Gatsby believed in the green light, in the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And then one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Boats Against the Current

I was very bored and very nervous, sitting alone at the borders of a crowd of dancing and chatting revelers. Some of them I remembered. Some of them I didn't want to remember. I looked down at the floor and mumbled something about how my class's taste in music hadn't improved in the last five years. Suddenly, something in the crowd caught my eye, which had been staring at the floor for the past two minutes. A wisp of black hair, or maybe a favorite dress--in any case, my face turned up and scanned the rows of bodies, and suddenly locked on just whom I had wildly hoped it might have been. I felt a smile spread across my face and I rose from my seat. She saw me too, and that long black hair, those warm brown eyes, that short figure, all erupted into one huge smile that cast light and warmth throughout the room. She pushed her way through the sea of bodies to reach me.

We hugged warmly for a second, then drew apart. When we stood next to each other, though, I felt that same old fear and dangling awkwardness drape itself over us. My face dropped out of its smile and back into a flat quietness. Hers too returned to its usual state, tranquil, eyes seeming like they were always looking down, lips drawn into a pursed thoughtfulness. After a long and dreadful battle with my nerves, I finally goaded myself into some courage and opened my mouth.

"Hi."

"Hey." She said it softly, like she always had.

I shifted nervously and scratched at an itch that didn't exist.

"So, how have things been?"

"Okay. I'm up at the art college."

"Yeah." I nodded.

We walked through the crowd together, pressed into an awkward silence. As often as I thought I could without getting caught, I stole a glance at her sedate face. She seemed to be looking down.

"So, um..." I started. She looked up at me. I didn't finish.

"Well?" she asked, a little annoyed.

I chuckled nervously. "Hm, I didn't expect to see you here. I didn't even expect to come myself."

"Me either. I just came because ... I don't know. I actually miss the place, but I don't know why."

I nodded.

"I don't know why I came either. It was just ... I felt like I should ... like there was something here I wanted to get back."

"Have you found it?"

I shrugged.

We found a pair of empty chairs and sat down. I pressed my arms tightly into my sides to suppress the impulse to wrap one around her.

We sat there for about five minutes before she spoke. "So, have you met anyone at college?"

"Uh, yeah. A few good guys. There's Mike; he's in Comp Sci too--"

"No, no ... I meant like ... girls."

I coughed, then spoke softly. "Uh ... not really. Well, I met a few friendly girls ... but no, um, girlfriends. I guess I haven't really been looking."

She reached over and took my hand. "Oh, I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It's my own choice."

The conversation was getting uncomfortably close to real feelings, so I deflected it.

"Have you? Met any guys, I mean." I realized that it was the wrong question to ask as soon as it got past my lips.

She stared straight at the floor. "Yeah ... sort of."

I twisted my urge to grimace into a clenched, neutral face. I kept my eyes from wincing and instead forced my eyebrows up. A hand went from my side to hold my forehead for a second, then brushed backward through my hair. I let it fall back haphazardly without bothering to adjust it.

"Sort of?"

"Well ... you see ... it's like, I met him ... and we're friends, good friends, and I really like him ... I mean, *like* like him ... but it's like, I'm just too afraid to tell him."

I swallowed and did my best to hide the fact that I was brushing away the tear now forming in my eye.

"I don't know ..." She paused. "I'd love to be with him, you know? But I guess there's something romantic about a crush ... and you kind of lose it if you, you know ... make it real."

I wanted to get up and yell at her, to scream how a "crush" had been the most painful, clenching, draining experience I had ever been through--how much emotion it had drawn, how much time it had wasted. Romantic? It was tragic! Even pathetic. But I just shrugged and looked away, carefully studying the patterns on the opposite wall.

After a few more minutes of silence, she spoke up: "Do you want to dance?"

Yes. God yes. "I don't dance. You know that."

She sighed. "Yeah ..."

We got up and left the building together. The cold winter night wrapped around us in mutual solitude. We walked out into the parking lot.

I hugged her briefly, stiffly. "I was glad I could see you."

"Me too."

"Hey, do you want to go to a movie or something?"

"Huh? It's nine p.m.! How about tomorrow?"

"I can't. I'm driving back tomorrow."

"Oh."

I sighed. "Well, it was great seeing you."

"Yeah."

"Bye."

"Bye."

Against my every desire, I walked away from her, toward my car, keeping my eyes straight ahead so that I wouldn't have to watch her leave. I felt a wild impulse sweep over me to call to her across the parking lot, to turn around, run back to her, and demand that we go see a movie, be it nine p.m. or three in the morning. I stood in my tracks for a few seconds, stayed silent, and then moved toward the car again.

I climbed into the car, and slammed the door. I sat looking out the window for a long time, just staring out into the darkness. Finally, I started the car and slowly drove off. I had to focus on my absolute oath to myself that I wouldn't cry over her to keep myself from doing just that.

"I meant you." I heard her voice appear out of the air. I glanced over at the passenger side and found her riding there.

"What?"

"The boy I met, that I liked but couldn't tell ... that was you, not some college boy."

My mouth opened without saying anything.

After a while, I gathered every ounce of my courage and croaked, "I ... I love you too." I paused and let my head throb for a while. "... When I saw you here, I wanted to tell you but, but even ... after all these years, I still just couldn't ... just couldn't ... get over the fear."

"I know," she whispered.

"I've ... wanted to tell you for so long ... for seven years now. And I, um ... I just couldn't get past the raw ... anxiety. It's like I'm trying to run uphill and it keeps getting steeper and steeper, and it just builds up, and the closer I get to actually doing it, the more it overwhelms me, until I just ... I just can't do anything and I give up again. But ... I loved you so much ... and it hurt me so much that I couldn't tell you. Even when we first met, when we were juniors ... even tonight, when I knew I might never see you again. And all this time we've loved each other, but been too terrified to say it! Too scared it would ruin our friendship, too scared we'd be rejected, just too bloody scared of letting out anything that might make us vulnerable--that might make us human ... and I--I--"

By this time I had long since forgotten my promise not to cry. At first it had been tiny drops, rolling down my cheeks. But with the floodgates cracking, more and more leaked through. Finally, I couldn't speak, couldn't think, couldn't see. I pulled over on the shoulder, and as I let the sobs overtake me, it felt as though the entire universe were pouring through my eyes, the tears rolling off my cheek coalescing into the trembling, watery car, street, trees. And her ...

I wondered why she didn't embrace me, why she didn't take me in her arms like she would a weeping five-year-old and stroke my hair until I felt better. I reached over to clasp her hand, but found myself clutching air. I looked over, and the hallucination had vanished. Knowing that I had been talking to my own desires the whole time, I started the car again, and drove out into the dark road.

I remembered all the times that I had loved her the most. The blissful times we'd spent, just wandering the town at night. The times we'd held each other through sorrow--or as much as we could have known of it back then. The simple joy of just picking her out of a crowd, of gazing at her sparkling eyes, her pouting mouth, the way her hair spilled over her shoulders. The quiet pleasure of just walking next to her. I held every memory as close to my chest as if I were holding her herself, knowing they might be all that I could ever have.

So I found myself driving into the darkness ... straight ahead, back into the past.

-end-