold as they were, and could feel hers getting warm again when she looked down at the lump in her sweater, tried get a grip on what was happening. Her orchestration of excuses and justifications, his failure to acquiesce like he was supposed to, all of it falling apart.
“You have to understand how much I’ll miss you, how much this means. You promised me, Jax.”
“I promised because I was young and stupid. I hoped some day you’d play me your whole song instead of beating the chorus until you faded out.” He grabbed a handful of loose sweater and the crumpled Day-Timer page. “I ‘understand’ you’re running away again, and your Aunt’s in Wichita isn’t far enough and your parents’ vacations aren’t long enough. I ‘understand’ you could have told me who you really are, what you really wanted, what the hell was going on, but didn’t. I ‘understand’ this could have gone on, maybe gotten a lot better, or ended another way.”
She felt the pull every one of the 3,000 miles she’d been putting between them for a year. He wouldn’t be downstairs, waiting in the parking lot or in the bedroom. He wasn’t stashed somewhere and saved for later when she needed him, where she could tell him a little of how she felt if she got around to it. He wouldn’t be where he could help her, focus her, love her until he got too close.
“Jax, it’s not over. It’s just…different. And I’ll be back, and it’ll be better then, really. Jax?”
He held his left hand above his shoulder, open wide, as he went through the door.
He didn’t slam it. He didn’t say “You got this one, D, see ya on the flip side,” or “Do what you gotta do, I’ll be here,” like he did every time she left town. Not even a kiss goodbye. All the times she hadn’t wanted one for the last year, now, when she needed it to matter, it wasn’t there at all. And who was he kidding with his arrogant little timeline? School was school. She’d knock it out early like always.