We got breakfast that morning and started to downshift in topics. The previous night was far too brief. I wanted to get to know her, figure out the intricacies, and yet I couldn’t see it as anything less than perfect at that point. It’s weird thinking about how little you know about somebody after you sleep with them. I knew I hadn’t fallen in love yet, just let the thought wander the dark crevices of my mind. She was flawless that morning. Her smile burned holes in my retinas. I couldn’t stop starring.
Work, love, money, passion, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The River, hometowns, best friends, failed affairs, dabbling in narcissism, running away from our own identities, ignoring phone calls from our mothers, the waitress (she was far too cute to care about the concept of good service), movies, things she hadn’t seen, I hadn’t seen, things we loved and hated, the concept of tipping, plans for the day, month, year, and so on. We were all over the place, managing to eventually come back down and grasp the reality of our current situation. We didn’t really know each other. Possibly we needed time to unwind, think about our lives as separate individual words rather than combined offbeat conversation. I paid and we took separate cabs back to our respective lonely apartments. A true artist has to be alone. I keep trying to remind myself of this.
I attempted to think about not calling her, possibly watching a movie, or calling Quinn, filling him in on my night, why I hadn’t walked back or slept on his couch. It was a strange occurrence, both of us managing to get laid in the same night. In fact, it seemed like it never happened. Needless to say I never went back up to the roof again. It made sense if I used that as the backdrop for our entire relationship. What the fuck were we thinking anyway? The rooftop party was designated for lonely people, or those sick of bars. She hated them, and I did as well. Never in my life have I met a worthwhile future in a bar. I see things differently than most, I suppose. By the time the glass is empty it’s either more drenched perspective or possibly a spinning ride back to reality.
We were better at being social with friends. Quinn fell for her faster than I did, as it seemed. It became strange, like a competition of sorts. Natalie only withstood the test of time for a month, and then there was Shannon, Wendy, and Lulu. She was the best one, despite the prostitute name. Her mother had an apartment across town where we would all escape to and hear stories about what it used to be like. Leila and I would exchange looks as we listened to her low voice and the background noise of some longhaired musician before he was past his prime. That’s when she knew him of course. Lulu’s mother knew all of them, had slept with a few, and others just given blowjobs to.
It boggled my mind the weekend we met Lulu’s father. He seemed so normal, more like my parents or Leila’s. Grounded in how the world was working and would continue working at least until he retired or died. There were new kids on the way, half brothers and sisters. Quinn had a lot on his plate. He couldn’t handle holidays and eventually needed some kind of escape. We haven’t really talked since he bought the ticket. I saw his name in the credits once, but I wasn’t completely sure if it was the same Quinn. They could very well be cloning them out there.
After our “couple friends” fell through, (there was her other neighbor, Janene and her boyfriend Samson, who managed to get killer substances, despite the fact that his speech was slurring with each flashback. Needless to say these two didn’t last all that long), we decided that hiding away from it all suited us better. Our schedules coordinated. She would wake up early to paint on Saturday mornings. I would fall in and out of consciousness, not wanting to see the product until it was finished by Leila’s own set standard, which was pretty simple to tell actually. All she had to do was say that she hated it, and then I’d know that the painting was done. I got used to being the reassuring, albeit somewhat nagging, voice on her shoulder. She did too.
Our apartment, which was my apartment that she moved into after some trouble with Janene (she stole things), became our own private outpost. We would occasionally go out for supplies or event that managed to fly past all the others we knew were only going to be a lingering disappointment. Work became a minimal diversion when both of us were there. I started to become creative in ways I didn’t know possible. We would still talk to Samson. He would stop by with baggies that allowed us to feel comfortable in our own skin, and also more than excited to try somebody else’s on for some hours at a time. I enjoyed it the most when it was just the two of us, losing our heads, and yet finding our true purposes camouflaged in acrylics on the wall. It was simple with Leila, despite the bullshit, and I suppose the more I think about it, there was quite a lot of bullshit.
Not at first, though. At first it was all very easy. We went on dates, the majority of them ending in a stay at one of our apartments. Eventually I moved in there, before we decided to move back to my place together. I almost forgot what it looked like as we opened the door that Sunday. It was still a shitbox, and yet once she unpacked, I found it a little easier to resettle. On her days off she would make the walls uniquely motivated with portraits of figures neither of us had ever met. They were people we made mental snapshots of while walking through the market or past the busiest of sidewalks on a snowy Monday morning. I learned to hate all of those faces, the ones that passed inconspicuously as much as the ones on the walls. All of them only offered sustained coldness and even more to think about.
I remember the world starting to slowly deteriorate around us, to the point where even the slightest intricate spec of Leila’s presence got under my skin in the worst of ways. I longed for those times spent alone, just me and my work. I’ve gotten too much done since she left, though. I miss the balance. I miss deciding to stay in or maybe go out and leave early. Leaving early became what those fake friends expected from us. The ones back home only met her once.
