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Prelude to a Tragedy: The Negative Space Belonging to a Story which I Will Not Write
There was Robert and there was Robert with me. That was how I understood it and he never told me otherwise. Of course one day he would get out the heated suburb in which we lived and leap off to a new age, successful and golden. He would also be with Teddy, the obvious boy-turned man in whom Rob had found love. And then it would be always Robert with Ted and me alone.
But for a time Rob was with me. He was mine for the night of January second, a drunken evening. We had been together for a year and would be for three more; he would leave me upon our graduation from Watsonville High ten minutes after we had taken a cheesy photo. By then I had seen it coming and wept very silently on the left end of the field.
“Reincarnation,” Rob murmured into my forehead, “what do you think?” His left hand was on my elbow, right hand on my ankle; he always had a habit of caressing strange body parts. Not gently either; his light brown, fan-fingered hands would leave stray bruises on my wrists and shins.
“I don’t know,” I replied after sipping from a thermos filled with Robert’s special citrus cocktail. “How exhausting, to have to go through multiple lives. God…Rob, shut up. I wanna look at the motherfreakin’ sky.” I was annoyed; he had taken me to the raw, dusty baseball field on a clear night only to press my head into his shirt. The shirt was very thin, too, but he did not shiver.
He also did not let things go. Not when he could prove himself right.
“Think of all the people…things out there. If you’re good, you get to experience great lives as you go on. If you’re bad you still get to experience life at least, though it’ll be crappy as f***.” He shifted and pulled me closer, breath heavy and almost grotesque.”So much better than an afterlife. Freaking boring, Lyn. You’d just sit there forever. No new experiences, no new life, just forgetting. Watch people down below you live, eat, steal… fornicate.”
I knew he was dropping a hint with his reference to fornication, trying to convince me that virginity was futile; in the long run, my resistance did nothing. Several months later he lost his virginity to Mona Clark at a house party during spring break (I gave it up a week later in my brother’s Corvette while Teddy stood watch). Robert seemed satisfied. I never brought up Mona, but I took revenge by spreading a rumor that made her transfer to Catholic school.
“Anyway,” he continued, “you earn a prize if you’re really good. You get to be a cow, Lyn. You’ll be a freakin’ lovely cow.”
I adjusted my delicate cats’ eye glasses. I would have these another month before he ran over the spindly black frames with my bike.
“My mom told me to spend the night at Teddy’s,” I whined, pulling my prisoner-striped shirt down over my hands. “Can we head over?” I hoped this would at least bring about a change of subject; I hated his religious speeches.
He shook his head and placed a finger on my nose. “No Teddy. Me.” I nodded and waited for him to speak again.
Teddy was my best friend. BFF. Gay since the age when girls and boys become distinct genders. Teddy, me, Glassy, Meg, Michael, Billie, Billy, Hannah, and Ry. Dyeing our hair blonde, mine especially dark-rooted and voluminous. All of us like a club or a gang.
Robert never had friends. Just me.
But January second. I sat through the cold, losing feeling in one extremity after another, drunker than planned, flower in my hair wilting in shame. At least Robbie changed the subject; he told me a story about his family first coming to America, how they were Buddhists, beautiful people who were serene, ghostly, and smelled of herbs. He was still talking as he walked me to Teddy’s house. Lovely Teddy, who would later crack me up telling a story about getting laid by a lacrosse player. He would feed me cheesecake and trade secrets with me. I would tell him about holding Robert’s hand, holding up a blossoming blue bruise on a finger like an engagement ring. Robbie’s tight grip. This boy who I was certain, positive, would never let me go. All he had was me.
“But seriously though,” Rob sighed under a streetlight, “you would like reincarnation. You get to be anything you want. Anything. Just tell me, what would you like to be?”
Even then I knew that he was wrong; good lives are gained by effort, not by choice, and reincarnation is deeper than his vulgar depiction. Despite this, I never cared about any of his faults. I cared about his thick, black hair and his low voice (especially later on, when he would whisper me awake before he climbed out my window). I didn’t care about what was to come, which is staring both you and me in the face with a comical grin. I was not unintelligent; I just didn’t understand it because I could not fathom such a tragedy.
But I could be anything, Robbie said. I could be with him in our forts in his living room, in his corner during study hall, in his bomber jacket at the bus stop while he stroked my hair with a steady rhythm. And my answer came. What did I want to be? I told him a second before he kissed me goodnight, a thousand words is his gesture.
“All I want to be is in love with you.”
Silly Robert. He wouldn’t even allow me that.