My head is pounding. I finally remembered to pick up my new phone, so, naturally, I've forgotten where I left my charger, and I'm all out of battery power. I'm also out of batteries for my discman. My head is pounding too much for me to be able to finish the James Kochalka comic I'm supposed to be reading. At least I'm only two stops away from work, where I have been assured by my boss I will "make bank." This is why I dragged myself out of the house two hours early. "It's the day after Thanksgiving, we're going to be balls to the wall, come early, and you'll make bank." I later decide that he must have meant "bunk", but I'm getting ahead of myself. Right now, my head is pounding, and the bagel I had for breakfast has decided to use my stomach as a trampoline. I put my head in my hands, and all is normal on the severely crowded red line train. When I look up, there's a marching band.
Thirty or so sweaty, mostly overweight men in kilts and afghans of various shades of green have been known to incite motion sickness, even without moving or producing sound. This stumble of marchers, however, were not content to sit or stand on the crowded T and bask in the lurchiness of public transportation. Oh, no. They had decided that a crowded T on a Friday afternoon is the perfect place to play Christmas carols.
Somewhere around the seventh day of Christmas, I start to fashion my keychain into a shiv. I know I'm not stealthy or powerful enough to take them all down, but if I at least take a couple of these unfuckers with me before I'm wrestled to the ground beneath their kilts, I'll have done the world an incredible service.
By the time my stop comes, they have moved on to the most inaccurately named version of "Silent Night" ever conceived. I mean, bagpipes?
Work is so dead that even vampires pass by its corpse and go "Ehhh, it had a good life, I'll let it sleep." I'm so bored that I can feel my eyes rot away, as I watch The Naked Gun on the TV in the kitchen. The safe sex scene starts when my favorite Hungarian bartender says "What was the score of the Bears game?" Which leads me to believe he's never met me before. How the fuck would I know the score of a football game that doesn't even contain The Patriots?
"Tampa Bay won thirteen to ten." I was bored, okay, and the game was on the bar's TV.
Then he begins asking me about other games, and how many interceptions some person I've never heard of threw, and wasn't that onside kick a weird choice? I place my index finger to his lips and whisper. "Shhhh. You're only allowed to speak to me in Hungarian. Oh, the language of love."
His eyes flit from me to anyone who might be watching my bizarre behavior, and says "Uhhhh, ok." Then he walks away.
"I didn't know you liked the Hungarian." David gives me a cool, hurt look. The kind an ex would be allowed to shoot at someone who'd hurt them in a relationship. But if David wasn't such a pussy closet case we'd be dating, so I don't allow the look to register. Much.
"Sure," I say, "I'd like him...naked and chained to my couch."
That look again. Bastard. What is it with me and unworkable relationships? What is it with me and having the same stupid epiphanies over and over? I've got to stop getting myself in these situations. Closet cases, roommates, future suicides. I've got to get over this kind of shit and move on. I've got to move. Of course. But first I have to make a phone call.
An hour or so later, when both David and the Hungarian have gone to their respective homes, and most of the staff has begun cleaning, Ben and his Dad arrive in the restaurant. Because I'm already done for the night, they sit in someone else's section. I do my paperwork, sweep my tables, and do about 90% of my kitchen sidework before I'm asked to clock out. I do so. I then go to Ben's table and drink and socialize. We're there for about a half hour when I remember that I have to bring one more box of bread into the kitchen before I'm actually done done.
"What the fuck?!" says a steamy eyed server, as I walk into the kitchen. "Who the fuck are you, that you think you can fucken clock out and sit at a goddamned table without finishing all the fucken bread work."
I cock the Spock eyebrow. "I was told to clock out. I came back in to get the last box of bread, but―"
"This is such fucken bullshit. All I want to do is go the fuck home, and you never do any work, and―"
At this point, Hill comes to my rescue, "Well, since you're a closer, and the restaurant isn't closed, you can't go home for another hour, anyway. Why don't you step off him?"
"No no no no no. I want to be able to fucken clock out whenever I feel like it..."
"I was told to clock out." I say. "I was cut. My tables had left. And I'm almost on overtime, so they asked me to clock out."
"Whatever. Where's the last fucken box of bread, huh? And knives. The knife container isn't full."
