Here I am, buried in school work and the life of Banquet service, soaking my fourth cup of green tea on an empty stomach. I have slept no more than 5 hours a night, juggling lengthy shifts at the Hotel, my feet feel as though someone took a hammer to them from the running back and forth with heavy trays. My dirty uniform lays among my clean clothes, still abandoned on top of the washer from the last load. I am on my last 60 pages of E.B. White’s Essays and feel wet from his world of boat trips and hurricanes. Still, I have another book and another 20 pages I have to whip up by Saturday, and yet all I can do is sit on the couch and flicker at my ear, waving away the voice of my Muse.
She sits at my computer in a shadow, telling me to write more. And like a last line of cocaine or the whipped cream on top of an abandoned pastry, I find myself unable to think about anything else until the vice is satisfied.
Where were we? August by now, I think. My car was still in the shop, but I had received a phone call from my insurance company assuring me the engine was under warranty and they would pay for all the repairs. When I told my father, he shook my hand, “I don’t know what it is, but you have a Guardian Angel helping you . . . something!” he said grinning.
“I have always said I have demons and angels battling it out over me,” I said, staring at his coffee-stained teeth.
“Well, guess who’s going to win?” he said, chuckling, squeezing my hand. From the maniacal darkness in his eyes, I assume he meant the demons.
To get to work in the mornings, my Father would wake up at 5am and drive me in. It was a kind gesture, but that element of him needing to control things, needing to control me would surface, even in those 12 minute rides from the house to the Hotel.
My coffee mug wouldn’t fit in his cup holder, so I had to balance the full brew against his abrupt stops and heavy gas pedal. I spilled just a few drops on my lap and he whipped the cup out of my hands while driving, “This is bullshit!” he bellowed.
“Give me back my cup of coffee . . . now,” I said, calmly. You don’t fuck with my morning coffee.
Another time, “You are eating a lot of potato chips. That is what is getting you heavy. And all the beer you are drinking. You should switch to wine. And you need to clean your room, do it for your mother. You spend too much time on your computer.”
“Why don’t we make a list of all the things I should do and all the things I shouldn’t do and put it on the wall so I can stare at it all the time?” I said, coolly.
And the final conversation that quieted all further conversation on those moist, dawn drives, “All you do is complain, all the time. You never have anything nice to say.”
“You don’t even talk to me, how would you know? Please, you don’t even know me anymore,” I said, sipping my black roast, unaffected.
For the most part I was unaffected. I had the Hotel. A girl approached me and said, “How are you so skinny? I can fit my whole hand around you. Can you pick up that tray? You are so tiny, I think you could break in two.” It was an odd sort of conversation, but reminded me how different the perceptions were. The people at work from my parents at home.
I do believe my parents think I am fat, as they started hiding snack food and alcohol from me. In fact, I would have special plates left in the refrigerator with my name on it. The scale in my parents’ bathroom was reminding me I was on a slow decline of weight and the people at work greeted me with a smile, laughed at my jokes, and sat with me on breaks.
There were two worlds entirely.
If I worked a night shift, my ride home became the boy next door, QB (QuarterBack). The red haired kid I remembered playing with his baby sister and running around barefoot in his backyard. Now he was just taller than me, handsome certainly, but only because of the way he carried himself, otherwise I might not take notice of him. Football, Track, and whatever other sports he was heavily involved with through puberty had provided him not only with a perfect physique (slender and strong) but a cockiness that had yet to spoil him into the state of obnoxious.
He escorted me to his car, an old jeep with no windows and a broken passenger door.
“You have to climb over the door, do you want me to show you how?” he said.
“Um, no,” I thought out loud, “I can do it.” And with my long legs, I easily stepped from the door’s foot rest over the broken door, and swung into my seat. He turned his head like he couldn’t stand the sight of me and laughed, “I have never seen anyone do that before. I mean . . . ever.”
“What? Was that unusual?”
“Yeah, its fucking unusual. You are weird,” he said.
“Well pardon me, I have long fucking legs, ok?”
“The seat belt is also kind of funny, you have to dig down to the buckle all the way at the floor. Its there, but probably under your seat. Do you want me to get it for you?” he said, bending over my soiled uniform shirt. His red hair trimmed close to his skull.
“No, no, no, I got it,” I said, frantic for him to move away from me. The boy is a child and one must keep those boundaries. Even if I never thought I would have sex with him, or even thought a flirtation would take root, I still wanted to be the adult and acknowledge the perimeter. I found the buckle and fastened in for an equally terrifying drive, an equally heavy foot on the gas pedal, and the wind off the river thrashing my hair about into a total disaster.
“Will you buy me a beer?” he asked.
“No, I will not.”
“Come on, just do it. I will give you the money.”
“Of course, I won’t.”
“Chad does. Its not a big deal,” he said.
“And what will your mother say to me when you walk into your house with alcohol after dropping me off?”
“I hide it under my car until they are asleep. Then I sneak it into my room.”
