(This Night has opened My Eyes)
audio insemination by
Pass the bar on the left; a homely little place with the neon signs and a plain, old-building facade. Through the community entrance flanked by ancient oaks that reach to the sky with quiet, radiant pride. I am early, but I don’t mind. It is a habit I have cultivated after years of procrastination and tardiness. Further down the street of groomed trees and sedately painted homes and a right-turn into her neighborhood. It is all quiet and sensible, as these places as go. She lives in a self-consciously cultured and clean neighborhood; the kind city kids make fun of, but it’s another one of the things I adore about her. She is so much like this little community: clean, bright and innocently beautiful.
She works at the library, here, with its white with metal blinds and a sharply angled roof borrowed from Frank Lloyd Wright. The brightly colored playground across the street calls me, so I leave my car and go to rest on a bench and watch the children play. My eye grazes on the colors of the season, sipping the reds and oranges of the trees with the contrasting green grass outside the brown bark chips filling the play area under the yellow swings and wooden mock-army fort. It sips the blue of the sky and the blue of the little girl’s hoodie as it wanders. Thoughts flow into my head and back out again through the gates in my mind I have learned to find and open. My life has been filled with these deliberately quiet moments, these past few years. I have prescribed them to my soul and take them regularly, like medication to counter the bitter taste that creeps up on me.
The little girl on the swing-set looks as happy as a postcard as she gleefully plays, singing a song she heard on the radio. She looks almost old enough for pre-school, and I wonder if she has started, yet. I wonder what her name might have been, if she had been the little girl she reminded me of. This is a sad thought, but I let it in as quietly as the other thoughts and patiently wait for it to drift back out.
That is a little girl who never was. That little girl vanished from my life before she truly entered it. In some ways, she was already a part of it, and had been for five months, before she left me. I touch this thought while it lingers, fearing the electric bristle it used to bear. I taste it, roll it around in my mouth, letting the feeling flow where it will and a calm nothingness settles. Nothing disturbs me and nothing elates, and I feel strangely okay.
I had visited that little girl nearly twice a week for those five months, and more or less frequently for the three years before she had been conceived. Her mother, Melissa, had been my best friend.
What kind of title is that? It should be a blessing, a window into the soul of a person that few others are granted. It should be a gift of intimacy that people wish for their entire lives, but that is a sham. Friendship is a prison. There is a distance between friends. There is always a limit. Friendship is a box with flimsy walls that must not be shaken, lest the whole structure crumble. My box had a little window, of course, and through that window I was generously allowed to watch the parade of boyfriends, one-night-stands, and drunken idiots march through the revolving door of her mother’s bedroom.
She fell in love with most of them, even if only for a few days. We talked forever, after school at her house or on the phone, about how this one might be perfect, or how that one was so much more charming and wonderful than the last. I spent so many tense hours sitting on her bed while she sat next to me, just barely out of arm’s reach, while she wound out details beautiful and lurid about some boy and how marvelously he had fucked her at a party or the bathroom of a dance club. I said nothing, of course, and left the distance unchallenged.
I was so very objective with Melissa, like that. I gave her very sensible, logical advice when she wondered whether or not she should go out with an older guy. Her mother would probably hate him. She was barely a junior in high school, and there were eight years between them. He was into partying and crazy music. But...
Kurt was so beautiful. He was so muscular and so fascinating with his tattoos and his lip piercing, his long mane of jet and his sliver necklace. I have dull brown hair, and have never owned a single carat of jewelry, except for some cuff links my grandmother gave to me, but that didn’t matter. Love is always like that: the way it twists and loops, wrapping whomever with whomever and binding them in strange ways. I told Melissa to be careful, even though she never did. She was enraptured by Kurt the first day she met him, and so she went after him like she did with every boy she wanted.
Kurt made her blissfully happy. He took her out to dinner, bought her things, and talked on the phone with her for hours. It seemed that Melissa’s mother did hate him, but she never challenged her daughter’s relationships. She told me that it was better to let the girl find out on her own. That was better, right? Better to learn life’s lessons the same way she did. Besides, she was too busy to chase after her and meddle in every little thing she did.
