When I met her she was telling her friends and a friend of mine, about a new band, named REM and it was a really great band. She was going to school in Athens, Georgia and had a class with one of the guys in the band. They played local bars and parties and she was very excited about the group. None of the rest of us had ever heard of them, but we listened politely, as did her boyfriend, excuse me, her fiancé, who she wore like an article of clothing. She sat tucked under his arm like a baby bird. She was a tiny woman, very petite and perky and he was a gentle giant, quiet to her loquaciousness, dark to her light, tall to her short, and they were the Perfect Couple.
It was fun watching this woman because she was on the very verge of liftoff. She was going to school for her master’s degree and she knew a great band (even if the rest of us had never heard of REM) and she was full of life.
I saw her again, a few months later, and she had transferred to FSU and it was so cool that REM was playing there the first month that she was there. She had to study and it was a little aggravating that they played so late, but that was something they did. Sometimes the band, she told me, would play very old songs after their new stuff, and it was all very silly and endearing, but she had to study, and wished they would have stopped at a decent hour.
She transferred again to Valdosta, to be with her boyfriend, excuse me, her fiancé, and they were indeed the Perfect Couple. REM had gotten big, really big, and she felt as if somehow, she was connected to the band in a very real way. Had she not told everyone about the band? Had she not said they were great? Now they were great! She had seen this coming! She knew one of the guys, had gone to a class with him, and the lead singer had waved at her one night before they started playing.
She moved in with a friend of mine when she caught her boyfriend cheating on her. No, now he was not her fiancé and they were no longer the Perfect Couple. She confronted him with what she had seen and heard and to her everlasting horror, he had confessed. But there was no contrition, no attempts at reconciliation, no groveling, how could there be no groveling, had there only been groveling, she thought he would fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness and she would have, eventually, in due time, forgiven him in a saintly way, but no, there was no groveling at all and he seemed content to watch the fire burn. She flitted from friend to friend, and discovered there were people who were his friends, and had been his friends, and they were not their friends and they were not her friends, and she went to a couple, a man and a woman who she thought revered her relationship as much as she had, and the women was supposed to be a bridesmaid and discovered the dalliance had occurred on their watch, in their home, in fact, and they knew the woman, and the other woman was a friend of theirs. The betrayal went deeper than one man, one woman, and one night, and the population of Those Who Knew grew larger with each revelation. She was left with nothing. She was left with nothing at all but ten years, since High School even, of memories of what was supposed to be.
Her friends, in those ten years, had not risen as fast as she had but now they were having babies and she was not. Her womb was barren and abandoned now. She was still on the Pill. She was now on the market and on the hunt. Her best friend bore a child as she watched and she realized that she was behind in life for the first time ever.
She and I went to Athens one night, to see REM, and we never got close to the venue. Downtown Athens was a mob scene and the local police were turning people around and trying to maintain order. Now, her band had left her. REM had found fame and fortune and this was their way of breaking up with her. Instead of one woman they had found millions but it didn’t matter. We sat in the car and drank beer because the long line of cars was stalled out and she cried softly as there was no way to go forward and no way to turn back.
I was a scrub pad of sorts. If she could do the things that we did together then that would mean she had moved on. By allowing me access to her body and by seeking out that sort of contact she was breaking up with him on a level that meant something. Even two years after the fact she needed to do something, anything, everything, with someone else, anyone else, just to not sleep alone. But meanwhile she had graduated and realized that she was wanted, desirable, hirable, and when she landed the Good Job she had always dreamed of having it was exciting and there was a celebration. Later, naked and drunk, she told me she didn’t want the job. She didn’t want to be who she was anymore but there was no one left to be. All her life, she told me, Guidance Counselors and Professors and her parents and her family, everyone, had told her what a Great Future she had because she was so smart and so good in school and she had worked so hard to become who everyone wanted her to be, but this was not what she wanted.
“What do you want?” I asked.
But she didn’t know. She had always been told what she wanted and now when she had it there was nothing left to do but push the button down the that damn biological clock that kept hammering away at her. By this time REM had gone mainstream, Top 40 music, her friend’s baby was talking and walking and eating real food and her womb was still a nuisance that required a daily dose of preventive medication. She choked on the Pill and the idea that radio stations she loathed were playing a band she felt she had discovered.
The world ended when she turned thirty and still had no children, no prospects for a child, only a friend with benefits that she saw on occasion. It was my fault, after all, that was what I was and she broke up with me, cruelly, viciously, and I could tell that she was going to regret the words that she used, but I could also tell this was her way of burning the bridge between us, forever and ever, so that this part of her life might be amputated from her future, and all that she had told me and done with me, might be allowed to sink into the past, under the blackest water in the darkest night.
I heard a song from REM on a “Classic Rock” radio station yesterday and I wondered how did we get here, to this point in time, and realized that we have always been here, and we would never leave, and behind us, those who saw REM as overrated and old fashioned would stand and listen to what they once knew as magical and new, and realize behind them another generation would do the same thing, and another would line up behind that.
And all the while, we sink a little deeper, into the past, under the blackest water and into the darkest night.