When I met Anna, she was dating a boy named Michael. I never had any interest in her, really, not like that, anyway, which I have always considered fortunate, because distance and observation and not closeness are important to me. Anna though was passionate, willful, hysterical, sexual, all characteristics that make for good stories. She was always stirring things up around her. I am a lot calmer. I do not send out ripples. But I do notice things. And I notice what they mean. So Anna did something, and later I could tell her what the emotional, psychological, metaphysical, and socio-economic implications of her something were. I do not think that a lot of the time she understood or appreciated my analyses, since she was a little less educated than some, but the worst I ever got when I explained something like this to her was a roll of her eyes and an oh boy, Jude! I think that she thought that I was funny in an odd way, something of a comic artifact. But she was also really devoted to me.
Anyway, she was dating this person Michael, whom I also knew. I do not think that she treated him very well, but he was not used to the attention so he played along and we were all young, anyway, so what did we know? Well I will tell you, Anna knew something and I could see it from the first time that I met her in Michael’s basement. He had lifted a few of his dad’s beers and we were drinking them in the afternoon before any parents got home. Or really I should say that they were drinking. I myself am a teetotaler and have been for most of my life except when I am being polite, and this was not one of those times. Michael was quiet like I am, but I do not think that he had much going on behind those big, watery eyes.
So he was quietly nursing his one drink and Anna had downed about three by that point, and we are only fifteen or sixteen here, so that is a lot, especially for a willowy, scraggly, yet okay yes attractive thing like Anna. She is giggling away and sort of dancing or parading around the room while Michael watches her like, I cannot believe my luck can somebody pinch me and I am trying to note the décor—it was all new twenty years before but it was tacky by then, and darkly lit of course. Then she sits down in between us on the couch and puts an arm around each of our shoulders and if you can believe it this little tart gives us each a kiss on the cheek. Michael blushed but I rolled my eyes and checked it off on my mental list of what I could expect from now on from girls like this one here.
And so the afternoon passed as she tried to get me to loosen up unsuccessfully, although Michael was completely loopy by the time we had to go. It is not that I did not think that in general Michael was good people, though he was a bit of an idiot, I just had more important things to think about at that time and now than the humdrum adventures of some meek and uninteresting kid. Things like dealing with my aged mother whose mind was sometimes a bit feeble and thus put a real strain on me then and now, and like writing that play I always had in my head but never on paper.
When Anna dumped Michael—surprise!—a few weeks later, I told her that she only went with him in the first place because everyone in town knew his dad was drunk all night and half the day so he was bound to have a bunch of liquor around his place. She laughed and made this face like maybe that is true, maybe it is not, but I am cute either way, right? And guess what, she was right.
I suppose that the two of us were friends after that, but it was not my doing. She got my phone number and started calling me to talk about her boyfriends and what was going on at home and how she hated her parents, which sounds like pretty standard stuff—and it was—but if you had the awareness to take just one step back from all of that you could see the weird and crazy and amazing effect she had on just about everyone. Boys drooled and pined, of course, because despite her nose that was a bit too big for her face she was really pretty, even I could understand that, but she also frustrated everyone else, like her teachers, who were so upset about her apathy which was obviously purposeful to hide her lack of smarts if you cared to think about it even for a second. She just knew how to drive people crazy, even people that thought they knew better. I thought that was fascinating, and for some reason she did not affect me like that, so I think that she was fascinated by me, too.
Not that she did not try to get me under her thumb. I graduated high school a full year early and shot right out of my dreary little town like a rocket up north along the coast to a rather well-known school in New England—if you buy into that sort of thing—and she pleaded with me quite frequently and even maybe annoyingly to be able to come visit me. Finally I said okay drag yourself up here if it means that much to you and so allowed her to come by bus. When she arrived and stepped onto the sidewalk she gave the bus driver a little wave and he tipped his hat a little bit, no more so than they are accustomed to doing, mind you, and she claimed that she had not spent a penny to get up to my place, but I did not believe her then and I certainly do not believe it now, which I informed her of then and once again much later. She giggled at the time—she never broke the giggling habit—and hugged me very tightly. On the way back to my room she asked where she would be sleeping, and if you think that I thought even in my tender youth that that was an innocent question then you are very mistaken. I definitely knew what it was that she was up to and I was having none of it. I told her that she was to have my bed for the night and that I would be quite comfortable on the floor in my sleeping bag thank you. She was very put off by this but she got over it when we went out that evening.
