What handmade gift have I ever received that really meant something to me? What made it so special? Well, I’m sorry, but even if I had a memory like that, it would probably be mine and mine alone. There are a lot of things that I won’t share with the world. Not all of them are private. Some are just mine. What I can do is put my imagination to the problem and create another fiction bite. As fast as I can, I’ll pour out a story for you. This one is is a bit on the schmaltzy maybe, but for just two and a half hours of work, I’m satisfied with it.
More than a Memory
“I’ll see you there, Meelee.” I watched my girl walk away. I love to watch her walk away. I love just about everything she does. She’s not the perfect girl. She’s just the perfect girl for me. I’m more than a little lucky to be setting out in life with a girl like her. We’re not even engaged yet, but we will be. It’s a given. Everyone knows it. I know it. She knows it. Even Roger, Fish and Bart know it.
My pals love her too. I couldn’t have imagined a girl who could put up with these reprobates, let alone get along with them. She asked me once how it is that a nice guy like me ended up with three friends like that. Two of them have done a little time. And they deserved it. They’re not horrible people. In fact they’re good guys. They’re just kind of rough. I’m not that rough. I’m not a silk handkerchief, but I’m not rough. So I don’t know why I fit in with these guys. Like I said though, they’re good guys. That’s why they like Meelee. Roger realized that I wasn’t going to hear a word he said until she was out of sight, so he forcibly turned my head back to the conversation. “Over here, loverboy.”
“S’okay. I have a hard time lookin’ away from that myself.”
“Hey, hey, now!”
“Didn’t mean it like that.” He might have, but he didn’t mean to mean it like that. Roger doesn’t like awkwardness. He can cut it away real fast with a complaint though. “Why do you call her that?”
“It’s her name.”
“No, that’s not her name.”
Fish said, “Oh, shut up, Roger. Who cares?”
“Yeah, but you gotta say that. You don’t got a real name either.”
I figured I’d settle his curiosity. I don’t know why he hadn’t asked before. “It’s just a childhood nickname. Her real name’s Melanie.”
“Yeah, I know. See, most people call her Melanie. I’ve heard ’em do it. Might have done it myself. Melanie’s a name. What’s a Meelee?”
“Like I said, no one who knew her when she was a kid calls her Melanie. Everyone who knew her then calls her Meelee.”
“But you didn’t know her when she was a kid.”
“No. It was her idea. She says that we didn’t grow up together, but wouldn’t it be nice if we had. So she says I should call her Meelee.”
“Not whatever,” Fish said. “That’s good. That’s romantic.”
It figured that Roger wouldn’t be impressed with that. It also figured that Fish would be. Bart must have liked that story too. I could tell because he bought the next round.
* * * * * *
Meelee and I, we fit together perfectly. We talk, we walk we do the silly things that people are supposed to do when they’re in love. It’s the most amazing thing. It’s like puppy love that refuses to wear off. This story isn’t about us falling in love though. That part wasn’t as exceptional as it would have been in a movie. This story is about something that she gave me once. “It’s early. My birthday isn’t for another month.”
“Open it. But you have to promise not to ask me how I got it. I made it. But you can’t ask how.”
“Okay.” Meelee isn’t the kind of girl who makes a gift. She’s not the kind of girl who can make anything. She set the fire alarm while cooking. On three different occasions. So I wondered what was in the box. It wasn’t big. It didn’t weigh anything. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that. When I got it open, I saw something I couldn’t describe. It was bright, but not like something that shines. It was bright like something that didn’t need light for you to see it. It was a shape like a bubble, I guess, but it wasn’t too easy to tell for sure. “What is this?”
“When you touch it, you’ll see.”
