What About the Moon

Joscelyn Willet

Joscelyn Willett

Jeremy could always get me thinking: about the real meanings of words and phrases, the poetry of nature, why we lament over moments passed.

“If we had such a good time, why do we look back with sadness?” he asked me, genuinely. Nothing was rhetoric with Jeremy. He meant it.

I pretended to think deeply, but the answer seemed so simple. “Because when time passes, it’s sort of…sad. Those times are gone. And you lament because you wish they would have never ended.”

But he didn’t accept this. Of course he didn’t.

“Time doesn’t pass,” he said, “we pass through time.”

His words still hung out in my head and came alive in the most inconvenient places, causing me to pause halfway down campus for no apparent reason, my sneakered feet stuck to the concrete as though they’d been laid in that way. Jeremy’s reasoning, his dark hold on my optimistic outlook—it stopped me cold, scaled along the perimeter of every conversation, threatening to twist in at any second. I’d moved away, met new people, put more than a thousand miles between Jeremy and I, yet if I stood still long enough, I was right back in high school, lying beside him on his polyester bedspread, contemplating ideas too complex for seventeen.

“No,” I’d refuted that day as we fidgeted with each other’s fingertips and stared at the beams above us. Senior year was like a series of dream sequences; we were stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood, in a space that was still safe because it wasn’t completely real. “What about tides?” I went on. “What about the rotation of the planets? What about the moon?”

“It’s all a cycle,” Jeremy shrugged, rolling on top of me. College admission forms slid from the comforter and scattered on the floor. His blue eyes were like crystal stalactites descending from the ceiling of a dark and untouched cave, piercing the area between us. For a moment, I believed they’d tear right into me.

“Well, yeah,” I said, looking away. “That’s time passing. That’s what a cycle is.” I thought I finally had him.

“How can time pass, or move, if it’s not physical?”

Dammit. He’d done it again; he’d found the tiniest vulnerability in my argument and pounced on it. “No,” I grasped, “but we are. We are physical and time, it—it—well, then why do we get old? Huh? How could we get old if time wasn’t passing?”

“Time doesn’t make us old. Our bodies break down. Our bodies make us old.”

“But our bodies get old because we pass through ti— ”

And there it was. I couldn’t help but smile along with him. Jeremy had a funny way of getting me to put his words in my mouth, making it seem that they were mine all along, that somewhere deep down, I truly believed them, and I would continue believing him, believing in him forever.

 

I’d only been at college for four months, but it felt longer. Jeremy had stayed in Grand Rapids and was taking courses at the Junior College while working part time in his father’s auto shop. His calls to me came sparingly, and I wondered if Jeremy was discussing life’s burning questions with someone new. We never said we’d be exclusive. Neither of us wanted to be that kind of person—the kind to ask for more than what the other could give. He always said, “Strings are for puppets,” and I liked the way it sounded.

When Christmas came, I went home, and feeling wistful as snow dropped layers on my parent’s driveway, I insisted he was growing distant. We stood in the slush, illuminated by the neighborhood’s twinkling lights, exhaling vapor as the temperature dropped. Jeremy argued it was my imagination but I knew it was happening—our childhood was gone. The question he posed on his bed that day when I’d brought over college applications (foolishly hoping he’d follow me to Colorado) still occupied my mind. It angered me that he’d left it unanswered and even more so that I couldn’t seem to find the answer without him.

Winter Recess came and went. Back at school, spring renewed campus morale. Hope was attainable again; ice melted and the sun over the Rocky Mountains shone on bodies too grateful for its heat to bother with sunscreen; burned faces showed up smiling to class. Flowers came out of nowhere, trying hard to break their frozen slumber beneath the earth; they pushed their cold, wet noses to the sky to get a taste of what everyone was talking about. But Jeremy remained miles away, buried in the snow, harder than ever to reach.

On a day I should have been studying for midterms I found myself alone again, thinking of him in my dimly lit dorm room, counting the days until summer. The door flung open, and my roommate stepped inside, snapping me out of my melancholic stupor. She had a cigarette poised behind her right ear and a smile that looked anything but innocent. “Party in Warren, 303. RA’s got the flu.” She laughed like a child, and we ran outside in our flip-flops and oversized University sweatshirts.

Warren Hall was where the wild boys lived. It was as if the school knew who they were and had decided that keeping them together would decrease the chance of infection upon the students who actually cared. We entered 303, trying our best to look like we hadn’t run there. I recognized the other two girls, and we sat with them on a tiny corner of bed while the unfair ratio of boys stared and winked.

One of them invited me back to his dorm room; it didn’t take much convincing. I waited in the hallway while he negotiated with his roommate, and gulped more beer to drive Jeremy from my head. But ditching him was like in any other situation, impossible. The next best thing was to pretend the stupid drunk college kid on the other side of the wall was the boy I loved and let him screw my brains out.

“It’s a cliché,” Jeremy would have affirmed. I would have countered that it worked.

Days later, when I was confident I wouldn’t give myself away, I called Jeremy. He sounded sexy and solemn. I wanted to die.

“What’re you up to?” I asked. I imagined him lying on his bed, the same polyester comforter I’d spent hours on, with piles of books and bags of chips.

“Thinking.”

“I just rolled my eyes.”

He laughed, and the pain in my stomach threatened to collapse me. I wanted to cry it hurt so much.

“I miss you,” I said.

“Me too.”

“Do you really?”

“Alice—”

“I know, I know, ‘strings are for puppets.’”

We stayed in a length of silence that became increasingly awkward with each second.

“You never told me the answer,” I finally spoke, my voice wavering, cracking and not caring.

“To what?” he asked.

“Why do we look back with sadness?”

He took a minute, as I knew he would. It was the only way to keep him: ask more questions.

“We look back with sadness because those times are gone. They’ve passed.” He was pacing, I could tell, his steps muted by the soft linoleum of his mother’s kitchen floor. “Stop crying, Alice. Please.”

I couldn’t. It was all out in the open now, my tears revealing how fragile my state, how much I loved him, how I couldn’t stand to be without him, how the only thing I could think to do was cry, and how there were times I thought I might never stop. Through each sob I managed to string together the words spinning through my chest. “You said time doesn’t pass. You said we move through time. Time doesn’t move through us.”

“Time passes. It has to.”

“But you—you changed your—,” I was mad, more mad than I’ve ever been and close to being sick all over the receiver.

Then Jeremy explained cycles, the sun, the planets. “What about the moon?” he offered.

And just like that, the tide changed, the seabed opened. All the murk, the mystery, the years of swimming in a blank abyss collided against the voice coming from the end of the plastic phone and was sucked into the maelstrom. Clouds shifted, illuminating the drawn curtains and out of every pore, Jeremy was washed away.

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