"Search for the Moon" by Levi Jiorle
Her childhood bedroom was like a getaway, which was something she missed during her time at Pennsylvania State University. Brie didn't find the answers at proms or parties, she found it in dead musicians and writers, and also the occasional sighting of the moon. She was now staring into her closet, trying to decide what dress to wear for her graduation party. The blue shirt dress would bring out her golden hair, but the grey one would accent her eyes colored like green shattered glass. This decision was postponed, for her mother was knocking at the door.
"Brie, you almost ready?" Mrs. Fowler asked.
"Yeah, I'm getting there."
Mrs. Fowler watched her daughter stare at her dresses. She noticed Brie's facial expression, giving off the sign that the idea of a graduation party was nothing but dreadful.
"I know you didn't want to do this, but I think, looking back on it, you'll be happy," Mrs. Fowler said. "Happy that you celebrated your accomplishments."
"Eh, I doubt it," Brie said.
"Oh, you will," Mrs. Fowler said, unsurprised by Brie's pessimism. "I still don't understand why you didn't want to walk. Dad and I are proud of you, and we want you to pursue what you want in life."
"What if I don't know what I want?" Brie asked.
"One day, you will," Mrs. Fowler said. "That's what your twenties are all about, learning to enjoy what's right in front of you, not looking behind or too far ahead."
When Brie decided the blue shirt dress was the one, she lay on her bed, and put on a Radiohead record to relax her before the party. As she closed her eyes, listening to the ambient guitar sounds fill the room, she heard a commotion outside of her bedroom window. It was her little brother getting the yard ready for the party. Despite her indifference to the upcoming event, this sight filled her with a sense of appreciation.
Mr. Fowler, who was an accountant, just got home from work. His image gave off a sign of anticipation, for his tie was loosened before he even entered the house. Not long after him, the rest of the party arrived, filling the yard from fence to fence. Brie stood by the entrance, shaking hands, giving hugs, repeating lines of gratitude like she was an actress practicing for an audition. All the guests, wide-eyed from sociability, conversed to the quiet hum of their voices flowing throughout the suburban street. And they all breathed in the early May air, as if it had a sweetness not to be found in any other month.
The guests began to sit down and relax. Many of them had beer bottles or wine glasses in their hands. Brie looked upon the party like a spectator. She was sitting next to her brother, who was accompanied by two neighborhood boys. Brie's mind wandered as the party got louder and louder from the influence of alcohol. Although this graduation party was far removed from the college parties she attended only weeks ago, it made her reminisce of the highs and lows she endured these past four years.
The way voices so effortlessly pierced through her dorm room walls was something she couldn't forget. And how Friday and Saturday nights made her feel unhinged, left with the contemplation of leaving the house or staying in for the night. "Oh, Brie, you have to come with us," her roommates would say. And despite Brie's rejections, she would always follow them out the door and into the darkness that covered the sky and illuminated the stars. They would either go to a bar or frat party, but wherever they decided upon, it would be seen as a boring event without the effects of liquor. Brie would usually go home with her roommates on these nights, but sometimes she'd be with a boy, walking up to an apartment room she had never been in before. And during these moments, when she would still be awake in the dark, listening to the snore of someone who was a stranger just hours ago, a sense of abandonment filled her. It was, she realized, an abandonment to her true, honest self.
Brie's introverted tendencies started to take over. She went up to her room to grab her Parliament cigarettes. The back of the house guarded some of the noise from the front yard. She lay flat on the grass, and lit her cigarette while staring at what she thought was Orion's Belt. She closed her left eye to see the constellation more clearly, tracing her pointer finger back and forth along the three stars. She felt like a painter with the perfect brush stroke, coloring the sky all shades of blue and black. The grass felt warm and calming, and the stars and the sky made her feel so small and insignificant in a way that comforted her. It lifted away, for a small moment, all the anxieties and fears she had felt for such a long time. If only I could feel like this forever, she thought.
"Brie, you smoke?" her brother asked as he intruded upon her solitude. He had a look of disbelief. He didn't seem disappointed, just surprised. Her parents didn't know she smoked, either, but at this point, she didn't really give a damn.
"You pick up some bad habits once you go to college, Todd."
"You could do what you want, but I ain't ever touching a cigarette. What are you doing back here anyway?" he asked.
