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On Reprieve Lacking my Joie de Vivre

By Brandon Brown

A lock of red hair drapes across my girlfriend Maggie's lips, and she smiles at me while she sleeps.  My hand is tucked under her record pajamas and warm on her stomach.  We are lying in her bed, surrounded by icons of her bohemian lifestyle on the walls.  I'm looking at a postcard with an ee cummings quote:

"if we love each (shyly)
other, what clouds do or SILENTLY
Flowers resembles beauty

less than our breathing"

It makes me think of something she said before falling asleep.  "You are lucky to be breathing the recycled air from iconic 1930's French cinematographers."  She said this with a shrug, her lips puckering towards the ground. 

The easy silence of the room is interrupted by the Seinfeld theme coming from the floor.  Moving my hand from Maggie's waist I reach for my cell phone.  I look at the display and it's my ex-girlfriend Gabby.  It's been two years since we last talked; second semester freshmen year when we broke up.  As I answer the phone a memory sparks of the first time I kissed her tight lips.  I seized her in a fit of passion and she just stood rigid and gave me a peck and pushed me away when I tried to kiss her more fully.  We had some nice times while it lasted, but it ended for the best.  I answer with curiosity saying, "Hey Gabby, how are you?"     

"Hi, John, I was wondering if you could maybe come over to my room.  I'd like to see you before I leave for Africa." 

"It's late, can't this wait till tomorrow?"

"Just get here as soon as you can." I hear her click off and I shift to get out of bed.  This shifting stirs Maggie and she's wide awake by the time I get out of bed and put my jeans on over my boxers.   

Maggie asks me who it is and she scrunches her face in confusion when I say Gabby's name.  She asks me why I'm going to go over and face the "gruesome twosome" (a nickname coined for Gabby and her uber-conservative Christian roommate) when I could just stay in bed with a beautiful girl.  I lay with her for a few minutes, thinking over her proposition. 

Maggie and I have been dating for about a year and she is my first real relationship since Gabby broke up with me.  After Gabby I spent most of my time in a series of beds that were not my own.  That was actually how I met Maggie, at a frat party right after I had become a new member.  Maggie was standing behind the makeshift bar (a table propped between the sink and the washing machine in a kitchen), her quirky little mouth was moving up and down, mouthing the words to a song playing in her head as she twisted open a bottle of vodka.  As she poured herself a screwdriver I stared at her kissable lips and asked her to make me one for me too.  She was wearing a white lacy top with a polka-dot skirt which revealed her knee high black boots.  Her face was touched little with make-up, and her hair hung to her shoulders, moving slowly as she swung her head in time to the music in her head.  Looking up from the cup she gave me a wink and said "It's gonna cost ya sailor!"  Enticed, I flirted with her until I finally worked up the courage to ask her back to my room.  As we walked to my room we talked about music, Maggie mentioning a handful of indie bands I had never heard of but pretended to know, like Broken Social Scene and The Decemberists.  This was the first time in a couple months that I had finally slept in my own bed and the first time with a girl.  Gabby never let us sleep together; she said that it would be a sin if we were to share a bed before we got married.  As we entered my room I asked her if she would like to spend the night and then she walked over to me, her body moving fluidly like water spilled across a table, and whispered in my ear, "Sure Sailor".  I felt a chill run down my spine and I reached out and wrapped my arms around her and began to kiss her passionately.  As we kissed we began moving towards my bed and I tripped over my guitar case, which made us both fall onto the squishy mattress pad.  We continued to kiss passionately as we giggled and moved to a more comfortable position with Maggie and me lying on our sides, embraced.  She tasted like clove cigarettes and orange juice. After a few minutes we stopped; I said I wanted to take things slow and she said alright.  She then put her arm around the back of my neck and pulled me close to her breasts and I rested my head in her arms and welcoming bosom.  We lay there and talked about music and movies.  She was telling me about this French foreign film she was dying to see and I offered to take her to see the movie on Friday night.  She looked down at me and said, "It's a deal Sailor.  After all, you do owe me for that drink." 

