JONATHAN - Reprise.
If you don't know about JONATHAN, then this piece won't make much sense to you.
18 years old
In the late-morning hush of our empty house, I sit at the kitchen table, staring at the phone. Both my parents are at work. Is he, too? Or is he at home, like I am? Does he have a new home now? Is he visiting his parents for the summer before returning to college? Did he even go to college?
He wanted to, while we were together, but who knows how that fateful trip to Greece altered him, or in what ways?
The phone doesn't get any closer to dialing itself as I stare at it, so I haul out the two-ton phonebook for the greater Twin Ports area. I open it to M and run my finger down the grayish-white page until I come to Marshall.
There it is. The same address. The same phone number.
I stare at it even longer than I stared at the phone. Not like I need a phonebook to remember it. It's been over four years and I still could dial it by heart.
If I dare.
But I had let Jonathan go like he asked me to. If the connection is ever meant to be rekindled between us, he will have to be the one to do it.
I slam the phonebook closed and dump it back on the bottom of the microwave stand, then march toward the hallway.
The phone stops me.
I stand there, defeated. Resigned. I know what I'm going to do. The same thing I did after Carl and I broke up, before things really got serious with Shane. The same thing I did over and over in the spring of my eighth grade year.
After picking up the receiver, I poke my finger through the hole of the first digit, dragging the dial down and releasing it. I repeat the ritual for every digit until the last one. Crrrrrick...whrrrrrrrrrt. Crrick...whrrrrrrrrrt. Crrrrrrrrrrrick...whrrrrrrrrrt. Crrrrick...
My finger pauses, pinning the dial in place. All I have to do is let it go. Let the call go through.
My parents' anniversary clock on top of the piano ticks. The pounding of my pulse in my ears almost drowns it out. My shallow exhalations pant through my nostrils, loud and tremulous.
What if his mom answers? What if she's upset that I won't leave him alone? Worse, what if he answers and laughs at me? What if he thinks I'm the stupidest little kid on the planet? Worst of all would be if he barely remembers me. Maybe I was nothing to him but some small-town little girl he went on a few dates with and then shucked off, once an overseas trip awakened him to bigger life issues than kissing jail-bait on a dance floor.
Because that's what I was. I didn't know that then. He probably didn't either, or I doubt he would have gone out with me seriously enough to involve parents and multiple months. Is that the real reason he dumped me? Because someone informed him about the prison-bar reality of dating a girl so young and I wasn't worth the tormented wait? Or worse, what if the assholes in my class had informed an authoritative someone that a junior was dating a vulnerable little eighth-grader and the Hammer of Doom was leveled over his head in warning if he didn't dump me?
That's something my classmates wouldn't have hesitated to do to me, without a care of what it would do to him.
But then why would he have cut short that trip to Greece and come back a mess?Would his mom have lied when I asked her if something horrible had happened to him over there? Had I misread the distress in his voice and the anguish in her eyes? Had I torn myself up over his welfare all these years for nothing?
Maybe I am still just a stupid little kid.
Will he be annoyed that I won't let him be? Will he be distantly polite again, leaving things just as undone as they have been, except now with my relentless hounding to sour the memories? Will he be angry?
What if? Will he? What if? Won't he?
My teeth grind together. My brows knit in determination. This is ridiculous. This is stupid. I either need to do it or not. What's the worst thing that could happen? He could laugh at me or tell me off? Fine. Then he would have never been worth the esteem in which I have held him all these years.
At least I'll finally know.
What if he's been standing at his own phone like this, on and off over the past four years, too? What if he thinks you hate him or that you never gave him another thought because you didn't care enough to check up on him? What if he misses you like you miss him? You're eighteen now. You're both adults and can do whatever you want.
Fuck it. If I don't take this chance, then I'll never know, will I? And I do know one thing. If I don’t do this, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. After all the boys I've been around and flirted with and dated, I know to the depths of me: Jonathan was special, so I straighten my spine, take in a deep breath, look straight at that rotary dial--
What if you read it correctly and he truly did go through something devastating in Greece? What if the sound of your voice dredges it all up for him again? What if he has boxed up his pain and the memories of whatever happened to him over there, tied a concrete slab to it, and let it all sink to the bottom of Lake Superior so he could go on with his life? That's what he asked of you. To let him go.
What if you cause him more pain than he's already been through because of what YOU need? That's not love. That's not even kindness.
My head droops. My gaze lowers. I drop the receiver back onto its cradle, severing the connection before withdrawing my finger from the 6-hole of the dial. It spins back home.
Leaving the phone behind, I box it all back up, tie a bigger concrete slab to it, and let it sink back down to the bottom of Lake Superior where I had wisely buried it.
In Fall 2020, I finally shared my tales about my junior high experiences on this blog. All through the months of editing that series, dancing about it, dreaming and journaling and talking to my friends about it, asking my parents about it, putting it away, picking it back up, bawling about it, beating the snot out of air about it with fists and feet and weapons...I also scoured the internet for any hint of Jonathan Marshall. I googled. I looked on classmate and ancestry sites. I even found the obituary pages for the funeral we had met at.
