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Writing group 20150531

Patrick Ball. Cursed be his name and his children.

No, that’s wrong. He’s fine. Cursed be Christina and all of her name.

No, that’s wrong. I’m inept. Like so many other times, I missed all the red flags. Well, I didn’t miss them so much as purposefully ignore them. Well, I didn’t so much ignore them as watch them as we zoomed by them. I breathed deep. I trusted. I whiffed at love. I missed it all.

Patrick. How deeply in trouble were we by the time we met Patrick?

In many ways, Patrick reminded me of myself but better, classier. I had quit Tae Kwon Doe in my youth and stopped wrestling after my knee accident, gaining weight up to the 280 pound lard asses I used to have made fun of in my youth, forgetting that I had been fat before wrestling, too. Patrick was a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Doe, never one to back down from anything as far as I know.

I drank sometimes and casually. Patrick was a vodka conesseur. After having drunk a bottle of wine myself in my own apartment at my own party (Halloween 2004), I left my party and found my way over to Patrick’s apartment where I drank vodka with him and Christina into the wee hours of the night. Then we went to iHop, where I spent at least 10 minutes vomiting in their awful toilet in their awful bathroom. Not my shiniest moment.

I read Terry Goodkind through book #6. Patrick had read Terry Goodkind and had informed opinions about King’s Dark Tower trilogy and had read more besides. I’m not sure that’s a point in his favor, but we’ll call it that for now.

Built like a little truck with cropped blonde hair, he reminded me of myself, and I liked him. Christina liked him, too. We had met him in Japanese class, and I had seen him around my apartment complex (LL Sams) and befriended him, and he and Christina became fast friends, and everything was in line for him to join our group. But then Christina asked me to back off and let her have him as her own friend instead of being our friend, and I agreed. Why did I agree to that?

“You’re socially agressive,” she told me one day. “All my friends are your friends now.”

I asked, “Aren’t they our friends, and isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t we all belong?”

“But they used to be my friends,” she insisted. “Prachi used to be my friend, and you didn’t even like her, and she didn’t like you. And whatever happened to Katie? I used to be friends with Katie.” (Christina and Prachi had lived together sophomore year; Prachi had disliked Mani, who openly and purposefully offended her on their first meeting [Mani being Mani.].)

“Katie doesn’t like me, but I don’t have any problem with her. You can invite her around if you want.”

“There is no being around me without being around you.”

I didn’t know what to say. (Now that I’m wondering, where were Patrick’s friends? Why did we only meet him and never anyone new from him?)

“Just back off, okay?” she finished. “Let me have Patrick to be my friend, not your friend, not our friend.”

“Okay,” I said. Why did I agree to that?

This would have been in September sometime, with Halloween to follow. Then sometime maybe in December I knew the end was at hand, and I fucked her one last time on his couch. And we broke up. And I broke; all spring I was broken. (Where in all this was that shaming walk with Kalli? It must have been before the breakup; I remember Patrick being thoroughly uncomfortable and offering to back off if that’s what I wanted. Was he sincere or coy? Was it all well-planned, or was loving Christina a gift that appeared in his lap one day?) (Where in all this Christina moving in with him? I think it must have been by October; why did Christina have to move in the middle of the semester? And where Brody, attached to her previous apartment?)

Christmas came and went, and sometime around February I remember staying up all night crying over Terry Goodkind. The book was awful and totally incapable of causing any reaction in me, but the pain of missing Christina had ripped me up, and my stomach hurt until I cried. I had been writing her poems, but now I began writing her essays like our old days. I wrote one based on Third Eye Blind’s “Good For You”, which is how I saw Christina, rattling chaotically through my mind. I left it at the door of her and Patrick’s apartment. She met me down on the stairs in between our buildings, and I cried and bawled and would have kissed her feet if she hadn’t told me that I needed to be not so pathetic. I stopped crying but still sniffled, and I asked her if there was any chance of getting back together, and she said no. (When in that time did she and Patrick get together officially? I don’t know.)

