There were discussions about where to move and discussions about who to move in with. The vibe at Alia’s was so welcoming Frank, my friend of four years, agreed to move in with me and Gary, my Washington state transplant who left his girlfriend and two daughters behind. Frank felt that Gary would temper any sexual or romantic tension that might linger between us in a residence.
A year and a half before, Frank and I discussed moving in and he made mention of what bothered him: “I can just see myself getting all amped up from a football game and then when you bring some guy home I just fucking lose it.” That scared me enough to keep from moving in with him in 2010. Now he was flirting with Alia, playing poker with Gary and he seemed at peace with the matter.
There was one late morning where I confided that I was a little jealous of his flirtation with her and he invited me over for cocaine and sex. I considered it. We kissed in Alia’s empty kitchen. He asked me to think about it and left. I went somewhere else that night. I needed a roommate who had money, who had income and who I know well enough to avoid surprises. I liked the idea of living with Frank because we watched crappy television together, we both kept odd hours and he would be good to my dogs.
His neighbor, a mutual acquaintance, once asked about our friendship as it went through so many highs and lows in the blog. “What is the deal with you two?” she asked. “We have three things in common; broken hearts, cocaine and classic rock.” Later he said, “That pretty much sums us up to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.”
Frank loves sports, he loves gambling on sports even more. He loves my dog Maggie, probably because she is overweight, lazy and loves to eat and some part of him identifies with that. When I was up in Washington he said, “You know I do miss you, but I miss Maggie even more.” Frank was a New York stand-up comic and everyone I introduce him to asks me if he still performs. He doesn’t but he can riff all night with just a half a glass of scotch and a dirty cigar. He was a good friend to me when sex didn’t get in the way, whether that be the want for sex, the rejection of sex or just the idea of sex.
Sex always got in the way.
While looking at three bedroom apartments, I asked him one question every day: Are you sure you can deal with it if and when I get a boyfriend?
“I think I am in a different place right now with everything. I think it will be fine. Especially with Gary there.”
And with Gary, the quiet stoner who followed me down the west coast, I asked him one question: Are you sure you are going to stay in LA? “Yeah, I am not going anywhere,” he said.
In between afternoons walking dogs and feeding cats, I frantically reviewed rent ads on Craigslist and forwarded them to Frank. He would be the one laying down most of the deposit since Gary never got his final paycheck from the Hotel where we used to work and my savings was quickly depleting from not making enough and paying too much on gas.
It was nerve racking. We would find a house we really liked, put in the application and lose it to a family. Frank and I even posed as a couple for one particular house. We were interviewed and I felt the eyes of the landlord roll down my skinny jeans to my converse shoes. She knew I was a dog-walker before the interview but that didn’t seem to matter. Every week we would fall in love with a house, and every week we lost it to someone with kids and a real job. When we walked into an empty three bedroom house in Glendale, we were both exacerbated, grouchy and emotional.
“See? I like this. I want this now,” I said, walking over faux wood floors and white stucco walls.
“You like this? You want this? Fine. I am putting in the call right now,” he said pulling out his phone, “Yes, hello. We are in the house up for rental in Glendale and we have seen a few places, really liked them and just didn’t get the application in on time so we are a little frustrated. We are really serious about this place and want to do whatever it takes to rent the place now. What do we have to do? Can I drop by and put a deposit on this now? (silence) Tomorrow? … Ok, we will stop by tomorrow.” He hung up the phone and looked at me against an empty kitchen with lonely washer/dryer hook-ups staring at us from the wall.
There was a lot of light coming through windows on every side of the house. There was no yard for the dogs but plenty of room for them to roam around inside. I already had my heart set on the bedroom facing the front yard.
Frank would take the bedroom furthest from me so he wouldn’t hear the music of love-making from my room. He only required a private bathroom. In this house, the third bedroom not only had a private bathroom, a walk-in closet the size of a small office, but also a private entrance. If he needed to, he could avoid me for days.