I will be the first to admit that I am not a social animal, on account of my being a teetotaler by and large, but that night I wanted to show Anna a good time, as they say, because it was my duty to her as a host and as someone who in his education and manners signified what she believed to be the potential of a person. On account of that I pretty much ignored most of the stuff at school that happened every weekend, I was not as knowledgeable about where to find the typical excitement as Anna would have liked, but she had a nose for that sort of thing and found us many gatherings quite easily, and sometimes to my approbation and sometimes to my everlasting embarrassment, eventually insinuated herself into the center of them. She also made the decision to bring my roommate along. Let me back up and tell you that my roommate was at college for one thing and one thing only and that one thing was certainly not studying. His name was and is Hank and he fell for Anna’s tricks the minute she stepped into my room and giggled out her name and shook his hand. But she was all eyes for me that night and was not looking at Hank or anyone else when we were careening around the campus, although she did notice everyone else looking at her. But like I said I was not interested in Anna like that so I was taking no part in her antics while still keeping my goal in mind of showing her a perfectly fine time on her night out.
I am sure you will not be surprised by now that Anna had become very drunk by the time that we staggered back to my room. Hank immediately flopped his stupid self down onto his bed with a big stupid crash and began to snore while Anna sat on my bed with me. I was in this case taken aback very slightly to see that she was crying. She told me that her parents were getting a divorce which is why she wanted to get away from her house so much at every opportunity and I had to admit to her that I had seen this coming for a long while, judging by both the interactions between her mother and her father which I had seen while in her house and by the way Anna sought out male attention. And oh boy I gathered that she did not like this appraisal of her situation because she immediately left my bed and got into the sleeping bag and turned over without even a goodnight Jude, thank you for having me over despite the inconvenience that you must have undergone in meeting me at the bus stop and accompanying me out even though it is a departure from your normal routine and not to mention all the preparatory work you must have done before I even got here. So I retreated behind this sort of makeshift folding screen I had made to partition the room when I needed my privacy, which was often, and got changed into more comfortable attire and was able to sleep in my own bed after all. Do not feel too bad for Anna, though, because she got out of the sleeping bag soon after and slipped into Hank’s bed, so she had arguably a more comfortable night than I did, if you take my meaning.
By the time I woke up the next day, which was quite early since being about ninety five percent of a teetotaler comes with its advantages, advantages mostly manifesting themselves on Sunday morning, Anna had collected her clothes from the floor by Hank’s bed and had left my room. As a concession to her, I called her home later in the day to see if she had arrived there and her mother answered, rather curtly, if my perception can be trusted at all, that she had, which was the end of the conversation. I did not hear from Anna for a while which was a shame because she was something of a bright spot in my life because of her way with people. Her time at my school was just the perfect example. I never saw so many people trip over themselves or break out into song or get into fist fights as I did that night, and that is saying something because I hear that in college those things happen a lot, though my personal experience on the subjects is purposely limited. However, I got along without her as I had not fallen into the trap of romantic entanglement. I was merely interested.
So there it is, the beginning of this ridiculous little trifle of a story and girl. And I do not even mean that I am putting Anna down in any sort of personal way but it is just that in a cosmic sense is it really untrue that she is small? She is the subject of all of this and so must at least mean something to someone but she is only one person among a lot of people. Not everyone can be rendered meaningful or even appealing despite the best intentions, and not every story needs to be told, but maybe it is just that something made me tell this one instead of another and who can ever say what that thing is? And anyway if I am not telling her tale then who will be? I think it would be no one.
Well. You might be pretty surprised that I have managed to get so far already. We are up to where Anna called me on my telephone a year after she had left me so abruptly to tell me that she was getting married. At the moment at which she breathed this breathy, apologetic Hello Jude into the phone I could have guessed that she had not really changed or matured in a meaningful way in the twelve months during which we did not speak, during which I had been going about my business in school, doing very well, if you cared to know. When Anna contacted me I was going to tell her that her news did not shock me in the least, given what must have been her sudden and subconscious need to repair the sad but pedestrian rupture between her father and her mother, as well as what I guessed was her lifelong desire to be attached to and protected by a male older and stronger than she, but very wisely I thought that she might have grown unaccustomed to my candor in the past year so I refrained and just graciously gave her a few lines of congratulations. To be really truthful to all of you I was actually excited to see what this new development would mean for me as her de facto biographer but even before I could begin to imagine it she laid what she must have thought was a real whopper on me. She said to me very loudly that Jude I am pregnant! And it was not an accident but a choice by her and her fiancé Rory who was twelve years her senior. In truth I was a bit upset at this point that she would take such a drastic step to secure her future in this way, since I had still maybe charitably assumed a little more levelheadedness in her but she says she really, really does love this lug who came out of absolutely nowhere and who am I to say she was to marry this person and not some other person?
