The Brooding Poet
She read his comment below a video on existentialism. His username was clever and dark and his comment referenced Kafka.
She clicked on his username. It took her to a mostly empty homepage. She clicked “About” where he explained he was a wannabe poet with a link to a site for his poetry.
She clicked the link where she found his poems dated from prior years. She read some. They weren’t necessarily good, but she could tell the author was better read than most and certainly lonely. And, to her surprise, the locales in some of his poems suggested they lived in the same state.
Below a poem about his college days she clicked on “Comments”. She wrote, “Nice poem. My sister went to school there too.”
A few hours later, he replied, “Thank you.” She went back to his page of poems and found a contact link. She clicked it and sent him an email explaining how his poems were intriguing and how it was odd they seemed to live in the same state. She explained how she’d gotten to him through his clever comment under the video on existentialism.
He replied about the city he lived in. It was the same as hers, his just a different suburb. They agreed it was interesting. He said he was drawn to things like culture and politics and philosophy. She replied she was too, so she asked him to video chat sometime.
They chatted and to his surprise, she was very pretty. To her non-surprise, he was very average.
He found out her real name was Vanda. He told her his real, unclever name was Jans.
They talked for a long time about his poetry and his reasons for writing and his reasons for mostly not writing now.
Jans said he’d grown tired of writing. He said he’d never really liked poetry that much. He said he’d read some and it didn’t seem like it would be that hard. Just a bunch of scattered thoughts and impressions. So he tried his hand at it, imagining it might be an easy means for attaining something good – some kind of public attention, some kind of artsy job writing or editing for somebody, a sensitive girl to fawn over his sensitivity, etc.
Vanda immediately noticed his severity and that his sense of humor was dark bordering on obscene, as were the few things that drew his attention – like existentialism and true crime. She said he seemed like a brooding poet. Like Lord Byron. Except Lord Byron actually wrote poetry as well as brooded.
Jans explained to her, without much excuse, how he was 35 and still living with his mother. He explained how his job didn’t pay much since it required no skill. He explained how he’d graduated college, but barely, since he barely tried. He explained how a liberal arts degree isn’t that hard to attain if you’re smart enough to bullshit your way through it. Jans explained how he ought to have higher aspirations for himself, but didn’t.
Over weeks, they continued to talk. Vanda came to understand one of his better traits was his honesty, which came about from having less ego than anyone she knew.
She’d asked, away from his job, with no kids, no apartment of his own, no hobbies, no wife or girlfriend, no keen interests – what did he do with his spare time beside watch and comment on videos about existentialism?
Jans couldn’t answer.
Vanda had explained how she’d studied English at the local university before dropping out. Now she worked at a store that sold games and comic books and movie memorabilia. Like Jans, she seemed to have few aspirations. She didn’t even imagine ever owning her own game store. And, like him, she lived with her mother too, still paying off her student loans.
In time, they would meet, taking long and mostly silent walks in industrial parks. Jans said he liked those walks because they reminded him of being in a David Lynch film. Barely speaking, they would walk for hours and hours around modern fabricating and logistics facilities.
Jans would come to tell his only friend about her. Jans would explain how it felt like he was falling in love. He would also explain that he knew falling in love wasn’t a good idea. Regarding it, Jans said he knew he wasn’t much of a catch. There was nothing to indicate he’d ever be a good husband or father, the latter of which he especially didn’t want to be anyway. He noted how his job was lousy. He noted how his car was a embarrassment to be seen in. He noted how his bank account was dry, and, at 35, there were no immediate prospects for improvement, nor did he feel much compulsion to improve. He noted how, without any money, it would be difficult to move out of his mom’s house. He noted how it would be difficult, if he wanted to, which he didn’t.
All these together made him a very bad match for anyone, Jans said.
His friend couldn’t help but agree, which made him curious about the kind of girl that would have any sort of attachment to this type of man.
His friend asked Jans about her.
“You said she studied English for a while. So what was her main interest? Poetry? Literature? Essay? Which authors or poets?”
“I don’t know,” Jans said. “Maybe Lord Byron.”
“You never asked?”
“No. We mostly walk around in silence. Around industrial parks.”
“You said you talked to her a lot online. So what do you talk about?”
“Just stuff,” he said.
“Mostly about you?”
“I guess,” Jans said. “But she’s okay with it. She keeps coming back for more, anyway.”
“I’d think her interest in English would be something to take an interest in. Especially since you used to write some poetry, right?”
“I guess,” Jans said.
“You’ve known her a while now. Taken a number of long walks and talked online?”
“Yeah,” Jans said.
“Then what are her goals? Her aspirations? Does she want to be married? Have kids?”
“I dunno,” Jans said. “She works at a game store and lives with her mom. She doesn’t seem dissatisfied.”
“But you never asked?”
“No,” Jans said.
“Does she have a pet? Does she want one? Does she prefer dogs to cats? Fish? Lizards? Birds?”
“I don’t know,” Jans said.
“She works at a game store. What kind of games does she like?”
“What is this, an interrogation?” Jans asked.
“Has she travelled? Does she want to go anywhere? Do anything? Does she have brothers or sisters? Nieces or nephews? What do her parents do?”
