I hovered the little blue man with a red number 1 hat and clicked. A girl’s face popped up with the name Katy beside it. I clicked through to see her profile. She was from a city about three hours from where I live, just over the state line. We talked some, not often.
We exchanged phone numbers in early January. I would text her drunk at the bar when I felt sad. She made me feel safe. She wrote to me about her experiences at parties, her break ups, and the kind of things a guy and girl in their early twenties talk about.
One night, in late January, I was drunk at the bar. I told her I was going to visit her. I don’t remember sending the text but she woke me up the following morning with a text that told me she was off work at 3 and to pick her up then. I blew off work, packed a few things, and started driving.
“Hey” I said as I started pulling into the fast lane on the highway. I fumbled with one hand to cradle my phone against my head as I answered her call.
“So… I just got off work, where are you?”
“Oh I’m still about twenty minutes out. I kind of got lost.”
“Oh it’s cool. I’m going to have a cigarette and then go sit back inside. They don’t mind if I sit inside.”
I slammed the gas and my truck careened over the state line. With the flatness of my home behind me, mountains began appearing on either side of the highway. It felt new, a place I had never been. I continued through a mountain pass and crossed a suspension bridge that soared over the island where she lived. I soon found myself downtown pulling up to where she worked. She was sitting on a cinder black half wall. She was taller than I expected, skinny. With tousled black hair and light skin. She carried herself with a slight waver to her steps.
“Can I smoke in your truck?” she asked as she hopped in.
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
We drove away and I asked her which way to go. She told me we could drop my things off at her grandparent’s house so I could introduce myself. I was nervous. I was just a random guy from the internet who just, on a whim, drove three hours to meet this girl. What would her grandparents think? I felt 16 again. Naive. It was good.
“Right turn. Wait, no, left turn.”
“Ha! Um, okay. Well, wait you don’t drive, do you?” I asked.
“Never have, not once. Wanna teach me?” she said with a nihilistic bite.
“If you get me drunk you’re going to learn real quick,” I said, pointing my finger towards her. I was unsure why I did this and became very embarrassed. I pulled my finger back immediately and said I was sorry.
“You want a valium?” she said, fumbling with her makeup case.
“No, I’m on probation. I can’t do anything non-prescription.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot. Fuck. Sorry. I’m sorry. You don’t mind, right?”
“Why would I mind?”
“I don’t know.”
We pulled up to her grandparent’s house. It was a mid-1800s Victorian mansion. We parked in the carport and she said she didn’t think her grandparents were home. We entered and looked around, finally finding her grandpa watching TV. He said that Katy’s grandma had stepped out. We introduced ourselves and he began showing me around his home.
The house was immense. The first floor had twelve-foot high ceilings, ornate fire places, and mountains of books. Her grandpa told me about how he had procured the majority of his library from an old nunnery school that had gone out of business. He had grammar school books from the turn of the century. We wound ourselves around antique furniture, trinkets, and piles of books.
The tour continued upstairs where I was shown three more stories of craft rooms, sitting rooms, bathrooms, each family member’s bedroom, and finally, the guest room on the fourth level, where I would be staying. This house was bigger than any private residence I had ever experienced. We concluded the tour outside, in her backyard, where the river came up right to the back dock of her property. Her grandpa told me that it sometimes floods, but never that bad. I looked at the water, and the hills beyond. He told me about how the suspension bridge was from the 1840s, and about the old windmill he almost purchased instead of this home. His eyes glazed.
“You ready to go do something?” she asked me.
“Yeah, absolutely,” I said turning then to her grandpa. “It was really wonderful meeting you. We’ll see you later.” He smiled and said goodbye.
“You hungry?” I asked as I shut my truck door.
“Not really, I had a bit of a sandwich at work. But hey! Let’s go into town anyway. I work at the soup shop there, we can grab something light.”
“Great. Guide me.”
“Crap, okay where’s your phone? I need to get an iPhone because I feel like if I had an iPhone I could actually use an iPhone. Stop laughing at me! Do you like soup?” Her thoughts felt scattered, nervous.
We slowly began to get our bearings and navigated off the island and back downtown. We went to the soup place and I looked over the menu and ordered something. She told me about the different jobs she works. We finished our little lunch and walked around a bit, talking.
“I can’t believe you drink the way you do and you don’t smoke.” She shook her head at me, pointing her finger.