As soon as Christina and I were broken up, Allison made herself available. I visited her apartment with Aaron one day, and while he was off in the bathroom, she confessed her deep attraction to me. I rebuffed her, both because she was Aaron’s girlfriend and because Christina and my separation was still too raw. (Christina and I were married in the eyes of God, weren’t we? We negotiated the morality of our sex, said our vows, and I entered her gently. Wouldn’t God protect us? Isn’t there either love or not love? Isn’t love–true love, not just lust–immortal? Isn’t immortal love what we were supposed to have together?) I left Allison rejected, and she admitted to Aaron what she had done, and I lost his friendship for years (and abandoned hers until the next August, when she called me one day and asked me if she would visit Dallas whether I would fuck her, and c’mon, you don’t say no to an offer like that).

As soon school restarted after Christmas break, Sarah made herself available. I rebuffed her, not just because of Christina or because Steve but also because she was still friends with Courtney and Andrea. But she stayed by my side all semester, and friends and strangers asked us how long we’d been together and when we’d marry, and I kept asking her if she’d visit Europe with me after my graduation, and the night before I left she finally said yes, and my sister got so sick of our flirtations (if they were there at all) that she ditched, and then we started fucking–me and Sarah, in Europe, before Allison–and we kept going for the rest of the trip, and when we got back all our friends asked if we were together and she said yes and I said no, and that did us in for a year until I went down to Waco to help Justin move out of college and Sarah and I rekindled and re-began fucking and I got jealous of her going out to clubs and nailed her down in a relationship and didn’t dump her like I should have when I moved to Boston and I lived in years of jealousy of her out at clubs and drunk with her friends and years of misery once she moved up to Boston to be with me. She suffered her auto-immune disorder, and I suffered a layoff and bankruptcy, and then one day soon I left. That’s the story of me and Sarah writ short.

But that spring semester I pined. I watched her longingly from afar and cried at her feet. I lived deep in shame about my dumping her and deep in anxiety about whether we would find our immortality again. We talked in the bath house, and we talked in her and Patrick’s apartment. (Where in that timeline did she tell me that she wouldn’t be my Beatrice? After we broke up and before winter break, I think.)

I think that she had cheated on me with Billy that first Christmas break, but during that summer in Oxford I did cheat on her. I fell for Julie, her too of glowing white skin and straight brown hair and philosophical tossings and romantic pinings. I spent almost my whole summer with Julie and under Justin’s careful and socially ambitious scrutiny: “Why do you spend some much time with her? Let’s meet other people on the trip, too,” he pleaded, but I only had time for July and Justin. I engaged in social obligation to interact with whoever he brought along for our plans, which prompted my only interactions with Kelly (to Dublin) and Alan (for a night of drinking in Trafalgar Square).

Also, too, with Katie (Dunlap) on that same trip. One night in Oxford, Justin, Kiran, Katie, Haley, and I went to a bar. We met a Texas oil tycoon who bought us who reminded him of home pitchers of Long Island Ice Teas, and I must have drunk a pitcher myself. I stumbled back with the rest to Christchurch College, and I left Kiran and Justin at Justin’s room near the gate even after Kiran asked to walk me back to my room, I think to protect me from Katie, who–to be fair to her–did get my back to my room unmolested. After I closed the door, she returned and knocked, and when I opened it, she launched at me, kissing and hugging and fondling me, and I got her to my little bed and opened her pants and put my fingers inside her, easily gliding in her hot wetness. But somewhere along the way I lost steam, and rather than engaging in drunken (at least on my part) sex with Katie (as I had previously with Sydney, ending in chlamydia [Did I remember that in my drunken stupor?], you fool), I asked her instead whether she wouldn’t want to make this real, and whether she wouldn’t prefer for me to be sober and we could do this thing for real, and she agreed and left me for the night (as far as I remember), and the rest of the trip she would sit on my lap and we would kiss lightly and I might fondle her, but never did we hook up, but even on the plane ride back I was promising to break up with Christina and make me and Katie a real thing, but when I disembarked the plane, there was Christina, and I hugged her and loved her and kissed her all in front of Justin’s father (in fact, where in this was Katie? We came back on the same flight, and Christina met me at the baggage claim….) (The passion with which I met Christina feels indistinguishable from the passion with which I meet my wife in my most dire need, and that’s an awful feeling, to know that despite emotional health and maturity, my desire is only my desire is only my desire.)

