Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part post. If you haven’t read “Human Sea Change” (Part 1, Fiction, 09/27/07) Doc. #023a you’re about to be a little confused.
Human Sea Change (part 2)
Written September 27, 2007 (Age 21)
…It had been a few months since Gary had been to a house party full of underage drinkers. He just couldn’t come to them without a sense of irony anymore. Being twenty-four, he was more than capable of getting drunk without help. House parties were for freshman. That feeling of displacement changed the experience, made it less real to him. They weren’t as fun. He couldn’t engage them with the right mentality; he had lost that mentality, probably while vomiting, during his junior year. They still interested him though, in a certain way. He enjoyed the energy of the young students. Sure they were slowly destroying themselves, but they did it with enthusiasm.
So whenever Steph threw a party, he would go. He would return, hoping for a taste of nostalgia, of memory. He felt as if he had missed something the first time around, when he had come to such parties as an undergrad. He was worried that, now older, he wouldn’t be able to find what he was looking for. He wondered what some of the professors in the English department would think if they saw him, the poster boy Graduate Teaching Assistant, mingling with wasted undergrads.
Probably nothing good.
At least this wasn’t his house.
His mind reeling through a haze of perspective, Gary stood on the sidewalk and stared at the house and the door and thought, What the hell am I doing? Why do I keep coming back to this place?
What is the purpose of it What do I want?
Emily was waiting for him to say something, but he didn’t. He just stood there, looking at the house. “Well, I’ll see you later,” she said, starting to walk away.
Gary saw that behind the door was a world of countless possibilities; a never-ending sea change of faces, a million chances, and the promise of hundreds of future parties, with their own unlimited potential for fun, excitement, and transformation. In that world, on a couch, was a girl who was giving away love like she could never run out, and in that world she could not. Down a hallway there was always a room, a room where the door was always closed but never locked, a room where the smoke was thick and the light played tricks and the room was always, always there.
Gary thought about the girls upstairs, the ones who talked about their first kisses. I don’t kiss, I kiss back. He remembered hearing this from one of them, and riding on the heels of that thought was the lost memory of his own first kiss.
He was in pre-school. He was three. He gave a girl named Susie a lemon cookie and then he kissed her on the lips. Susie took a bite of the cookie and then kissed him back, leaving cookie crumbs on his lips.
He had stolen his first kiss, and it had been okay. Hell, it had been good. She had kissed him back, she had liked him! Susie, the girl he had never even thought about until that very moment, she had liked him, she had kissed him back. What had happened to that boy who once kissed girls without being positive they wanted it? What happened to that boy who was willing to take a chance? (This paragraph is, for lack of a better word, problematic. It will not go unaddressed).
He continued looking at the house with it’s untold wonders and opportunities. Now he was ready for it, ready to take a chance, willing to simply accept. He could go into that party and never return, it would now accept him.
But before he went back into the house, beyond the threshold of restraint, before he even moved from the spot, something else caught his attention. It was Emily, she had gotten down the street a bit but he could still see her hair in the glow of the moonlight. He saw her, and he saw her as something new. He saw her for what she really was, a girl he had never even thought about until that very moment. And he saw the
parties party’s promises of risk and excitement pale in comparison to the chance that was now walking away from him down the street.
“Hey Emily! Wait Up!” he called after her.
Gary had met Steph the previous year when Steph had been in his English 101 class. Being an Assistant Professor meant handling entry level English and going to grad school for free. (a bit basic, don’t you think?) It also meant Gary spent a lot of his time grading terrifyingly bad essays and wondering how one teaches another to write.
At first he thought that Steph hated him. She was very passionate and loud. She argued with him all the time.
“What good is theory without practice?” It was her favorite argument. “Forget questions about how language effects reality. The question is, what are you gonna do about it?”
It was chilling.
Steph ended up being his favorite student that semester, his first semester of teaching English 101. She would often stop by his office hours to talk about the readings he assigned. When the class was over, after the final grades were in, she e-mailed him and asked if they could get together for dinner.
Gary was stunned by her boldness. The fact that she was eighteen, his former student, and hitting on him made him uneasy. Still, Steph was cute and smart and she wasn’t his student anymore. He nervously said yes and was terrified by the possible consequences.