*I realize this sounds like an odd friendship, but being a man and a woman in a friendship is complicated for me and Frank. If I were a man, there would be no question … he would be my best friend.
“There it is, we will go in tomorrow and I will put money down on the deposit. Happy?” he said, almost barking like a chained up dog across the street. We were both fried from the experience of drifting around homeless, couch surfing and living out of our cars for the entire summer and now most of Fall. He was subletting an apartment from that same acquaintance who inquired about our friendship. Frank was on borrowed time and was floating around Los Angeles, uneasily creaking by on a rocky canoe. He wanted to settle down, to stop and put his feet on solid ground for awhile. “You need me for this. You and Gary need me and I don’t like this feeling that I am being used.”
“Using you? HA!” I popped. Frank’s face was getting red and his eyes were growing.
“Yeah, what would you do without me putting the money down on a place? You would be stuck with Gary and three dogs. You have no other option so you are pressing me to help you out!” he rattled.
“I have been on my own since I was 18 years-old. I have been doing it without you and without anyone else for a long time, even with these dogs. I don’t need you and I don’t need anyone! Don’t move in with me if that’s how you feel!” I said, raising my voice and hands in the air. We were both shouting now in our new empty house. An Armenian man was pacing outside along the driveway. He must have heard us arguing, but I didn’t care.
“No, it’s fine,” Frank said, lowering his voice.
“Now I have to go to work,” I angrily chirped. I burst through the back door and jumped in my car. My face was hot and my voice squealed. Frank pushed for a relationship. He always went on about how he wanted a wife and a family and a house- and now in the face of a platonic, low-commitment arrangement on an apartment he was freaking out. “I hate men!” I shouted to myself, slapping the top of my steering wheel while wading through one stoplight after another. My phone buzzed. I picked it up and opened a chat window. “heya” It was from Huck (the Milwaukee poet who broke my heart last summer). I yelped and dropped the phone like it burned my hand. Then I picked it back up and called Frank:
“I am glad you called, I feel a lot better about everything now. You said everything you needed to say,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Huck just pinged me. Why would he do that? What the fuck?” I asked.
“Um … yeah … he is going to try to fuck you again,” Frank said matter-of-factly. Huck lived in Wisconsin and, as far as I knew, was still dating some girl he mentioned in his poetry. We just shared a week last residency in what we called a “tryst”. I fell for him, and maybe he fell a little bit too. He fucked someone else a few days after returning to Milwaukee and the whole affair sloppily dismantled in the messiest way possible- over cell phones and GChat. The students at school meet twice a year on campus for ten days and we call those periods “residency”. Last residency was June. The next residency was December. It was now late October and I didn’t know how I would react to school or Huck after he broke my heart.
“Anyway,” Frank said, “I feel good about moving into this place with you and Gary now. Thank you.” I came from an Italian Mother with a hot temper and wild eyes. Frank was a Jew. When it comes to resolving matters, shouting and slamming doors are familiar. That is how we do it. The next day, Frank laid down the deposit and the three of us signed a lease.
My time in Alia’s fairydust house was coming to an end. No more waking up to quiet, chlorine pools or falling asleep to the chatter of friends around a firepit. I fell for her a little bit too. One morning when talking to her about the stress of money, the house and my parents, I simply walked up to her in the kitchen and kissed her on the mouth. It was unlike me to ever initiate a kiss with a woman or a man. I can’t explain why I did it. She looked up at me startled but smiled. I wondered for a day or more if that made her uncomfortable until it became a ritual for us to kiss each other hello and goodbye on the mouth. We joked that we were “Sister wives.”
“I always wanted a sister wife,” she would sing from her couch throne, under her wild ruff of hair, nursing a bong and balancing an iPad on her knee. She was eccentric, always singing with me when I randomly broke into song, always begging to hang out when I was too consumed with school or work to give her the time I wanted. We had our banter over breakfast in the mornings before I headed out to the city.
