It's the first day of class and I twiddle my pencil nervously, waiting for the professor to come and fill the graceless silence that descends upon a roomful of people who have never met before, who are suddenly thrust into an intimate little circle. I try not to make prolonged eye contact with my fellow students--I don't want to be forced into a conversation, forced to reveal myself. Cowardly? Maybe. But I never go first; I pride myself on it. Then my eyes meet his and I'm trapped.
He sits upright in his seat, hands folded, not nervous or shy or calculating or calm but just there, an inimitable presence. He smiles at me and the rest of the room falls away.
For the rest of the hour I perform for him: answer every question, rebut every argument, try to make myself the very image of wit and charm. Only after class, when I approach him and ask him if he'd like to study together, does it occur to me that he made me go first. I never go first.
hazel eyes, brown hair
It's pissing October rain outside. He and I are studying at the makeshift desk in my closet-sized room. I devote perhaps one fifth of my attention to reading. The rest of the time I flick my eyes to the side, stealing glances, admiring his profile against the flat grey sky outside the bay window. When he reaches the end of a chapter he looks at me, frowning. "Wanna borrow my copy of the reader? It's an original and it might be easier on the eyes than your Xerox."
I realize I am less than halfway through the chapter. "That's okay," I say. "I think my brain's just waterlogged today."
He smiles at me and raps gently on my noggin. "Doesn't sound like much of anything in there, to me!"
straight teeth, crooked grin
It's a balmy night in the middle of February, courtesy of El Niño. My room is stifling and the sliding glass door is open to catch the sea breeze. Again we sit at my desk, but we've dropped any pretense of studying the text. We are making our own study in pyromania.
I pour a shot of Bacardi 151 onto my keyboard and he touches a lit match to it; we both gasp as the blue flame licks at the keys. He rips a meter length of Saran wrap from the roll and twists it into a rope. I light the end of it and he twirls it over his head. We giggle uncontrollably as droplets of flaming, molten plastic fly thwip thwip thwip through the air. I use a pocket knife to mutilate the plastic trim on the side of my desk--I hate this desk--and he douses it in lighter fluid. We watch flames lick at the fake wood laminate until the smell of burning pressboard overcomes us and we snuff it out with a wet towel.
Suddenly his hand rests lightly upon my shoulder and he's looking at me expectantly. "I've been thinking...do you wanna live together next year?"
Delirious joy! Mouth goes dry, heart thuds violently within my chest, and I stammer foolishly. Finally I just nod, exaggerating the movement so that I look like a drinking bird, bobbing my head frantically. Finally I manage a weak but enthusiastic "Yes!" and try to smile, hoping it doesn't turn into a grimace.
full lips, smooth skin
It's an early evening in April, the evening before my birthday, and we are walking through grimy streets toward my house. We lug cumbersome cardboard boxes filled with assorted bottles of hard liquor. Already more than a bit drunk, I find it hard to walk a straight line and we frequently bump shoulders. Emboldened by the casual contact I shift my burden into one arm and wrap the other loosely around his waist. For a few seconds it seems this will be tolerated; then he coughs and shrugs away from my embrace. "Tony... what are you doing?"
My heart sinks. I quickly take my arm away and stare fixedly at my feet, avoiding eye contact, pretending there is a wall between us. (O, God, what a wall!) We walk the rest of the way home in silence.
We're together for the entirety of the next day; he and my other future roommates are throwing me a birthday barbeque. After much drinking and smoking they manage to jolly me out of my black mood and I start to have fun. Later the four of us climb into the redwood hot tub with our drinks, enjoying the contrast between steaming water and chill salt air. After we've settled in, he scoots closer to me and puts his arm around me. The touch is electric; his smooth, wet skin seems to burn where it touches the nape of my neck. He is close enough that I can smell the lingering scent of shampoo in his hair. I sit petrified, afraid that if I move a muscle this excruciating, beautiful, perfect moment will end.
"Psst!" my roommate Colette whispers sotto voce, loud enough for all of us to hear. "He's got his arm around you!"
I wince. Surely, this will end the contact... but it doesn't. He doesn't appear to have noticed. "I know," I whisper back, equally loud. "It doesn't mean anything. I wish it meant something...but it doesn't." He snorts, and nods his head gently. The liquor has done its work well, and I know that I alone will remember this moment in the morning.