"I'm looking at Orion's belt--at least that's what I think I'm doing. Come over here," she said as she waved towards where she was sitting. "Does this look like Orion's Belt to you?"
He sat down next to her, staring at the stars like he was a calculating astronomer. Much like she did before, he closed his left eye, tracing the pattern of the constellation.
"I don't know what the hell that is," he said, "but I know that's the Big Dipper over there."
As they looked above them, marveling upon a sight that most people take for granted, it occurred to Brie how long it had been since she'd really talked to her brother. Yes, she'd exchanged casual and teasing words with him over the years, but the last time they confided anything real to each other was a time she could scarcely remember, a time shrouded in bittersweet nostalgia for the both of them.
Todd, like a telepath, must have been thinking the same thing, for the silence lost its charm the longer he lay there.
"Brie, ever since you went to college, I keep on wishing you'd bring somebody home with you."
She looked at him sharply after he made this remark. "What do you mean bring somebody home with me?" she asked with a perplexed expression.
"You know, like a boyfriend or something. I don't get it, Brie. You're smart and kind, and if you look anything like me, you can't be half-bad looking."
"Well, for your information," she said, "there was someone I was going with for a while. We still talk and I still like him, but he's no good for me."
"Why? What's the matter with him?" Todd asked.
Brie's eyes became more wide and expressive the longer this question went unanswered. They started to look like green stars shining through the dark. She bit her lip, a nervous habit that she had since childhood.
"He wasn't really dedicated enough," she said quietly, lowering her head so that she was now looking at houses instead of stars. "I thought I could change this about him, but as I tried and tried again, I realized how stupid that was. Todd," Brie said, finally facing her brother, "don't try to change anyone, but most of all, don't change yourself for anyone else."
This sentence gave off an illusion of closure. Brie was almost proud of herself, to say something so self-assured, a phrase so entrenched in the values she held deep within herself. But it was something she told herself to numb the longing to see him, for there was guilt involved. She was thinking of Nate Thompson. She started to picture the night she met him. It was a typical Friday night at the bars, one where she followed her friends without any expectation. There was a moment where she was by herself, waiting for the bartender so she could order a whiskey and ginger. Once she turned around, she bumped into Nate, spilling about half of her drink on the floor.
"I'm sorry," Nate said with sincerity. "Here, let me get you a new one."
And somehow, in a way that seemed so perfectly natural, she was sitting at a bar with a nice looking boy, one that seemed even genuine to her.
"So what do you do?" Brie asked him.
"Well, I'm a student here at Penn State. Are you a student, or a local?" Nate asked.
"No, no. What are some of your hobbies?"
"This is going to sound pretentious," he admitted, taking a sip of his beer before he finished his sentence, "but I'm a writer."
The way he said it made her eyes widen with fascination, for she never met a guy her age that said he was a writer. And there was a distinction she found in this. It would be one thing to say that he liked to write, but to say he's a writer made her look at him with an interest she had never felt before. Brie proclaimed her love for confessional poetry.
"Oh, don't get me wrong, I like Sylvia too," she admitted, "but Anne Sexton just really gets me. It's like she's my long lost sister or something."
Not only could he write, but he was also funny, and both these traits convinced her to spend the night at his place. After they made love, and she heard him wheeze in and out of consciousness, she did not feel the self-abandonment that she usually did on these type of nights. She lay down in his arms, smiling through her sleep until the morning sun woke them both. They talked through the week, and spent the next Friday night together again. But when she woke up to find him walking back and forth, visibly restless and uneasy, she knew something wasn't perfect about this scenario after all. When he admitted that he's in a long-distance relationship with his high school sweetheart, she found it strange, and almost frightening, that a confession of this magnitude wouldn't stop her from seeing him again.
"Brie? Where's Brie? And come to think of it, I can't find Todd, either," Mrs. Fowler said.
Brie pushed her cigarette into the ground once she heard her mother's voice. She smelled the sleeves of her dress to make sure she didn't reek of smoke. The smell was faint, so she thought she could get away with it, at least for the rest of the party. Her mother was bringing out a cake, decorated with the words, "Congratulations Brie." An inevitable graduation cap was iced on the top as well. She took solace in knowing that after blowing out the candles, the party would soon be over, and that she could finally go to her room to let her mind unravel from the day.