It was the day before Christmas Eve. I didn’t want to bring her home, but she insisted. The Thanksgiving before was our escapade with Hal and Ava. Dean didn’t come home. He had his future in-laws to cater to. It was more or less normal. I understood why she didn’t return often. There were girls in the bar who hadn’t quite figured out what the answer was. She would call the majority of them acquaintances, and yet the occasional hug between a bitter rival would occur just out of good faith that there wouldn’t be a bitch fight at the ten-year reunion. I enjoyed her talking copious amounts of shit on all of them as we drove back to her parents’ house, both of us just drunk enough to attempt other kinds of trouble. She let the smoke blow out her bedroom window. It felt strange hiding everything like we were still kids. I didn’t mind the tiptoeing in the hallway. It was a long weekend after all.
Christmas slowed down for the both of us. My mother pulled me aside often to ask where it was all going. I didn’t have the heart to tell her any kind of truth. Of course, I didn’t know then that we were drifting on different shards of ice. I wish I had seen more coming. Her being impulsive turned full circle into the same blood, coursing through my veins. I still haven’t quite lived it down yet, which is somewhat troublesome the more and more I think about. I’ve been giving numb looks to all of them at work. Mila probably wants to fuck me because of it. She met Leila once, right towards the end she stopped by work to return my TV remote. I looked up from my desk at the memo in her hand, and she understood. Of course, even as I dwell on the idea now, I realize that dating somebody from work is going to be an even bigger problem. A one-night stand would be out of the cards. She’s not that type of girl. I really just need to escape like Quinn. He understood that this city is just dead weight on the rest of the coast. Everything was going to eventually run out of breath underwater anyway.
My mother learned to hate her, while my father thought she was perfect. They enjoyed disagreeing far too much. Her parents hated me for my lack of direction and similar interests. Her father was a hunter, Republican with too many distorted views of what ideals were. We fought at the dinner table in front of aunts and cousins. It didn’t help that I was stoned. She cracked up laughing as if the firework display was only half over. I understood why she had to show me home just that once. I returned the favor only to later regret it. There were too many reasons why we were so good at hiding. Our roots were minor distractions, and it didn’t in any sense sum us up.
I suppose I can’t blame it on that then either. After we knew too much about each other, old possibilities started to reappear. A guy who was most definitely in love with her from college looked us both up just out of the blue. I hated Jimmy. He wasn’t one of us. I couldn’t talk to him like I had friends before. He hated me and I guess he had the right to. I mean, after all, he had known her longer, and yet she would complain about him constantly. It was pity, not love with those two.
I began spending more time at work. So did Mila. Nothing happened, at least not yet. I’m in a recovery period right now. I know she understands too. I’m good at pretending like Leila’s still there, even though she’s gone. She is still there, though. Maybe I’m over-exaggerating. I should just say something tomorrow, tell her the truth, be completely honest this time around. Or maybe I should take a drive. That might be easier. I could clear my head completely before running into her. I have a general idea of what her days are like now.
They start late. She sees beautiful things and thinks about how good they would look larger than life on a white surface, but these thoughts quickly distinguish as she puts her uniform on. Her apartment’s smaller than it was, but comfortable. There isn’t enough room for my stuff, which is a minor detail she finds somewhat comforting.
The drive to work is brief, a few lights here and there by the familiar street corners and memories from days spent with little to no direction. Then the office. There is some potential in his brown eyes, but she would never go for it at this point. It didn’t seem right, and would most likely end like all the others.
She began classifying all the men she’s ever met into five categories. There were those who followed orders and fell apart because of it. There were those who were guided by single one-syllable thoughts. Their eyes drawn to cleavage sitting on dim-lit bar stools. There were the ones that were successful and contemplated suicide. They didn’t know themselves, only what it meant to be alive on occasion. It hurt most of the time. The ones that faked it with the utmost accuracy. They still had somewhat of an effect. She always took the time to think about it, before wisdom set in. Finally there were those like me. Honest and creative only when destruction was involved. I was a mess of every aspect that she loved and hated. I was a person she needed to get away from, but at times couldn’t completely forget about.
We were too hard-placed stones on a mountain of descending expectations. We were responsible for ripping each other apart. We were bigger than the majority of spectacles we had seen in photographs. We understood all of those around us, and why they were who they were, and still couldn’t bring ourselves to completely write off all of the human race. It was such a common mistake amongst artists.
No, instead we let the benefit of the doubt become our catchphrase. I suspended disbelief and let inhibitions deteriorate and burn with flavored papers and glances from across crowded square-box rooms. I missed thinking about how easy it was to read her mind. I could understand everything, and yet still manage to fuck up a minor detail here or there. Mila walked by and set her number down on my desk Friday. I threw it away this afternoon and checked my account. I needed gas, directions, music, joints, and a lack of logical sense. She wouldn’t be surprised. It was the hardest thing, getting Leila to jump.