Shortly after we returned from California, The Hipster and I met one of his friends at Pravda to catch up and tell him about our adventure. I was extra excited because I had just gotten the trip pictures developed (doubles, obvs, because he needed a set of his own). As we sipped our cocktails, The Hipster’s friend immediately asked about the faux-hawk. Oh man, it’s such a great story, The Hipster said. And then he kicked me under the table. He launched into a
bold-faced lie whimsical tale about how when we were in Tijuana we had met a scruffy group of Mexican punks, whom we instantly befriended, started boozing with and proceeded to kick it with for a few hours. Said punks convinced him he should have a mohawk and he agreed and we went back to one of their apartments and
Um. Wait. I’m, sorry. What?
On our way home, I asked him why he had told the story like that, you know like, all full of lies and stuff. I just thought it would be fun if it was a part of our whole Tijuana adventure, he replied. Nonchalant, The Hipster clearly thought nothing of an egregious rewrite. I didn’t say much about it, but watching him so effortlessly and seamlessly craft not an embellished, sexier version of the story, but a complete and utter non-truth, unnerved me deeply. He would go on to tell only that version of the story (for so many years, in fact, that he eventually forgot the actual story), completely unaware that it hurt my feelings in an oddly profound way. While his version was, arguably, more cinematic it completely excised what I loved about the moment: my friends and the intimacy of my worlds melding together. However, I pushed all those nagging thoughts (gawd, annoying) about veracity and loyalty and integrity away, and skipped
deludedly blissfully along, blinders on, into the spring.
And then, the first weekend of Spring Break, The Hipster broke up with me. A-fucking-gain. It was all very anticlimactic, really. We were standing in the middle of a sidewalk in midtown. Maybe he was walking me to the train to like somehow allay the emotional wreckage of his impending bombshell with one last act of chivalry or something. Whatever. He paused our stroll and told me he couldn’t “do this anymore”; he cared about me, but I deserved more, more than him being only half in. His argument was that by this time, eight or nine months in, we should be more committed, more couplely or whatever. This probably definitely meant that he was seeing other people and felt guilty about it. Barf.
Running through my head, as I tried to convince him that we would be an Amazing Honest to Goodness Couple (Narrator: They would not have been.) was not just that I was losing him, but that he was still going to be around. But now, he would exist only on the periphery of my life. Our little bubble was gone: the secret grins and glances across a room, the intoxicating remembrances of that morning’s pillow talk, the heady satisfaction that comes from intimately knowing another person. Gone was the Knowing that in a room, or a city, filled with people, he is yours, you are his; that the shimmering threads that connect you to each other are like a double helix: uniquely coded and magical, enveloping only the two of you in a kind of armor of togetherness that makes taking that first step out the door, and into the world every morning, just that much more meaningful. Gone, in an instant, in the din of midtown traffic and bright sunlight.
But I would not be left to grieve alone, in peace, no. I would have to see him in our twice-a-fucking-week grad school classes. I would have to hear snippets about him from OF, who of course would still be his friend and commiserate with him every afternoon at happy hour at DBA. Would I be the anecdote that induced eye-rolling and Ohmanwhatwereyouthinkings? Or, worse, would my name not even cross their lips, forgotten and banished to
south Brooklyn the desolate and desperate graveyard of ill-advised rebound flings?
Hours after we broke up, I found myself on a plane, once again heading to California. There was no chance I’d not lose my mind hanging around the city with a week and half off and nothing to do. There would be no quiet dinners or silly conversations lying in bed, no shenanigans or mayhem. When I told him that we couldn’t be friends for a while, that I needed time and space to heal, he too readily agreed and and I knew that this time the breakup would stick. I was cramping his style. He wanted to be out there on the razor’s edge, wooing women, without feeling beholden to me, to anyone. So feeling bleak and sorry for myself, and the Us that Could Have Been, I went to California in search of
margaritas tea and sympathy. I spent a week in the comfort of familiarity and distance. Too quickly though, I had to leave the enchanted oasis of Somewhere Else — that frivolous place where the realities of one’s own life are sublimely paused — and head back to a job I still barely tolerate mold young minds. As if heading back to work on Monday (Gawd WORK, the absolute worst, rite?) wasn’t bad enough, of course OF COURSE I was to be promptly emotionally terrorized by seeing him that night.
As I walked into the horrible fluorescent lighting of the basement classroom, I hoped for the 27th time that I looked good. Not just good, but devastatingly, you’re a sucker for dumping me good. This was entirely in vain, and I knew it. I had been up since 5:30 in the morning and had been
re-enacting Lord of the Flies teaching oily, smelly pre-teens for the past eight hours. The odds of looking stunning were not in my favor. Still, I hoped. He was sitting in the back, facing away from the door and strategically heavily absorbed in a conversation with a colleague we both couldn’t stand. I had planned my arrival to coincide with the start of class, so I took my seat and the professor began to bang on about multiple intelligences. N.B.: These classes made me not want to be a teacher more than teaching everyday already made me not want to be a teacher. So that was cool.
