The world is full of filler, for better or worse. There is “good” filler, like the kind of paper one uses to give purpose to a three-ring binder, and “bad” filler like the slimy stuff injected into lunch meat, the exhausted lettuce and weary tomatoes insinuated into innocent sandwiches, and those packing peanut things which I loathe with a vengeance unseemly in a Buddhist. (My mantra: don’t judge the peanuts, do not prefer that the peanuts stop flying out of the box in obedience to some unpleasant law of physics, just be with the vacuum cleaner and stop desiring the use of bubble wrap).
There is also a kind of filler invented, I’m pretty sure, by my friend Kate and me in college. It is a more romantic, fanciful variety of space-occupant and falls into the category of the good stuff. It is similar, conceptually, to a crush, but can be distinguished by its wild, self-conscious improbability. There are “boyfriends” who are real, and can lend you a sweater, “crushes” who are aspirational but usually pursuable, and “fillers” who give one an object of fantasy and plotting without so much as a gossamer strand of possibility. This kind of filler, we reasoned, gives a girl something to think about when there is no reasonable object of affection, someone to spot in the dining hall, and about whom to invent small internal dramas devoid of the real, passionate fire of True Love (or True Lust).
Kate and I both had filler objects, although she needed them less often, being a tall, striking blonde with the kind of illusory hauteur that drives men wild. She immediately snagged the best looking transfer student in our little tribe, and spent much of her remaining time at Oberlin involved with live men, or gently and diplomatically fending off the raft of would-be suitors drawn to her preppy, long-limbed grace I had a series of “boyfriends” who were both gay and living in other states; I might have done better pursuing my filler.
One of my earliest Filler Projects involved Guillaume, a French national who wore the same clothes every day, chain smoked something filterless, and spoke only to French majors although he spoke flawless, if charmingly accented English. He was not nice. Although I never really got close enough, to know, I now imagine that he must have smelled heavily of smoke, unwashed body and quite possibly damp, old books. We never exchanged a word, although I took three years of French in high school and could have carried on a lively conversation about the location of the train station, or lines from “Le Petite Prince.” I was over it after less than a month of stalking, dreaming and imagining a kinder, gentler Guillaume. Plus, I developed a real crush on Josh, who wanted to spend hours in a little room playing jazz for me so that I would learn to love it
Years later, in law school, I continued to “fill,” despite the existence of a live, heterosexual boyfrend. This time, he had the disadvantages of being stupid and dishonest and living in another state, which left lots of space on my dance card. During my third year, when I was a “voluntary defender” and represented minor felons in deepest, darkest Dorchester, I became fixated on a pockmarked public defender who wore cheap suits, stained ties and a wedding ring. If I squinted, he looked a little like Edward James Olmos. I imagined him not as a hack who couldn’t get a job with a firm and resorted to showing up on Court Appointment Day, but as a champion of the downtrodden. His wife undoubtedly failed to understand him. I could hook him up with Brooks Brothers and a good dry cleaner, and in no time we would be whispering hot things to each other in the attorney-prisoner interview room. He got me through a tough couple of months, and then the Real Boyfriend reappeared with apologies, although he never actually got any smarter.
These days, Kate and I are both married-with-children. She continues to be slender, blonde and beautiful; I continue to be less so. I have not discussed the “filler” concept with her again, although I’m quite sure that she remembers our taxonomy of Boyfriends, Crushes, and Filler, and the vital role played by the latter. As for Guillaume and The Unnamed Court-Appointed Defense Attorney from Dorchester MA, I hope they have gone on to live long, happy and fulfilled lives, and that both have discovered the benefits of clean clothes. They will always have a place in my heart. Well, maybe slightly to the left of my heart, in one of those tubes or chambers or whatever I’ve got in there…….