(And speaking of drunken sex, there, too, was Emily. Junior year: I remember her visiting me at Rivercrest. [How did we meet, me and fat Emily, the education major? After her, I agree wholeheartedly with the stereotype that education majors are all horny freaks, making female teacher / male student sex scandals not at all surprising; they were so popular around my knowing Emily.] She came to my apartment and wanted to get drunk together and fuck, but I rebutted that if you couldn’t do something sober you would do drunk, you probably shouldn’t be doing that thing, and she agreed and came over and sober we fucked. Later, at her apartment [near Christina’s, across the intersection, I remember], she tried to introduce toys, and the hippocracy of this in the face of her Christianity [Did we meet at a chruch? Or did I just hear her talk about her Christianity often?] was too deep a turn off for me, and I had to leave her unsatisfied, and we never fucked again. A constant refrain for those Texas Christian girls: I didn’t mind premarital sex, but if you do, then don’t come fuck with me. Outside of the mysticism of my adoration for Christina, I’m not and never have been particularly religious, and I don’t want my conflict for your moral state to cloud the clarity of my moral state. I want to be a good man; I just don’t know how somtimes.

The wanting to be a good man colored why I participated so painfully in the relationship with Christina and also my choice of majors and the subjects I took seriously, like Christianity. Christina asked me once early in sophomore year whether I was in a relationship with her because it was convenient or whether I would fight for her if we didn’t share courses or otherwise didn’t have convenient reasons to be together. I told her I would fight for her, of course, but then we broke up before winter break, and I think we did break up because being in a relationship while so far apart would be inconvenient and we did get back together on returning from winter break, so I mean, really…. And I spent a lot of my time during this year and next wondering about whether a man was better for struggling and overcoming or never having struggled in the first place. [Who makes the better drug counselor: the recovered addict, or the psychologist who studied but never felt addiction?] And I decided in these years that I would never write for profit, which seemed moral, but I am selling my life hour by hour, and I don’t know how to measure the moral difference between selling hours as raw ore or hours as refined writing. And I decided in these years to change from CSI to GTX, but I don’t have any proof after the fact that a liberally educated man is actually capable of being a better man than a computer scientist. And in these years I spent too much and made too little, I too deeply engaged in too small suffering and too lightly valued my joys, and I expirimented too broadly with too many things that left too many marks. [Remember Jennie and the sophomore year rape and the junior year casual sex and the kicking out of Mani and the spring break that began his whole engagement story and all its heartache. Remember Sydney and the chlamydia. Remember being on the phone with single Christina during a break in the night shift at Walmart singing her 3 Doors Down lyrics while suffering the burning urine of that disease. Remember the actual arrogance that superceded the casual accusations of your and BIC members known arrogance. Remember the cheating and the broken promises and the heartache you brought on yourself. Remember that, you who to presumed to be good. Remember what a little shit you were.

([Remember, too, the wild flowers. Remember, too, the art. Remember, too, the friends. Remember, too, the pride of your schooling, and help you gave as a teacher’s assistant, and the swooning you prompted as a Student Advocate. Remember Kate’s broad shoulders in that dress she wore that night, and remember how proud she felt to know you. Remember your strengths as well as your shortcomings. Remember your successes as well as your anxieties. Remember it all, you fool.])

**

I was arrested at the Bellmead Wal-Mart my freshman year. Colt and I would drive up there at night, usually after 9 or 10pm, and we would grab drinks out of the fridges in the back and hang out drinking them in the closed McDonalds and then walk the store aisles looking for goodies. We made off with hundreds, I think, in valuables, including a graphite pool stick (which I used) and a cordless phone (which we didn’t). The cordless phone had been the display model not properly secured, and we had gotten it home before we realised that it didn’t have a power supply, so we had returned the next night to get a generic charger. I put the charger down the front of my pants, and Colt had some other items–I think maybe a video game CD and some music CDs–in his pockets, and we even bought something, but not the power supply in my pants, and that set off the theft detectors.

