Dating Leila Bennett
It started out casual. I suppose most things do these days. You can’t just jump in like it’s the pool. Everyone has to gradually check the temperature first, and then go from there. She wasn’t that type of person, though. Leila was somehow different from all the other preconceived notions I had been dancing around the previous twenty-fives years of my life. She was like all the right elements from the middle class suburban girl-next-door types from high school, mixed with that irreconcilable edge of the city, bright lights and enclosed smoke-filled spaces, everyone breathing deeper and deeper breaths just so their heads can lightly reassure them that, yes, they are still living and this is not as simple as one would typically think. I shuddered to think what she was like in college. I suppose I could have painted a realistic enough picture.
Freshman year was pretty easy. A lot of guys with no redeemable qualities whatsoever hitting on her in a barrage of regular revolting ways. Invites to parties with cheap kegs and joints rolled from the bottom of bags, bought from brothers or cousins, best friends with connections or perfect strangers who lived across the hall. She would keep small bottles in the top part of her closet for quick fixes before classes. Her roommate hated her, for the simple fact that they weren’t in the least bit alike. She had a boyfriend back home. His name was Rick or something. Something that sounded like a boyfriend back home, having absolute perfect occasions in his working class job, and showing pictures of his bitchy one-dimensional girlfriend to sluts in bars before asking them if they were up for an adventure to his parents house, new sheets sprawled out on the bed in the basement, next to the lava lamp and old Led Zeppelin LPs. He was a sick individual and Leila only met him once, that one weekend she made sure to find another place to set up shop.
Classes were often skipped. She met those of little interest to her, all of her new college friends only offering a minor sense of fulfillment as opposed to all of those spread out across the state, or patiently biding their time back home. Girls with abusive parents and guys with all the right parts fury, left enclosed in small cardboard boxes and behind counters with registers with broken six buttons. It was a hellish region that she called home, and yet I saw how it was so much a part of her very essence. The place she needed to get away from, and yet still somewhat go back to, for an alternative view, wearing new boots, standing on snow-covered street corners, patiently waiting and looking to see if much of anything had changed. When I was with her, it was an inevitable no. Now, I’m not so sure. I find it weird that I still think about whether or not Leila’s hometown has changed. I suppose that’s just one of those subtexts that’s managed to stay with me, past the bullshit, and beyond the void of ex-girlfriend syndrome. With Leila it never quite felt like we were broken up, just inevitably waiting to get back together. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
Sophomore year was somewhat different. She was very used to the swing of things. A Wednesday night felt like the weekend, and while there were a few jilted memories already frequenting bigger houses, nights of less than fulfilling drunken, sex on creaky bed frames, green soiled mattresses used in the sixties and continuing their job with indisputable further, always coming to mind every time she would see his brown eyes or that one’s new haircut, there was still the sense that that required liberal studies class was going to be a breeze the next morning, even with the spinning of memories from the previous night somewhat blurry and silhouetted by the darkest of circles under her eyes. It used to give me varying headaches every time I thought about her, which was all the time, even after we drifted to other more reliable staples.
This was the year she found Brock. He was good at pretending to be artsy, writing her cutesy poems on the back of homework assignment sheets, and occasionally talking about the idea of reuniting his shattered science experiment of a band, which played roughly five shows in his hometown, before deciding that they already got laid enough. There was no point in faking like they all had an artistic outlet in high school. Creativity didn’t exist then. Leila was the type of girl to write in her diary, or at least meticulously catalogue her thoughts from the past. When I was staying at her parents’ house, sleeping in her brother Dean’s bedroom, starring up at the ceiling and waiting for her soft knock on the door, I stole it from her. I was just as much in love with the high school written version of Leila, as I was the hypothetical college one. She had tons of bad experiences, similar to mine, if I were only a girl with a grocery list of insecurities. There were guys that didn’t give her the time of day, and those that did only to steal her cherished virginity and brag about it with their junky friends in the darkened purple and white stairwell. These guys were clones of Brock, all of them running off of the assembly line in linear perfection. They never had anything to say, just looks to give, and walls to lean up against.
She didn’t realize this of course, until her junior year. The summer was rough for both of them. Phone calls, and AIM conversations that neither of them wanted to participate in. He would wind up cheating on her with a girl from his high school. Her name was Sandra and she wasn’t attractive until her boobs got bigger. Some had a theory that she had gotten implants or possibly aborted ten months into the pregnancy. In any case, it wasn’t hard for Brock to fall right in with Sandra, and yet still go right back to Leila the second classes were back in. They fit together like a distorted hipster puzzle. Their hands would magnetically be drawn to one another at parties, or walking around campus, leaves falling like napalm in the background.
She never found out about Sandra. It was Elena who managed to fuck everything up for Brock, right before Thanksgiving. Leila returned home and fucked the first person who showed any sign of interest, and then the inevitable bedroom period, crying and trying to figure her life out. She had no sense of self as that semester ended. After talking to her parents, Hal and Ava, the religious nuts, they left her with a lack of options. She returned to school with no friends or direction. Classes took over, as she found other outlets. A twenty-first birthday brought with it bars and new forms of familiarity. An occasional late night here and there, blowing coke or smoking blunts with guys who she knew wouldn’t take her to the top of the world, helped her blow off all the right elements of steam. Life was a distorted figment of all of our imaginations, and Leila Bennett managed to glide on the clouds of every disappointment like hockey players on thin ice.