Of course in the minute it had taken me to walk into the room, spot him, flush an alarming shade of red, want to vom and
attempt not to be entirely cut out of the group take a seat next to OF, I had catalogued what he was wearing and how he looked. I wanted him to look disheveled, repentant and tired from staying up all night lamenting over the knowledge that he could not live without me. He did not look like any of these things. Sadly, gloriously, he looked the same as always: dashing, hip and without a care in the world. His black collared shirt was rolled up to his forearms, exposing his warm brown skin and the leather wrist cuff I had given him. In one hand he twirled a pen, in the other he absentmindedly tweaked pieces of The Faux-hawk of Disputed Origins. Ugh. Anyway.
Class ended and the usual social clusters congregated, leaving the room, heading off to next classes, home to shitty apartments, bars to drink away the stress of teaching, etc. etc. Finally the moment had come. We could avoid it no longer. There had to be contact. He approached me shyly, deferentially, and softly he asked me how the rest of my break was. (Catch that “rest of”? Dick.) When I mentioned I spent the REST OF my break in California he smiled and said: Man, Cali. I thought you looked tan. Uh yeah, ok, Fuckface. I’m as pale as I ever was. I was in San Francisco, not effing Malibu. Also, no one calls it Cali. Lame. How are the girls, he asked me. Fine, I said. Obviously, they are fine, they are amazing humans (UNLIKE YOU) and they helped me drown my sorrows in copious amounts of tequila and Mexican food. And they think you’re a real douche. They do not say hi.
Thankfully he was not in my next class, which just happened to a seminar on Virginia Woolf (because, ugh, god, why wouldn’t a smattering of suicide and unfulfilled dreams not have been perfect that night?). So after what felt like eons, but was only minutes, I escaped our stunningly awkward and naseauting First Encounter. We spent the next year torturing each other and pretending to be like friends, or whatever. He brought the crackling electricity of creativity and crazy that I desperately needed at a time when things in my life were boring and confusing. So, if that meant being slightly nauseous every time the topic of dating came up or being wholly deflated when our hangouts never materialized into Romance once again, I was (tragically) willing to participate in said dysfunctional friendship.
Then we didn’t speak for a year, because obvs. And, then one day for happy hour OF invited me to meet them at Karma. That halting and awkward reunion was the beginning of many a Heyyououtwhatareyouupto’s, over an alarming number of years. It finally stopped only when we both settled in with other people. A couple years ago, both of us in serious and committed relationships, BF’s boyfriend saw The Hipster and I interact. He asked who it was I was talking to because, surely, it must have bothered my current boyfriend to see how charged, how enraptured, The Hipster and I were in each other’s presence. If everything else about our relationship was questionable, the chemistry between The Hipster and I was undeniable.
About a month after we broke up I was
stalking hitting up the usual spots, when The Hipster’s crew filed into the upstairs of Piano’s. I broke out into a cold sweat of panic, hopefulness, terror and joy. Omggg was he with them? And then it hit me in one swift sucker punch of sadness and longing: it was his birthday weekend. Of course he would be with th — oh god there he was. My heart leapt into my throat. The friend I was with silently watched it play out, knowing it would be a fool’s errand to try to get me to leave before him and I saw each other.
The Hipster’s crew nodded at me, and posted up at some tables, exchanging knowing looks. If he walked in with a girl, I was pretty sure I would have melted into a puddle of despair right there at the bar, but then last of all, a few minutes behind them, he came straggling in from doing who knows what. (Drugs, it was probably drugs.) I was leaning with my back up against the bar, being all aloof (lololol yeah ok) when he spotted me. He sauntered over and he leaned into me, his body against mine, his face millimeters from mine. My bar, he whispered to me, I got this one in the divorce. No way, I replied, this one is neutral. He was steaming drunk and giving me that smile that made me a fucking goner and made the rest of the bar fade away into a blurry tableau of Saturday night. The next few hours were a Raucous Montage of the Usual Mayhem: my friend leaving me, more drinks being ordered, me snuggled into the nook of The Hipster’s arm, The Hipster leaving the bar by hopscotching across the low lounge tables, someone jumping over a fire hydrant and like breaking a leg or something (no seriously), continuing the pandemonium at someone’s apartment, The Hipster and I ricocheting into his apartment.
As he threw me into bed, the pillow talk turned maudlin. In another world, he said, I wouldn’t be so messed up. In another world, we would be together. As he kissed my back, he declared that he hated Him. Him? Who was Him? I had asked. The guy that’s been kissing your back since we broke up. There was no one, no one to make him past while he was still so present. I pulled him closer, sad for him, sad for myself, wishing that this broken spoon of ours could last forever. Over and over he repeated: In another world. In another world. In another world I would marry you. In another world I could love you. In another world. Bodies intertwined, fading in and out of hazy sleep, I brushed away tears.
In this world, I loved him.