I knew Kurt would eventually fail Melissa, anyway. He was too beautiful and powerful for a high school girl to keep to herself. He hurt her, sometimes. He would say cruel things, or not call her for weeks. He would ditch her at the worst moments and say that his friends had dragged him out to places. I do not know how many times Melissa called me in tears when she caught Kurt making out with some other girl at a party, or heard about him cheating on her somebody else. The gifts and alcohol were just trinkets he might toss out to anyone. He had descended from his godly throne beyond the clouds to plucked this mortal girl to play with. Eventually, he would tire of her.
I wish it had seemed so patently absurd then as it does now. I was always sure Melissa would come to her senses. One day, someone was would push her too far, hurt her too much and I would be there, the steady rock, shielding her against the wind, but it never happened. I could hold everything inside, when she needed me. What more noble sacrifice could there be, than to sacrifice oneself for love? I was nothing like those filthy boys who stained her with their greedy fingers. I loved her for her soul, not so I could dirty her. Knights of the old days forswore everything for pure love. They were men of the church, of course. They were agents of a king chosen by God, bringing piety and justice to a barbaric, heathen world. What knight would ever break his oath to God and Crown for a fleeting night of passion? I would never surrender my armor of righteousness, because it was my righteousness that made my love all the more pure.
Melissa told me on the phone that Kurt had said he lover her. He said that she was as beautiful as the night sky, and he wanted to keep her by his side forever. Forever, of course, meant until someone with bigger boobs came along, but I loved her through all this. One day, she would see.
When her parents divorced, and she cried for days while her dad packed up and moved the next state, I was there. Whenever she needed money, or help with homework, I was there. When her mom’s boyfriend teased her about her hips and called her fatty, I was there to show her what a useless asshole he was. And, he was. When her mother found out that he was stealing money from her, she dumped him back in the gutter she picked him up from. Melissa would recognize all this and kiss my armor, which had been lighting her darkness for all this time, and I would finally be able to take it off...
But I touched these thoughts, back then, testing my reactions and emotions to see what they told about me. There was a balance between the hope and the despair, in those days. I floated in the middle where they canceled each other out and left me with a calm nothing. Nothing disturbed me and nothing elated. I felt strangely okay.
Melissa drew discreet curtains on her relationship and so many things about Kurt and the time she spent with him remained a mystery to me. She usually did that, however. I always heard about things after the fact, but I tried not to mind. She and I drifted apart and back like a pier teased by the tide, but I was always the stable one. I loved her so. I invited her out to the movies or to my house to play Xbox, but she never responded. She always came over when she was single, but with Kurt there was never time. I left voice mails and text messages on her cell phone, but she seldom got back to me. She was in love, she said, and spending time with her boyfriend was important, so I had to understand. I understood.
But, she still needed me, sometimes. She called me sporadically and at odd hours of the night. I was there for her when she needed rides and her other friends were too busy. I don’t know what she saw in those flaky, unreliable idiots. I tried not to be like that. I had to be reliable. I had to prove myself.
I was there for her on, probably, the worst night of her life. She woke me up, one night, sobbing and shivering in the middle of a strange part of town where her friends had abandoned her. I could hear her teeth chatter like a rattle as she whimpered to me on the phone, trembling and retching and sounding horribly sick.
I scrambled for my coat and the keys to my dad’s car while fumbling with pants and shoes and trying to calm her down. The rasp in her voice terrified me. I tried to still my heart and sound cool and in control to her, but it was impossible.
Where was she? She didn’t know. She had been at a hotel party Kurt had taken her to, but they had dropped her off someplace else. What! Why? Why didn’t they just take her home? Why did they just leave her there? She didn’t know. That didn’t make any sense! She couldn’t answer. I passed under row after row of orange city lights, frantically searching for her. I demanded answers, but she started crying again and I had to back off and apologize.
I managed calm her enough to get to an intersection and read the signs to me, and we decided that she should wait inside a nearby 7-Eleven. I got there a half-hour later to find her curled into a miserable ball beside the trash can, outside. She tried to stay inside, she told me, but she threw up on the floor and the Pakistani guy behind the counter kicked her out.
I did not care. My heart finally calmed and I took back to my home. She was incoherent, shaking violently and breaking out into tears without warning, but I tried my best to console her. I wondered all the while what was wrong with her, but I never asked. I washed her up, helped her out of her clothes and put her to bed. I wanted to sleep beside her, but would have that been right? We didn’t have that kind of relationship! I turned to leave, and in a faint whisper, Melissa asked me to stay.
