Every exit is an entry somewhere else. Tom Stoppard.
10 years ago.
I could hear the TV on in her apartment. The door was shut and I had taken the stairs two at a time at a near run. Her welcome mat was worn, I remember it as graying green in a ragged doorway against scuffed tick tock tiles. It was an old building on Apple Ave in Cincinnati that shouldered in near Garfield park. The park itself was home to a pack of homeless men led by a man in a worn bomber jacket and grizzled beard named, appropriately, Dog. I used to bring him coffee at the end of the day when I worked at the small local place off of 7th. LA had been a strange place. I’d flown in on someone else’s dime, hit comic conventions, and slept with a gangly boy who talked of buying a house after he picked me up at the airport. I felt used and lonely, but I was home now.
I knocked for the third time, pretending that she just hadn’t heard me. Of course she would open the door. We’d been friends for nearly four years. I’d seen her naked. I’d seen her transform from the mousy girl wearing a black blousey dress with little blue flowers and hair the color of cheddar cheese into this auburn haired geek goddess. I’d held her while she cried over each boy that didn’t realize the gift she had given them and promised to slash the tires of the worst one’s Kharman Gia. We’d drunk together, fought together, loved together, and fucked together. Of course she would open the door.
I knocked again. Their voices hushed and the TV turned off. I could hear her come to the door. It was like those split frames in the movies where I could imagine her forehead touching mine, but the door never opened. I watched the shadow slip to the right, toward her bedroom and the light over my head flicked off. She knew I lied about LA. She knew I had been lying to her for years, but she forgave me. She always gave me one more chance, but the hallway was dark now. There was a light on a floor above and four floors down was the street. It was a long walk and my shoes squeaked awkwardly as I stumbled away.
That was how Jenny made her exit.
She taught me that you can love unconditionally until it becomes something that tears you apart. She taught me what real friends were and it was my fault I lost it. I can only hope that one day she’ll understand she is my yardstick of how I now treat those I love. Her door closed and it took me nearly a decade to figure out it was because mine had never opened.
12 years ago
“I’m going to get a tattoo. Anyone want to come?” She lounged across the counter and grinned as I took off my coffee stained apron.
“I’m off work and I got some cash.” I shrugged. She gave me that quirky smile that wrinkled her nose.
“Let’s do this thing.”
The tattoo parlor was white with a small space in the rear with a gallery window. The inker was pale, tall, scrawny, and had a pointy nose that reminded me of a ferret. He was wearing a white t-shirt and ripped jeans that matched his thin brown ponytail. I went first and made faces at her while the needle burned into my neck. We’d sat outside flipping through a book I had in my trunk on 365 Days of Zen to find characters. She was wearing a pale pink tank top, black bra, and all the insouciant rocker I knew possible. She had this beaten down old leather hat and a way of humming Stevie Ray Vaughn that I found myself drawn to uncontrollably. She also had a boyfriend with crooked teeth and the charm of James Dean. I blew him because I wanted her. I just didn’t know it at the time.
She held my hand while the needle painted “serenity” between her shoulder blades. She’d gotten sober in Seattle before moving to Toledo. Two weeks later I was leaving and she was drinking beer with me on the pull out couch in the back of my rental house. She slugged beer like they did in movies, with a gentle ease and careless sexiness. We’d go to the swing-set at midnight and laugh in the rain, kicking our toes to the moon and believing that this friendship was forever.
“I’ve never kissed a girl before.” She told the wall by the TV. I watched her throat move when she swallowed.
“I have, a couple times.” She looked over at me then, eyes blurred red and hidden in the half light.
“Would you kiss me?”
I went hot. She had pale skin and chestnut hair. There were these two freckles on her neck that fascinated me and I stared hard at them, willing her to kiss me first. Then it wouldn’t be my fault. She did and she tasted like beer with a fast pink tongue and warm skin just under the hair that fell around her shoulders. When she was done, I blinked owlishly, confused. She got up and walked out of the room. I left the next day.
Carolyn taught me that there is a difference between wanting someone and friendship. She taught me that just because you kiss someone, doesn’t make it forever. She taught me to revel in the moment and laugh like we’re dying. I learned I was beautiful if I’d just believe it. Still working on that.
9 years ago
There was a pile of used stir sticks and wet straw wrappers soaking up cream and coffee on the counter when he walked in. He caffeinated three times a day on his breaks from the local trash paper. He laughed loudly, hummed alot, and drank his coffee black. I’d never noticed him until he looked down at the mess.
“It’s a haiku splatter.” He remarked. I fell in love and he left some change in the tip jar.
He liked to share me, but that was cool- I thought I liked to share him too. After all, we were the most fuckable couple in the Cincinnati music scene. He was tall with a big nose and long fingered hands. He had blue hair on his best days, and lime green on his worst. He played piano in jeans and bare feet, sweeping epic notes that filled the room with song. He fingered his guitar and stroked out melodies that still get stuck in my head. He read the books I told him he’d like- and liked them. He started quoting Harlan Ellison to me after sex. He fucked like a porn star and kissed me like he’d never tasted anything as savory. We had a love that left bruises on my hips that ached when I wore jeans. We stayed in a loft he’d built in an old ice cream factory and had a lot of sex. Alot.
I tried to keep him happy, pulling tighter when he started pulling away. I started dressing differently. I picked up his drink of choice- Jameson neat, water back. I cried myself to sleep against his turned back. I felt alone with his arms around me when he looked at other girls. I made myself miserable trying to figure out how to make him stay. I cried. I pleaded. I slept with people with him.
He left me while I bought him dinner before his band practice. I calmly paid the check, dropped him off, and fled to my apartment to scream myself sick. I tried for three months to get him back, but finally when I’d moved on he stopped back in for a quickie. When it was over I just wanted to leave. The sex magic was gone and he was just weird looking. It took four years and different states before we could be friends again.
Matt is still the best sex I’ve ever had. But now I know that you can’t go back, if it was broken the first time- it doesn’t magically get fixed. I learned that I can’t change myself to suit someone else, but can only make myself happy. Doesn’t mean I still don’t try every once and awhile, but I was the girl who after burning her hand on mom’s stove would check the neighbor’s stove too.
Each time something has ended in my life, something else has opened up for me. If Matt hadn’t left me, I wouldn’t have found the internet and therefore would never have met my best friend of the last seven years. If Jenny had opened the door I would never have found the necessary courage to learn how to be honest. If Carolyn hadn’t gotten sober once, I would have never thought I could do it too- wouldn’t have known that there were places I could ask for help. It’s the footnotes that are what makes me who I am, and as rough and crazy as my past is- I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t be me without it.
I’m a pastiche of endings- or maybe just a plethora of beginnings.