The First Time I Watched American Beauty: A Midwest Summer Memory

American Beauty

Her house wasn’t the nicest house. It was dark, drab, uninviting. So dark even, that I only recall a singular source of light that night: a yellow glowing bulb perched atop a standing lamp in the corner of the living room, which appeared completely naked even with the taupe shade over it. There were CD cases everywhere. Stacks and stacks of them. Old iMacs, too. Those translucent ones with the bulbous colorful backs that lined the computer labs in elementary school. Her dad was some sort of collector. Maybe hoarder is the right word. There was even one shelf in the dining room dedicated to every scent of Axe body spray available. A few old typewriters here and there.

Her name was Olivia. The dark-skinned, free-spirited Livvi for short. This was the second, maybe third, time our group had been to her house. But this was the time that mattered. We were sprawled out on her living room floor, the one portion of it that managed to be welcoming and cozy. His legs – Kevin’s, I mean, the second friend in our group — are what I remember the most. Lean, muscular and and dusted with sandy blonde hair, they were crossed over each other and covered only by tiny red shorts. Bouncing his ankles amiably, one foot was cupped over the other.

I was more focused on him than American Beauty playing before us. It was the third friend of the group, Megan, who introduced me to movies like that. She also introduced me to emo bands, screamo bands and mosh pits. We once saw a Motion City Soundtrack concert in the lecture hall of the college I’d end up attending. Looking back on how that lecture hall looked with a mass of sweating, moving bodies compared to how it looked when I was slumped in a desk during macroeconomics class is a juxtaposition I won’t soon forget.

Sam was the fourth friend, half there, half nowhere. Lying on her back watching the movie, she rubbed lotion on her new tattoo: two pistols below her pelvis that pointed inward toward, not outward from, her vagina. A trashy, modern day symbol of a chastity belt, I suppose. Earlier she’d told us about her cocaine-addicted boyfriend while we lazed on Livvi’s trampoline in the damp summer humidity, swatting away resilient mosquitos under a hazy blue twilight. I, of course, was only looking at him, at Kevin.

And back, sitting before American Beauty, my eyes were only on him, his legs and those red shorts. Livvi got up and rummaged through her father’s liquor cabinet: an ornate glass and mahogany armoire that looked simply out of place above the delicately stacked collection of Axe body spray cans. She came back with handles of Three Olives vodka, golden Jose Cuervo and a two-liter of Diet Coke. We began to drink, American Beauty fading into the backdrop, Sam rolling on the carpet in a laughing fit, her pistols gleaming in the yellow light and I moving my body, both unconsciously and not, closer to Kevin, at one point my leg brushing against his.

In an instant, we were outside, Livvi roaring at the top of her lungs being pushed by Sam in a discarded shopping cart from the Kroger that neighbored her street. A car passed by, which sent Livvi tumbling out howling in laughter, Sam landing on top of her. Kevin was nowhere to be found. Megan was distracted by her Sidekick, a relic of mobile phone technology, sending the Harajuku Girls tassel swinging back and forth as she clacked out some text message to likely her mother wondering where she was and why she wasn’t home in time for Grey’s Anatomy.

Livvi lived on Peacock Street, which ran parallel to Flamingo Street. Every time I drove to her house, I would always hit Flamingo first because of the direction I came; and every time, without fail, I went down Flamingo instead of Peacock and would have to take the connecting street between the two birds, which was lined with a babbling creek. The existence of this creek might’ve elicited a soothing feeling had it not run with dark, cloudy water and was a depository for ever-collecting debris along its grassy edge.

I remember the sound of the creek that night, and the clicking, tinny sound of aluminum: a discarded Diet Coke can repeatedly bumping up against the sewer pipe. The sound fell in sync like a metronome to the footsteps of two approaching figures down the connecting street. Kevin was walking with the only other openly gay guy, aside from myself, at our school: Matt Brocker.

What was he doing here? My mind raced. My mind raced back to the delicate unknowing touches, the glances, the passes, the smiles, the trampoline, the American Beauty, his legs, the Axe body spray cans, the click click click of the Diet Coke can, the single naked yellow bulb burning brighter, brighter until — zap — it went out. Back inside Livvi’s house, the credits rolling, light burnt out, we didn’t notice anything. We were drunk. Sam lit a joint, black ash trickling down on her double-wielded pistols. Matt rested his head on Kevin’s chest. Livvi and Megan were passed out on top of each other on the couch, limbs interlaced into a biracial pretzel.

And I, where was I? I don’t remember. I only remember his hand underneath those red shorts grabbing, massaging. His leg, dusted in sandy blonde hair, reacting in rhythm, his foot arching and, finally, a tiny moan. The TV was only static, the grey glow illuminating our splayed out bodies across the living room. I closed my eyes and fell asleep. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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