I wake up at 7:30. I’m tangled in a sheet, and I have a quilt piled on my chest in a bundle. I want to fix it, but I don’t want to wake him, so I just stare at the lamp on the night table. It’s new. He bought it at Target. I know this because he left the price tag on it.
I feel movement next to me, and I glance in his direction. He opens his eyes at the exact moment I look at him.
“Can’t sleep?” he asks.
“Naw, just woke up,” I say. “Hey, did you know that your lamp still has the price tag on it?”
“Oh.” Pause. “Um, why don’t you take it off?”
“Because.” He rolls over and puts his arm around me. It seems like he’s not sure exactly where to rest his hand. He puts it on my stomach, then on my hip, then on my upper thigh. “You never know when you need to return something.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I still have the tag on my couch, too.”
“I think this is a decoy apartment that you set up just before I came over.”
He laughs. I love to make him laugh.
“God, it’s so bright in here,” he says. “I need curtains.”
“You know what you could do?” I say. “You could return the lamp to Target and get some curtains. And then you could run a scam where you just return the curtains to Target every few weeks or so. Then you’ll never have to pay for anything.”
“Yeah,” he says, “but then I could only do that for so long. They’d see me coming and be like, ‘There’s the curtain guy.’”
“Well you don’t go to the same target every time,” I say. “You’d have to go to different ones. Switch it up.”
“Still, they’d catch on eventually. I’d walk in one day, and then it’d all be over.” He nudges me. “It’d be curtains!”
“Oh my God, you did not just say that.”
“Curtains!” He cracks up laughing at his own dumb joke before turning back to me. “So let me guess. You want to leave, but you don’t know how. You’re just lying there thinking, ‘How do I get out of here?’”
Not exactly, but close. Actually, I’m thinking, Why did I stay here? He doesn’t want me here.
I don’t point out the discrepancy, though. Instead, I sit up in the bed and start grabbing my clothes off the floor and getting dressed. For the most part, he’s pretty okay at reading me, but he’s always off just a little bit. Like when he says I’m crazy, and I try to tell him, “I am crazy, yes. But not in the way you think I am.”
I’m crazy for being here in the first place. I’m crazy for tricking myself into believing this won’t affect our friendship, or cause its ultimate demise. Up until last night, I’d been doing all right at accepting what’s between us for what it is, not for what I want it to be.
Mostly, I don’t want to erase him from my life. That’s not because I have a lack of friends. Actually, quite the opposite; as far as friends go, I am lucky enough to have lots of them, and good ones, too. Lately, though, I’ve felt like they’re so close to me, so unbelievably present, that I can’t hear them any more. All I hear is a muffled murmur of people with good intentions trying to help in a million different ways. It’s just noise right now, voices, each with a different suggestion, a new helpful tidbit of advice, and I hate to say it, but I can’t decipher a goddamn one of them.
He’s different. He doesn’t know me very well, so whenever he’s around I don’t feel the need to act a certain way—I just try to enjoy being near him. When I talk to him, he’s a voice from the outside, coming in clear. He reminds me there’s a whole world out there, and he gives me something to look forward to.
But there’s a problem between us, and it’s the same problem I keep coming back to over and over again since we very first met.
I am madly in love with him.
My heart is a big dumb idiot, and if I met her at a party, I would definitely want to punch her in her stupid heart face. I would aim for the right ventricle vein because I can hit much harder with my right fist, and it would be my optimal target.
My heart is such a moron, I’m going to name her Trudy because I can’t think of a smart Trudy. In fact, I’ve only known one Trudy, my high school friend’s mom, who told us once after we lost a basketball game to an all-black team, “You know why you guys lost? Because when black people sweat, they sweat out oil. And that made the court all slippery.” Dumb cunt. I hate her illogical reasoning and ignorance so much, I’m gonna name my stupid heart after her.
Trudy (my heart, not the raging racist woman) means well. She does. But nothing she wants or loves ever fits in with my best interest. Imagine trying to walk around and live with this beating bag of idiot inside you. She’s wide open. She lives for years at a time content with her life. But every now and then, quite suddenly, she falls in love with people who don’t love her back, and she loves them with such retarded devotion, such unrestrained passion, that she makes you feel almost sorry for her. Almost.
Look, I know I sound like I’m being a little harsh. I’d like to go easier on old Trudy, but she just never learns her lesson. She’s got no hindsight. She’s got no sense. Shit, when I ask Trudy about Kevin Smith, she laughs and say, “Oh yeah, Kevin Smith! He put a Tweety Bird Pez dispenser on my leg just like Jerry does to Elaine in that episode of Seinfeld.”
And I just want to squeeze the shit out of her left pulmonary artery and scream, “That hurts, doesn’t it, fuckface? Don’t you remember how things hurt?”
