FAITHLESS : 2003 : STEPHANIE.ZIOBRO
It was summer.
It was after midnight, and Joey’s jeep raced up route 95 with the five of us crushed together inside. The music was blaring over the roar of the wind, and everyone was singing what words they knew.
We were all drunk.
We were all rolling.
We were all smiling.
And everything was absolutely perfect.
I was in the backseat behind Crosby, laughing as I watched him dance in his seat. I could see the music jumping out of his skin like tiny electrical sparks, and he was oblivious to how ridiculous he looked – but that was the beautiful thing. He just didn’t care. He was just doing what felt good and what felt right.
Joey reached back from the driver’s seat and put his hand on my knee. When I placed my hand on his, he intertwined his fingers in mine and squeezed. I felt the corners of my mouth turn up in a quiet smile each time he did it. It didn’t matter that my right leg was asleep from being wedged into the rollbar or that I had to work at 10:15 the next morning and the night was far from over or that I was in charge of the plastic-cup-ashtray, which, when you’re loaded and in a vehicle that seeks out every possible bump and pothole and gets the most out of the impact, takes a whole lot of coordination.
I could feel my insides.
I could feel myself – who I was and what I wanted to be and where I wanted to be and every molecule in my body was swaying and gyrating and brushing up against one another like they were just happy to be moving and not have to think and react. Just Being.
I was just Being…
…Joey sat down in the kitchen at Albert’s house and motioned for me to sit on his lap.
I’m really happy, he said.
How come, I asked.
Because you came, he said.
I’m glad I came, too, I said.
I’m smiling, he said.
I looked at his face, which was content, but not smiling. I used two of my fingers to push up the corners of his mouth.
I’m smiling on the inside, he said.
I believed him.
He wrapped his arms around me and held me…
…I sat in a chair in Albert’s living room watching people that I didn’t know interact with one another. I loved how I was feeling – the way I thought it would feel if I could get stoned like a normal person. No worries about talking or not talking, about who I knew or didn’t know, or whether Joey was in the room or not in the room. I felt a hand brush my cheek. When I looked up, Joey was standing behind my chair. And he just stroked my cheek. My quiet smile was happy to be there…
…Joey sat at the other end of the room, waving his hands wildly as he told a story. I watched, listened, smiled. People held onto each other to keep themselves from falling over with laughter. Joey’s stories always made people have to do that. Someone started begging, Play Castles! Play Castles! I heard Castles for the eighth time that night, but still didn’t know what song it was when it started. I laughed as two of the guys in the room started singing the words to each other. I looked across the room and saw Joey looking at me. He motioned for me to come over. I did. He held out his arms and I sat on the floor between his knees. His hands stroked my hair, touched my knees, held my hands. He wanted me to be near him. I made him smile…
…I’ll admit, he’d said the last time we spoke, I love having sex with you. But it isn’t just sex – you supply an emotional need for me as well. But I just can’t be in a committed relationship right now. I need to figure a lot of stuff out, and it wouldn’t be fair to either one of us. I know I sound like a bastard, but I want to be up front with you.
I’m glad you said that, I’d said, and the fact that you’re being honest with me about it lessens the bastard-ness tremendously.
I don’t want you to give up on me, though, he’d said, because who knows where I’ll be a month from now. But I also realize I can’t expect you to wait around for me either.
That’s okay, I’d said, let’s just have fun.
Then I’d put my hand on his, and he took it and held it…
…When we went to bed that night, we started kissing. We took off each other’s clothes and I ran my tongue up and down his stomach. He ran his hands through my hair. Moby played on the stereo.
I want to be inside you, he said.
That would be nice, I said.
Are you okay with that, he asked.
Yes, I said.
You’re sure, he asked.
Yes, I said, thank you for asking.
While we had sex, he kissed my face.
