Sulli heard a text notification on her phone. It was a message from Matt’s sister. He had made it safely to Boston. He was back in Boston but not for Christmas or Thanksgiving. He was back in Boston at a twenty four hour rehab and care facility. It paled into comparison from the last times he had been in Boston. He would visit family and friends during the holiday seasons. Sulli could picture him, beer in hand, sweet smile, cracking jokes, his boyish immaturity being charming somehow. She stared at the message.
‘Matt has made it to Boston safe and sound.’
As a ghost of his former self, Cynic Sulli.
He didn’t want to go back to Boston but those decisions weren’t being made by Matt anymore. Sulli would be eternally angry if it wasn’t for Matt’s sister. Their father was making all the decisions. The cold, inconsiderate decisions that were only made by Matt’s father and his girlfriend. Lauren still live in Massachusetts and was close to where Matt was staying, which made it a little easier. Sulli has never met Matt’s father. She communicated to him only once when she was pregnant and scared. He didn’t respond.
Sulli used to get excited at the thought of going to Boston. Even before she met Matt. There was an emo-indie song titled ‘Boston’, by a group called Augustana. She would listen to it frequently, get lost in the lyrics, dream of leaving her dearly beloved Pittsburgh. She imagined going to Fenway Park, rocking a Yankees cap at a Red Sox game. Now Boston was a feeling of angst, anger, a circle of hell. Now she imagined going to visit Matt in the hospital environment, she could already smell the cliche hospital scent, diapers and purell. His own delicate body, hanging on to life by a thread. He wasn’t shipped to Pittsburgh, where his child and she resided. He wasn’t kept in South Carolina with his faithful, loving girlfriend. Nope. Boston. The last place he’d want to be. Sulli saw Irony, sitting there like the cat that ate the canary.
She’s never even met Matt’s father but she loathed him. Already knew him without speaking a word. She thought of the first time she met Matt down here in Pittsburgh. He had just started running from Boston back then, eight years ago. Only brought his thick accent with him. He was wearing a Charlotte Hornets baseball cap tilted to the side. His brother checked ID’s at one of the local bars that Sulli frequented. Shortly after Matt moved to Pittsburgh Sulli pulled up a stool right next to him. As they spoke, flirted, laughed, drank, she felt a familiar feeling running through her veins. Chills tickled her back as his long eyelashes and cute smile caught her attention. The butterflies in her stomach started to brawl. She recognized all these signs now, she learned what they meant long ago. Maybe it wasn’t so long ago.
Sulli stared out her Rapunzel window, into the pitch black night. It was easy to pretend Matt was still Matt from where she sat. She started to think about all of her firsts. Her first butterflies. Her first crush. Her first love. Her first love lost. All the first painful mistakes. Everything she experienced after that would be compared to these formative years. The first place winners in the game of love.
It would be so nice for Sullivan to feel like she knew something. Anything at all. Sullivan was so unsure of anything back then, especially herself. Feeling foolish for wanting to voice her struggles. Surely everyone is suffering and she wasn’t worthy to the world. It wasn’t until much later Sulli valued her thoughts, her experiences, herself.
She didn’t learn in a college or a classroom. Sullivan skipped scholars, slipped slowly, certain some stuff was schooled in the streets. She rambled the rough roads, remembered, romance. Sulli flipped open her laptop and put on some music, 90’s music. Nothing made her remember more than music. She thought back to when she was in high school and she and Beth were making cross city trips to the Monroeville area.
Penn Hills and Monroeville were as far as Sullivan would venture outside of the city. It was their own little metropolis, the neighborhoods east of Pittsburgh. Beth and she would sit in hours of rush hour traffic after school just to get through the bridges and tunnels that led them to Penn Hills. Why did any girls of that age travel across the city? Cute boys. Nothing was more important to Sulli in her last years as a teenager and beginning of her twenties than boys. What made them tick? Why were the so different? Why did they smell so good, even when they were sweaty? What they liked, what they didn’t like? Turns out the majority of them aren’t that interesting.
Beth was always the one with the boyfriend. Boyfriends, sometimes. They flocked to her like flies to shit and all Sullivan would have to do is pick one of the their friends. She recalled a magnet on the brown refrigerator at one of Beth’s boyfriend’s houses.
It said, ‘Attention Teenagers: Hurry up, get a job, move out, buy a house, and pay all the bills, while you still know everything.’
If only Sullivan knew half as much as that magnet suggested.
The study of boys and men continued from Monroeville to Mount Washington. From Morningside and back again. The results were always the same. Sullivan was missing something. Irony couldn’t handle it anymore and burst into laughter. It wasn’t boys she was chasing, it was love.
All the different men she chased, caught, and released over the years ran through her mind. There was one, just one, who always came back like a boomerang. But first there was Ian, from Monroeville. He was a slippery sucker.
‘This traffic is ridiculous all times of the day. It doesn’t matter if we leave school early or not.’ Sullivan complained to Beth.
‘Oh shush Sulli, it’s just more time to listen to music!! Yay!!’ Beth ejected the Britney Spears CD and quickly inserted Tupac. She started the first few lines to ‘I Get Around’ and pretty soon Sullivan was laughing and filling in the gaps, jamming along.
Three hours later they finally arrived at Beth’s boyfriends house. He was a muscle bound meathead but perfectly matched with petite prom queen Beth. They were a young power couple. Good looking, funny, smart. His name was Valentino, Val for short. Only a man as good looking and muscular could get away with a name like Val. He had a thin line of hair around his chin, linking it to his dusty mustache and goatee. Sullivan was sure he flexed and danced in the mirrors at his local gym. He was loud, obnoxious, and laughed at his own jokes. Sullivan and he fought like brother and sister. She loved him because it was Beth’s first love. Sullivan didn’t drive in eastbound highway traffic for Val. Or for Beth.
