When one of my ex-roommates was four years old, his parents held a party with all their friends from work. It was an Adult party (not to be confused with an ADULT party), and as such, it was no place for a four year old. And, besides, it was past his bedtime.
Not one to be denied a party, the sage four year old sat down on his bed, and tried to think of a way to go to downstairs and mingle, without being caught, and sent back to bed. He could tie a red blanket around his neck, and wear his Superman pajamas and go downstairs, but Superman was a do-gooder boy scout, who, when asked to go upstairs and go to bed, would be forced to comply. He had once gone downstairs naked, imagining himself invisible, and that had made his parents very cross. What, then? He dug through his closet, and there he found The Answer To His Problems. A Darth Vader mask. Who would dare send Darth Vader off to bed at nine PM? Maybe Emperor Palpatine, but that's about it (these being the days before anyone knew of whiny emo Anakin).
This is how there came to be The Greatest Party Ever, in which a bunch of suited up water cooler types, sat around the couches, and leaned in doorways, listening to a tiny Lord Vader regale them with stories about dinosaurs, and computer games, and other things that strikes Tiny Vader's fancy. Tiny Vader is, at no point, sent upstairs by the little boy's parents, but eventually falls asleep on the chair, and wakes up the next morning clutching the Vader mask like a teddy bear.
This has nothing to do with the story I'm about to tell you, except that when Jim said, "So I've been telling a story about you recently that involves Darth Vader, and I thought you should know." This was the only story I could think of.
"Vader?" I asked him.
"Yea. And, the thing is, I've told a lot of people. And, I figure the story is probably going to get back to you soon. And, so I should probably tell you."
Three sentences in a row that star with And usually spells doom. Particularly when there are three syllables between the a and the n. Doom.
"Remember last week, when I was over your house?" I did. "And, you know how I had you watching videos on Youtube for a while?" I did. "And, remember how I got up and had to go to the bathroom?" Well, this I didn't remember, as I don't make it a habit to record my house guests' potty habits. "Do you know why?" I did not.
"Well, you have all these cool comic book stuf in your house. The trades, the Munnys, and everything. And, so I was looking around, and I saw your Darth Vader action figure." I do not have a Darth Vader action figure. "And, I thought, that looks cool. And so I went to pick it up, and it was not a Darth Vader action figure."
My mind races. What on Earth do I have in my house that looks like, but is not, a Darth Vader action figure?
"It was a dildo." It was not.
"I don't have a dildo in my house. Darth Vader-like, or otherwise."
"You don't? It was by your bed, in one of the cubby holes. And it was covered in...something gross."
Something...? "Oh! It's a bottle of lube."
"What do you mean, ew?"
"I mean, I touched something that you stick in a guy's ass."
What? "No you didn't. You don't stick a bottle of lube in a guy's ass. though, I suppose you could. You flip the top, dispense the lube on your fingers, and then stick your fingers in the guy's ass. The bottle never gets any play."
"Oh. Well, that's not how I've been telling the story."
Which is why, at two in the morning, at IHoP, I tell an assortment of friends, including Ben, that Jim has still not touched anything I've ever inserted into a man's ass, except my hand, which I wave in his face. But I'd washed it plenty of times between those two events.
I used to give my roommates, Celeste and Sir Trick, who were a couple, a hard time because every week or so I'd need to take a piss while they were busy fucking in the shower. When my boyfriend, Sora, moved in, I had to decide whether to take the high road, and not seek vengeance by long shower-fuck sessions, or take the low road, and see if we could make more noise.
For once in my life, I took the high road.
Apart from a couple of noise battles (when you try to prove how much better your sex is by increasing the volume of moans, shouts, and smack noises), we tended to let our sex remain private.
One afternoon, Sora and I were in the kitchen arguing over something stupid, and we heard the roommates getting it on. We ignored it. And after a half hour or so, Celeste came into the kitchen, with a huge glob of come on the front of her shirt. Sora and I contained most of our laughter, and didn't even say anything when she said "Oh my god, dude!", turned around, and ran into her room to change her shirt.
Later that night, after drinking enough Coronas to be declared official citizens of Mexico, Sora and I stumbled into our room for some loud, sloppy, lights out, almost sex. Because Sora had a nasty habit of falling directly asleep after orgasm, we had a standing/sitting/laying down agreement that I always got to come first. So I did. Once devoid of sperm, I knelt down to reciprocate, and Sora promptly rammed his cock into my nose. After the requisite name calling (I chose douchenozzle for this particular occasion) and ass smackage, I forged ahead with the fellatio.