I liked that…
…Yet I know that none of this is real. I know that when the alarm goes off the next morning, I’ll have to shake Joey at least three or four times before he gets out of bed. I know he will groggily walk past me to the bathroom, and spend forever in there, and I’ll be dressed and sitting on the couch, waiting for him to drive me to wherever I left my car, and worrying because if he didn’t come out of the bathroom soon, I was going to be late for work. I know that on the way to find my car, I won’t be able to think of a thing to say to him because every possibility in my head sounds stupid. And I know that once we get to my car, he’ll either light a cigarette or start searching for a certain song on his CD – some activity of crucial importance so he won’t have to face the quick kiss goodbye or say the words, "I’ll call you later." And maybe as he drives off he’ll wave goodbye, but maybe not. And I know I’ll go home and shower and go to work, and I know that a few nights later, at 2 in the morning, my phone will ring, and it will be Joey, fucked up on coke, and he’ll ask me if I want to come over and watch a kung-fu movie, and I know I’ll say no. But I know that when I run into him after work a week later, he’ll buy me a drink, and then another, and another, until my only option is to let him take me home, and the cycle begins again, because all I really want is for someone to want to be near me…
And I hate that…
…I was drunk. So so drunk.
Mike and I had been at Bailey’s and we went back to his apartment to pick up some wine to bring to Sara’s house. I was staying there while trying to find an apartment because my ex had broken up with me and then kicked me out. He hadn’t said, "You need to go," but he had said, "I’m not going anywhere," which, to me, meant I was getting kicked out.
So I was sitting on Mike’s couch, and the Blade sisters were sitting on the other couch, and Mike was mixing up various alcoholic concoctions and handing them to me to taste. Therefore, I was getting even more drunk. Jess, the older Blade, put her head down on a pillow and said how tired she was. Kristin, the younger one – who had a thing with Mike a few months prior to that evening, decided they wouldn’t go to Sara’s, that they would just go home. I put on music and started to dance, and Mike said he’d be right back, that he was going to walk them to their car.
While I was dancing, all of the alcohol in my blood went to my brain and began to contaminate the cells still capable of logic. And as the Logic Cells soaked up the rum and tequila and Corona’s I’d swallowed, they began to rebel in their own way, which was to become the complete opposite of Logic. And when Logic becomes Illogic, the entire human brain begins to fall apart and decay from confusion and wants nothing more than to shut down. And the way it does this, is to create such misery and heaviness of heart that the body simply wants to die, and once the body dies, the brain has nothing left to be in charge of, so therefore, it can stop Thinking…
So the now-Illogical cells started sending messages to the Thought Bank: Mike still likes Kristin – he went outside to tell her he still wants to be with her and not to say anything to me, that hopefully I’ll be gone soon and they can pick up where they left off, that he just hooked up with me to help me get through the break-up with a little bit of distraction, that he really just wanted to get laid, that he doesn’t care about me in the least. I’m nothing – I’m a weak, frightened and now-drunk loser who couldn’t even dump a self-centered dirtbag – I had to wait for him to dump me – who’s going to want me now? Why do I settle? Why do I so desperately need to be loved by someone else? Why can’t I just love myself? Love myself and be happy with Me, because as long as I have Me, no one else can hurt me. But how can I break down twenty-six years of Hate? Why am I always the butt of the joke? What’s wrong with me? Why am I crying and why can’t I stop?
Stop crying, you stupid bitch!
Grow up! Be an adult! Be strong!
Stop fucking crying!
When Mike came back in, I was still dancing, but I had mascara tracks running down my cheeks from tears.
What’s wrong, he asked.
I don’t know, I said.
He walked up to me and put his arms around me.
It’s okay, he said, you’re safe. You’re with me.
And for that moment, that was all that I needed to feel…
…Yet I know that none of this is real. I know that once I find an apartment and move out, I won’t be "convenient" anymore. He’ll stop playing with my hair or laying his head on my lap when we watch TV. I know that the sharing of secrets and the words "you can trust me" will be swept up and hidden under the couch, because I know I won’t exist once I can’t be seen. And I’ll no longer feel safe confiding in him, because I’ll hear that he told Griff I was "too needy." And I’ll know in the back of my head that the reason everything happened to begin with was because all I wanted was to feel close to someone…
…and I hate that.