So I have to go to the wedding of course, which I did because Anna’s guy had moved them up from our little mid-Atlantic nothing of a suburb to about a few minutes away from me at school to be close to his dear mom and pop who were all for helping the couple dealing with their new ill-advised bundle of joy, or otherwise I probably would not have taken time out of my studies as they were and are very important to me. The ceremony was pretty nice, even I have to admit, because Anna never amounted to too much but her parents were from the nice side of town and so they always splurged whenever they could to protect their investment, as I like to think that they probably called her. I did not really speak to Anna during a lot of the reception because I was busy watching everyone else but she eventually came up to me to say hello how are you Jude long time no see. This was the first time we had spoken face-to-face since she had slept with Hank but I think she could see that I was not still sore at her and so we fell back into chatting as if all that time had not interrupted anything at all. She ended the conversation by saying that we should stay in touch and I am thinking yeah right I think you must have probably said that to every other person here so we will see if it happens, but even though it turns out that she had indeed said that to everyone else—I asked her—she actually did try to stay in touch with me. I am not saying there is anything special about me, but Anna must have thought there was.
So her wedding was really my wedding too, not in a literal sense of course, but in the way that after it we were even closer than we had been before it. I can imagine that Rory was very jealous of me and to be quite frank with all of you I do not blame him in the least. Envy is a completely natural reaction to many situations for a lot of people in this turbulent world in which interpersonal connections and wonder and sadness and love, things which I have ever and always seen in the lives of those people I know, really do abound. And just because I am not subject to some of these phenomena does not mean that I am ignorant of them. And I do not even mean to say that Anna and I were together all the time because I eventually removed myself from my school because it was not the right fit for me, and I moved to a very different part of our great country, one with a lot more wide open spaces, and did not see her.
But we talked on the phone all the time, by which I mean very frequently. Since she stayed home with her baby all day and night and since the work I got in my new place was in the evening and not time-consuming and because I did not much appreciate the new people I was among, people who were gruff and older and who had unlike me given up on their dreams a long time ago, I was usually at home when she called me at least once a day, usually at about two o’clock in the afternoon. The people that were in my apartment before I was in it whom I think would have repulsed me by being probably strung-out on various drugs and substances and not at all ambitious according to the condition of the place had nevertheless left a comfortable enough couch there, so I frequently sat on it and awaited her ring while I watched the television or even observed the people outside the window who never looked like they had ever had any damn worries in their entire perfect lives.
Once during one of our conversations, Anna made the joke that she had taken the bus to visit me so I should visit her to see her child but I told her that it was too expensive. When she brought up the clearly false idea that she had gotten a free ride when she had taken the bus those years ago I said that that was not at all true and she dropped the subject. I had received pictures of her baby in the mail and she was a fine baby and all but kids are really not my thing so that was another reason to just stay away, even though Anna was my friend.
At some point after about half of a decade of talking to Anna and receiving her letters and seeing more and more pictures of Charlie—she was a girl but they called her that which was short for Charlotte, and Anna just giggled when I pointed out that she was driving her baby to an identity crisis—I got a call from Rory. This was almost all of the time awkward on the rare occasions that we spoke because what do I have in common with a mechanic or whatever he was? He told me Anna was sick. My first thought was that with a kid around it is not a revelation to me if anyone in that household has been stricken with influenza, but he got very grave and told me that my friend was quite possibly suffering from something from which she would not recover. He asked me to come to her because the way she talked he thought that I must be the only friend she had. Which was sad to me, although, knowing her tendency to form fast-burning and volatile relationships, not unexpected.
At first I said I cannot make it because of a lot of obligations that I cannot simply drop, which was absolutely true. Even if others who were not so sensitive to the resonant rises and falls of our planet and all of the people in it like I am, and who were just plain lucky enough to have everything they wanted just handed to them, might not have seen these responsibilities as being as integral as I knew them to be. But he begged and pleaded and told me Jude you are the only face in this whole wide world besides Charlie that might make even the smallest difference to my dear wife and since I did not want a scene with this guy even over the phone, I agreed.
Now, this is the sad part of the story, and almost the end, if you could not tell. I made the trip to Anna’s house, I really did, and I took a taxi from the bus stop because they lived in the most inaccessible part of their town that they possibly could have, and I went right up to her door, but for some reason I could not go inside. I am telling you all I did not know what I would find in that house. I did not know what Anna was dying from and I did not know her child and it did not scare me but it did stop me from going in, so I just turned around and got back in that taxi, for which I got quite the look from that awful man behind the wheel. I did not receive any more calls or letters from that house but my mother did mail me the tiny little sliver of news in my old home’s local paper about one of our town’s unfortunate young daughters a few days later. And all I can think about this story now is what a way to start it. When I met Anna, she. That’s iambic trimeter. It’s lilting. Beautiful.
Dan Forward majored in English literature and minored in pretentiousness at Boston College before going on to Suffolk Law School to learn something practical. His humor column on MySecretBoston.com has been described sarcastically as “funny,” and his dour fiction has appeared in Fogged Clarity.