Dear Lily June,
I looked up the term “rebound” when it comes to dating. In 2016, it connotes a relationship that occurs simply for one of the parties involved to get over a relationship that recently ended. But apparently, that use goes all the way back to the 1830’s, when Mary Russell Mitford, an English dramatist, penned the expression
“[There’s] nothing so easy as catching a heart on the rebound.”
I find the fact that the term is almost two-hundred years old fascinating. I also find that rambling about the origins of the term itself doesn’t make it any easier to admit that I once had a rebound boyfriend, an amazing guy whose heart I threw to the ground like it were a sombrero I was doing the Mexican hat dance around.
Forgive me, Lily, as I need to interrupt your letter momentarily to speak to the person behind its subject matter:
Eddie Morstaller, I know, as I’ve changed your name to protect your identity (and to protect my daughter from the eventual shame this blog may produce), you may not ever see this apology. But it’s more than duly owed, and I don’t even want you to forgive me. I just want you to know that I’m going to teach my daughter to do better.
Lily, if there’s a lesson in this letter, it’s this: Do as I say, not as I did. Please, when it comes to matters of the heart, be better than your mother.
I talked about Eddie a little once before, but let’s work our way, literally, from the ground up. When I think of Eddie, the first things I think of are his shoes: bright red Converse All-Stars, also known as “Chucks” or “Chuck Taylors,” named for the famous basketball hero circa the 1920’s who ran fundamentals clinics where he’d hock the footwear. In World War II, soldiers even wore them while in training. Eddie taught me all that. Eddie, first and foremost, had a sense of history, getting it as much from textbooks as from fashion and music and comics like Palestine and Maus.
What he didn’t have was a history with girls. Beware, my darling daughter, if you have one no longer, your first virgin heart. It is a heart that falls like a blizzard’s snow: purer, faster, and harder than any other you’ll know.
Eddie loved Elvis Costello. In fact, the bright red Chucks his feet always donned were in tribute to a Costello song, one about angels borrowing a man’s red shoes in exchange for granting him eternal youth.
The song, which Eddie loved, is also about dancing, which Eddie also loved. He’d waste his youth in arcades and blow through entire weekends on a video game called Dance, Dance, Revolution, his thin, Blues Brothers-style tie swinging past his ears as his feet pumped in tune to the rhythm. He had a theory of immortality: If you don’t stop dancing, you can never die. It’s no wonder, then, that this is the guy whose first kiss to me involved a ballroom dip. Mostly, though, he wasn’t a slow-dancer. He’d skank to punk-lite and rockabilly, which kept me on my toes considering that I had two left feet.
He was, Lily, without question cooler than me, but we were both desperate for a dance partner, figuratively. When we met at an arts camp for high-schoolers one summer, he was chasing an female actress named Jimmie*, and I was chasing a male actor named Sam*. Neither of us scored these leads, but we did, in chasing others, find our way to each other. (Note: Outside of the script for a romantic comedy, this kind of plot is a rarely a recipe for anything but disaster.)
Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, Eddie found me after I’d already had my own heart slammed like a bird against a glass window (not all life can be poetry, Lily; some of it’s just, like that simile, plum ugly), and so I was practically a double-rebounder, dumped by the “love of my life” when I was a Junior and turned down by my friend Sam the summer before I’d become a Senior. I felt about as ugly as a duckling can be, with no prospects for ever swan-blossoming. That Eddie decided, instead of Jimmie, he wanted me (he wanted me? he wanted me?! he wanted ME!) was a huge ego-booster.
The lesson I learned from Nathan, my first boyfriend, is that a first rarely lasts. The lesson, coming to me from Eddie, would be that a first is rarely a last. But go back to that Elvis Costello song, and listen closely. In addition to being about shoes and dancing, it’s also, ultimately, about the breakdown of a relationship, about hastily exchanged words between, we presume, exes, a girl and a guy arguing in a world where even the angels’ wings are rusted. And the girl leaves with another guy entirely. That song, unfortunately, accurately summarizes Eddie and me.
We had a summer of geeking out over prose, two writers imagining what their future would be at a camp for artists and writers (and dreamers, ultimately) that met in the middle of our state. Then, camp ended and we went back to the eastern (him) and western (me) parts of the state, respectively. We were separated by six hours of driving time, no small change for high-schoolers, and so I got my first taste of a long-distance fling. Lily, these kinds of loves rack up mileage fast, so be sure the person you’re seeing is worth all the traveling. I say that for Eddie’s benefit, too: I, ultimately, wasn’t. But we didn’t know that at the time.
I took a bus once that took all day just to see him, a trip that ended up with me sleeping on his pull-out couch in the basement while his parents watched me like I was another bird they kept in a cage (they owned three). It didn’t stop us, when they left for work the next morning, from making love for the first time in that basement, struggling with our hands, struggling with the condom, struggling with the dance steps literally and figuratively.
I’d walked through that fire before with Nathan, but Eddie’d never so much as seen a woman’s body in the flesh, and he was consumed by the flames quickly. As it turns out, no matter how much precious stock folks will tell you to put into your virginity, in a relationship, every first is a first time, Lily. And it will always matter just as much, whether this is partner #1 or #7 or #23. If you care about them, the moment comes alive and makes you feel as such. I was a new woman with Eddie, but I’d go from woman to black widow pretty quickly.
