When Jordan Catalano failed junior year for the third time, the school district expelled him. Angela thought that he had squandered his last chance, not even considering for a moment that Jordan was still young, that there would be an agonizing number of chances for him yet to come. At the time, the scope of her world was small, and it began and ended with the rigid lines of the yard that surrounded the high school.
In AP English that year, they’d read Dante and learned about the first circle of the Inferno. Limbo, where the souls who could neither go forward nor pass on lingered, waiting for nothing. From then on, that was where Jordan was when she thought of him. In a pleasant place, where the company was good but life was utterly without hope.
She kept thinking she’d run into him around town. She’d be going somewhere totally normal, totally unremarkable, like the grocery store or the dentist, and she would think to herself, “He’s going to walk through that door, and I’m going to see him standing there.” She’d get so convinced it was going to happen just like that, she’d spend the next ten minutes worrying that she wasn’t going to be able to make herself act surprised to see him.
Then, she’d get where she was going, and, of course, he wouldn’t be there. As if Jordan Catalano would have ever lowered himself to squeezing tomatoes in the produce aisle or getting his teeth cleaned like mere mortals did.
After a while, she started imagining she was going to run into Siouxsie Sioux instead, which was a lot more fun. It always made her feel a little like she was being unfaithful. In an exciting way, though, not a guilty one.
Late in the summer, Angela got a job as a summer camp counselor. She was out of the city for two months, and out of touch with everyone. It felt like forever. She wrote letters to Rayanne, and Rickie wrote letters to her, but none of them ever seemed to be having the same conversation at the same time.
When she got back, they told her that Jordan was gone. He’d packed up his car and left town one day. He wasn’t eighteen yet, but no one bothered to report him as a runaway. He hadn’t told anyone he was going, and he especially hadn’t told her. She thought she’d never forgive him for that.
But then she went away to college, and there was no need to forgive anymore. She just forgot.
The first month Angela was away from home she couldn’t wait to get back, but by the time Christmas rolled around she wasn’t ready to leave. All the old rigid lines had been knocked down - or at least pushed back – and she felt very sophisticated and intellectual with a semester of undergraduate classes under her belt.
They had Comparative Religion courses, and Latin, and the Essentials of Ethics. There was a lot more to this world then she had ever dreamed, and she didn’t know how she could even begin to explain it all to Rickie, who was matriculating in Community College, or to Rayanne, who was “taking a year off”, or Sharon, who was planning her mission. She couldn’t even talk to Brian, who had taken that partial scholarship to Virginia Tech. He was so out of touch with the lives of real people.
It was intolerable at her parent’s house. Claustrophobic. Two days after Christmas, with more time before the new semester than she wanted to think about, she had to get out for a while. She thought about going to a movie, but she didn’t want to risk running into anyone she knew. On a whim, she went to the club Rayanne had taken her to when they first met.
She’d never actually been inside, or even tried to go after what happened in the parking lot, but she had a fake ID of her own now and she thought it might be a good way to meet some older guys. Ones that actually knew how to carry on a conversation.
Angela found the place by memory, but when she got there the old building had been bulldozed and replaced by a Target. She was bewildered by the change. Angela found herself very different after her first time away from home, but it had not occurred to her that anything else might be fundamentally changed at all.
As she was pulling out of the parking lot, a city bus drew up to the curb. Angela didn’t glance in her rearview mirror, as she drove away, and so she didn’t see Jordan step off.
She didn’t know that getting the shelf stocking job had been a stroke of luck for him, because even the big retail stores didn’t want you if you didn't have a high school degree. It was a graveyard shift job, and it paid $5.00 an hour, which was just a little over minimum wage.
Angela didn’t know that he’d given up a regular cover band gig at one of the local bars so he could take it, but that was understandable. That part, at least, Jordan was careful to make sure that no one knew.
Angela was on a Habitat for Humanity build in Belize when Jordan Catalano showed up on her parent’s doorstep. Angela’s mother furrowed her brow and pursed her lips as she tried to remember where she had seen him before. His blue eyes and insouciant, overlong hair rang a bell, but she could not square them with his stooping shoulders and the dusting of careless, un-vain stubble on his jaw.
He asked if they had some yard work that needed to be done. Trees trimmed or grass cut. He was a freelance worker, but he had a lot of his own equipment.
They already had someone who took care of all that.
Jordan turned to go, but then he paused. He glanced back, and the bright spark in his eyes was momentarily resurrected.
“I used to know a really nice girl who lived here,” he said.
“You must mean our oldest.”
“Yes. I’m sure she’ll be flattered you remember her. I’ll be sure to tell her you stopped by.”
