The Best. Essay. Ever.

My freshman year of college we were all required to take a class called a ‘Gateway’ course, which was code for ‘Lets assume our freshman are idiots’. There were a variety of subjects to choose from, but the purpose of the class boiled down to this; you don’t know how to write a simple essay, so we will bang it into your brains.

One day we were given the assignment to write a persuasive essay. That’s it. Had to be about four pages, didn’t have anything to do with our class subject matter (entitled Facing Evil, or more appropriately named Why the Holocaust was Not a Good Thing). So, being filled with righteous fire at having to suffer through this bullshit course at 9:00 am, I wrote an amazing essay; Why Sex is Best Without a Condom.

No joke. As a sexually inexperienced freshman, on a campus filled with fully-formed women with no dress code to subdue their knack for wearing bust-bearing tank tops, and those short-shorts that leave just enough to the imagination, and access to T1 internet along with 20 million shower stalls to choose from at any time of the day or night, I was perpetually horny. Between my completely justified anger at a stupid morning class, surfing the net for barely legal amateurs that spoke German in reverse cowgirl whenever my roommate wasn’t looking, and sheer boredom (I didn’t know what being social meant), I pounded out this award-winning essay. It went something like this.

Disclaimer: So I think this goes without saying, but this is all BS. I just wanted to shock my teacher, so maybe he’d make a curriculum that didn’t suck.

Why Sex is Best Without a Condom

            Sex without a condom is the best sex that can be had. Hands down. Bumping uglies the way God intended is like gambling with orgasms at the end. This way, everyone can be lax about how they react to latex, and lets be honest, men; most condoms are, ahem, undersized. Honestly, the only reason the condom industry exists is because profiteering, fear-mongering capitalists are twisting good ole’ American ignorance to their advantage. Good people, we need to stand together as one against the scourge that is the condom. Think of the children.

Let’s start with the biggest problem. Biggest being the operative word here. Unless there exists a custom-tailoring condom shop, no tube of rubber is going to fit our tubes with precision. The male penis runs the gamut in size, shape, and flexibility. While it makes for some interesting porn angles, this differentiation is hell when it comes to condom sizing accurately. During intercourse, the last thing a man wants to concentrate on is whether the inorganic, suffocating, sensation killing sheath he slapped on is staying on straight. We have more important things to think about. Without the ability to customize condoms to the individual, the companies are doing us a disservice, and ruining the experience of sex for all.

If we want to elaborate on ruining the experience, let us talk allergies. According to the trusty Wikipedia, about 7% of men are allergic to latex, the primary material of the condom (unless you go the lambskin route, but who need another animal down there, am I right?). While that doesn’t sound like a big number, out of a million men that is about 70,000 dudes that, when they slap on latex, the party will end.

I once when out to a Matt Damon movie with a gorgeous chick. Tussled black hair, pouty lips, a models’ body without a models’ intelligence. She’s allergic to gluten. At the theatre, in the middle of Matt Damon trying his hardest to squeeze out tears, she stood up, walked out, and then proceeded to have her insides explode out her mouth. Not gradually leak, EXPLODE. Turns out that somewhere in the evening, she got a tiny bit of gluten in her meal. I mean, she still looked pretty fine, but if a gluten allergy can lay this goddess low, think of how your penis will react if you do turn out to have the latex allergy. Especially when your penis will be wrapped in it. You will explode. It will not be sexy, because your penis is not a model. You will cry, and your ready-and-willing date (assuming you weren’t strapping on a condom alone in the dark for some twisted reason), will scramble away like a bat out of hell. Wearing a condom creates a 7% chance that instead of taking your date to pleasure-town, you will cry on the floor in the dark, clutching at your naked body as your genitals erupt. Men, it is just not worth it.

Which brings me to my final point. Not using a condom is like gambling in the best sense of the word. You’re playing the odds, hoping for a stroke of luck. The stroke of luck being the miracle of life. Think about it. The worst thing that can happen by not using a condom is that you do not get to create a bundle of joy at that moment. But, because you are a bedroom rock star and don’t have to blow money on condoms, you get to try as many times as you like. When you do bless your maiden with a child, sir, you get to spend the rest of your life devoting yourself to that one maiden and that one mini-me. Sex without a condom is the greatest casino ever. Slots, anyone?

Let us do to this argument what we shouldn’t be doing to our penises; wrap it up. Sex without a condom is the best sex in existence. Condoms are unnatural, uncomfortable tubes of rubber not meant to be present in your intercourse. Also, sex without a condom is the best gamble you can ever make, because the product is a win-win. Finally, God forbid you slap one on and you’re allergic to latex. You’ll have to deal with the wrong type of eruption.

As for sexually transmitted diseases, those are not real. Go bareback or go home, kids.

THE END

            I know, I know. Shut up. I don’t know what I was thinking.

            Here’s the best part; we get to class that day, and the teacher randomly decides to have some students read their essays out loud, starting with me. You can imagine how that went.

Long-Term Struggle-town

When you get out of a long-term relationship, you forget how to live for a while. Everybody does. You’re alone, and suddenly making an omelet is bungee jumping into a boiling Mt. Vesuvius. Driving to McDonald’s becomes something like climbing the four flights to your apartment, something that you’d just rather not do. So you decide never to leave again, because the journey back is too risky. I remember one morning after a particularly intense breakup, I literally napped on my tile kitchen floor from 9am til 3pm, then crawled to the couch and slept until the next morning. I woke up with a blanket on me, and note from my roommate telling me not to eat his Milano cookies. It is debilitating, really, to lose the person that you spent so long with, they had melded into the fabric of your existence. I ate the cookies.

You start asking the logical questions. Shower? Why shower? Who’s going to smell me now? HAHAHA, GOODBYE MANSCAPING, BECAUSE NO ONE’S GONNA SEE. Screw working out, only my wolf-themed blankets are going to be feeling this body. If this person you trusted to want you forever decided your abs weren’t cut deep enough, then why bother?  Why drink, eat, laugh, write, succeed, when you’ve already failed with someone who you had in the bag?

In pour the phone calls. Texts. Little facebook messages popping up (yes, you can’t manage to shower, but you can facebook, you have to see what your newly minted ex is doing). Friends that mean well, friends that you are ashamed to admit your monumental failure to, friends that don’t want to overwhelm you with their concern. You don’t want to be a burden, so you push them away when all you really want is a bed full of friends that will never leave you, that can get you tea and burgers and tell you that you’re worth something while watching Arrested Development on Netflix.

Speaking of friends, this when you get to start the friendship war. You know, those battles where you mentally start to claim who is really yours, and who is your ex’s. Oh yea, Laura is hers. Nate, mine. Katie? Who does Katie belong to, who gets dibs? We all met at the same time. She’s a girl, so my ex has the edge. But Katie has fantastic breasts, and I’ve thought about touching them someday, so I’d like to hold on to her. Lists compile in your mind, running off like ticker tape, the names of who you are sure are yours, who you are sure you have lost, and those that you will have to battle for. It’s the Gettysburg of friendship.

Then hits self-evaluation. Or if you are anything like me, self-incrimination. Was I not emotionally available? Was I too nice, too much like Zach Braff? Fuck, maybe I wasn’t dark and mysterious enough. Or dangerous. Maybe I should have lit fireworks in the yard or something, or watched Fight Club on continuous loop. Your mind is racked with a battalion of Maybe. You search for anything to make them feel like they don’t really know you, like there is more fascinating stuff to unearth. Truth is, they had you figured out long ago. Around year one there isn’t much else for them to discover; you work out only after Bowflex commercials, you want to be famous but have little direction to get there, you like to be on bottom but with your back propped up (so you don’t feel lazy), and the best meal you can cook is toasted bagels with strawberry cream cheese. Well damn, maybe there wasn’t much for them to hold on to.

So you plot out where your life will go from here. You commit yourself to writing them a song for every week you are apart until you reunite, like the power of your soulful tunes can lure them back in. You work out harder, because no one can resist a vein riddled twenty-four pack. Might as well add in some new hobbies to cultivate interest, so you study biodynamics, marine biology, and rock climbing. That way when you happen to run into them on the street, they will see your rippling arms and mountain climber gaze, eyes that have seen the Earth’s tallest peaks (soon), they will faun over pictures of the baby seals that you might save at some point, and all you have to do after that is get your hands on them and work your biodynamic magic. Then boom! Sex! And there are your abs! It’s the reunification of the millennium.

You plot all this while the scalding water from the shower cuts through a week of unwashed grime, and you fruitlessly try to enjoy some self-love for the first time since the breakup.

Oh, the dreams. Sure, they’re different for everyone, but we all have things in common. They are there, and they are gorgeous, and they are just waiting for you to kiss them. Suddenly it’s all a big mistake, and if you could just push through this god-damned    slow           motion                  you                                             could                                make

it

ALL

BETTER but shit, your brain spasms before you reach them, and you are alone in your friendless, ex-less, Arrested Development-less bed.

Just rinse and repeat a million times, am I right?

But it’s not all like this. After a while, you manage to go to class, or work, or just for a walk around the block. You pass a cute twenty-something that offers a shy grin, and for a second your day is grand. Just – sunlight pouring through the post-Apocalyptic cloud cover for the first time ever – grand. Of course, your ex’s ghost slams into your chest and that cute twenty-something gets to look back and watch you crumbling into tears in a juniper bush, but it was an awesome second.

Your friends take you out to a bar, and you manage not to cry (bathroom doesn’t count, they didn’t see). Maybe, just maybe, you try to flirt with someone, and it comes out like a rusted bike chain, but it is something:

You: Hello.

Them: oh, hey.

You: You…um…Neil? You’re name, I mean…Neil.

Them: Hah, um…I’m Jackie. You’re Neil, I’m guessing?

