I can start anything, anything in the world, but I can't finish it. The astute reader will have decided by now to stop reading, anticipating the ending of the story, but if you've gotten this far then don't let that stop you.
It occurred to me one day that I have tremendous beginner's luck at everything I do. I can learn how to play a little of any sport ever invented, I'm sure of it. I can cook a little, I can learn any instrument, any language, anything. You hand me an introductory course in any subject and I guarantee I'll ace it. Maybe that's why I did great my first two years in college but then couldn't decide on a major. I can start anything, but I can't finish it.
Now it follows that this same thing should happen with girls. I can pick up any girl I want; I have tremendous appeal somehow. But I can't keep up a relationship for more than a month. It falls apart because they always "find out" somehow that I'm really "a jerk," or something like that, I dunno. Anyway, that's the way it goes for me and I've never been really happy doing anything for very long because I'll eventually plateau at some level and I can't get any further. The only way around this, I've discovered, is to really play the field as far as interests go. I've done everything I can think of: music, math, painting, science, sales, everything. As soon as I start to see that I'm reaching some sort of equilibrium I split and try something else. I figure this way I'll be the world's greatest amateur at everything.
Well no matter how one tries to avoid destiny it's going to catch you in the end. It turns out that all my jumping from one thing to another was really just me avoiding what I knew was inevitable: having to choose. I don't think I ever actually saw everything I did as a future failure; I really thought, "Maybe this time I'll be really good at it," but it never worked out. The truth is I must have not wanted it to. I mean how else could a guy try so much and not find anything that worked for him? Most people could, if they really wanted to, choose an occupation at random and learn to do it and do it well. Me, on the other hand, I couldn't ever learn to do something if I didn't have an interest in it, and my interests tended to taper off after a while.
I'm certain that the one reason I ever came round was Kelley Coleman. I first encountered Kelly in a restaurant in Milwaukee and the moment I saw her I knew my life was going to change dynamically. We were both out with a group of friends and I eyed her at another booth. She looked at me with this look that said, "You're unusual. I think we'll get along fine." It's obvious to me now that she was waiting for me to make the first move, because she left without saying a word to me, just smiled as she walked out the door. My friends hadn't noticed her and I didn't feel like bringing up another failure on my part, so I didn't say anything about it. On the other hand, that didn't stop me from thinking about it a lot.
About a week and a half later I was supposed to be at an interview but I couldn't find the place. I was downtown and I couldn't find the building for the life of me. When I was already twenty minutes late, I gave up. Since I was downtown anyway, I decided to take the opportunity to do a little shopping, something I had neglected to do for a long while.
A favorite place of mine is a little shop called Willingham Antiques. The old couple who own it are pretty nice as far as people go, and if you talk to them you'll find out they're actually pretty interesting folks, too. I like collecting antiques. I've actually got this plan to decorate my study with antique furniture and books, but you know how that goes. So, with the whole rest of the day to kill, I headed to the Willinghams'.
When I walked in Mr. Willingham was at the counter. He was reading the newspaper, but he saw me and waved his hand with this air of, "I'm busy. Shop if you wanna." Now the thing about antique shops in a city like Milwaukee is they acquire new merchandise all the time. I can't remember a single time when I didn't find something new that I liked. Okay, maybe it isn't new exactly, but it's new to me. I took a brief glance around the front of the store and nothing really caught my eye, so I wandered to the back of the store, my hands in my pockets, whistling the tune from "Bridge On The River Kawai." I found the old books kept on a dark cherry wood bookcase which might have weighed twice as much as I did. Picking up a copy of Darwin's "Voyage of the Beagle," I began to read.
Now when I read standing up, I have this bad habit of pacing. For some reason I used to read in my room as a kid while pacing back and forth, sometimes reading Robert Louis Stevenson aloud, mimicking the voices of the pirates I had heard in movies. Luckily, I've outgrown the voices part, but not the pacing. Apparently, as I read Darwin's fascinating story of scientific exploration, I managed to wander pretty far from the old cherry bookcase. I was so enveloped in my reading that I didn't notice the woman examining a globe in front of me until I had pushed her into it, knocking the yellowed sphere off its stand. It cracked audibly on impact, and anyone could see it was broken. An angry shout came from the front counter.
"I'm so sorry," I apologized, closing my book in embarrassment and reaching out my hand for her to grab.
"It's all right; you didn't know," she answered as she gripped my outstretched arm, regaining her balance. Then we both recognized each other: it was the woman from the restaurant, here in Willingham Antiques! The chances of us meeting up again were pretty slim, so I took it as a sign.
"You know, I think-"
"Nathan! What have you done?" Mr. Willingham had rushed down the aisle and was looking sadly at the broken globe on the floor.
"Oh, yeah, about that," I started apologetically, "I'm sorry, Mr. Willingham; I'll pay for it."
"I know you'll pay for it," he answered with a tone that made me smile at the old shopkeeper's shrewdness. He would gouge me for this, because he never put a price tag on anything in the store. Everything was either "for sale," or not. "My poor, poor antiques…" he complained piteously. I resumed my conversation with miss Coleman.
"I think we may have met somewhere before."
She smiled a smile that melted me immediately. "No, I don't think we have. I'm Kelly Coleman."
"Nathaniel Brown. Nice to meet you." I shook her hand. If the gesture had been offered by another man it would have seemed too familiar, too much a greeting between friends, but I managed to hold her hand with the right amount of gentleness and strength. "My friends call me Nathan."
"And you'd like me to call you Nathan? You sell your friendship much too cheaply, Mr. Brown." She smiled as she said this. Otherwise I would have been annoyed. She was strange, this Kelly Coleman, but I was deeply attracted to her, and this was the second time we'd run into each other. I laughed her comment off, since I figured it was supposed to be laughed off.
"Perhaps I do, but just to make sure, what are you doing for lunch?"
"Mr. Brown, are you asking me to go to lunch with you?"
"That's exactly what I'm asking you to do."
"Under what premise?" Good grief, what did a guy have to say for her to go to lunch with him?
"Under the premise of a mutual exchange of information, personal histories, etcetera, and perhaps for the company. Madame," I added, to make her smile again. Unfortunately, this time it didn't succeed.
"Then I'll be paying for myself?" she asked inquiringly.
"Well you don't think I can afford to pay for both of us after buying this globe, do you?" She laughed at that, and after I paid a ridiculous amount of money for the broken globe we went across the street for lunch.