Sam and Ariel first saw each other when they were nine years old. Ariel was only passively aware of Sam’s existence until they were ten years old. When Sam and Ariel were ten years old, Ariel made Sam cry in math class. Years later they would say this was because Ariel relentlessly teased Sam in a manner bordering on cruelty. Though this may have been an accurate description of events, at the time Ariel felt powerless to treat Sam any other way.
When Sam and Ariel were eleven years old, Ariel moved to a different state. Sam was raised by a constantly varying team of nannies, and as a result felt a severe sense of distrust for anyone who purported to care for him in any capacity. As he grew older he reacted to this sense of abandonment by fussing over his younger brother whom he saw as a highly vulnerable and as-yet uncorrupted version of himself. Sam was well-behaved and succeeded academically but felt a great deal of self-imposed guilt for harboring anger and resentment towards his mother. Sam was physically awkward and did not excel at sports and felt guilty because of this also.
As Ariel grew older she became more overtly sexual in speech and dress as a method of garnering affirmation from her male peers. Though Ariel became increasingly provocative she did not engage in any sexual behavior aside from kissing and two times letting someone feel her bra under her shirt. Because Ariel was unwilling to do anything, boys came quickly in and out of her life. Though easily explained, this was still quite confusing to her. This caused Ariel to develop a resistance towards emotionally intimate relationships. Neither Sam nor Ariel was aware of these issues and neither Sam nor Ariel’s issues were particularly remarkable with regard to the average issues of average people their age.
When Sam and Ariel were seventeen years old, Ariel went back to the state and the town Sam lived in to attend prom with a former classmate who had invited her over Instant Messenger. Ariel was not attracted to the former classmate but felt reasonably convinced that he would likely grant her unrestricted independence based on his introverted personality and also correctly intuited that she would be paid a great deal of attention.
Ariel wore a backless lace dress, and as she had predicted lots of people stared because it was very grown-up for a prom dress. Ariel felt sexy and confident and also proud that no one here knew she was a virgin. Sam wore an expensive tuxedo because his parents were very wealthy. Both Ariel and Sam felt incredibly attracted to each other. When Sam looked at Ariel he wanted to have sex with her very badly. He did not stop to wonder whether she was a virgin.
After the prom Sam and Ariel went to a school-sponsored party at a bowling alley. There was a lot of food but Ariel was too embarrassed to eat in front of Sam. There was a staged photo booth with kitschy props and silly hats and an island backdrop but Ariel was too shy to ask Sam to take a photograph with her. The climax of the evening was a raffle during which Sam won a VCR. Sam gave the VCR to Ariel because his parents were wealthy and he already had enough VCRs. Years later they would call this their “love VCR.” Ariel would never use the VCR but would not ever tell that to Sam.
Ariel returned to the other different state and for a brief period was involved with Andrew, who reminded her of Sam except Andrew was slightly less attractive and moderately more mature. The relationship between Ariel and Andrew consisted mostly of Andrew Instant-Messaging sexually explicit things to Ariel, who would reciprocate as convincingly as possible. One day Andrew took Ariel to a fancy new movie theater in a bigger town nearby, and after the movie, while parked in a Taco Bell parking lot, Andrew convinced Ariel to give him a blow job. It lasted a few seconds and then Andrew came all over his mom’s brand-new leased Mercury Cougar; Ariel had intended to swallow since she knew Andrew wanted that but was startled and reflexively pulled away. Andrew laughed nervously while cleaning it up with windshield towels from a nearby gas station. Ariel liked that he was able to maintain a sense of humor in what could have been quite an embarrassing situation. One week later Andrew text-messaged Ariel an elaborate emoticon of a penis ejaculating and Ariel told him to fuck off, pretending to be offended so that she did not have to give Andrew a blow job any more times.
When Sam and Ariel were seventeen and a half, Ariel Instant-Messaged Sam before leaving for her summer job one night simply because she wanted male attention. Sam responded that he was about to go away from the computer but gave Ariel his phone number. Ariel called Sam after work. They talked for one hour. The next night Ariel called Sam after work and they talked for one hour this time, too. Soon Ariel and Sam talked on the phone every night.
Sam taught Ariel about existentialism because he had read The Stranger in Honors English. This made Ariel feel overwhelmed and confused but also very excited because it seemed like he had invited her into some kind of secret and exclusive club. Sam told Ariel that if he ever had a son he wanted to name him Rhemy. Ariel did not like this name but liked that Sam wanted to talk about these things with her. Ariel checked out The Stranger from the library and also a biography of Friedrich Nietzsche. Years later Sam and Ariel would agree that if they had a son they would name him Fritz.
Sometime that summer Ariel’s parents gathered Ariel and her siblings into their living room. This meant that they were about to say something serious. The last time this had happened Ariel’s father had cried uncontrollably, confessing how unkind he had been to Ariel’s mother for years and years. Ariel’s mother was rigid and silent, which had made Ariel feel very uncomfortable. She’d hoped that her mother would tell him it was okay. She never told him it was okay.
This time the father announced that in one month the family would be moving back to the old state and the old town where Sam lived. Ariel felt very excited but did not express this to anyone.
When Sam and Ariel were eighteen, they were lying on Ariel’s new bed when Sam told Ariel that he hoped they both went to the same college and that they lived together and were in a relationship but that they also were in relationships with other people. A few minutes later he told her that he did not like when she wore her hair a certain way. She was wearing her hair that way at the time. Soon Ariel stopped taking Sam’s phone calls. Ariel went to college in the big city and Sam moved to a different state.