Meelee’s a strange girl. This was more than strange. If I didn’t get it across when I described that little bauble, let me make it clear, it didn’t look like a real world thing. It looked like something magical. That’s appropriate, because it was. When I touched it, it was gone. I mean, it wasn’t in the box anymore. It was in me. I could feel it and I could see it. It was her. It was like she was right there with me. She was right there with me, so that kind of defeats the scene. This was going to stay though. It would be a part of me. I could see her. I could hear her voice. I could smell her and taste her. It was all there. I knew that whenever I’d think of her, that I’d have her. It wasn’t a memory though. It brought memory to life. When I would think of Meelee, she would be there with me, as real as anything in the room. If I remembered that time we drove to Faylace on a whim, every detail of it would be there. If I thought about the argument we had when she lost that box during the move, every word would ring clear. Every feeling would. I didn’t even know that I loved her so much that I loved being angry with her.
“What was that?”
“You can’t tell?”
“I can… I don’t know what to call that.”
“Well there’s not a name for it. I call it a tableau, because that what, uh, what she called it.”
I heard the reservation. “You’re not going to tell me who “uh she” is, huh?”
I should have been awestruck by it, but I was a bit afraid of one implication. “Meelee, are you, like, an angel or something?”
“What? No. I’m just a girl. I knew you’d ask that. Anyone can make one of those. You can only make a few in your life though, and only with help. You didn’t know it, but you were helping me make that one. You can’t ask how though. I made a promise. Maybe someday, years from now, I’ll teach it to you.”
“Okay, okay.” I had gotten past that. She really was just Meelee. I could tell that from the tableau inside me. There wasn’t anything else at all that set her apart. Well, everything set her apart, but I mean she wasn’t anything more than what she looked like. Wonderful.
She told me, “I wanted to give you that for when we go our separate ways.”
That was something I wasn’t looking forward to. I was going into veterinary medicine. She was going to law school. We both had scholarships. The world was not kind enough to put those scholarships in close proximity. We would be apart for years. Maybe not a lot of years, but it would be enough. We would see each other, but that wasn’t the same as living together.
Now though, now she would be with me. “I wish I had one of these for you.”
* * * * * *
Time passed. That is one sickening way of shortening up the absence. I wanted Meelee so bad. I had that part of her with me, but I found out fast that not even the tableau was the same as having the real thing. I could have the conversations I’d had in the past. I could relive the days together and the nights together. I didn’t want the past though. The past is nice consolation, but it’s not the present. I wanted to talk with Meelee, and not just over the phone. I wanted to hold her hand. My buddies told me that I was turning mean. They didn’t mean it, they were just pointing out that I wasn’t exactly my old, harmless self. Even Bart backed away a few times when I got good and pissed.
That wasn’t me though. I was who I was when I got to talk to Meelee. When we would see each other during a holiday or something. I was also myself the rest of the time thanks to the tableau. I had my moments of regret and anger, but they were small. No they weren’t. They didn’t last though, because she was with me. I wondered if she was going through the same thing. She’s stronger than I am, but enough time can push anyone.
As it turned out, I was right to worry. I dealt with our time. She didn’t fare as well. She didn’t react the way I did, I don’t think. I mean, not being there, I can’t know if she got angry or depressed. Neither of those things would have been bad. In fact, either of those thing would have been all too much like her.
One time when I went up to visit her, I brought the boys along. I only did that once, I think. Usually when I was going to see Meelee, I wanted it to be just me. Roger, Fish and Bart were her friends too though. She asked about them often enough.
I brought my friends, and she brought hers. We were out eating and having drinks. If we had kept our acquaintances apart, then I might not have seen how things were changing. I called her Meelee, because that’s what I call her. Her friends called her Melanie, which was only appropriate since my friends called her Melanie most of the time. Meelee wasn’t something that just anyone called her.
A couple of her fellow law students gave this funny look a few times when they heard it though. It wasn’t the normal ‘what kind of nickname is that’ look. It was more like they couldn’t believe she let me call her that. How were they supposed to know though?
The real trouble was that her friends weren’t like my friends. Her friends were uptight, self absorbed. Hell, they were totally pretentious. I guess you take what you can get though. Where she was in the world, they might have been the pick of the litter.
So what bothered me? I didn’t care that her crowd didn’t mix with mine. I expected it. When it came time to call it a night though, she had to stay behind a bit. “I’ll be right along.”