“God, I love taking showers stoned,” I said, walking out to the living room with wet hair.
“Are you kidding, why do you think I am always stoned? Cause of the showers, man,” she said.
She drove like a madwoman in her Prius, cutting around cars and speeding down quiet streets. “My therapist and my pot dispensary are on the same street. They don’t like each other, though.” I would chuckle and then she would look at me as if waking out of a dream and release this high pitched cackle from the base of her throat.
“I want to make love to Jim Morrison. How unfair …” I would say to myself, in a daze in front of my computer.
“Yeah, me too. Like, God? Not cool, man,” she bellowed from the living room.
She was random and strange, but she moved in my conversations easily, often making them more bizarre and funny. “I have a dead friend on Facebook. Yeah … it’s weird.”
If she left for a job interview, or to see her therapist, she would mosey back into the house looking around. “I was going to grab my laptop, but I forgot it … because I got high … I was gonna clean my room until I got high (singing) I gonna get up and find the broom but then I got high …”
It was strange that we connected at random on Facebook. Stranger that we shared an acquaintance we both disliked, the same acquaintance who connected me and Frank, and Frank to her. We were all so loosely brought together and somehow it worked in all its disheveled charm.
After working all day, I would write a blog from midnight to 5am in the kitchen nook, while Gary snored with a dog under his legs. Alia wandered out one morning before the sun rose and saw only my face in the monitor light. “Wow, you really don’t sleep do you?” she asked.
“Not really,” I said.
When we told her we found a place in Glendale, she squealed and hugged me. It was bittersweet, and I buried my face in her robe and hair. “I can’t thank you enough for taking me and the dogs in. I am really going to miss you.”
“And I am going to miss you too,” she said, “but I am happy to get my house back.”
“You really encouraged me and validated me. I wish you were my mother,” I said.
“And you pay attention to me and take lots of pictures of me, like I wish my mother did.”
We shared a crazy laugh and then I asked, “Maybe you could move in with us?”
“Are you kidding?” she said, “And give up this sweet pad? Hell no.”
I always had trouble saying goodbye, even if I knew she was only 45 minutes away in traffic. In LA, 45 minutes reduces a friendship from everyday to once a month, if that. I haven’t seen her in over a month now. As I said goodbye to one new friend, I was thinking about another; Michael, the 23-year-old boy who snuck into my room one drunk night and made love to me on the floor, surrounded by pillows and dogs just before slipping away at 5am to go to work. He was still on my mind.
Michael didn’t call me after we had sex. I was so overwhelmed with the new job and the new place, that I didn’t think too heavily about the brief sexual encounter we had. I should say, I didn’t analyze it very much. In memory, when I heard the moaning of a boy losing all control of himself on top of me, inside of me, I felt my head fall back, my eyes get lazy and my thighs shiver.
He left his cell phone charger in my room and I texted him “Hey, you left your charger in my wall.”
“That’s ok, I have another one,” he texted back.
We hadn’t had a conversation about what happened, despite being friends for the last few years. It seemed strange that it happened at all, but I couldn’t afford the time to really think about what it meant.
“Sorry I had to leave so early, I had to be at [Doggie Daycare] at 6am,” he wrote.
“Yeah, where are my flowers?” I texted back.
“You never got them?” he texted back.
That was my little joke to ease the tension. When I dropped my dogs off at his house, so he could watch them while I moved most of my things into the new place, he met me outside with a cigarette propped out of his mouth. The skin under his brown eyes bubbled in a restrained smile.
“Thank you for doing this,” I said, handing him the leashes to all three of my dogs, “but I never did get those flowers.”
He smiled around his cigarette and then gracefully removed it. “Still? I am never using that flower shop again!” he said, buying into the joke.
