Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I had been dating a kleptomaniac for a few months, so meeting this new girl at school was promising. The klepto had become too much for me. While I was at work she had gone into my apartment (why did I give her that key?) and read my journal, which I now know was one of the most embarrassing documents ever created by a human. This was the last straw, and I broke up with her on the spot. She demanded back all the records she’d given me, including a Leo Kottke I wish I still had in vinyl. All the little trinkets I’d given her came back to me in a box. She only lived a hundred yards away, just on the other side of Shaw.
The new girl was an enigmatic lover of renaissance music, so right in my wheelhouse. I had Julian Bream albums, man. I knew the words to medieval songs like “Rodrigo Martinez”:
Rodrigo Martínez –
a las ánsares, ¡ahé!
pensando que eran vacas,
Nancy, I felt sure, knew them too, and more.
We weren’t dating, but we were hanging out quite a bit. I’m not sure what her major was. She seemed interested in many things. We went to concerts together. We went to a movie once, where, as the opening credits were rolling and she recognized the music, she shouted out, “Boston Camerata!” Got shushed, so I was slightly mortified, but at least she was passionate about something.
Sometime late that winter, we set up a date to go shopping for calligraphy pens. Sounds intimate, doesn’t it? I had rearranged my schedule to be able to go, but at the last minute Nancy called to cancel. I thought I might drive out and buy a calligraphy pen on my own, but my heart wasn’t in it so I went home and listened to some John Dowland.
One night in the spring, we were out together, Nancy and I, walking back to my place from her friend Debbie’s’ apartment not far away. Girls were named Nancy and Debbie back then. It was dark, and we were passing one of St. Louis’s actual attractions, the Missouri Botanical Garden, or Shaw’s Garden as it’s known locally. It’s famous for its geodesic dome, the Climatron, inspired by R. Buckminster Fuller. Nancy noticed that the bottom of the security fence had a gap in it. She said, “Let’s go in!”
It was dark. The place was closed. It would be trespassing. Probably a crime, I guess. A misdemeanor, but a spot on my perfect record if we got caught.
But Nancy was jazzed and was going in, it looked like, with or without me. She plunged through the opening in the fence, and I belly-crawled my way through after her.
It’s a terrific feeling, I have to confess, being somewhere you don’t belong. Alone, free, somehow special because you’re there and nobody else is. You didn’t pay to get in. You’re not hurting anything, so it’s just an experience and you’re going to hang onto it, you understand even as you’re going through it.
We walked along the paved path that went around a pond. Exotic trees and tropical plants everywhere, the sound of frogs and crickets. We whispered whatever it was we had to say, though I can’t remember any of it now, absorbing the moment. It was special. It felt like the kind of moment that a real relationship needs to get off the ground, so I was feeling pretty good. I’d been patient with Nancy because she seemed a little skittish. But now? This could be the night I’d first kiss her.
That line of thought got tossed the moment we both heard something – a dull drone, a hum – and then spotted a pair of headlights rounding a bend in the path up ahead. Security! It was a golf cart or something, and though we had no idea whether the guy had spotted us or not there was only one thing to do and that was hide! Luckily we were approaching a little Japanese-style bridge and we dove under it, rolling up into the shadows where it met the ground and there were some leafy plants for cover. It was a botanical garden.
The cart stopped at the bridge. We were both lying flat on our stomachs, and I put my arm around Nancy’s shoulders to get us into the smallest possible blob there in the dark but she hissed, “No!” – like this was the time I’d decided to make my move. In retrospect, this was a red flag.
The security guard got out of his cart and stood on the path, sensing us, I have to think. He swept the beam of his flashlight around, and we saw it illuminate the area under the bridge just inches from our legs. We didn’t move, though. Any movement would make a sound, and if he heard a sound he’d come down the small slope that led to the pond and he’d find us for sure.
We held our breath.
After what seemed like about forty-five minutes (but was probably more like forty-five seconds), the guard got back in his cart and took off to complete his rounds. When it seemed safe, we scrambled out from under the bridge and sprinted back to our gap in the fence, and once on the other side we collapsed into the dewy lawn, laughing so hard we almost peed.
Easily the best time I ever had with Nancy. She didn’t want to come in for some tea. Too high and agitated after all that. We said see ya.
During this same period the klepto was busy letting the air out of my tires at night and writing me creepy notes she stuffed into the vents of my mail slot. I was putting a lot of my hopes on Nancy, but school ended, we graduated, and she and I didn’t make contact.
A few months later, I was back from a postgrad summer in England and I called up Nancy to see if she wanted to go to a concert with me. Aaron Copeland’s third symphony, I recall. She said, “You like that stuff?” Declined. It wasn’t Boston Camerata. Too modern probably. And shortly after that we were walking around my neighborhood after a drink at Llywelyn’s, and I invited her in and sat with her on my sofa with my cat hunched on top of it, and I put my arm around her and I finally did kiss her. And she was genuinely surprised, it seemed to me, and got very tense for a few minutes before she got up and said maybe I should ask Debbie out sometime, and she left. And that was the last time I saw her.
Since then, I don’t listen much to renaissance lute music anymore and I had completely forgotten the words to “Rodrigo Martinez” until I looked them up, and all in all I’m very happy with the way things worked out and I hope Nancy is happy too.