His arm lingers there for a full five minutes longer, and they are the most blissful five minutes of my life.
graceful nose, freckled cheeks, face beyond compare
We move into a cramped apartment. I share a room with him but it feels spacious compared to my old place. I spend my days at work with him and my evenings at home with him and the summer is gone in a heartbeat. School commences; he is taking a year off from school to work. I struggle to sit through classes that once interested me, but suddenly seem dull and purposeless without him. My nights are long; I toss and turn and stare at his beautiful slumbering form for hours before sleep can take me. There is close friendship between us--or at least a pretense of closeness--but I feel we are growing more distant. I try to convince myself that it's all in my imagination.
One day his mates from freshman year call him and ask if he'd like to drop acid again, like the old days. I've never eaten acid before and I beg him to be included. A troubled look flits briefly across his face; then he says "Of course! I'm sure there's enough," and calls them back.
Sitting on a battered couch in a darkened apartment with four others I tip my head back and open my mouth wide, waiting to receive the holy sacrament. The master of ceremonies squeezes an unlabeled bottle of aquamarine liquid and a single drop falls out, splashing onto the delicate skin below my tongue. It tastes like breath freshener--it is breath freshener. Active ingredient: lysergic acid diethylamide, 0.01%. "Sublingual ingestion is the best," the drug shaman says. "Gets into your system quicker that way."
The six of us walk north along the beach, waiting for the trip to overtake us. Soon the sun sinks below the horizon and the world brightens around us even as light fades from the sky. I taste the sound of the waves and hear the brilliant sunset, a cacophony of red and yellow and purple and pink. Someone points at a bird swooping in for a landing at the airport--no, wait, that's a 737! 6:00 business traveller special in from LAX!--and we all giggle as we reach for the plane in the sky, pretending to catch it in our outstretched hands.
We walk north for two hours through a dreamland of our own making, pulled along by the insistent promise of something even better just around the next bend in the coast. I can't seem to get rid of the shit-eating grin on my face, but nobody seems bothered; they all understand that it's incidental, a meaningless side effect of the drugs. We pass beachside resorts and coastal cottages, tidal flats and huge abandonded oil platforms embedded in the sand.
Eventually, he stumbles and starts to fall. I rush to his aid and realize his feet are chafed raw. He's been wearing sandals the entire time, while the rest of us have walking shoes! I resist the urge to swab his feet with my t-shirt, steadying him instead and unlacing my shoes. "Look," I say, "let's trade shoes for awhile. Or at least let me give you my socks."
He shakes his head sadly. "You would, too, wouldn't you? You would give me your shoes and your socks and not think twice about it." He sighs and our companions glance uneasily at each other, unaware of the subtext, thoroughly confused.
"But that's okay...I don't need them," he says dismissively, brightening the tone of his voice. I understand that for the sake of the charade I must act in kind. I don't get the opportunity to say what I'd really like right now; instead I smile and nod and the six of us continue walking.
After some minutes I sidle up to him. "And if I did give you my socks," I say in a small voice, "what would be so wrong with that? I would do that for a friend..." I want to sound self-confident and unabashed, but my wavering voice sounds pathetic, to my ears. The other four members of our party are in their own little worlds, and none notice the exchange.
narrow hips, hairless chest, slender calves
Weeks pass and then months; the acid trip becomes a (mostly) good memory for both of us and school slides by.
One evening we're both undressing for bed and he pauses, t-shirt in hand and shorts around his ankles. "I've been thinking," he says. "A friend of mine is getting a great deal on an apartment; he knows the manager, and he wants me to be his roommate. So...what are your living plans for next year?"
I use every ounce of self-control in my body to stifle the sob that is building in my chest. "I...hadn't given it any thought," I choke out. "I just assumed..." and can manage nothing more. I fall into bed and bury my head in the pillow.
I hear him walk to the head of his bed and sense him just a few feet away. He pats me lightly on the shoulder, climbs into bed and turns off the light. Though I do my best to muffle them, I'm sure he can hear the dry sobs. I'm equally sure he is able to ignore them, because his usual buzzsaw snoring starts up after less than an hour. I am devastated; I try until first light to make the tears come, but they never do. Instead there is only this terrible, crushing sadness and no way to let it out.
Our remaining four months as roommates are bittersweet, and I spend most of my time at other friends' houses. I contemplate suicide for awhile, develop a vicious drinking habit and I spend a lot of time thinking. Did I just waste two years of my life, or did all of this mean something? If I never find someone like him again, will I look back and be glad that at least I got this much?
wheresoever he went, there was Eden.