Saturday, August 13, 2005

What the marine said about deja-vu

Some time ago, I used to date this marine.

Date is a word that doesn't really apply, actually.

He was the first person with whom I had a significant relationship. And it went horribly awry, as fifteen-year-old kid relationships tend to do when exposed to hormones. It was mostly my fault. I still feel bad about it.

Time passed. We didn't talk, then we did, then we didn't, then we did.

A few times, we got back together, briefly, to see how it felt. And how it felt was this: He wanted to be with me, and I didn't want to be with him. I love him dearly. I always will. But I didn't want to be in a relationship with him. And this fucked him all up. Because for some reason, for a long time--ten years is a conservative estimate here, and I'm not that old--he believed that I was the one person, the only person on this earth for him. I don't want to go into why. I don't want to go into how fucked up things got once I realized how deep the extent of his need for me to be with him was. I don't know if he still feels this way. He won't talk to me anymore. More on that in a moment.

Some of the best times in my life were spent with him. Some of my most vivid, amazing memories are memories I share with him. It's intoxicating to be around someone who cares *that much* about you. He told me so many times that he'd die for me without thinking twice. That was a lot more weight than I was comfortable carrying in our strange relationship. And so we would go through phases when I'd back off from him and he'd back off from me, because I scared him, because he scared me.

The connection I have with him is inexplicable to me. Outside my immediate family and M, he is probably the only person I would say I love like that, with the unbidden, unconditional, -you can't do anything to fuck this up and make me stop loving you- love. Not in a relationship sense, not in a brother sense. Something else. Some sort of split-cell, animal biological level. He is in that small circle of people who could ask me anything, if they needed the answer, and I would move heaven and earth to get that answer.

These words are not doing justice to this. To his intensity. But an example might.

Seven years ago, when things in his life were going very badly, he decided that joining the marines would pull him out of his path-to-suicide rut. And he joined the marines as a reservist. For six years, he had a half-assed relationship with the marines. Part of him loved it, part of him hated it. He couldn't have long hair and piercings any more, but he could find surrogate father figures because he felt he would never, ever be able to please the father he grew up with. He was adopted. Several years ago, he tracked down his adoptive parents, after years of trying to. Years of wanting to know them. His real father was dead, and his mother was crazy. And he changed, after getting that knowledge. He became more decisive.

And his decisiveness played out in this way. He and I had veered apart again, after a summer of strange intensity in which we spent too much time together, too much intensity entering into the laughter. We didn't talk for some time. I dated some other people. I met M. It worked with M in a way it hadn't worked with anyone ever before. And so I decided that M and I were going to be together. And that was that.

And then, the marine wrote to me. He wrote to me and said,

-I need to know this. Is there ever a chance that you and I will be together? Because if there's not, if you answer no, if you say to me, we will never be together, then I'm going to enlist full time in the Marines. I can't live here like this anymore. I can't live like this anymore. You have to tell me.-

I knew the answer was no. And I knew it was going to be about the hardest thing I'd done in an age to tell him that. But I couldn't leave him thinking that there was a possibility when there wasn't. Our relationship to one another has been terminally unfair to him. And I am to blame. And I know that. This ultimatum forced me to stop the terminal unfairness.

I told him no. And he signed up full time. And about two minutes later, the U.S. declared war against Iraq, and he flew to Baghdad, while I sat and watched the news in my living room with M., completely unable to enunciate why I was so wordless at this turn of events.

He is in Iraq because I told him I wouldn't be with him. He is a marine, in Iraq, and he is watching people get killed. I know this because an uncle of mine is in the same unit he is in, and they talk, and my uncle reports back to me how he is doing, because he knows we are "friends." He was in Fallujah during the big offensive last fall. He's been shot at. He's seen people blown up. Seen them die.

He came home, just before Christmas. I was terrified. I wrote him a letter, telling him I couldn't believe how things had turned out, telling him how much I cared about him and how sorry I was for hurting him, ever. And that I felt guilty for more or less sending him into war. And how I felt angry that he'd tried to put that decision on me, and given me an ultimatum like that. And how I wished he'd talk to me, because every attempt I'd made to communicate with him since he joined the Marines full time had been met with silence.

When I went to deliver the letter to him where he was staying at his parents' house, it was night time. He answered the door. He just stood there looking at me. I could read every nuance of his expression in the light falling on his face from the hallway bulb. He was bemused. He was older. He was thinner. He was things that I'm not going to share here. I handed him the letter. I pet his little dog Betsy, and then I went home and got in bed because I didn't know what else to do. He was in the states for two weeks. I left him every conceivable way to contact me in the letter--phone, email, work phone, work email, etc.

He never contacted me. Two weeks later, he was back in Iraq.

In the end, as badly as I wanted to talk to him, to have a conversation with him, to hear the sound of his voice and see his eyebrows move in their characteristically expressive way over his dark eyes as he spoke, I had to respect his desire to not see me. He broke himself on me. And then he went to war.


All of this makes our relationship sound very heavy and angsty and full of drama. But at its base level, when we were just two people spending time together because we very much enjoyed the pleasure of one another's company, I laughed more with him than I have with almost anyone. Everything was funny to us. Washington's expression on a dollar bill could send us into paroxysms of teary, gut-clenching hysterics. The groundhog meandering out onto the driving range was too fucking funny for words and we nearly pissed ourselves at his bort-bort ambling walk. Daring each other to run butt nekkid across Route 42 at 2 a.m. outside a sports bar was comedy gold. We had fun together.

And we had conversations. We talked about everything. We talked about art and what compels a person to create it. We talked about why he could never make his father happy. We talked about body language. Everything.