You: I do like intercourse.

Like I said, not great, but it’s…something. You probably won’t have sex that night, which is good because you’d collapse in tears during the copulation, but hot damn you’re on the right track. It cycles like this for weeks, months, maybe years. Pride and self-loathing box it out in the back of your brain, but we are all human and we all do what we do best, which is go on.

Which brings me to my point. The point is…hmm. I’m not sure at this juncture, to be honest. It has been two years since my last long-term relationship. I still dream of this person, or sometimes the one before that. I still question, still wonder. But hopefully, you reach the place where you don’t regret.

Some of my best memories come from these relationships. It took me a long time to accept that no matter how angry I was at my exes, no matter how much time passed that I wanted to file away as ‘wasted’ on my timeline, I loved them at some point. And they helped me discover things that I loved about myself, about others, about life. I know it sounds vague, and I have no shame, so let’s give specifics:

One ex believed that I could do anything. Literally, anything. I would tell her my dreams, and she’d say “Yea, I can see you doing that. Do it.” Just like that. When I doubt myself, I remember that at least one person believed at some point that I was capable of doing anything that I set my mind to. If they can think that about me, then I can too.

Even if you can’t cook, try. It’s sexy, even when it burns.

Horror movies aren’t as sexy as I’d like them to be.

Shitty romantic comedies are sexier than I think.

Painting is sexy too. Who knew?

Bowel movements aren’t dinner talk, even if your best friend instigated the conversation.

With chivalry, go for broke. Open doors, stand when she arrives, always bring something when you visit. She will tell you if it’s ridiculous and you can scale it back, but you can’t introduce chivalry late in the game. That is weird.

Don’t be afraid of taller women.

Midgets are sexy people too.

Video games can be a fun, shared activity. But there better be bunnies, racing, or Mario. And if she wants to drive backwards down Rainbow Road and throw the whole race, that’s fine. Just breathe.

Never be afraid to share your passion. Unless it is animal porn. Keep that to yourself.

If you’ve drunk too much, don’t try to sneak through her window. It’ll break, someone will bleed, and be decidedly un-hot.

Honesty, honesty, honesty. If they’re going to leave, they’ll leave. Honesty = trust = not wasting time.

Be independent. You can’t exist with another until you can exist alone.

Be dependent. It’s confusing, I know, but you have got to be willing to share yourself, no matter how frightening that may be. If you’ve picked well, they’ll be kind, gentle, and worth it.

Finish strong and vocally.

My favorite quote of all time is by Donald Miller, who writes “Everybody has to change, or they expire. Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons. I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.”

Boom.

Take a moment and go over that quote again. Did it? Good. Let that world-altering piece of literary orgasms sink in. It makes so much sense. None of these things we’ve learned are invalidated because a person no longer wants to be with you. You aren’t validated by other people, and neither is what you have experienced. People change. As much as it absolutely sucks nutsack, and seems like such a crock of shit at times, people do change, and it is a perfectly reasonable explanation for someone moving away. Sometimes, it is just not your fault.

I mean, if you sleep with someone else, totally your fault dude. Stop fucking up.

You change, too. That’s what life is. Even if you manage to sit in one spot for a day, not moving a muscle, the time has changed, the weather has changed, and you smell gross so you’ve changed. Nut up and hop on board with the movement. Just because someone has moved on, that does not mean that what once existed wasn’t real, visceral, and meaningful. It wasn’t wasted time; it was part of your life. Which isn’t a waste. I hope.

Man, that got sappy, heavy, and cliché ridden. But I mean every word of what I write, so I hope this leaves you with something. Balls.

The Proposal of Improbability

(It’s been a while. For you repeat readers, I’ve put Trading Blows on the back-burner, because I’m working on flushing it out into a full-length novel. So what follows is a completely new thread.

As always, thanks for reading.)

Sometimes I shiver when I think about the improbability of meeting you. The sheer immensity of the probability that we would pass each other by, just fleeting, ethereal ghosts in each others’ consciousness. I shouldn’t have met you. It makes no sense that I did.

Ok, here’s why. I was supposed to be working a wedding that day. At 11am, my schedule should have consisted of hauling tables into romantic formation, dampening my catering tux with sweat, table grease, and someone else’s love. At 12pm, I should have been setting the happy couple’s silverware, probably two forks on the left, two knives on the right with a soup spoon on the outside, dessert fork and coffee spoon on top. Sucks really, a duet first course with soup and salad is a bitch to serve and clear. Only the happiest, and most ambitious of couples have a duet first course. My day was scheduled; perform menial tasks to help someone else’s big day for $13.50 an hour, and eat a hurried meal of reheated chicken parmesan using my fingers in a kitchen improvised from a hallway.

Where were you supposed to be? Somewhere beautiful, probably. Maybe a fancy lunch downtown, schmoozing with a new client, or being taken out by Bob (fucker). Fuck that guy. Sorry. You know my favorite thing about you? You’re always Light. I know, it’s weird, let me explain. Imagine being in a completely white room, fresh white walls, ceiling, floors. A blonde, tanned beauty in the middle, and unmitigated sunlight cascading through a wall of windows, through skylights, bouncing off the floors, walls, ceilings, every surface possible and it all reflects onto the woman at the center. Her skin is radiant, her teeth flashing, eyes clearer than Portland air. Overwhelmingly fresh. Light.

That’s how I see you. I don’t know how you manage it, but then again I don’t know how you manage anything you do. We would step out of the rain, like that one time into that Korean sushi place, remember, I’m just sopping wet despite my oversized camo-colored umbrella, God that weather sucked, I turn to you, you were in the exact same weather as me, sharing my stupid camo-colored umbrella, and you’re glowing. Light. It’s just pouring out of you, and despite my best efforts, I can’t be pissed about the weather, about you working late, my lack of cab fare. Man oh man, I don’t understand, and that scares me a bit.

We never should have met. That morning I felt the same way as I always do about catering. Aw, screw this, I could be creating something, playing video games, working out. Anything more productive than pouring cheap wine into shoddy goblets en mass. I have one red sir, one white ma’m, get over it. Or tip me, and we’ll see what I can do, maybe I can scrounge up a grigio.

Anyway, I cater because I don’t have the drive to do much else. Just ask my parents. I don’t have the stomach to do things unless I absolutely love them, and in catering it’s easy to barely do anything. A perfect match. But, to my credit, I had never called off. My misplaced sense of pride and ego wouldn’t let me beg off a job to sleep in, to party down, whatever. If I commit to a job, I’m in, no matter how much I hate it.

That morning though, I woke up in front of a mountain. An insurmountable mass of rock and snow stood between me and my tux. So I did the natural thing anyone would do when they discover a new geological formation in their closet; I detoured to the shower to see if I could uncover some climbing equipment in the scalding water. After an hour, I emerged with only one tool to work with, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to use it to climb a mountain. So I danced around the base of the mountain in front of my tux, grabbed some dirty clothes from the bar last night off the floor where I threw them in my inebriation, and stumbled out my front door.

I did something that I never do. While I’m not good at making it, I’m incapable of not thinking about money. Sure, other thoughts intersperse themselves in my brain, but money always re-injects itself. My thoughts look like this:

Where am I gonna make money?

That’s a cute puppy. I want one. Wait…I need money.

OH SUSHI. I have no money. Let’s charge it and feel guilty.

Damn, she’s sexy (money).

I should (money) shave. What? I can’t shave. I need money.

I’d enjoy Argo if Ben Affleck could spare me a couple bucks.

COME ON BEN, JUST SPOT ME A HUNDY.

Everything has its season, everything (money) has its time (money)…

Ah, concentrate. Just like, twenty more thrusts. AH. NO. HOLD IT. AHHMONNEEYYYYYAHHHHHHH.

You get the idea.

But as I stumbled down four flights to the busy Chicago morning in yesterday’s alcohol-stained clothes, I forgot about money. I forgot about my work obligations. All I could think about was Light. So I got on the street, and walked to where I knew the most Light was; the beach. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I knew the sun felt good on my hermit-induced paleness, and after apparently spending the night in front of a mountain, I just needed some warmth. Some Light.

I walked 1.35326 miles to reach you. I know, because I’ve become obsessed with that route. I google-mapped, I’ve used the car’s odometer; I even took one of those wheel measure things and walked the route. I’ve retraced it hundreds of times. Why did I walk that exact distance? A step more, a step less, I would have missed you, two ships in the night, that kind of thing. Hell, if I would have blinked, squinted in the sun, stepped in dog stuff, anything, we would have wandered past each other and then its endgame for us.

I don’t believe in destiny. It doesn’t exist. There is no God-laid grand scheme to things. I can’t accept that our lives are programmed by the step. Which makes this all the freakier.

What the hell were you doing there anyways? I know, Bob (that fucker) canceled on your lunch, you had no client meetings, the gallery is closed on Saturdays, but you’re the most popular person I know. You had ledgers full of backup men that are still chasing you, waiting for a free meal slot to pounce. You have clients calling nonstop for your representation, and who can blame them, but why didn’t one of them call? Why didn’t you call a girlfriend, why didn’t you lunch at home, at a restaurant, why did you skip lunch?! I know you. You are a hungry, hungry person. You don’t skip meals.

Man oh man. Thinking about this messes with my brains.

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer compared each human’s existence to the Sahara Desert. The dad was talking to his son, and the son didn’t understand what life was about, and that clever-as-hell dad said something like, ‘every person is like a grain of sand in the Sahara. What happens when you move?’ And the boy was all excited, and a little mentally challenged, which made it sweeter, and he goes ‘I changed the Sahara!’ Or something like that. Honestly, I don’t really remember, and I took it in the opposite direction anyways. Being a grain of sand means there are gazillions of other people just like you, and your location doesn’t really fucking matter. Life’s still going to look the same, boring and featureless.

