Since words without experience are meaningless, I’d been giving purposeful meaning to all of the books I’d read and reread lately. Went fishing after The Old Man and The Sea. Set two of my friends up after finishing Emma. Took my English class to the courtroom to visit a trial-in-progress after we read To Kill A Mockingbird. I stole a lip gloss after I read Crime and Punishment, bought a witchy-black dress after Harry Potter and a bow and arrow after Hunger Games. I threw a chandelier and champagne dinner party for The Great Gatsby and planted my first tomatoes after A Secret Garden. I got some soft rabbits from the pet store after teaching Of Mice and Men, went jewelry shopping after Lord of the Rings.
Nathan Waller was my Lolita experiment. He was a freshman in college and I still taught at the high school, but the fact that he was one of my students just a year before worked for me. It wasn’t like I could get in trouble for anything. He was smart and eighteen.
We’d driven eighty miles to a jankety outlet mall. The air was apple juice—some kind of smell the candle shop was piping out. It’d rained all night and morning. My hair felt wet but wasn’t; I kept checking to make sure. Nate’s dishy drummer-hair was wavy, flipping out over his shoulders like duck feathers. The apple juice smell made me thirsty. We stopped in the coffee shop for drinks. I whispered my little cup brims with tiddles into Nate’s ear after the barista handed me my tall soy pumpkin spice latte.
Nathan, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Na-than. Na. Than. He was Nate, plain Nate, in the morning, standing six feet one in two grey and orange sneakers. He was Nate-dog, the Nate-anator, a long-haired sometimes-Bro in a hooded college sweatshirt.
I made him a mix called this love is good and filled it with all kinds of songs about gooey-love, real and true. “This Love” by Taylor Swift. “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. “At Last” by Etta James, “Love is Strange” by Mickey & Sylvia, “The Light” by Common. Debbie Gibson, Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Lauryn Hill.
I made him a mix called you've earned it and filled it with all kinds of songs about sex and sweaty-sticky-passion. “Earned It” by The Weeknd. “Two Weeks” by FKA Twigs. “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon. “Purple Rain” by Prince. “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. Portishead. The xx, Tricky, The 1975, Ellie Goulding, Frank Ocean, Sublime, D'Angelo, The Black Keys.
I made him a mix called don’t touch me; i’ll die if you touch me and filled it with all kinds of songs about love-doom. “Born to Die” by Lana Del Rey. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin. “Skeleton Key” by Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s (twice, once at the beginning and once at the end). Dashboard Confessional, Weezer, Billie Holiday, Belle and Sebastian, Joy Division.
He was the drummer in a popular local band so I was always trying to impress him with my music references. Sometimes I would write love, love will tear us apart again on my arm with a thin black Sharpie. When we got into an argument I’d pull up the sleeve of my cardigan sweater so he could see it.
When I told him I was ending it I touched his face and said perhaps, somewhere, some day, at a less miserable time, we may see each other again. He said he wasn’t miserable. I said Me Neither. I handed him my copy of Lolita, dog-eared and underlined, hoping he would be able to read it like a map—find his way to someone else or back to me.
I was forcing tragedy although I liked him a lot. He was funny and had great arms, a soccer player’s ass. I am not, and never was, and never could have been, a brutal scoundrel, so I let him keep a pair of my panties. I let him keep his key to my place, praying he’d use it.
Notes: The author has directly cited or paraphrased quotes from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. An adapted version of this essay also appears online at Atticus Review.