As it turned out he didn’t need to worry at all. After two weeks Steph told him that it was apparently just a girlish crush, but she still thought he was kinda cool and wanted to still hang out sometimes. Gary acted disappointed and was secretly relieved. He remembered being eighteen, it was tough, too tough sometimes, and he didn’t really want to be around it anymore.
They did hang out too, Steph wasn’t the kind of girl to feed people lines. Gary enjoyed hanging out with Steph, once he didn’t have to grade her. There was something about Steph. It was the way she chose her words, the way she expressed herself; She revealed hidden truths and could shed light on the dimmest of ideas. Gary had gotten hooked on listening to her speak.
This is why, a year later, at a party in her half of a college rental house, Gary ended up sitting on Steph’s bed with Steph, her best friend Megan, and another girl. Some friend of Megan’s whose name he had heard but then lost hold of. The smoke in the room was thick. Gary waited for (Lisa?) the girl on his right to pass him the joint again. The four of them were smooshed together on the bed in the corner, it was a tight circle.
The girls were talking about kissing, Gary was listening without speaking.
“I like it when a guy just jumps into the moment and kisses you,” Steph said. “I mean, I guess I’ve had some really unexpected kisses. I don’t know. When a guy does it right, when he finds that moment,” she paused, looking distant, she touched her lips. “Oh my God, I’ve fallen in love on first kisses!”
Everyone broke into laughter at this. After they had suppressed the last of their chuckles there was a long, silent pause. The sound of the bass guitar could still be heard thudding away in the basement two floors down. The room tilted left, suddenly everyone looked to Gary. “What about you?” asked Megan. “How do you approach a first kiss?”
Gary stared at Megan. He would have hated her had she not been so innocent in her questioning. Instead he was just panicked, having been put on the spot.
“Yes, tell us,” Steph said, smiling mischievously at him.
Gary looked from Steph to Megan to (Jill?) the girl with the glazed eyes who was now holding the joint out to him. He took it and quickly took a hit, taking this opportunity not to talk. He scooted backwards off the bed and handed the joint to Steph. As he let the smoke out through his nose he tried to look thoughtful. He put his hand on his chin and rubbed it slightly, wanting it to look theatrical. When he felt he had built the dramatic effect long enough, he opened his mouth to speak.
“Gotta go,” he said, and then turned and walked quickly out the door and into the hallway. He heard Steph laughing and the girl whose name he didn’t know ask, “Who was that guy?” before he disappeared downstairs into the party. On his way down the staircase he passed by Emily Mayfield, a girl he had known since high school. He didn’t notice.
Gary also hadn’t noticed that his elbows were bleeding but, standing under the glow of her porch light, Emily did. She needed to fix it and now, she had said, and so Gary was in Emily’s pink bathroom, sitting on the edge of the bathtub while Emily dabbed something coming out of a brown bottle onto his still bleeding wounds. Gary cringed at the pain that came.
Strange that he would feel this pain. He had been walking with bleeding elbows for almost a mile and hadn’t felt a thing. Now, with Emily holding his wrist with one hand and dabbing her mysterious liquid fire with the other, the pain seemed indescribably real. When he was walking Emily back to her apartment he wasn’t paying attention to his elbows, he had no reason to be thinking about his elbows; he was trying to pay attention to what Emily had been saying, which at that point was harder than it sounds.
Now he couldn’t stop thinking about elbows. His elbows hurt a lot.
“I’m sorry, but it will feel better tomorrow,” Emily said. Her eyes were sad and caring. She didn’t want to hurt him, but she knew this was good for him, at least, that’s what Gary thought he saw there. And still his seeing of Emily was heightened from before, so much that he couldn’t stop looking at her.
“Okay, the worst is over,” Emily said. She started to unwrap an oversized Band-Aid and peeled the film from the back. “Just let me finish patching you up.”
Emily gently put the Band-Aid on and it didn’t hurt too much. Gary felt strange. He felt the entire room leaning towards Emily. “I’m not broken,” he heard himself say.
Emily laughed for a second, the sound was heavenly. “I don’t know, you look a bit trashed,” she said, smiling too herself.
Gary tried to fight the laughter that was building in his chest. He lost. “That was so lame,” he said, stilling giggling a bit.
“Yeah, I know,” Emily said, putting the second bandage on now. “All done.”