But. But.

I was just a grain of sand, you were a sexier grain of sand, and you were on the grassy knoll before the beach, and so was I, I took the final step of the 1.35326 miles, and there was no blinking, and you picked that weed flower thing, the one with the white puffy ball on top, and a singular gust of wind blew, and I did not blink, and you held the flower weed thing out just so, and of the million tiny-ass seeds that blew in that singular gust of wind, one flew on a path of purpose, to a destiny which I don’t believe in, and I didn’t blink, and it smacked me right between my unclosed lids, into my right eyeball gazing at the sun, with my brain behind it unable to comprehend money or work, just Light, and the seed, so much like a grain of sand, just planted itself right into my eyeball.

FUCK, I shouted, I staggered blind, reaching for my eyeball, and I tripped over my saggy, alcohol-soaked jeans, falling all over myself, collapsing into a heap at your feet. Where, I have to say, I probably belong.

The improbability of all this really screws with my brain.

Why were you there? Why are you filled with so much compassion, so much love, so much Light that you would feel compelled to bend over an incomplete, smelly stranger, take his face in your hands, and ask him if he was alright?

I will never be able to describe what it felt like when you touched me. But I’ll sure as hell try. My reality…shifted. It’s like the world turned up a notch, the world goes to eleven now, you can’t just make ten better, it goes to eleven. It’s like I was struck by that alien light thing from Phenomenon, but the gift I got was seeing you. So much better than telekinesis and John Travolta. I imagine that it’s like the Wizard of Oz, when reality switches from black and white to Technicolor, a Technicolor romance. But imagine that you lived completely in black and white, like you lived with Dorothy on her hallucinogenic journey, and you were fully present when suddenly the world started dripping with color. You’ve never seen color before, and suddenly the world is just bursting with it, everything, even your hands are a vibrant pink instead of a dusty grey. Just try to imagine that shit. That’s what I felt. That’s how I still feel.

Point is, you’re everything I never knew I was missing. I’ll never understand why you were on that hill, why the hell I was there, why it seems like some big equation that I absolutely don’t believe in was solved by you lifting me from that crumpled heap of my life.

What I accept is this; I love you more. You’re amazing, and beat me in every category of life, but the amount of love you draw from me will never be equaled. So don’t even try, Jessica. Don’t even. I don’t accept destiny, but I believe in color, in grains of sand, in Light.

(Special note. Make sure you’re on your knee before you do this.)

Jessica. You’ve given me everything, and I want to spend the rest of my life trying to give even a grain of sand back.

Will you marry me?

Trading Blows: Round Three

(If you haven’t already, read Trading Blows: Round 1 and 2 if you want to understand what the hell is going on. Oh and thanks for reading.)

I manage to drag myself to the living room couch, wrap myself in our rainbow throw blanket Michelle crocheted a while back, and sleep falls on me like a damp towel; uncomfortable, but there is no alternative. It’s funny, because Michelle for the most part is the badass of our relationship.  She loves to slam idiots with her lawyer knowledge, isn’t afraid to ask for stuff off the menu at restaurants, and loves being on top. Control is kind of her thing. But she has a weakness, a chink in the suit of badassery that simultaneously scares and thrills me; she loves to crochet.  Not likes, loves. This rainbow blanket, plus the majority of the others in our apartment. Uncomfortably warm socks. Sweaters that actually fit quite well. She even knit herself a thong and boxers for me (we tried them out, then threw them out – it just felt weird). She can show off and lawyer all she wants, but even when she’s crocheting in her pants suit I can’t help but see her as the young, adorable girl she must have been (not sexual, people).

Well, there are no other blankets within reach, so I settle for rainbow cuddling, Michelle-made or not and pass out.

The soulful summons of Sinatra pulls me from my sleep. “For when your lonely heart has learned its lesson, you’d be hers if only she would call…” I poke my head out from the crochet-cave and check my phone. It’s Tom, my brother, and its 10:15.

“Fuck” is all I can manage to say, over and over, while I silence Tom’s call and streak around the apartment grabbing the stuff that I need for class. The class that I’m teaching, at 10:30, that I should already be at, setting up everyone’s stations. Again, fuck. I throw on some jeans, a wrinkled t-shirt from the floor that says Prostitutes Blow on it, and my black fedora to hide my bed-head. Forgoing the toothbrush route I steal some gum from Michelle’s drawer, chew the shit out of it, snag my paint bag and the canvas from my studio, and bolt out the door.

Luckily the studio is just a couple blocks north, so I sprint to it, or at least I do my version of sprinting which consists of running a couple steps, breathing heavily, walking quickly, and repeat. Stumbling past the main desk to my classroom at 10:28, I feel like I’m back in college again, though the class attendees are all old enough to be my teachers and they are paying my lazy ass. Bumping through the door I glance around and see that I have a smaller group today; about ten moms have made it to splash paint with their hands.  I wheeze out a breathless hello and toss everything onto my desk, trying to play it cool, like I was in the nonexistent teacher’s lounge doing push ups. Or something.

“Alright. Today,” big breath, “we are going to,” big breath, “be working on a new project.” One sentence down. I can do this. Though this is the precise moment I remember that instead of making a game plan for class, I was fighting to keep myself from falling apart last night. Big breath.

“We’re, uh, we’re going to do something a little different. I want you all to take out a fresh canvas, and, um, close your eyes.”

The ladies look at me and each other with open skepticism, but I frantically wave my hands at them and they acquiesce. Thank God they’re listening, now this buys me a little time to improvise. I look around the room, the recent ‘accomplishments’ by my students plastering the concrete walls, and mentally register for the first time who is in class.  There is Matilda, a 50ish mother of two, sitting in the front. Her kids are at college; she does this to keep herself from joining her useless husband in depression. Natalie, a mid-40s, overweight brunette that fancies herself a hippie though her husband is a manager of an Applebee’s, in the front. Kate and Maggie, late 30-somethings, roommates if I remember correctly and also lesbians, sitting in the second row to my left. Then there are the three Ann’s, who all kind of look the same, manage to always sit together in the back, and in my brain are one big entity. Just to my right is Julie, or Jules, who is more a friend than a student, and who I managed to accidentally go out on a date with once.  More on that later. The last is Allison, a semi-recent widow whose shock of curly red hair manages to semi-mitigate the pain in her stunning baby blues.  Overall, a pretty engaging class roster.

“I want you to imagine something.” Smooth, I’m doing great. “I want you to pull from your past a time when you felt…uh, wronged.” Sudden intake of breath; I didn’t know where I was going with this, but I did not expect ‘wronged’. Oh well, lets keep going. “Think back to when something went haywire in your life.”

“This has to have happened to us?” One of the Anns, lets label her Ann-1, calls out with her eyes still closed.

“Uh, yes.” I didn’t know that there would be any questions, the instructions seemed simple. “It has to be something close to you, something personal.”

“My parrot flew away a couple days ago. Does that count?” Ann-2 says, raising her hand after she’s spoken. What is she, high? Whatever.

“As long as you cared about your parrot, sure it works,” I say.

“Does it have to be a loss?” asks Kate the lesbian.

“Yes sure, whatever, it just has to hurt,” I chew out. They’re getting on my nerves. The room is filling with tension, and they start to quiet down, until…

“How are you and Michelle?” That bullet is fired by Matilda, my pseudo-mom, and I look up to find Matilda, Jules, and Allison staring at me.

I have made a huge miscalculation. Most of the women in this class have, or are old enough to have had, sons of my age.  Most have spent hours with me discussing art, sex, the benefits of Crayola. For me to think that I could interact with them for more than five minutes while my personal life is disintegrating and to be able to hide it from all of them was a big mistake. It’s like having a ten-headed super mom, with nuclear feeling detectors.

“We’re, uh,” cough, big swallow, “that’s not the, uh…nope.” Not exactly an answer. My voice is cracking. I need to get a grip. I see their faces wrinkling with concern. “Just keep your eyes closed, please.”

Jules, Allison, and Matilda all do so, albeit reluctantly, and I move forward, trying not to get bogged down in the reality outside the room.

“Just imagine some kind of loss. Any kind. Once you have it, focus on how it made you feel. Angry, depressed, rejected, betrayed, whatever. Now let your mind translate those feelings into color.”

I’m doing it. This isn’t bad. I look around the room, and the moms are all fidgeting, their faces scrunching and squeezing as they try to physically dig through their own psyches. It’s fascinating, watching their faces as they reminisce on their private pasts. Maybe it’s the onset of my crippling loneliness, but these women look beautiful at this moment, even the unhappy hippie. My gaze has moved to Allison, the slight bags under her eyes marring her dove complexion. We have a new connection, Allison and I; the loss of our significant other. Granted, hers is entombed in wood and sod while mine is alive, just riding another dude, but still.  As I start to make a mental Venn-diagram of whose sorrow is worse, Allison’s eyes pop open, and she fixes me with a pointed stare.

“Do all the feelings have to be negative?”

“Isn’t losing someone a bad thing?” I ask. She pauses, and I can see her mind ticking away.

“Yes, but I think there is some joy to be found in what was, right? When you lose someone there’s pain, but it can be calming to know that they’ve moved on.”

“Wha…?” I can’t even finish my question; I’m staring at her like she’s grown a dong on her forehead. “How can you find joy in someone moving on?!” I practically spit out those last words. The anger from last night is starting to boil over.

“Well, I…”

“They just fucking left you! Up and left you to wallow in the, the, bombed-out remains of what was yours!” By this time everyone in class is staring at me, all of the Anns mouths are agape, and little mutterings of admonishment are being voiced as I barrel forward.