"That's because I filled it before I cl― You know what? Unfuck you. Unless you just got a phone call that your mother got run over by a bread truck, and the managers won't let you leave to identify her body, you're being fucken ridiculous. This is a fucken restaurant job. It takes five seconds to get a box of bread, and it would already be done, if you hadn't attacked me the second I walked into the kitchen, but now you can do it your fucken self." And I walked out of the kitchen, put on my best customer service smile, and sat back down next to Ben. "I think we should probably go now."
"Hey, where's that cute Hungarian bartender?" Ben asks, unaware of my impending sexual harassment indictment.
"Chained to the bed." I whisper, while his dad talks to our server.
"What?" he asks.
I place my index finger to his lips. "Shhhhh. You're only allowed to speak to me in Hungarian."
"Right." He says, and pushes my finger away. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Nothing, I just feel all smirky right now."
"Oh, because you have something worth smiling about?"
And I do, actually. I'm sitting next to someone I dearly despise in a restaurant where, any second now, an angry little white girl is going to come around the corner screaming obscenities about bread. The satellite station is playing Aaron Neville's version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and my head is pounding. I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be.
My inability to hold boring small talk with strangers is proof of nature over nurture. Friday night, my father, my stepmother, Ben and I managed to have a ten minute discussion on how cold it was. It was really fucken cold. That could have summed the whole discussion up.
To rectify the coldness, my father and his wife are headed to Cancun. My mother is in Florida. I have been walking around the streets of Boston with Ben at two o'fucken clock in the morning to get milkshakes, because really, what warms a frigid body more than cold milk blended with ice cream?
"You should use some of the family's timeshare in Florida." My father says. "It only costs about $400, and you could take like eight people down there with you. That's fifty bucks a piece." My father, the human abacus.
Maybe I should. I haven't taken a vacation since...I don't know. I went on tour with Steggy in 2003, I moved to Arifuckenzona a few months later. Since then, the furthest I've ventured is to my grandparents in Connecticut.
"My mother's pissed at me." My father says. "You've seen that commercial with the old guy who shuffles, and can't remember things? Your grandfather has that, and I'm trying to tell Ma she should tell the doctor to have him checked for it but" and small talk and small talk and small talk.
I should go to Florida. Or California. Or go to Vegas with Ben.
My father says, "Last time I went to Vegas, I learned to only take $200 with me. That way I won't spend more than I can afford. And if I make money, great. I've been doing really well at the dog track lately." and small talk and small talk and small talk about medium money.
"Your parents are remarkable." Ben says, on our way back to his house. "I've never seen someone be so interestingly boring. And they're so...nice. What happened to you?"
Nature over nurture. "I don't know." But I remember my father's temper when he was still with my mother. The way she taught me to work him into a rage. He was never the violent asshole father depicted in movies of the week or cop shows, but he had his moments of my body slammed to the wall head first into wheelbarrow the coffee table splintered my grandmother standing between us. But he didn't mellow with age. He didn't have a revelation or therapy or karma. He just got away from us. A small island with a woman who loved him more than power, kids who would offer him grandchildren.
"She's so smart." My father says of my stepniece. "She's fifteen months old and when her parents watch television too long, she climbs on to the table in front of them and dances. And sometimes" small talk small talk small talk "and we gave her one of your old Raggedy Andy dolls?"
"One of?" Ben asks.
"Yea, I had a big one from my grandparents, and a small one that we got from this place on the Cape, years before we moved there. It's weird, Jennifer had one too, and she got it around the same time. It's possible that we actually met when we were―"
"Wait." Ben says. "You had two Raggedy Andys but no Raggedy Ann?"
I know where this is going. "Yea."
"Well that explains a lot."
"It was because of my red hair that people got them for me."
"Oh, I'm not judging you. I just think it's funny. When I was a little kid I had My Little Ponys because my best friends were girls and they had them. I just didn't know any better." He laughs. And under his breath I hear "Two raggedy Andys. Homo."
I'd kick him under the table, but it's a small table and the angles are all wrong.
"Sorry about the gay jokes." Ben says on the T ride home. "But, really, two Raggedy Andys but no Ann? Gaaaaaay,"
Before Ben, the only gay person my father met through me was Elvis. It was after things had started to go horribly horribly wrong, so Elvis wasn't terribly talky, just terrible. He mostly moped that he was on an expensive resort island and no one was buying him anything. He had a bus ticket home in his not so distant future. My father, like my mother and all my friends, hated him. But unlike my mother and all my friends, he didn't say a word about it. To this day, he's never asked how Elvis was doing or what happened to him. Elvis was there, then he was gone. He probably doesn't even remember the false name Elvis gave him (because if he'd given his real name, who could forget it?).