I remember Melissa’s eyes, that night, as clear as yesterday. I remember the way the light fell on her face, faintly yellowed and so soft that she looked as though she were made of clouds, like in an old romantic film where the hero kisses the girl and she clings passionately to his neck. The girl parts her ruby lips slightly, her gleaming hair like a sheet of silk laid across her pillow, and with half-lidded eyes she ask him not to leave, but please, stay the night.
I kissed Melissa’s forehead and slowly pulled away.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
“You’re welcome,” was all I could think of. My face grew hot and my heart leapt nervously in my chest, setting off frogs in my stomach. What else could I say? What else should I have said? I loved her so much! Should I have told her? This thought lingers and saddens me, every time, but it also angers me. God, how I hate her! For every moment of tenderness, every breath of delicate affection there has been another moment to poison it and turn it in on itself like a crazed animal to eat its own guts.
But, at that moment, passionate words lingered at the absolute tip of my tongue, enveloped in my foolish hope, my virginal naiveté. I wanted nothing more than to put those words into her mouth with a rush of kisses and free this sleeping beauty from the spell the evil prince had placed on her soul.
And then, she began to give the details of that terrible spell. They were partying at a hotel someone had rented and were getting high. My heart stalled at these words. Getting high? I knew Melissa got drunk with friends. She and I had drunk together, a little, but I assumed that was all she had done. There was only weed and ecstasy, she said, but she couldn’t remember clearly. Someone, maybe one of Kurt’s friends, gave her a hit of something. She wasn’t sure what was in it; the guy said it was ketamine, “Special k”, but the pills weren’t marked. Ketamine is supposed to be a veterinary drug. The pills should have been marked. She downed it with her beer and went on.
About a half an hour later she started to shake. Her hands went numb and her head started pounding. She threw up. Everybody got scared. The party stopped, immediately.
What happened? She didn’t know. Who have her the pills? Where was Kurt? She passed out. Something about a car. Kurt was there. The people in the front seats argued about calling 911. She passed out. She woke up near a building with a huge parking lot. Panic gripped her and she started walking, lost and confused, until she threw up.
Melissa’s face screwed up and tears began rolling down her cheeks, unchecked. I almost could not touch her. What had happened to her to drive her to such stupidity? How on earth did this happen? These questions burned in my mouth, but I could not let them out. I don’t know why. I just sat there in stupid silence.
“Why did he leave me?” she whimpered finally.
“Because you could have died!” I snapped. “How can you just take some drug and not know what the hell it is? I could have been Crack! Or rat poison!” Then another thought came to me. “Why did Kurt let you take it, if he didn’t know what was in it?”
Melissa sobbed again.
“I saw a hospital down the street from that 7-Eleven,” I said. “They probably didn’t want to call 911 because they’d have had to explain why they were boozing up a minor and feeding her pills, so they dropped you off there. I saw that in Trainspotting.”
I looked into Melissa’s eyes, bloodshot, but still pretty.
“He doesn’t love you, Melissa.”
She just turned away and cried.
Kurt did not call her at all that night, or the next day. I took Melissa home that afternoon, after I had fed her and washed her clothes. The thrill of having a pretty girl naked in my room for an hour tickled my brain mercilessly, until she rummaged through my drawers and put on a T-shirt and a pair of my sweat pants.
“Never again,” she swore on the car ride home. “I never want to see that asshole again. You’re right, he doesn’t love me. If I’m just some problem to be ditched whenever stuff goes wrong, then screw him.”
I would have reached over and hugged her, right there, if we hadn’t been going through an intersection! I prudently waited until we came to a stoplight. I reservedly applauded her newfound dignity, but inside I turned cartwheels with a very selfish pleasure.
Never again always comes tomorrow, because it is so much easier that hating ourselves today. I could tell myself a thousand times that I will change, that I will never be fooled again, that I will never be weak and passive again, but nothing ever changes unless I force it to. All my words are just empty lies meant to make myself feel better, but I wish understood that, back then.