Let me tell you that if you’re ever in this situation–leaving a store where you’ve stolen something and the system goes off–walk, don’t run, to your car. Don’t stop, don’t turn around, don’t look confused on guilty, don’t return into the store to see if you can be of help. Colt followed this advice and made off with his merchandise. I didn’t and got pulled into the manager’s office and waited around for the police to show up, and when they did they put me in handcuffs and took me to jail for the night.

It wasn’t super scary: I sat alone in a solitary cell for a while, and then they moved me over to the general holding cell with nine or ten other men. I picked a bench against the wall and covered myself in the scratchy potato sack blanket they’d given me, and I woke up in the morning a little while before it was my time to “see the judge”, and I wondered about whether they’d let me out in time to get to class and how I’d make it back to Baylor from the jail.

Colt attended class that morning while I stood in front of a TV with a satellite link to the Bellmead judge, and he asked me casually whether I pleaded guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the class C misdemeanor of theft under $50, and I pleaded guilty, and he said, “Fine,” and gave me back all my pocket stuff and let me go. End of experience. I called Colt, and he came and picked me up, and we laughed about it, and life went on with no consequence. #crimingwhilewhite

This was probably in or around the time that I was getting to know Jennie and stealing her away from her long distance relationship with Jimmy, whose friendship had begun to wane while I was at Baylor and he was still in Dallas. I didn’t tell Jennie (or anyone else until much later) about the incident, and nothing ever came of it. Jennie came to visit me in Texas and that first day we met gave me head in the grass around that Frisco pond, which as far as I was concerned made her the greatest girlfriend in the world. We stopped at a Victoria’s Secret on the way back to her parents’ house in some richy suburb just like Plano north of Fort Worth, and very similarly to my first experience, I blushed and couldn’t look at any of the merchandise; she grabbed my hand and lead me around the store asking me about this and this and this, and then she tried the items on and we went to her parents’ home and she wore them and pulled a muscle in her back while we fucked, which I thought was both funny and pretty mortifying, since she had to keep referencing the pain and make up a story about how she’d done it once her parents came home.

I visited Jennie for her prom (I bought my plane ticket on a credit card! How exciting!) and met her highschool friends, one of whom (Stacy) was hotter than she was and I flirted with on and off throughout the evening, and the other of whom was more overtly sexual (like Sarah’s Big Bean) and whom I avoided throughout the night. She had remained in California with family friends when her parents had moved to Fort Worth for her father’s job (radio tower engineer), and though those adults had put me in a separate room, I spent most nights with Jennie. I remember I went down on her for what must have been fifteen minutes, and I thought I’d never get her off, but eventually we got there, and my cheeks were sore all the next day, and I later learned more specifically what I was supposed to be doing and never had to perform for that long again. I also remember learning for the first time about California’s drastic weather changes between day and night: we had gone to an ocean-side cliff near her house to watch the sunset, and one minute it was 80 and I was dressed comfortably, and the next it was 60 and I was sorely underdressed, and I shivered all the way back to the car. (This, b-t-dubs, is why Californian men where sweatshirts and shorts, and sandals and socks.)

It was in this context, of Jennie’s sexual maturity and knowledge outstripping my own, that the rape occurred. I had been losing interest in her for the whole month she had attended Baylor, and one night I didn’t answer her call, and she came to my home anyway, and opened my door anyway, and I didn’t respond to her being in my apartment, and she fucked me anyway, and she came and I didn’t, and she left anyway. And we broke up.

It was in this context that she proposed that double-date, and in this context that I casted about for others to join us, and in this context that I didn’t care much about how Christina’s presence or our interest in each other offended her: early sophomore year.