Crosby told me he was a fan.
I smiled. A fan, I asked?
A big fan, he said. You’re the coolest chick I know.
We sat on the back steps at Sarah Downey’s Birthday/Fourth of July Party. It was an annual all-day event. For Crosby, in was an annual two-day event. I liked Crosby – he was cute, he was funny, and he always seemed happy to see me. I didn’t know him well, we had only hung out a few times. So hearing him blow sunshine up my ass about my Immense Coolness was a surprise to me. I’d brought a 6-pack of Corona to the party with me. I had already been drunk, sobered up, and was in the process of getting drunk again, and I still had two beers left. Drunk twice for $5.99. I was a cheap date. The molecules that ran the self-conscious sector of my brain were doing a carefree backstroke, so I felt no fear in asking Crosby what made me so cool…
You just are, he said. You’re confident. You don’t care what people think.
At this point I laugh.
I’m serious, he said. I mean, number one, look at those pants.
I let myself agree with him. I was the only one not wearing Outdoor Barbeque Sportswear. Not on purpose, though. I didn’t own Outdoor Barbeque Sportswear.
But really, he continued, you do what you want and you’re not afraid to do it, and that’s fucking cool.
I was baffled. I explain to Crosby that what he just stated was the complete opposite of what actually went on in my head. It was rare that I was speaking so freely about my flaws with someone I only really knew in passing. But I was drunk. The possibilities were endless.
Are you serious? He seemed genuinely shocked.
I’m definitely serious.
I’d always wished I could be a fly on the wall at my own funeral. I figure that talking to Crosby who was half in the bag and had been for the last 24 hours was as close to that as I’d get. So I pried further.
So what have you seen me do that makes you think I’m so confident?
Well, he said, like the whole thing with Joey.
Joey, I ask?
Yeah, I mean, you know you’re gonna hook up with him, but you can hang out and party with him in the meantime and you’re cool with that.
That silenced me.
I still smiled, yet whatever Crosby said after that fell on my deaf ears. Because the rest of his words were drowned out by the volume of the phrase being repeated in my head.
I was cool with that.
With just hooking up with people for random sex.
I wasn’t cool with that.
And I had never wanted to seem like I was "cool with that."
What kind of picture had I painted of myself? I apparently had used all the wrong colors. I thought I was using blues and purples and painting Respect and Selflessness and Spirit, but as it turned out, once I stood back, I realized the colors had all mixed the wrong way and what I had painted was a horrifying portrait of a Whore…
…and I hated that.
…It’s the subtle things, the miniscule acts, that mean more to me than anything else anyone could give me. Like when they drive the half hour to my home when it’s out of the way of everything else…
Or when they share a beer or a cigarette without me having to ask for a sip or a drag…
Or when they say, "hey, I heard something the other day that made me think of you…"
Or when they remember something I said in a conversation last week and they bring it up again to further explore it…
Or when I walk up to them to say hello while they’re speaking to someone else and they say, "we were just talking about you…"
Or when they know what song I hate…
Or what food I could eat for the rest of my life…
Or open a car door for me…
Or place their hand on my back when they introduce me to someone…
Or wink at me from across a room…
Or when they tell the truth…
Or hold my hand…
Or kiss my face…
You could get deep inside my head, he’d said.
My smile lessened.
I’m not perfect, I corrected.
You’re perfect for me, he answered.
He took my hand. I wanted to look at him, but I was afraid. Afraid I’d let him see past the fake storefront like they have at the Ponderosa to the actual ugly and worn-down inside.
Look at me, he coaxed.
I did. I felt like I needed a crane to lift my head to his gaze.
And he kissed me.
I slept next to him that night.