I wish I could have talked to girls with more confidence, back then, like I can now. The charming young lady I have promised to meet at this library slips into my thoughts and my heart warms. How I adore her soft lips and satiny skin and her red hair! Her radiant locks always curl affectionately around my fingers again as I stroke it, much the way her laughter curls around my ear, when I tell her my silly jokes.
How did I win such a loving, beautiful woman? I think I know, but I wish I could have divined that secret earlier in my life. Maybe then, I could have turned Melissa’s heart with that mysterious alchemy of presentation and personality: the contrasting elements of shallow decoration, clothes, attitude, and genuine substance. Maybe, I could have won her, that day, driving her home in my father’s car. Maybe, I would at least have understood what she saw in Kurt, and why she went back to him.
She did not go back. She only talked to him. She did not forgive him, she just wanted to hear what he had to say. Besides, she still loved him, no matter what he had done to her. She could not just turn her feelings off, like some switch. I had to understand!
I understand, Melissa.
They talked more and again and again. I don’t know how many hours I sat, trying to figure out the secret of her infatuation with him. It hounded my brain, following every thought, sending pangs through my stomach whenever I touched it, this vague concept of love for someone who was never there. The idea stung, bristling with electric needles.
Melissa drew the curtains ever tighter than before. What words could I say to her, then, that would not make her withdraw back into her armored shell? What could I do that was before touching devotion, was now childish whining for attention? I became unwanted, unusable. I did not understand, no matter how I tried. I could not look at a telephone without thinking of mine, the one that did not ring. I would not understand until two days had passed. These days were not consecutive, however. Five months separated them.
The first day was wrenched from its peaceful existence of banality and placed into wretchedness by a single phone call. I expected nothing when I picked up the receiver. My life of high school and a part time job had trundled along at its dull pace, since Melissa had stopped calling me. Her cheery voice exploded into my ear! I jumped! She had not heard my voice for so long, she said! She missed me terribly. She wanted me to come over and hang out for a while. She was sorry for ignoring me. I nearly danced with joy!
My heart skipped merrily as I grabbed my coat and a stack of happy CDs to bring to her house. Those miles never passed so quickly! Melissa looked much plumper than, when she answered the door, but I hugged her without a thought. Actually, I ribbed her about it, like I used to do, but she only smiled awkwardly. I immediately felt guilty.
So, we ate Doritos in her room and went through her music collection, playing all the new songs she had downloaded onto her computer since I saw her last. Melissa always had such good music! I hope she will never lose that.
But little things were off balance, like the colors of a TV show off tint. Melissa was quiet at times, punctuated with bursts of nervous effervescence. We played Xbox and her PS2, but she didn’t really put much effort into it. She made me nervous, but I tried not to let it show. I had the impression that pieces of a puzzle floated in the air, but I could not fit them together. Clumsily, I knocked over a book sitting on her desk and apologized as I picked it up. It was a pregnancy handbook.
“What are you doing with this thing?” I asked with a smirk. “Is this for one of your ho-bag girl friends?”
Melissa stared at something else. “No,” she replied quietly. “It’s mine.”
A shock ran through me. The pieces floating in the air, obscuring my vision, fell into a perfect pattern on the floor and I suddenly understood.
“Is it Kurt’s?”
For the first time in my life, I wanted to punch her. I felt a panic; heat and violent energy. I cannot describe my emotions. It makes me afraid to try.
“Why are you still fucking him?” I nearly shouted. “You told me you weren’t sleeping with him! You said you wouldn’t go back to him!”
One by one, the pieces turned over and revealed a new aspect of their design to me.
“You lied to me.”
Melissa started to cry, wailing miserably. In that moment, I pulled my feeling apart, trying to understand it. This was not the first time I had felt like this. Small. Stupid. Useless. Betrayed.
Melissa sniffed and sobbed at a hysterical pace, trying to keep quiet so her mother would not hear.
“I am so sorry,” she choked out. “I feel so stupid! I really messed up. You have to help me!”
I stared at her, teetering on an edge, my pulse thundering in my temples. I should have left. I should have stayed. The girl I had known for so long, and very nearly fallen in love with, cried on the floor at my feet, and I could not bring myself to touch her. I didn’t deserve this... She didn’t deserve this.