Later, early junior year sometime, she would reach out to my via AIM, and I would agree that lonely horniness was the worst, she would come over and we would begin our non-serious sexual fling, and in this context that she would begin dating Mani and stop fucking me, and in this context that I would ask them not to fuck in my bed (literally anywhere else is fine, like Steve and Sarah, just not in my bed, OK?) and they would fuck in my bed and I would kick Mani out and tell him as long as he’s coming to see her and not me he can stay in a fucking hotel, OK? And in this context that Mani and I would bro-fest to Padre for spring break and he would ask for my blessing to propose to her, to which I deferred and accepted rather than agreed, and in this context that they would get engaged shortly thereafter. And in this context that that BIC religion (world cultures IV?) professor would say, “Let’s get the gossip out of the way: hands up those who got engaged over spring break,” and half the room raised their hands and I didn’t, and a few colleagues in the room gasped and asked that I didn’t propose to Christina, and I shrugged and said it wasn’t for us yet. And in this context that Justin moved in at the beginning of summer and the Greek intensive happened and Christina’s uber-jealousy of my attention happened and the cheating events of Baylor in Oxford happened and my joy at returning to Christina after such a long break happened and I reinvested in what I knew in my head but not in my heart was a pretty bad relationship. And in this context that Christina and my winter trip to New York so we could find our places in the world fell apart even though I had already bought the tickets, and so I called the airline (American?) asking for a refund but only getting transfer value, and in this context got my ticket to Europe for post-graduation and eventually the idea to visit McKay in New York (fall 2005? spring 2006?) and shop my resume around at publishing houses (utter failure, of course), and in this context that I visited NYU’s evening for their masters in publishing program (marketing focused) and visited Boston to see Emerson’s masters in publishing program (editorial focused), and in this context that I decided to go to Emerson, in which context I got accepted to Emerson’s graduate certificate (rather than master’s) program, in which context I got confused about whether I wanted the masters in publishing program or the MFA, in which context I took a year off to decide and experienced the absolute despair of listless life and a World of Warcraft addiction and opted for the MFA, in which context I’m here to write at all. Ah, life.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Five: The red dog

There’s an interesting discussion of how readers approach posts in this blog in the last post, if you’d like to participate. I also wonder how readers are seeing the posts in this series as style pieces; how do these pieces read differently to you, and what do you think the artistic point is?

Remember to leave stories for this week’s Theme Thursday! We had seven posts for the very first game last week, and I’d like to see that number beat! I’ve also finished the remix of the piece I selected from last week’s games, and I’m really looking forward to showing it to you! 🙂

**

Behind the black bars of the waist-high fence, it pouted at me as if a real dog, kenneled. The red fur looked to me like passion in faux crushed velvet. The synthetic material crowded around the plastic eyes like desire would do to me if it could, if I weren’t buried so deeply down in depression to render it helpless, a child in a well slipping against a wall he thought he could scale.

Its face asked me about abandonment, whys and what could it dos and reallys. He wanted to come along, but I wouldn’t have it. I didn’t even wait to see the arguments played out in the stuffed, unreal face.

“Why do you stay with her?” Renisha had asked me. We worked across Summer Street from each other, me at a financial corporation doing client communications and she social networking, and we met in a Starbucks caddycorner to our separate offices. “Why do you stay with her?” she asked. “You don’t have to.”

The answer was true and horrible and romantic. Like a trumpet call to start a military dirge, it bounded forth, monosyllabic and haunting. I couldn’t maintain eye contact while it hung in the air, but I saw her face drop to the table in my peripheral, expressing a mixture of pity and disgust spiced with a moment of wonder about whether love really boils down to my response. The table had no answer for her, and neither did I. As the relationship with Sarah wore on, my friendship with Renisha waned, forever stealing her chance to solve my riddle.

My love for Sarah held within it a paradox, that I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible and yet every moment I spent with her was spent not-quite-with her. And yet her very real absence from our time together made me want to spend even more time with her, up to the point where I cut out all other engagements. The downward spiral had started in the summer we first moved in together, months before that February meeting with Renisha, when Sarah and I ran out of Grey’s Anatomy episode to watch and so she moved into Solitaire.

Her laptop. My laptop. A 64” HDTV. Free Cell. Nintendo emulations. Family Fued.

