It’s a long one today folks, so buckle up! I won’t be offended if you read it in a couple sessions. I also won’t be offended if you send it to 84 people to have them read in two sessions. I’m cool like that.
When I was a kid, there were no Melanies. Just me. I literally don’t remember any other Melanies. Wait, no. I’m wrong.
When I was in the fifth grade, there was an 8th grader named Melanie. She came and found me once. We met in the grassy area that the mobile classrooms circled like a wagon train. She verified that, indeed, my name was Melanie and, surely enough, I was much smaller than her. She also told me that earlier in the week, some kids got in a fight and a girl had a chain from her nose piercing to her ear piercing and the chain got pulled during the fight and now she’s missing part of her ear AND part of her nose. Thanks, 8th grade Melanie, for the cautionary tale of trinket-wearing.
But after I switched schools there was nary another Melanie as far as the eye could see. Wait, damn. I’m wrong again. There was another Melanie. She was a twin. Melanie and Wendy, if I recall correctly. I’ll Google it. Google knows freaking everything.
Anyway…aside from the two other Melanies I knew in the first 19 years of my life, I only knew of one additional Melanie on the planet: Melanie Griffith. And, honestly, she was not the kind of Melanie I was. She was blonde.
Then, my brother fell in love by going to India where he met a German woman who he decided right then he would probably marry. Of course. Isn’t that how everyone finds their spouse? When I asked him if her name was Olga, he answered, “No, her name is Melanie.”
So, having left my maiden name behind by that point, I thought about how I definitely should have committed more crimes, because my rap sheet was being neatly and easily passed along. So many petty crimes went undone. Sad.
So now, there were two of us. Old me, which was now married to my brother (what?), and new me, with a new name that was really just the old me re-labeled. And married.
And then I went to a grammar workshop.
The teacher of said workshop announced that we were to get up, pair up with a stranger, give them a high-five, tell them our name, and describe what we hoped to get out of the workshop.
A) I don’t like getting up. B) I don’t like strangers. C) I don’t like high-fiving on command. I’m not a dog. (Though if a biscuit of some kind were involved it would make the transaction much, much easier.)
Given my list of annoyances, I was relieved when the woman in front of me turned around, caught my eye, and didn’t even pretend like we were going to high-five. “Perfect,” I thought, “now I don’t have to walk anywhere or touch any strangers.”
“Hi,” I say to her.
“Hey,” she says back. And then—this person I’ve never met—she says my name. To me. She says Melanie Crutchfield.
“Why is she saying my name?” I think to myself, and then I look confused. She looks confused. We’re both confused. And I say, “What?” And she says my name to me again, only this time it doesn’t quite sound like my name. So I say, “What’s your name?”
By this time she’s checking my pupils to see if I have a concussion. She hands me her grammar workshop handbook, on which she has written her name on the “Name” line. And there it is…
Holy shit. I can’t believe it. Her name is Melody. Critchfield. In a dinky town in central California, in a class of 85 nerds, I, Melanie Crutchfield, sat down behind and then paired up with what I assume was me from another universe. A me named Melody Critchfield.
I rambled on and on about this stunning coincidence for a while (likely with excessive grinning), until finally we all sat down again. But grammar was the last thing on my mind.
All I cared about was Melody Critchfield. I was convinced she knew something secret about me. She knew what I should be doing with my life. She knew the secret to my happiness. She knew what hair products to use to keep my fly-aways down. I don’t know how she knew these secrets, these gems, but I knew she knew them. I could feel it in my bones. I stared at the back of her head, trying to commune with her soul. I was probably breathing heavily. These were not my best moments. But, hey, when the alternate universe presents secret other you, you can’t be expected to keep your crap together. So I didn’t.
When we broke for lunch, I followed her to the cafeteria. I let four or five people pile up between us, as to not be too obvious. You know, playin’ it cool.
She put chocolate milk on her tray. So did I. She picked up a paper boat of mac n’ cheese, but then put it back in favor of lasagna. Four people later, I picked up and put down mac n’ cheese. Then I, too, favored the lasagna. She got grapes, I got grapes. She got jello, which I hate, and I got the jello. Lasagna, grapes, jello, chocolate milk. I would eat in tandem with Melody Critchfield and in our communion she would pass her secrets to me.
She payed with cash. Crap. I never carried cash. Never, ever, ever. I rummaged through my purse—nothing. She got her change and I started to sweat. I inched up to the cashier and stared him in the face. “I need to pay with cash,” I said aloud. Like a crazy person. “Okay,” he replied. Like a sane person. And then I remembered! I took off my shoe and fished out a twenty. I always kept a twenty in my shoe, in case someone stole my purse. Sure, now if my purse was stolen I’d be left completely unprepared, but you make certain sacrifices when you’re trying to align yourself with your universe twin. The cashier begrudgingly received my sweaty payment and handed me my change, just in time for me to spot Melody Critchfield sitting outside under a tree. I dashed for the door.
I popped through the door with such inelegance that I startled Melody Critchfield and she looked up at me.
Now, my plan had been to just sit nearby, under a different but similar tree, eat my lunch at the same pace and in the same fashion as Melody Critchfield, and let the universes do their business. But instead I stared at Melody Critchfield like she was a roman candle.
Melody Critchfield looked behind her like you do when you’re sure someone’s looking at someone else even though it looks like they’re looking right at you. There was no one behind her. So she smiled at me with half her mouth. I smiled back with half of my mouth. I was happy to know that our half smiles could unite into a complete, two-universe smile if they wanted.
I was still thinking about this as Melody Critchfield set down her lunch, and walked straight up to me. Uh oh. Other me was ballsy. It was kind of ruining my plans.
“It’s not a big deal,” she announced.
“Oh yeah. I know,” I agreed. Then, “Wait. What?”
“It’s not a big deal,” she repeated, “Chill out.” She pointed knowingly at my lunch. “Go get some mac n’ cheese, or whatever you eat, and stop being so weird about it. We have similar names and we signed up for a grammar class. Trust me when I say this is not the most meaningful day of your life.”
I really did want some mac n’ cheese. And while her intent was to dispel the aura of providence surrounding her, the effect was quite the opposite. She knew what I wanted to eat.
“Sure. Yeah,” I chuckled. “Of course. Uh. Yeah…I’m just having a weird day. Too much coffee.”
“Alright then. See you later,” spilled out of her mouth as she walked away.
I watched her walking away, Melody Critchfield, the keeper of my life’s secrets, who had just swatted me away like a fly. I couldn’t stand it. So I squeaked out one more thought, “Just one more thing: what do you do for a living?”
Melody Critchfield dropped her head. “I’m a writer,” she breathed, clearly convincing herself not to strangle me. “Now go away.” And she kept on walking.
A writer. Melody Critchfield, a writer.
I was going to be a writer.
For those of you who have heard this story, you’ll notice only parts are true. For those haven’t, have a fun time guessing! Oh, also, have you subscribed to my blog yet? You kinda should. Click this link for the RSS feed, or scroll up to the email subscription on the right. You won’t regret it! (You’ll probably regret it.) Love, -M