“Everything you loved is gone. Screw memories, memories are nothing but wasted time, wasted space in my life that I cleared out for her until she fucking threw it away!” My breath is pouring out in heaves; I can feel fire racing through my pores, my veins humming with unconfined wrath. For a moment it feels great, like I can control something.

“Fuck those who left. Fuck ‘em.”

Complete silence for a moment.

“Alright, class is over for the day,” announces Matilda, her authority billowing through the room like a sea storm. Slowly my fire dampens as I watch Allison’s eyes well with tears, her mouth forming noiseless phrases that thunder into me nonetheless. She deliberately packs each paint and brush, willing herself not to sob in front of me. The Anns, the hippie, and the two lesbians quickly file out, and Jules does what I’ve come to learn is what she does best. She slaps me.

“What the hell were you thinking,” she hisses over the desk as Matilda helps Allison to the classroom door.

I gear myself to go to war, because that slap really hurt, but one look into Jules’ slitted eyes clams me up. Her fury would totally beat the shit out of my fury. She’s enraged by how I hurt Allison, but she’s also probably still stirred up about how I accidentally dated her. More on that later.

“Wait Julie, wait a second.” Matilda steps in after closing the door behind Allison. “Neil, what happened?”  Matilda didn’t miss my slip referencing ‘her’ while screaming earlier. She’s an attentive depressive pseudo-mom.

You know, I want to tell her. It would feel great to spill out everything, to let somebody else take on some responsibility, to help me carry this newfound burden that is sitting on my shoulders like a sack of bricks, but I can’t. The instant Matilda walked over and offered the proverbial bucket to spew my problems into, I was shamed. Or, rather, I became instantaneously aware of the shame lurking around the corner, ready to spring out the moment I publicly acknowledged that I was being cheated on.

I’m a cuckold. Michelle may not be my technical wife, but two years is a long time. I’m the man that cannot hold onto his long-time lover. Who cannot please her enough, who is missing something because she has to go fuck another man to find it. Worse, though this may seem like common sense, there is a dude out there that is making me a cuckold. Some guy I don’t know has turned my existence into a piece of shit. And, it’s still happening. Fuck it, I am not ready to admit to these women, and through them to the world, that I’m a piece of worthless shit. I level my gaze at Matilda, and something deep in me hardens.

“Nothing, Matilda. It’s nothing.” My older, wiser students both look at me, and though they know that I’m lying, they don’t press further. They see something in me that quiets them down, and I can only guess what it is. What I do know is I need to do something. I need to find out why. I need to know where, how many times, is it purely physical, is it emotional, which is worse, does it even matter? I need to find out who he is. Why he is in contact with my life. Does he know about my life? I need proof, I need answers, I need to confront Michelle. There are so many needs, but the one most foreign to me is the one that prevails. Maybe this is what the women saw in me, made them hurry through their hushed goodbyes and abandon me to myself in my barren classroom.

I need to hit something.

Trading Blows: Round Two

Trying to lie still next to someone I loved is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do.  I say loved, like something past, but that’s not the whole truth. This ball of indecipherable strings is impossible to untangle, so for now the love line is buried, the hate line is buried, everything buried in this in-articulated mass that has been winding since I found the cufflinks and tie wrapped behind the toaster on the counter, an accidental gift.

But physically trying to rest next to this mystery Michelle without waking her up is a daunting task that I don’t think I can handle.  They say that everything you know about a person can change on a dime, but I didn’t believe it until the dime became the size of a car, fell out of the sky, and splattered me on the kitchen floor. My body feels like it’s been pummeled, bruised all over, and my sweet spots on this bed aren’t working.  My go-to position – flat on my back with my pillow tucked slightly to the right so I can rest my head on my cheek – hasn’t lulled me to sleep, I tend to asphyxiate when I lay on my stomach, and I’m sure as hell not going to spoon Michelle.  I’m running out of options, my body is a screaming mess, and my mind is no better.

I turn on my side to face Michelle, slow as a sloth, and I look at her in the moonlight pouring in through the bedroom window.  She’s wearing one of my old high school shirts, all stretched, faded and holy, complete with the red and white cartoon mustang glaring at me on the back, with the slogan in bold, “Get a leg up…on LIFE!” I’m trying, cartoon mustang, I’m trying.

Michelle stirs slightly, pulling her cheek deeper into her pillow, and I catch my breath. If she wakes up and sees me, she’ll know something is wrong.  When you wake up and your significant other is staring at you, sweating and twitching like a four year old on sugar, it’s pretty obvious.  Then she will drill me until I confess, as if it’s my secret to keep. I haven’t prepared my statement yet.

At this moment, all I want to do is watch her sleep and pretend that this goddess lying next to me is mine. And I’m hers. And we are all that each other will need, until we grow old and one of us loses our memory and we need Ryan Gosling, soaking wet in the rain on a dock, to bring our shared consciousness back.  Michelle and I have, had, this running gag where we press our foreheads together, and we’d pretend that everything we’ve ever thought and felt would flow between us until we became one. It was our way of opening up to each other. One afternoon our senior year, on some random patch of grass on campus with grossed out freshmen staring on their way to class, we lay with our foreheads touching for what seemed like hours. There, stretched out on a pink and purple blanket I had procured from the dollar store, we willed ourselves to push everything we had into the other. At some point, Michelle opened her luminescent eyes, kissed me on the nose, and said it was, ‘like, mind-meld honesty.’ I’ll never forget that.

I want to grab her by the shoulders, lock my forehead to hers and scream. Scream at her to push everything into me, to make it like it was, to make me see our life the way she does, to help me understand why she finds it worthless. I want to know why I’m not enough. I want her to cry, to drain out every dark, dusty closet confession that she has until they melt in a puddle on the floor and drain through the cracks in the boards to somewhere else, somewhere we don’t have to believe in them. I want her to tell me that she loves me, that it was some type of honest mistake, to somehow pull the rabbit out of the top-hat and show me that it was all an illusion, the deck is and always will be fixed in my favor. I want her to kiss me. I want her to kill me.

I can’t shake these thoughts, my forehead is drifting for hers, and I can just see her waking up, headbutting me, then asking me what the hell I’m doing, so I get out of bed. The confines of our room feels like a jail cell, and I burst through the door, kicking it open like an action hero. Too late I realize what I’ve done, the door slams into the door stopper, and that springy-fart noise they all make as it recoils rips through the apartment. I can be an idiot sometimes.  I turn, fully expecting to come face to face with the wrath of a beautiful, cheating, divine whore of a partner, but she’s still laying there, asleep in the moonlight.  I turn on my ninja stealth as I close the door, and pad into the kitchen.

I want to die. Just end it all. I mean, not literally, I’m way too cowardly to willingly experience pain or anything like that, and the sight of my own blood makes me faint so I wouldn’t be very successful if I even tried, but I’d give anything at this moment to wink out of existence. To just dissipate into the air grate, disseminate into the secrets of the cosmos, and reincarnate as a tiger or  komodo dragon. Anything badass.

I freeze and close my eyes in the kitchen, willing myself to dissolve. Nothing happens, and the mental image of Michelle bucking away, red-faced and screaming on some Calvin Klein model keeps jumping unbidden into my brain, so I give up and walk into my studio, a tiny box of a room just beyond the joint living room/kitchen space.  It’s when I step into my studio that I realize I’ve been holding my breath since the door slam, and I exhale like a diver coming up for air after having seen the sharks, and decided that he needed a career change. I can breathe here, on this side of the apartment. This room is my space. This is where I create good things, bad things, genius things, dull things. Whatever I make here is mine. It’s just four white walls, a hardwood floor, and a closet, but there is one enormous window that seems to have this innate ability to catch all light, so I throw up a stand and blank canvas in front of the window, perfectly illuminated by the moon. I mentally thank the window, give it a little nod, and sit on my painting stool, setting out my paints as I try to make my mind as blank as the canvas.

My phone rings. Bon Iver’s mournful voice starts to flood the apartment, so I hop up and track the phone down as quickly as possible, checking it as I close the door to my studio. It’s my mom.

“Hey Mom.”

“I’d like to place an order for your ShamWow, please.”

Now would be a good time to explain about my mother. She has early-onset Parkinson’s disease.  It crept into her hands around her 33rd birthday, and has since wormed its way everywhere else. So she lives in a nursing home in Florida, just shy of having her third 45th birthday, constantly re-remembering that she has two sons, a dead husband, and cable television.

“Mom, its Neil, not ShamWow.”

“Neil? When did you start working for ShamWow?” She must have seem the commercial, picked up her phone to order, forgot the number, and dialed me instead. This happens a lot, with varying degrees of sadness and hilarity.

“Mom, I don’t wo…”

“I’ll take five please. These things are wonderful. Do you remember the those Brawny paper towels I use to use? And that Brawny man? He looks so much like your father. I should call your father…” And so it goes. She’ll keep talking to herself, forgetting who is on the phone with her, or that she’s even on the phone, especially since my brother Tom and I gave her a Bluetooth headset a couple Christmases ago. I gently set my phone on the window ledge with my Mom’s soft, southern voice floating through the room, and I start to work on my canvas for my 10:30 fingerpainting class I’m teaching tomorrow.

A flash of ocean blue down the middle of the white canvas, with the pads of my five fingers. Putrid orange streaks needling the blue like a pin cushion, with the edge of the middle fingernail. A swath of forest green underneath it all, cupping the bottom of the blue, with the heel of my palm. The most sickening mixture of green and brown that I can manage, I paint across my knuckles, then punch the shit out of the canvas for a couple minutes. Ninja punches though; I don’t want to upset my mom mid-soliloquy.  The contact leaves divots in the painting that the poo green mixture fills in, giving an eerie, bruising texture that pervades the blue, the green, the orange.