She did it for Ian. A good friend of Val’s who was Sulli’s first real crush. She stuttered and embarrassed herself, got flustered and stuck when she was around him. The butterflies ate her stomach alive.
All those years Sullivan drove out to Penn Hills for Beth and Valentino to canoodle and fall deeper in love, all Sulli wanted was to be around Ian. The young teenage crush she developed was the first small taste of love she’d ever had. It was like the tiny spoons of ice cream they would give you as a taste test in Baskin Robbins. Jake became the whole sundae. Trying not to feel love was like trying to never eat ice cream again.
Beth went to prom with her buffed up, lined up Italian boyfriend. Sullivan got matched with his older brother, Giovanni. Unfortunately not the last time Sullivan couldn’t get a date on her own. She was too scared to ask Ian. Giovanni was not a second place prize though. He was tall and handsome and in the service. In a few years he would do a tour in Iraq and carry a heavy load around with him for a while after that. Gio was already so different from his goofy, loud, younger brother. One tour in a Iraq made him withdrawn and silent, never speaking of the horrors that occurred in the land of sand.
Once Beth started college things were over between she and Val. She had outgrown him. But things were far from over between Sulli and Ian. They were just beginning. He was younger, carefree, and much cooler than Sullivan. It was years later, they met up again. Ian and Jake overlapped in Sulli’s heart. She couldn’t resist the attention she had waited so long to get from her very first crush, Ian. The excitement that grew in the pit of her stomach just from looking at him, being around him. It was like being at the top of a drop hill on the roller coaster. Ian was tall with sleepy eyes, believed in aliens, hated stuck up girls, cracked jokes about everyone, talked real slow. He always made Sulli laugh. From the back of her mind Sullivan heard Eric whisper, ‘If you’re funny you can get anyone.’ Ian didn’t walk, he strolled. His carefree attitude oozed out through his saunter, his swagger. Ian hooked Sulli like a carp.
There were so many times she would be disappointed. It didn’t matter. When Ian didn’t show up due to volleyball practice, or the mounds of homework that was dished out by the expensive Catholic school he attended, Sulli still hung on. It wasn’t until the first couple years in her twenties she noticed him, noticing her. She just turned twenty two, her and Jake were on the rocks. Ian got his first apartment in the city. She went every time he called. There was elation between them both, affection and love, she had finally got him hooked.
It was the beginning of all the drinking and the late nights turned early mornings. She and her friends would party on the weekends. The medical system had just opened the gates to what would become the opiate epidemic. Sulli and company would save all their pain killers from sprained ankles and dentist appointments. The weekends became infested with alcohol and Vicodin. Back when Sulli and her friends had these love liaisons and predilections for partying, romance ran right along the river. Dance clubs and drinks were savored in the now demolished Strip District. Flirty fun and fondness found her friends on boardwalks, between the bands and boats. It was the time in their lives that felt would last forever. And for a while it did. The hours of black out fun, swayed and sank right there in the Strip.
There were still nights she would end up on Ian’s couch. Curled up, watching movies through blurry eyes. Half paying attention in between make out sessions and inside jokes between the two. It was the type of couch you see in a house shared by men. You’re not sure who’s been on it, what’s been spilled, who’s fluids you may be sitting on. The type of couch you’d never want to see in a black light. The couch you only sit on in your twenties.
Sulli missed Jake. It was part of loving and learning. Sullivan knew that now. Passion and parts of the heart could create dangerous drama. Jake and Sulli never wanted to speak again but wanted to slide into the sheets at the same time. Sullivan was devastated by desire. Her first crush, her paramour, her first taste of ice cream, Ian, was only a phone call away, but she had lost her first love. And although they all partied and had fun Ian seemed to be getting sucked into a difficult and dangerous world. Sullivan would never be number one to Ian. He had more important things on his agenda.
Ian and Jake were the men Sullivan wrote poems about, dreamed about, savored. She eventually had to move on from both. Keep it moving and leave them behind, lock them away with the rest of her memories. She could hear the sad music playing, as if in a movie, looking over her shoulder. Not wanting to leave, but no reason for her to stay.
Bring on the bottle.
She would still see Ian here and there, at parties and the occasional nightclub. Her friends were working down in Station Square, diligently piling up credits at college, while working late nights at Margarita Mama’s. It was a great time for Sulli, skipping the lines and vetted as VIP, behind the velvet ropes. Some nights she would run into Jake, it would evolve into a screaming match, hearts bleeding, pouring out volatile words and hurtful hate from lost love.
Sullivan would have certainly felt silly some time ago. Sitting, staring, still smitten with a smile on her face and butterflies in her belly. But by now she learned one of the most valuable lessons. It seems silly. It sounds easy, cheesy. Love. It brings Sullivan peace. She knows love, not from civics, or algebra, or geometry. She learned to love herself, but loved others so much more. The pain, the loss, is all worth it. She’s got to remind herself of it. Often. If it wasn’t difficult, damned near impossible, to let someone go, well, they wouldn’t really be worth it would they?
Each of Sullivan’s many coats wears a pin. Sulli loves her pins. One of her pins stared up at her from the random coat she grabbed as she ran out the door.
It said, ‘No one writes songs about the ones that come easy.’
Sullivan smiled and laughed to herself. Who’s laughing now irony? She thought. She would always love, no matter how many rounds in the ring.