The last night of residency came fast. Towards the end, you find yourself skipping lectures you circled on your agenda to take a nap or slurp soup in the middle of the day. You lay around like a sea lion, hoping someone will throw food in your mouth so you don’t have to flop around anymore. Caffeine can’t help you anymore. Nothing can but the end. You just want it to end.
But you kinda don’t want it to end at the same time. Cat would go back to Oregon. The Silver Fox back to Chicago. Another to Paris. Another to Claremont, not too far away but far enough to never see each other over a semester. Collide then let go. Huck would be back in Baraboo and I would be back to dogsitting, car trouble and a rocky start to a promising relationship.
We were all just hanging around one late afternoon. The alcohol supply was dwindling. We were googling Yoko Ono performances and exchanging book recommendations. Michael stopped by. I always was excited to see him but our meetings were strained. It wasn’t unusual with couples. Another roommate had a similar experience when her boyfriend came to visit. It is hard, but I am not quite sure why.
Michael sat on a stool and stared at me with tears in his eyes. We were talking about the car I picked up a week before. The transmission blew out on it 10 days after I bought it with cash. “It’s bad,” is all he could say. “The lowest estimate I can find is $2500 and they said it isn’t even worth saving.” All my money was put into this last vehicle. I can’t tell you how much air squeezes out of your lungs when someone tells you all your savings wasn’t worth saving. Michael could barely speak. He just stared at me with those glossy, puppy dog eyes. He was going to rent a car until we decided what to do. For a guy under 25, that proved to be financially crippling. After one leg was shot out from under us, the other one would slowly crumble.
“Stop looking at me like that,” I said, coldly.
“Sorry,” he said, looking away. Why does he make me feel so bad? Most men don’t express any feelings of weakness. Michael is free with it. He will tear up. He will look like he was slapped across the face. And then he will cry. I have never had a man in my life like that before. It makes the connection all the more intense. The more I cared for him, the more frustrated I was in his moments of stress, hurt and weakness. There was no way to protect him and there was no cure. I wonder if that is how men feel in relationships most of the time?
The Silver Fox offered to drive him to the airport for a cheap car rental. Michael bussing over the greater part of Los Angeles was like taking blood by the quart. He was worn down from all the rushing, the scrounging of change and the long waits on dirty buses. One to the next to the next. Some buses don’t stop. Some don’t show. On foot in the urban jungle with only a dying cell phone and a pocket full of change, you are vulnerable.
After we dropped off Michael, the Silver and I made plans to hang out. It would have been quiet, just the Silver Fox, Cat, My Flower (a beautiful female writer who was graduating) and me now that the others had either gone home for another night or moved to another couch in another house. I mucked it up a but by inviting Huck over. It was our last night and I really thought we would have a good time. The Silver Fox is a distinguished, older poet. The type of guy with a nice car, a nice home and a nice wife. He drove my boyfriend to pick up a car rental, drove down to pick up my ex-lover, then took us to a liquor store to buy more beer and wine for the house. The poor guy.
We walked into a Venice liquor store and a slinky, black guy accompanied with a much more sophisticated (and rather beautiful) black woman beat us to the refrigerated beverages.
“Whatever you want is on me!” he said.
“That bottle of Chardonnay,” I said, pointing.
Everyone laughed while I waited patiently. Silver picked up his choice. Huck his.
I gave up and grabbed my bottle. “Is it naive that I thought he was really going to buy my Chardonnay?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the Silver.
Then we hopped over to Subway for a few sandwiches. We were all hungry and the Silver was buying. I was worried that he was annoyed. I really pressed my luck on this orchestration.
While waiting for my lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich, I looked over at Huck to check on him. He wasn’t hungry and he was sitting alone by the front window. His glasses slipping down his nose and his perfect Rockwell haircut. He was smiling at me. That smile was Gatsby-esque.
Back at the house, we came in with booze and cheap sandwiches. I drained my bottle of cheap Chardonnay in one sitting. That was the first mistake. Filling up my wine glass with whiskey … that was my second.
The Silver Fox suddenly decided that doing (on-line) work would be more productive than watching us slap and pinch each other over musical selections. All the on-line demand strained the wi-fi a bit, so that created more quiet stress.
Huck started with the White Album then switched over to Amy Winehouse, “You Know I’m No Good”. How transparent. I begged for “Back in Black” (Winehouse). He only had the one song by Amy. Then I switched to funk. Some James Brown … yeah, things get fuzzy around here. Real fuzzy.
The next thing I remember is screaming at Huck in the street outside the house while he hailed a cab.