He touched me gently, and kissed me sweetly.
I don’t want everything to happen all at once, I said.
Neither do I, he said.
No one had ever wanted to be close to me and not have sex.
I was happy.
I was scared out of my mind.
The fact that he wanted to wait. The fact that he wanted to spend time with me and just Know me. The fact that sex was secondary right now – second to me, to my insides. And the more we didn’t have sex, the more I didn’t want to. The more sure I became that as soon as we did, it would all be over, that my insides wouldn’t matter anymore. And as I grow more positive that the chain of events in my head is Truth, the thought of growing closer to him becomes Frightening. And I start to fear seeing him, because I’m sure that every day I’m becoming Uglier and he’s glad we haven’t had sex, because then it’s easier to just fade away. And as time goes on, even thought our relationship is progressing as a Normal Relationship should, I’m sure that something is wrong, and that things aren’t perfect anymore, and that it’s all a game, and I suddenly want to kill myself, because the anticipation of pain is worse than actual pain itself…
…And I know that none of this is real, but it becomes real in my head. I’m positive that the fact that I’m a waitress, and the fact tat I can’t make enough money to pay my bills, and the fact that every so often I can’t get out of bed because facing the world is too complicated, that he’ll noticed these things and realize I’m not perfect for him after all, that I’m not smart enough or rich enough or stable enough. Even though he has said nothing to imply his disappointment in me, I’m sure he’s thinking it. I fear the attention I long to give him will push him away. I fear the attention I long to give him will draw him closer, so close that I’ll start to lose pieces of myself, pieces I spent years trying to put back into place. I fear I’ll lose so many pieces that I’ll begin to shrink, until I become nothing. And then my instincts kick in. No matter how Right things are going, no matter how Normal everything is, I run away…
…And I hate that…
So I become very busy. Work excessively. Too much, maybe. Make plans with my friends night after night so I don’t find myself sitting at home, waiting for a phone call, which will most likely come, but I don’t want to risk it. And I take this time to get to know my friend Alan Brown a little better. We go to movies on the spur of the moment. I invite myself along to my first Techno-Industrial-Goth Show. We go out for sushi with twenty other people I don’t know.
It’s sushi night when I go outside to have a cigarette with someone named Ryan. We talk about how horrible smoking is and why we love it so much. As we’re talking, I notice the people we ate with all leave the restaurant. I put out my cigarette in order to go inside and get my bag, when I see Alan walk out talking to his friend Carl.
With my bag in his hand.
I stop mid-snuff and watch him joke around with his friends, holding my fuzzy purple purse.
And I feel myself smile.
And something changes.
And I realize that my Normal Relationship – the one I’d been avoiding, hasn’t been very present in my thoughts, lately.
But Alan has.
I realize, in the blink of a moment, that Alan and I can talk for hours without realizing Time going by, and despite the hours, there’s always something more to say. I realize Alan has brought me out of my creative slump. I realize that anytime I want to do something that most people would find silly or stupid, Alan will have had the same idea. And I realize that I had shown Alan my ugliest self, and he didn’t run away. He hadn’t treated me any differently. He treated me like a friend. Like I wasn’t a freak, and he’d said he knew exactly what I’d been feeling, because he felt it in his life as well…
And I watch as Alan puts my bag over his shoulder, and then scan the room for me, and when he spots me he smiles, and pats my purse, implying that everything is taken care of, and as I smile back, my heart feels different.
But I don’t say anything about this to anyone.