Once he'd come, we made out for a bit, and then Sora decided to take a shower before he fell asleep. He threw a towel around his waist, and walked down the hallway to the bathroom. He was too tired to hear the water running, so when he opened the door, the apartment was filled with all three of my roommates screaming. Sora screamed because he'd walked in on Celeste and Trick's shower sex, and Celeste and Sir Trick screamed because Sora's face and belly were covered in blood. Apparently, he'd rammed my nose harder than either of us had realized.
The next day we put memo boards up on our bedroom doors, and the bathroom with "Occupied" and "Vacant" signs.
I am the subject. Am is happy to be helping. In is the preposition I'm currently stuck with. Love is the real object. See? Ben, David, Dmitri, CSB, Ryan, it doesn't matter who, does it? Fuck who is the object of my desire, desire is the objective.
I've been mocking Ben for lamenting that no one he's attracted to is attracted to him. I haven't met anyone gay or straight who doesn't think he's attractive. Of course, I suffer from the same affliction (the no one I'm attracted to is attracted to me thing, not the everyone thinks I'm attractive thing, I wish). Should have gone for the guy on the T with the staring problem. Dealt with that musician guy from the Lizard Lounge. Dmitri who's far away and already has a boyfriend. Or David, who I'm starting to realize is from another planet.
Celeste says "It sucks that Ben led you on for so long." But he never led me on. I led me on. Ben is always direct with what he wants, needs, expects. I'm not. This is why no one ever knows what I want. This is why everything.
Trick says, "Ben doesn't deserve you. Go for David." But Trick has never met David. And when I question the accuracy of the word deserve, he recants.
Deserving is a stupid word. The bitch that moved into my old apartment and posted a Craigslist ad of my room deserves a snatch full of razor blades and rubbing alcohol. And may the blades be lubricated with leprosy and Hepatitis C. What she gets is an asshole ex-roommate who refuses to be in the same zip code as her, thus not paying his share of the bills. And since that's me, I deserve the heavy backpack grinding away what's left of my spine.
I need to relearn the ability to be direct. You there, in front of me in line at the Store 24, you've got a great ass. Clarissa, if you weren't so silently judgmental, you'd be happier and have more long term friends. Celeste, thank you. Ben, I love you, and thank you for putting up with me at my most awkward and freakishly dependent. We need to go see Serenity. We need serenity. Serenity now, goddamnit.
I need to relearn the ability to object. I can't work seven nights a week. No, I won't meet you halfway if you live in an abattoir. I'll just leave what you need by the front door. I'm fine. Thanks for not asking.
This is as up front as I get. Seven years ago, the only man I ever trusted when he said he loved me, killed himself. I only think of him every time I feel anything like love. So fucken what? Everyone has ashes under their scars. You either get over it or you don't. Either way, life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you don't make a decision, you're stuck on the same boringly inconclusive page for the rest of your life.
I only love improbable relationships because they're uncomfortably familiar. I love Ben because I don't know, his voice makes my ears twitch, he's starting to write like breath, he doesn't talk like FM radio, he doesn't act his or anyone else's age. I love him because it feels natural.
He deserves better.
When I get back from Connecticut, and Ben gets back from New York, he is all apologies and duct tape band aids. He takes me out to the movies. We go to the Different Twist for dinner with Trick and Celeste. He tells us about his trip. "It was awful. I decided to try two hits at once, and I ended up spending most of the night outside, trying to talk to the rocks or some shit. When I came back in, I borrowed Lissabelle's cell phone to call you, but you didn't answer. Thank God. Anyway, I gave the phone back to her, or at least, I thought I did. When we were getting ready to leave this morning, she said she couldn't find it. So I cleaned the entire commune. Twice. No phone. I unpacked all my stuff, and repacked it, and unpacked it, and repacked it. No phone. She kept screaming at me and telling me what a terrible person I was. And I wanted to find the phone, not just to shut her up, but so I could call you, because I desperately needed to hear someone say something nice to me."
Trick coughs conspicuously. Apparently, Celeste told him about the I Don't Love You Conversation.
"Anyway, she had one of her friends hypnotize me, to see if that would help me remember what I did with the phone. I didn't. And when we finally gave up, Lissabelle put her coat on, and the phone was right there in her pocket, and the bitch didn't even apologize."
"Wait," Trick says, "you thought to get hypnotized in order to find her phone, but you didn't think to have her check her pockets. Why not just burn the house down and use a metal detector to find it?"
"Booooo. Anyway, we're going back next week because I was only able to get a dozen hits, and I have friends coming down to visit tomorrow. Oh, Celeste, can Safey stay with you while my friends are in town?"
I flinch. Trick flinches. Celeste rolls her eyes. "Of course. Did you think of, I don't know, asking Safey how he felt about it before asking me."
And he dribbles forth more apologies. And he pays for my pizza. And whatever.