Mr. Fowler gave the toast, showing endearment for his beloved daughter's accomplishments. Brie blew out the candles, cut the cake, and smiled ear-to-ear in all the closing pictures. She gave her farewells, and once she saw that only a few of her dad's work buddies were left, she walked into her room and closed the door a little faster and louder than usual. She was alone, with the her books and records. She was finally away from that lonely suburban street, and that dull hum of voices that could drive one mad from indignation.
She was staring at her bookshelf, trying to decide what writer would fit her mood after the long party. There was her John Cheever collection, which, she decided, would be far too suburban after the previous event. There was Kate Chopin and Carson McCullers, whom she loved for different feminist reasons. Then there was her copy of Sons and Lovers. Despite some of her indifference towards D.H Lawrence, it seemed like a fitting read for the night.
When she went through her favorite passages, she realized why her mind was drawn to this novel. Lawrence, with his descriptions of all-consuming love, made her think of Nate. She resented that this driving force of the need to feel loved made her lose all her foresight, and she resented that she was still not able to let her feelings dissipate into nothingness. She was possessed with the idea of some person being with her in multiple chapters of her life, not just some obscure time where she wandered like a bird without the sky. But most of all, she was tired of this feeling of uncertainty that was a constant nagging to her happiness. She put her book down and picked up her phone. She bit her lip as she waited for Nate to pick up her call.
"Hello," Nate said.
"Na-Nate, how are you?" Brie asked him. She hoped her nervousness didn't translate through the phone.
"I'm great. How's being at home been for you?" he asked. "It's been quite the adjustment for me."
"Oh, it's been alright. Definitely a lot quieter than State College, that's for sure," she said with an awkward laugh at the end. "I wanted to ask you, though, are you doing anything tonight?"
"Nothing that I know of. You aren't trying to drive all the way to Allentown, are you?"
"I need to get out of the house," Brie said with forceful certainty. "It's only an hour away, anyway."
"Well, you could come hang out if you want. Emily is away with her parents, so we don't have to worry--"
"I'm not thinking about that right now," she said. "I just thought we'd maybe go out to eat or something, maybe get a drink or two. Whatever you want."
"We could meet at Schmidt's. It's usually pretty quiet there," he said. "Right down the street from my house too."
"Alright," she murmured. She stared through her bedroom window with a sleepy gaze. "I'll see you soon," she said. She hung up the phone and went to her parent's bedroom. "I'm going to meet up with some college friends," she said. The Fowlers were delighted to hear this. They were so happy that they forget to ask where she was going. All they could think of was that their strange daughter finally found some worthwhile friends, and that she found her place in this vast, raving world.
They were in a booth, sitting across from each other. Nate ordered a coke and bourbon, while Brie ordered a martini, extra dirty. Brie was swirling her olives around the martini glass. She took sips of the martini at a slow, rhythmic pace. She wanted the alcohol to loosen her up, but not to the point of incoherence. Like many with social anxiety, she relied on alcohol in times of confession, for she was otherwise tongue-tied. The fact that she relied on alcohol to say the words that she had buried deep inside her conscience saddened her. But it gave her words validity, and it gave her thoughts a fire that she sorely missed during her times of sobriety. She stared across at Nate with a shy smile, because despite being in a different town, this was reminiscent of their time in State College.
"So," Brie said while stirring her martini, "do you miss college already?"
"Of course I do," Nate said, his tone of voice suggesting that the answer was obvious. "Four years of our life over. And we're supposed to be adults now? Ah, that's crazy, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
Brie sipped the cool martini, staring at Nate's brown, narrow eyes. She looked at him exquisitely, like he was a painting she admired for all its outward beauty and charm.
"So there isn't anything you'd change about these past four years?" she asked.
"Not really," he said confidently. "I made some great friends, got good grades, and, well," he said, starting to smirk as he thought about his next response, "I met you."
"I wish I knew what that felt like, to feel content with the past. But no matter what I do, I just can't seem to be satisfied with the chapters in my life." She took a big gulp from her martini, almost finishing the whole drink. "God, I feel like such a mess."
"Ah, Brie, you shouldn't feel that way," Nate said, trying to comfort her. "I know your roommates were kind of lousy, but you had some fun times with them, didn't you?" He noticed the rhetorical quality to his question after he said it. He was looking at her hands. Her thumb was twiddling under her fingers in a nervous motion. He took his hands and put them over hers. This made her stop fidgeting and look at him with all her feeling. "Even if you didn't, we had a lot of fun times together," he concluded.
