Everyone went home after residency. And so did I. The holiday season was coming and I would be thrown into several weeks of constant dog-walks, kitty visits and overnights. My day would last 7am to 10pm.
Honoring Michael’s request, I disclosed the emotional affair I had with Huck over residency. I told him all the moments we kissed. I told him about the night I lay on his hotel bed with an erect cock in my hand. He took a moment. Well, more than a moment.
He got drunk and went outside to play songs off his phone.
“I have reduced my boyfriend to chain-smoking on the front porch, drinking out of a bottle of wine and listening to Frank Sinatra love songs,” I said. “Baby, there can only be one of us in this relationship.”
“I know … I am dealing with things. This is how I deal. I would never kill myself without you. And don’t think murder-suicide cause … that’s just lame. I wouldn’t ever do that,” he said, hanging his had low over a pint of Budweiser.
“Great, well … I wasn’t thinking that but thank you for inviting the discussion.”
Michael crawled inside and rolled around on the ground. I don’t understand the behavior but I have seen it a few times when he is distraught. He tucks in his arms and locks and rocks side to side, like an overturned ladybug.
“Roll with me,” he said. “Just get down and roll with me.”
I did, for a little bit. Then I asked him to pull himself together.
We had been through a lot. My car broke down. His car was smashed up. My second car died. And now my third car was dead.
“I know I am insane and always hysterical,” I said. “Let’s talk about how a sane person would deal with this … you know as a guide. A tutorial. How does a sane person deal with four cars dying in 2 months?”
“I can tell you how I dealt with a $2,000 ticket followed by a $1,000 tow because my registration expired. I sat there and cried my eyes out for half an hour which I am sure they are used to since they just went about their business. Then I met a beautiful, intelligent woman who I fell in love with and makes me want to put a gun in my mouth right now.”
I never thought it was a good idea to tell him everything that happened with other men, or rather Huck. Even when he asked me for full disclosure, I told him it was a bad idea. I believe sometimes it is better not knowing what your significant other thinks or does. If you are exposing them to potential disease, of course … you must disclose intercourse. But a kiss. An embrace. A thought. Exchanging those kind of free-flowing fluids would be enough to make anyone insane. Not only with the one you love, but every human being you pass. Who wants to read thoughts when you have Facebook. At least you have a chance to articulate, to edit, to think about what you want to say. As a human being, we are raw animals first, second we are sensitive, progressive human beings.
There was no denying that my winter residency with Huck changed things. It isn’t as though I pined for him, as I did before. I didn’t fantasize or obsess. I didn’t wonder about other girls or his feelings. I just deeply appreciated the connection. It would be naïve to say one connection doesn’t disrupt another. And here is where my free love and boundless affection does become a problem. Whether or not we are monogamous creatures in the long haul, we are monogamous in a moment. I loved Michael, but my mind strayed to Huck. Not what ifs, not what I wants … just whatever it was. There was comfort in his friendship, in the lingering attraction, after the chaos of the Fall. It wasn’t a flash in the pan or a foolish piece of ass. We actually liked each other. Color me sentimental, but it means a lot. It means a hell of a lot.
My distance with Michael was harder to manage when I was spending nights at other dogs’ homes for paid overnight visits. We needed the money. Christmas would be a non-stop drive around town, extra treats, extra love with other people’s animals. Meanwhile, my family, my three dogs and neglected boyfriend, was home without me. “A Muppet Christmas Carol” cued up, warming champagne, no Christmas decorations or tree and my exhausted body pushing through to the next house on my schedule.
There was no time to reconnect with my boyfriend. There was only time to work and think. I wasn’t confused, but I was smitten.
When I went to my boyfriend’s place of business, an indoor doggie gym in West Hollywood, we watched a Mommy training with her puppy.
“He says ‘I Love You’. Listen, I just say it first” I love you! I love you! I love you! Come on … I love you,” she begged.
The dog sat down and looked confused.
“He really does say it, I love you! I love you!”
“Does this situation remind you of anyone, baby?” Michael asked me. “A portrait of my life.”
“I have to show you video of him saying it. He does say it!” the dog owner insisted, pulling out her cell phone.