I thought that I might have found Jonathan’s own gravesite page, but no. After chatting with the woman who managed it, I learned that the young man who had tragically died in his early twenties wasn’t him. Neither was the Jonathan Marshall who taught at a high school in my old home area. Neither was anybody else I found. They were all too young, too old, or obviously not him. A few friends were even so agitated by this lack of closure that they started searching on my behalf.
At one point, I had thought eureka, I’d found one of the daughters from the Marshall side of the family--the adopted daughter of my cousin’s grandma’s niece. But her account was set to No Private Messages.
"Get a clue," I chastised myself. "It's a sign. Just drop it."
Then the Fates decided to chuckle. I found myself inexplicably inspired to poke about on a streaming site I don't often visit. BING. This is one of the first suggestions it had for me:
Dammit, dammit, dammit.
Because there was still that one final option, hanging out there like a juicy fruit about to go bad and fall off the tree.
I either had to let this go forever, or I had to reach out to that particular blood relative who was related by marriage to Jonathan while I still could. None of us are getting any younger, after all, especially not that generation. I talked to my friends again. I journaled and danced some more. I meditated on it. A lot. After writing four different drafts, I finally sent the email.
But that message was so much more than an attempt to connect with a long-lost flame. It was also a request to finally, for the first time in my life, find a way to connect with a family in which I had always felt like a misfit. I've always been neuro-divergent. A weirdo. A "freak." Plus, I had made that faux pas at that funeral, and it was still an occasional "joke." So I made one more attempt to reach out and try to bond with people I dearly care for.
The brief response opened with this:
“I’m sorry you’ve always felt so isolated from our family.”
My eyes shut in disappointment. Such a Minnesota-Nice thing to say.
Let it be known. Nobody can apologize for someone else’s feelings. That’s not an apology. Neither is that kind of statement remotely welcoming, heartwarming, or validating to someone else’s pain that they’ve risked a great deal to confide in you about. I had not pointed fingers of blame in my message. If I pointed at anyone, it was me and my alien-weirdo nature, combined with the fact that there had been weighty issues going on during that time that I hadn't spoken to anybody about. I had really hoped that, after everything that's happened over all these years, maybe we could finally open up and share who we really are.
Although I'd mostly given up hope that anything could be learned about Jonathan, I'd at least been consoling myself in advance about my wish that it might open up some new communication with people I instinctually loved, but barely knew. People who barely knew me either.
I detailed the dream I'd had about the cousin of my generation who we lost to cancer at age 47. "In that dream," I wrote, "she told me that, as long as I keep on seeking closure and healing all this old stuff inside me, I will be fine."
Disease is so often dis-ease trapped in the body, after all. But even that didn't warrant a single word of response. We just do not talk about that kind of stuff in our family. It's too heavy. Too deep. Too painful. Too intimate. Too vulnerable.
And I have always been Too Much.
As such, I also apologized for any hurt or affront anyone may have felt about me going to a funeral and coming home with a date. I tried to explain why my connection to Jonathan had been so important that I would override appropriate decorum to nurture it--not that I was just a fourteen-year-old, uncaring asshole, but that I had been drowning in a sea of never belonging, and Jon had been a rare kindred spirit.
Finally, I asked for help in seeking closure. I explained that I've dipped testing toes into this issue at various times throughout the years, but that any time I bring things like this up, I'm always pooh-poohed, along with the bafflement of why I "can't get over" these things.
I explained: precisely because, whenever I try to deal with them, I'm always pooh-poohed by the people involved or those who are closest to me, so I slam it all shut again.
"I'm sorry I don't remember him either. It sounds like he was very special to you. I’m going to pray that you can resolve this somehow and be reassured that he is ok. Please know that I care very much about you and wish I could be of more help. When all else fails I ask God for help."
I wrote back that I HAD asked for Divine help, multiple times, and that I had received a very clear answer: that I needed to confide in and ask the assistance of this particular relation who could contact that side of their family and see if there was anything that could be learned about what had ever happened to Jon. If he was okay…if he was even still alive.
The response this time:
🦗 🦗 🦗
During the next holiday, we all chatted on the multi-person phone call, and we pretended like I had never written those messages.
That, too, is Minnesota-Nice.
Precisely why I don’t live there anymore. I am fully aware that NotAllMinnesotans. But this kind of stuff is the biggest reason why I have always felt like an outsider in that region of the country, and in my own family. As I’ve said before, I love my extended family. Dearly. Fiercely.
It’s just not anywhere that I can open my heart and feel like I Belong.
So that’s that.
--UP NEXT: BE-FRIE - ST-NDS: Things that, once I got to college, I did have to let go.
--OR if you haven't read any of the pieces about college that I've already written and want to catch up on the timeline before we launch back into Dance Adventures, the first one is here.