The last time she saw him was Valentine’s Day, 2008. The day before the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 was implemented. Little good that did. There was no avoiding a recession of an epic magnitude. Just as there was no avoiding that they were over. An end that had been in sight for many months now as she prepared to go to school overseas. Specifically to the Sorbonne, to get a Bachelor in Foreign Literature, a dream of hers she’d been cultivating since elementary school while the other girls were hoping to gain admittance into “cheer club,” a glorified clique designed to serve as pre-slut training for those who would ultimately become “real” cheerleaders. As though their girl form was just a Pinocchio waiting to be turned not into real boys but real hoes.
Perhaps this is why Edythe ended up bonding more easily with Jaxson, who was quick to treat her as one of the boys by calling her Edy and inviting her to their daily gathering on the kickball field to trade cards or pogs or just regale one another with generally disgusting stories often involving how they’d caught their fathers with another woman when they went to visit them at their respective offices. That classic suburban saga. Edy didn’t really know what they were talking about, but she reckoned it was something that she shouldn’t. Something that would shatter a carefully cultivated veneer between childhood and adulthood that she wasn’t yet ready to penetrate. Yet she didn’t want to admit to her only social accomplices that she was completely in the dark about what most of their boys’ club conversation was about.
It was Jaxson, who everyone called Jax, that finally picked up on Edy’s discomfiture among their group, taking her aside one day after the requisite powwow to say, “You know, you don’t have to join us on the field every day if you don’t want to. We’ll still hang out with you at lunch.” She gave him a suspicious look, as though to say, “Yeah right.” He smiled at her, grabbing her shoulder affectionately. “I’ll still hang out with you,” he corrected. It was probably in that small moment that they fell in love, but they did not come to apprehend as much until sophomore year of high school, toward the end of the spring semester. Edy had only recently grown out of an awkward phase, roughly about two weeks before the junior prom, when, all at once, the upperclassmen had taken notice of her body and its sudden shapely slenderness. Jax, of course, had noticed all along, but it was only when everyone else did that he suddenly became hyper-aware–and protective–of it. The sight of some jock leering at her in those days leading up to the prom was enough to send him into an unexplained rage, usually directed at Edy, who did nothing wrong other than grow from an ugly duckling into a swan. Isn’t that what everyone expected of homely girls thanks to the endless barrage of high school “rom-coms”?
When Jax finally found the words to tell her how he felt, she had already been asked (and agreed to going) to the prom by Dylan Sloane, captain of the soccer team and an active member of student council. And the words Jax expressed were not so much his own, but those of Depeche Mode’s via “I Feel You,” which he played à la Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything outside her window one night, prompting her mother to run out in curlers and scream, “Jax, what the hell are you doing? It’s midnight for Chrissakes!” Needless to say, it killed the emulative romantic vibe, but Edy still understood the message. And she knew she only had a limited time to address it before their friendship turned sour, a resentful pall cast over it lest she return his feelings. She was aware, on some level, that she did. But also knew that taking their dynamic in that direction could mean losing Jax as a friend forever if things inevitably went south for them as boyfriend/girlfriend.
Naturally, it did. But in those brief two years of high school they shared together as “sweethearts” (with the yearbook folk annoyingly voting them as the couple most likely to stay together forever–as though to further toss salt in their wound out of sheer spite), the magic was real. Right out of a John Hughes movie culled together from all the scenes where they end up kissing in some romantic milieu (usually involving a car–that forever symbol of Americana at its peak) at the end. Edy, more than Jax, knew that life wasn’t a John Hughes movie, even if her parents weren’t divorced the way everyone else’s long ago had. While Jax was cognizant of the forces brewing that would conspire to soon separate them, he chose to ignore her excitement whenever she lit up thinking about Paris. About all the things she would get to learn at the Sorbonne, right in the heart of where some of the most erudite scholars and writers had existed. He would, in fact, often roll his eyes at her maudlinness, balking, “Good luck relating to a fucking French person. They don’t accept anyone but themselves.”
It started to make her all the more nervous about her departure. All the more concerned that they would immediately and forever write her off as a California bumpkin unworthy of their city. Jax’s negativity sowed the seeds of discord between them while they still had several months left to spend with each other. But Edy declared that she didn’t want to waste her final days in America with someone that was such a jealous, unsupportive dolt–even if they did still have to see each other in the halls for a few more months. She screamed this to him in his car (she never had one, nor did she care much for driving), after they had gone to In-n-Out and were sitting in the parking lot drinking milkshakes (it was Edy who taught him to order the “Neapolitan,” which merely involved an employee slapping all three flavors of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate into the same cup). She had had enough of his overt bitterness and animosity toward her for simply pursuing a dream she had always aimed to fulfill. And when she offered that he might try to come along, he sneered, “That’s your life, not mine. I’m staying right here.”
That was Valentine’s Day, 2008. Now she was coming back to Oakland. Not only had she finished school, but she was going to attend a graduate program at École Normale Supérieure. She just needed to renew her passport with the Italian consulate (for that was the heritage through which she laid European claim on her mother’s side, thanks to her Genovese grandfather, Pietro Economio–indeed, she rather wished her mother had given her a better Italian flourish for a first name. Edythe smacked of some kind of pretentious East Coast woman that still believed in cotillions.). And it was precisely because of banking for so long on this that she did not bother with the route of a “student visa,” instead announcing herself to the Sorbonne and all of France as a bona fide citoyen. At present, such a cocksure declaration was coming back to bite her in the cul. The consulate beckoned, she just needed a ride into the rich recesses of the Pacific Heights neighborhood where it was nestled. It was in the middle of the day, a time when neither of her parents could be counted on. The person she knew she could always still count on, however, was Jax. And she wasn’t embarrassed to say as much when she called him to ask for a ride after years of not speaking.
