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The Things I Believed 

Before I grew the crab shell around my heart

My friend Anna is only 27 and she would never blindly fuck someone who just fucked someone who was about to be married to someone else. I know that sounds weird, but for some reason I always think about that whenever I'm marveling at Anna's wisdom. I keep comparing myself to her when I was her age, and I always remember that, when I was 27, I once went on a date with a guy who bragged about how he banged his old girlfriend the week before her wedding. I remember making a big show of being sort of quasi-mortified at that, but get this -- I was still actually surprised when he deposited me at my door afterward without so much as making a pass at me.

"Huh," I thought. "I must not be engaged enough for him." Anna, I'm thinking, would have been a lot smarter than that. She would not have sat through the entire date with him marveling at how he could use some fellow dude's fiancee like a total toilet seat without throwing something on him, probably. Or at the very least she would have excused herself to use the bathroom and then called a cab at the hostess podium, which is how I sometimes rewrite the story myself when I retell it. Or maybe she would have gotten him to admit his inner-most failings right there at the table, had him mewling and curled up like a little bird. She would not have done what I did. She would have handled herself better, and not, years later, be conflicted over what, you know ... I don't know ... if he had made the pass, what her response would have been ... God, I hate to even say that.

See? I am completely appalled by myself at age 27. I cared about all the wrong crap and I let important people slip from my life and somehow, at the same time, I believed everything. Like when I was little, I believed my father when he said he wrote the words to "Puff the Magic Dragon," and later I believed my mother when our dog Shane disappeared and she said she gave him to ­-- I'm serious -- Doris Day. And I would have believed that fiancee-fucking guy if he'd said he was sorry about what he did, like if he'd said he was tortured by his behavior, because most of all, I believed tortured people could be redeemed.

Of course, I ultimately grew the thorny crab shell I presently keep around my heart, and now I don't even believe my best friend Lary when he says he's been in Chicago working all week. "Like hell!" I hiss into the cell phone. "You're probably off on a binge somewhere, face down in a pool of your own piss with a dick in each fist."

I saw him at the dentist office yesterday, and he looks pretty good for someone who, just the day before, was wallowing in a cesspool with a broken hypodermic hanging out of his arm. "I was working, I swear," he said. Right. Sure. I wish I could believe him, but hell, this is Lary, and if he really did spend the last six weeks working, that would make him a passably responsible citizen rather than the drug-addled, possible serial-killing sea urchin we all know and love him to be. "Shut your lying pie hole," I tell him.

I was hardly past 27 when I first met Lary, but we can't blame him for my hard fall into pragmatism. If anything, he has been trying to float my fantasies all this time, filling my head with all kinds of castles in the sky. "So what, you sold your soul," he told me once, draping his arm across my shoulders, "It grows back. There's plenty to go around." Ha, I wished I could believe him, but the crab shell was quickly thickening.

Sometimes I think about that guy, though, the one who slept with his ex-girlfriend right before she married someone else, how he belted back shots and boasted about it. I believed everything then, including him when he said he had no feelings for her "whatso-goddam-fucking-ever."

"What were you doing there then?" I asked, but he didn't answer me. He just paid the bill and ushered me home. On the way there it was raining, and looking back I remember he seemed to stare at the wet highway like it could lead him to the past, like maybe back to that night the week before when he had her in his arms and he could have turned away but made the mistake of staying, or perhaps even earlier yet, when he could have kept her with him but made the mistake of leaving.

Does your soul really grow back, I wonder? Because sometimes, when I think of that night, I find myself seeing some torture in his eyes as he gazed at the highway. I find myself believing he longed for her. I find myself hoping -- believing -- he went right back to her that night and took her in his arms and never let her go. God, I hate to even say that.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut: And Other Love Stories (Regan Books) and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (Regan Books). Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's All Things Considered.

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