Diana's dirty mess had taken place after she had finished her journalism degree in Eugene. She often wondered why she hadn't broken up with Steve and moved out long before she met Geoff. She and Steve had hardly been happy together--about as happy as the habit of reciprocal boredom can make you. Sex was still good enough in a superficial sense, even if it sometimes seemed like technique without a purpose except immediate gratification. What else was there supposed to be once the exhilaration of a strange body, undiscovered territory, was gone, and everything became absolutely familiar and absolutely monotonous? She and Steve had even developed a typical couple behavior pattern of undigested aggression, insulting each other regularly in company as if they were competing for points. And there had been no reason to stay, no legal bonds, no children, just mutually owned furniture and kitchen utensils to fight over. Only lethargy, the disease of habit, could explain it.
And then Geoff came along.
But that wasn't completely true. Things had started changing before Geoff came along. Diana had started singing in locals bands again before Geoff came along. Diana had cut her hair and changed her style before Geoff came along. She was not willing to drift into marriage and monotony. Unfortunately, that was not a conscious wish until Geoff came along.
As irony would have it, Diana only knew Geoff through Steve. Geoff was working towards an M.A. in English, and Steve was close to getting his Ph.D. Diana too had started out in English, but after her first useless degree in that subject she went back to school to get a somewhat less useless degree in journalism. She had been working on the lowest rung at the Register Guard for a while and felt desperately in need of a change.
And then Geoff came along.
In the spring Geoff loved her and in the summer he left her, taking off for a fat cat university back east to get his Ph.D.. Diana was in between that summer--in between goals, in between cities, in between men. Like the day they were sitting in the sun drinking imported beer on a balcony full of plants after Steve had found out and they had called it off, shortly before Geoff left for good. It was Eugene and it was summer and it was hot. Geoff had taken his shirt off and the sun was glinting on the gold earring in his ear and making his nose red. Diana's momentary contentment was reflected in the look in Geoff's green eyes behind his round glasses. Diana liked round glasses.
"You know," Diana said, feeling daring, "I looked over all the men downtown today, and I couldn't find a single one who seemed attractive to me."
Geoff laughed and his hand found her shoulder. "Don't tell me, just because they didn't look like me?"
"Exactly," Diana answered. She turned her face to the sun and closed her eyes. "Stupid situation, huh?" Geoff's long fingers were stroking the back of her neck and having their effect.
"You could say so."
"And what about you? Don't you have the same problem?"
"I'm not supposed to say."
"I hope you don't fall in love again too fast." Diana took another swig from the heavy brown bottle. "I don't think I could bear that."
"I won't be around for it to make any difference. But I still think I can guarantee that." Geoff's hand dipped deeper and massaged her shoulders.
Diana laughed and shook her head. "I really am crazy," she said, drawing a line from the corner of his eyes to his chin with her finger. "Of all the men in the world...!"
"Insane, absolutely insane," Geoff agreed.
"But these green eyes. And that earring. And this red nose." She touched it. "I'm not the only crazy one, either. I'm not exactly a beauty myself. How could you possibly have fallen in love with me? I never would have if I were you."
"You're not me. Speak for yourself."
"I have," Diana said and allowed her face to drift over to his until her lips touched the corner of his mouth. His hand tightened at the back of her neck and she needed no further encouragement. The stubble on his chin scratched her face, but she endured the discomfort willingly.
"You and your Don Johnson beard," Diana said when she drew away from him again.
"Hey, I had this before Miami Vice," Geoff protested. "I'm not being fashionable, just lazy."
Diana took his hand in both of hers and turned it over and over, inspecting it with dreadful concentration, the veins and the hairs on the back, the lines on the palm. "Did we make a mistake, Geoff?" she asked, not looking up.
"No. No, I don't think so."
Diana wasn't so sure that was true, but it was what she wanted to hear. They were comfortably silent for a while, legs and fingers entwined, resolutions forgotten, and finished their beer. "This is stronger than the normal stuff," Geoff said.
"What, do you want to get me drunk?"
"Why would I want to get you drunk?"
"Maybe so you could seduce me."
"Do I need to get you drunk for that?"
"No," Diana answered and hid her face in his armpit. It wasn't exactly fragrant, but his skin was smooth against her cheek. "Why couldn't it work between you and me, Geoff?" she asked, feeling tempted to cry and mad at herself for it.
"It can't, Diana, you've got to understand. But it's hard."
She got to her feet, wrapping her humor around her like armor. "Yeah. It's hard, it's a real pain. Love is a pain in the ass--and other places."
Geoff laughed. "You've got a joke for every occasion, don't you?"
"That's to hide the deep injury you've done me," Diana said sarcastically. "I'm actually very sensitive at heart. I wish you didn't have such a guilty conscience and I wish you weren't taking off for the other side of the country."
"Any other wishes?"
"I wish you'd write."
"I'll write, Diana."
"Sure you will."
"We can be friends, can't we?"
"That's what they all say."
"Don't you believe we can?"
"I don't know what I believe. Go ahead and love me and leave me, Geoff. If you stay I'll probably get bored."
"Is that your defense mechanism at work again?"
"Sure as hell is."
So Geoff was noble and left. Diana left later, left with the task of trying to understand what happened and a feeling of rejection which made her madder than hell. She couldn't forgive him for not suffering as much as she did, for being the one to succeed in making the break.
It was so unnecessary for him to feel guilty, anyway. Things like this happened all the time; everywhere she looked, people in established relationships were falling in love and breaking up. Which didn't make it right, of course, but how come Geoff had to be so medieval about it? Diana had a strong suspicion he had only fallen for her because she had a live-in boyfriend and was unattainable--conveniently incapable of stumbling into his life on a serious basis and challenging his independence or screwing up his plans. Was love maybe only possible when it was impossible? The secrecy they had practiced at first had certainly contributed to the excitement--an excitement bordering on anxiety attack.
So Geoff left and Diana wrote her bitter ballads and sang her heart out. And continued to affront her destiny in the clumsiest way possible.