Sitting in the front seat of his red Ford Fiesta, Edy couldn’t help but feel that she had triumphed in life. She had escaped this place while Jax settled effortlessly into mediocrity. And then she felt terrible for thinking such a thing. For comparing herself to him in this way. After all, they were two completely different people. And what might have been “failure” to her was but contentment to him. He did seem happy. And as he proceeded to tell her about the car stereo repair business he had opened, along with a few of his latest sexual conquests for good measure (as though to assure her that he didn’t view her as “the one that got away”), she thought, Maybe his life isn’t so bad. It was at that moment that Jax swerved abruptly, running over a black cat that had jumped into the lane of the residential road that would lead them to the freeway, where the Golden Gate Bridge (Jax was sure to take this over the Bay Bridge because he wanted to remind Edy of what she was missing) and its still great suicide potential awaited. Indeed, at one point seeing a sign for “Robin Williams Tunnel” didn’t do much to assuage the notion that this was a complete and utter suicide mission. Edy knew–but failed to tell Jax–that there was a chance her appointment would have a snag. That they might travel all that prolonged way thanks to constant traffic in the state of California for nought. Because she had failed to, despite being a student at the Sorbonne, decipher the strange hieroglyphics of the Italian Consulate’s website, filled with vernacular and instructions in keeping with Alice in Wonderland‘s riddling Cheshire Cat vibe of the institution. One such element she had failed to fathom in time was the AIRE. Some sort of Sandra Bullock in The Net-like system that you had to be in if you wanted to be acknowledged as a “real person” by the government. Or at least the Italian one. Edy knew she ought to take the black cat as an omen to turn around right this instant. That she should confess to Jax that this was a fruitless endeavor and she hadn’t registered with the system within the specified time frame.
And yet, somewhere within herself, she thought she could talk her way out of the situation. But a “lax” Italian was not the same as an Italian bureaucrat. Nothing was the same as an Italian bureaucrat, to be quite honest. Even Moses would find them immoveable. Yet she had been able to land on her feet in every complicated scenario for so long that she had grown spoiled, expectant of everything to play out as she wanted.
When Jax found a parking spot after about twenty minutes of searching (par for the course in San Francisco), both he and Edy were rather surprised to be confronted by an ostensibly mild-mannered gray-haired man with glasses who popped out from the depths of his station wagon to say, “I was about to park there.” Jax instantly called bullshit, returning that he hadn’t put any form of indication or flashing lights on to make them aware of his intentions. The man, remaining eerily calm, as though he was the type who would stab you with a knife out of nowhere with the same stoic expression, continued, “I’m going to have to insist that you leave this spot. I was only reading the sign to make sure I could park here.” Edy wanted to say, “I’m going to have to insist you shut the fuck up and stop expecting things from people just because you’re old. Because no one gives a shit about anyone but themselves regardless of what your age bracket is.” She bit her tongue of course, a sense of the same classic California passive aggressiveness enveloping her as it had the old man. Because if they were in New York, he would probably just start unleashing a torrent of obscenities at them and that would be the end of the matter. Instead, he went behind the car and stood in the parking spot, refusing to budge from it. For if he couldn’t have it, no one else could. They surrendered, as the appointment time was looming. Though they found a closer spot, the bad omens persisted when they walked up to the consulate to see if they should go in or wait outside a bit longer. At that moment, a ponytailed man in a horrendously ill-fitting suit demanded, “Do you have an appointment? There’s a buzzer here, you know. I’m not just going to walk out all the time and happen to know you’re waiting.” The energy was already accusatory and hostile.
Upon presenting the faux rent-a-cop with her ID, she was allowed to come in. Even Jax was, although Edy was sure to kowtow and ask if this was all right. It only took about ten minutes for the rent-a-cop to yell at Jax for being in the confined space if he didn’t have an appointment. And so he agreed to meet Edy at the Blue Bottle Coffee on Fillmore, even though the last thing he wanted to do was spend something like six dollars on a coffee that a barista had gotten an orgasm from making. At that rate, they should be paying him. And as she sat in the waiting room alone, listening to person after person approach the window unprepared, as though they hadn’t looked at the website listing all the requirements at all before they made their appointment (one couple didn’t have their marriage license, another lady passed by asking if cash or debit was okay–when it was patent that a money order was the only acceptable method), she simply knew in her bones that she would not be one of the ones to “eke by.”
Lo and behold, the very instant she approached the window, the Italian bureaucrat would not even let her pass over the paperwork before decreeing, “You’re not registered in our system.” Come to think of it, Edy had no idea whose system she was really registered in anymore. Her parents had no use for her, treating her with the same distant regard as a couch surfing guest, she had no real friends to speak of in Paris and the only person left that she knew of in Oakland was Jax. Jax who didn’t even bat an eyelash when called to ask a favor out of the blue. She could feel tears streaming down her eyes. The Italian bureaucrat, likely having heard every sob story under the sun, probably thought it was a ploy. Edy didn’t care. She walked away crying not because she couldn’t get her way and that her situation abroad was now more tenuous, but because she finally saw how cruelly she had betrayed her love for the sake of, for all intents and purposes, developing a snooty accent.
She started to run down the sidewalk, bolting for the Blue Bottle as though her life depended on it. She smiled as she saw Jax walking out with two coffees. She knew how expensive they were, and yet he still purchased deux. Maybe these scenes from her botched consular visit were trying to tell her something. Stay, the universe said. Stay.