At work, the next day, I am so far beyond overtired, that I strongly suspect the ASL sign for coma was invented to describe the way I feel. Ben calls the work phone around eight to ask me to bring him some food. I say "Sure thing, baby, I'll see you when I get home."
Things wrong with that statement:
1. Baby? What the hell?
2. Ben's apartment is not home.
A few minutes later, one of the new waitresses, Hill, taps me on the shoulder and says "Ben is on the phone for you again."
I decide to be funny, to go way over the top with the whole baby thing, so I put on my sexy phone voice and say "Hey, baby," (shudder) "what's up?"
"Baby?" Says Ben my boss, not Ben my future ex-boyfriend. "It's Ben."
And I say "Uhhhh....Hey?"
And when I weasel my way out of that conversation, David (my almost mutual infatuation partner), who's been standing around the corner the whole time says "Baby? Who's your baby?"
And I say, "No one. I'm just really drunk." And it's true, four Peachtree Schnapps, Smirnoff, Peaches, Chambord and Champagne will do that to you. But, given how stressful this week has been, the solution seems to be, drink more. So, after work, David and I take the T together, discussing everything but the word baby. I get off the T and head to Ben's house where we take loads of digital pictures, change our LiveJournal layouts, and drink Rated X liquor, thus keeping everything I've drunk, a fluorescent shade of pink. And while we drink and take pictures,we play En Vogue's Funky Divas album.
"This is so gay. You're not allowed to tell anyone about this." Ben says. "Especially not the part about how I got really into it and sang the lyrics in the most sincere way possible."
"Ok." I say. "I won't."
It’s 8:00, and I’m in a bar. As usual. What’s unusual is that I’m waiting for someone specific. I know his name, what he looks like, how he smells. I already know that he’s often funny in person, that his voice, while not precisely soothing, won’t send merunning out to the pharmacy for earplugs. I’m prepared.
Who the fuck am I kidding? I’m a mess. My fingernails are chewed off, my bottom lip bears the indentation of my front teeth, and I’ve run my fingers through my hair so many times, clumps are falling out. God, I can’t go bald on my first real date in...thismillennium.
After the third Southern Comfort and Coke, I check my watch. I’m not wearing a watch. I never wear a watch. “What time is it?” I ask the bartender with laryngitis. She points to the massive clock on the wall behind her. It’s 9:04. Both my date and my friends who offered to act as moral support (and to keep me from going home with him on our first date) are over an hour late. And I’m, if not already drunk, getting there.
The women next to me have spent forty-five minutes talking about Harry Potter, about friends who have also read Harry Potter, and about shunning one of their mutual exes because he hasn’t read Harry Potter. I am about thirty seconds away from throwing my ice at them, and yelling It’s a children’s book. What the hell is wrong with you? when I see my date walk by the window, dressed in khakis and a blazer. I am wearing blue jeans and a Transformers t-shirt.
“Oh my God!” Ben says when I step outside. “I love the Transformers. I’m writing a webcomic about their sordid sexual proclivities. Oh,” he puts his Galouises in his mouth, and shakes my hand, “sorry I’m late. We had this call from a woman claiming to be her daughter, and it was so” I think he’s talking about his work, but my mind keeps looping the phrase Where’s Celeste? over and over. If my support network doesn’t show up, I’m liable to go home with him before we even order drinks. Well, before he even orders drinks.
“Adam!” someone shouts from across the street. It’s thank God Celeste. She’s with her boyfriend, Trick, and...I don’t remember her friend’s name. I think it’s Steve. Most of her friends are named Steve. There’s Steve the Bassist, Steve the Drummer, Anarchist Steve, Socialist Steve, Starbuck’s Steve, Steve Jackson, Irish Steve, and THE Steve. I know this isn’t THE Steve, but apart from that, I don’t have a clue. He might not even be a Steve. “Sorry, I’m late.” She says. “You remember Steve, right?”
“Of course.” I say. “And this is my friend, Ben. Ben, Steve. Steve, Ben. Ben, Trick. Trick, Ben. Celeste, Ben. Ben, Celeste.” Introductions make me dizzy.
Somebody Steve shakes his dreadlocks. “Adam and I were almost roommates.” Oh, that Steve. “But I ended up getting my own place. It’s much easier.”
“Well that’s not very socialist of you.” I say. Celeste, Trick, and Steve all laugh.
“Steve is a socialist.” Celeste explains. Ben laughs. Politely.
When we are all back inside, Ben takes off his blazer, revealing a wife beater. Now we look like a unit. Socialist Steve in his black jeans and Misfits hoodie, Celeste in her pink bunny shirt and skirt made of ties, Trick in jeans and a navy blue t-shirt, me, and Ben. If the waitress hadn’t seen me sitting at the bar for an hour and a half, we could have been a group of scenesters coming from an all ages emo show. Something free. I can tell, as she takes our drink order, that she’s calculating how much we’re likely to tip her.