I looked at my friends and they sort of shrugged and grinned. They understood that they could be a bit much for some people. It wasn’t a big deal to them either. Not really. Meelee was along pretty quick, but the fellas had vamoosed so that she and I could have time alone.
“It was good seeing everyone again,” she said.
“Yeah. They’ve been dying to come up.”
“Hah. No, but he came along anyway.”
We went through the motions. There are conversations that are necessary, even to perfect couples. There was something about this one though. There was something that really bothered me. It wasn’t something she said or did though. It was something that was missing. It took me a bit to figure it out. I wasn’t bothered that she had to talk to her friends about my friends. I was bothered that she didn’t talk about that with me. Something should have been said. Anything. ‘Amanda and Cal aren’t quite used to someone like Bart.’ Or maybe, ‘They couldn’t believe that I know people like that’. It should have been more than even one line acknowledging the situation. Meelee should have found it funny that her friends had trouble handling the situation gracefully. She should have been poking fun at them for being sheltered or apprehensive. She left it alone though. That wasn’t her. I don’t mean that wasn’t like her. I know it because she was there with me. At the same time that we walked along, talking, she was also there in the past, right alongside the present. Meelee wouldn’t have put up with her friends’ obnoxious attitude. She might not have said anything to them, because it wasn’t really a big deal. She should have been offended though. Meelee talked to me about anything anyone did that annoyed her. This time she didn’t. That meant that she wasn’t just humoring those clowns she spent time with.
I figured it wasn’t worth my time. I didn’t bother approaching it, or telling her that I didn’t like her friends. Maybe I should have. To tell the truth, I don’t think I knew just how important that was until I spoke to the boys later on. Bart was the one who said it. “Man, your girl is hanging around with some real dipshits.”
“Yeah.” I chuckled. “She is. I guess that’s what you get around here.”
Roger was a bit more serious. “You want to be careful, man. Melanie ain’t like them, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t be.”
I heard him. On the one hand, I should have been irritated, but he didn’t mean it as any kind of insult. He was genuinely concerned. Fish had to agree with him. “People become what they see everyday.”
“Not everyone does that.”
“No,” Fish admitted. “No, I guess they don’t always. And Melanie’s Melanie, so maybe it’s nothing.”
“Yeah,” Bart said, “maybe it’s nothing.”
I didn’t know what to tell them. “This place is just school. When she gets gone, then this is just a memory. Once she gets out in the world away from the lofty air here, then she’ll be the real thing again.” It was wishful thinking, but I believed it.
* * * * * *
Melanie graduated a year before I did. We were all there. I was there. My folks were there. The boys were there. A lot of people were wearing those ridiculous caps and gowns that I was looking forward to wearing. I was seeing the future of the American judicial system there, and I almost felt hopeful because my Meelee was a part of it.
We celebrated. By we, I mean everyone all at once. Meelee and me, and my family and hers and my friends. All of that was good. But Meelee’s friends were there too. There were more of them, and the status quest had seemed to become more important. They would congratulate themselves for telling a dirty joke. They would carry on with torturously dull anecdotes, all the while congratulating each other for being who they were. I didn’t care that they were eager, ambitious young professionals. Did they have to be so boring, and love themselves for it? They dominated the conversation with their interruptions and remembrances of nothing. I was just glad it was over.
Shortly afterward, Roger said, “Man, was that a graduation or a funeral?”
“She gonna be okay?,” Fish asked me.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, nothing, forget it.”
I didn’t have to pull it out of him. Bart did it for me. “What do you mean, man?”
“I mean… Look, I get that she’s got this group, but she talks like them.”
“Shut up, Fish,” Roger said
I didn’t say a word. He was right. I didn’t have to think about it. I could hear her, the real her. The one I had fallen in love with. And I hadn’t heard her in the moment. Not for months.
Bart’s not exactly mister optimism, but he was the one who said, “She’s worked hard for this. Now she can get back to basics.”
