Here is where we last left high-school Brenna: she’s just been asked out on her first-ever date and now, in the privacy of her physics notebook, she is hastily backpedaling.
On the surface though, everything looks neat and under control. Smooth as glass.
The date goes down like this:
Dill shows up at my house precisely on time. He wears matching shoes because he wants to make a good impression on my parents. I don’t tell him that whatever impression he makes will have nothing to do with shoes and everything to do with whether or not he strikes them as being interesting.
The movie is enjoyable. There is popcorn, which I like. (Soccer season has started, and I’m perpetually starving.) Dill is polite, entertaining, and very much a gentleman. When the movie is over, he asks if I want to hang out for awhile and get to know each other, and even though my interest in kissing has kind of evaporated, I say yes.
So instead of taking me straight home, he pulls into one of the scenic overlooks above the city, where upperclassmen go to flail around in the back seat and grope each other.
I consider this. Even at her most flustered, new Assertive Brenna has a certain coolness, a chilly mantle of calculation. She is self-possessed. She is completely without diplomacy.
“I’m not going to make out with you,” I said. “I don’t know you very well.”
He laughed. “I didn’t bring you up here for that. Really, I meant I want to hang out. To talk.”
He was looking across the seat at me, smiling awkwardly, and he wasn’t even lying. Much.
But Dill is true to his word and doesn’t try to kiss me. Instead, he unbuckles his seatbelt, leans back, and starts to talk. And I spend the next two and a half hours feeling really, really happy. The city looks kind of glorious, lit up below us like a sea of colored sparks, and I’ve been waiting for months to have a conversation with someone who is not my sister.
It turns out that Dill is a lot of fun to talk to. He’s animated and enthusiastic and actually thinks about things like art and religion and philosophy.
There is, however . . . a problem.
The thing is, he doesn’t like people very much—not the way I like people, with a strange, uncomplicated like, where it doesn’t matter how selfish or misguided or messed-up they are.
You could name anyone in our class, and for the most part, I’d be able to tell you some captivating piece of trivia, some defining thing that I enjoy about them. With Dill, it kind of goes the other way. Name almost any person and chances are, he has a complaint—some old grievance, some time in junior high when they offended him or annoyed him or he thought they were ridiculous. He doesn’t even like TS, which I find incomprehensible, since she is both hilarious and one of the nicest people I know.
This, the way he finds fault with people, is troubling, and it makes it hard for me to tell him about the things I like, because no matter how many times he says I’m cool,* I have this nagging fear that if I keep talking, we’re eventually going to reach an awkward, empty place where I will say exactly what I’m thinking and he’s not going to understand.
This makes our conversation increasingly one-sided, until eventually, I shut him out completely.
“Tell me something about yourself,” he said.
“I like to draw.”
“That’s cool, but tell me something else.”
“I play soccer.”
“Look, I know that. I’m trying to get you to tell me something real. Something about you.”
“Sometimes,” I said, still looking away, “it starts to snow and I look out the window and wonder what it would be like, you know, to be a snowflake. Instead of a girl.”
“Jeez, that’s so cool.”
I pressed my nose against the window. “Why?”
“I mean, you think about stuff. Most people don’t. Most of the people at school are just stupid.”
“You really think so?”
“What, you think they’re smart?”
“I think they’re sixteen.”
He didn’t say anything.
When I tell him about the snowflakes, I’m not lying. I do think about being a snowflake. I also think about what if people emerged from chrysalises like butterflies and what if the planet lost its gravitational pull, and whether dogs have friends. But I say the thing about snowflakes because it seems tidy and simple and at least I won’t have to explain myself.
Okay, let’s back up. That’s not even close to a clear picture of the level of weirdness involved, so allow me to break it down: in my logic-addled brain, it seems much easier to tell a relative stranger that I sometimes anthropomorphize the weather than it is to admit that I spend a huge portion of my day imagining other people’s lives.
Dill, however, seems delighted by my affinity for snowflakes. He keeps saying how cool I am, which I’m forced to admit is amazingly gratifying, and I have the vague idea the maybe I’m not really being fair to him. After all, he seems like an excellent boyfriend in many ways—yes, some of them having to do with his biceps—and not everyone is going to share my pathological interest in what other people are doing.
He takes me home and walks me up to the door, but doesn’t ruin it by trying to kiss me. I go inside feeling torn. Dill is interesting and fun. He seems like a decent person and I’m relatively sure that I enjoy his company. But I also think there is only the faintest chance he’ll ever actually understand me.
Note that this does not in any way make me disinclined to keep seeing him. I’m determined to demystify dating if it takes every ounce of my intellectual resources. I am going to Win at Dating. With newfound resolve, I settle in and apply myself to the problem.
The prognosis is not good.
I’m trying to figure out what feels so wrong about it. It’s like maybe you should be friends at least, first. We’re not friends. We’ve spent a week playing badminton together in PE. What is that?
The thing about friends is this: Irish is my friend. I don’t like him better than as a friend. He is awkward and skinny and freckly, with big hands and feet, but the point is, he knows how to be my friend. I don’t talk to him for weeks, and then he comes up next to me when I’m walking and starts talking to me like we never actually stopped.