Maggie is actually the reason I haven't talked with Gabby: I had started to date Maggie shortly after that frat party and the night I asked Maggie out, I went to tell Gabby.  Immediately Gabby started into me, saying that Maggie was a "party hardy free spirit who didn't care for me," a "one night stand that would only screw me up more than I already am".  As Gabby said this, she pointed a finger at me like a school mistress and poked my chest forcing me back into a table behind, which knocked a flower vase at the end of the table to the ground, shattering it.  Silence hung like mist before I finally hung my head and apologized for breaking the vase, then left after Gabby screaming for me to leave.  That was the last time I had talked to Gabby and I remember walking away thinking how wrong she was, that Maggie had so much personality, with her musical tastes and talks of film and art, the way we could be comfortable in each others arms, getting high, drinking, and supporting one another.  Like the time she told me she wanted to be a piece of living art and I came over to her room only to be greeted by Maggie in nothing but a TV box splattered with red paint and the words "Capitalism = Death" scrawled in childish handwriting.  I gave her a look as if to say I don't get it and she told me to sit and watch a David Lynch film and it would all make sense.  

I like her quirkiness and her ability to keep me on my feet and the way she encouraged me to pursue my music.  I could spend hours listening to Maggie's creative input whereas Gabby made me want to stop being a musician.  I'm serious about pursuing music and all Gabby ever said to encourage me was "John the only way you will become a musician is if you go to school and study music."  This was completely the opposite of Maggie who pushed me to play at bars and try to make it on my own.

I look at Maggie's full eyes and say "I think I'm going to go see her.  She is getting ready to go to Africa and I probably should see her before she goes.  I mean, we haven't been on the best of terms and I would like that to change."  I think over the words I've just said and I know that they are sincere.  I just hope that I can convince Gabby about that.

"I'll be back soon.  You don't have to wait up for me."

 "Sure John, good luck, and remember: don't let Gabby walk all over you like she did before."  She says sure in such a way that implies she will be waiting eagerly to hear about my talk with Gabby.   

"I know; I won't.  See you later honey."  I kiss her lips softly and then head for the door.  

Standing on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street to the second part of the Acer College Campus I'm almost hit by a black speeding car which I don't even notice until it crosses my line of vision.  Gabby lives in a double with her friend Joy who she has lived with since freshman year.  They have lived in room 101 on the second floor of Williamson Hall since freshman year, too. Williamson Hall is on the second half of the campus which is divided by a main road which leads to a small town in either direction.  I live in a flat on the main campus with my roommate Jason but usually I just stay in Maggie's room during the night.  Walking into their building, swiping my card in the card reader at the entrance to the building, I suddenly feel my throat dry up.  There is a water fountain on the right hand wall with a TV right above the drinking fountain.  As I drink the water I stare up at the closed captions in lieu of sound.  Then wiping my lips and straightening out my shirt, I walk over to the doors which will lead me to the stairs.  The walk up those stairs to Gabby's room gives me a sudden uneasy feeling and I start to feel unsure about whether or not I can go through with talking to her, afraid that she might say something which will damage me.  I silence the little voice in my head and I knock lightly on her door.  There is a pause before I hear her voice say "Who is it?"  There is no going back now, this is the point of no return.  "It's John, can I come in?"

"Sure come on in."  There is an unenthusiastic tone to her voice.  I turn the knob and enter the room slowly.  As I walk in I notice my surroundings.  Joy is sitting in a chair next to Gabby and there is a third chair in the center of the room.  Suddenly my palms become sweaty and I'm looking around, eyes darting around the room.  I sit in the chair and notice a Bible on the table next to Joy and a few scattered information pamphlets on Gabby's side of the table.  Looking over at Gabby's bed, I remember the first time that we watched Sex and the City together and how I tried to make out with her afterwards, the automatic way she pushed me away, telling me she was tired and wanted me to leave so she could go to sleep.  I even offered to stay the night and she said that there was no way I could share a bed with her because that would be a sin.  I think of how different things are now, and I feel a little sad but then I realize that things are alright now.  Gabby looks at me and starts to speak in a melodramatic tone before I can even exchange pleasantries. 

