WE ARE Narcissus

I have tried to write my story many times and have never been able to get far. I always go over my words again and again, editing and polishing and getting caught in the obsessive intricateness of arranging lyrical phrases. I am hoping that writing this online and posting as I go will keep me pressing forward.

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27. Jack Daniel's Young Love

i cannot blame jimmy's influence for any of my actions my junior year of high school. it's true that he fed my eating disorder, but i also fed his. 

 

i think it was october, fall semester 2008, when sunshine made her announcement, and broke up with me via email. i would be lying if i didn't say it was somewhat of a relief to be free of her. not that i didn't value our friendship, but we'd known each other for too long at this point. i was always aware even when starting a new relationship that it was only a matter of time before the other party saw through me. all of my friendships came with a built in expiration date, because i could not handle letting anyone come too close; i was so afraid they'd inevitably find out how crazy i was, that i tried my absolute hardest to show them all the worst parts of myself right up front so they'd be scared off before the bond became too deep and watching their backs as they ran away hurt too much. so when i read the email that lowered the curtain on one chapter of my life, the pain was already dull and distant. the moment i'd be waiting for since before i'd even met my now ex-best friend had finally come.

 

but there was another reason i was secretly pleased to be thrust aside. on the first day of school, not knowing where sunshine was, i found myself wandering the cafeteria at lunch time, utterly at a loss. whatever ties i'd had with freshman year's friends within my own grade were weak and, as far as i was concerned, had already been severed. it was almost like a repeat of my time as a fourteen year old fresh from several years of homeschooling, suddenly transplanted at a high school campus that dwarfed the two acre plot that had been my entire world previously. except that i couldn't feign confidence anymore. because the people around me knew me, knew of my embarrassing foibles, and could not be fooled by my attempts to act aloof and mysterious. i stumbled between tables, avoiding making eye contact with anyone, as though refusing to see what was right in front of me could render me invisible. once i'd made my rounds and the panic that fueled me to move gave way to emptiness, my body shut down, and i found myself slumped against the white stone retaining wall that separated the lunch tables from the grass knoll. 

 

i may have been just sitting there, numb and burned out, or i may have been weeping bitterly into my palms when jimmy approached. "hi." his voice was loud enough to penetrate my haze, and i looked up into a pair of sparkling, light blue eyes made all the more startling by their rims of dark lashes. he wore a white polo shirt, and a smile above a day or two's worth of stubble.  his hair was longer than it had been a few weeks before in summer school, and i was surprised to discover that its true color was a coppery brown. so he wasn't a skin head after all. "it's great to see you again. how was the rest of your summer break? i'm sorry i forgot to call you about going to the movies; i'm really forgetful about that kind of stuff. i'm sitting at a table with my friends over there, and you're welcome to come sit with us." obviously, none of this is directly quoted, but you get the gist. i ended up handing onto the edge of one of the red benches, my fingers threaded through its mesh to try to keep myself from sliding off the end. i did not allow my leg to press against jimmy's, though keeping a few inches of distance between our skin meant that i was mostly sitting on air. i did not look at anyone, and barely spoke. 

 

after that first incident, i began trading off, spending one lunch period with jimmy and the next with sunshine, who i finally managed to link up with. i wasn't much of a lunch guest, considering that i didn't eat lunch. i considered this to be an extraneous meal, and therefore had done away with it. what's more, since i felt so bulky and unattractive, i was convinced i needed to demonstrate to my peers that i wasn't to blame for my chubbiness by never eating in front of them. besides, ever since i'd begun my all liquid diet, which i was still on at this point, i'd begun experiencing "rumination syndrome." without any effort on my part, i chronically regurgitated anything i consumed, and while this extended the pleasure of eating far beyond the typical length of time it takes to chew and swallow something, and provided a great deal of comfort to me, i also realized that it was an extremely shameful condition that should be hidden at all costs, as it would instantly kill whatever sex appeal a hideous lump of blubber like me retained. 