Who deserved anything? I didn’t know, but no one could look at our history, our ups and downs and just walk out in that moment, when everything mattered the most. I was so confused! What was I supposed to do?
Never again always comes tomorrow. It is so much easier to accept your failures. It is so much easier than hating yourself today. I knelt on the floor and gathered up into my arms the weeping mess of a girl I used to know, now four months pregnant and shackled by her heart to a man she could hardly understand. I just held her. Never again always comes tomorrow.
I remember so much of the five months that followed that day. Unlike so many other periods in my life, that time has been etched into my memory with remarkably clarity, prefaced and concluded by those two terrible days.
In the five months to follow, I came to know more about Kurt than in the entire year that Melissa had dated him. We talked; we ate dinner at Melissa’s house with her mother; we played Halo. Many of my unfounded prejudices about Kurt changed, but one thing did not. I hated him. Some days my opinion of him brightened, but like sun on an overcast day, it only got so bright. Arrogant, selfish, rude, and deceitful were the words that came to my mind when I thought of him, but worst of all was liar. He cooed to Melissa, curling sweet words around her ear and making out with her for hours, and then he called her a fat cow behind her back. He was decent to me and Melissa’s mother, but considered no one before himself.
I remember them fighting constantly about the baby, and the taste of Melissa’s tears as she ran away crying.. She wanted to keep it, of course. She loved her unborn child. She had always wanted a daughter. The baby would bring them closer together, and they would be a family. Kurt did not pretend to humor her. No other topic would piss him off quicker, and no other was so certain to make her cry.
Still, I was there. I was there when she caught a stomach virus and couldn’t even drink water without vomiting. I was there to give her massages when her back hurt from the changes happening to her body. I was even there when she craved McDonald’s Chicken McGrill sandwiches with mustard at 2 a.m. and I had band practice the next morning. But, most of all, I was there when she was haggard and sweaty as she walked around the hospital garden, trying to move her labor along and ease the painful contractions. I remember the sound of her wails in the next room as she pushed the baby out into the doctor’s rubber gloved hands.
The baby was so beautiful when she came! Her puffy face and pudgy little fingers and her legs curved inward! I fell in love with her the moment I held her. I cradled the tiny girl in my arms and smiled at her as she slept peacefully. Melissa smiled at me when I did that. Those were such warm memories! Those few days gave me a glimpse of what love was truly for. I marveled at the beautiful emotion that brought two people together and made a warm place between them for life to blossom. It was a cherished, fulfilling thing, and it gave me hope to wish for such impossible things.
But, a week later, the ending came. I had just finished my grueling midterm exams, and I could not wait to see Melissa again and play with her daughter, but when I arrived, the baby was not there. Melissa would not look at me. Didn’t I know, her mom asked? The baby had been given up for adoption. She had gone to her new family just the other day.
My heart stopped.
I could not breathe.
I stared at Melissa as a whiteness of utter disbelief bleached my heart. Her mother said something, but I did not hear her.
“I am sorry,” Melissa started to say. “Kurt...”
That name sparked a rage that I have never felt before in my life, and I hope I never will, again. I can not describe the abyss of absolute despair and frustration that rose up to swallow me. I understood everything, that awful day. Everything I could not accept suddenly made perfect, painful sense.
I walked away.
I just turned and walked away.
Passing time on this park bench in the beautiful fall, before my lover arrives, a cool breeze stirs leaves around my feet and geese fly by overhead. The little girl on the swing-set continues to play and sing her pop songs off-key and who she is, or who she might be really does not matter. It’s just an intellectual pursuit that my overactive brain engages in to torment and amuse itself. My thoughts and memories gather together and drift on, no more pressing or weighty than the thoughts that follow them. I understand what they mean and why they had to happen. I know how it works, now, even if I can not tell you why. I know how it goes wrong, and how it can go right.
The alarm on my cell phone chirps, letting me know that I have spent too much time here. My beautiful redheaded librarian should be leaving for the day, and the lilies waiting for her in my car will be much less effective if they are given to her at home. I gather these thoughts, before I leave, and I touch them, feeling them for that old familiar sting, but it isn’t there. I taste it, roll it around in my mouth, letting the feeling flow where it will and a calm nothing settles. Nothing disturbs me and nothing elates. I feel strangely okay.