"John we need to talk about something, sit down in that chair across from me."

"Ok, what is it"

"Look John you have a problem and you need to do something about it.  I saw you smoking pot and drinking.  What's the deal?"

I shift in my chair, starting to feel guilty even though I feel there is nothing wrong with smoking and drinking.  Before I can even say anything, Gabby continues.

"We saw you at the 7-11 on Saturday night, we almost didn't recognize you.  You were getting cigarettes and you could barely stand up straight."

I long to be back in Maggie's room, laying in her arms, not dealing with Gabby and her fire and brimstone attitude towards my decisions.  It reminds me of the first time I drank freshman year, she had the same judgmental eyes then also, yelling at me telling me I was going straight to hell and I should be thrown in jail for breaking the law.  This memory sparks in me a desire to say something but I only mutter.  "Yeah I guess I might have been a little trashed on Saturday night, but come on, it was Saturday night."  She asks me what I said and all I say is, "Nothing."

"Look John I can't be friends with you anymore, not if this is how you are going to live your life; living in sin, that's not the John I became friends with, that's not the real John."  Gabby says this, beginning to tear as she says my name. "John, I can't believe that you don't think there is anything wrong with smoking and drinking and not even having a relationship with me who you once claimed to have loved so deeply.  Now you are with that slut Maggie and you just don't care about anything but getting high, getting drunk or getting laid.  You have changed so much, you are not even the real you anymore.  She did this to you and you are too blind to see it." 

Maggie's face glides across my eyelids, saying "Goodbye Steve" and storming out after I had once said "Goodbye Gabby."   "So this is how you feel about me too? I'm just a disappointment to you?  Like I always was?"  I had hoped in my mind that maybe we would patch things up, that she would want to have me back in her life and to have the friendship we once had.  One where I could tell her about how happy Maggie made me, but know I could see that that was not possible, that Gabby the Terrible would not see reason.  

As I stare around this bare room I realize how much I miss Maggie's room with all the livelihood of her numerous black and white photos, and the Say Anything, Top Gun, and Tori Amos posters.  I miss the safety of the room and the familiarity. 

"You just don't get it John, you never have and hopefully you will someday.  That girl has got you screwed up so much that you can't even see what you are saying and how ridiculous it is.  There is no way you truly believe that it is ok to be smoking and drinking and looking like a drunken buffoon in public."  I'm not a drunken buffoon.

"You are bitchy and controlling.  I can't believe you blame Maggie for me changing a little and the way I think about how I should and can live my life.  You used to understand me, even know me, but now I know that you never knew me at all.  I can't believe that I'm saying this, but we are done.  I can't be friends with you any more, not that we have been friends, but.lets face it Gabby, you and I are done."  As I say this a tear forms for the thought which I have known for so long and finally have accepted.

Walking back to Maggie's apartment I take a detour and go to the track and pull out a freshly rolled joint.  I sit on the fresh rubber path and stare at the lifeless scoreboard.  For a moment I feel beaten and then a thought flashes before me:  I am free.  I start to hum the tune to Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright and the words Now I ain't sayin you treated me unkind/ you could have done better but I don't mind/ you just sort of wasted my precious time/ but don't think twice, it's alright are floating across the scoreboard.  A hysterical laugh escapes my lips as I realize that my fly was down and revealing my boxers the whole time I talked with Gabby.  Standing I straighten out my jeans and zip them closed.   

I put the joint out on the trash can and then start walking back towards Maggie's room. When I get there, she is waiting for me to tell her what happened.  Immediately she senses my feelings and she reaches out to comfort me, holding me in her arms close to her warm bosom, and as I lay there with her the past half hour seems to become past and all that seems to matter is the exciting present. 

Brandon Brown is a 21 year old junior English major at a small liberal arts college. He has a passion for music and literature and hopes to one day be the guy you see behind a mixing board at concerts. Brandon enjoys hanging out with his friends, going to concerts, running sound at school concerts, recording music, and writing his own music. He can be contacted by email at brandon.j.p.brown@gmail.com

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