Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reckoning (Part 2)

Mike and I went to the same college, but I don’t think we ever even talked. He was Julie’s ex-boyfriend though, and I’d heard all the stories. A year before I transferred in, he’d broken into her place and dragged her by the hair right out into the commons, and no one did anything about it. He never got kicked out of school either, never lost any friends after he beat her so badly she had to go back home for three weeks. Never got barred from his fraternity or the engineering honor society after her restraining order or the complaints she filed with the U-Life Committee. He spent a couple of days in jail once, and it was like some big joke – a drunken war story he could tell his friends, and no one really thought about stopping him. Because Mike had a lot of friends – people once told him he should run for student council. He was tall and athletic – a black belt in karate – and his entry in the yearbook index had quite a few lines. Nobody wanted to think hard about what he’d done to Julie. They didn’t like Julie all that much anyway. She was like me. She didn’t have too many friends in college.

Julie was pre-med, and she lived in the same building I did, a few floors above. I ran into her when we were both down in the laundry room, and we started talking. She was brown-haired, a little taller than me, and she used to play sports in school – she had one of those thin, gangly kinds of tomboy bodies. She looked all elbows and ankles sometimes, but then she’d wear a dress and get girled up, and there was something even more soft and feminine about her because she didn’t seem sure of it. Julie was all kinds of beautiful.

Soon she’d come by my room for coffee. And then one fall break everyone else cleared out, and we found ourselves alone for the whole weekend. We didn’t do anything, really. Kissing. I held her a lot. But she stayed in my room the whole time. She didn’t know if Mike had gone away – that’s when she told me about Mike – and staying with me made her feel safe. And even after everyone came back we were friends. I don’t know why she didn’t want anything more. But she didn’t. Maybe she just needed me, and I was okay with being needed, even if it was only for certain things.

One night recently I started thinking about where Mike was. It happened at my job. I was there late, and it had been a long strange day, and I was in a mood where I couldn’t decide to just get up from my desk and go home – frozen almost, doing mindless busywork. And all of a sudden I just went to the office fridge where they kept the airline bottles of cheap champagne, popped open a few, and started looking people up on the web like I usually do when I’m alone and drunk at the office, and it’s late. (It’s happened a couple of times.)

First I look ex-girlfriends up. Not Julie, but people like her. There are two or three women I don’t keep in touch with whom I’m curious about. Then it’s old friends – kids I haven’t seen since grade school. Teachers sometimes. Sometimes I go through the alumni database on the college website, and I enter organizations, class years, and majors that might bring something up even if I don’t know what it is. All those names – people I remember, and miss, and hate, and sometimes only barely recognize. All those people I’ve passed, and seeing entries they’ve posted on discussion groups now out of date, or the personal websites they’ve opened and forgotten for years, and the addresses where they no longer live listed at organizations they no longer belong too… seeing them there, only existing because no one’s bothered to erase them yet. Seeing them there makes me feel what? What?

Looking these entries up at random, late at night, and drunk in my office, long after the cleaning people have cleared out – this is a game of mine. This is something I do to pass the time. I have a lot of time at nights. Maybe I should get out more.

One night it was Mike’s name I entered – I wasn’t even thinking about it too much. But he had an address listed somewhere in southern Maryland, right out of DC. I did a general search of his name cross-referenced with the city, and found a press release from a consulting firm that mentioned him as a new staffer. I did other searches, and I found something else, and I didn’t know how I’d missed it before. But there it was. Mike was married. Someone named Marie. They were expecting. The entry was a little more than a year old. Mike had a wife and a child, and he was living somewhere in the suburbs, and he had a good job, and he didn’t even appreciate it. I didn’t know who this Marie was, but I knew she had a problem. I was determined to solve it.

Part 3

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