I figure I’ll give a mini-lecture tomorrow about channeling emotion into an abstract picture. I won’t tell them my story, I’ll emphasize avoiding the literal, but I’m sure the housewives will love it. What artist doesn’t like hearing that using emotion will create masterpieces?  Who doesn’t like being told that the rage, depression, and loneliness that we all will inevitably hold is  something useful, something that we can share instead of something that is crippling and isolating? Maybe I can get them to open up, to relate their own domestic disaster stories, and have a whole studio full of furious wives slapping the shit out of canvasses. Sounds like a plan.

My studio is warm, and I close my eyes and let my mind wander with my head in my hands, my mother’s voice having faded into the early morning air.  Across my mind’s landscape a group of 5’7, blonde bombshell housewives are dancing to ‘Like a Virgin’ in nothing but cerulean hip-length peacoats, when two soft hands tentatively press on my shoulders, pulling me back into the oblivion of my real life. I groan involuntarily as I realize that there isn’t a mostly-nude chorus of women dancing for me.

“Hey babe, I’m off to work,” Michelle whispers in my ear. “You know, stools aren’t usually used for sleeping. Go to bed.” She kisses me softly on the temple, the soft crush of her lips caressing my skin, her hair falling across my neck like a blanket, and I do my best to steel myself as she tussles my hair. ‘Like a rock’ is my internal mantra that flies on infinite repeat through my brain, but I’m more of a sponge than a rock, who am I kidding. The tears work their way out, my internal strings have been strummed too hard, and I double over sobbing with a violence that scares me, slipping from my stool to the floor.  After seconds that run like hours, or maybe its hours that shrink into seconds, I raise my head and look behind me. The living room is empty, the front door is closed, and our apartment is silent in the 6:00 am twilight. Part of me suspects that Michelle was part of the dream, but a quick glance shows me the bedroom door is open, and I remember ninja-closing it last night.

Tears still streaming down my face, I look at my canvas in the glow of the infant sunrise. Something is missing. I dip my index finger into the black paint I’ve left open, and scrawl FUCK YOU across the painting. Then I run the palm of my hand over the wet letters, obscuring the words. There. It’s abstract art now. Thank God for fingerpainting.

Trading Blows: Between Rounds (1 and 2)

A QUICK NOTE: This is a continuation of Trading Blows: Round 1. If you haven’t read that yet, I suggest you do. If you have…carry on.

We met the way most couples do. Michelle, lying gloriously naked on a lounge chair, and me, struggling to control my shameless erection under my paintbrush kit. Michelle, humming away to whatever wonders were pouring from her green earbuds, bravely presenting herself for art, and me, doing my best to remain professional and not get booted from class.

One skill that every man learns is how to hide his penis.  I promise this is related. Unless cursed with erectile dysfunction, every man will have to tackle (many times over) the moment when he inexplicably pops a boner, and needs to conceal it before the present company gets uncomfortable. It happens in business meetings, swimming pools, family dinners, church.  One minute you’re doing your best to listen to the pastor, the next your mini-head is at full mast, putting up the sail as if to say, ‘Hello friend. Let’s shake hands.’ There is no rhyme or reason, anything can set it off. A whiff of perfume, a glimpse of lace, a memory. At times there is no instigation at all; your woody just wakes.  So we train ourselves to deal with this quandary as quickly and subtly as possible, and accumulate strategies over time. Place a book over it. Pretend to stretch. Hope to God no one sees the lump under the blanket. We all develop techniques, most ending with the tuck up into the waistband, hidden behind the zipper. This usually works, but it becomes challenging when wearing gym shorts, because the fabric is so flimsy it’s hard to conceal, tucked or not, and there is no zipper to hide the bulge.

Which of course is what I have chosen to wear to class. Foresight is not my forte, so I didn’t thing twice about having to hide my ankle spanker in my gym shorts when I saw ‘Nude Portrait’ on the syllabus.  So there I am, torn between tucking my tummy tickler before the professor gets close, and gazing at Michelle every moment I have.  Professor Norberte, with his untamed shock of white hair and a penchant for bow ties, has a set of hawk eyes, and any insubordination is met with a swift boot from class.  I’ve met this fate a couple of times, so it is of utmost importance that I deal with this protuberance without drawing attention.  I slip into my chair, slide my brush bag over my bop gun, and slowly rotate both the bag and my erection towards the almost flimsy waistband of my Adidas shorts. I think I’m being smooth, clever even, until I happen to glance up and Michelle’s staring at me.

Its funny; when I registered that I was shoring up solid, all I could think about was not embarrassing myself in front of you. Granted, the Prof was a problem, but he was the devil I know. And yes, I understood that its basic manners not to show you my candy cane in public, and that it was highly unprofessional that day in particular because you were naked for art, but I cared beyond that. I knew that it was my destiny to know you. One glance into your almond eyes, and it was of the utmost importance that I discover what your favorite ice cream is (Rocky Road with a light drizzle of caramel), if you liked sleeping on the right side or left (whichever has the fan), who was playing through your earbuds.  Through some electro-shot of ESP I knew, walking into that class, that I would be with you from this Valentine’s Day through the rest of eternity, so I better start brainstorming grandiose ideas.

I freeze. We’re sharing prolonged eye contact, and I won’t dare to draw Michelle’s attention lower than my eyes, so I leave my paint bag where it is, propped up unevenly across my aching spelunker. Her long, curly brown hair is flowing down the front of her chest, so it is easier to resist the innate pull of my eyes to Michelle’s ample bosom. Figuring that she was staring first, I decide this is as good a time as any to make my first move.  I lean as far forward as my erection will allow.

“What are you listening to?” I whisper.

“What?” Michelle, not catching the need to be discreet, doesn’t whisper.

“I, um…I asked what you were listening to,” I hiss. I’ve already managed to make this awkward, I lean back to beat a hasty retreat, and in swoops Professor Norberte.

“Problem?”

“No sir.” There is a problem.  I wish I would have finished my trouser-trout tuck before talking to Michelle. Like I said, lack of foresight, too much of foreskin.

“Well then, I suggest you set up your paints. Now.”  His eyes are burning under his tumbleweed eyebrows; he is itching to root out insubordination, a hawk straight out of the bowels of crotchety-teacher hell.  The other ten or so students in class have already set their stations and are raring to go, so Professor Norberte decides that my tardiness is a challenge to his reign over the class. Instead of leaving me to set up by myself, he chooses to perch over my shoulder until I have accomplished his assigned task. He can smell blood.  I glance over at Michelle, who is still starting at me intently, with what I hope is a inkling of a smile starting to curve the side of her mouth. My brain should be formulating the plan to hide my ovarian pool stick before I stand, but it’s drowning in the curves of Michelle’s lips.

“Now.” There is no budging room here. The bird of prey has found his victim, and unless I acquiesce he will swoop in for the kill, banishing me from Michelle forever.

I had just managed to tuck the very tip of my skin flute into my waistband, so I take a deep breath, think fuck it, and I stand to set up my canvas.  For a second it seems the bulge will stay aiming skyward, so I remove the bag that I’ve been holding to my waist and start to take out my paints.

“Very good,” Professor Norberte says, his eyes still luminous, and he steps forward to slap one claw onto my shoulder, congratulating me for not disobeying his order.  The moment he does, out of the waistband falls my pleasure picker, and with it goes both the Professor’s eyes, every other student’s eyes, and Michelle’s. In these gym shorts the fabric offers no resistance, so there I am standing at attention, in all my 12-inch glory (estimates vary).

And I don’t know what to do. If I reach and tuck now, I’m actively acknowledging that yes, the class is staring at my schnitzel. I can’t bring myself to check how Michelle is handling it, so I glance at Prof. Norberte instead.  He is shaking. His face has turned beet red. There is sweat building on his brow. It is like he is having all of the reactions I should be having; this is bad.  He gasps in one huge lungful of air, then drops the hammer.

“HOW DARE YOU BRING THAT TO MY CLASSROOM?!”

“Um…” I start, confused, and he takes a little pause to hear me out. He’s percolating, gathering ammo for his full assault. So, I continue with the logical answer to his inquiry.

“…it’s not like I can detach this.”

He roars. Not in a he-yelled-so-loud metaphorical way, he actually roars.

“Grraaaahhhhhhh!!!!” I flinch. It’s not everyday that your teacher does a growl from The Lion King.

“Get the hell out of my classroom!!! This disrespect will not stand! You will never return to this class! I’ll have you removed from this department!!” It continues, on and on, a never-ending stream of exclamations. Later, my counselor will tell me that when being interviewed by the head of the art department about why he wants me removed from the School of Art, Professor Norberte will say only one word, ‘Disrespect.’ The old man couldn’t articulate the horrors he had to face when he met my baby-maker. I take pride in that.

I decided now is a great time to tuck my tallywhacker, so I do while Norberte is exhorting the gods of art to smite me, and I hear a suppressed snort. While I scramble to make sure my tools are together, I slip a look at Michelle, who has nonchalantly slid a hand over her mouth.  She’s doing her best to hide her laughter, but she’s forgetting she is still butt-naked. Her abs are spasming, and her chest and neck have turned beet red.

“This is not funny,” I say, giving her my best ‘I’m-your-goofball-life-partner’ grin, and she snorts again.  Professor Norberte is practically shoving me out the door with his voice, but I have to get one more shot in.

“Erections in the classroom are a serious epidemic. This is no laughing matter,” I say, giving her the gravest look I can muster under the circumstances. She bursts with a full-bellied laugh, doubling over her knees, toes curling, hair getting caught in her mouth. I don’t even know this girl, this Michelle, but I’ve seen more of her in five minutes than I’ve ever seen of any other woman, and it is gorgeous. A girl that can full-belly laugh stark naked in a room of strangers, because of my third arm of justice that is standing out because of her…here’s a keeper, folks.

