Six Months Later
By: Jaimie Malphrus
A few weeks ago, I started running again. I usually like to go through neighborhoods and alleys and find odd little nooks and crannies. I like to go at night (I know, I know, I’m a woman), but it makes me feel a little freer to explore.
But last Monday it was sunny. I had been in Zoom meetings all day. I wanted to soak up the warmth. So I started in the Cancer Survivor’s Park and hit the trail towards Falls Park. It was a nightmare. Just… people. Everywhere. A group of guys heckling the runners wearing masks. A roller skater in boxers doing a handstand (a much more enjoyable moment than the guys yelling at passersby). Bikes zipping past. I hate bikes. And when I’m running (let me be clear, not exercising, RUNNING to REALLY loud music blaring out of one earbud), I hate people. So I had made a horrific mistake.
Eventually I gave up trying to “run” and just walked to Falls Park to sit in the sun. These people were taking their “exercising” way too seriously for me. You’re running. Outside. On a beautiful day. Calm down.
I ended up walking automatically towards the stage area. There it was, surrounded by bright green grass-- not mud and river sludge. This depressed me more than it should. It was beautiful, but that just amplified the feeling that no one had used it since the Summer of 2019 for the Upstate Shakespeare Festival. Too dark.
I quickly switched gears and sat on a rock down by Reedy River. The one where the duck with the man bun hangs out. I take that back. I waited on a bench while I watched a young woman take her wedding photos first… then I took her spot.
I should note that at this point I still have music blaring, because I generally don’t like to be alone with my thoughts. David was always much better at that than I am. He could sit silently forever. I need a book or music or a cloud to watch. Something. He could stare at a tree for half an hour and be completely content. I was often infuriated with his peacefulness. And jealous. Not just that he could be so contemplative, but also because his attention wasn’t focused on me. Only, it usually was. He could multitask. Once he felt me spiraling at the lack of movement, he’d put his arm around me and pull me in and lovingly tune me out while I whined about how I had to pee or there were too many bugs. He had this ability to make me more present. Be where your feet are and all that jazz.
This wasn’t some super human ability, either, to be enlightened and present and conscious of each moment, though. I think that makes it more spectacular, honestly. It was a choice. He would choose to be in that particular moment. Then it would be over and he would go back to plotting how he would take over the world and what to make for dinner so I didn’t forget to eat. But I digress.
I’m sitting on the rocks, searching for the man bun duck, when a Modest Mouse song came on. My iTunes was on shuffle. Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who Modest Mouse was until I started dating David (I KNOW, I’m sorry!). Very early on in our relationship, before we were “official,” he told me that this song reminded him of me. Now, friends, if you want someone to like your music, all you have to do is tell them that a specific song makes you think of them. It’s foolproof. They will sit silently and hang on every word and then download every song they’ve ever made. That’s just me? Oh. Well, that’s exactly what I did.
So, The World at Large comes on and you know that feeling when a song you haven’t heard in a while suddenly comes on and it feels like you’re in a completely different place? You’re just instantly transported back in time? All of a sudden I’m sitting in David’s Mercury Sable (hot, right?) in the rain outside of my apartment in Charleston on Columbus Street. We both have our seats leaned back just watching the rain on the windshield. I’m listening to the words in this song and falling even more in “like” with this weird, tall, quirky creature next to me.
Now, if you haven’t listened to it, this is not a romantic song. It’s not like, “oh you’re so pretty and fun and I want to spend all my time with you.” It’s about restlessness and drifting and wandering and searching for things you might never find. It’s beautiful and dark and sad and it made me look at him in a completely different way. I felt very seen… and not in a super great way. In a way I had specifically been trying to avoid. I didn’t want to be “seen” at all. I was fun. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and I wasn’t sure I should be appreciative that he had noted some of my deep, dark flaws, you know? He’d been paying closer attention than I anticipated.
He had put together just a little too much for comfort. That I was a runner in more ways than one. That I moved every six months. That I got married at 18 in a military town and followed a guy around the country. That everything fell apart when he got deployed and came home different. That I was different by then, too. The resentment that surrounded me when I started performing, much later in life than I should have. That terror of getting “stuck” behind a picket fence in the suburbs.
Things changed so quickly after that. That kind of intimacy, that kind of understanding drastically alters your dynamics. It changes the way you look at each other. The way you think about each other. It changes the way you sit on the couch together. A couple months later we were sitting in that same spot, David having driven me home after a date, when I first told him “I love you.” I almost said it on accident a thousand times. I wanted it to be purposeful. Intentional. Because it was. It was a conscious choice to not run. To be present and brave… and then I got out of the car and went home. I guess even that early on he was already helping me become a more deliberate version of myself.
And so, I’m sitting on the rock. I haven’t spotted the man bun duck. I’m actually staring at a tree wondering how the hell it’s still standing. All the roots are exposed, the dirt completely eroded away, and somehow that tree is still fucking vertical. Reaching towards the sun. I panic and start to think, “Am I the tree? The roots are obviously all my nerves exposed to the elements! I’m just hanging out until a strong breeze decides to tip me over like a fucking teapot!!!” And this spiral absolutely ENRAGES me because I am not the one that’s supposed to stare at trees thinking. Clearly. Dammit David.
And now I’m doing exactly what I try not to do every single day. Reminiscing.
So I definitely didn’t think about the first time I heard that song.
I’m good in a crisis. I’m good when I’m busy. When I start to reminisce is when I start to lose it. I’m desperately trying not to remember all the moments we had in that gold Mercury Sable. The first time he drove me home after I drank too much, and I woke up thinking I robbed him. I woke up with his magnetic nametag in my hand. I snatched it out of his car door. Like a criminal. Turns out he let me have it (easier than arguing with Drunk Jaimie). It has always hung on my fridge since then. I still prefer to think I robbed him, though. It makes me feel edgy.
I definitely didn’t think about that.
Our first kiss after talking for hours on end for a month. I strategically sent my friend home from the bar so I would have to walk home alone (which I enjoy anyway). It just happened to be pouring down rain, and David, ever the gentleman, loves to swoop in and rescue people. I decided that if we didn’t kiss that night, then I was over him. He was lame. Boring. He was too tall for me to kiss him, and I decided he needed to make the first move (which has never been my style, but for some reason this felt important at the time). I’m convinced he was legitimately terrified of me for a while. He often put furniture between us when we were talking, which I loved to tease him about. So this night was my cut off. I told him I liked him. That he was handsome. That I wanted to spend more time together… he stared at me like I was an alien. I leaned over his console, soaked from the rain in a bright yellow coat, put my head on my hand and just looked at him. I may or may not have called him a chicken, which in hindsight is pretty rude. But he took the hint.
It was the best kiss I’ve ever had. Sweet. Tentative. The chemistry was oddly shocking. Neither of us were expecting it.
Definitely didn’t think about that, either.
That’s the one. That’s the memory that I’ve been avoiding the most. The very beginning of us knowing that things were about to change trajectory forever. Maybe in a horrible, catastrophic way where we end up together and break up in a fight with a flamethrower and a bazooka… or maybe in a way where we would spend every second we possibly could together, forever. There was no in between. I wasn’t sure at the time, but either way I was for it.
Never could I have possibly imagined the actual path that we were on. That he was already on and had been for years.
I take one last look at the tree and see that there are buds starting to form at the very top. It makes me even angrier. Like… filled with rage angry. And I wonder if I’m grieving or coping-- if it even matters at all.
Man bun duck or no, it was clearly time to change the music and run… run… home.