My dad likes Ben. I know because he called me from Cancun (and my dad NEVER calls me) to small talk and mention that "that Ben kid seemed really nice. Anytime you want to come down to the island together, let me know."
"It's tough to get him out of Boston." Ben says. "But I'll try."
So there is balance to the universe. Ben's dad likes me. My dad likes Ben.
"How come I didn't get to meet him when I came to visit?" My mother asks.
"He was in New York, remember? I had you drop me off at his house so I could feed his cat."
"Well, next week I want you to come down and get all the stuff you want out of the old house so we can put it on the market. You should bring him with you."
Um. Um. Um. Um.
In an IM conversation with Dmitri, I mention that I am catsitting for Ben while he's away, and that I'm in the midst of reorganizing the apartment. Dmitri says "You make such a good wife." Me? A wife? I have a beard, and it's not a woman with self-esteem issues, it's facial hair. Ben is the one who wears eyeliner.
And so it is that I spend the last day of my Ben free time, cataloging a list of my exes in my head.
Before Jennifer dumped me for my supposed best friend, Scott, she listened to Billy Joel, Phantom of the Opera, Milli Vanilli, Roxette; the music that all the cool kids were listening to in 1989. Before Jennifer admitted that the first time we dated, it had been exclusively to get closer to the little greaseball bastard who played the role of friend when it suited his snobby, rich, not very well-shaped ass, she wore cute white sweaters, was a straight A student, and really wanted to be a writer.
After Jennifer dumped me for that whiny little reminder of why the pull out method doesn't work, she abandoned English for Science, starting listening to Sir Mix-A-Lot, Young MC, LL Cool J, and other artists that I would grow to like once the nineties started, but we were twelve and not supposed to be listening to cool music, yet. Sure, she continued to take violin lessons, but everything else changed. After Jennifer crushed my heterosexuality between her fingers in order to date someone that I know for a fact had a smaller dick and intellect, she switched from glasses to contacts, from modest clothes to garish pink sweaters and other Debbie Gibsonesque fashion that caused an entire generation of women to "lose" any photos taken of them from, say 1987-1990. Her beautiful straight hair had teased bangs and clumsy curls. I hated the new Jennifer.
Once Jennifer dumped Scott for someone way hotter, way gayer, someone I ended up trysting with nine years later, she put her glasses back on, she kept her interest in science, restraightened her hair, found a moderate stance for her clothes. Once Jennifer realized what a little douche-trucker-hat Scott was, and started dating someone with way more style, and a body that convinced me that male artists tend to be homosexual because, fuck, men are works of art, she started listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sonic Youth, Soul Asylum, bands that wouldn't break on MTV until 1992. Once Jennifer and Scott went the way of Brandon and Dylan, we decided to be friends again. Actually, I never told her we'd stopped being friends, because then I wouldn't have had anyone who wasn't a complete loser to hang out with at lunch.
When Jennifer abandoned her poor, soon to be oversexed, tan skinned, boat owning boyfriend for a much older (seventeen!!!) AV geek with bad teeth and halitosis, she got rid of the glasses again, started wearing mostly black, listened to prog rock bands like Dream Theatre, Queensryche, Rush, and early Genesis, and picked up an unplaceable accent that hurt my ears so much that, not only did I stop hanging out with her, I told my parents I wanted to go back to public school.
I couldn't be friends with someone who didn't have their own personality. All she ever did was assimilate her taste to her boyfriend's. She would take one, and only one of his traits when they broke off, and reinvent the rest of herself. She kept the complicated love of Jesus that she learned from Chris the Old. Her compassion, and willing to listen to people came from Ryan the Perfect. Her sarcasm and since of humor, I wish I could claim, but actually came from Scott. It wasn't until I started not dating Ben that I realized what she got from me.
"Did you hear that they're getting rid of Vanilla Coke?" Ben asks, as we wander around the CVS in search of light bulbs.
"Yea." I say. "They're gonna replace it with Cherry Vanilla Coke, which is way awesomer, anyway.""
"Ewww, dude. Anything with that fake vanilla is so nauseatingly sweet."
"I like sweet things." I say.
I shoot him the You Have Got To Be Fucken Kidding Me Look.