Socialist Steve orders an obscure lager that I’ve never heard of. Celeste gets a hard cider. Trick gets a Guinness. Ben asks about a good ale. I forgo the Southern Comfort and Cokes for a Midori Sour. When the waitress puts it down in front of me, a couple of minutes later, Ben says “That’s the gayest drink I’ve ever seen.”
Celeste asks “Where’s the umbrella?”
And then Ben is bullet point talking at us. Celeste throwing in the occasional story which may or may not have anything to do with whatever it is Ben is talking about. Talk talk talk talk talk, meandering story, talk talk talk talk talk, meandering story, talk talk talk talk talk, Socialist Steve makes a dry remark about his beer, meandering story, talk talk “Mind if I try some?” Ben asks, reaching for my drink.
“Not at all. Here.”
He takes a large sip from my straw, swishes it like wine, and swallows. “Too fruity.”
In those two words, he’s summed up the reason why I’ve fallen out of crush with every fag I’ve known since I started dating.
When the food has been digested, and the check has been paid, the five of us head outside. Celeste gives me the Is It Okay For Us To Leave You Two Alone Eyebrow. I reply with the It Is Nod.
And we’re alone.
“I don’t think Steve paid enough to cover tip.” Ben says.
“I don’t think he paid enough to cover his beer.” I say. “I put in five extra bucks.”
“Me, too.” He says.
There’s about ten seconds of comfortable silence, and then Ben’s tongue turns Gatling gun again. “You know the French are so mad about the way George Bush is ruining this country, that they’re refusing to export Galouises here, which means I’m either going to have to quit smoking or find another brand. It sucks because I just started smoking Galouises a few months ago because my mom used to smoke them in high school and they’re incredibly smooth, and I just really like them. I don’t think I can go back to Marlboro Lites. It seems like every time I like something, it instantly disappears, like there’s some vast fucken conspiracy against me. Well, bring it on Universe, I can take it, I can find another brand of cigarettes that I’ll like even better. And"
And I should kiss him. That might just be the one thing that stops his nervous babbling. But I don’t. And I don’t care to analyze why.
“and I totally had fun and everything, and it was really nice to be on a date with someone who wasn’t just trying to get into my pants on the first date or anything. Like my last exboyfriend, who’s totally HIV positive. I’m not, by the way, I’ve been tested recently, and we haven’t had sex in over a year. But he is, and I think I want to ask him to marry me, because then I can just marry him and do the whole ‘til death do us part thing, and know that it won’t be that far away. Though, honestly, I’ll probably marry the first guy who asks me to.”
And before I can stop myself, the words “Will you…” leap off my tongue, and cartwheel over the tightrope of desperation that serves as the only common thread between us. I can’t marry Ben, I don’t even know his last name. “Will you―really?”
“You didn’t.” Celeste says, when I relay the story to her later. “That’s soooooo lame.”
“What about Dmitri?” she asks, referring to my most recent unavailable fuck interest.
“What about him? I’m not going to wait for some confused gay guy in Chicago who has had the same boyfriend since he was fourteen. That’s slow suicide.”
“But he’s a med student.” Celeste says. “Wouldn’t your mom be thrilled if you were marrying a nice, rich doctor?”
“Sure.” I say. “If I were a woman.” When my mother calls to ask how I’m doing, she always asks Do you have a new boyfriend or, her voice swells with hope, girlfriend? “I think she’d be content with me marrying a hair dresser, as long as the hair dresser has a vagina.”
She rolls her eyes. “So, the proposal thing. You only proposed…”
“I didn’t propose. I very nearly proposed.”
“Wev, dude. You only very nearly proposed because you were drunk, right?”
“How many drinks did you have?”
I tap the tips of my fingers. “I lost count at four.” The problem with mixed drinks is the problem with boys: the fruitier they are, the easier they go down, and eventually you lose track of how many you swallow. Not that either Ben or I did any going down or swallowing on the night I nearly almost proposed.
“Will I really what?” Ben asks.
“Marry the first guy who proposes.”
And I wait for him to ask if that’s a proposal, or if I’m kidding, or for him to say anything to end this awkward, depressing silence. “I don’t know.” He says, taking the last drag off his last cigarette. “Depends on the guy, I guess.”
“Well, I’d hope so.” And I throw in a fake laugh, that I hope sounds sincere.
“I should go.” He says. “I don't want to miss the last train.”
And I almost detain him just a long enough so we end up going back to my place to share either a great fuck, a huge mistake, or both. But I don’t.