To My Soulmate, Zack, Last Name Unknown by Emily Nelson
When I was 19, I was desperate to find my boyfriend. In that respect, not much has changed except my level of depression and desperation. And self-confidence.
So I guess a lot has changed, but I sympathize with 19 year old me rather frequently if only for the pain she was in. She was trying to deal with years of abuse–that went virtually unspoken until that year–and a great crevasse of loneliness. So as pathetic as she was, I feel for her.
In defense of 19 year old me, much like the present, I actually did not take just any opportunity that came my way. A rather constant defense of my love life is that if I felt wrong with a boy coming on to me–even one I thought I wanted–I pulled away and put on the brakes. People are always surprised when I tell them I haven’t even been kissed, but to me it was a natural thing. I wanted to be kissed badly, but I never allowed just anyone to touch me.
Despite this, I was always on the lookout. Naturally, it was when I was not looking desperately that I found him.
We had guests from France that summer, and in a mix-up, we thought they wanted to see the police museum downtown. They didn’t, really, but we didn’t find that out till we got there. I’d seen the police museum more times than I’d like to count, and I wanted to stop in and see my old boss on the 12th floor. I arranged to meet the others at the top. On walking into the cool, drab office environment that is Management Services, my first reaction, looking right, was that “Hey, they moved my desk! It’s empty here. I object!”
My next, looking straight ahead, was an incoherent jumble of “There’s Gloria’s, now wh-wejhaehww. . . ”
At the desk sat a boy. A handsome, gorgeous, tall, breath-stopping boy. By boy I mean man. He was clearly an adult. He stood up when I came in and I instantly regretted wearing my baggy “Echo Taps” shirt and drab shorts. What a dull picture I must have made, and I’m fairly certain there was a zit on my chin.
“H-hi. Um, I used to work here, my name’s Emily. Is Mr. Palmer in?”
“Nah, he’s off today.”
“Yeah, that figures, it’s Friday. . . ” Silence. I put out my hand. “I’m Emily.”
“Hi, I’m Zack–” and here he said his last name, and I wish to God I could remember it, but I couldn’t.
“Will he be back on Monday?”
Smile. “Should be.”
“Okay. . .well, uh. . . I’ll come back on Monday.” I had Mondays off at the Fort, my current summer job, and in case it is not painfully obvious, I wasn’t coming back for Mike Palmer.
I stumbled out of the office and into the elevator for the museum in a haze, mouth dry, mind racing. And I texted Douglas, something I never did because I was a technological Luddite when it came to phones.
“I met a boy.”
“Oh boy. . . ”
“Don’t be like that.”
And I went on to describe his features. Soft, dirty blond locks that fell carelessly into his sleepy, green-blue eyes that smiled when he did. And tall. Boy was he tall. I didn’t realize how tall until later. Slightly lanky. A mild Manhattan accent I had never been fond of, but adored on him. If love at first sight ever happened to me or ever will, this was it.
“Should I ask him out?”
“Sure. Why not?”
This was a cause of worry all weekend. I had never asked out a boy before. It worried Douglas because he was rather against me dating until I was emotionally healthy and independent, which was fair. Hanna was worried because I called him that night, sitting on my bed in the dark of a summer’s evening, talking about him.
“And he has these greeny-blue eyes, and his lids droop so he looks sort of sleepy, and his last name is. . . oh, I can’t remember.”
“Great. You’re in love.” Hanna sounded quite forlorn.
I blushed. “I’m not in love, I just met him.”
“Uh, you remember everything, and you can hardly remember a thing about this guy.” It was true, my brain was so famed for past details that it became a kind of wonder to my friends. “You’re in love. Faaaaantastic.”
I was starting to feel bad, because everything made me feel bad. But the real comfort came from Jason, with whom I was starting to form a friendship. He has always had a talent for reading what was most on my mind. “Is there a boy in your life?”
“No. . . but I met one today.” And I explained about Zack and the bubbles I felt and how confused I was.
Jason took it all in stride, and didn’t make it seem like such a bad thing, which was refreshing. “Don’t worry about how you look. Boys notice eye shape first.”
“Okay, good, I have good eyes.” Which is true. I wish I could remember more of our conversation, but he coached me through my feelings, and explained it was okay to be happy to meet someone. And just to go up and talk to him. So I went to bed feeling excited and happy and looking forward to Monday.
The rest of the weekend I was at work, and the evenings were spent doing a toxic routine on my face and picking out a good outfit for Monday. Douglas, always a good sport when it came to fashion, helped with this, and I remember looking into the mirror Monday afternoon with the happy sigh of “I’m pretty!” This is something most girls die to feel, and the lucky ones notice themselves with passing admiration and a sense of confidence.
I had planned Monday out very carefully. I was to be there by two o’clock, because that’s when I’d been there before, so I knew he would be there as well. I got there. I found parking down the street. I ambled awkwardly to the Justice Center because I was wearing chunk heels and my belt didn’t do a great job of keeping my pants up. Pass. 12th floor. The adrenaline was making me ill. Into the door. There he was.
Dear God, he wasn’t alone in the office. Someone else was there. What was worse, someone who worked with my dad. I felt my little courage drain away.
Zack stood up again. “Hi there. I’m sorry, I forgot your name.”
Blow one. I remembered his, for heaven’s sake! I put my hand out. “I’m Emily.”
“Emily, that’s right. Mike’s not here today. He’ll be in tomorrow.”