I don’t want to hurt Michael. I didn’t want to hurt Michael. I just needed space to think and feel without consequence. That is the ultimate difference between action and thought. A million feelings pass through the two. I don’t want the person I love the most to stamp each one with approval, with acknowledgement. I want to float around a little bit, fall in love, fall in hate, feel disgust, feel compelled … then reflect on it. Make sense of it. That is life.
Here I am, flipping through my copy of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, looking for one passage that struck me last month. It is night now. My contacts are burning my eyes. The TV is on in the living room. And the white wine is soothing my throat after smoking too much this week. I had quit for awhile but writing always brings me back.
Didion said, in a more poetic arrangement, that you can fall in love many times, but the one you marry is the one that shapes your life; the one who shapes your identity. Michael, though much younger, though less experienced, was my husband. And my feelings towards someone I still feel “love toward” and one who has shaped my life are uniquely different. You cannot buy and own love. You cannot stick a flag in my abdomen and say I own this part of you. Sharing my life however, that is as close as you can get and probably much more fulfilling an experience.
Michael and I rode around from job to job together- just to be together. He waited in the car for 30 minute dog visits and drove 10, 20 and 30 minutes with me to other houses. We got coffee together in the morning. I should have been a peach to him. I should have been Doris Day. But I wasn’t. I acted like a confused, bitchy teenager who didn’t have time to separate her thoughts.
“Do you think Starbucks has a toaster?” Michael asked over strong lattes one early morning.
“I don’t know, why don’t you ask,” I said a little too slow, a little too bitter.
“I oughtta hit you in the god damn mouth right now,” he said. I smiled a little at him. I don’t want to be hit, but admired him for saying it. He was standing up for himself, and though I admired it at the time, I wish he took a more controlled approach. “I have never wanted to hit a woman before in my entire life,” he said looking down.
“I have that effect on men,” I said, soberly.
I knew I was a hard girl to fall in love with. I keep my ex-boyfriends. I kiss everybody on the mouth. I flirt without ever registering the moment. I loved the guy though, and he had no way of seeing that quite yet.
“You should come to the gym with me and work out. I think you need the exercise,” he said.
“How can you say that after all the work I did on you last night?” I asked.
“Yeah, and you gave up?”
“Is that so, Mr. Can You Get On Top?” I quipped.
“No, you were great last night.”
“Finally, a compliment,” I said, slapping my hand down on the wobbly, cheap table in the corner of a Vons grocery store. Why do they have to put Starbuck’s inside grocery stores? I need ambiance for Christ’s sake.
“HAHAHA, I could spend the rest of my life like this,” he said.
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Laughing with your bitchy girlfriend?”
“Yeah,” he said again. He was serious. All the while, I was kind of waiting for the thing to fall apart.
We went out to dinner after the holiday rush. I made a lot of money. Over $2,000. Every bit of it went towards a new transmission in the used car I bought a couple weeks before. And I still owed a $300 balance after rent was paid.
Do you know what it is like working every second of the day only to lose every cent of that second? If you are a Hispanic dishwasher, no need to answer. Indentured servant maybe? Jesus, what does an American have to do for a savings account?
We saved up enough for a dinner together after the holidays. Just Michael and me. We went to my favorite restaurant, now a small chain. All vegan. Everything is excellent. Real Food Daily.
We sat across from each other in the Pasadena restaurant. I ordered a Vanilla Hemp Soy Shake and made love to the thing like it was the first milkshake of my life. I often scrolled through Michael’s cell phone. I am not really checking up on him. I am partly curious, partly testing him. It is a relief when I discover he is as human as I am.
“Who is Katie?” I said, reviewing text messages.
“That would have been funny yesterday, but it’s not funny now,” he said, stoic. When he drinks his ice water, he swishes it around in the back of his jaw before swallowing. He doesn’t want to look at me.
“Really? I think it’s more funny. You know, ironic.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have made out with your ex-boyfriend. Not the ex-boyfriend who hates Jews. Not the ex-boyfriend with conspiracy theories. Not the ex-boyfriend who bit your head. You know … just the regular crazy ex-boyfriend,” he said. (For those of you who don’t know me, all of the above is true. Of course, had I known that any of them hated Jews or would bite my head, I, of course, would have never fallen in love with them in the first place.)