Though we started the summer by using protection, I persuaded Eddie by August that because he was a virgin and I’d only been with one guy (that guy a virgin before me), that we should ditch the condoms, and Eddie should go skin-to-skin with me. In fact, when he finally relented (he’d been opposed, but I’d been badgering), I pulled him close and whispered into his ear, “Now you’ll always be in love with me.” It was a wicked thing to do, Lily. If I were a spider, I was playing games with just how convoluted and controlling a web I could weave. And Eddie, poor Eddie, got caught in the silky fibers of being a first-timer.
By the end of fall, we’d both applied to college, and he’d made my #1 college pick, the University of Pittsburgh, his safety. (His first pick was Brown University.) But by winter, things were unravelling for me quickly. He’d gotten a job which meant he had less time to devote to phone conversations with me, a fact that might have been fine if we’d had physical proximity for a sense of emotional continuity. We didn’t.
And every visit had so much pressure on it for us to have sex again, because who knew how long until the next time it would be. (Once you walk through that door, Lily, it can become a revolving one, so don’t enter until you’re sure the other side of it is where you want to be.) I was the one who’d forced him into trust; he was the one who was pushing and pushing lust. It wasn’t working for either of us.
Especially not when, in a particularly brutal snowstorm, Eddie wrecked his car along a highway. He had been driving home from one of his visits to me, and though he was safe, his car, our only means of being able to see one another easily, was a totally totaled goner.
And then there was this other guy, for me. This guy who’d waited patiently while my relationship with Nathan had disintegrated. This guy who’d I’d said Yes to tentatively before saying Yes for certain to Eddie, and who I’d broken it off with while keeping him in my back pocket. (That is a terrible thing to do, young lady, and I can’t say this any more clearly: There isn’t a moment I look back on those two guys and don’t regret how I let the situation become such a tangled mess.) Anyway, as was revealed pretty quickly through our burgeoning friendship in the meantime, I was actually more in love with that other guy (whose name was Brett).
And so, by the time we’d gotten word from our colleges that Brown had rejected Eddie and he’d be following me to the University of Pittsburgh, I also gave him word, long-distance and over the phone, that he’d been rejected by me, too. I don’t remember much of that phone call, Lily, but I do remember Eddie begging me not to break up with him. “Please,” he whisper-gasped between bouts of sobs. “Don’t do this. Please.”
It hurts so much to recall his pleas which, even now, I can hear echoing in my ear like they were yesterday’s. Out of respect to that heartbreak–his heartbreak–I can only say to you, Lily, and to wherever in the universe you might be, Eddie: What I did was cold and cruel and shitty. And it only gets worse.
I was resolved over the phone that it was over, but I saw the pain in his face as, months later, we were Freshman at the same campus. And so, I strung him along. I’d invite him into my dorm and we’d sit so close to each other, we could feel one another breathe. And I’d lean in toward him like we were going to kiss, but I’d let the moment linger. And then I’d retreat, back to the guy I really wanted to be with while Eddie really wanted to be with me. It got so bad, finally Eddie couldn’t stand to be around me.
And I was wrestling with major depression at the time, and I pulled a stunt with some painkillers I’m not too proud of to try to get him to talk, one more time, to me. And he essentially asked me why I wasn’t on that ledge, figuratively, with the guy I’d left him so coldly for. And he was right to ask me that, though at the time, I interpreted it as him basically saying, “Jump.” And I finally cut him out of my life, fully and completely.
He even called my parents’ house in the middle of the night, looking and looking for me, but I gave him all I had left to give after I’d taken so much: a break that was clean. I not only stopped stringing him along; I stopped talking to him altogether. And it was the cruelest and kindest thing I could think of. And he, whether he felt it at the time or not, was lucky to be free of me.
Lily, I tell you all this to show you we are all capable of really damaging one another when it comes to love. I fell for Eddie when I thought no one else would ever want me, but when I found out I’d been wrong, I went from stoking his fires to burning his heart to the third degree. I left scar tissue in my wake, ruining the memory of his lost virginity. I took his trust and bent it to the point where not just it–but also he–had to break. And I am not, for one second, proud of what I’d done.
Some people might excuse my actions–or even me–by saying I was young. But Lily, I was old enough to know better. That I wanted, truly wanted, to love Eddie as much as he loved me didn’t matter. I was as careless with his heart as I might be with leaving shoelaces untied, and it tripped the both of us up. He deserved, and deserves, better.
The last I heard, he was married, working as an EMT, saving lives, and so it’s my wings that are rusted. And it’s his feet that get to still wear those cool red shoes. And I hope, truly hope, that he keeps dancing and thus reaches immortality.
In the meantime, my darling daughter, please, for Eddie who was treated in ways he didn’t deserve to be, do be kind with the hearts that end up in your hands. You are more powerful, in ways good and bad, than you believe yourself to be. Trust me.
- Rebound, n. (and adj.). Oxford English Dictionary. Third edition, July 2010; online version November 2010. Accessed 19 January 2016.