"We're all just mice running around a maze," I said, my voice pleading, "just trying to learn where to get the cheese and avoid getting zapped."
You see, this mouse has been zapped before.
And I was about to get zapped again.
When all I wanted was some cheese.
I recently got back in touch with a guy I adored in junior high, who sat in front of me in class and always turned around joking and swayed slowly with me to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" at a school dance. After our first communique, he gave me his number in case I ever wanted to talk.
"How about now?" I asked, and then winced. What had I gotten myself into?
Despite hating most of my childhood, for some reason I'm constantly trying to reconnect with my past, despite it hurting me over and over again, despite me being too sensitive to deal with it.
But sometimes, I can't forget. I need closure.
And so oops, I do it again.
He agreed to an impromptu call, but it took me a while to dial the number that night. When I did, he seemed genuinely happy to be back in touch with me, as I was with him. His enthusiasm, and that same voice I recognized from back then, calmed my nerves.
After an hour or so of late night talking, I hung up, having no idea that he would call me again the next day. And the next night. And text me. And leave missed calls.
I immediately got spooked.
"You know, I don't talk to anybody every day," I said with some consternation. Talking on the phone is really hard for me, particularly to someone I haven't seen in 20 years. Although I think I initially offended him, making him back off for a few days, his advances resurged, becoming more and more romantic in his approach, more sexually explicit in his flirtation. He even invited himself to come out and stay with me, only a month or two after we'd reunited.
I knew this was going to go badly.
I expressed my concerns to him honestly - citing "too much, too soon," a reason most guys had never had the guts to give me for brushing me off, but I knew to be true. Although he didn't book the flight, he kept calling me and telling me to call him, sometimes multiple times a day.
I understood. He'd recently gone through a breakup from a long-term relationship which had separated him from his son and his son's mother. He was living alone for the first time in years. Although he insisted he wasn't rebounding, he didn't have anyone to talk to about his day at work. So he called me. But I didn't want to be second choice, or a sounding board for someone else's heartbreak. I've got enough of my own. I can't give relationship advice. I've never even had a real relationship.
He was never short of conversation, but I was often silent. When he'd ask me why I didn't have anything to say, I'd simply reply, "I'm just waiting for this to crash and burn."
Undeterred by my resistance, he'd call me under the ruse of asking me how my day was, what I was up to, what adventures I'd been on, but he'd always quickly shift the conversation back to himself, his job, his son, his breakup, his loneliness. He told me how much he couldn't wait for me to come back home for a Christmas visit, persistently asking if I'd booked my flights yet. He insisted that when we saw each other, we were going to hook up.
But to me, and my soft, delicate soul, that felt like a threat. It felt like I was being punished.
Where had this guy been for the last 20 years? (And really, more than that, since we never actually spoke in high school...) Why did he suddenly deem me now, after all these years, datable, sexy, and worth pursuing - relentlessly?
And what had he done to think he'd earned any place in my heart beyond nostalgia for a crush I had on a guy that was actually nice to me, in a time when no one else was?
What right did he have to talk about seeing me naked, and ask what turns me on, what I do in bed?
I knew this was doomed. But I'm so seldom pursued, I let it drag on, even though it messed with my head so much that it pushed me to tears on the phone with him one night, as I begged him to leave me alone, to back off and just be my friend.
I told him about the high school guy who moved to LA, promised we'd become really good friends, and then dropped me like a hot potato. I told him about the married high school guy to whom I'd become hurtfully attached, despite his very healthy, continued relationship with his wife. All these times I've been zapped in pursuit of a tasty morsel of affection and attention. And, presented with this evidence, my prior experiences with heartbreak from guys from the same school and the same time period, he promised me, "I'm not going to do that. I'm not that guy."
Then my birthday came. He called me in the morning while I was sobbing into the bathroom mirror. Still recovering from being stood up the night before, I answered tearily, saying, "I really don't feel like talking." He thankfully let me go, saying that he was at work anyway, and we hung up.
And then later, after my birthday dinner, he texted me a message that proved he didn't know me at all: "See you're out celebrating don't be so grumpy."
As my birthday came to a close while I drowned my sorrows in a glass of prosecco alone at the Four Seasons bar, I unabashedly told him to STFU, to which he replied, "Yeah bad choice, have fun."
And, in almost a month, that is the last I've heard from him in any form of communication, save for one late night missed call a week ago, which I can only presume was a drunk dial.
Exactly as I'd suspected. I didn't know when, where, or how, or how soon I'd be dropped - what I would do or say to deserve it, how long it would take before I could completely push him away - but I knew it would happen.
I've always thought the worst punishment is be rewarded, only to have that reward taken away. I've been most hurt by those who have pretended to love me and then thrown it back in my face, who've used affection against me, as though I've owed them something in return. Don't let me fall in love with a stray cat and then give it away to the neighbors. Don't promise me all the things we're going to do together and then not show up, come up with other plans, or just forget to call. Don't tell me you'll love me forever and then stop loving me.
Don't make me even more suspicious of anyone who might come after you. Because now I expect everyone to press the lever, releasing an electrical current into my quivering nose or claw. I don't want to walk the maze anymore. I've stopped caring about the cheese. No cheese is worth being zapped for.
And if I expect it to happen, it most certainly will.
Don't tell me it won't.
Dispatches from My Soft, Naked Core
Of the Brokenhearted
Damaged Goods, Or, The Female James Bond
My Time Has Passed