Jans took a long draw from his vape stick, then shrugged.
“Do you care?” his friend asked.
“Well, I suppose your point is that if I cared, the least I would have done was ask.”
“My point exactly.”
His friend sipped his coffee.
“You think you’re falling in love with this girl?”
“Yeah. I think so. Unfortunately for her and me.”
“But you don’t know anything about her. And it doesn’t seem like you care.”
“I know her name. What part of town she lives in. What she does for a living.”
“So you know the bare minimum based on hours and hours of interaction. You know the bare minimum about the only person who’s showing you any real attention.”
“The name of where she works is Galaxy something,” Jans said. “Galaxy or Cosmic something. And she drives an old Honda, a very sensible car. That stuck out because I had a Honda once.”
“If you don’t care to know anything about what she likes or wants, why are you spending any time with her?”
“I like the attention,” Jans admitted. “I like the attention of a young, pretty girl.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Jans blew out another cloud of sickly sweet vape.
“Okay. I’ll be honest. It’s not just me that’s not good enough. It’s some things about her too. And I know it makes me an asshole.”
“Like what? You said she’s pretty. She studied some English. She’s artsy, I’d imagine.”
“But she never graduated. And she’s artsy, but she’s not an artist.”
“So those aren’t good enough?”
“It bothers me,” Jans said. “It shouldn’t, but it does. She works in some nerdy game store, just hanging out with a bunch of nerds all day. I’m just being honest.”
“Does she seem to take an interest in the people at the store?”
“Yeah. And it’s cringy that she’s so wrapped up in the lives of those people. They’re just gaming geeks. And to be that invested in them speaks something about her, the same way somebody who watches a lot of Fox News. It says something about them too. The stuff they’re that invested in speaks a lot about them.”
“But there’s not a lot you bring to the table either,” his friend said.
“I just can’t see how we’re a good match. And especially can’t imagine how I might be good for her.”
“Well, that’s a noble admission,” his friend said. “But maybe the most noble thing to do would be to end it.”
“Why? You jealous?” Jans asked.
“No,” his friend said. “Or.”
“Ask her how she’d feel about living in your mom’s house. Make it clear it’s not an invitation, that you’re just trying to get at what kind of person she is. For once she might believe you’re really taking an interested in her.”
“Yeah,” Jans said. “My mom’s house is nicer than her mom’s, I think. And it sounds like our neighborhood’s better too. It would make sense that she might entertain it.”
“Well, there you go. And if she says it sounds like a good situation, I’d say there’s evidence you’re a pretty good match. All you’d need is some kind of fabricated crisis to bring it all together and sell it to your mom.”
“Now you’re being a dick,” Jans said.
“Nah. You could live together and console one another with your excuses for your mutual lacks of initiative. Sounds perfect.”
Jans hung his head in despair.
“I always thought it would be the opposite – that the right woman would be an inspiration to me. Like an inspiration for me,” Jans said.
“Yes. An artist. An intellectual. An academic.”
“Yeah,” Jans said. “More Kafka or Lord Byron than…..I don’t know.”
“Than mooching off your mom?”
“Sometimes it boils down to the boring fundamentals of what we are,” his friend said. “Which are usually far less glamorous than the words and ideas of the poets and philosophers.”
“I guess,” Jans lamented.
“Maybe she understands you,” his friend said. “Deeply understands you all the way down to your core. Heck, if that’s not the essence of the Romantic poets, I don’t know what is. And maybe that’s why she keeps hanging around, knowing and accepting your essence.”
“She told me once I reminded her of a brooding poet,” Jans said.
“No,” his friend said. “She might understand you in some far more fundament way than even that.”
“As a lazy loser? As a narcissist? As a manipulator?” Jans said. “Why don’t you just say it.”
“Okay,” his friend said. “As someone who’d rather play the part of the brooding poet than ever be the brooding poet, but wants all the rewards and none of the shit that comes along with it.”
“You think she understands?”
“Maybe. Maybe as good as I do. And understanding in a relationship is very import. Maybe the most important thing. I wouldn’t sluff it off. Don’t underestimate or devalue it. Most people would die for some understanding. And maybe true, deep loves comes from understanding. True love. Young Werther. All that shit. I’d imagine all the poets know about love and understanding.”
Jans stopped paying attention.
“So what about when she gets old? What if she gets fat? Then what?”
“I dunno,” Jans said.
“And you fancied yourself a poet once?”
“No,” Jans said. “All I was ever doing with that was playing around.”
“Maybe it’s time to stop playing around with everything.”
“Yeah,” Jans said. “But I told you, she works at a game store.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Bad joke,” Jans said.
“Well, who knows. Maybe there is a bit of a writer in there somewhere, if you’d only put in the work of trying to find it.”
“Maybe she’ll bring it out of me,” Jans hoped.
“She dropped out of college, remember? English. Shouldn’t have been that hard to bullshit her way through, if she had enough smarts for it. Remember? I remember you telling me that.”
“Shit,” Jans said. “I don’t know what to do.”
“I don’t know what to tell you either,” his friend said. “But that thing about you’re mom’s house. It might be a start.”