Obsession doesn't age with its subjects.
Oct 16, 2005
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line The Bottom Line's boyfriend dumped him for me, so we aren't on speaking terms.
"Hey, Vivi? It's, uh, Ben. Uh, from high school? I don't know if you remember me or not...I guess we weren't really that close friends. But, uh, I just moved in and I saw your name in the phone book...you're still Vivi Crowell, I would've thought you'd have gotten married by now but anyway. I don't know, I just...wanted to see some Einstein High people again, I never thought I'd be one of those high-school-nostalgia types...could you, uh, call me back? My name's in the phone book now, this year's. It's still Ben Whitman...did I say this was Ben? Okay. I'm, uh, I'm gonna go now. The battery on this phone's dying. So. Bye."
I replay the message over and over again just to make sure he really left it on my machine. Just to make sure it was really meant for me, not some other lucky girl still in Richmond fifteen years after she should have left. No, I shouldn't have left, it's a good thing I did stay because otherwise I wouldn't have come across him.
The Richmond accent is beautifully cadenced, slow and always a little thoughtful, and Ben's voice on the machine is a perfect example for newcomers to the area. Telephone operators should play this as a welcome message; why is it only on my machine? I should be playing it on every loudspeaker in Virginia! I should be broadcasting it on CNN!
Listen to this, Virginia! The most desirable person in the universe called me to get together! Fifteen years late, but better late than never!
He was slightly inaccurate when he assumed I was unmarried. I had been married, for about six years in fact, and if it had been a Hollywood marriage that would have been incredible. However, this is Richmond, and if I had written "reason for divorce: Ben Whitman obsession" it would have been unacceptable. So I just told a white lie. I called Ted an adulterer. Just a little white lie, and I was free, left to my obsessions and a small spot of guilt.
But now, oh now, who needs guilt when my dream is tangible? I can see him in my eyes: that wavy blonde hair, those dark brown eyes of his, that brilliant white smile (always directed at some cheerleader, but not now!), all of it. And now I can have him!
I snatch up my copy of this year's phone book and begin thumbing through the W section. Wendell (won't he be surprised to hear from me!), White (I'll finally hear that beautiful accent again), Whitman A. (I'll see him smile at me), Whitman B...Ben Whitman!
Swiftly dialing the numbers so unfamiliar to my hand, I hold the phone as tightly to my ear as the laws of physics will allow. The phone rings and rings and rings and...a person! A woman?
"Hello, Madeline Whitman speaking, may I ask who's calling?"
Madeline??? Oh, his sister. Yes, I remember Maddie Whitman, I'm still all right. "Ah, yes, this is Vivian Crowell, I'd like to speak to Ben please."
A pause. "Vivian Cro...Vivi? Is that you? Well bless my soul!" I hear a bubbly laugh I vaguely remember; strange, I don't recall it being so annoying before. Oh yes, that's right, she's keeping me waiting.
"Yes, yes, it's me, but would you kindly put your brother on the phone? My...my battery's dying." If it worked for him it would do for me.
"Oh, I'm sorry, darling...here, I'll go find him now." And I faintly hear "Ben! Ben, you'll never guess who's...yes, Vivian Crowell! Vivi! How did you know?"
A little scuffling, a little shuffling, and then "Vivi? Is that you?"
What greeting should I go with? "Yes, my love, it's me" seems too obvious and I should at least make him sweat a little bit. But "yes, it's Vivian Crowell" is something so cold and businesslike and it would never do. Oh, here, I have one. "Yes, it's Vivi, it's been so long!"
I don't have a chance to say it though. "Vivi, it's Ben! Oh, it has been so long..." He sounds relieved, in an odd way. Not so much happy to hear from me as relieved, and that isn't in the least bit comforting. Still...
"Yes, it has; too long, I think. So, ah, would you like to meet up somewhere? Maybe catch up?" Damn! Did that sound too desperate? Shit!
"Of course; it's been forever since I've had any words with Albert Einstein High people. I'm just sorry I didn't know you better then; I might not feel so strange calling like this if I had." He gives a short little laugh, and I make a discovery out of it: he's nervous. Ben Whitman doesn't get nervous! No Whitman ever did. "Would you like to meet up for coffee somewhere? The Starbucks near my parents' old house, maybe? Oh, do you need directions?"
No, Ben. I know the exact location of everywhere you've ever lived, including fifteen years ago. I don't need directions to anywhere in a five mile radius of that house. "Uh, no, I think I remember where it is. Wait...you mean today?" Damn, did that sound panicked? "Because anytime is fine for me." Nice save, Vivi.
"Um...is right now good for you? I'd really like to see you."
Yes, anytime is good with me, anytime soon. "Let me check my schedule." I rattle the cord on my phone to pretend like I'm moving to check. "Yes, I'll see you there in fifteen minutes. Actually..." I've just caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, wearing gray sweatpants and a T-shirt from Mexico. "In an hour, I have an appointment I need to catch right now."
"Oh, are you a doctor?"
No, I'm a lounger with no money left but her parents', who are long gone. "Yes, yes I am. But it's a quick one. Just a case of..." What was that thing, that thing I caught from Ted that one time? "Oral thrush." It was esoteric enough to work. No strep throat case this, but genuine oral thrush. How disgusting.
"Oh. Okay. See you in an hour, Vivi!"
These dresses! Ugh! Every one of them is from Target, and it shows, from the rips down the side of one to the fraying hem on this one. The least damaged has a large white stain on the skirt, which could be from when I painted the fence wearing it and could be from...no, I think I'll stop at the fence. So now I'm left with clothes that were born for the office, a gray pencil skirt and ugly white blouse.
Oh well. It will make me look doctorly and professional.
So, already five minutes late, I dash out in my office attire and dart into the poor abused Datsun I bought secondhand. I arrive at Starbucks fifteen minutes late, screech into a newly-abandoned parking place, and stride into Starbucks looking hurried and windblown.
But where is he? Where is the tall, muscular football king I once knew; where is the genteel boy voted homecoming king for both of the two years he was eligible? Where is the gentle breeding, the beautiful blonde hair, the...oh.
"Vivi!" cries that lovely, charming accent as its owner walks toward me in short, quick steps. The accent, I'm afraid, is the only thing constant from senior year.
He still has blonde hair, yes, but a lot less of it than I remembered and I'm sure he's tampered with it somehow--the whole underside is a full shade grayer. His arms are not muscular, but quivering slightly with little bits of flab, and his stomach paunches over the waistline of his jeans. At first I think it's because he's cinched them too tight, but no, that's a genuine beer gut.
"Ben?" I question disbelievingly. Maybe it isn't him.
"Of course it's me!" He laughs ringingly.
I back away slowly and the look on his face changes a little, a bit of shame popping up. "Of course, I'm not as...well...young as I used to be, but..."
I don't hear the excuse he has coming. I'm too busy racing out the door, back into my Datsun, tears streaming down my face. I'm flipping my cell phone open, dialing a number long lost to me. "Hey, Ted? It's, uh, Vivi. I just saw your name in the phone book and thought I might leave a message..."