He stops looking at the Christmas lights display, shoots me a hurt look. "I'm sweet."
"Sometimes." I say. "But you also have that tang of bitterness that I find so hot."
"Oh, sweet Christ, you like your men like you like your alcohol. Booooo." He picks up a box of lights. "They don't have any blue lights, ugh."
"Are we all set, then?"
He frowns as he picks up another box of not blue lights. "Mmmmmm. No. Don't forget to get some sort of munchy thing. We're going to be completely...yea."
"At a CVS? I want something substantial."
"So get one of those microwavable meals." He says.
"Bleurgh. They're so...unnatural." And since when do I give a fuck about something being natural or not? When do I care what type of food goes into my body? Since Ben. I got my occasional nicotine habit from Elvis. From Liam, I learned my appreciation of how absurd sex really is. From Ryan, I got my compassion, and ability to listen to other people's problems. Beckee taught me to be devious. And Jennifer? This is what I'm not sure, did I absorb my habit of adapting my image to fit the people I love from her, or did she get it from me, or was it the one product of our love that survived?
Yes, I'm vanishing. Yes, life is more complicated than explaining calculus to someone who doesn't speak the same language as you. Yes, Asscat scratched the blood out of my hand last night. Yes, taking three hits of acid on your first time is an incredibly stupid idea. Yes, I'm fine now, thanks for not asking. When Ben asked me to feed Rufus while he went back to New York, he said "And this time, I promise the power won't go out."
Celeste, who I called to keep me company while Lissabelle torments Ben, smiles at me through thirty-seven coats of lipgloss. "The whole arrangement is just decidedly weird." Ben and Lissabelle are in his apartment, packing, unpacking, repacking for their return trip. The acid was so good, Ben's going back to buy one hundred hits. Celeste and I are in the hallway, passing one of Ben's Gauloises between us.
I inhale and then try to flick the cigarette, but the filter catches under my nail. "How so?" Twitchingly.
"Well...." And I hate the way that word hangs between us, as though I'm going to tell you something you already know, but don't really want to hear right now is sandwiched between the e and the first l. And I know what she's trying to say, it's weird how I met and fell in love with Ben so quickly, and then unceremoniously moved into his apartment, even though he doesn't really love me. And it's weird how Ben, who doesn't love me, and who hasn't even known me for very long would let me move in with him. "You know, the whole, uh...living situation."
In the reflection of Celeste's lip gloss, I see Ben open the door. "Hey, hun, you're gonna want to get your shit off my bed, because everything that's on my bed in three minutes, gets put in my bag and taken to New York."
I head into the apartment, collect the notebooks Celeste and I have been writing in, place them on the piano, and then lay across his bed.
"No. I'm not taking you. Nice try." He pushes me off the bed, and begins throwing things from the bed into his bag. "Oh, check these out." He picks up a pair of argyle knee socks.
"Hot." I say, because they are.
"You are sooooo gay." Lissabelle says. And I'm not sure whether she's talking to me or Ben. Sure, Ben is the one who has pink hair, eyeliner, and knee socks, but I'm the one who's attracted to him.
"He didn't used to be gay." Celeste says. So they're talking about me. "You know, apart from the whole sleeping with men thing."
I should be saying something clever and catty, but I have been abusing my brain and body for the past week or so, and they are both decidedly unhappy with me.
"Fascinating as your socks are," Lissabelle says, "we are way late right now, so you need to pack so we can get out of here."
"Bitch, we're only late because you forgot to pack." Ben says, fluffing his hair. "So, no more from you. Shhhh. Shhhh."
And then they are packed and gone. And it is Celeste and I alone in Ben's apartment. She is standing in front of the mirror, "Adam, do my lips look puffy?"
"No." They look varnished like the hardwood floor in a sports arena, but they don't look puffy.
"Ok." But she continues to look at her face in the mirror. This is Ben's apartment. There are mirrors everywhere. "We should go out for a walk. Moving would be really good."
Yes, yes it would. "Where should we go?"
So we head out to the streets of Allston, where the colors are vivid and the wind is a word I can't come up with. We don't go anywhere exciting. An ATM and the ice cream shop. Then we are back in the apartment, and it is time for Celeste to go home. "Bye, Adam. See you later." And she smiles, again. I can see myself in her lips, alone in Ben's apartment, looking at the calendar, trying to figure out how long it will be before Ben comes home.