Chapter 10: Opposing Conversations
I answered after a few vibrations, leaning against the side of the house, trying to ignore the spin in my stomach and the overflow of thoughts and words left unsaid passing through the gate without paying the toll. I wanted to say everything, and at the same time, saw myself taking it all in, piece by piece. I didn’t have the comfort of pretending to sleep on the couch this time, or the obscene sense of freedom washing over me as I walked away from her house, and peeled out of the driveway. No instead, I had been through a broken rollercoaster ride that was still circling the loop. I took each breath like it was my last and cleared my throat before answering the doomed call from my ex-girlfriend.
“Hey.” The initial sound of her voice was almost comforting had I not been cursing its tone since our last vicarious encounter. Even so, it felt good to once again wallow in familiarity; all the new abnormalities quickly loosing their temporary appeal.
“So uh…Why are you calling me?” I listened in to the silence on the other end. She sounded drunk, but not nearly to the same degree that I was spinning. The party behind me was dying down, and yet I so desperately wanted her to at least hear traces of it. I didn’t want her to think about how full of shit I was. Not that night or ever again.
“I don’t know. I’ve been thinking a lot lately.”
“Really, well that’s almost comforting.”
“Jesus, do you always have to be such a dick?”
“I’m sorry. I’m… Well I’m pretty fucked up, so for the duration of this conversation if it seems like the things I say are just popping up out of thin air, then you can’t really blame me for it.”
“Even though I probably will.”
“Well whatever, it’s not like your impression of me matters much anymore.”
“Man, you’re not holding anything back, huh?”
“Why the fuck would I Muriel? I’d appreciate it, right now, if we could just cut through all the how’s-your-life-been-going-lately bullshit and get down to brass tax. Why the call, why now at this very instant?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I can’t really answer that question right off that bat. It’s one of those weird things that I don’t completely understand. I guess, when push comes to shove, I sort of miss you, or at least the sense that you’re going to be there. I don’t know if that makes any sense.”
I was about to spout off again on yet another wild tangent, hopefully knocking her down from her proverbial lonely cloud and centering the both of us in our lack of substantial motor skills. I put my left foot against the house and leaned, trying to take in such an already dead concept. She missed me, or at least my previous affinity to take her particular brand of bullshit lightly at first. I had been there to listen and silently contemplate the future with Muriel on numerous occasions when both of us decided that getting high and unwinding was better than our assignments and thoughts of potentially fractured topics which wouldn’t matter much by the next semester.
“Right, well where are you right now?”
“I’m in such a different mess.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“My sister’s getting married tomorrow, so I’m in Chicago awaiting the wedding.”
“Oh right, I almost forgot about that. I could’ve gone with you, I guess. I mean, if things would’ve worked out.”
“Yeah, well let’s not talk about the hypothetical possibilities of where both of us would be right now if things were different. I don’t think I have the strength to pretend like I care.”
“Alright fine, sorry. But how is it, there?”
“It’s strangely familiar. Well, I mean some of it is.”
“Are you at her fiancé’s house now or something?”
“No, I’m at the house of my future brother-in-law’s sister’s kind of sort of boyfriend, except they would never put a title on it like that. It’s not like that at all, and I can’t really see myself taking the time to explain it to you. Needless to say I’m looking at the world through brand new eyes at this very moment.”
It wasn’t just a saying or a timely cliché. It was the truth, and she wouldn’t understand, later talking to her tight-nicked siblings about how incredibly drunk I sounded and how the things I said only half hurt her already fragile ego.
She would try her best to hide away from every single true feeling like they were all only briefly captivating. Muriel Cavallo enjoyed letting the bottle build up momentum. Although, she didn’t have any kind of occasional freak-outs like the rest of us. It seemed like everybody I knew, and even those I had just met, were waiting for the right moment to simply explode in a larger-than-life display of misinterpreted looks and green affections.
