Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cheap Wine, Expensive Martinis and Messy Reunions: Residency

It was early December now. My boyfriend, Michael, was gathering his things from a thrashed Victorian house in Pasadena to bring over to my place. After living with several computer nerds, the type who left food out to rot and tangled surge protectors across the living room floor, for a couple years, Michael was planning on moving in with me and Frank December 17th.

Love is bracelet


My writing school runs an unusual program. We study, read and write from all over the world and usually discuss and share online. At the start of each semester, we all fly, drive or bus in to campus for 10-days of intensive workshops, lectures and parties. It is very intense, and to make it more intense, it would be the first time I would see Huck.

Huck is a tall, lanky, fair-skinned boy of about 27 from Baraboo, Wisconsin. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Wide eyes. His chin narrow. His ears big. He looks like a child that hit an unexpected growth spurt. Usually, he shuffles down the sidewalk in a sock hat, open flannel and back-pack so heavy it bends him forward like a cattail. He was in the Poetry program when I met him during the June 2012 residency, earlier that year. We flirted. We fucked. We fell. And in a hotel room with vodka, beer, and two computers we wrote, made love, laughed together, ate together and made a pact that we would try to make it last after we left residency.

Cartoon drawing heart

You know the end of these kind of stories. Two fuck-ups like us, it never could have worked. He went home to Wisconsin and fucked another girl. I went home to Washington state to live with my parents and cry over it. We both drank. We both texted. Huck less and less. Me more and more. And then it stopped and I felt totally alone. I was in a rural town in Washington state, without any friends, with a broken car, all the while relying on my parents for companionship, comfort and support. My parents were never good with the parental side of being parents. They recoil, explode, shut down. The more uncomfortable it was with my parents, the more I realized they were living somewhere between senile and psychotic, and the more I drank. Thank God, all of that that ended, too. I would rather not write about it now. Those cuts are still burning.

I wanted him to save me. Whether or not Huck could save me, I don’t know, but he certainly didn’t try. He disappeared.

Hearts and brick wall

I came back to Los Angeles to start over, but with a little help from my friends. And with a little sunshine, a little love and laughter, I thrived again. Huck and I rarely were in contact. There was a conversation here and there on Gchat. He liked my blog. I wished him well. The more I healed, the more I hated him. No... hated is the wrong word. The more I resented him. I needed to in part to let him go. More importantly, I needed to remind myself that the people I was drawing into my life, the ones who discarded me, who reminded me of my parents, those people needed to be removed from my psyche permanently. Whether Huck fits into some greater pattern of dysfunction or not, he was rolled up in my summer back in Washington. I wanted to dump those memories; the parents, the house, the desperation and the heartbreak. I wanted to begin again.

I did. I was reborn. I was happy. But now, I was about to see him again ... all over again. And I was scared. The campus is small- of the four classes attending residency at one time, there are about 30 people per class. People would say, “Can’t you just avoid him?” I guess I could try, but we would be in the same room several times over the course of 10 days. And did I want to? I avoided thinking about him. I had a great boyfriend. Michael adored me. I kept Huck’s doors closed, but Michael kept asking what I was going to do. “It is just hard. Every time I bring up Huck you get this far away look in your eyes and it scares me,” he said.

“I don’t know. I just can’t even imagine seeing him again, I have no idea what it will be like,” I answered.

The next morning, we both just kind of laid there, side by side in bed. “I have already made up my mind that you are going to sleep with Huck,” he said.

“What? No I won’t.”

“Just do what you need to do. After residency, December 17th, we will look at it again. We can be in a committed relationship and I will move in. I am even putting it in my phone. There. December 17th. Feelings talk.”

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**

A night or two before residency, my phone buzzed. It was Huck. “Are you going to be civil this week?”
My roommate Frank was coaching me from the sidelines. “Don’t answer! Don’t answer!”

I slowly typed. “Of course.”

“That’s the right answer! That’s the right answer!” cheered Frank.

I was working on a manuscript on the couch while Frank watched sports from his lawn chair, placed all alone, in the middle of the living room, in front of the TV. The volume was low and there was a mellow kind of harmony about our two worlds. My phone buzzed again:

“Good. We'll have to get a drink, or smoke up if you can get hands on some,” Huck wrote.

I read the message, screamed and threw the phone across the room like it burned my fingers.

“What are you doing? You should be enjoying this. He loves you. He is crazy about you. Relax,” Frank said, waiting for the next commercial break before smoking the cigar rolling between his fingers.

