“He called me last night,” Ashley told us, excitement showing on her face. The guy she was referring to was the “love of her life.” We knew nothing about him except that she had met him years ago and they had kept in touch ever since.
She had not even told us his name and we only got the pronoun version of him whenever she was sharing a story of her deep admiration for this guy that meant sooo much to her. Still, we ate up anything she had to tell about the romantic things he did for her, or said to her on the phone. We knew it was a long distance relationship of some sort, which made it all the more exciting because we held on to hope that one day our friend would be able to be with the guy that made her so happy.
We were used to Ashley being secretive. The girls and I would sit around often and tell about old boyfriends, our family, good and bad sex encounters and basically anything you’d share about yourself to your friends, but Ashley was the only one who didn’t join in on the conversations as much. She’d sit and listen and laugh along with the others, but she never offered a story of her own. We didn’t know much about her family except that her mom and dad were divorced, and that she had an extremely close relationship with both her mother and her brother, but that was pretty much the extent of things. The same went for her lovelife.
At times, we felt she was trying to be secretive on purpose, which puzzled us since the six of us were so close. We felt it was evident that her and Russ, a guy that hung out with us occasionally, had a certain chemistry. It had been brought up to her before that the two of them should consider going out, or at least hooking up. She would shrug it off, and claim she had nothing for him, yet his car was often seen parked outside the apartment she shared with Casey and Autumn, at odd hours of the night indicating that he had probably stayed over.
Once, Autumn’s cousin shared to us all about how he was going through a breakup with a girl that meant a lot to him, but was very hard to reach. We all wondered who this mystery girl was since we weren’t even aware he was seeing anyone. It turned out to be Ashley, leaving us all the more surprised. I never understood why Ashley didn’t tell us things about her personal life, but then I figured that it’s called “personal” for a reason, and that just because we all made announcements about our love lives constantly, didn’t mean she had to do the same. The more I thought about it, it actually seemed like the smarter thing to do anyway.
Still, the mystery guy intrigued us. He was the only guy she would share stories about, and because of this we felt like we were being let in on something big. I’d go over to Ashley’s apartment to find Autumn, Casey and Jamie huddled in the living room in a circle on the floor. No TV on. No music playing.
“Hi guys. Where is Ashley?”
“Shhh.” Autumn would say. “She’s on the phone with him.”
“Ohhh. She is? Did he call her?”
“I guess so. She just grabbed her cell phone and said, ‘It’s him’ and ran to her room.”
“Are you trying to listen in?” All three would nod. I’d join them after a few minutes. Soon enough, Ashley would emerge from her room, her big blue eyes wide.
“He told me that he loved me!” she squealed.
“Oh that’s great!” Casey said. “I’m so happy for you.
“I think I’ll see him soon.”
“Where is he again?” I asked.
“Why is he there?”
“He’s an actor,” she said. Ashley always fell for the actor types. I blamed it on her being a bit dramatic.
“Has he been in any movies?” Autumn asked.
“Any we’ve seen?”
“Only if you watch a lot of movies.”
“How did you meet again?” We had heard the story many many times, but someone always asked her to repeat it.
“I was up in Wheeling, at a park, and I was about 13. I was sitting outside when this beautiful guy just came up to me and started talking to me. There was an instant connection. He asked me if I wanted to smoke a joint, so we shared one, and we talked about life and love. He told me I was mature for my age and he felt like he could talk to me about anything. We exchanged numbers and addresses, and he said that he would always keep in touch with me. He has done so ever since.”
In the weeks that followed, Ashley received flowers from her mystery man. We “ooohed” and “ahhed” as she placed them in a vase in her room and let us read the card. “Thinking of you always and forever.” It was signed by just a single letter, “J”. For once, we had a clue about the mystery man. His name began with a J! Thanksgiving week came around, and we all were going out of town to our respective parents, so like every holiday, Huntington became a ghost town. The only one of our friends staying was Karolina. She was a member of the school’s tennis team and couldn’t make it back to her hometown of Maine for the holidays. Ashley, Autumn and Casey offered their apartment for her to stay in while we were gone. When everyone else got back into town on Sunday, we were surprised to see Ashley’s old Mercedes already at her apartment.