It was on this night that cocaine was guided back into my life like a surprise entertainer, led in through an alley entrance. Alia, Frank and I spoke about getting coke for a week or two. When we signed the lease and got the new place, Alia and Frank split the expense and got a decent amount of white. I don’t know the details of how much since I have never really been able to afford my own blow, but they were both generous with it. Alia’s lover Ryan played music on the laptop and we all rotated in and out of Frank’s walk-in closet, taking turns with a line or two. Even when I think about it now, the powdery aspirin sear through your nose, burning the eyes and groin almost immediately, wets the appetite. Then to wait for the drip down the back of your throat, bitter at first but followed by a thick, heavy heart beat.
I took on a few lines and texted Michael, “Thank you so much for taking care of my dogs, I really owe you.”
“You don’t owe me. Maybe I can come to a housewarming party or something when you get settled,” he texted back. I was impressed but equally confused as to why he wasn’t being more aggressive with me after our night together. I needed the space, that was certain. He was very calculating about that, and perhaps I underestimated him … in general.
“Why don’t you drop off the dogs and join us?” I texted back.
“Now? At the new place?” he wrote back.
The high was making me restless. Between the living room and Frank’s closet, there wasn’t much to do. The more coke I snorted, the more I felt like a goldfish dropped from a plastic bag into a larger glass bowl, whipping back and forth in the empty L-shaped house.
“Ok” he wrote back.
Frank always had one rule with buying me coke. “Have as much as you like, but don’t have sex with another guy on it.” When someone is cutting me a line with a debit card, and muttering one rule or another, I will nod my head … hell, I might even utter a “Yes” or “Ok” but really all I am thinking about it how that next line will taste. Frank was mixing xanax with coke to ease the high. He didn’t seem concerned about Michael showing up or even aware there was something going on between us.
The evening got foggy in the laughter, the dancing, the pillows on the floor and the flirtations. Pearl Jam played from Frank’s small, computer speakers. Michael arrived with the dogs and waited patiently for me in the living room as I excused myself every 15 minutes or so for another line. When Alia and Ryan left, and Gary fell asleep on the floor of his new room, Michael sat cross-legged across from me on the floor. The wet of morning was already falling into the night air and I watched Frank to see if he was awake. Sprawled out with one arm around Maggie my dog, and his face buried in pillows, he fell asleep next to the music crackling through the speakers wired to both ends of his laptop.
Michael was watching me, and waiting. He wasn’t like the other boys, he was playing it real cool. He sat there, propping his boyish grin up in the heel of his hand, knowing I was high even though I didn’t tell. Knowing I would seduce him even though I hadn’t called. And as soon as Frank’s snore found a rhythm, I took Michael’s hand and led him into my empty bedroom.
He crawled on top of me, peeling the clothes off of my body. Brad, my little terrier, lunged at his face a few times. “Brad, no! Mommy doesn’t want that!” Brad curled up on my chest and stared at Michael, who slowly eased off my body.
“Uh uh!” I said, gently pushing him off.
“I think he is in love with you, like in people love with you,” Michael said.
“I know, he is my husband from a previous life. I think somehow he was offered the deal to either live with me in this life as a little dog and watch me make love to other men, or wait a lifetime away from me.”
“Wow, that seems um … very elaborate.”
“Yeah, it’s complicated,” I said, grabbing a handful of shirt and pulling him towards my face. I felt the cocaine dry on the inside of my nose and my lips swell. He went down on me and I was shy about it. I felt the scratch of his morning beard knock against the neglected slope of my thighs. The burn and the wet crawling all over me until I came once, maybe twice. When he entered me it was brief, again, but erotic with the groaning of boyish innocence, the hard, wet forehead collapsing on my breasts and the dry, perfect kisses to follow.
“You are sexy,” I whispered.
“Thank you,” he said, catching his breath.
“But now we have to go sleep out in the living room in case Frank wakes up.”
He took a moment and then said, “Um … ok.”
The morning came, Frank still asleep in the center of the room with my dog and his computer. Michael against the wall on pillows and a blanket. And then there was me, half awake, wondering what I wanted from the boy in the corner.