Emily let go of his wrist and Gary watched his hand slowly fall and then suddenly take hold of Emily’s hand. She looked up, and her gaze caught him, and Gary found himself once again in a moment that could not be mastered. But now things were different, and losing was not as terrifying as always sitting out.
He touched her forehead with his own and said, “Thank you.”
“You’re,” she shivered slightly and swallowed. “You’re welcome.”
And then Gary kissed her gently on the lips, and it was good, exceptionally so.
“Human Sea Change” is another one of my works that is almost complete. Reading it now, I feel like there’s a scene missing; something between Gary and Emily to help establish their relationship. The fractured, out-of-sequence timeline already makes the details of Gary’s relationships with Emily and Steph confusing. When the story ends with Gary and Emily kissing, the reader is left wondering why (perhaps the missing scene is the result of Gary’s drinking and drug use). There simply isn’t enough character building here for Emily and Gary’s attraction to each other to be believable. The characters of Steph and Emily are tropes of female love interests, and little more.
The writing is mostly good, though the author occasionally gets lazy in his descriptions of sensory details, particularly in the pot-smoking scene. The narrator really shines through with a unique and consistent voice, and is mostly likable (rare for a Sean L story).
Thematically, “Human Sea Change” is clearly the work of a young man, with a young man’s interests and perspectives on display. The fact that Emily is so underdeveloped, and functions merely as the grail in Gary’s quest, speaks volumes about the perspective of the author. Again, I feel as if there is a piece missing from the story that might help Gary seem like less of a tool-bag, some real reason for his being interested in Emily and her in him.
I don’t know if one can fault a writer for not being experienced enough to tackle their subject matter with wisdom, but I’m going to try. Grade: B.
I think the speaker and the author both suffer from the same problem here, which is that neither of them are thinking of other people much at all. As Sean said, Steph and Emily are just props in whats-his-nuts’ story. Ideally every character is the hero of her own story, whether or not you ever get to hear their tale, that’s where their actions get their motivation. Any sense of that is missing here.
I could not find the speaker particularly likable. He was not enough in any direction to be engaging. He was a little bit introspective, but to little purpose. He was kind of douchey, but not in a way that was interesting or made me love to hate him.
The best writing, I felt, concerned elbows. It was sensory and created a real connection between reader and speaker. Here was something we could really feel along with Gary, Johnny? Whoever.
As usual the prose is clear and without obscene flaws, but the subject matter failed to really pull at the audience. Grade: C+
I feel like a lot of what I have to say about this piece was already hinted at in Untitled “Dialogue” (Fiction, 09/25/08) Doc. #021. The way in which romantic relationships begin and the power dynamic between the two lovers, is a subject I’ve tackled a few times. Again, this piece suffers from having being written before I read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. It’s like every political piece I’ve ever written; there’s the pre-Atlas Shrugged era, and the post-Atlas Shrugged era (don’t bail on me,
liberal’s liberals (liberal’s WHAT?), I’m not a fan, I just find the work fascinating). Certain books affect the way you think about things for the rest of your life. You know, if you read enough of them.
There’s not as much “me” in Gary as it might seem. I’m still the writer, and my narration only changes so much, but Gary talks a lot less than I do. I’m more like the the drunk girl on the couch (you’re prettier), though less people are interested in making out with me. (They know I’d kill them.)
Gary’s lack of confidence and understanding when it comes to his relations with the opposite sex, however, is wholly my own. I was very forward sexually in high school, but as my head was filled with what I now consider to be normal, human consideration, I found it harder to be confident in making the moves on a potential sexual partner. I basically needed verbal confirmation before I initiated physical contact beyond a handshake or a hug. (Translation: I became aware of the difference between interaction and assault.) I’m not saying that’s a bad way to approach physically intimate relationships, but there are less explicitly unsexy forms of consent. (Verbal can be very sexy. It’s just usually neglected in favor of the sexual assault approach. Whee.)
Gary does go through a change in this story (he stopped bleeding), but looking back on him, I don’t feel he changed enough. (Maybe he should have bled more?) I am highly suspicious of a “happily ever after” scenario playing out with Emily (who seems like a really sweet girl, and probably doesn’t deserve what Gary will put her through, though I may be projecting).
To sum it up: I was at that party. I had those thoughts. I am a bit wiser today. (Emily went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine.)
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Thanks for reading!