I fell in love with Kevin Smith (a tall, skinny redhead—not the famous director) when I was 23 years old. As a result of knowing Kevin, I have two things that I wouldn’t have if I’d never met him: 1) a weird phone phobia that makes me have a panic attack every time I try to call someone I’m remotely interested in, and 2) a novel, a pretty good one, that I wrote during the year I spent figuring out that he is a ball of issues wrapped in a layer of insanity.
I met him when I started working at Joe’s Crab Shack. He was one of my trainers. I remember the very second I fell for him. During a lull in the dinner rush, he snapped his waiter wallet shut, pointed to me, and said, “Okay. Now I’m gonna teach you how to steal a pickle.”
“First,” he said, “you get a plate.” He opened the cabinet behind him and pulled out a small plate. Then he walked over to the kitchen, gesturing for me to follow.
Once we reached the counter, he turned to me and said, “Now, this is the easy part. You just put the plate up on the counter like this, and then you say, ‘Hey Mike, I need two pickles!’”
He yelled the last part. Mike dropped two pickle spears on the plate without question. “Thanks, Mike!” he said.
I followed him back out into a secluded corner of the restaurant, out of the manager’s vision. “Then,” he said, “you bring it over here and eat it.”
He grabbed a pickle, took a bite, then held the plate up for me, and I took the other one. And there we stood, side by side, eating our stolen pickles. I can’t explain what about that moment did it for me, but from then on, I loved Kevin Smith beyond the point of any logic or reason.
A few weeks later, Kevin got fired for not showing up for two shifts in a row. I thought I’d never see him again, but I ran into him at a party where we hit it off and ended up leaving together. We went to my house and made out for a couple hours before passing out in my bed. The next day, we sat in my living room and talked all day, right up until 4 in the afternoon, just before I had to leave for work. I watched him walk to his car, and before he got in, he turned back and waved at me. I smiled.
And then the crazy began.
For two weeks, I didn’t hear from him. I kept replaying the day we spent together over and over again, trying to figure out what I’d missed, what happened that made him not want to call me. Finally, exhausted from analyzing it, I resigned to the fact that I was wrong, that he must not have liked me much. Then one afternoon, he called me out of the blue.
“Hey,” I said when I answered. “I didn’t think you were gonna call.”
“Oh, I’ve been staying at my parents’ house for the past couple weeks. I’m coming back tonight, though. Do you need anything?”
“What do you mean do I need anything?” I asked. “Are you asking me if I need something from your parents’ house?”
“Yeah, well, I thought I’d ask. I’m taking a few things.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Well, I am almost out of toilet paper.”
He laughed. “Okay. Noted. Well, uh, I guess I’ll talk to you again soon?”
“Hey, wait a minute. Do you want to hang out or something? My friends and I are going out tonight, and it’d be cool if you came with us.”
“Aw, that’s so cool that you asked me,” he said. “But I already made plans with some people tonight.”
When I got home from the club later that night, there, sitting on my front doorstep, was a package of toilet paper.
I tried to call him to thank him, but he didn’t answer.
I don’t think he ever answered the phone when I called. Not once. He called me every few weeks, so all of our interactions happened on his terms. I stopped trying to reach him by phone because I couldn’t take staring at it and waiting for a response.
Why did I put up with it? Well, because Kevin was both one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and one of the saddest people I’ve ever met, and because he made me laugh so much, it became my life’s purpose to try and make him smile.
Blah, blah blah, skipping ahead, Kevin kind of fucked me up. I wasted an entire year on him, a very bizarre year, and though we gradually spent more and more time together, he never could define our relationship.
The worst part about it is that I know it’s my fault because I let it go on for so long. I just couldn’t get over the one day we spent together when I thought he loved me back. I never could get over the fact that he brought me toilet paper from his mom’s house, he put a Pez dispenser on my leg, and he looked over his shoulder at me as he was getting into his car.
He tricked me. It took me an entire year to grasp the fact that there was really nothing between us, that I had imagined a connection that wasn’t there.
To this day, when I place a call to someone I love and they don’t answer, I hide my phone in my sock drawer, muffled under a pile of my clothes so I don’t have to hear it not ringing—leftover psychosis, I guess. One of the ways that I’m crazy.
Here’s another way that I’m crazy:
Kevin told me once that he couldn’t think of a single reason to get out of bed. The way I reacted to this information, well, I can’t decide if it’s pathetic or magical. I can’t decide if it’s insane or fantastic.
For half the month of April, I typed up a different “Reason to Consider Getting out of Bed” on a piece of paper. I used different fonts. I used different colors. I folded each piece of paper, put each one in an envelope, and every day, I had a different person write Kevin’s name and address on the envelope. I never wrote a return address.
That’s right—every day for 17 days, I anonymously mailed Kevin Smith a new “Reason to consider getting out of bed.”