I saw myself more so like Everett or even Joel, rather than the people I had built mediocre friendships with while we reassured each other that once it was all finally over, the keg kicked, the wrapper thrown out with the rest of the garbage, all of us as a collective would still be somewhat grounded in our affinity to simply view the same buildings, sidewalks and dark circles under blue eyes in a similar fashion. We were all wrong, though, and I didn’t even necessarily buy into such a notion until I heard Muriel’s desperate voice again that night.
I was dumped, briefly broken-hearted, and yet quickly recovered the second I met somebody more worth it. Even though Alanna had recently been reduced to a wandering notion in my drug-induced brain, I hadn’t completely given up on my recent infatuation, even if I would later only refer to it as a mere crush or lapse in judgement. I wasn’t just that one certain way. It wasn’t just a black dress; a mix CD and a conversation about the diluted nothingness we all bought into, that made these particular women seem brighter than florescence. Instead, it was my ability to make the comparison. I instantly saw Alanna as somebody more perfect than Muriel. It wasn’t a profound process, but rather something more associated with instinct. I could build mountains of connections, and yet at the end of the day, once it all seemed trivial, I knew who I wanted to run away with. It was higher level simplicity, electroshock treatment for the already brain-dead wanderers of the world.
“Well, I guess that’s good Noah.”
“Yeah, I know, it really is. What are you doing?”
“Drinking at my house. This whole summer’s just kind of sucked so far.”
“Well maybe if you had a job or something to work on.”
“It’s not just that. I… I don’t know. Do you ever feel like you’re just always listening to the same song on repeat?”
“Are you trying to sketch out some sort of gigantic metaphor to attempt to explain your life right now Muriel?”
“Yeah, I think I am, and I also think what I just said is what makes the most sense, at least right now. Like I said, I’ve been drinking.”
“Well, not to sound like an asshole or anything, but I really don’t buy into any of that shit. There are things out there, ya know? Things that make life seem different.”
“I don’t know. I can’t really explain any of it to you without you being here to witness all the shit I’ve been through in the last thirty hours or so, but in any case, I don’t think I’d want you to be here. I mean, if we had stayed together and if you were here at this party with me right now, well then I think I could honestly say that I’d end up hating myself a little more.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say Noah.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. That’s the whole thing, I feel like all the time we spent together was just a better way for me to learn to hate myself, in which case I could always say that at least I got something out of it because you’re somebody who’s unexplainable Muriel.”
“Well okay, how do you figure?”
“You never know what you want, at least not exactly. Sure, there are a bunch of random possibilities spread out over time, but none of them are what you want, and I wasn’t either, and I think I understood that before we even started dating. I mean, I knew that you were kind of just telling that little voice in the back of your head to shut the fuck up, because it would make life easier, but the truth of the matter is that it’s never going to be easier. People like me and people like you simply don’t mesh well.”
I couldn’t believe how clear it was all coming to me. Each sentence felt like a direct product of the one before it, and of her, our slow descent into numb familiarity, and the dependence that we developed through our generation’s motto that kept continually reiterating itself in the back of my head. None of us had anything better to do.
It was that clear. We all disguised temporary feelings of comfort into love, lust and artsy discourse. The shattered frantic and senseless processes of all college students. Some decided to simply steer away from such possibilities, deciding that it was better not to feel anything. Muriel was one of these people, despite the fact that she so desperately tried to pretend like she wasn’t. That was the explanation for the phone call at that particular turning point of my life. She wasn’t looking for an answer or sentimental words from an ex-boyfriend who she thought possibly still had the slightest of things for her.
No, instead it was an attempt to feel like the others, the pragmatic doormen on televisions sets, the teen queens who wrote in their diaries, the loner recluses who drove home alone that night and every night out of shear will power. The ones that walked away with a misguided and jumbled sense of self, but a sense of self nonetheless. The ones that knew they pretended and would later post all their regrets on bulletin boards for the demented transporters to view in passing.