Senior year went by in a blur. She knitted snow hats in her lone apartment, and met a few that seemed perfect if she hadn’t already despised the human race, particularly the male facet of that race, for so long previously. A drunken lesbian experience occurred as if it was somewhere written in the bi-laws of college dating, she had to get it in sometime before graduation. Her name Susan and they were lab partners. The keg was kicked, all the beers in the fridge crushed, shots taken from less than empty bottles standing guard on the dirty white kitchen counter. They went back to her place and explored notions. That Wednesday, lab was beyond awkward. Neither knew what structures to build, what combinations of elements went together, bonded in scientific bliss. It didn’t get any better.
Then graduation. Hal and Ava were beyond proud. Dean fell asleep during the ceremony. I still couldn’t believe she actually went. It seemed strange; then again, Leila was never the type of person to avoid getting forced into anything. She would run up against thousands of brick walls with no clear and concise view of the other side. It didn’t matter, though. She could breathe underwater if she had to.
From there it became difficult to foresee where her life was going. She worked answering phones that summer, before packing her bags and heading for the city. A small filthy apartment on the lower West Side, before they decided she was a worthwhile contribution to the magazine. At that point she was twenty-four, dying her hair back to brown again. Blonde just attracted the douchebags and athletes.
The bar scene was full of minor distractions. She met a few hopefuls before deciding it was easier to be completely alone in such a cold atmosphere. Work became a life with zero hobbies. She missed out on a number of good films. Books didn’t mean much of anything to her. Music stockpiled and in vast number. She would always order between five and ten CDs every given month and see how they took. I found myself borrowing stacks from her more often than not.
I couldn’t make this girl a mix, a thought that still somehow plagues my innermost human feelings. I was never truly a fully functioning member of society with her, and yet at the same time felt less than complete when she was off doing her own thing, finding friends to fall apart with, or sitting on the sofa, meditating to whatever higher level God created this anomaly of a woman. I thought I was an atheist for the longest of times, and then it was somehow logical again. I couldn’t just blame it all on the drugs. That would have been poor judgement.
I met her on a Saturday night, on the rooftop of her building, every young and single artist looking for a variation of a perspective on how the world works, or an easy outpost to unwind from the week, throwing away time like tickets won at arcades with broken machines. My friend Quinn had invited me out of the blue on Friday. We were both at the bar, realizing that our failures with the opposite sex could be quickly drowned away in larger glasses and shots of impurities. His neighbor had invited him. They did it every week, went up to the roof and contemplated everything but suicide. People caught on quickly like it was Rocky Horror or Myspace. I could barely make out her distorted figure through the pulsing bodies full of remorse and feelings of absolute drunkenness, scattered on that roof. I had seen blurs all nights, and yet hers seemed to brighten my background. It was like a light on the tallest of hills. I was drawn to it for answers and bullshit conversation.
Quinn had already paired off like it was some sort of game. Her name was Natalie, and she was good at faking like she was an artist. I saw her photography at a cocktail party at Quinn’s apartment. It was her idea, and yet he had to host it. Already I saw the two of them meticulously falling apart. It was black and white, larger than life, and for the most part just pictures of women crying in dark corners. I called it chick art. It bothered Leila, and yet she understood. She wasn’t the biggest fan of those with cameras. She couldn’t distinguish between the two, photographer or future vanity project. Girls carried cameras like they were tickets to ecstasy.
She was done with her beer, looking for a casual way out. I was drunk and high, having smoked three bongs with Quinn prior to our search for the fire exit. It didn’t matter, though. We saw through each other, past the jilted rules and games of dating, that each had subscribed to previously. She looked at me and I became every aspect of who I thought I could be. Potential no longer floated away with grace and memories of nights spent in similar locations. I remembered everything when I was with her, every definition of Leila was somehow a term that I couldn’t forget. She had infected me, and it was only inevitable that the two of got lost in our own us-centered world.
I set my beer down and thought of possible topics, and yet conversation didn’t matter at that point. We were past it in the first five minutes, running away from familiar faces, and quickly back down the creaky stairs two floors, to her place. I could still distinctly hear “Train in Vain” as we turned off her bedroom light and searched for a place to fall apart. Talking was a barbaric ritual experienced by those who didn’t understand one another. It became like a board game. I rolled the die and saw what happened, never surprised or excited. Disappointment was a foreign extremity. We just got each other better than either of us thought we could. It became beyond addictive.
I stayed the next morning. She knew I would. It began like clockwork and ended in a dozen relapses. We should have known better. There wasn’t an escape, permanent good-byes or fond farewells, just time off. Time to think about how to remedy our distinctive problems with one another. I haven’t figured mine out yet. It’s taking long than expected.
We talked about all our bullshit that morning. Past experiences, times we walked out and later realized that staying was a better idea, or possibly ran for the hills with no sense of regret. Times we got hung up, couldn’t understand why, became innocently lost in the idea of it all. Times we just needed to forget, or run away, find answers in those that only wanted to figure out their own questions. All of it came naturally, like both understood there was no point in being that way anymore. Honesty became the best policy with us, and later could be accounted for our untimely demise. She rolled joints in record time. It always kept me awake, watching her evolve.