Authors: Jonathan Tropper
“I remember,” she said, with a grin. She had one dimple. “God, was I wrecked.”
“Do you mind if I join you?” I asked with manufactured confidence.
“Not at all.”
I sat down with her and we watched the snow fall together for a few minutes. We seemed to be the only two people around, except some guys all the way on the other side of the park having a snowball fight. Her hair was flecked with bulging snowflakes and I felt mine getting covered as well. The only sound was the barely audible, crystalline whisper of the snow as it hit the ground around us. I’d never thought of snow as having sound before.
“So,” I said. “Are you waiting for someone?”
“No,” she said. “I just love weather.”
“Well you’re in luck. There always seems to be some, you know?”
She smiled. “I mean, I like extreme weather. I like storms.”
Whatever insecurities I had left were somehow buried along with everything else in the rapidly falling snow, and I was able to turn to her and look at her square on, without a wry comment to protect myself and say, “What else do you like?”
We sat there for about two hours, talking effortlessly. Homes, high schools, families, majors, movies. It was as if we were giving each other owner’s manuals. The snow was like walls around us,
enclosing us in a private room. She watched her breath in the cold air and swung her leg back and forth easily under the bench, and somewhere in it all I forgot to be thrilled that I was talking to her and just started liking her. My toes were frozen in my Docksiders.
“I guess it all boils down to the Peanut Story,” she said at one point.
“What?” I asked. “Like Charlie Brown and Snoopy?”
“No, my Peanut Story.” She turned to face me, folding her leg under to sit on her calf. There was really no getting around her beauty. It was like a warm liquid slowly spreading through my insides. “I have a Peanut Story.”
“Lay it on me.”
“Okay,” she said, and took a deep breath. “Here it is. Now I don’t actually remember this, since I was very young when it happened, but my grandmother has told it to me so many times that it feels like a real memory.”
“Exactly. Anyway, it’s more of an episode than a story. When I was thirteen months old, I found a peanut on the living room floor and tried to eat it. It got stuck in my throat and I began to choke. My mother heard me and stuck her fingers down my throat to try to get it out, but it was in too deep. By the time the paramedics came I had stopped breathing, and my face was as purple as a wine grape. They resuscitated me in the ambulance, got the peanut out, whatever. By the time we got to the hospital, I was fine. My mother was a wreck, though, and some asshole doctor gave her hell and told her she was an irresponsible mother and that I could have died and it would have been her fault.”
The guys across the way now came tearing across the park, running past our bench throwing snowballs at each other. I realized that to them it appeared simply that Lindsey and I were together,
and I had a vague, half-formed thought about how perception, however uniformed, could be the first building block of a larger reality. The notion didn’t crystallize, but I enjoyed the proprietary sensation of being observed with Lindsey by strangers.
“Anyway,” she continued. “I had a bit of a behavior problem toward the end of elementary school and in high school. You know, mouthing off to teachers, staying out all night, a lot of boyfriends. Just your general adolescent bullshit, I guess. But whenever I got into trouble my grandmother would always trace it back to the day I swallowed that peanut. She said my mother was never the same after that. She grew more and more distant from me, like she was afraid or had no right to show me any real love, because she’d almost killed me. I know my mother never yelled at me or punished me. My friends thought she was so cool, you know?” I nodded. “I think that night at the hospital she decided she didn’t have the ability to be a parent. And my acting out was this pathetic attempt to try to shake her out of it, to force her to step in and punish me. To actually be my mom, you know?” She looked up at me then quickly down at her boot, embarrassed. “I sometimes think about what might have been if the peanut thing never happened.” She flashed a sideways smile and raised her eyebrows. “Anyway, that’s my Peanut Story.”
I sat back and exhaled. “Wow,” I said.
She gave a short laugh. “It just occurred to me that I’ve never told that story before.”
This time my wow was significantly louder, but I only thought it. “Why now?”
“I don’t know,” she said, catching a snowflake on her mitten. “The snow. Whatever. I just thought you’d understand.”
“Don’t thank me, tell me yours.”
“Tell me your Peanut Story. Everyone’s got one, you know? Some seemingly innocuous event that in retrospect changed everything.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think I have one. Maybe that’s my problem.”
“Come on,” she said, giving my shoulder a friendly push. “Everyone’s got one.”
I looked at her through the falling snow and decided to chance it. “I guess maybe this, right here, could become my Peanut Story.”
She didn’t look away or make a face. She stared earnestly at me, searching for any signs of sarcasm, and then broke into a warm, brilliant smile. “You’re going to be a handful,” she said. “I can tell.”
I blew into my hands. I didn’t have a crush on her anymore. I was probably halfway to being in love with her, and I didn’t trust myself to say anything more. By now a number of other people had entered the park, walking their dogs, playing with their children, or just strolling through the snow, leaving footprints. We sat back and took in the scene in companionable silence. Lindsey said, “This is nice.”
I said, “Yeah.”
Later, we built a snowman.
After our day in the snow, Lindsey and I became close friends, which wasn’t exactly what I’d set out to accomplish, but it was fine. There was something intimate, and certainly romantic in the way we related to each other. We understood each other completely and reveled in the confidence with which we could navigate through each other’s minds. It was exhilarating to know someone so well. I never pushed for more because I was so scared of ruining what we had. Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t in a constant state of wanting her.