Norberte then stands in my face and continues his scream fest, and there’s already a crowd of onlookers at the door, so I beat a hasty retreat to the hallway and collapse on the bench outside the classroom. I’m shaking, and it could be from any number of things. I’ve exposed myself to the class. I’ll be eviscerated by my classmates.  I’ve probably been kicked out of the art department, if Norberte follows through. I could lose my scholarship. I probably just killed my career at this university in more ways than one.

And I’m definitely in love.

An hour later I’m sitting on the bench outside of the dean’s office, my head in my hands. You’d think that the thoughts swarming my brain would be about my academic future, what my parents will do. But really I’m just kicking myself over and over about how I royally fucked up being given permission to stare at the most beautiful woman I’ve seen, completely naked, for over an hour. These opportunities are few and far between, and all I managed to get was a minute or two. That’s at least fifty-eight minutes of heaven I destroyed.

“Earth, Wind, and Fire,” floats a soft voice floats past me. I pause to enjoy the melody in those words, but assume they aren’t for me, so I resume mentally kicking my own ass.

“September, specifically. I know its cliché, but it mellows me out during stressful situations.”

I peek from between my clasped fingers that are covering my eyes, and across the hall from me, leaning against the wall between a fake Andy Warhol and a gag Mona Lisa made to look like Homer Simpson, is Michelle. I don’t recognize her at first; she’s clothed.  She’s wearing tight, dark jeans, a flowing purple blouse, and knee height brown boots. In other words, she looks smoking…and I can’t seem to clear my throat.

“Marry me,” I force out, and she laughs. I’ve made her laugh every time I’ve seen her. That counts for something, right?

“Buy me a beer first” she says, heading for the door.

“Absolutely,” I gasp, following her down the hall like an orphaned puppy that just found its real owner, the one that will keep it forever.  I can meet with the dean and do my best not to get kicked out of school later. Another lesson every man learns; beautiful women always take precedence.

“Oh and one more thing,” Michelle says, turning over her shoulder and looking back at me. She pointedly stares at my shorts. “Try to control yourself this time.”

And with that, I follow her giggling like an idiot into the sunset. Happily ever after, probably.

Trading Blows: Round One

I knew something was wrong when the door was locked.  Michelle and I have lived in this apartment for two years, and while we are in the city, we aren’t in the ghetto, the building is safe. Our most dangerous neighbor is the Latvian chef that lives on the floor beneath us, and he’s only dangerous because he thinks waltzing around the complex with his chef’s knives on his belt makes him sexy.  The only time Michelle and I ever really lock our door is when we’re role playing, because she says the sound of the bolt slamming home turns her on. I, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, now salivate every time I hear the distinctive click.

But I’m not in the apartment, so the locked door doesn’t get me revved. Instead, an anxiousness starts to worm its way into my torso, like Frodo pushing through that nasty-ass web running away from the big-ass spider.  I’m arachniphobic, its pathetic I know, but when that big furry tartantula thing stabs Frodo, I just about puke every time. Ah, this is besides the point.  I toss LOTR imagery along with the paintbrushes in my beaten shoulder bag, searching for my keys.

As I grab the keys in hand they start to shake, and I’ve got an enormous knot tightening behind my eyes. It’s like this locked door is emanating radiation, and at this rate I’ll be toothless, bald, blind, and fucked by Japanese government before I can say tsunami.  With a final lurch of my vibrating hand I ram the key into the lock, barrel through the door, and fall to my knees on the hemp ‘welcome home’ mat. I found this guy last year in an evicted apartment three floors down, and it makes me absurdly happy each time I step on it.  As I stare at the worn smiley face and I try to match his grin, my body takes on a semblance of normality. I flash the smiley a peace sign, take in a deep breath of herb-tinged air, and climb to my feet.

“Ooh, back for more, huh?” Michelle coos, her back to me, as she steps from the bathroom, resplendent in just her bath towel, her soaking hair falling down smooth back in waves.

“Always, baby,” I say in my best Austin Powers imitation, and her body gives a little jump as she turns to me. It’s almost as if she’s surprised I’m the one who answered, but I chalk it up to the Austin Power voice. It can be downright freakkay bayybayy.

Michelle tiptoes over to me, arms crossed on her towel-laden breasts, and pecks me on the cheek.  Like every time I see her, I marvel at how symmetrical her face is. She has the features of Grecian statue, but her skin is, you know, not gray.  Her eyes are an almond brown with unnatural flecks of grey, her cheekbone are high and fine, and her lips are thin and smooth. She really has the features to be a model, but she’s just 5’3, so she decided she didn’t want to fight with the amazons, and became a lawyer instead.

“Hi babe.”

“I didn’t order one of these until later,” I say, sliding my hands underneath her towel. My sexy talk has always been sub-par, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

“You didn’t,” says Michelle.

She pecks me on my other cheek, then walks to the bedroom and shuts the door, without so much as a backward glance.  I stand still, grappling with my raging hard-on, and wondering how I had confused the signals.  Yes, my sexual memory always tends to favor me, but I am pretty sure Michelle had started the dirty talk when I walked in the door, and not the other way around.

Taking slow, deep yoga breaths to relax my instantaneously charged sex drive, I throw my bag on our Formica kitchen counter-top and start to unpack my day’s tools.  With ridiculous reverence I untie my roll of horsehair brushes, ranging from pencil thin to a heavy 1 ½ inch block, and I turn my many projects over in my mind.  I have my fingerpaint class that I teach tomorrow at 10:30, which I have to try to whip up an impressive canvas for.  The class is full of under-sexed, under-talented housewives looking to unlock their inner artist, and I try to bring a new canvas for an example every week.  It’s petty, but I love to hear them ooh and aah over my fingerstrokes, and lets face it; some of these women are pretty hot.  Though many are domestic disasters, in every class there are the three or four women that have mastered the domestic sex kitten warddrobe, and are unabashed in how they flaunt it.  Bed-head hair wrangled in taught buns held together with paintbrushes, men’s oxford button downs that they tie up in just the right places to show just the right skin, and a whole range of Capri pants, yoga pants, or just good ole’ short shorts, as long as they hug their Pilates sculpted asses and thighs. They’re 30, they’re lonely, and I do my best not hug any of them for too long. Needless to say, it’s fun to make these women faun over my work.

It’s with this lecherous thought that I glance to my right and there, tucked tight behind the toaster, I see an obscenely American tie; red and white stripes on a field of blue, carelessly wadded up.  With the caution one treats an object that has mysteriously appeared in a private place, I loop and pull the tie out with the end of a paintbrush. When the wad unrolls, there are two metallic clinks on the counter as a pair of cufflinks appear on the porcelain, one adorned with the (you guessed it) American flag, the other with a smiling bald eagle. I’m not sure how the artist ever thought they would make a smiling bird attractive, but someone bought into it.

Problem is, that someone isn’t me.  My mind scrambles, trying to find the solution to the existence of these objects that my body has already figured out.  It is funny how the subconscious can ferret out details and make an honest assessment from something as minor as a punched lock, miles before the conscious mind can even comprehend that a tie that isn’t mine might indicate a problem.  While my brain tries to reason that it is some sort of gag gift for me, the sailor’s knot retightens behind my eyes and my stomach has all but abandoned ship.

Suddenly my body is has lost its buoyancy, and I topple to the floor. I can’t manage to lift an arm to break my fall, so I just accept that this is going to hurt and I slam flat on my back.  While the air flees my lungs like animals running from a forest fire, I notice that the spackle on the ceiling has a cracked design that resembles lightning.  Maybe my canvas for fingerpainting tomorrow could be lightning; I could use just the tip of my fingernail to create the thin, jagged arcs, running the lines with blues, greens, and a hint of orange.  It is easier to think about this than the obscenities on the countertop. I don’t have a particularly strong mental will, so I allow myself to indulge.  As I breathe fire and fantasize about lightning, Michelle’s voice floats to me.

“Hey, did you hear that crash?”

I don’t respond. The forest fire in my lungs is subsiding, but I’ve found that orange lightning looks really cool.

“What was that,” she calls again, peeved, sounding closer. She must be at our bedroom door, but answering still isn’t worth it. This ceiling is hoppin’.

“Babe?” she calls one last time, almost a whisper, and that lances through me like a dagger (of lightning!).  I groan as I say goodbye to the ceiling, and hello to the hardwood while I roll to my side.  I hear the bedroom door creak open and Michelle pads out calling my name. She’s found me on the floor, and she sets her hands on my shoulders to help me up, but I recoil because her touch is fire, and I don’t need any more of that at the moment.

“Are you okay? What happened?”  Michelle launches a flurry of questions at me, like I’m on the stand for trial, her eyes filled with concern, and a touch of anger at my lack of sharing.  I stare her in the eyes as haul myself up on a barstool.  There is so much I want to say. I want to ask her if she loves me. I want to yell at her for betraying me. I want to take her into me like I have so many times before. I want to shrug it off and get on with the combined life I thought we had. My body starts to shake; it is filled to capacity, unchecked things are about to pour forth, so I make a decision.

I peck her on the check, turn and sweep the tie, cufflinks, and my brushes into my handbag in one smooth motion, and face her once more.

“God that was stupid. I just slipped right off the barstool.”  I can taste the falsities on my tongue like bile. It’s not that I’m lying, that is what happened. I’m just not sharing everything, which feels just as deceptive.  As much as I like to fantasize that I’d make a great spy, I suck at not being forthcoming, especially with Michelle. My Michelle, with whom I’ve shared everything that I am for the past two years. My Michelle, who I’m pretty sure is cheating on me.

“It’s nothing.”