“You don’t have to stay with her, you know,” Justin had said. He had come up for New Years to see us and gone home. The Thanksgiving after, when I told him that I was breaking down under he relationship, my very real dog resting on the purple microfiber chair to my right behind which the red dog had been stuffed, he told me, “You don’t have to stay with her.” I told him that I loved her, and when he asked if I was sure, I said yes. But I also told him I was breaking down.

You spin the wheel in the teacup ride at Disneyworld, and the cup spins round and round. The tangent force pulls you towards the chair, and you grab harder, pulling yourself forward and spinning, spinning. Eventually your arms fail, and the custodians tell you to stop, and the cup breaks off the ride and takes you for a horrible, unrestrained trip across the theme park, trampling families and employees and cute little crafted bushes, eventually tossing you into the castle’s pond where you drown, destitute and broken. No, nothing breaks; that’s your short little dream before the ride stops and you get ushered out of the cup, at which point you can rejoin the line if you choose or perhaps get a bite to eat.

Sarah said, “You didn’t have to do that,” when I held out her Valentine’s Day present, Lindt chocolate truffles from the store in the hotel two blocks away and a bottle of vodka with a penguin on it. She collected penguins like an obsession. I once, as a child, told friends and families that I was collecting piggy banks, an admission I always regretted, especially after I stopped my collection. Sarah had no regrets.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, and I love you,” I answered, slightly confused. The presents remained in my hand, unwrapped except for an unmarked brown bag and a Lindt plastic bag with a drawstring.

“You just didn’t have to do it is all.” She took the presents, put the vodka on her Crate and Barrel foldable bar. She kept the chocolates in her right hand but picked up a brown box with her left. “This is from my mother.”

A dog toy, a little squeezable thing. Kallion doesn’t play with toys.

“Excellent,” I said before grinding my teeth. Yes, I had bought my presents late, the night of, but it began to dawn on me that she hadn’t bought a present at all.

“I’m stuck,” I told Renisha over a sip of cinnamon cappuccino.

“You’re not,” she answered. “Why don’t you go stay with Shoshanna? You know she’d let you.”

“No dogs allowed,” I said. We paused, thinking. “Is it pathetic that I’m staying with Sarah because of my dog, like parents who won’t divorce because of the children?”

“Yes,” she answered. “It is. Your dog is not your child.”

I put the empty box by the trashcan behind the bar and tried to coax Kalli into playing with the new toy, which she ignored. Sarah watched for a moment and then went downstairs. When she came back up, I had already put myself under my computer and logged into World of Warcraft. She put on her coat from the cheap Target coat stand by the door and left without a word.

Sarah walked down Exeter to Newbury without pausing at Commonwealth—she had already taken pictures of them covered in snow—and then she walked to Fairfield. Inside, she picked up some candy from the seasonal aisle before spotting a red stuffed dog hiding on the banister above the turn in the stairwell to the basement. Retrieving it, she concluded her purchase and returned home, dropping the white plastic bag marked CVS and a large stuffed dog on the couch beside me.

Internally, I scoffed. Externally, I thanked her, petting the cheap, dusty material. I wiped my hand on my pants. She sat down in her chair and refreshed Facebook, and I continued playing World of Warcraft. Ten minutes later, I started to raid, and when I started talking on the microphone with the other players, Sarah rolled her eyes, unplugged her laptop, and went downstairs into her bedroom. As with most nights for the past few months and most to follow, I would sleep on the couch.

When I moved out, I left that red dog behind the fence under the construction docks of the building on the far side of Exeter and Commonwealth, under renovation. I mused whether a construction worker might take it, might give it to a child who could take some joy in the thing. Sarah had set aside effects in a box, items that I had given her that she didn’t want to keep and held no meaning to me: a coffee cup that read Bean, some dog toys, the red dog.

I remembered Justin’s words as I looked at that stuffed animal behind the fence. You don’t have to stay with her, he had said. I mean, I wouldn’t leave her—she’s rich and pretty and funny—but you don’t have to stay. All the pitiful and pathetic moments infected by thoughts like that, a relational virus. Just so, the dog pleaded with me to stay. But I walked away. I wouldn’t engage; I would only remember.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Presents, Writing