“What if they find the bottle?” I asked.
“I burn it in the fireplace when I am done,” he dismissed. “Come on, it’s just one 40. Just do it.”
Being the adult with boundaries, I said, “Ugh. Ok, what do you want?”
“I know . . . but it gets me drunk,” he laughed.
“Great . . . ok, just this once. Give me the money.”
I walked in, was carded for the 40 and then promptly brought it back to the jeep. “Ok, what’s the right way to climb into this thing?” I asked, stuffing my own bottle of wine safely under the seat.
“Ok, put your foot on the back wheel, hold on to the bars up here, on the roof, and swing in,” he instructed.
I did, but from his laugh I guess I did it wrong again. “Whatever,” he said, “at least you are in. I have never seen anyone do it like that either.”
“Well, Jesus Christ,” I said.
He drove me up the Gorge with only a few stray headlights and the moon for light. I could barely make him out, audibly or visually, through the night wind. “Have you ever done DXM?” he asked.
“No, what’s that?”
“Its from cough medicine. It gets you really loopy.”
“Yeah, what do you do?” he asked.
“I have done almost everything. I have never done meth or heroin though . . . and neither should you,” I added, trying to be that adult again.
“You have done cocaine?” he asked.
“Oh yeah, but it’s a rich man’s drug.”
“You have to save up a lot for it, huh?”
“You never save enough,” I said.
He drove up to his house and parked in the driveway, with three other vehicles left quiet, waiting faithfully for their slumbering drivers inside.
“Thanks for the bottle!” he said, a little too loud.
“Shushhhhh! I better not get in trouble over this,” I whispered.
He shoved the bottle underneath his back wheel, “There. Happy?” he said.
“Yeah . . . “ I smiled and thanked him, keeping a distance from that boy. He was a little too comfortable with himself for being so young.
In this time, Huck and I were still texting, but we never video chatted again. I knew that was significant. Texting is terrible for a relationship, but it was the only connection I had at the moment, beyond a few texts from my faraway buddies, Sachsa and Taylor.
Huck: I liked you better in person
When you weren’t so demanding and needy
Me: It comes off playful in person
I am not demanding nor needy
Huck: It was playful
Me: There is simply no inflection
Its playful now
Huck: It was fun
Me: Its fun now
Me: you just take it too god damn seriously
whose fault is that
Huck: Now its.a.fucking game
I don’t think I was playing a game, rather, I felt completely out of control. I was without a car, living with my parents and relying on them for anything that required more than what the pricey gas station on the corner had to offer. I felt like a toddler, or worse yet, like a teenager. One who tasted independence, fallen in love, and was now beating her wings against glass walls. This time the glass walls were filled with sweet wine, the juice that filled me with bouts of fury, lust and depression before lifting me up to the ceiling fan, and letting me spin around in a carousel of apathy.
Me: If you want me, be with me and try to be a better man (and I mean that overall- not just with other women. I expect everyone is tempted)
Stop shaking me off to test me
I am the best thing that could ever happen to you!
Huck: Im just a boy.
Me: No you’re not
I am a real catch
So start acting like it
Now, I have to go rub my mother’s back
Huck: It would be different if you were here.
Me: You don’t want me there!
I was willing to work with you on things
feel things out
take it slow
do whatever you thought was best
but you refuse to take a leadership role
you just want to fuck around in limbo
Huck: Well i dont fucking know.
Me: YES you do
Huck: Limbo is fine
Me: You are smart
If you are happy with limbo and not being all you can be, then fine.
But I believe you want more, if not now then in the future.
Huck: All i can be?
Me: Because there is a piece of me in you
I am a little drunk
Huck: I know
Me: I see a great man in you
don’t let it die like the others
just because you are lazy
Huck: Well. Lets stop now. Id still desert you. No matter how great id be
Me: Then I want nothing to do with you
Huck: Im fucked up right now
Me: Straighten out
Huck: Im not husbandable
Me: I am not wife material either
I know that
Huck: Im selfish. Unfaithful
Me: Those are choices
Me: Yes, you are shirking responsibility
Me: YOU ARE BSing ME
Huck: Fuck off.
Me: I see you
I see you, and I know what life is like
Huck: No you dont
Me: I know
Yes, I do
I see you and you are fucking great
Huck: This is what i am
Me: You are fucking off because you can
I don’t have time for this bullshit
Huck: This fucking argument
Me: Be straight with me
Be straight with yourself
Huck: I have been
Me: You are fucking talented
and I felt how you loved me
You loved me’
Huck: That has nothing to do with.how id treat yiu in the future
Me: I believe in you
Huck: You fell in love with everyone in your stories. Im just another fucking character. Huck
I dont know
I just wanted to try
but I am not needy
Huck: Youre just not over it and on to the next yet
Ok, what we see here is a typical case of me falling in love with a man’s potential and not the man. This is the first time I have read this conversation since it played out in front of me. Consciously, there was a voice telling me to believe everything he was saying, sadly, awarded from the afternoon I breezed through He’s Just Not That Into You several years ago.