When Sam and Ariel were nineteen, they were both at their parents’ houses for Christmas break and a friend of Sam and Ariel invited them to the same party. Ariel had gained weight recently and felt self-conscious but also flattered when after a few beers Sam commented on the increased size of her breasts. After a few more beers Sam remarked that his mother had confronted him after finding a condom in his coat pocket. Ariel felt jealous and devalued, and though she no longer felt sexually attracted to Sam she still felt invalidated by what she perceived was implicit sexual rejection. Sam lived on the environmentalist floor of his dormitory and had grown his hair out.
When Sam and Ariel were twenty, Sam moved to the big city Ariel lived in for summer break. Sam and Ariel decided to be friends and sometimes Sam would drink vodka at Ariel’s apartment with Ariel and her roommates. Ariel had a boyfriend named Nathan and Nathan and Sam became friends as an attempt to make Ariel feel uncomfortable based on a shared sense of latent resentment towards her. Nathan dealt weed and cocaine and Sam had developed an addiction to painkillers and prescription sleeping pills.
One afternoon, while high on Vicodin, Sam called Ariel and asked her to have a threesome with him and another addict he was dating at the time. Sam told Ariel that the other addict could only masturbate thinking about women and that she had expressed sexual interest in Ariel. Ariel derived a sense of rejection from the fact that Sam had such intimate sexual knowledge of another woman but instead pretended to be offended by the request itself because that seemed more reasonable. Ariel deleted Sam’s phone number. Years later Sam would maintain that he did not remember this phone call on account of the drugs and consequently was emotionally damaged by Ariel’s seemingly unprovoked rejection of him.
When Sam and Ariel were twenty-two, Nathan was arrested and sent to jail. Ariel sent Sam a message on Facebook and Sam blocked Ariel. Ariel took Sam’s phone number from the cell phone contacts of a mutual friend when the friend was not paying attention. Ariel text-messaged Sam song lyrics from Stars’ album Set Yourself on Fire because at one time this had meant something to them. Sam did not recognize the message as song lyrics and thus did not intuit who had sent the message. He responded flatly and expressed confusion. Ariel responded, “This is Ariel.” Sam wrote back, “Which Ariel.”
When Sam and Ariel were still twenty-two they decided to be in a long-distance relationship. Ariel felt that she related to Sam and wanted the security of a relationship with someone who knew about the bad things that had impacted her life, like her parents’ relationship and the drugs and the arrest. Sam mostly wanted to have sex with Ariel. The first time they had sex, Sam asked Ariel to come at the same time as him. Ariel, bewildered by this request, was nowhere near coming. Because she was especially deferential around men who she was romantically interested in, she pretended to orgasm. She pretended to orgasm every time they had sex after that. Sam was very proud of himself and felt that their relationship had more meaning than any he had been in before.
Ariel worried every day that Sam was having sex with other girls. Sam was having sex with other girls. Ariel found out but forgave him anyway. Sam vowed not to have sex with other girls. Years later Sam would claim he never had sex with any other girls after that. One day Ariel flew to visit Sam and as they were lying on Sam’s couch he began to talk about how beautiful she was at prom when they were seventeen. She was so pale and her hair was so dark and so long, he said. Ariel’s hair was shoulder-length and highlighted blond now and she had been using the tanning bed at her gym sometimes. She had done these things because she thought Sam would find them attractive. She tried to change the subject but Sam continued to talk about her pale skin and long brown hair. Ariel had gained twenty pounds since then and this also made her feel embarrassed. Sam was still addicted to prescription pills and had taken two Percocets, which were largely responsible for the nostalgia he was experiencing, but Ariel did not know this. They were listening to Loquat’s album It’s Yours to Keep. Sam said it was the most beautiful music he had ever heard. Sam did not mean any offense. Because of the Percocets, everything just seemed so lovely.
When Sam and Ariel were twenty-five, they decided to be friends. They would talk on the phone every day about television shows and books and music and sometimes the stock market, which made Sam feel like a man. He would talk about the house he bought to live in and the other house he bought to rent out to people he found on the Internet. Sam’s parents got divorced and he did not want to discuss it. Talking to Ariel about television and other mundane things made him feel calm. On New Year’s Eve Ariel left for vacation in another country. Before she left she had a long talk with Sam. Ariel was talking to Sam from her Dodge Neon, which was parked in a Best Buy parking lot because her boyfriend, whom everyone called Chirp, lived in her apartment now and she did not want him to overhear. Ariel and Sam discussed serious things in a hushed and hurried tone and wondered aloud if they should get married one day. Sam did not want to get married. Ariel did not want to marry Chirp but felt resolved to this as a default secondary option.
On Ariel’s twenty-seventh birthday, Sam sent Ariel a Facebook message. Sam was living in a different country but wanted to call her and asked when was a good time. Ariel felt it was very thoughtful that he wanted to make an international phone call to honor her birthday. Sam had not remembered it was Ariel’s birthday and when he phoned Ariel he told her that in five months he was going to have a baby. Sam felt trapped and anxious and was hoping that Ariel would alleviate some of this panic by asking questions and becoming emotionally invested. Ariel did not say anything and this made Sam feel very bad but also good. Sam enjoyed when dramatic things happened because it made him feel like he was living in a Hemingway novel. Sam did not recognize that his decision to actively father this child was largely a product of this sentiment.
When Sam and Ariel were forty-five, Sam’s son was killed in a war. Sam had not wanted the son to go to war and believed the son went as an act of rebellion. Ariel learned this when someone told Ariel’s mother while she was shopping at the drugstore. “Did you hear that Sam’s son died in the war?” the person asked. Ariel’s mother called Ariel and told her what had happened. Ariel sat at her computer and spent many minutes trying to discern an appropriate thing to say. Ariel e-mailed Sam. “I am so sorry to hear what happened.” Sam did not write back.