Why was I so anxious about this one person? This one fucking hipster from Milwaukee. We only knew each other for a week. Just a week. It was a fling. That’s all.

I retrieved my phone and carefully typed, “I don't know about that. Lets leave it at civil for now.”
 
“Understood,” blipped back from the screen.

GeekLoveEtsy1

***
For better or worse, I told Michael that I wanted to be in a committed relationship now. There was no point in waiting until after residency, I knew he was the man I wanted to be with.

***
The day before class, I had gone on a rampage at the local Forever 21. Sascha gave me a gift card a long time ago, and I used every last dollar (even a little more) to look as cute as possible for the first day of class. Ripped jeans. Off the shoulder tops. A purple vinyl jacket with sweatshirt sleeves and a hoodie.

Michael drove me to school in the 1996 Saturn I just bought from a friend of a “writer” I met. It took a little over an hour to get to campus from Glendale. When we finally pulled near the campus parking structure, I hyperventilated.

“I can do this. I can do this. I am smart. I deserve to be here. I am smart,” I kept chanting.

Tears squeezed out from the corners of my eyes and the air burned my lungs as I panted through the mantra. My hands were shaking, so I threw them in the air to straighten them out. I was having an anxiety attack.

“You are smart,” Michael said, touching my back. “One of the smartest people I know. You do deserve to be here.”

The program was fairly exclusive. Students complain, but only 6 or so applicants are invited into my genre (Non-Fiction) every semester. There was a waiting list. And after studying film for 15 years, I was way behind on my knowledge of literary basics like modern books or even specific rules with regards to grammar and comma splices. My writing experience, up to this point, was only this blog and a few screenplays. The other students taught English or authored published books, sometimes both.

“I can do this ... I can do this ...” I said, closing my eyes, wiping my face, breathe in ... breathe out. I wiped my nose and looked at Michael. “I can do this.”

love never fails

He hugged me and I stepped out of the vehicle. I climbed up a steep, concrete staircase along the edge of campus and felt my knees wobble. A couple smiled as they passed me on the way down. I stopped and then put on my act. “Pretend to be confident.” I smiled, bounced and casually found my friends.

***
In the program, there was my friend from Oregon- a tall, kind of sizable lesbian named Cat. She is very fair, with blue eyes and milky white skin. I bet in winters she turns blue. Her short, blonde hair and thundering presence often confuse people. She claims at least once a day she is mistaken for a man. It is kind of hard to believe with a rack like that. One of her breasts is bigger than my entire head.

George is a gorgeous, sculpted, eloquent homosexual. He is the closest thing to a perfect human being I have ever met. Always kind, considerate. Always smart and witty. Always wearing the perfect colors to compliment his carob skin, with the scarf thrown over his shoulder just so.

They are both brilliant. Both talented. Both unmistakable in a crowd. And as I climbed those concrete stairs, I found the bagels and then I found George & Cat- slipping between them with a little sarcasm, occasionally checking out of conversation to daydream or look for Huck.

***
The first time I saw Huck was in a lecture called “The Literary Marketplace”. I walked in and found Cat right away. She towered over me and spoke excitedly about this or that to a few other students. Through the corner of my eye, I saw the back of that blonde head of fine hair. His yellow hair is the kind that breathes light, onto lazy sunflowers, through glass pitchers of lemonade, the moment of yellow before white. We sat down for the lecture, but I couldn’t stop staring at the back of his head. I wondered if he knew I was in the room, two rows behind and over the aisle.

yellow-kid-page-6-660-cropped

People around the room asked questions, and we all turned to look at them. If I turned back, I caught the curve of his chin, the rim of his glasses, just before he swung back around to face the front of the classroom. I tried to concentrate and ignore him. Everyone said ignore him. I took notes, I focused on the presentation, but that yellow light flared in the corner of my eye and I gave into staring at him. Even in the moment, I wasn’t looking for anything. I wasn’t trying to catch something or figure anything out. I just had to wrap my head around months of pining over someone who was now roughly six feet away.

After class, I squeezed through the wall of people piling up behind the first exit. Cat was trying to lead me through, but I patiently waited to leave, knowing my ass was in plain sight of Huck.

***
The second time I saw him, I was sitting between Cat and George in the student lounge. “I just don’t know if I should say something or ignore him ...” I vented.

“Just be polite and say hello. You are about to get your chance,” George said.