“I just want to eat,” Michael continued, “I want to eat chocolate chip cookies. Like a whole fucking box of chocolate chip cookies. I used to take a peanut butter cookie and put it on top of a chocolate chip cookie and eat it like a sandwich. I could totally do that right now.”
Once, while reviewing old photos on his younger brother’s Facebook page, I saw what Michael looked like in high school. He was short, chubby and holding a white, fluffy dog. I remember saying to myself, “I know exactly who that kid was in high school.” The chubby dork. The chubby, sensitive, wonderful dork.
In bed, I see the stretch marks on the side of his rib cage. I like them. They remind me of lightning bolts.
“Can I be honest? I think that Huck is the wedge between you and me, not the car,” he said.
“I agree,” I said, honestly. I had an intimate connection with another man, and it was lingering.
“Ok, so you agree. Let’s talk about it. You were intimate with him and now it has completely ruined things between you and me,” he said.
“It hasn’t ruined things; it is a bump in the road.”
“No, you cheated. It’s a lot more than a bump.”
“There will be lots of temptations down the road, there will be other people, things will happen.”
“Not with me! I would NEVER do that,” he said.
“Please don’t use the word ‘never’ at 23.”
“Ok, I am sorry.”
“I needed the closure. We only kissed. I don’t want to have a relationship with him. I don’t want to run away and marry him. I want to be with you.”
“What does he have that I don’t have? You were going to up and move to Milwaukee for him? Would you do that for me?” he asked.
“Do you want me to do that for you?”
“No. I know you love LA. I would never ask you to.”
“Good. He doesn’t have anything over you. There is just an energy … it’s similar to how I feel around you. A levity. I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Don’t you dare compare to me to him! How could you do that after the way he treated you? He is an asshole. The rest of us are onboard, we are waiting for you,” he preached.
“I am not waiting to make a decision. I want to be with you. You and I have spent more time together. You are my boyfriend. That is not in question.”
“I don’t know what to do with you. Any other girl I would be out of here … oh, I am not breaking up with you. You can just let that one go.”
“Good,” I picked up the menu, “I know its hard being my boyfriend.” He nodded heavily, like I put a chain around his neck. “But it is part of me that needs the freedom to do little things other girlfriends don’t. I am not like other girls and its part of the package. I won’t sleep with someone else. Anyway, it is over with Huck.”
“I know it’s not over. You are still talking to him.”
“No, I am not.”
“I know you are.”
“Well, there is a one or two text exchanges, but not a conversation,” I confessed.
“See baby, why do you do that? I can’t trust you.”
“You asked me to be honest, how can you not trust me?”
“I am sorry, I don’t.”
“Ok, well that’s a shame. So glad I told you everything,” I said.
“You told me like … way later.”
“AFTER residency, so I didn’t have to fight with you while studying. It’s over with him ok, he is gone. You are my life.”
“It’s not over.”
“Yes, it is.”
“It doesn’t feel over,” he muttered.
There was a silence.
“Well, it is,” I punctuated.
“Until next residency …”
“We will have more time together then. Baby, we have been together for only 2 months. I had unresolved business. Just don’t put so much on it, ok? I am here with you.”
“I am just gonna stuff my face. And after this I am going to Taco Bell, open up an account,” he said, finishing his ice water.
“Sure you don’t want to sweep by Mrs. Fields first?”
“I would eat the shit out of Mrs. Fields.”
I started singing. Beauty and the Beast. “Gosh it disturbs me to see you Gaston, looking so down in the dumps …”
He laughed. He laughed so high, the waiters smiled.
We ate dinner fast and he stopped talking about eating out his heart.
“Ok, here is the comment card,” I grabbed after I subconsciously bussed our own dishes. “Service? Excellent.” I checked the box. “Food? Excellent. Comments, how could this have been a better meal?” I read aloud as I wrote in pen, “I wish I could have had dinner with a girlfriend who didn’t cheat on me.”
He laughed again and grabbed my hand. “I love you. God damn it, I love you.”
For the first time, I really believed him.