You make certain assumptions about beautiful girls. The first thing I had assumed about Lindsey was that she’d never even talk to me. Once I got past that, I discovered that Lindsey defied my expectations at every possible turn. Where I anticipated a jaded smile I found one that was completely sincere. Where I expected a throaty, sexy voice I heard a soft, musical one. She had a dry, self-deprecating wit, but she never indulged in the vanity of false modesty. She had to have been aware of her innate gifts, but she somehow functioned independently of them. There was no denying her smoldering sensuality, which affected me even on a molecular level, but what ultimately seduced me was the indomitable zeal she put into simply living.
Lindsey did nothing halfway. She found something fascinating in every experience, and her enthusiasm was infectious. She drew me in with her ardor even when discussing the most mundane things, and when she listened it was with rapt attention and an unwavering gaze. She could make me laugh not only with a sarcastic remark but simply by laughing herself. When she cried at movies she cried hard, and I would inevitably feel my own eyes watering. When I was with Lindsey I came out of a shell I didn’t even know I was in, and it was as if the world was suddenly in sharper focus, with brighter colors. She gave me leave to discard my insecurities, and buoyed by her wake, I felt as if I was finally getting my money’s worth out of myself. I knew early on that if Lindsey loved me, she would bring that same passion to bear on me, and I spent countless hours in contemplation of that intoxicating possibility.
We were both aware of the strong attraction between us, and rather than avoid it, Lindsey embraced it. She was always hugging me, linking her arm through mine, holding my hand, kissing my cheek, cuddling. But we both understood that it wouldn’t go any farther than that. We got involved with other people from time to
time, but always with the unspoken knowledge that in some way we belonged to each other. Unspoken, because there was no way it could be articulated and sound rational. It was like we were saving ourselves for ourselves, which, as I said, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
One night in our sophomore year Lindsey and I went out dancing. Both of us had just come out of short-term relationships, an event that always seemed to coincide for us. I had been dating an Israeli music major named Ronit, who liked to light candles and play the recorder in bed after we had sex. She was good-looking in an outdoorsy way, but I had no real reason for dating her other than because I could. I guess she caught on because one day she asked me to meet her for coffee and showed up with a Macy’s bag full of every book and CD I’d ever lent her and whatever clothing I’d left in her dorm room. Lindsey had just ended things with Gordon, the Porsche Guy. Enough said.
We were at Rascals, slow-dancing to “Nothing Compares to You,” and Lindsey said, “Ben, you know that you’re like the only guy I know who hasn’t tried to get me into bed?”
“I just work really slow,” I said.
“You’re the greatest friend I ever had, Benny.”
I looked at her. “Is that what we are, friends?”
“You know we’re more than that,” she said.
“What are we then?” I asked, not angry but genuinely curious. “We’re not lovers.”
“We’re more than that, too,” she said.
“Well what does that leave? Platonic friends?”
She put her lips against my ear and said, “I don’t think so.”
We swayed back and forth while Sinead O’Connor moaned about her dying flowers. “Well,” I finally said. “What are we then?”
“Why do we have to give it a definition? We’re our own category. A new species.”
“So we’re a case of natural selection?”
“Something like that.”
“Works for me,” I said, pulling her close.
She laughed and hugged me tightly. “Well anyway, I just want you to know that I really love you. You take good care of me.”
“I take good care of you and the other guys get to sleep with you. What’s in it for me?”
She leaned forward and kissed me softly on the lips, something she’d never done before. “You get a kiss.”
“Throw in some tongue and we’ll call it even.”
“Are we going to talk or are we going to dance?”
Sarah and our lawyers were waiting in her lawyer’s office when I showed up to get divorced. She was wearing a light blue linen skirt with a matching jacket and a white T-shirt underneath. The fact that I knew she’d probably gone shopping for just the right outfit to break my heart when we signed the papers didn’t make it any less easy to see her looking so good. I was instantly self-conscious in my jeans and polo shirt. No one had told me there was a dress code for divorce.
“Hey, Ben,” she said, looking up when I was shown in by the receptionist. “You brought your copies, right?”
“I thought you had them,” I said.
“What?” Her eyes flew open in alarm.
“Kidding,” I said. “They’re right here.”
She smirked at me and crossed her tanned legs. Sarah’s beauty was based on mathematics. There was a perfect symmetry to her face, the way the points of her eyes met just equidistant from the bridge of her nose which was, in its own right a paragon of geometrical
supremacy. Her lips, too thin to be pouting, were pursed at the exact midpoint between the tip of her nose and the point of her chin. Every feature was a study in precision, the total effect one of order and logic. And when you looked deeply into her eyes, you could see equations.
We moved into a solemn-looking conference room and gathered at the end of a polished oak table that seemed much too grandiose for so intimate a proceeding. Sitting down, we began the ritual of flipping pages and signing on the lines our attorneys pointed to. It was a pretty simple divorce, seeing as how we didn’t have very many assets to divide. I always knew not having a vacation home in Vermont would come in handy some day. Because Sarah, an architect, made more money than me, there wasn’t any alimony to discuss. It was really more like a breakup than a divorce, except here there were legal fees.
For some reason I thought there would be some sort of closing ceremony when we were finished, a symbolic absolution from the vows we’d once exchanged; the burning of parchment, the drinking of sacramental wine. Something. But when we’d signed the last page the lawyers disappeared to have the papers photocopied, and afterward we simply took our copies and rode down in the elevator together. This wasn’t how a divorce should feel. It was too civilized. It felt like any other thing we had done as a married couple. As a matter of fact, I never felt as married as I did when I was getting divorced. I felt a terrifying sense of emptiness, a panic slowly rising in my belly, and suddenly, I wanted to run back upstairs, tear up the papers and ask for a second chance.