“I don’t know. It just doesn’t actually interest me I think. My mom smokes. I don’t know how that’s a reason for me not to do it, but it is.”
“Still, I mean, no one I know that drinks that much doesn’t smoke.”
“I don’t know. I never even really drank until I was 20, and then it was constant.”
“Oh, that makes sense I guess. See, I started smoking and doing drugs when I was younger.”
We drove around aimlessly for a while and then ended up at a mall complex and she asked me if we could grab some Starbucks. She said she needed some more caffeine as she took another Valium. We pulled up and went inside. She ordered a Chai Tea Frappuccino and I grabbed an iced coffee. We went to the sugar counter and she stole a jar of cinnamon and straws. We returned to the truck and talked a little as I took pictures of us on my phone.
“I have no idea why I did that.” She said looking down at the cinnamon and five straws she took from Starbucks.
“I don’t know.”
“You ever do the cinnamon challenge?”
“I’m going to. I’m going to fucking do it.”
She jumped out of the truck and looked at me and told me to record it on my phone. It was pitch black out now, and it was beginning to snow. The lamplight from the parking lot halogens pounded down on us. We both stood there, staring at each other. I had my phone up in front of me and she was holding an open cinnamon shaker. She downed half the shaker in one gulp and instantly shot it all back out of her mouth. I laughed as she stomped around the parking lot spitting everywhere. She had brown shit all over her teeth and kept dry heaving.
“Fuck you,” she said, throwing the cinnamon shaker across the parking lot. It shattered. “You ever done that?”
“Hell, you’ll never get me to do that!”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck this. Fuck me. Fuck.”
We drove back to the island and stopped at a Marathon gas station a few blocks away from her grandparent’s house. I walked in and bought some 40s.
“What’s your experience with harder drugs?” She asked me as I parked a few cars away from her house.
“None, really. I have smoked pot only a few times.”
“Oh, weird. I guess I have done a lot. I really like coke.” She cracked open her 40 and took a huge swig. She also took another Valium. “If my speech starts to get really slurred make me stop drinking.”
“I would do coke if I wasn’t on probation. If you come to the city, I can get you coke.”
“I fucked a guy for coke once. I mean, I didn’t fuck him for the coke. We did a lot of coke and we ended up fucking.”
“Yeah, I knew what you meant.”
“So yeah, I was just hanging out and I knew there was a certain point in the night where I knew we were just going to fuck.”
We parked at her house and went inside. Her grandparents were about to go to bed and her grandma introduced herself to me. She was a kind old woman and told me she had put down some new bedding and fresh towels out. I thanked her as she went upstairs.
“Wow, this is going to be easier than I thought,” Katy said as she pulled out her laptop and her 40. She handed me my beer and guided me to the television room. We sat next to each other on a huge leather love seat. We sat for a bit looking at our various feeds. I picked up the remote and started browsing Netflix.
“What kind of comedies do you like? I asked her.
“What do you mean?”
“Like, is South Park too juvenile for you?”
“I like Sunny.”
“Oh look, Portlandia.”
“Holy shit let’s watch it,” she said as we drank again from our bottles.
“I have to go out to my truck and get my bathroom stuff, and some shorts.”
I returned with gym shorts and changed out of my jeans in front of her. I felt strangely comfortable unclothing myself. I cuddled up next to her, threw her legs over mine and pulled a blanket around us.
“Do you have any tattoos?” she asked.
“No, I never got around to getting any.”
“I don’t know, I just always felt like if I got one I would not like it in a week or two.”
“But it doesn’t really matter. You see, it’s done. It’s like, always a part of you after that. It’s just done.”
“I guess that’s a good way to put it.”
“Do you want to see mine?”
“Of course. I like tattoos, I just don’t have any.”
She showed me her tattoos in chronological order. She told me they were all hand done. One included a hashtag, which made me laugh. Another, 666, which made me laugh too. She downed the remaining beer and asked me how far I was into mine and I held it up the TV light. About three quarters finished. She picked up my phone as another episode started playing.
“Wait, why don’t you have any games?” She asked.
“I don’t know. I really only play games on my iPad. But not even then, really. I don’t know.”
“Can I download Fruit Ninja?”
“It costs a dollar. I’ll give you a dollar. Can I do it?”
“Yeah, I don’t care. You don’t need to give me a dollar.”