Bar Talk: Part Deux

To recap, I’ve just touched one of the immaculate curls of the Hera-esque redhead that I’m making awkward, jolting, fantastic conversation with, and I’m sucking down air like a fish tossed on the dock. I’ll blame my forwardness on the booze, but that Hurricane haze faded the instant this woman looked me in the eye, and now I have no liquid comfort to fall back on. Realizing that this isn’t some college party where everyone is drunk and gets friendly, realizing that I’ve touched this woman without permission, in public, after trying to compare her to failing foreign policies, I am starting to hyper-ventilate.

“Sorry”, I manage to squeak out at her between breaths; then I turn to the bar and bury my face in the drink in front of me. Actually, being buried alive right now wouldn’t be all that bad.

“Don’t be,” she giggles…and then giggles again, which is followed by a full-blown snort.  I pull my eyes from the drink just enough to see her doubled-over with laughter, bracing herself with one hand on the bar as her face turns as red as her hair. She’s really going for broke, her laughter filling the bar, as the mysterious roofie-producing (probably, I’m not sure) bartender looks our way, and backs up slowly.

I am so confused. So, I just keep drinking, though a smirk is coming to my lips. Her laughter is almost as infectious as her looks.

After a minute, she manages to regain her composure, sitting up straight on her barstool, though her lips are clamped shut and her torso is still vibrating with subdued giggles.

I can’t handle it anymore, so I ask her. “What was that?”  She looks at my drink, lets one giggle escape from those pouty perfection lips, and then looks me dead in the eye, which just kills me.

“Who’s drink is that?” she asks. I can see the laughter ready to burst from her again, and my confusion is turning to annoyance.

“It’s mine dri…oh my fuck,” I say, as I realize that this is a rum and coke, I finished my PRIDE Hurricane back at my table, this is the bar, I didn’t order at the bar, I just drank what was in front of me, at the bar, not at the table, I never order rum and coke so why would I drink this one, I don’t know who’s drink this is, but I drank it, was this person clean, will I get a disease, is this funny, this is funny, I can make this work, ok Neil let’s make this work.

And she just laughs uncontrollably, a full-bodied laughter that makes her collapse on the bar, her forehead resting on the dark wood as tears stream out of her eyes and make little puddles. I want to drink those puddles. Hell, I want to drink her.

I let her laugh a little while longer, and as she is regaining her composure for the second time, I say “I meant to do that.”

Bam, her head hits the bar again as her laughter rolls over me in waves, filling me up and emptying me of my nerves, of my loneliness, of my obsession with looking mysterious, and I start to chuckle along with her.

Once her head is back up and she’s uselessly resituating her still-perfect curls, oblivious to the mascara that has run down her face and looks like macabre clown eyeliner, I introduce myself.

“I’m Neil, and I’m and alcoholic.” I offer her my hand, and she plays along, shaking it firmly.

“I’m Katie, and I’m embarrassed,” she says.

“You’re embarrassed? I’m the one who probably just procured like ten communicable diseases from this,” I say as I swirl the offending stranger-drink, and though she giggles, there’s a slight wince too. I make a mental reminder not to talk about diseases with someone that I want to suck my lips (and penis), and I chug forward.

“You do got a little sum-sum right…here,” I say, as I slowly, gently take her face in my hands and wipe my thumbs at the scary clown lines of mascara. I’m cupping my hands right under her jawline, my fingers just barely running into the baby hairs on the back of her neck, and it takes everything in me not to just close the tiny gap between our lips and see what she tastes like. Her skin is silk, she smells like cinnamon and strawberries, and her eyes are ethereal pools of the clearest blue I’ve ever had the privilege to lose myself in.

The first time I touched her I was unsure, and I flew into shock. This time I’m confident, in control, and this is prolonged contact. She’s not pulling away or wincing, so I figure I haven’t overstepped my bounds. All in all, this is greatest moment of my life.

“Thanks,” Katie says after I’ve finished, and as I drop my hands, she puts her hand behind her head, gives me her best model face, and in the deepest voice she can muster asks me, “How I do look, baby?”

It’s clunky, sort of funny, sort of awkward…and I could not love it more.

“You look perfect.” And she does. “Wanna go for a walk? I think we’re both a little too embarrassing to be seen in this place any longer.”

Katie pauses, and I might have taken my confidence a little too far. Sure, this was fun and games, but under the lights of Times Square, I’m still a troll and she’s still a Grecian Goddess.

I imagine her thoughts go something like this; ‘Ok he was funny, but he doesn’t look anything like Hugh Jackman. And really, what kind of boy drinks a random drink. An idiot that’s who. So hell no, I’m going to stay here and pick up Robert Pattinson and then I’m going to fuck his brains out like the sex goddess I am. Then I won’t take his call after that, because there are so many Twilight cast members that I’m good looking enough to be with, including the women because I’m open to bisexuality.’ I’m sure those are her thoughts.

But yet again, Katie surprises me, and I’m a self-made fool.

“Yea, lets get out of here. I think I can see the bartender pulling out his roofies,” she says with mock terror. I’m dumbfounded, my jaw has splinters from falling open to the wooden floor, and I’ve totally sold Katie short in every way possible.

“Oh, come on,” she whispers.

Katie closes my mouth with one soft, elegant, purple nail-polished finger, feather kisses me on my lips, and guides me out into the lights of Times Square. I haven’t paid my bill, said bye to my friends (hopefully they’ll cover it), or regained the feeling in my legs since they turned to banana mush.  But Katie doesn’t care, so neither do I, and soon we find our rhythm in the tourist-laden crowd as she buries herself in my side, our fingers intertwined, our legs in step, and we bask in the glow of the Broadway marquis, McDonald’s advertisements, and the enormous harvest moon.

We walk, we talk, and I alternately ride between tension and freedom; captivated by the quirkiness, honesty, and beauty that is Katie, and capsized by my lack of height, charm, and ability to satisfy.  But Katie doesn’t seem to care about any of my fears or insecurities, and to me, that is perfect. I am with a perfect woman, and this is New York, so the possibilities are endless, right?

I wonder what she’s like in bed.

Bar Talk

I’m at this Louisianan bar/restaurant just north of Times Square, right on restaurant row, and I couldn’t be in better company. I’m splitting a table with three of my closest friends; Evan, Kevin, and Alvin (ok his real name is Alex, but doesn’t it sound better with all of them ending in ‘vin’?), and we’re splitting some appetizers and drinks. Just like at every other bar, I’ve managed to order the one drink that couldn’t look any less manly. The guys all have their mint juleps and whiskeys on the rocks, and I ordered the Hurricane, which sounds tough enough, until the sassy, disinterested waitress puts down this towering pink and orange affair in front of me, complete with a cherry and fluorescent straw.

Besides the fact that I yet again look like the fruit of the group (you know what, baby blue and purple do look really good on me, so suck it), I’m having a good time. If I was deserted on a tiny island, I’d want these guys here with me. Fuck food, I’ll snack on Kevin when he is sleeping, but that’s beside the point.  What I mean to say is this; I’m in the best of company, the people that I care the most, and no matter the shade of pink the liquor is, I’m getting happily drunk.

But there is this little twinge, this icy ball seeded curiously enough around where I think my kidney is, and I can’t put my finger on what exactly it’s doing there. It doesn’t hurt, I don’t think. It’s not a kidney stone, not an ulcer, not a heart attack that is somehow hitting me about two feet below where it should, no it is nothing physically life-threatening, but it won’t leave…and I’m not a doctor, so it actually might be life-threatening.  It tempers my jolly pink mood, wavers my concentration from my friends, and as I’m sipping my PRIDE Hurricane I start to think that this frigid spot is where loneliness manifests itself in me.

Seriously.  I’ve been single in New York for about three months now, I kissed one beautiful dancer (down the street from Times Square too, isn’t it just magical OH MAH GAWD) who danced back to her home in Europe, I fell in love with someone on the subway and said nothing, and I’ve gotten teary alone in my shower too many times to count. So ridiculous or not, this goddamned little chunk of frozen goods being stored in my side could definitely be the new materialization of how alone NYC can feel.

So when I see this kick-ass redhead sipping her martini at the bar, you know I fall hard.

God damn, she looks like a full-figured Isla Fischer, and my first instinct is to tell her that even though I’m more of an Owen Wilson type, I’ll totally be her Vince Vaughn. She can lie to me about being a virgin on the beach, and spray that stingy medicine on my fucked up knee because I won’t let her blow me in the bathroom, and propose to me that we sleep with a brazilian beauty together while I propose that we should marry, all of that crazy shit because honestly, if my biggest dilemma in life is that this redhead is TOO kinky, then there is a God.

She’s out of my league. Like I’m still in tee-ball while she’s pitching for the majors, that’s how her sexual prowess looms over me. This redhead is the kind of girl that I would see on the street and automatically look down as she passed, as if making point that I since I’m not overstepping my boundaries, since I know my place in the sexy hierarchy of sexiness, maybe she’ll throw my a bone and smile, or just flash me her panties. I’ll happily take either.

Now, before I tell you the rest, remember that I am drunk. This Hurricane, though it could successfully march in the PRIDE Parade, packs a punch. I’m sure it’s the drink that all the young cute girls order, so the bartender makes it extra strong in hopes that he can pick up at least one inebriated teen and take her home to his bartender pad, full of mystery and exotic booze and roofies.

So before I can change my mind, I slam back the rest of the Hurricane – and by slam I mean sip quickly through a straw, you can’t really ‘slam’ this tall curvy glass without spilling – tell my safety net buddies that I’m going to the bathroom because they would not condone what I’m about to do, and I try my best to look confident and walk to the bar without stumbling. Or drooling. I try to summon a mischevious gleam in my eye, try to adopt some mystery that the buff bartender seems to be so good at cultivating, and I sit myself on the barstool right next to the ravishing redhead, who is in midsip, and I say “Don’t.”

“What?” she says. Kind of pissed.