Huck walked up to the door of the lounge and looked in. Cat, George and I all turned to look at him. Awkward moment. Then he walked away.

I felt bad. There was always this tension. Would I run into him? Did everyone know about us? He was alone most of the time. He wasn’t as social a creature as I was. Walking around campus, the looming anxiety of bumping into him got to me. So I emailed him at the end of the first day:

“I think we should have a drink to cut the tension.
I don't have your number anymore.”

He wrote back immediately, “Alright.” We exchanged numbers. Typing back and forth, little sentences, standing in the lobby on campus with my friends, he suddenly appeared. He was strutting now, confident, smiling even. He tilted his head to the side, his back still bent forward to roll the weight of his backpack back and forth. He kicked his chin up and smiled at me. My friend turned towards me with her upper lip snarling in disgust.

We all waited for the free dinner opening night of residency. We were all poor and desperate for cold cuts, bad lasagna and cheap wine in little plastic cups. The line for food was out of the room and down the hall. We patiently filed in, as I chatted happily with a few other students around me. Then I saw him sitting at a table across the room. He shoved a bit of food off his fork into his mouth, winked at me and then casually looked away. My heart started pumping double the oxygen and blood to my head. I felt dizzy.

broken-hearted

He wasn’t traditionally good-looking. He just fascinated me. I can’t say why for certain, some people just capture you.  My only hope to completely avoid anything complicated with him was if he was disinterested in me, or interested in another girl in the program.

We ate on opposite sides of the room. After the dinner, he passed me in the hallway, cupped his hand over the edge of my elbow for a few seconds and said, “I will call you later.” Before I knew it, he was gone. I turned to my friend, extended my elbow and said “Can you wipe this off for me?”

**
As the night went on, everyone went home and Huck hadn’t called. I texted him.

He wrote: “I am not drunk enough to see you” or something like that.

“Let’s just get it out of the way,” I wrote back. I walked down to the same Sheraton where we fell for each other, a few blocks from the school. He was staying there again. I was so nervous, I felt my muscles tighten over bone. I was walking sideways to avoid bumping into things. I straightened my hair and face in the Hotel lobby and walked into the bar. He wasn’t there yet. I waited. I thought about the pain. I just needed to remember the pain. I hated him. I despised him. I wanted him to get an extraordinarily bad case of genital herpes. Wait a minute, why was I here? Why was I seeing him? I should leave. I should get up and leave right now.

I sat still.

Then he walked in, bouncing a bit on his feet. He suddenly slipped into the seat across from me, his knee and foot tapping nervously. We ordered drinks and waded through some awkward small talk. How are you? 
Yeah. Good.

Somewhere early in conversation, awkwardly, the word “sorry” fell out of his mouth.

“Sorry for everything or ...” I said, swishing my weak vodka martini around.

“Sorry for everything. I knew when I went to a motel with a 21-year-old while I was still with my last girlfriend that I was doing it all over again. I know it is something I am doing. And when I destroyed that relationship I felt almost as bad as I did with y- .... are you ok?” he asked.

My head was turned. “I am seeing spots.”

“I saw some of those texts I sent last summer when you texted me tonight, and they were pretty ugly. I am sorry I did that.”

The waiter asked if we wanted another drink. I nodded. “Yes, but I need a strong martini. I want it to burn the back of my throat.” The waiter nodded, kind of amused or maybe curious, then slinked away.

“Anyway, I obviously have some kind of pattern ...” he continued.

His voice made me sick. I needed to be drunk for this. I couldn’t take it, whatever hole he dug in me was still wide open and I couldn’t close it, not in front of him over a cocktail table in a hotel bar.

“So ... did you get a haircut before residency?” I asked.

“Yeah, my Hitler Youth haircut,” he said. It was a close shave with bangs. His hair was so blonde it would look white on black and white film. “I went to the barber and had to ask for Boardwalk Empire meets Mad Men. You can’t just say Hipster in Baraboo. I should just ask for ‘Faggot’.”

hitler youth haircut

I laughed. He was still funny. The moment I warmed to him was somewhere around the second martini, still not strong enough to fire up my mouth like a bottle of Listerine, but enough to cauterize my wounds for an hour. A group of girls were laughing at the bar behind him. Huck put on his over-the-top gay voice, “They are really loosening up over there!” he said. I laughed. The release felt good, all the tension, all the wait, all the worry just slipped out of me and we sank into our seats.