For a moment, Jordan looked like he wanted to tell her not to, but in the end he just dipped his head in a languid nod and went back down the driveway to his old pickup truck.
When Angela returned a month later, she brought gifts. Hand carved mahogany bowls and dolls dressed in Garifuna outfits. Her dad made spaghetti for dinner, and it all made her feel very complete and happy to be back.
Everything was just as it should have been, and so when her mom mentioned to her that Jordan Catalano had come by the house, Angela couldn’t think of a single thing to say that seemed like the right thing, so in the end all she did say was, “Who?”
Jordan Catalano actually went to his ten year high school reunion, which was more than could be said for most of what would have been his graduating class.
By then, he’d finally gotten out. Though he’d put it off for a long time, in the end even he’d had to concede that the Navy was the last chance he was going to have to get a break. Even then, it hadn’t been much of one. Jordan had done three tours, and then he’d come back with his GED and enough money in the bank to last him about six months.
When he got the letter about the reunion, he threw it away. Then, two days later, he dug through the trash and fished it out again. He felt a kind of wild and desperate hope about the whole thing, like a victim of amnesia looking for something to jog his memory.
In the end, though, he hardly even knew anyone, though a lot of them seemed to remember him. Brian Krakow was there, paunchy and balding and overdressed in brown Brooks Brothers, and Jordan asked him if he’d heard from Angela Chase.
“She’s off tending to lepers in Myanmar, I’m sure,” Brian said.
“She does a lot of nonprofit work, or so I’ve heard. I suppose that’s good for her. Of her. Both.”
Jordan knew the word “condescending”. Brian had taught him that one during their tutoring sessions.
He remembered now that he had never liked Brian Krakow much.
Angela had never really done the whole internet thing, but she did have a Facebook account that she checked whenever she remembered.
She didn’t remember often. Work kept her pretty busy.
Whenever one of her friends asked her if she’d seen what they’d posted, she would laugh and say that she had missed the social networking boat by a good five years.
A couple of months after she’d first gotten the account, and after a good deal of fretting and over-analyzing and soul-searching, she’d sent a friend request to Jordan Catalano. His profile was blank of everything save a picture, but she knew it was him and not some other Jordan. His eyes were still the same. Still bright, vague, and questioning.
Based on that picture, he hadn’t changed at all. And neither had she, Angela thought, except in all the ways that counted. When Jordan finally approved her request three months down the line, she found herself looking at a profile that was still blank. He hadn't even updated it with his city and work and stuff.
He never posted, and after a while Angela forgot he was there at all. Then, one day, she logged into her account, glanced down at the little chat application in the corner, and she saw that he was online.
She froze. Her heart was in her throat. It was such a weird thing to be feeling right now, so utterly and helplessly nostalgic. She opened up a window. Even in the tiny shrunken version of his profile picture, the blue of his eyes seemed to show true.
All at once, she realized she didn’t have the slightest idea what she could possibly say to Jordan Catalano.
Her fingers hovered over the keys. It felt like a long time passed. When her forearms started to cramp, Angela set them down on the edge of the desk.
Just say “hello”,” she thought. And the idea was so crazy, so ostentatious, that she might have actually gone through with it, save that just then the little green dot next to Jordan Catalano’s name disappeared.
He’d logged off.
She waited a minute, then two, but he did not return.
Jordan was gone.
When the grant she had written to provide funding for a youth leadership retreat in Sao Paolo was finally approved, Angela took her first vacation in two years. She had a little money saved up, and so she went up to New York and rented a decent hotel room.
She liked feeling all alone while still being surrounded by a million people.
On Sunday afternoon, she went for a walk in the park. There was a stage set up by the lake and a decent blues band playing. Angela stopped to watch, and that was when she saw Jordan Catalano. He must have seen her too, because he froze right where he stood.
He was over by the stage, but he pressed through the small crowd that had amassed and came towards her.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hey,” he replied.
He didn’t reach to take her hand, and she didn’t reach to take his. They just stood there a moment, staring at each other, a look as tactile as a touch.
“Is this your band?” she asked.
“Kind of. I manage musicians in the neighborhood. They’re the newest ones to sign me on.”
Angela laughed, startled and delighted, and he looked away.
“Sorry,” he said. “I guess it’s not a job interview or anything.”
“No,” Angela said. “I was just thinking how good you must be at that. You were always best at making people do what you asked. You just laid on that sleepy charm of yours, and they all listened.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
The last time she’d seen Jordan Catalano, Angela had barely even been brave enough to talk to him unless he spoke first. But now, she reached out, and smoothly, confidently, took his hand. His grip tightened on hers.
“I really like this song,” she said quietly.
“Yeah. So do I.”