Last Friday, I was at my locker and he hit me on the shoulder and said, “Hey Buckaroo, you want some teriyaki rice?” and shoved half his lunch at me.
Yesterday, Dill had been walking with me, talking to me, and I was just being how I am and listening and when we split up and I was walking to class alone, Irish came up behind me and started talking and it was just so much easier, to be standing there in the hall with him and not trying to navigate “Girlfriend.”
Despite my obvious reservations, my pseudo-relationship with Dill persists for nearly two months. I’ll spare you the play-by-play. Suffice it to say, April rolls around and I’m still pretty much exactly where I started, taking stock of the situation almost every day, trying to decipher the complicated world of Boys.
Tensions are rising steadily, though not on my end. The thing is, I have a bad tendency to back away from anything that smacks of emotion, which in turn makes Dill needy, and then the situation just exacerbates itself. Basically, by April, we are spiraling down into an epic relationship death-plunge. We keep having these state-of-the-union talks and Dill demands to know where this is going, while I’m still back at the here-and-now, trying to figure out where I currently am.
In typical Brenna-fashion, I discuss the situation with myself constantly. Sometimes I make lists. They all reflect the numerous ways in which the outlook is not good.
[I have] a tall, good-looking boy with blue eyes and a strange smile, who calls me too much and sits next to me at lunch and will never make my heart beat faster, no matter how cool and funny and nice he is.
And I’ve even tried to tell him that, I’ve tried to explain. Every time he starts talking about relationships and us, I’ve tried to make him understand. But he just keeps saying we can make it work, all it takes is a little effort [. . .]
He’ll break up with me though. I know it. He has to. He’s had a lot of girlfriends and he never keeps them very long and I keep hiding my face when he looks like he might kiss me. I’m such a nerd. If he dumps me, that’s fine, that’s easy. That’s cowardly.
I like going out, with something to do on a Saturday night. I used to wish sometimes I was those girls, you know the ones. Now, I have a date every Saturday and most Fridays too, and Dill brings me flowers and it’s nice but not right. What I really want isn’t this.
I say this in black ink. In ballpoint pen. Without equivocation. I say it very clearly to the physics notebook, but never to Dill, never out loud. Because no matter how clearly I think I’m communicating, I’m . . . not. It doesn’t matter though. As usual, Dill is far more proactive than I am, and in another week, he takes matters into his own hands.
Dill’s going out with Christie now. If this were a movie, I would be upset, but instead it’s sort of close to funny. When I asked about it this morning, Catherine and Elizabeth told me the story like they were talking to a girl on her deathbed.
“Oh, Brinnie,**” Elizabeth whispered, looking like she might cry and I started laughing.
“What’s wrong with you?” Catherine said.
I took a long breath. “Just, thank God!”
And they just stared like they couldn’t believe I was real.
Catherine told me Dill still likes me, but probably wants to make me jealous or hurt my feelings. It all seems too much like a daytime drama. The only thing that bothers me is that he didn’t ever come out and tell me. But that’s so hypocritical, since I should have broken up with him a long time ago.
That’s right. Dill starts dating someone else without actually telling me. And instead of feeling hurt or confused or rejected, I find myself standing in the Language Arts hall at 7:30 in the morning, fabulously relieved that I don’t have to be the bad guy or take responsibility for the situation at all.
And if I feel just the smallest bit disappointed? Well, it’s due to a suspicion that I’ve somehow failed to master the mechanics of dating. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I leap to the conclusion that I have failed at relationships, not because maybe Dill just isn’t the person for me, but because Dating: I’m doing it wrong.
Now, in my grown-up life (equipped with the benefit of hindsight), I feel comfortable saying that it’s a little bit from Column A, a little from Column B.*** At the time, however, I conclude that my first foray into the world of boys has been an abject failure.
For his part, Dill is courteous. Respectful. He spends the next few weeks judiciously staying out of my way. (However, this will certainly not be the last time we see him.)
Okay you guys, the responses from last time were phenomenal, and I’d lovelovelove to hear more. I’m looking for stories, and they can be about romance, or break-ups, or anything you want to talk about. You’re more comfortable with a theme, you say? Then tell me about a time when you knew in your heart what you wanted and wow, your actual real-life behavior was not consistent with that.
Any reason counts—any circumstance or situation. Sometimes, we keep our true feelings to ourselves because for one reason or another, it seems necessary. Or, as in the case of Brenna and Dill’s not-so-fated romance . . . sometimes it’s just because we’re cautious and scientific and kind of selfish.
Update: Also, I just realized that this discussion topic is totally abstract, so in an effort to be more . . . concrete (?), I will change it!
Instead, tell me about your first break-up.
Unless it is too traumatizing. Then you don’t have to. But if it is somehow traumatizing *and* hilarious—well then, please consider sharing!
*And oh, I am cool. Just not in the way he means. I am liquid nitrogen. I am Freon gas. Hands to yourself, unless you’re in the mood for contact burns.
**Most-hated nickname of my entire life. Yet another thing I never actually, you know, told anyone.
***Okay, fine. More from Column A.