“You got back early.” Jamie commented.
“I’ve been back since Saturday.”
“Why so soon?”
“I had a visiter this weekend,” she said nonchalantly.
“He came?” Jamie shrieked.
“Yes, he did.”
“Well, tell us about it!” I said.
“Um, I’d rather not. It’s kind of something I’d like to keep to myself.” She walked away leaving us disappointed.
“That’s lame,” I said to Jamie and Autumn. “I wonder why she isn’t telling us anything.”
“Well you know,” Autumn said, “Karolina stayed here too this weekend. So if she was at the apartment when he stopped by, I bet she probably met him.” So we hunted Karolina down to ask her about the visit. Karolina seemed just as puzzled as we were.
“I don’t know guys. It was all really weird. Like she told me he was stopping by, but she asked me if it was ok if I didn’t meet him. I heard her say he was here, but I never heard anyone else talking. It didn’t sound like anyone else was here. And there was no car outside. Then, by the time I woke up today, he was already gone. I just think that’s odd for someone from California to make such a long trip out here only to stay the night.” We agreed.
“The whole thing is odd to me,” Autumn said. “Have you guys ever noticed that everytime he calls, we never actually hear her phone ringing?” I found that odd too, but had just figured she had the ringer off. “I wanna get to the bottom of this.”
Ashley kept a journal about her love story with her mystery dude. She was so sure that one day they would be married and she would have this to show him. We knew getting to the bottom of the situation would require getting our hands on this journal. If anything, we’d find out the identity of her dude. Autumn called us later that week.
“You guys, I know this is horrible, but I read her journal.”
“Y’all need to come over for this.” So we made our way to Autumn’s and got cozy to find out the identity of the mystery man. For once, we would see who this great guy was. It was exciting! Autumn asked that we sit down.
“OK. This is just really weird. I think Ashley has problems, guys.”
Autumn pulled a book from behind her back. It was the journal. She opened it up for us to see. Inside was nothing but pictures pasted onto the notebook pages of the same face. Sketches of his face were drawn on some. We read on some of the pages how one day they would be together, she just knew it. She wrote about how she fantasized about him at night, and no matter who she was with sexually, it would be nothing like the day she would get to be with him. There were rough drafts of letters, addressed to him, in which she confessed her love. It seemed that this journal had documented a whole relationship that had manifested itself out of one girl’s obsession with a guy. And this guy was Joaquin Phoenix.
We didn’t really know how to go about things after that. We stopped asking questions about her mystery guy, of course, because it was embarrassing for us to hear her share stories she was creating herself about some movie star romance with a guy she had never even met. We got to thinking about all the time she was on the phone with him. Was she talking to herself then? Was there ever anyone actually on the other line? What about the flowers? Did she pull a Cher from Clueless and send them to herself?
It all made sense now that we knew the identity of her man. She did watch a lot Joaquin Phonix movies, and had an almost bizarre, psychotic hatred for Liv Tyler, his girlfriend at the time. Either way, the topic of Joaquin and Ashley’s love affair eventually died down. We didn’t want to keep thinking our friend was crazy, which I have to admit I definitely was starting to think. To us, the journal never existed. Ashley was secretive, like I said, so stories about her mystery man were only shared when she was probed for information. Without our inquiring minds, it became an old topic of conversation.
Who knows, maybe she did meet him in a Wheeling, WV park those many years ago. Maybe there was some connection between the two of them and perhaps there was some secret romance. But I’m willing to bet there wasn’t.
Besides, everyone knows Joaquin Phoenix is a drinker not a smoker.
Carrie Nations once created a whole wedding album for her and James Van Der Beek. You can call her a hypocrite at firstname.lastname@example.org.