And I continue to spend time with Alan. And the part of my brain that is waiting for the Phone Call starts to doze off, and the part of my brain that wants to hang out with Alan starts working overtime…
I was in a car accident. Nothing catastrophic – except mentally. When you’ve been driving for 11 years and haven’t even been pulled over for speeding, never mind in an accident, you start to think car accidents don’t exist. It’s like Santa Claus. He’s all a myth – a fairy tale. You go about life knowing you’ll never run into him. Yet if you’re sitting in your yard reading a book or working in your garden, and all of a sudden, along comes a sleigh with eight reindeer and a fat man in a red suit, your mind goes ballistic. So yeah, my car accident was like running into Santa Claus. The details of the accident aren’t important (except maybe for the fact that I’m such an overachiever that a mere rear-ending wasn’t good enough for me. No, instead I decided to lose control of my car and spin around a few times on a highway during morning semi-rush hour and come to a complete stop facing the wrong way. The comic relief was the fat lady who ran out of Dunkin Donuts and held up her hands in the middle of Route 1 to stop traffic so I could get across the street. The most mortifying part was when I had to get my spare tire out of my trunk and unload the Butt and Thigh Master equipment that was occupying space next to 15 yards of pink fur. But I digress…)
So I find myself at home that evening, not really in the mood to go to Club Manray with Alan, as I’d planned. So the alternate plan is to sit on my couch in front of the TV and revel in the fact that I had my first car accident that day.
My phone rings.
He says he’ll be home around 7, and he’ll call me when he gets in.
Translated: We’ll hang out.
I hang up the phone, and wonder why I don’t feel any sort of excitement.
My phone rings again.
It’s Alan. He asks if I’m okay. I assure him that I am, and explain that I wasn’t really up for Gay Night at Manray that evening. He understands. His alternate plan was to visit his friend Blue Guy who was going to make Japanese pancakes. So I tell him I hoped he still had time to let Blue Guy know he was coming.
I’m not gonna go, he says.
Why not, I ask.
I just don’t feel like driving all the way out there.
Oh, I say. Wanna see a movie?
He responds with no hesitation.
I hang up the phone, and feel the excitement I should have felt after the first phone call.
And I can’t concentrate on the movie, because all that I can think about is what would Alan do if I held his hand or put my head on his shoulder or gave him a hug and didn’t let go…
After the movie, he drives me home. I say goodnight, and go to bed. And when I wake up the next morning, I realize I have to tell Alan how I feel. So I write him a letter. Email it to him. I go to work.
And the whole time I’m at work, all I can think of is did I fuck everything up? What if I scare him off, leave myself with nothing, rather than something better… But not telling him how I felt seemed like lying. And if I expected people to be honest with me, I had to be honest with them…
When I get home that night, there was a package taped to my door. It was a ziplock bag, containing a package of Oreos, and a note.
I unfold the note, terrified as to what it might say, yet not able to open it fast enough…
"…I can say I feel the same way about you… I’ve been trying to tell you what you told me this morning… well, I’ve been trying to tell you for more than a week. I really couldn’t do it because I was afraid it would ruin something between us, or you would think I was treating you special only because I had a crush on you, not just because. I feared that the most and I feared you’d find out about the way I felt and react badly. I couldn’t really see that happening, but I was still afraid…"
Wonderful, frightening relief…
The next night, Alan and I went into Cambridge to see a live-action midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was sold out, so we walked around Harvard Square for a while instead. Nothing was said about what had been disclosed, but molecules were having epileptic seizures inside my body. I didn’t know if I was going to cry or fall down or throw up.
We went back to my house to watch a movie.
He sat next to me on the couch, which he never did. Usually, one of us was on the floor.
So halfway through the movie I reached for his hand and held it.
He held mine back.
The movie ended, and I got up to turn off the VCR. As I sat back down on the couch, it seemed silly to immediately hold his hand again, so I didn’t. I felt like I was thirteen years old, waiting for the boy to kiss me but not wanting to make the first move for fear of being laughed at. But I knew that if I didn’t make the first move, we could very possibly sit there forever, talking abut the best way to make macaroni and cheese or what the worst commercial on TV was. So I just blurted it out.
Can I kiss you?
Yes, you can.
So I did.
And then he wrapped his arms around me, and he held me, and we fell asleep.
And I had never felt so free of doubt.
I had never felt so at peace.
…And I loved that…