Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Insomnia, redux

the painting that my high school boyfriend gave me for my 18th birthday.  Not a great photo, but I should really be asleep right now.
Once again, I can't sleep.  It's 5:30, but I've been tossing and turning for much longer.  Last night I read at Tuesday Funk, a monthly reading series at the Hopleaf.  I'd been on the bill for some time, and had planned on reading the story I titled "my boyfriend" and have posted elsewhere in these pages.  (Wow, that's the first time I've linked back to my own blog, how very self-referential of me).

But that's not what's keeping me up.  A while back I actually went and bought my boyfriend's wife's book, The Dirty Life, and as it turns out, it's a pretty good read.  Besides being an interesting story, it made me feel better - made me realize it was simply the pull of the past that was making me feel so nostalgic and whatnot, and it was nice to know that my boyfriend was doing well.  I genuinely wished him and his wife well.  So when I saw that his wife had a facebook fan page for the book, I hit "like", and posted the following comment back on February 6th:

Hello Kristin,

A couple months ago my NPR feed on facebook had a writeup about your book, and within the first three lines I recognized Mark from the description. I knew him in high school, lost track of him years ago, and although I've reconnected with many old friends through the magic of facebook, no matter what I did I couldn't fin
d him (doesn't help that he changed his name and has no Internet presence). I've been reading articles about your farm and your book, and heard your interview with Melissa Block. What an amazing story, and what a remarkable adventure you've undertaken. Please give my regards to Mark, and all the best with your farm, your book, and your family.

At the time, there weren't an inordinate amount of fans on the page, less than 300, and it flummoxed me that while she had responded to some other, less intriguing comments, she never bothered to respond to mine.  I thought about it, and realized that it was a bit ridiculous to wait around and feel insulted by a perceived facebook slight, when she wasn't even really the person I wanted to get in touch with.  My boyfriend is so off the grid that I'm not sure he has a flush toilet, much less a facebook account, so I took it upon myself to write the following note and drop it in the mail on March 7th:

Dear Mark,

Back in November, I had the strange experience of reading my NPR updates on facebook, and coming across a story about a journalist from New York who'd gone to western Pennsylvania to interview a farmer... and something told me right then that the farmer in question was you, even before I'd read two paragraphs.  I bought Kristin's book, and read it inside of a week.  What an incredible story, I'm really amazed at what you've done at Essex Farms.  I've tried looking you up from time to time, and now I know why I never got very far - I was looking for MG in Pennsylvania, and now you're MK in upstate New York.  I left a note on the facebook fan page for The Dirty Life, but I gather Kristin doesn't have much time to mess around on facebook, as she doesn't leave a lot of comments on people's posts.  I figured I should write you an actual note, since posting a comment on the facebook fan page of your wife's book is a pretty disconnected way of trying to say hello, and I'm pretty sure the last time I saw you I'd never surfed the Internet in my life much less tried to reconnect with old friends on it.  (If memory serves me, the last time we saw each other was in 1996, when I was living in Boston.)

I feel like I know so much about your life, but it's strange because I know it all from reading your wife's book.  I don't have any books for you to read about me, but I'll sum it up in a couple sentences: I'm still in Chicago, have been married for almost 10 years now, and I'm still a writer. I had a job writing human interest stories and grant proposals for an international humanitarian aid organization, but I lost it almost 2 years ago in the bad economy.  I was unemployed for a year, and used the time to travel, volunteer, and write.  Now I work doing administrative stuff, and it's not bad, if not my dream job.  I get to Plymouth, Vermont about once a year in late August, which I'm guessing is a busy season on the farm, but I'd love to stop by and say hello.

It's so good to know you're out there, doing your thing,

All my best,

JP (I included my phone number, which I won't do here, just in case the government or aliens are reading this)

And then.... nothing. I started to get irritated, I'd actually bothered to reach out across the years and make contact, and for whatever reason neither my boyfriend nor his wife deemed it necessary to respond.

Then, yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to walk out the door, the phone rang.  I looked at the caller ID, it said simply "New York call" from area code 518.  I don't know anyone with that area code, so I let it go to voicemail... and then I thought maybe I should check and see if there was a message.

I'm nerdy enough to copy and paste the note I left on The Dirty Life's wall, and I'm nerdy enough to have kept a copy of the text of the note that I sent my boyfriend, but there's something a little creepy about transcribing phone messages from old boyfriends word for word on my blog, so I'll paraphrase:

"J, I got a great letter from you, thank you so much.  It's been sitting on my desk for a month, and since I hadn't replied to it I figured I'd just call.  I can't wait to hear your voice and hear all your news."

I walked into the bedroom where my husband was still asleep.  He opened his eyes half an inch and I said "my boyfriend just called me!"

It was a trip; I haven't heard his voice since 1996, and he sounded exactly the same.  I went to work in a daze, and called back that evening.  I got his voicemail, and left a message that went something like this:

"Hi Mark, this is J calling you back.  You're probably asleep, or just not in your office.  Thanks so much for calling, I'm sorry I missed it.  It's so crazy to hear your voice on my voicemail, I'm pretty sure the last time I heard your voice or saw you was fifteen years ago.  I guess I'll try calling during the day, or - here's my cell phone number, I have my cell phone with me most of the time.  Hope to talk to you soon, and I hope everything is going well out there."

Last night, as I left work and walked to the bus stop to catch the #92 to the Hopleaf, I noticed I had a message from area code 518 from a couple minutes earlier.  It was Mark again.  I called back, and he picked up the phone.

"Mark?"  I said.
"This is J,"
"Get out of town!"

We spoke for the entire bus ride, and continued our conversation as I stood outside the Hopleaf waiting for my husband.  And that, dear readers, is how I came to have a conversation with my high school boyfriend, who I haven't spoken to in 15 years, minutes before reading a story about him to a live audience.  (I didn't tell him that last part).

No wonder I can't sleep.