“Oh, um, I can’t come back tomorrow. . . ” This was a bold faced lie. I just wanted an excuse to talk to him now. “Let me, um, go check my schedule.”
“Sure, check your schedule.”
I crawled out and went to the first place of refuge I could think of: the bathroom. And I did the first comforting thing I could think of, something I have done many a time in the midst of a panic attack: called Hanna.
“There’s another person there, I can’t do this.”
A sigh. “Yes, you can. Look. Do this now, or you will regret it for the rest of your life.”
I was shaking like a leaf, but I closed my eyes and assented. “Alright.”
I walked back in with a false air of confidence. “I can’t come back tomorrow.” I smiled.
He smiled back. “That’s too bad.”
“Yeah.” I gripped the cubicle wall. “Listen, um. . . ” I tried not to look at the coworker, diligently working away with a subtle smile on her face. “I was wondering if. . . you wanted to get some coffee. With me.”
He smiled again. “Sure. I’ll meet you in the lobby at four o’clock.”
I was shocked. “Y-yeah, I’ll just, um. . . I’ll just put money in the meter!”
“Money in the meter,” he smiled. Was he mocking me? Was I endearing? I had no clue.
“I’ll. . . I’ll see you at four.”
I let Douglas know he assented. He seemed more upset than if he’d said no. “Just be careful” was his only admonishment.
With an hour to kill, I did the only thing I could think of: walk with great difficulty in these stupid shoes to Pioneer Place and window shop. I spent a long hour wandering from the Discovery Store to Bose and finally to a cosmetic shop where a very nice Brazilian woman chatted with me casually and sympathized with my plight. In gratitude, I bought some toner I only ran out of recently. Proof I know nothing about skin.
I started wandering back. I was so absorbed in nervous thought I didn’t even notice he was standing outside the door waiting for me. That’s when I got a good notion of just how tall he was, at least in comparison to short me.
I’m not sure our conversation are too important to the story, so I won’t cover them in great detail. We wandered through the shadows cast by Portland’s tall buildings, through the glaring sun glinting off unforgiving brick, until we reached Starbucks. I had amassed a collection of gift cards and desperately wanted to pay for him, but Zack explained he needed bus fare anyway, so I just looked like an idiot wrestling with my wallet as the zipper stuck. A true New Yorker, he ordered house coffee. A true 19 year old, I ordered water.
We sat outside, beneath the shade of a large umbrella, and talked about not much. He was from New York, he was going to graduate school at USC, he was studying environmental management, he was graduating this year, he was leaving in two weeks. I was internally crushed. We talked about my job up at the Fort and commuting and my dreams of New York, and how Hanna was from L.A. Somehow, the conversation worked around to why I had asked him out. Hands in my lap and blushing, I admitted I had never asked anyone out before. I was later to learn this is not something you’re supposed to admit, but I never have seen the harm in it, and he smiled at me.
“I don’t think you have any reason to be nervous. You’re a very nice girl.”
I turned red. “I don’t know what to say,” I confessed, and he smiled some more.
The rest of the conversation, I attempted to sound worldly, but I mostly was gaining an understanding of the gulf between us. Zack had taught in China, he had traveled, he had “this sort of a thing with this girl who was coming back to the States” which was a bigger death knell for me. At one point I asked “How old are you?”
He crossed his arms with a knowing smirk. “How old do you think I am?”
“I’m twenty seven.”
Twenty-seven. Okay, my brain worked. Eight years difference, not so bad. But it was. Not because he was too old for me–I had always had a penchant for the older set, since I didn’t really fit in with boys my own age–but I was too young for him. He just had so much experience, experience I couldn’t match. He was doing me a favor, taking out this little girl for coffee. I was. . . not happy.
Our hour together drew to a close. “Well, I should get back,” Zack said. I was painfully aware I would not see him again.
“Y-yeah. . . ”
“I had a nice time, though, and you shouldn’t be nervous around boys.”
“Thank you.” I stood up and shook his hand, like a job interview for a job I wasn’t getting.
Another smile I would not see again. “Goodbye.”
I briefly watched him walk away before crawling into my car and driving home. I felt defeated. The hope and possibility I had clung to all weekend was gone. Douglas was a bit angry because he knew this would happen and he hated it when I got my hopes up. Hanna was more relieved it was all over. Jason was. . . I don’t think we actually discussed it. I am sure, though, if I asked, he would have agreed with the conclusion I came to in the next day or two:
Zack was my soulmate. But only for the weekend. He came into my life to teach me a valuable lesson: that it’s okay to be alone when you’re nineteen. That, yes, there is a lot of life you haven’t seen yet, but that’s okay, because you’re nineteen. And it reaffirmed–as Douglas had said many times–that you have to be a person before you can be a pair. I still had a long way to go in that department.
I think about Zack a lot. I thought about what a freak I’d be if I went to USC to find him, especially considering I didn’t even know his last name. I thought about that girl he was getting back together with, and wondering if he was happy. I wondered, most of all, if he ever thought about me the way I thought about him.
“No,” said Hanna, ever the pragmatist, when I admitted that I still harbored such feelings two and a half years later. “No, he doesn’t.” And I do agree, it is unlikely I touched him in the way he touched me.
When I do fall in love–for real, for what may be the first time–will such a man have to live up to Zack in my heart? I doubt it. There is no real competition, no measuring up to my phantom love. But I hope against hope, and always have and always will, that someday I might see him again. Someday.