"I know," she said, almost tearful. "The thing is, I don't get you, Nate. I don't get me, or you, or this terrible secret that we've hidden from Emily for so long." There was a huge relief once these words lingered through the air. She felt, without looking down, Nate's hands loosen up, moving back to his coke and bourbon. She watched him take a long sip after this remark, his face growing more stern by the second.
"You know," he said while looking down at the booth table, his face heavy and tense, "this is my burden to carry. I know you think that you have to worry about Emily, but you really don't." He finally mustered up the strength to look at Brie in the eyes. "I've managed to hide this from her the whole time, and what she doesn't know will never hurt her."
"That doesn't make it better, Nate, " she said hesitantly. She wanted to get another drink, but she didn't want to stay here all night. The reality of the moment made her want to get drunk and gone, but she couldn't. She needed to say the nasty, ugly words. She needed to say what hung around her neck like a millstone. "I can't stand the way this makes me feel anymore. I can't stand that I've dealt with this for so long, just because I thought it'd make me happy. And I can't stand how badly I've treated Emily. I mean, it sounds strange," she said, "but I've never even met her before."
Nate was terrible at confronting his problems. He thought this night would be carefree, because unlike Brie, his conscience was always connected to the present moment. He didn't know why someone would fester upon the past, a place where no one could ever go back to. "Brie, if it hurts you this much, we don't have to do this anymore," he said. His face loosened up, for he now knew the truth of the matter: it was over for good. This didn’t ruin his night, though, for he knew that when Emily came back home, he'd have her at night when he felt tired and lonesome. He'd have all of her, and she'd only have a part of him, because that's the way it's always been since they were fifteen years old. It was a sad, joyful complacency they both learned to love.
"I tried for as long as I could, but I just don't think I can anymore, Nate," she said woefully.
"It's okay, it really is. We could just let it all go."
Brie breathed in a heavy gust of air after all this. She was close to tears, but to her surprise, she managed to hold herself together. She stared at the rail of the bar, all the people laughing and talking. She didn't see a single sad face that night. Not even Nate's face expressed a similar level of feeling as hers.
There aren't many times in one's life when goodbyes seem proper. Old beloveds, no matter where they are in the world, have the ability to cloud the mind and sicken the heart. Nostalgia is a masquerade. It deceives, it gives the hope of temporary satisfaction. But the ones that break free from it learn the truth: they miss the memories more than they miss the beloveds, and what they felt they will never feel again. It stays in the attics, the cheap hotel rooms, the places that fade like memories floating from the mind.
"This may sound weird," Brie said to Nate, "but I've always wanted what you have."
He looked at her strangely, but he was curious to hear her explanation. "What do you mean by that?" he asked.
"Oh, you know, how you still have your high school sweetheart, and how something like that came so naturally to you." She wasn't biting her lip, and she steadied her eyes straight ahead. "But it's more than that, really. Ever since I was a little girl, I've always felt this detachment from everyone else. Sometimes, I'm able to laugh it off, but there are moments where it gets to me." She lit a cigarette and pulled the ashtray closer to her. "Moments like where I'd be by myself, walking home from school, and I'd be thinking about how I always yearn for something more."
"I think everybody feels like that from time to time," Nate said.
"Oh, I'm sure they do, but I've never been able to get past that feeling. I thought I would in high school, and then in college, but it never happened for me," she said, puffing her cigarette afterwards to smooth the conversation. "I guess I'm waiting for the day when I stop living in the past, a day when I finally become the person I'm supposed to be."
They departed each other that night with no sentimental goodbyes. They hugged, told each other to take care of themselves, and left to go back home. Brie was now driving on her street. She put down her car window to listen to the sound of crickets chirping, and she stuck out her hand to feel the cool spring air. As she walked in her house, she was unphased by the silence. She went up to her room, and closed the door. Like so many times before, she looked at her books, touched the bindings with a sense of wonder. Then she looked at her bedroom window, so high and far away from the ground. She opened her window and climbed onto the summit of the house. She thought of flight, her body becoming one with the air of the earth. Then she thought of her desires and dreams, all the strange ideas within her grasp. The roof held her as she lay down. She stared at the stars just like she and Todd did before. Her hand sought the rough slates, and then her chest where she could feel the beat of her heart: then, the moon.
*previously published in red fez