She was so far from all of them. My ex-girlfriend was a dim case of masked kindness. She hated everything that was possible for everybody else, and with each attempt at a worthwhile connection, she became more distant, more gratifyingly alone. It would eventually consume her and take her to a place that all of us happily turned away from. We needed our perpetually round sense of hope, however false or misconstrued it might seem. We needed our Alanna Brinkers to be there for us, even as mere thoughts or fictitious constructs of our innermost sense of longing. In that way, I knew I could at least live with myself, no matter how subsequently low my pulse felt.
“Yeah, I know we don’t Noah.”
“Then why did you call me?” Again, it was the only logical question I could think of at that point.
“Are you just gonna keep asking me that?”
“I just need to understand why you’re like this. I mean, why do you feel like it’s easier to not be you. I don’t even know you, and I don’t think anyone does. You’re just so far fucking gone Muriel.”
“In what sense?”
“You don’t know how to just turn it off.”
“What are you talking about? Turn what off?”
“All of it. The voice, your thoughts, the way you are.”
“And what way is that?”
“You’re naturally cold, and I don’t think I’ve ever met somebody like that before. I mean, sure, there are those who you wait around for, like it takes everyone some time and patience to warm up, but you never did. It’s like you’re some kind of evolved form of a socialite. Nothing necessarily will ever get to you.”
“You’re fucking losing it Noah. I mean, you think that I’m this cold dull person, why, because I broke up with you, because we didn’t work out?”
“No, it’s not that at all. I thought I already explained it. You have to know what you’re looking for before you can decide on anything.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be a surprise sometimes? I mean, isn’t that what they teach us with all their bullshit?”
“Well yeah, but it’s never going to be a surprise with you, and I guess that’s the real difference. Man, I am too fucked up to have this conversation, though, it’s like ten thousand moments of clarity are just all hitting me all at once.”
“Well great Noah. I’m glad I could at least help you figure you’re life out.”
“I know, it is great. Thanks a bunch.”
“So when are you gonna be back home?”
“Why? I don’t see us seeing each other anytime soon.”
“I’m just bored, is all.”
“Well, get over it Muriel.” I hung up the phone without a second thought. There wasn’t much else to say, and even if I had continued conversing in such a way, I didn’t see her getting much out of it. My whole outlook and general life’s purpose shifted within a matter of minutes. Before I was going to readily search for an easy way out, and yet this time, after yet another solemn piece of mind, I was ready to look for her again, to say it all and potentially blame it on the drugs and alcohol. At least, I could live with myself after that; the harsh sight of my upcoming future most likely spent behind a desk and some plastic walls, my eventual turn away from all the things I once knew, and wouldn’t ever see the same way again. It was going to be meticulously mind-altering.
I didn’t have to look far, as she had been wondering around with a similar purpose. All lights would quickly turn away from us. Alanna walked down from the deck around the same time Muriel heard the cold echo of the dial tone. She was drunk with a diminishing beer that wouldn't be refilled that night. My potential plan to avoid it all had somewhat paid off, and in record time. We were through dancing and waiting for the eventual pull of midnight. This was our chance at leftover misconceptions and breathless words. We were magnetic in the backyard; two distant figures placed just far enough away to instantly notice one another. I stumbled towards the glow.
“Hey, I was looking for you. I thought you might’ve been throwing up or something.”
“No, not yet.”
“So where were you?”
“Long story. You?”
“Sort of the same deal.”
“Yeah, well do you wanna get away from this noise.”
“I still have a joint left in my cigarette pack. There’s a trail, we can walk in the woods.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Okay.” She became silent and reflective leading the way into the vastness of the woods behind the Hutchinson’s red brick house. I followed closely behind, deciding to let such a silence linger for longer than needed. If anything else, it helped us both feel more than alone even when we were together.
“So what happened?” I said, leaning against a tree, the lights from the back deck now gently hidden behind the leaves and brush.
