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Lisa Denenholz

© 2000

Forcing Myself Out This Door

did anyone go to rayomac jr high?
:in shafton, virginia? J J
:yep- 33rd Street… across from the speedymart.
:i got my first kiss there. November 1983 ;)
:jeremiah?? jeremiah blumon? IS THAT YOU??

It must have been fate the way Jeremiah and I were reunited. Both surfing the site on a lonely Thursday night. Me, in my studio apartment, in Cleveland; him, sitting in a busy New York cyber café, on a rainy night in between his two shifts. We were both searching for something. No gimmicks, no small talk. We found each other and haven’t let go since.

We were each other’s first crush, or that’s what we called it when we were thirteen. It was more like puppy love. Needless to say, we had drifted apart by the time we were freshman. We hadn’t seen each other in fifteen plus years; we both went to different high schools. All those minor details faded as we reacquainted ourselves through cyberspace.

It’s strange to get to know someone you have known in a different sense many years before. Jeremiah had last seen me when I had a perm, braces, and no tits. He didn’t know about my scholarship to college; he didn’t know about the humiliating jobs I found to afford being popular in college. He missed the joy of my first wedding and the pain of the decision I made to have an abortion so my child would not have to live with an alcoholic, abusive father. He knew nothing about me.

Still our conversation lasted into the night. Although he knew me not, or because of that fact, I felt close to him. He seemed to represent innocence, the past, the choices I could have made.

I had nothing long term going for me. I had started several writing projects for a handful of wishy-washy editors who seemed to dodge my calls. My day job was to help out at the Children’s Hospital. It helped me wake up in the morning, but hardly helped me to afford the coffee needed to stay awake at night to write. My days were a string of flat melodies repeating each other. Over and over I danced the dance without knowing if I was leading or following.
Several friends from college kept in touch. They lived far away but they would check in on me every few months. It was my computer, though, that held my heart, brain and soul. It was my life more than the air I breathed.

When I saw Jeremiah’s name in print on the screen, I felt myself shudder. It had to be a joke. I hadn’t thought about Shafton, or Virginia for that matter in more than a decade when I left my first husband and his vodka-tonic breath. I would need a whole hell of a lot of cash and healthy supply of barbiturates to be dragged back there. I was convinced nothing good came from back home.

I re-met Jeremiah at a crucial point in my career as a writer. I was starting to doubt my skills. No one cared what or how I wrote anymore. It seemed lately that quality was sacrificed for quantity and even quantity was lacking. The only piece of writing that I put time and heart into was chat sessions with Jeremiah; he was the first in years to be affected by what I wrote. It’s amazing how close you think you can get to someone with only words and hundreds of miles between you.

:have you ever wondered how we got to know each other so well just through writing?
:not really. I mean I am the kind of person that feels like I know characters that I
read about better than my co-workers.
:yah-me too. strange or not I do feel like i know you better than any other person right now.
:do you think if and when we meet, we will still be so much in love?
:when, not if.. and I don’t doubt it for a second. why do you?
:not for a nanosecond.

Not everything about our relationship was perfect though. The distance did get to me after awhile. One night I returned from working at the children’s hospital. It was a grueling day because two of the cancer patients who I had gotten to know lately had met their makers the night before. They didn’t know each other, but were both ten-year-old girls with hearts of gold. It was the worst feeling remaking a bed after someone had left it forever. I started to cry as I headed out to the bus stop. On the way home, I drafted a letter to the two girls who had meant so much to me. The only way I could express emotions was through writing; I scrawled furiously with tears streaming down my face.

Purging my thoughts on to paper was echoed by the lurching of the bus stopping at every corner. The motion was urging me on, to write more… I felt, as I often do when writing, that I was not in control. There was something else putting these thoughts on paper. It is quite a humbling feeling that connects me to my writing. I feel immortal as I look at the pen and its marks on paper… or the print that appears on screen. I am not religious, but I do believe that there are other forces at work when I am writing. I never feel that connection with people.

When my bus arrived in front of my studio, I was so wrapped up in the letter that I missed my stop. I finally stepped into my apartment three hours later than usual. When I switched on my computer, I saw that mail was waiting for me. Jeremiah had written to say hello, but he wouldn’t be able to chat that night because he took overtime at work. I had no one to talk to about my day. He had really been my only friend in the past four months. I was always too busy to make real connections with people. I didn’t make friends easily anyway, and I couldn’t stand another relationship that left me feeling empty. But now that I needed someone to just sit and talk with, I longed for a simple friend. That was the first doubt I had about our relationship. How would it feel to fall into his arms? Would he be able to calm me down? Would he know the right combination of words, looks, and touches to make me feel like everything was okay again? That night I felt lonely.

It seemed to me at that point, our relationship was a waste of time, and cyberspace. I realized how much we didn’t know about each other. Our younger selves had known each other, but I still hadn’t revealed all that he missed in my life that made me who I am today.
I told Jeremiah how I felt the next morning. We found time to chat before work.

:J— i need to see you, in front of my eyes. I really need to fall into your arms and see if I fit.
:we’ve talked about this before. neither of our work schedules allows any vacation
:we have to think of something. i am falling apart here alone.
:i’ll see what my boss says at work. it’s possible I could trade some shifts and
sacrifice the money if it’s that important. i mean… i think its important—
i’ve been thinking of you too.
:I would love that. I really need that.
:I love you.
:me too.

That was two weeks ago. Jeremiah is arriving at the bus station in twenty minutes. My stomach is doing flips. I try to imagine what will happen when I see the face that I hope to recognize from the pictures that he sent. Honestly I am scared to see his face and suddenly not ready for this relationship. Up until now, I have had a safety zone. A live person is so much more complicated to have a relationship with than a few lines on a screen. The only way I can force myself out this door to the station is to imagine that the man behind the screen really is someone who knows my heart and will handle it gently. I think back to my first husband and how happy I was the first two years I was with him. It seemed like we were meant to grow old together. Now, I feel stupid for having the same thoughts about Jeremiah.

I have ten minutes before I should go to the bus station. I can’t seem to motivate myself to stand up. Think positively, I whisper softly.

Lisa Denenholz was a 2000 Selective fellow. She teaches English and Drama at Murray Jr. High in St. Paul. She lettered on the math team in high school, though currently her interests run more toward biking and traveling. Her claim to fame is that, at a gas station, she met Rick Rockwell, of Who Want to Marry a Millionaire fame.