They said things like this: “Reason to consider getting out of bed – watching the entire documented history of figure skating on VHS.” Or this: “Reason to consider getting out of bed – mapping out episodes of Charles in Charge in binary code.” Or this: “Reason to consider getting out of bed – putting puppies, rainbows, and babies in a blender to make a happiness smoothie.”
I did it because I thought it would make him laugh. Years later, after I’d long since given up on him, I found out that he did get those letters, and they did make him laugh. So in that way, I successfully reached him. I just never successfully convinced him to love me.
My brain is a smarmy asshole prick that has to be right about everything, and he loves proving how wrong you are. When you’re at a party, and you say something about how the word “turgid” is only used to describe plant cell walls because you remember hearing that in your high school Biology class, my prick brain will say, “Well actually, turgid is a common adjective used to describe anything stiff.”
And you’ll think to yourself, I’ll put something turgid up in your ass, Mr. Bearded Pipe Smoking English Professor Wearing a Tweed Jacket with Leather Patches on the Elbows.
My brain is such a pretentious asshole that I’m going to name him Nick after the biggest asshole on the planet, a guy I dated who fancied himself an artiste. Nick once told me that because he made sculptures and giant dot paintings, he was more important to society than other people, common people like plumbers, truck drivers, and prostitutes. Meanwhile, he lived in his parents’ guesthouse, smoked weed, and never got a job. Saving society, he was, one fat troll sculpture at a time.
Then again, maybe I’m being a little hard on Nick (my brain, not the douchenozzle painter). He just gets on my nerves because he acts like an overprotective parent. After what he calls “The Kevin Smith Fiasco,” Nick put himself in charge, and that was the last time Trudy got to make any of the decisions. Nick had nothing but the best of intentions when he locked Trudy up in a dark room and said, “Forget about the world out there. It’s not a good place for naïve, easy-loving hippies like you.”
“It’s irritating,” he says over the phone line, “that you keep asking me the same question.”
I had called him because I wanted to hear his voice—a feat in itself, given my fear of using the phone—but my asshole brain, tired of not knowing anything, had taken over the conversation and asked if we could ever be together.
“It wouldn’t work out,” he says. “You’re too unrealistic.” And then he lists the obvious reasons, the reasons he’s told me before, of why we can’t be together. He thinks I don’t understand all these reasons.
As usual, he almost gets me, but he’s just a little bit off. Because I know all these reasons, I get all these reasons. I’m not asking him to answer the same question—no, he just can’t hear what I’m really asking. I’m not asking him to tell me that we’re going to be together, but I am asking him to reassure me that whatever I feel for him is grounded in something real. I’m asking him to tell me that I didn’t imagine something between us that wasn’t there. I’m asking him to say, “I can’t be with you, but I want to.”
He doesn’t say that. So I cut it off right then and there. He probably thinks I cut it off because of the “can’t.”
But the “can’t” never bothered me. It’s the “want to” that’s missing.
I don’t expect to hear from him again. Like I keep telling him, “I’m not that kind of crazy.”
This is one way that I’m crazy: I’ll personify my brain and heart, stage a fight between them, and publish it on the Inter-web because I can’t even keep my goddamn broken heart to myself. I’ve got to bleed it out.
“Thanks for ruining everything,” Trudy says. “I hope you feel clever, Mr. Smarty Pants. Why don’t you go play chess against a computer somewhere, huh? Why don’t you get a high score on an IQ test and loudly brag about it to someone?”
“You can be mad at me all you want,” Nick says, “but I was doing you a favor.”
“Doing me a fucking favor?”
“Don’t say fuck. It’s so debasing.”
“Oh, I’ll say whatever the fuck I fucking want to say, cocksucker,” Trudy says. “You think you were doing me a favor? You made me stop talking to my friend!”
“But you think of him as more than a friend. If you let this go on, you’d just be prolonging the inevitable. He’d break you eventually.”
Trudy storms out. She stomps up the stairs to her little dark room, she opens the door, and just before she walks inside, Nick hears a faint, meek protest, her last words: “But he made me happy.”
She slams the door, flops onto her bunk bed, and listens to the sad song station on Pandora cranked up to the highest volume. She stares at her Justin Bieber poster and cries. She wonders why she’s always wrong. She wonders why it’s better to be broken now than later.
Meanwhile, sitting at his mahogany desk, staring at the spine of his set of antique encyclopedias, Nick lights a pipe, sits back in his leather office chair and sighs. She’ll thank me for it one day.
But without Trudy around to talk to, all he has to do is sit alone and wonder which is a better way to be crazy—is it better to fall in love with someone because they stole a pickle for you or because they keep the price tags on their furniture? Or is it better to avoid it? Is it better to be reckless or cynical? And the more Nick sits and wonders about these things, the more he realizes that it’s hard not to fall on the side of Trudy, my poor idiot heart.
Even though Trudy doesn’t know it, Nick roots for her. He hopes she proves him wrong. Then he wouldn’t have to think so much. He wouldn’t have to wonder.
He would just know.