I first met Cathleen about two years ago, the summer after I came back from my study-abroad semester in Berlin. We were both volunteering for the Media Film Festival (MFF), a small affair organized by some amateur film enthusiasts and business owners who live in that region known as “the main line.” She was a student at Swarthmore College living in the area for the summer, and I was living with my parents in nearby Bryn Mawr until I could go back to Chicago to complete my final year there.
My duties included taking tickets and greeting filmmakers at the festival “headquarters,” which was a coffee and sandwich shop called “House of Joe.” Joe was on the board of directors for the festival and the principal source of capital, because apparently his place gets a lot of business from college students in the area. Joe really had no business being a film festival curator. Once when I was on duty he was looking at a submission for next year’s festival and he said dismissively, “this has some cool images but there’s no story.” I cringed a little at the thought of this plebeian making decisions that affect the careers of serious filmmakers. In truth, being a student of media, I felt like the whole thing was beneath me.
In the evenings after all the films were finished, I went out for drinks with other volunteers and the visiting filmmakers. Receiving free drinks was not beneath me, and I profited as much as I could. It was on one of these outings that I met Cathleen. She was talking with one of the visiting filmmakers who I had befriended, and I interrupted their conversation when I overheard her talking about studying abroad in Berlin. As it turns out, she studied there the semester before me and knew a lot of Americans whom I had met while I was there. My filmmaker friend gave me a look that seemed to say, ‘I was trying to bring it, but OK.’ He excused himself and went inside.
She persisted in speaking German with me, which was entertaining at first, but it began to grate at me because it doesn’t facilitate conversation to speak in a language that you’re not fluent in. “There are just some things that I can’t express in English, you know? But I find the words in German,” she said, in English.
“No, I don’t know, but whatever.”
She invited me to her place and I obliged. She lived with some white Buddhists – “the Zen house,” she called it, although she was not a Buddhist herself. She was one of those girls that likes yoga and has what I refer to as “the yoga poise” – you know the type: they’re cerebral, have good posture, are probably vegetarian or vegan, and are usually humorless. I had not yet formed an opinion of her. I thought she was cute and I did appreciate her forwardness, but there was something annoying about her, too.
We spoke about love and life and our time abroad. We were both in complicated long-distance relationships and we were feeling frustrated. I was flattered that she spoke so openly about her love life, and I wondered just what message she was trying to send me. Finally, I left, because I couldn’t see where it was going, and she was tired.
I went back to the bar because the party was still on, and my colleague asked what had happened. “She has a boyfriend,” I said. “Oh, damn, they all do,” she said. I appreciated her a lot when she said that, and we drank on into the night.
The following afternoon at the film festival headquarters I received a call from Cathleen. She invited me over again to watch a German film with her that night. Hm, I thought. This is encouraging. Again I obliged. The night played itself out not unlike the night before, except after a long, self-consciously deep conversation about love and life, we got on her bed to watch the movie on her laptop. Time passed, and I started snuggling with her. I paused the movie and planted one on her. I was feeling turmoil in my loins. We caressed each other. “I don’t feel comfortable with you kissing me,” she said. “I’m in a weird place,” she added, by way of excuse.
“OK,” I said.
We continued on as before minus the kissing. Then I planted another one on her and she was into it this time. After a while, she said “we have to stop now. I don’t think this is appropriate, considering our situations.”
“I agree,” I said.
“But I still want to hang out with you,” she implored. “We should keep watching German movies.”
“Yes,” I said. “But I will continue to make advances if I’m in this sort of situation.”
“That’s OK,” she said. “I know my limits and I like the way you snuggle.”