The first time I saw him after the breakup was at that girl’s wake.
You remember her, right? That pretty, curvy brunette that sat behind us in Composition? She wore those too-short shorts, even when it was cold out and snapped her gum obnoxiously before she spoke. Her heavily outlined eyes narrowed to slits during class discussions as she would feverishly concoct counterarguments to the class’s decided opinion. God, how that pissed me off. Such an attention hog. Well, apparently last Monday she was doing 102 down Woodhaven Ave and crashed into a telephone pole. I still can’t remember if she made prom queen or runner-up last year though.
Just the other week in class we were discussing The Tempest and whether or not Prospero had ultimately been the true king of the island. He raised his hand confidently while I sat there memorizing the shape of his upturned chin and his tousled hair.
“It’s evident Prospero is the victim of the play, and is merely trying to re-establish justice on the island. He single-handedly rights all the wrongs of the island and therefore is the true and rightful king.”
He was always coming up with stuff like this in class, and I was admittedly mesmerized, entranced. The class, too, seemed to be under his spell as each student nodded in agreement. Then snap, snap, snap from the back of the room. Our heads twisted around only to lay eyes on her crossed arms, cocked head, and overworked jaw.
“You’re kidding me, right? I mean, no offense, but you must be joking.” She looked around for support, but the class did nothing but stare back in disbelief. She, however, continued without hesitation. “Well, to be honest, everything you’re saying is pretty pretentious. It sounds like you took that right from Sparknotes.”
Nobody spoke. I looked to him for some sort of retort, an argument, anything at all, but he gave nothing. A vein swelled in his forehead and his cheeks flushed.
Snap, snap, snap.
“Personally, I think Caliban’s the real king.” I over-exaggerated an eyeroll in hopes he would see it, but he just stared straight back at her, blood obviously boiling despite his efforts to keep composure. “I mean, who the fuck—oh, sorry Mr. Hart—does Prospero think he is? Caliban was there first and his mom ruled the island way before Prospero even got there. You’re kind of just being an asshole if you think Prospero is the real king.”
And that was Vanessa Cleaver. She possessed the rare combination of being both popular and obscure, a code that made her intimidating to younger, fashionable girls and mysterious to older, confident boys. She and I moved in different circles throughout high school, but I couldn’t help feeling quietly envious of her. Envious of this defiant, Caliban-supporting, gum-chewing girl who died doing 102 down Woodhaven Ave.
I was still waiting in line when I saw him up ahead of me. Saw him and felt my lungs collapse. Saw him in that black button-down I got him when we went to Cape Cod and those khakis his mom was always telling you to throw away. Saw him and felt my heart leap in a way that it shouldn’t at a wake. Our eyes connected, and I felt an electric current run through my body. Before I knew what I was doing I was walking out of line and walking right up to him. He looked at me like I had food in my teeth or something and couldn’t understand why I was cutting all these people that were waiting to kneel by this dead girl’s closed casket. I still couldn’t tell you why I walked up to him that day, but my feet started moving and I wasn’t about to stop them. I stood in front of him, awestruck.
“Hey.” Really, that’s the best I could manage?
“Um, hi. H-how are you?”
“That’s good, that’s good to hear.”
“How about you, how have you been?”
“I’m all right, this is…this is all just so weird, you know? I was just talking to Vanessa the other day in class, and now…”
Wow, really? There I was just trying to ask him how he was doing after the breakup and all he wanted to do was talk about Vanessa.
“Yeah, it’s weird,” I repeated mechanically.
“I mean ,I just can’t believe it, I’ve never dealt with anything like this before.”
“Yeah, yeah, I guess. How are we though?”
I blurted it out before I could stop myself.
“Are things okay between us? I’m just not sure if we should talk about things now that we’ve had a little time to—”
“Are you serious?” He took a step back. “Vanessa’s dead. She’s dead, and our breakup is what you’re worried about right now? That’s pretty fucked up, even for you.”
I stood there, dumbstruck, unable to respond. I stared back at him, searching for something to say, anything, but I was frozen. When I remembered how to move my body, I slowly turned without another word and returned to my place in line.
I stood in that line for an eternity before I reached her. My soles were sore in my too-small heels and my dress felt awkward around my shoulders, like a hug from an elderly relative I didn’t want.
I couldn’t believe him. Why didn’t he care about me? How could he be this cold, this selfish? I made a mental note to try to talk to him again at the funeral. That’s three days from now. Maybe he’d be more receptive then.
When it was finally my turn to kneel, I stayed there for what I felt was an appropriate amount of time. And as I stared at her closed casket, I was half expecting her to be in there grinning and snapping her gum in her too-short shorts, flipping carelessly through the pages of The Tempest.
Attention hog. You remember her, right?
Photo Credit: Love, Desire and Death . Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. quest.eb.com/search/108_279640/1/108_279640/cite. Accessed 17 Jan 2017.