“I don’t really wanna talk about it.” She said, lighting the joint and letting the smoke fill her lungs. I had lost my initial concept of having a plan of action. Alanna was always the one leading me into the unknown, without allowing me the time to second-guess any of it. In this way, it was a newly developed bad habit, and one that couldn’t be shaken off with purchases from the drug store or phone calls from the far reaches. I had become hooked in, stuck with the knowledge of knowing that there wasn’t ever going to be an easy way out.
“Well uh… I’ll make you a deal. I’ll tell you about my bullshit first.”
“Somehow I have a feeling yours isn’t nearly as complicated.”
“I’ve been looking for you all night, but trying to pretend like I wasn’t.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t.” She handed me the joint, as I let it all sink in one more time, out of good faith in the reliability of marijuana.
“But what does that have to do with anything Noah.”
“Well uh… I gave up at a point. Actually, after smoking with Joel twice, doing some shots, drinking a lot of beer and seeing both of our cousins making-out in the basement, I decided that it would just be easier if I all around gave up on the notion of us.”
“Well do you always have a profound catharsis like that at parties?”
“No, not usually.”
“That’s funny, cause for some reason or another, you seem like the type.”
“I guess. I don’t know. I think you and I shouldn’t try to classify each other as this type or that, because it’s really bad for the both of us, or at least me, I guess. I mean, I really can’t handle you telling me that I’m a specific way, and I can’t think of any specific way that you are, so let’s just not do that, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” She gave me the second real look of the day. At that moment, it was no longer the passing fad. We weren’t just getting stoned in the woods or saying that we needed to get away from everything because it felt like the to be, the way that we thought we were. Instead, our self-inflicted exile had a purpose. This wasn’t the cigarette outside of the hotel, or the attic and the records, although I enjoyed dwelling on every word, look and eventual retreat from said locations. The woods were our jagged escape from all the realities we pretended to ignore, some unapologetically construed by the people who raised us, others from our second parents: television sets, playground gossip, lonely lyrics and the truly nomadic ritual of spending time alone in a bedroom lined with posters that could never completely explain us.
“Alright, so I had given up on you and then Muriel called me.”
“Your ex-girlfriend called you, just out of the blue, huh?”
“Yeah, well she’s hard to explain. In fact, I could spend months trying to figure her out, and I have, but I’m well past that point.”
“Right… So where’s all of this going? I mean, what did the two of you talk about?”
“Everything it seemed like. I don’t know. I can’t really paraphrase what we talked about, but anyways, I realized that she was a complete waste of time.”
“Well, I thought you already knew that Noah.”
“I did, but you know how it is sometimes, even when you know somebody’s bad for you, you still like to keep the idea of them in your head, for one reason or another. I guess it all comes down to the idea that we hope they’ll change, and make life easier, but it’s not like that with her. She’s a fucking mess that I want nothing to do with anymore.”
“Okay, well good for you.”
“Yeah, and uh… Do you have any idea how worth it I think you are Alanna?”
“Jesus, don’t do this right now Noah. I just needed someone to smoke a joint with.”
“Well then why didn’t you find Everett? Isn’t he your designated guy for that?”
“No, not anymore.”
“And I am all of a sudden?”
“No, it’s not like that. Jesus Christ, I feel like everybody keeps misinterpreting everything I say and do.”
“Well I’m sorry to be like this, but I have to say that things are pretty goddamn confusing right now, and I don’t see it getting any more crystal clear, ya know?”
“It’s just cause you’re drunk, and I’m drunk, and we’re at a party where everybody, even our family members, are pairing off like the flood’s coming.”
“Well maybe it is.” She smiled at my comment as if everything I said set out with the purpose of filling that void.
“Man, you’re ridiculous, ya know that?”
“Yeah, I know. So are you, though.”
“How do you figure?”
“You’re pissed about how people can just so easily misinterpret everything you say and do, and yet… Well if I were Everett and we had slept together, I wouldn’t necessarily think that I misinterpreted much of anything.”