“Basics?,” Roger asked.
“Yeah, she’s getting back to this mutt. He’s as basic as you get.”
I said, “Gee thanks, Bart.” I let it sink a bit. Then I had to say out loud, “She’s got a job offer already.”
They could all tell that I was not enthusiastic. “Where at?,” Roger asked.
Meelee was leaving the school, but she wasn’t coming back to me yet. I knew that would happen. How else could it happen? When we parted, I wasn’t worried about it. That was before she spent a handful of years in that law school cocoon so that she could come out a colorless butterfly. Where was my girl? She was only in me. The tableau was more real to me now than the real woman. She was about to turn professional. She was about to take a job that would change her. Meelee had already told me in so many words that she was glad to be moving on. I could hear it in her voice. It wasn’t just the school and the studying that she was escaping. It was this little antisociety. She was as sick of her friends as I was. It didn’t matter though. The damage was done.
* * * * * *
The story didn’t end badly. It should have, but my Meelee, she prepares for things. I spent my last year of school dredging it out and sliding a little in my GPA. Not much, just enough. It wasn’t bad though. I wouldn’t have a hard time finding a career. I could head out to the city, move in with Meelee and find a job somewhere. For a while it might be a fast food counter or something, but that’d be temporary.
That part wasn’t the problem. It was shortly before my graduation that Meelee and I had a real fight. We fight, of course. Every good couple does. But this was different. There was real enmity in this. It was set off by her name. She asked me, very politely, if I could start calling her Melanie. I said that I wasn’t in love with Melanie. I was in love with Meelee. I didn’t care that she was important now. I didn’t care that she was professional. I didn’t care that she wore nice clothes or made a difference in the world. To me she was Meelee.
She didn’t like what I had become. She didn’t realize that I hadn’t changed. She had changed. She had changed drastically. She was still the same in almost every way. She still had the same voice, the same smile, even the same sense of humor. But that rare quality, the thing that made her unique, it was replaced. She had worn it away over time carefully. I realized that it wasn’t just her circumstance that had changed her. She had meant to do it. I don’t think she had made a decision to change, but she didn’t decide to resist the change. That’s almost worse. You can’t control who you become if you let the world shape you like that. In her case, she hadn’t been shaped; she had been unshaped. She was just another face in the crowd. I couldn’t even say that she was just another lawyer. She was so dull. The Meelee of our college days had been brave and bright. How could she just lose that?
I told her that she could do what she wanted. It was the hardest decision of my life. I saw the girl that she had been. I saw her with that perfect clarity that her magical gift had given me. I couldn’t spend my life with this hollow creature. She didn’t want that. She hadn’t wanted to break apart. She begged me to reconsider. She broke down in a big, passionate way that was unlike the graduate she wanted to be. I almost thought she was still there. But she wasn’t. The best part of her was gone except for what I carried inside.
That’s what changed everything. I tried to console her. I couldn’t tell her that everything was going to be all right, or even that anything was going to be all right. I couldn’t see her cowering like that without trying to help. And it happened. She needed me more than she ever had. She knew that she wanted the past, not the present. If she hadn’t known it, then nothing would have changed.
That part of her that wanted it took her gift back. The tableau left me all at once. For a moment I felt a void that was colder than anything in the world. It was sickening. It was nothing. Because in that moment I could see her eyes. Her gift to me had returned to her. Everything that she had been was something she could see again. She could feel her own past as though it was all happening at that moment. All she needed was that understanding. By feeling what she had felt, without question, she could become my Meelee again. It was in her eyes.
I had to ask, “Meelee?” It wasn’t just her name.
She didn’t have to apologize or explain. She just smiled that unbelievable smile. “You’d better believe it.”
“It is you.”
“How did you manage to keep this that whole time?”
“What do you mean?”
“A tableau, it sinks in. You get to see it when you dream or when you drift off. Have you really had this with you all the time?”
“Of course. It was more than a memory.”
“What do we do now?”
“I don’t know. Can we make more of those?”