One day, we were lying on his couch together. I had my head at one end of the couch, he had his head at the other end. We were so comfortable. Our legs draped over one another. We were throwing small balls of wadded-up paper at the ceiling fan, trying to see how far we could shoot them with the spinning blades. And we began to talk about deja-vu, because I suddenly had an experience of it when my hand fell up on his foot and I touched the laces of his boot. (Yes, it was the kind of couch you could put your boots on.)

He explained deja-vu to me this way. When you are born, you are greeted with a finite number of possible paths your life can take. You can switch between these paths, depending on your decisions. You have the free will to move between these possible pathways, to determine your own future, to the greatest extent possible. But as you live, these other pathways of possibility, of things you might have done, continue to exist. You move into them, you move out of them. As you get older, the number of possible pathways lessens, and paths you didn't take start to fade away.

Deja vu is the sensation you get when you're doing an action, such as lying on a couch with someone you consider your best friend and touching his foot, that had a strong probability of happening on many paths of possibility at once. For instance, had you been in a different class your sophomore year and not met this person, enough contingencies exist in the universe that you would have met them some other way, and come to this place, this couch, with this touch of the boot laces. You'd be here regardless of whether you'd turned right or left at the stoplight three weeks ago. You'd be here if you'd met this person at school or on the sidewalk or at church. The possible paths you could have taken share this probability, that you'll be here, doing this.

That sounded pretty good to me. It sounded more plausible than any explanation I had managed to come up with. Occam's razor being what it is and the simplest explanation being the most likely one, this explanation isn't very likely at all. It's too complicated. But I didn't see that at the time. At the time, I understood it as a very real possibility.

And despite my pragmatic nature, maybe I still do. Maybe I still think that sometime in the future, the possibility exists that he'll want to talk to me again. And all I have to do is navigate the paths of likelihood to make that moment in time more probable. I wonder if, then, I'll have the sensation of deja-vu, if I'll feel like I've lived it before, as though it is a scripted moment my body and mind are playing out on their own--

Or if I'll break free from that, and be able to tell him without fear of hurting him that I care about him as much as I do and wish for his happiness. I wonder if he'll be able to hear that for what it is, and feel glad about it, and not want anything more.

I wonder how he is. I look for him on the news, in the squinting faces of soldiers, in the creases of dust at the corners of their eyes. I wonder if he's back home.

I wonder if he'll be happy.


At August 13, 2005 8:11 AM, Blogger Kross-Eyed Kitty said...

Wow. What a powerful story.
It must be terrifying to know anybody who is serving in Iraq, let alone someone you love and care for. I hope that he will be home one day safe and sound, and that you will be in each others' lives again, in a way that is good for both of you.
I really liked his definition of deja-vu, reminds me of that movie with Gwyneth Paltrow "Sliding Doors"

At August 13, 2005 9:27 AM, Anonymous E said...

you just blow me away...this is the kind of writing that I would pay large sums of money to read. It's a beautiful story, actually. I think we all can relate in the sense that there are people whom we love dearly, with a scary kind of intensity, that we just can't be with. That love never really goes just gets "softer" with age.

nicely done, j.

At August 13, 2005 9:41 AM, Anonymous Allan said...


At August 13, 2005 2:16 PM, Blogger Indigo said...

That's so well written, so well thought out, and I think it just about expresses what a lot of people think about their past relationships.

Glad I stopped in today, that was worth it.

At August 13, 2005 4:09 PM, Blogger Jenelle said...

It is amazing that you have even gotten to feel that kind of intensity...I truly think it is even more amazing that you convey it so well, I could almost reach out and touch it, the air was thick with it...AWESOME!

At August 13, 2005 5:04 PM, Blogger BG said...


At August 13, 2005 5:45 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Amazing story, and very good insight into déjà-vu. I never though of considering it that way, but it is very plausible.

Maybe in the near future, once everything's over in Iraq, he'll want to talk with you. Like all things, he just needs some time.

Take care!

At August 13, 2005 10:23 PM, Blogger deputyswife said...

I had to read his reasoning for deja vu a couple of times. You know, that sounds very real to me. Very weird isn't it?

A very well written post today.

At August 14, 2005 12:08 AM, Blogger Sorted Lives said...

Incredible story -- sounds like you should be together

At August 14, 2005 8:27 AM, Anonymous E said...

I just noticed your new tag line and I LOVE IT! Should be my own personal motto.

At August 14, 2005 10:51 AM, Blogger d.K. said...

I have to agree with everyone else about your writing. Even when you're writing after a long, hard day, there's a strange energy in your prose - very upbeat. And, of course, the subject matter is interesting.
This is a brilliant, bittersweet story. I feel sorry for your marine friend - unrequited love is a bitch, but that NOT your fault. Like Bonnie Raitts sad ballad, "I Can't Make You Love Me."
I hope he'll be alright in that God-forsaken Iraq. I'm sure he will. You be well too!

At August 14, 2005 10:54 AM, Blogger d.K. said...

P.S. That's a great interpretation of deja vu, by the way. Very interesting.

And please excuse all the typos in my previous post :)

At August 15, 2005 7:51 AM, Blogger cmhl said...

that was really well written. hart situation..

At August 15, 2005 11:57 AM, Anonymous M said...

If you love somebody, set them free.
Sometimes, it hurts and doesn't go as we wish, but he's probably doing what he feels like he needs to do.
Maybe he'll be back in your life, maybe he won't, but at least you were honest with him and yourself.
I hope he makes it back alright.

At August 15, 2005 9:47 PM, Anonymous atpanda said...

J, as always I'm glad I found you (or you found me as the case may be....) I love your writing and this story was beautiful. I read the theory on deja-vu to my husband and we had a nice long talk about that one. I, too, thought of Sliding Doors. Interesting movie.


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