The next morning after my meltdown, I sat in the school courtyard smoking. I am a stress smoker. I smoke to keep awake, to process, to alleviate. Once again, across the courtyard Huck pranced quickly on those long legs to the door of the school, wearing his tan, sock hat and open, blue flannel. Earlier that morning, I texted: “We are ok. I am not mad.” He caught my glance and quickly changed direction. We both smiled and shook our heads at each other. Last night was … terrible.
He leaned against the concrete block next to me and asked for details from the rest of the night. I can’t remember what I told him, but I am fairly certain I skimmed the intense moments just to set up the funny ones. He laughed.
“We need to hang out sober some time,” I said. He shrugged in agreement. “Do you want to get breakfast?”
“How did you know I was hungry?” he asked, correcting his posture.
We walked. It is a difficult city to navigate because there isn’t a lot to walk to. People are expected to drive, either to the mall, the strip mall behind it or the corporate mall. Mall. Mall. MALL.
“Michael (my boyfriend) is really short. I felt like a giant standing next to him,” Huck said.
“Yeah … he is short.” I shrugged. With Michael I never really notice.
Sometimes the sidewalk would end and we had to walk in a street with no visibility over the hill and under the turn. Sometimes, we had to walk under a freeway, flagged and littered with abandoned construction. He wouldn’t stop for just any food, he wanted to make sure it was a place I could enjoy a vegan meal. I thought that was nice.
“Your cock is bigger than I remember,” I said.
“I have gotten that before,” he said.
We got on the subject of what people at school thought of him. “It’s just … you talk about how you fucked some married girl to your mentee group and they all know you are just saying it to reinforce some kind of image.”
“But it isn’t an image, it is who I really am,” he said.
“Come on,” I said. “I know better.”
At the school’s Queers for Beers event at the Rooster Fish bar in Venice, I described how I fell for Huck last semester and summarized how things didn’t work out to new friends. Another poet in Huck’s class got very quiet then said, “Do you like rescuing puppies?”
“Yes,” I said. “Actually I do.”
Another morning, with two female writers in the program I am the closest to, at the French Cafe on Abbot Kinney, I defended him over French strawberry jam and a baguette.
“But why does he have to be such an asshole?” one of them asked.
“It is just a defense mechanism,” I responded.
“Yeah, an effective one,” the other writer said.
His womanizing alcoholic bit seems so overly rehearsed and silly compared to the person I really see. My friends, and especially my boyfriend, seem to think he is who he presents himself to be, and… anyway, who cares, that is who he wants to be. It isn’t work for me to like him. As we teetered along the crooked sidewalks together, it was work to dislike him. Life is already so difficult to figure out, why double over it like an origami fortune teller? Hanging around Huck made everything nicer. I laughed a lot. I never felt bored. Everything came naturally, the friendship, the quips, the destination. Time didn’t really matter.
As we waited for a car to pass, Huck put his hand on my lower back to push me away from the street and the passing traffic. The driver, a beautiful, black woman, smiled at us and tilted her head from under the steering wheel. “That woman thinks we are a cute couple,” I said. Huck looked and smiled. I wondered what he thought about me, about us, especially after the stress I put both Michael and Huck through the night before.
.Michael left me his debit card, and as I withdrew some cash for lunch, Huck peeked over my shoulder to check the balance. “He works hard,” I said, grabbing the limp bill and receipt. Huck pretended an imaginary dog was leading him on a leash. I raised my eyebrow but smiled. Michael and I are both dogwalkers and I know not everyone can do it.
We ditched school for the first half of the day and found a nice Thai place in a sterile mall. We found a table and both ordered beer even though it wasn’t noon yet. “I didn’t win the lottery,” he said. Then he let out a slow sigh, “If I did, I would say [StarFire].”
“Are you romanticizing us? Why would you do that?” I asked.
“Because I am insane,” he said, looking out the window but taking a moment to spring his eyebrow up over the word “insane”. The night before, I called him insane at least 11 times in one conversation. I smiled a little, hoping he liked me but thinking it was odd he would after I made a scene in his hotel parking lot. I assumed he would not want to speak with me again. This lunch was unexpected.