“Ya know, none of that’s any of your business.”
“See that’s where I think you’re wrong, and it’s really weird for me to think that, because since I’ve met you I’ve been subscribing to the idea that you’re amazing, but you’re definitely wrong with that one, because since yesterday you’ve made it my business.”
“No, I haven’t. Just stop…”
“No, I won’t. Not right now or ever again. I need to get this out.” I was starting to let it all take over. I needed to vent, to pop the cork on everything that was becoming close to permanent.
“Fine, go ahead.”
“You made it my business the second you mentioned it in the car yesterday, and then at Ronna and Tracy’s when Everett flipped out, and then the kiss, and finally right here. You bringing me here and letting me see everything. I mean, what the fuck is happening between us anyway? Am I just some temporary solution or something? I mean, shit’s fucked up with Everett, so you have me, who’s only going to be around for a little while, but at the same time, always going to be around because our fucking siblings are getting married? It’s so fucked. I mean, everything is, and you know it. So stop acting like you have no idea what’s happening, because you definitely do, Alanna.”
She didn’t respond right away. I had delivered the final blow, and let it all casually sink in. I sighed and handed her the joint back.
“I don’t want that.”
“Me neither.” I flicked the roach onto the trail and tried not to stare.
“I’m sorry Noah. I… Do you wanna know what happened with Everett tonight?”
“Yes, I do.”
“It was the same story over again. We went upstairs and he said a bunch of perfect things, and I didn’t see it going anywhere. I’ve never seen it going anywhere. I mean, aren’t people allowed to make mistakes every once in awhile? I know that sounds like cliché bullshit right now, but I got drunk and I felt lonely, and now I don’t have a best friend anymore and you…? Well I don’t know what to think about you. I mean, despite the fact that it feels like something bigger than the both of us, I’m not sure I should just give in. I mean, it would be wrong, just like the whole Everett thing was wrong.”
“I haven’t known you nearly as long Alanna.”
“Yeah, but it feels like we’re both here for the long haul.”
“We could always just disown all of them.”
“I thought it was more so common practice for them to disown us.”
“Well, either way.” She smirked again and moved in closer.
“Ya know, I really hate the fact that I’m so into you.”
“I feel the exact same way.” My hand slowly moved towards her hip.
“This is a huge mistake.”
“Trust me, I’m well aware.” I kissed her passionately like an old movie star. I pictured us in widescreen, the shot panning backward away from the woods and to the mass hysteria of the suburban sprawl we were both sick to death of. I thought of songs we weren’t hearing and later conversations where we wouldn’t speak of such an incident. She was right about everything, how it was a mistake, and yet I couldn’t resist anymore. We were recklessly purposeful and understandably in the right place.
It quickly became heated, her hands unzipping my pants, and both of us clawing at one another as we fell down to the dirty ground, her back now a part of the trail, both of us fair too intertwined to let thoughts of drunken messes walking away from the dementia to urinate or possibly get stoned fill our heads. My hands grazed her breasts, before she pulled her skirt down and moved her mouth away from mine. Our eyes connected, each of us noticing the dilated pupils. She could see the star-filled sky, and I could see my life falling to pieces once again.
“So uh, do you have a condom?” Fatefully I reached into my left jeans pocket and pulled the solution out without thinking.
“Yeah, uh… My cousin gave it to me.”
“Kieran gave you a condom?”
“That’s pretty funny.”
“Yeah, I know.” She started to laugh as my body felt hers uproot. I peeled back the red wrapper and quickly fiddled with the rubber, finally finding the proper spot. I felt like a failure in high school health, the mood descending with each breath we took in unison. She didn’t seem to mind, though. We drunkenly fell into one another, our eyes meeting again, leaving us both stranded. We were on the outskirts of civilization and common practices. Every filthy gyration bringing us together and slowly tearing us away from the fabric of those we knew and would later only mention. It was our brief time to finally forget.