 

every other day, i sat at that lunch table with jimmy and his friends and watched them enjoy their meals and listened to their friendly banter. it soon became apparent that by only dipping one foot into this pool, i was missing much of what went on in jimmy's circle. it chaffed, slightly, to have details of hilarious incidents from parties i hadn't been invited to dangled in front of me. i felt like i was juggling two worlds rather than truly being a member of either. so when sunshine bowed out of the race for my attention, i was finally able to turn my full focus toward becoming a part of jimmy's life.

 

i'd given a lot of thought, even before i went boyfriend shopping that summer at speech class, to what kind of boy i was going to fall in love with. i suppose this is a universal fantasy that unites all little girls. growing up where i did, there were a lot of contradictions in the information i was fed about the male species. on the one hand, masculinity was considered to be a curse, bringing with it stupidity and aggression and laziness and just about every other vice know to humankind. on the other hand, i was taught that men were the doers in the world; only men could be priests, and my mom was old school enough that she didn't even approve of female alter servers at mass. god had made men to go out and build careers, while women were different and were really called to raise children. in my mom's view, or at least the one she expressed in conversation with the golden child while i was a high schooler under her roof, most of societies' evils and its decline could be attributed to the change that took place when women started working outside the home. being an mrs major in college was not only a completely viable option, but was pretty much what my sisters and i were groomed to do. unfortunately, since i knew how ugly i was, this meant my prospects were bleak. 

 

my taste in males was also influenced by the opinions of my two older sisters. they, my mom, and i all watched countless insipid romantic comedies together during this time, the reoccurring theme of which was a young woman who is too good for the brutish, vulgar men that surround her from every angle, who eventually discovers true love with the one man who isn't interested in being macho or monetarily successful but in being there for her. though the golden child never once mentioned a single real boy for whom she felt anything, my mom made it clear that this particular daughter of hers was so much a cut above the rest that she was completely uninterested by the vain, immature creeps with whom she went to school, and was just waiting for the perfect guy to come along, whom god would inevitably send her way because he saw her purity and other superb qualities. as for the golden child herself, she once remarked with her usual biting sarcasm that she'd know her future husband when he came along because he wouldn't sweat. my eldest sister, having been labeled by her siblings as "boy crazy," was another story entirely. when i asked her what she found attractive in a male, she cited sherlock holmes and doctor gregory house as examples of ideal specimens of manhood. she told me she wanted to be dominated by someone brilliant, arrogant, and eccentric. listening to her, i thought she had a screw loose, but she was actually just being honest about the very same things that had drawn me to my covet another girl's boyfriend my freshman year. there's some sort of psychoanalytical axiom that floated around my high school about all girls in the end searching for somebody exactly like their dad. with the opinion of my dad that i held onto, at this time, the very idea of such a thing horrified me; what horrifies me now is the thought that back then, my eldest sister and i were both searching for our mother in a male form.

 

jimmy was probably the first person i perceived myself to have feelings for who wasn't a narcissist. he was actually a genuine and decent human being, and he really cared about me and expressed it through kindness and gentleness instead of domineering abuse. as soon as i settled on him as the object of my desire, he replaced whatever hazy shadow in my mind had occupied the role of the perfect guy. which was very ironic, since he was also the most feminine boy i'd ever met. a great deal of what i found attractive in him had to do with the way his mind worked, much more similarly to the girls i knew than to any boy with whom i had experience. 

 

i had the sense, at least, to regret how much i told him about my eating disorder. i was caught between the common sense that nobody in their right mind would want to be in a relationship with a girl as screwed up and unhealthy as i clearly was, and my need for closeness with another person. i had the idea that the more he knew me, intimately, the greater a chance that we would someday be more than friends.

 

there wasn't much to me, besides my eating disorder, to share. i did not even know how to have fun. i didn't have any opinions about music, and the only movies i saw were chosen by my family rather than myself. i could not be a part of jimmy's extracurricular activities; i lay on the trampoline in my family's backyard on one of the first nights that we began texting, and invited him to come over and have pizza. he didn't take me up on the offer. in the entire time that i've known him, four years to date, we've "hung out" maybe four times, and only one of those occasions took place while we were high school students. 

