I met Paul at The Thunderbird, the only coffee shop in town that offered refuge for kids like us who were into art and music and politics but felt slighted in life, if only for the fact that we were born and raised in a small Michigan town whose single recognition is that it houses the state prison.
We often wrote shitty disparaging poems or songs or Myspace notes about our prison city blues and then shared them together at The Thunderbird in the form of open mic nights and coffee date confessionals on late nights when there was nothing else to do but gather together in shared thirst for culture and mutual hatred for all things familiar.
I was 19 when I moved back to my hometown after a couple of years of traveling the country aimlessly in an attempt to figure out who I was after my father died and my mother had forgotten how to be a mother and I was too old for people to care about a kid who had lost her way when this coffee shop became my second home.
Paul came from a very proper family. You know the type I’m talking about. You walk inside their home and everything looks expensive and elegant and you’re sure everything you’re wearing is wrong and it probably reveals the kind of life you came from so you nod too often and too quickly and cross your arms in obvious discomfort because well, what else do you do with your arms when you’re feeling awkward, and just hope the parents will find something to do and walk out of the room to do it so they’ll stop asking you questions.
It was that kind of family. And I was a mess of a girl trying to find solace in the company of others not really knowing what I wanted but just trying to fill a void. I sensed their disappointment in their son’s choice in a girlfriend a mile away.
Paul had returned home from graduating boarding school in Vermont a year late and now his family had the very daunting task of trying to decide where to force their only son to go to college. Paul didn’t give a shit about college and I was a high school drop out at the time so we’d get drunk on screwdrivers at the Thunderbird we’d made in pop bottles earlier then talk trash with our friends about our lame ass hick town and how everyone sucks and we’re gonna get out someday, and hey, have you ever read The Bell Jar or Cherry? Then we’d go draw dicks on the Bob Dylan poster in the men’s bathroom.
So I thought Paul was pretty fun although I never really knew what he saw in me. We’d take trips to downtown Ann Arbor and talk about books and music and somehow, eventually, we were dating but again, I was a mess of a girl, so when he fell hard for me fast I was taken back by it all. I think I just liked I could talk to him about my fucked up past and he would sit there and listen, never judging, and then make mixed CDs for me. He was probably exactly the kind of guy I needed at that time.
He was about to spend three months in France studying under some fancy chef his parents knew through someone who knew someone who had maybe once served Anthony Bourdain or something. This was not a time for love. It seemed too unrealistic. Three months away? We had only been dating three months. I couldn’t fathom stomaching another makeout session to a Kings of Convenience album let alone pretending to pine for a boyfriend overseas.
We were eating at Subway one night and I was thinking about how it was October and the leaves were changing and soon the holidays would come then it would be a new year and fuck, I needed to get my life together already. So I did what any girl would do and I broke up Paul while we ate five dollar foot long subs together at Subway.
“Are you fucking breaking up with me in Subway?”
“Yeah. I think we should just be friends.”
After we finished our food Paul said he wanted to talk to me more about everything in my car. “That’s a great idea. I actually have the perfect song for this moment.” And after we got in the car I kid you not I played him James Blunt’s god awful song, “Goodbye, My Lover” as my farewell song to him. Paul started crying harder, which made me laugh harder, because c’mon: JAMES BLUNT. GOODBYE, MY LOVER. Then I made him get out of my car.
We stayed friends for quite a few years after that until he disappeared into oblivion on the east coast. I think about him now and again and wonder if he ever thinks about me. Or if he ever thinks about James for that matter.