I was checking my phone. “Are you still with Abe?” Huck asked. Abe is my ex.

“No. Not at all. I have only seen him once since I moved back to LA,” I said.

“I thought you said you were back with him.”

“No ...” I checked my phone again. Michael was picking me up but he wasn’t answering my texts. “My boyfriend has my car, I am waiting for him to pick me up but he isn’t answering.”

I knew mention of the word “boyfriend” would kind of kill the mood. Not because we were flirting but just because it put rules on the night, almost immediately. I felt Huck lean back a little, he seemed more uncomfortable all of a sudden.

He ordered another drink. I think I did as well. The bill was big, too big for a writer who just quit his job before flying out of Wisconsin. He made a suggestion that we go back to his room for cheaper drinks. I said I didn’t think it would be a good idea.

A happy, black couple at a nearby table engaged us a little. “Where are you from?” they asked.
“He is from Louisiana,” I answered. Huck hung his head and twisted his smile. “I am not from Louisiana,” he muttered.

“Oh, Louisiana!” they said warmly. “What part?”

“The part saved from Hurricane Katrina,” I said.

Huck stood up and promptly paid the bill, then made quick strides to the elevator. I put my bag over my shoulder and looked at my phone. No word yet from Michael. I followed Huck up to the hotel room.
We walked into the room, one lamp in the corner was on. The lights outside in the night shimmered through the curtain like mutated stars. I sat and waited for another beverage, then picked up the book on his desk. “War & Peace?” I smirked, “You are just trying to impress me.”

“I thought I would do some reading while I was here,” he said, coolly.

The evening gets sloppy right around here. He definitely tried to seduce me, and I drew it out and pulled away to tease him as much as possible. I remember his shirt off, his legs on either side of my torso as I lay flat and drunk on his bed. I waited until the last moment to dodge his kiss.  “I am not going to play these games,” he said. He teetering back and away from me.

I had told him about Michael and his expectation that we sleep together. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was playing with fire. Huck and I were drunk. We argued. I left the room, I paced down the hallway and back, then waited outside the door less than a second before the door opened for me. I walked back into the room, threw my bag on the ground and collapsed on the bed.

Cartoon of couple at night

I kept him at a finger’s distance for all but one moment. One moment in a kiss where you don’t remember anyone leaning in, where there was no tension or runway to the collision. We just kissed. He consumed me. My tongue was numb from too many cigarettes and I immediately regretted all the anxious chain-smoking. It may be the last time I taste him. My fingertips drizzled down the sides of his ribcage. A drum stick tattooed on each hip. My hands wrapped around his skin and I remembered how soft he was. He was warm and inviting like a clump of my mother’s skin cream. So soft, you could barely feel it on you.

Where the night put us at different moments, I can’t say for certain in what order. I remember we were standing at the door and he said, “Now you’re just somebody that I used to know ...”

“What?”

“That song ...? Nevermind,” he said.

“That awful pop song?” I asked. “And I thought you were a Poetry major!”

Michael was texting me now, and I asked him to wait for me. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was drunk and in the thick of memories, trying to understand how to put this love to bed. Huck and I argued more. We circled each other. Then we would lay on our stomachs.

“Where is your ass?” Huck asked, staring at collapsed jean pockets over my behind.

“It doesn’t exist.”

Between dodging kisses and dragging out unpleasant memories, I collapsed on him, crying over my parents. They had kicked me out of their house in the summer, dragging my things on the front lawn and unleashing my dogs to the night.  They have not made contact with me since. He held me as tears and snot ran out of my face all over his bare chest and shoulder. I wept like a 5-year-old, occasionally screaming into the pillow under his head. I even kicked my foot up and down into the bed.

“Now, here is the real rejection,” he said, holding me close.

“I hate my parents. I hate them!” and I kicked, and cried then stopped.

He put the Rolling Stones on YouTube for me. Per my request, a 1964 performance of “Not Fade Away”. I gurgled through my tears and turned my head quietly towards the screen, then I felt better. I even started singing.

Rolling Stones 64

It was psychotic. It was intimate. It was ugly and messy and loud. It was a perfect reunion.

I texted Michael to pick me up, then saw Huck logged into Facebook on his open laptop and posted a status update while he was in the bathroom. “Sorry for fucking over all the women in my life.” Then I left.

I would have to face Michael after all of this ... then go back to school at 9am.



MessyArt_GCDC_invite_c02_01

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