A few years after graduating college, with the idea in mind to become a literature professor, I found myself going to graduate school for a degree to teach high school English. Not a terrible idea entirely, but I was entirely unaware of what made it terrible; I was expecting it to be something that it never was- genuine- and this slight misunderstanding would set me back years.
It was my last semester in college, and I wanted to re-take “Intro to Creative Writing” because I had gotten a C- in it the first time and I couldn’t allow that on my permanent record. It’s hard to imagine caring about such things in retrospect, but in the early aughts I had it in mind to go all the way to my English PhD, and what kind of doctor of literature would have gotten a C- in a fucking beginners creative writing class- where the girls write about boys they’re fucking who don’t want to date them and the boys write about girls they like from afar- who are sometimes sitting in the very same class.
“‘Cause we came here to set this party off right, let’s bounce tonight. And if they don’t let us in through the front, we’ll come through the side.”
She had me drive her to her mother’s apartment so she could steal money; behavior I never endorsed outright, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t complacent; an accomplice, if we ever got arrested, which we wouldn’t, her mother was a dingbat. She’d keep loose cash in the drawer next to her bed, and every few weeks Marisa would dip into it like a broken ATM. Hundreds of dollars missing; thousands over time. Her mother had alimony coming in from Marisa’s lawyer father- when shit hits the fan, everyone’s a thief.
She’d take enough to get a half-ounce from our dealer and have some left over to go out to dinner with. Sitting next to a Family Dollar listening to “Waiting for the Man.” He’d text you that he was “just pulling in to the parking lot” and show up an hour later- he knew you weren’t going anywhere. First thing you learn is that you always have to wait…
Brought a bagel sandwich and bag of chips back with me- the indie label, kettle-cooked kind that you pay a dollar more for but is more heavily saturated in a higher quality oil- saffron, which is less likely to cause heart disease; something I can only appreciate in retrospect.
We’d get high and watch the Casey Anthony trial.
“And I’m in so deep- you know I’m such a fool for you. You’ve got me wrapped around your finger.”
She kissed my cheek and excused herself to the bathroom. Alone in her bedroom, I walked over to the shelf with her wedding picture. My peripheral vision had picked up on this when I entered the room- my eyes developed the keenness of a hunter. Her husband finally moved out that morning, she told me. Time to party.
Two weeks since I’d sent a text that read “no one fucking breaks up with me,” a few days after which I was sitting in the backseat of my car with a brand new girl on my lap, hunched over with her arms around my neck and the small of her back pressed against the driver’s seat; my hands in her hair and her breath on my cheek, as she sang along to “Pretty Good Year” while quietly crying. Puzzle pieces that would’ve seemed foreign to anyone who walked in late- who didn’t see her response to things I’d written that resonated with her, who didn’t see the video she took of herself singing “Linger” with the word fucking inserted in the chorus- a little something I always thought would intensify the emotional impact of the song- just to impress me.
“Look boy, either Michael Jackson is some guy working in a recording studio in L.A. or he’s here with you willing to work on this song. It’s your choice.”
It used to bother me thinking I didn’t exist outside of how others perceived me. The moments I spent alone, while significant to me, felt shapeless- as if what’s experienced in solitude existed on a plane between dream and fiction. The inner world can only be represented in close approximation- and that representation is all that exists; you are who others perceive you to be. No one is interested in you beyond the value of your public face.
You are nothing.
The coldness of deep space.
“I’ll be the last to say, don’t follow your heart, but there’s more to what it takes to be a man.”
There were others before her, but she was the first. I found her on MySpace. She liked taking pictures; she was an early adopter of digital photography. Specialized in self-portraits- different angles, tight zoom.
You thought she was beautiful. A carbon copy of every girl-next-door you ever wanted in high school. This was your moment. You spent a year in the gym- miles on the treadmill, throwing around dumbbells- training for this like Rocky Balboa looking for a comeback. You had girlfriends before- but this was your moment; experience, swagger, and fitness- you finally felt like a complete package. If out-of-shape guys date average girls, then fit guys have their pick; it’s a logically valid equation.
“This is a warning: here comes the morning.”
She had done her part by having a kid. Something anyone could point to as making her accomplished enough– anything on top of that is a victory lap. No one would fault her for keeping things quiet- drinks on the weekends, maybe a date, vacation time over the summer. This is how she eased into her forties, and there was nothing terribly wrong with it- even if her only wish were to politely color within the lines and walk away with a terrifically neat and tidy picture of a live well lived.
First time I had dated someone so incredibly settled– she even had a house to go along with the kid. Only a few years older than me, but it felt like decades. With my baseball cap turned slightly askew, I still think I’m a twenty-five year-old rock star with a full road ahead of me. This is the fantasy you indulge in when you’ve never chosen a path- you pretend that you still have choices, and that you could be smug about those boring types with their suburban homes and vacation clubs.
“On Marty’s right was dear old Mom, who was once very attractive and bright. Now, at forty-seven, she was overweight, drank more than was good for her and had more food on her plate than anyone else.”
I wasn’t trying to have sex with Christine, but I wasn’t opposed to it. She was in town visiting from some far off country where she had gotten a job teaching English, picked up a relationship, burnt through it, and came back to her hometown to regroup before doing it all again. She’d come back home for gift cards and praise, for being courageous and a free spirit, to have a few parties in her honor- maybe hook up with some old flames- and leave before it starting feeling too familiar. I never left our hometown; I was neither courageous nor a free spirit.
We were the first generation to explore our late twenties as unmarried. As it turns out, this only extends adolescence, creates expectations that life won’t likely meet, and will give you a handful of addictions to grapple with for the next ten years. If you’re lucky, you’ll have your head screwed on by forty, and then spend the rest of your life playing catch-up like you’re running out of time on a level of Super Mario Brothers– the background music obnoxiously fast so you don’t forget.
“Runaway with me tonight, dream the dream and light the light.”
Maybe it’s just part of growing up, feeling the depth of responsibility which that role entails- or the side effect of a tendency to lean toward narcissism- but I’ve never been able to let go of guilt. Lying in bed at night, thinking, how could I have been better or what could I have done differently. You put pressure on yourself to live up to an arbitrary ideal, and when you don’t, you never let yourself forget it. Maybe this is why I can’t sleep at night.
And when I’m lying in bed restless, I’ll often think about Christmas 1983. I don’t think I have coherent memories earlier than 1983, and if I take a moment to really focus, I can remember the feeling of newness and exploration I felt at that age- almost as if I were conscious of it at the time, but I know this is probably only how I see things in retrospect. I was obsessed with Masters of the Universe– captivated by the cartoon, and there were no better days than going to Toys R Us and getting to pick out one of the figures to take home. Of course, I preferred Skeletor to He-Man; even at three-years-old, I wanted to be the bad guy.
“The only convincing love story of our century.”
Like getting a glimpse of a video game’s final boss before your own destruction, unless you’re a real stud, you never get much experience having threesomes. Those who romanticize it have either never done it, or done it so many times that listening to them in the first place would be like taking financial advice from a trust fund kid. It’s nice to be rich.
But outside of a resume piece that only comes up in the screening interviews you have with new women you’re trying to fuck, who’ll assume you’re lying anyway, or a sexual bucket list that you only understand as meaningless once it’s all checked off, threesomes are mostly silly.
This is the reality that every internet guru, selling you thousands of dollars of bullshit and filming those ridiculous looking three-way kisses at foam parties in Cancun, will gladly lie about.