But suddenly, the situation gave me pause. I realized that, although I liked Rick, his main appeal to me was that he amused me, and he spoke to a part of me that I didn’t take seriously. But did he know he was being amusing? Was I seeing him as some clownish figure? Did he even watch Curb Your Enthusiasm? Was the nature of my relationship with him problematic? Was he acting like a stereotype, or was he actually a stereotype? I started to feel as if I was unintentionally patronizing him, and if he was aware of that, he would surely feel offended. Part of this fear was certainly occasioned by the fact that I was really high from all the puffs of his blunt I had taken, but it had as much to do with my sensitivity towards race, class, and political correctness that came from my college days.
These thoughts spoiled my ability to enjoy his company. If I thought for one second that I was really cool for being able to banter with someone from a different culture (culture here referring to several things), that was quickly dispelled by an awareness that with my detached irony, I was inadvertently mocking that culture. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I had gotten myself into some sort of quagmire of cultural insensitivity; it was all very confusing.
After the party, I stopped thinking about all these things, because I went back to only speaking with him on the rare occasions when I was in the gym section of Unity. Besides, I was becoming increasingly preoccupied by my relationship with Amber, which by that point was deteriorating. The large amount of time we were spending with each other was beginning to become excessive, and we were reaching that stage where a relationship is forced to ask, what’s the point? I thought constantly about how we could regain the spark we’d felt in the beginning and about how we could weather what I saw as just a difficult period for both of us. But all this thinking was to no avail. We started spending nights apart, which was liberating, because it gave me time to myself, but also extremely painful because I recalled when all I had wanted to do was lie in bed with her.
One night after a having a poor excuse for sex – by then it was no longer very enjoyable – Amber suggested we take some time off. Although it didn’t come as any sort of surprise, I was devastated, because she might as well have ended it there, and I knew that “time off” was basically a euphemism for “lets prolong this break up as long as possible so we hurt each other more.” But what is one to do in these situations? It didn’t matter that my better judgment said to just preempt the inevitable, and I went along with her suggestion.
The following day at work, Randy, one of the male stylists, approached me towards the end of the day when I was getting ready to leave. “Can I talk to you in private?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“You know how I’m close with the girls, right?”
“This makes me extremely uncomfortable, Rob. I have to tell you, though. I can’t keep it from you. That trainer, Rick – he’s been bangin’ your girl the last few weeks. Please, don’t let this get back to me. Just say you heard it somewhere. Sandra told me and I’m betraying her confidence.”
A feeling of heaviness suddenly overwhelmed me, and I knew that at any second I was going to lose my composure. I didn’t know what to say to Randy. I didn’t know how to react. Something like that had never happened to me before, and it was so much to process all at once. If I had known Randy better, I might have stayed there and talked with him about it, but I didn’t feel comfortable losing it in front of him, which was sure to happen.
I left and as soon as I got home I had a good cry. I was about to call Amber to confront her with this information I had received, but she called before I had the chance. Somehow or other, she already knew that I knew, and from the way that she sounded on the phone, I could tell that she was just as distraught as I was, if not more. I don’t know what I would have said to her, but hearing her in such a state, I couldn’t really get angry or confrontational with her, so I just told her we’d have to talk about it tomorrow. After I hung up the phone, I took two Xanax and drank a beer. I felt the urge to cry again, but before I knew it the pills kicked in and I passed out on the couch. I woke up in a haze and took a double dose of Ambien and headed to bed.
In the morning, I called off of work because I didn’t want to face her. The more and more I thought about it, the angrier I became, and it felt better to feel angry than to feel helplessly hurt, so I latched on to that feeling. I resolved not to speak with her at all for a little while; that would be her punishment.
The range of things I felt over the next couple of days was intense and complicated. After the shock of what by that point I regarded as a total break up was over, I quickly realized that besides my heart having been broken, my ego had been shattered. Why had she sought out another man? And why a man with whom she shared nothing in common? How could she have succumbed to his crude advances? The fact that he was only interested in banging as many girls as possible seemed so obvious to me. Was it because of his big dong? It just didn’t make any sense that the two of them would get together. They had become the porn stereotype – a skinny white girl gets boned by a big-dicked black guy.
Every day at the salon, these thoughts and others circulated in my head. Bit by bit, however, as time passed and I began to gain some perspective on it, I started to think about it in more abstract terms. I realized that – as before – there was something problematic in the way I was thinking about Rick. Had he actually done anything objectionable? I tried to imagine what I would think if Amber had cheated with a skinny white dude – what if, for example, one of the male stylists turned out not to be gay, and she slept with him? I would obviously still be hurt, but would I feel any different than I did then?
A few months went by; I didn’t talk to Amber at all, much to her dismay, and I avoided even seeing Rick. I recovered from the shock of it all and from the heart break, but there was still a residual feeling, a sense that things hadn’t really concluded yet, at least in my mind. I still hadn’t been able to sleep with any other women; I just didn’t have it in me to make the effort, and I didn’t really have the desire to. What was the point?
During this time, I had become close with Randy because I was appreciative that he had come forth with the information. It touched me that he had felt such concern for me, and it was a brave thing for him to do. He would indulge me when I wanted to talk about my feelings for Amber and the situation, and listened attentively each time. When I expressed to him, over a beer one night, that something was still bothering me about it – I hadn’t brought it up in a while – he said, “Rob, I think part of the problem here is that your manhood has been wounded. It’s a confusing thing when someone cheats on you. It makes you wonder about yourself. You start to question yourself. ”
It was true; since Rick had boned Amber with his allegedly huge cock, I began to question what was desirable about me, after all. That act between the two of them had rendered everything so arbitrary and senseless. I had spent a long time, consciously and unconsciously I suppose, cultivating a certain look and participating in a certain culture. A part of this was definitely motivated by the fact that I wanted to bang hipster girls and, as with Amber, maybe date them. But if Amber could just as easily sleep with an original gangster as with me, what sense was there to it all?
That night I began to feel a keen sense of self loathing. I looked at myself in the mirror and, taking note of my plastic glasses and carefully styled hair, I thought, what a stupid-looking guy.
It was at that point when I decided a confrontation with Rick was in order. First thing in the morning, I went up to the front desk where he was sitting. “What’s the deal, Rick? Why did you sleep with Amber? That was awful. You had to have known that we were basically still going out. You could have waited.” I didn’t know if they were still sleeping together; I didn’t want to know. “You know, it’s humiliating for me. It’s shameful.”
He seemed uncomfortable. “Listen, bro. I don’t know why you’re upset ’cause everyone around here knows you slay those bitches,” he said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. Of course I knew what it meant, but I didn’t know what else to say.
“You get that ass bro. You a G.”
At this moment my first appointment of the day, a young woman from a nearby college, walked in the door and came up beside me so I said, “we’ll talk about this later.” We never did talk about it after that, but as I started clipping Veronica’s hair, I felt a little bit like my old self again. “What are you up to tonight?” I asked her as she followed me over to the hair washing room.