Dispatch 19 (Nov. 7, 1998)

     When you’re in college, when you live alone, when your whole life revolves around being at specific places at specific times, and shuttling back and forth day after day, it’s not hard to intentionally lose sight of someone.
     You stop returning phone calls because you get home too late from the library. You say you’ll meet someone for lunch, but a lecture runs long or there’s traffic on Guadalupe after class, and soon you’ve missed them.
     You don’t even have to respond when somebody contacts you directly. Caller ID keeps you from having to answer the phone when picking up the receiver is the last thing you want to do. And you can just be very quiet, reading in the bathroom with nearly all the lights off if someone comes and knocks on your door.
     Not that I'm avoiding Gina.
     I'm a college student.
     I’m busy.
     I woke up yesterday morning with the most dislocated, disconnected feeling. If I wanted to, I thought to myself, I could never talk to my parents again. Just lose myself in the crowd of the world, nevermore a part of Mom and Dad’s lives.
     Because I was afraid.

* * *

     At the library, I met with Harry and Andrea and Randall, who I like well enough because they study when they say they’re going to study and don’t spend the whole night talking about the cultural significance of Sanford and Son or why Lik-M-Aid sticks were the best candy ever.
     We were near the main entrance, pretty much in plain sight, when Gina came over.
     I hadn’t seen her since Halloween and, yeah, I was ducking her messages, being the irresponsible one, but feeling too spooked to do anything about it. My little nightmare scenario – Gina embarrassing me in a public place – began to play out in my mind as I saw her coming toward us, dressed in a sweater and jeans.
     She was looking straight at me, her face devoid of any greeting. Her eyes weren’t stilettos; they were instead blunt instruments, big gray anvils, beating me with accusation.
     Conversation of condensation in the context of our meteorology class stopped. They looked at her as she approached. Harry whispered something to Randall I couldn’t hear and Randall nodded his head and said "I think so."
     Gina ignored them. She was upon me.
     "Hi, Heather. What’s up?"
     "Hey, Gina. These are some friends from my meteorology class. This is," I said, pointing, "Randall, Harry and Andrea. Everybody, this is Gina."
     I forgot I’d told Harry about the journals.
     "So Heather’s writing about you, huh?" he blurted out. Gina turned to him, as if his question was a distraction, and turned back to me. She didn’t answer him.
     "Can I talk to you for a minute, Heather?" she asked.
     Well, she didn’t ask. She was commanding.
     I tried to find an out. "We’re studying for a test, and we really gotta get this done," I said. "Maybe you can call me tonight." I wanted to look at the others and see if my answer rang true or if they could tell I was playing the avoidance game. I couldn’t break the lock of Gina’s gaze.
     "I think it’s pretty important, Heather. I really need to talk to you," Gina said. There was anger, undisguised, in her voice.
     "It’s okay," Harry said, and I wanted to hurt him badly for it. "Go ahead. We’re pretty far along."
     He patted me on the shoulder, unknowingly risking his hand, which I would have gladly broken at that moment.
     I smiled at the group, wanly. "I’ll be back in a minute," I said.
     We went outside, where the cooling afternoon sun tried to shed itself of the remaining drizzle in the clouds. Gina waited until we were out of the building, then turned on me suddenly.
     "What are you doing? Is this over? Are you done writing?" Her voice was loud. I instinctually looked around to see if anybody was watching or listening to us.
     "I don’t know," I said. "I don’t know what’s happening."
     "You’re not returning my calls. And you try to blow me off in front of your friends. Do you want to know how angry I am?"
     "I’m sorry," I said. "My study group wasn’t the place to talk about this."
     "Talk about what? What’s the problem?" Gina asked.
     I was surprised into silence. Of course she knew what had me freaked out. Why was she drawing this out?
     "Halloween, Gina," I said. "I’m not … comfortable right now with things."
     "Please don’t tell me you haven’t been out drinking before," she said.
     "It’s not that," I said. "You know why I’m upset."
     "No, I don’t. I know you haven’t called me back and you don’t seem interested in dong this anymore. But I don’t know why."
     I kept my voice low, hyperaware of people walking in and out of the library and within earshot. "You kissed me," I whispered.
     "I was drunk, Heather," she said. "I would have kissed a marrano if I had enough to drink. Is that why you’ve been acting so weird?"
     "I don’t think I’m overreacting," I said. "There wasn’t any reason for that to happen, and it did. And then you leave the next morning before I can even talk to you about it!"
     "What would we have said?" Gina asked, with a smug smile on her face. " ’Oh, damn, we kissed. Sorry about that.’ What’s the big deal?"
     I felt suddenly as if I had no real argument. She was refusing to treat this seriously and my confusion about it wasn’t giving me any great insight.
     "It’s a big deal because that’s not what this whole thing is about and you were manipulating me. You’re trying to make me look stupid because you know I have to put it all on paper later," I said, admittedly grasping at straws.
     "I don’t care what you write," Gina said. "You can make it all up if you want. But I trusted you to do it fairly and you haven’t trusted me to be honest and show you who I really am. Sometimes I do stupid things and sometimes I get drunk and do even stupider things. But that’s not who I am. Don’t you know that yet?"
     I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know what to say.
     "I stopped reading what you’re writing because I’m trusting you, at least until this is over. And I don’t know what you’re putting on the Web or telling your little friends," she said, pointing to the library where my study group still sat. "But you can’t let yourself dictate all this. It’s my life you’re writing about and you’re not letting me live it without bringing your own shit and your own baggage into it."
     "I can’t help it," I said. "I’m there."
     "Then you can write, ‘Gina kissed me.’ End of story. And it’s never going to happen again and it didn’t mean anything so why is it so important? Do you think I’m a lesbian?"
     "No," I said. "I don’t think that."
     "Then forget about it. Write it down and forget about it. Because I already have."
     I nodded stupidly, unable to formulate anything better.
     "I’m going to work. If you want to keep doing this call me, because I’m not calling you again."
     She said the last part as she was already turning to leave. In just the few minutes we’d talked, the sky had already darkened to navy blue and the drizzle returned. I was without my coat, cold and by myself again, unsure of who I was avoiding more – Gina or my own notions of who Gina is.