Song: “Neon” by Mayer, John from No Room for Squares
(Picture from welcometogracier.blogspot.com)
Greg sat heavily in the booth across from me, sighing seemingly involuntarily. He looked blurry from head to toe; a touch slow, mildly disheveled, a bit stubbly, somewhat shaggy. I hadn’t seen him like this since our college heydays of last minute papers rolling into celebratory drinking culminating in early morning hangover staving off meals in the local diner.
After a moment of silence, of Greg staring at some distant point with little expression, I speak first.
“So…you wanted to meet?”
His response comes before he even speaks. My question unmoors him, his face falling apart before my gaze. Eyes go wet, mouth sinks into a deep frown, brow becomes a tangle of thick almost painful looking creases. Right away I know what this is about. Felicia. But then, with Greg, it is almost always about Felicia.
“Bobby…I can’t do it anymore,” he confesses, his voice both conspiratorial and shattered, “I…I’m not made for this.”
It stuns me. This is new. Greg give up on Felicia? Until this moment, it would’ve seemed ludicrous.
Greg and Felicia met our senior year and, against all odds, they fell immediately into coupledom. He was a straight laced ultra serious product of hard working middle classers who already had his eyes set on the next seven steps of his life. She was a freshman, eighteen and absolutely wild. Home schooled throughout her adolescence by a rich family who feared her “corruption” by both dirty inadequate public schools and coddling “artsy” private institutions, she tore into college with remarkable enthusiasm.
Somehow, they crossed paths one night and tumbled loudly into his bed. Well, first they smacked against his wall, then collapsed onto his floor, then tumbled into his bed, each step made with increasing volume.
And immediately, they were hooked on each other. Intertwined. Drowning in one another. She pushed him and pushed him and pushed him far beyond his comfort range and he carved out a place for her where she could just be, where she could bounce off the walls or read a book and each be met with equally enthusiastic support.
As Greg’s friends with all high fived him, got a kick out of overhearing her…enthusiasm, and appreciated her rather disinterested attitude towards staying appropriately clothed at all times. However, we never expected Felicia and him to go the distance. Graduation, if not sooner, would spell the end. But it didn’t. Somehow, they stayed together, did long distance, and five years later were living together a block away from my wife and I.
Surprisingly, things really didn’t change with either of them either. Greg stayed staid and reliable and quick to indulge and Felicia stayed wild and impulsive and always ready to push the boundaries. But around the edges, things began to fray. We saw it. Felicia’s friends, on the rare times we all hung out together, confirmed our impressions in quick hushed tones. Greg was grinding down. Buckling. What once was fun and exhilarating was getting to be too much for him. The way she threw herself into every moment left him dizzy and exhausted. We saw it but he didn’t seem to so we bit our tongues and hoped that this fairy tale would find yet another unlikely twist to pull it from the brink.
Looking at Greg though, I realized, there would be no such surprise ending.
He continued, “She’s…Felicia’s…I can’t keep up. I’m just not fun.”
“Oh come on!” I object. Greg not being fun wasn’t the issue. Not really.
“I’m not. She is. She’s so much fun. And I…I can’t keep up. I love her—”
He choked for a moment, a gurgling noise suppressing a sob and ending up uglier by far. He produced a box from his pocket and slapped it on the table. I swallowed my surprise. It was unmistakably a ring box.
“Greg why would you have a –”
“I thought…buy her a ring, ask her to marry you…everything will be ok if you just get married.”
He paused gulping hard.
“But it won’t be alright. I keep telling myself it will be, but it won’t. I…I can’t be all she needs. It won’t be fair to either of us.
“But she loves you, Greg. I’ve seen it. And I know damn sure you love her.”
He nodded, his body sagging and crumbling towards the table.
“I know. I know, Bobby. And it’s not enough.”