She played Fruit Ninja for a while. I sat, running my hands up and down her legs. She said she hit a top score of 416. I asked her if that was good. She told me it was better than she’d ever done. I told her I’m good luck. She said she needed a cigarette and so I went outside with her as she smoked. She sat down on a snowy step and leaned her head against the rail.
“I’m really starting to feel this shit.” She referred to the benzos she’d been taking all day.
“Are you dizzy?”
“You can sit with me if you want,” she said very quietly.
I sat down next to her and wrapped my arms around her. I squeezed her gently into my shoulder and he body shrank into mine. The air hung thick with cigarette smoke smoldering in the cold. The snow was a heavy blanket and a silent torrent coming down on us. I felt the weight of it in my heart. It hurt, like the first time you realize you’re not in love with someone anymore.
“I have been wanting to be held for so long,” she said, stammering, shivering. “And it’s been so long, and finally. I mean, finally it’s happening.”
“I’ve waited a long time for someone to actually want me to hold them,” I said, staring at the snow covered street. I knew I wasn’t the person she wanted to hold her but in the moment it felt okay.
“I am always just so sad,” She sad.
She looked down at the half-finished cigarette. She tossed it to the ground and stood up. She stumbled around a bit and I tried to hug her. She pulled away oddly and went back inside. I sighed and looked up, thinking of some other person I used to know but that didn’t actually exist staring up at the same time, maybe missing some moment with me we once had.
We were sitting arm in arm on the couch and she reached out to hold my hand. We watched a few more episodes of Portlandia. She told me how much she loved the band Washed Out, how it reminded her of when she lived on the west coast. I told her about how Matt McCormick was in a movie with Carrie Brownstein called Some Days Are Better Than Others and how she should watch it. Katy leaned her head into my shoulder and started biting me. She bit me a few times and looked down at her and told her to do it again, but harder.
“You like biting?”
“Yeah,” she said, slowly.
“How do you feel?”
I kissed her. She put her arm around my head and played with my hair.
“What do you want to do?” I asked her.
While we had sex I thought about how little meaning anything actually held. The work I had skipped that day didn’t matter. My past relationships and hating my ex didn’t matter. My feelings of inadequacy and depression were things that had no bearing in that moment. I couldn’t focus my eyes and felt my head fly away from my body. I started to feel like I was falling. I thought about dying. My eyes focused again and I touched her cheek to raise her mouth to my face and I gently kissed her. She breathed heavily and smiled slightly.
“I’m tired,” she said.
“I know. I need water.”
“I’ll get you some.”
“Thank you.” I said as she returned.
“I wish we could sleep in the same bed.”
I held her for a little while longer in the dark silence. She walked me up to my room and I hugged her. She told me good night and I kissed her again. She left. I undressed and surrounded myself with blankets her grandma had laid out a book for me on the nightstand. It was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s In My Time. A collection of his poetry. I read it and tweeted a few things about feeling good.
In the morning she made me coffee and we sat and chatted with her grandparents. They asked me where I was headed after this. I lied and told them Pittsburg. They told me a few places to check out when I’m there. Katy picked up my phone off the table and spent some time playing Fruit Ninja and I looked out the window. She made a comment about her ex and how she chatted with him on Facebook that morning but didn’t feel anything.
We gathered up my things and said goodbye to her grandparents. They both said it was nice to meet and I told them I really couldn’t have had a better time. I thanked them for a bed and they wished me well. I told her grandpa I loved sampling his library and he said that it was nice to have someone to show it to. We headed to her work and she lit a cigarette. She took a Valium and told me it was her insurance for work. She told me she wasn’t even hung over. We came to her work and I let her out. I gave her a hug and kissed her. She pulled away slightly.
I drove home, crossing over the bridge, through the mountain pass again and back into the cold flatness of my state in January. Snow covering endless cornrows in the fields on either side that had lacked life for the better part of three months. I thought about the snow from the night before blanketing everything in the slight significance that an encounter like that could bring. Her state line behind me, mine under my feet. I never saw Katy again.
A | A | A
In an idyllic world of complete emotion control, this might be sound advice. But truth be told, I’m still trying to find out how to do that. It doesn’t matter how often I tell myself nobody has the power to make me feel a certain way, except me.
And I got what I wanted — a dream arrangement that allowed me to live my life without compromises.
3. We hide behind our screens.
Lack of religious affiliation does not mean lack of morality.