I turn my body so I’m leaning my back against the bar, letting her look at my right side, my good side, the vein shows just a little on that bicep and I don’t have as many acne scars from my youth on my right cheek.

“Don’t keep sipping that drink.” I’m internally praying to the gods of mystery and coy that I’m coming off, well, mysterious and coy.

She turns herself to me full on, and I’m not ready for her beauty this close up. My legs transform to overly ripe, bruised bananas, and it’s all I can do to not slide off my barstool and collapse on the floor in worship. She’s wearing a black skirt cut just above her knee, and it rides up every so slightly as she moves, letting me glimpse her smooth, muscular thighs, and I can’t help but wonder where those go, and what color panties I would meet along the way. I’m like a kid in toys-r-us, I’ve jumped from my lowly place on the sexual hierarchy by talking to this stellar Irish lass, and I’m about to be overwhelmed by her playthings. Her probably 34-C cup chest its barely covered by this whispy, silky top thing that I don’t understand but I thank God for, and she has this line of freckles that runs right up the left side of her creamy swan neck to her earlobe, it’s literally a map that God has drawn in freckles. Her cerulean eyes glint with fire, her perfectly plucked eyebrows narrow, her forehead wrinkles ever so slightly, and her plump lips that I would love to suck on purse together; she says one word, “Why.”

I didn’t plan this far ahead. I’m drunk. I can’t handle this pressure. I say the first thing that comes to my mind, which is, “Foreign policy.”

I figure short and simple will be best, even though I don’t know what the fuck I meant by ‘foreign policy’…but she hasn’t walked away just yet. Maybe she’s had a boring night, maybe she likes to string along pathetic, fruity-drink baby-blue wearing men like me, but something has kept her here for our fifteen second conversation, and she’s giving me the cutest WTF? look, so I figure that I might as well go for fifteen more.

“I’m sorry, I don’t do this, but I can’t just let you sit here and wield your weapons of mass destruction like you are.”

“Umm…”

“Look,” I say. “I’m just pulling a Bush Administration move here.  The way you…just are is inhumanely bombing the hearts of all of the men in this bar, myself included, and I thought that if I could intervene, confiscate your WMDs, then maybe we could spare all off these hapless men from annihilation.”

She gives this short, disbelieving laugh, and the smile she flashes all but nukes my Middle-Eastern country heart.

“See that’s what I’m talking about right there.”

“What?” she asks. At least she’s smiling, and I’ve definitely logged at least thirty more seconds.

“That smile, right there! You have to be careful with who you hit that with, because most of us men won’t survive that.” She laughs even harder, so I press on.

“And your hair, what is up with that?” She runs her hands over her hair quickly, smiling nervously, self-consciously, and in that moment I’m emboldened by just how human she can be. “Don’t you know it is a crime to have hair this brilliantly red? It’s like it’s permanently on fire, and I’m sure you don’t have a permit for that. And these curls,” I lightly take one of her burning locks in my hand, “this is just too much. No one can survive this.”

She flashes me a look in the eye, and I realize that I’ve just touched her, that I’ve been talking with this woman that is waaaaay to sexy to even make it into my porno stash, and that I’m talking about FOREIGN POLICY WHAT THE F***, I’m starting to have a mini, internal meltdown, and it’s all I can do to slowly lower the curl, and give her the best smile I’ve got (still praying to the gods of mystery and coyness).

And in this pause, in this stillness as I wait for her to say something, anything besides ‘get away, you rapist’, I realize that the icy knot in my side has dissipated. I’m not sure when it left, but I see this; loneliness in NYC is a conquerable thing. Whether this girl keeps talking with me, or runs from the bar screaming at the horrors hidden in my smile, or we spend the rest of our lives together rutting and making demi-god children, I know that this stupid loneliness is beaten simply by connecting with someone, by trying to build a future instead of crying in my shower as I beat off with baby oil on my memory of last nights’ porn site.

So I stare this redhead in her eyes that can eradicate third world countries, I breathe in the Louisianan Bar life in NYC, my best friends just across the room (the Vins), and this tempting redhead named Katie (thank you very much, I’ll take my bow), and I wait for whatever is coming.

And breathe.

Conversationalist

This is how it starts. You’re in Ballet II, and you’re watching this beautiful chick leap across the floor. She catches you staring, and so you say something witty, like “I’ve been doing that since I was five.” She flashes you a razor-quick smile, says “I knew you were gay,” and like that you’ve started the magical, effortless conversation that will carry on after you’ve made an ass of your self trying to beat her across the floor, after you’ve taken her to the classy subway for lunch to make up for being an ass in class (and paid for her footlong, hey-o!), after you’ve kissed on the SK porch, basking in the glow of the crusty yellow light bulb, freshly smoked pot, and packs of Keystone Light, after you’re lying between her warm, naked thighs, still marveling at the glory how perfectly her lips softly crumple beneath yours, and how the flash in her smile never seems to leave her eyes.

You take her out to Applebee’s for the second date, and your stomach gurgles like the swamp in every classic horror film as you straighten your tie in the mirror and brainstorm topics that will hopefully keep her thinking that you are charming, you are witty, you are creative, all those things that accidentally happened in ballet but you know from experience will never happen again. You’re just not that guy, the one that has every topic stored in his bulging muscle-brain, the guy that you can watch as he flexes his mind, unwinds the rolodex and charms every woman by having something to say on everything (Nick, I’m looking at you).

But it’s there. You pick her promptly at 7:15 (you were parked down the block at 7, still brainstorming, still on the verge of shitting yourself), and as she steps out her olive skin blazes in the fading sun, her eyes are wells of dark mystery that you feel your soul tripping into, and you say the first thing that comes to mind, “God, I’m not ready for this.” She instantly laughs, a full laugh from her stomach, no holds barred, her smile lights up her face even brighter, and your soul falls further deeper into her twin wells, and like that the conversation is rolling. You’ve forgotten every topic that you whispered to yourself in the mirror, your swamp stomach has calmed to a placid pond, and you talk the whole night through, through Applebee’s, through Emack and Bolio’s ice cream, through the goodnight kiss through the car window, through the third date and the first month anniversary and the first year.  Though her deep wishing wells, even raging spells, the words are just there. The words are meaningless really, just a menial form of sound making through which you share so much more than you ever thought possible. Even the pauses, the silences, shared gazes or not, are filled with the magical discussion that you’ve never shared with anyone before, and you’re sure you won’t have to again. It’s just there.

This is how it ends.

You’ve been slowly losing your shit all day. Over a year later you’re stomach is the bubbling swamp again, and at any moment the Swamp Thing is going to rear its ugly head. You’re back in the mirror, no tie this time, but again having an urgent, whispered conversation with yourself about topics to discuss, topics that won’t stir…anything. Though you don’t know what is going on, your internal alarm has gone off, and you are determined to set it right when you talk again tonight. She is thousands of miles away, but you can feel the distress emanating in blood-red waves, and your magical conversation that has lived through thousands of hours, miles, and problems is feeling a little strange.

She calls, you pick up on the first ring, she utters a raspy, paper-thin “hey,” and your entire body clenches like electrical wire, because it understands way before your conscious mind that something is very wrong. In spite of the sudden pain, you lob some softies to her, “How was your day, did you look at that thing I sent you, do you want to have phone sex?” Oh how you’d love for her to say yes to the last one, because phone sex is a surprisingly intimate thing. You have to be creative with that shit, you have to know what they like in order to make it work, and you have to be able to articulate it in a way that is subtle and beautiful and engaging. So if she says yes, then whatever is stalling this art of conversation that we’ve practiced for over a year, whatever block this is that we are stumbling on in our race towards nirvana, it is not enough to derail us permanently. Its funny how, in that moment, you pray to the heavens with more urgency then you have ever given, pray that she says something like “I’m wearing the blue-lace boyshorts and black pumps, what do you want to do to me?”  But she doesn’t, and in that moment you can feel this invisible wall, a glass partition that has been erected between you and her. You don’t know how it got there, but you try to shatter it with heavier bricks, “Remember that time we…I should come visit when….”…………

But nothing works, this is FBI interrogation room glass, this glass protects the President when he drives, this glass deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for stoically separating the opposition, and you have no fucking clue how this glass got there.  Your art for conversation, that magic that zipped between you two has been savagely severed, and you can clearly see now that instead of talking, instead of reciprocating her hands are pressed up against the glass, supporting the severance.

And in this moment, you would give anything to not have begged for this conversation.

In 8th grade I somehow started dating a girl who never should have said yes to me.  She was pretty, smart, huge boobs, and was on her way up in the middle school social ladder, while I was sitting near the bottom, nursing my acne, hoodies, and skateboarding shoes.  But maybe I caught her off-guard, maybe my bare soul was too much for her 8th grade self to crush, or maybe my hair actually looked good that day, but when I saw in the hallway and said, “Hey, will you be my girlfriend?”, she said yes. I hugged her, walked away, and then cowered in terror in the bathroom because I had no idea what the next step was. After two weeks of awkwardly talking, hugging, and a kiss or two, I signed on to AOL and so did she. I said, “Wat up?”, and she said “Nm but I think we should br8k ^”. I cried for days, and all I could think about was, what would have happened had I not signed on? Had I not given her an easy opportunity to back out, or given her an extra night to think about it?

Now sitting here, on the phone, glass wall in your face being propped up by who you hoped was your other half, that effortless conversationalist, you just wish you could hang up. Because she hasn’t said it yet, and if you stop the conversation, maybe she’ll ruminate and reconsider.  What if you just hadn’t answered the phone today?  But the Swamp Thing has fully emerged, your mind has caught up with your self-steeled body and you know that the magic is gone, and the conversation is about to be over. Your body is lead, your mind is mush, and you know that it is going to be a while before you can manage to crawl out of this well.

“I’m sorry.”