What got us there? I can’t say for certain. Moments were briefly recreated for me the next morning:
-Cat told me at one point Huck said, “You know Michael is just a rebound, right?”
-The Silver Fox said I turned. Something in me switched to the dark side.
- Cat said Huck would leave, open the door, turn around and sit back down at the table, declaring, “[StarFire] won’t let me leave!”
What a fucking mess. So much so the neighbors called to complain to the owner of the house. My poor roommates could only respond to the complaint with, “Yeah, we have one of those in the house.”
Here we were. The last night of residency. The mist was rolling down Venice Blvd off the Pacific Ocean. The streets were nearly empty, it must have been after midnight. I have no idea. What were we fighting about? Feelings?
I remember throwing one last zinger at him as he finally got his cab. He stopped at the car door and turned around to speak to me. I walked away.
Later, I would describe this night to my therapist. “What is funny is I never argue with Michael. I can’t stand it when he is mad at me so I just shut down. I don’t speak.”
“And what do you argue about with Huck?” she asked.
“It isn’t really arguing. It is more … like playing a part,” I said.
The rest was like a dream. Inside the house, was I crying? Somehow I texted Michael. Then Michael was there and he took me home in the rental car. I said lots of things to him, everything I remembered at the time, which is more than what I know now. I can’t ask him what I said now. I am burying these feelings here in my computer. Unearthing them today would burn, at no great benefit to this blog. The argument was stupid, whatever it was.
I was back home, with my stolen IKEA bed, and my three dogs, and my forgiving boyfriend who was realizing I was more than a handful. Whatever joy, stimulation, adrenaline shook me during residency was softened and grounded at home, like a rattled bell that finally stopped swinging. I got my head back. The house in Glendale I was avoiding put new roots in me and I was ready to let go of residency, my friends, my messy, expired love affair and all the validation and doubts passing through.
For the first time that next morning, I was hungover. Michael drove me to school and Huck offered a half-sincere apology via text. “Perhaps a bit rash.” I tore into him and he was quick to defend himself. The argument escalated and I threw my phone on the floor of the car.
“Just please stop texting him,” Michael said. He played it cool but he was smart. He was waiting for the storm to pass before really talking to me about what a detriment Huck was to our relationship.
At school, I smoked a hangover cigarette and felt the beginning of a migraine. If I didn’t hydrate and avoid bright lights, by 3pm I would be inoperable. 3pm was our final workshop. Each workshop is divided first within genre, then in smaller groups of approximately six writers with a Workshop Mentor. God, I looked like shit. I felt like shit.
“[Starfire], we have your panties and wallet!” Cat shouted from the parking garage.
“I am not sure they are yours. They aren’t really your style,” The Silver Fox said.
“Let’s see them,” I said as Cat pulled out my blue and white gingham panties with ruffles around the seams. “Yup, those are mine. I hope they are clean.” (They were)
“My love, you turned last night!” The Silver Fox said. “My love has a switch!”
“Was it bad?” I asked.
They both nodded. “You need to avoid whiskey or avoid Huck. Whatever you do avoid Huck with whiskey.
Last night was just … not healthy.”
Cat described moments of Huck and I slapping each other’s legs. She said Huck wouldn’t let me listen to funk. Then she described how toxic our relationship was. My head was like soggy oatmeal at that point. I had no idea what to do with all this information. Cat’s voice tends to carry too, so whenever she said Huck’s real name, I heard it bounce off the building and roll back through the clusters of other students. Sometimes a head would turn to listen in. I hung my head.
“Just stay away from Huck,” John said.
That was, of course, around the time I texted Huck that I wanted to say goodbye before he flew back from Wisconsin. I was angry at him, God knows why, but I did want to say goodbye to him. His flight was leaving at 5pm and he needed a ride to the airport around 3 or 4pm. Around the time of the last workshop. Around the time my hangover would really take hold. Our goodbye would be rushed.
Just before we all broke apart to go to our different assigned workshops, I met him at the wall with the schedule. “Walk and talk with me,” he said, in a mock-teacher voice, smiling. I was holding a small cup of coffee that was quickly growing cold.
We walked down the hallway. “I am sorry things went bad between us and I am sorry I overreact and whatever, argue with you or push your buttons or whatever I do.” We reached the end of the hallway and stopped. “I acknowledge that drunk people are annoying. Ok, there,” I said, exasperated.
“I am sorry …” Huck started, then looked down.
“It’s ok, just say goodbye.”
We hugged. I had one arm around his shoulder and the other holding the small cup of coffee, now dripping down my coat sleeve. It was a good hug. Better than sex would have ever been.
“Goodbye,” I said, crumpled in his arms.
Then we let go. Until next residency.