He gave me a letter of recommendation given to him by his mentor. He hadn’t yet read it and asked me to read it out loud. I did, and watched a smile of self-congratulation appear and disappear. It was a bit of an intimate act, I thought, and also a way to flaunt a little intellect and ability. “So, are you going to the party tonight?” I asked, putting away the letter for fear I would spill on it. Every residency, the school throws on one party, at a high end venue, to blow off steam and confirm or dismiss rumors among faculty and students.
He nodded over his beer. “Bringing anyone?” I asked.
“No, but not for lack of trying,” he said, then he turned his glow on me.
“Don’t look at me!”
“I am trying not to!” he said, turning his head.
When the food came, he shared. Towards the end of the meal, he dumped his rice into my curry and insisted I eat more. The little things may not mean much to you, whoever you are on the other side of the computer, reading about a random, uneventful day in December. To me, the little things like that, they mean the whole world. Now, I am not a girl who is easily manipulated. I wondered why I had the honor of all this fresh charm after months of silence between semesters. I know Huck loves attention from women, and maybe just the fact that I was the woman who gave him the most attention was enough.
I will say this, there are a lot of superficial reasons why we form friendships and connections. In the end, what lasts longer than a conversation, with more sustenance than a Facebook friend request, is who they are when you need them. Huck still had more to prove to me, but he was astute enough to know helping me onto the sidewalk and giving me his rice would open a door.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t want more from him than his company. His company was enough. You see, being around Huck makes me feel like I am bouncing around like a happy, music note in an old pop song. Huck makes me happy. Could it be that we just liked each other? Or does all the self-awareness, diagnosis and advice kill the magic; the magic of children, young lovers and best friends. It felt innocent and light. So few things do these days.
After lunch, we hit a bookstore. He seemed self-conscious about whether or not I wanted to spend the time there with him. Cat had already texted me asking me where the fuck I was. I told him to take his time. We already missed morning lectures and no one is expected to attended all of residency, all the time. It would fry your brain. So I watched him wander the aisles of the fiction section. “I had to fart,” he said. “I am sorry.”
“I don’t smell it,” I said. “Now, I smell it.” I walked away and back. I thought about whether or not I as being unfaithful to Michael by sharing a meal and a used bookstore with Huck. In a way, it felt wrong. In another way, I knew my time with Huck was short and born of good intentions.
I came back to his side. “I had to again … I’m sorry …” Huck said.
“Made another deposit?” I took a whiff of the air and got a noseful of ass. “Jesus, if you have to fart, go to another genre, will you?” He laughed and I circled to the other side of the bookshelf to take pictures of him. He likes it when I take pictures of him, almost as much as he likes it when I write about him.
We headed toward school and he mentioned he got sap on his hand from a tree he touched on our walk back. I asked to feel it and placed my hand on top of his. His hands were big, a little rough but nice. I wanted to leave it there, but I knew that would be wrong so I withdrew.
“Now that I know how to deal with your drunkenness, I think I have a better idea about how it would work,” he said.
“What? You and me?” I asked. “What about my drunkeness? That I am unmanageable?”
“No, just that you can’t hold your liquor,” he laughed.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “It will be easy now, after that.”
“No,” he said, “Then we have to deal with my issues.”
I remembered how he liked to fuck other girls and the curry burned. He started quietly singing “You’re Gonna Lose that Girl”. In fact, whenever I remember that midday walk, that song plays over in my head. He stopped himself quickly and made some silly, cocky statement. I responded with a theatrical, “You rebel” or something like that.
“What songs use rebel?” he asked.
“Rebel Yell is what I thought.”
“I was thinking ‘He’s a Rebel’ … how does that start?” he asked.
We both tried to patch the lyrics from The Crystals 1962 hit:
See the way he walks down the street,
Watch the way he shuffles his feet …
We crossed the street to school. “Hold on, hold on! Let’s harmonize,” I suggested. He leaned in to hit a note and it couldn’t hold through my off-key nose. He broke down laughing. Then he brought the song up on his phone, and we skipped back to campus on the bells and bass of a harmonized voice of five New York, black women a lifetime ago, chased by the occasional sluggish horn.
He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever be any good
He’s a rebel ’cause he never ever does what he should
But just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does
That’s no reason why I can’t give him all my love
He’s always good to me, always treats me tenderly
‘Cause he’s not a rebel, oh, no, no, no
He’s not a rebel, oh, no, no, no, to me …
We giggled as we stumbled back in front of the school. I caught the eye of another poet in my year. He read the blog. He knew how badly Huck treated me. And he quietly watched.