 

my crush had barely lifted off the ground, and already there was a problem. you see, jimmy drank. in fact, from what i could tell given the conversations he had with friends, the majority of which hinged on hilarious escapades from the last time he and they had consumed alcohol together, jimmy fell into the category i'd previously established in my mind as "party kings." i discovered that he knew other boys, his age and a year older than me, whom i'd already assessed as trouble and community college bound (in my mind community college was synonymous with death, the stark absence of a future to have hope about). and though he was clearly different from them, quieter, less vulgar, and more sincere, his questionable associations were still a significant issue. how was i going to convince my family, who had the power to ruin my intended relationship even before it began, that this boy really was my sole mate if he engaged in immoral activities? how was i going to get close to him when it seemed obvious that he never spent time with people outside of school except when drinking?

 

i'd already learned, from the main crush of my sophomore year, that i could not simple change any male at will to fit my needs. i'd met a boy, for once my own age, in my religion class, and quickly decided that he should be my first boyfriend. by this time i'd moved on from freshman year's idol on account of the fact that he was an unmitigated jerk whose crass insensitivity made me feel absolutely worthless, and also he didn't seem to be breaking up with my friend, his girlfriend of over a year, any time soon. the boy from my religion class, initially at least, until he no doubt began to sense that i had feelings for him he didn't return, treated me like a person and a friend. but he was also very much sexually active and an extensive pot smoker. he told me detailed stories about his sexual exploits, taught me words i'd never heard before such as "cannabis" and "rastafarian" and "ejaculate" and "boner" and "giving head." in fact, before his elaborate story about getting a blow job from a girl on their first date while in a restaurant's restroom, i had no idea that there existed such a concept as oral sex. during the rambling he spewed over the phone while he was high he also filled me in on the fact that his much older brother grew marijuana. 

 

in order to obtain this boy as my own, there was one thing i needed to do. and that one thing, in my mind, had nothing to do with getting him to "like" me. no, the first order of business was that i needed to cure him of his obvious addiction to weed. because only after he'd stopped cussing and smoking would he become acceptable according to my family's value system. i made the mistake of sharing some of my struggle to "help" my crush with my mother, and in doing so unwittingly ensured that i would never be allowed to date him. because try as i might, i would never get him to put down the bong, and my mom came to this conclusion long before i did.

 

having learned my lesson the in the months preceding summer school, i decided that i would handle things the smart way, this time around. i set out on my quest to cure jimmy of his partying ways without breathing a word about it to my mother. i had intense conversations with him, debating philosophically the issue at hand. bizarrely, he actually did not take offense at my attitude, but seemingly understood my need to question everything. over the course of that first year of our friendship, i wrote poetry dedicated to him, including the poem "a prayer for sweet dreams," i gave him paintings i'd done and created for him the most elaborate easter box in recorded history. he made me a playlist for my ipod, and convinced me to live dangerously, listening to the electronic device that was strictly contraband during school hours during a lunch break in the library. 

 

though he was entirely ignorant of my crush for a long time, we did agree that we were kindred spirits, like in john keats' poem. i referred to him with classmates in my own grade as "prince charming," afraid that if i used his real name my silliness would get back to him. my family, as supportive as always, dubbed him "funny face." even early on my mom professed to be worried about my "obsession" with jimmy, which, like my creative writing and poetry and art, all detracted from the attention i could focus on my studies and my family life and god. 

 

i did not see jimmy over christmas break. he'd started his health kick before our vacation, but i hadn't paid too much attention to it. i tried to convince myself that it was just talk, choosing to focus on the occasional bacon sandwich he unwrapped from a packet of tin foil to eat for breakfast by his locker, instead of his discussions with female friends about the gym. we exchanged a few texts over the few weeks that we didn't see each other, but nothing in them prepared me for the shock of returning to school. the time away from him brought the twenty pounds he'd lost sharply into the forefront of my attention. all of a sudden, his uniform hung loosely on his body. he had deep, cavernous hollows around his collarbones, his face was very thin and white, and his giant hands were spidery, the knuckles appearing swollen in contrast to the boney lengths that separated them.

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