I walked gingerly in my mind around Huck. He seemed indecisive. He would disappear and then reappear on chat or text me non-fiction literary contests. It was the only encouragement I was getting, so I held on tight.
He texted me after a bike race: “I want you to sit on my lap and pour wine in my mouth”
He texted me another time: “I do love you. A little bit. Look up Lykke Li.”
The afternoon I emailed him my second set of pages on our love affair, the subject I was using for school as a practice in memoir writing, he wrote, “It’s good but . . . have you shown it to anyone else?”
“No” I wrote.
“When will you turn your blogging into a novel?”
The words sunk in, hard at first, like a grain of sand against the soft underbelly of an oyster. It upset me and triggered an insecurity. Later, it would produce something valuable for me. In the moment, I texted more and more: “I suck”
“You are fishing for a compliment and I won’t give it to you.”
“I won’t submit anymore of my writing to you,” I wrote. And I haven’t since.
It was immature, sure, but the ego of an artist is delicate; to trust the voices in your head, and the natural born instincts you are the first to discover, then tell yourself you should be heard over billions of others. It is a tricky balance. If you aren’t sensitive to everyone else’s thoughts, then what type of writer are you?
I believe this triggered the ultimate descent with Huck. We chatted and upon ending a conversation a little too quickly, I asked if he had a date.
“Jesus Christ. Sorry. Just don’t text me all night. Don’t be an asshole like last time.”
My chest caved in. Foolish, I know. It was foolish to expect anything else. So what does a girl banished on the outskirts of civilization do when she learns the boy she fell for is fucking someone else that night? She cries. (and then text him all night long to disrupt any pleasure)
I was alone in my room, sitting on the edge of my bed, and I cried. My Mother came in and said, “I knew something was wrong. What is it?”
“He is going on a date with another girl, and he told me not to text him while he is with her tonight,” I wept.
“Well, that’s understandable,” she said.
I bellowed more cries, feeling how deliciously cold tears were on my face, as the blood burned hotter. My Mother put her arm around me, but it was awkward and cold. “Come on,” she said, “Get out of this room and come out into the living room with me.”
I dutifully followed. There was a scene that was very similar, almost 15 years earlier. My first love. The boy I should assign an alias to- “Nick”, I suppose, (for Nikolas Tesla, his hero). I fell madly in love with Nick in the tender, confusing times of 10th grade, when I was learning to drive, suffered awkwardly through my first Drama class, fell in love with Geometry all in over-sized thrift clothes with wet hair and a horrible slouch.
It was a torrid affair. He was a boy genius who already graduated college at the age of 12, and was now being re-socialized with his peers in an effort to help him find normalcy. That was never in the cards for Nick, he is too God damn smart and is on some other intellectual planet. We snuck out to these gravel pits, huge mountains and valleys of gravel, dug up by loud machines day and night, drowning out the occasional cry from a coyote pushed even further away from a new home. He told me he took a Human Sexuality class and demonstrated how to give a girl an orgasm. At 15 years of age, we practiced giving each other orgasms on a blanket with a compact cassette player, softly serenading us with German techno music. Kraftwerk. The cold air on my knuckles as I rubbed him. The moonlight off his blond hair as he moved over me. It was all very romantic, and very intense. We would stay up all night together, talking and touching, until the pink of day would give us warning, then we would sneak back into our bedrooms and get ready for school. We saw each other again, a couple of hours later, on the school bus. We would smile, still smelling of the other.
The weekend before Homecoming, I came home with a new dress just before he called to break up. I would never convert to Mormonism. I sat on the side of my bed and I cried, not the first time over a boy, but the first time over a boy I really fell for. My Mother came in, sat next to me in the moment and put that loose arm around me, maybe she offered me something to eat.
You would think, growing up, it would hurt less with greater understanding of human behavior, experience, more confidence, more of an identity, more of everything. It doesn’t hurt less. It hurts just as much. That doesn’t seem fair.
This time, I was 34 and I followed my Mother out into a clean living room and sat on the couch, refusing to wash my face. The dogs looked up at me concerned. I resented them for becoming so faithful to my Mother in our stay. The two pit bulls didn’t even sleep with me anymore. In the decision to close out my parents from my inner world, and close that plywood door with no lock, I sacrificed time with the pit bulls, and it was evident in their affection.
Rambling, I told her how special the week with Huck was, and how I felt used, how I always ended up feeling used. I told her he was my only close friend at the moment, and he inspired me to work and write more for school. I told her the idea of him having sex with this girl was driving me mad.
Looking up, I saw her sitting in a chair across from me, wearing her dirty pink slippers, bouncing one foot up in the air opposite the other, back and forth, and staring at them with the daze of an infant. She suddenly looked up at me with a blank stare. She hadn’t heard a word I said.
I went back to my room.