on rats

I sat in the back booth at Zero Marlboro Street with my friend, Andrew, and a few other people, when Andrew said something hilarious, which happened often, being Andrew. Everyone laughed so hard that someone knocked over a root beer, which, not really funny by itself, in this situation, made everyone laugh even harder. As I tried to catch my breath, I heard someone laughing over everyone else – the loudest, most ridiculous laugh I had ever heard – sort of like the sound a dog makes right before it throws up, only much louder, with the heaving noises placed closer together. I turned to see where this noise was coming from, and seated at the next booth was a cute, goofy-looking kid with a buzz haircut and a big nose. His face was bright red and he had tears in his eyes, and he was holding onto his stomach and trying to catch his breath, and the painful sound of something dying a slow, horrible death was coming from his lungs in decibels of volume. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever seen, and when he was finally able to regain his composure, I leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Who ARE you?" I asked.

And that’s how I met Zach.

The following semester, we were in the same acting class, so we hung out with each other – we ate at Zero before class, saw mandatory theatrical performances together, I even contributed to underage drinking one day when a group of us bought a bottle of wine at a liquor store and then sat down in a pizza place up the street and got drunk before our anthology class, which I vowed to never, ever do again. (Some lessons I guessed I had to learn the hard way.) Zach also loved to dance, which I was so excited about because I hadn’t met anyone who wanted to go to the clubs on Lansdowne Street with me, and I lived three blocks away. So we went dancing. I was having so much fun with Zach, despite the fact that I had a huge crush on him. We were buddies, and I didn’t want to ruin that. But he started to become more affectionate. He had always been the touchy-feely type, but something started to feel different. All of a sudden, we’d be walking down the street and he’d grab my hand and not let go. When we sat in class, he’d sit up against the wall and have me sit between his legs and lean against him. If we were somewhere that had chairs to sit in, he’d sit next to me and always make sure our knees touched. It was wonderful and exciting and I loved it. And while I wanted that to go on forever, there was a part of me that didn’t. There was a part of me, halfway between my head and my heart, which was constantly waiting for him to kiss me. And I waited and waited and, because I was the type of person who, as my mother always said, wanted everything to happen yesterday, I decided to do something about it myself.

One night, after Zach had walked me home from wherever we had been, he was on his way out my door when I stopped him.


He turned.


"Can I kiss you?"

He smiled.

We kissed.

For a while.

And that was pretty much where it all ended.

For the next few days, things were as they always were, only better. We held hands, kissed each other goodbye after class, sat next to each other with his arm around my shoulder. And then one night he came over – the first time since we kissed in the doorway. We ordered Chinese food and rented a movie, but it was one of those movies that you rented and put in the VCR and pressed "play" but you never even see the opening credits. One of those "Of Course We’re Going to Watch This Movie Because I Don’t Want You To Think I’m Just Having You Over So We Can Make Out" movies. I couldn’t tell you what movie it was right now, but if I was in the video store and saw it on the shelf I’d instantly recognize it and say, "oh yeah, that’s the movie I rented on the day Zach ruined my life." He didn’t ruin my life – I do that myself – but sometimes it’s nice to put the blame on others.

At any rate, we didn’t watch the movie. The last time we hung out, we had brought our friendship to a different plane, so we explored that plane – checked the oxygen level – was there enough to breathe without the aid of machines? Yup, we were breathing just fine. The temperature – was it too hot or did we have to bundle up in layers? It was warm, and getting warmer, but nothing the shedding of a few articles of clothing couldn’t cure. The vegetation – was there any and was it thriving? Oh, it was thriving. It was a good plane. As a matter of fact, I could have packed up my apartment and moved to that plane. But sometimes, a real estate agent showing you an apartment doesn’t show you everything you need to know in order to be happy in your new home. He’ll stand in front of the sink, maybe, so you don’t turn on the water and see that it comes out brown. Or he’ll rush you in and out in ten minutes flat so you don’t realize that when the flights arrive and depart from the airport, part of their route is 100 feet over your bedroom. I’m not saying Zach was a con-artist, I’m just thinking that the real-estate agent stepped out of the room to take a call, and that’s the moment I decided to check under the sink and saw the family of rats setting up house.

Zach pushed me away.


Stop? Hmmm. What’s behind that door?

He put his head in his hands.

"I can’t do this."

Hey – this door seems to be stuck. You got something so I can pry it open?

While I pried, I examined the situation. There wasn’t much to examine: we have fun, we make out, we’re not having fun. I didn’t quite know what to say, but I felt the door start to give a little. One more tug, and the door flew open.

"Kissing you is like kissing my sister."


I stood back and watched the rats scurry out from their massive nest, zip across the floor and out the front door. It happened so quickly, that after a moment, I thought that maybe I imagined the whole thing.

"Um…" My mouth opened to speak, but instead of moving my lips to form words, they just kind of hung open. Kissing me was like kissing his sister. I wasn’t sure how insulting that was. I knew he liked his sister – they got along, they were good friends, they were very close, actually. But making out with a blood relative usually constitutes "gross," and I wasn’t too comfortable with that. I was still trying to think of some sort of response, when he continued.

"I think I’m gay."

Okay. So now I had two thoughts running through my head:

I make him think of incest.

I make him dislike girls altogether.

This was not good. I looked around the room. There was Chinese food and Chinese food boxes and Chinese food take-out bags everywhere. It was trashed. We had ordered a lot of food. What a mess. What a big, fat universal mess.

"Will you say something?"

His question brought me out of the mess. Will you say something… Did that mean just that: will you say something? Or did it translate into something else more rat-related – maybe: "And seeing you naked really makes me want to have sex with dogs."

Will I say something…

What in the world could I say? Man, my living room was a mess.

"I have to get out of here."

I got up, grabbed my coat and keys and walked out my door, leaving chicken chow foon and pork fried rice and egg rolls and fried dumplings and twenty-seven packets of soy sauce all over the living room floor. Zach followed behind me, obviously not sure what else to do. On the steps outside, he put his hands on my shoulders.

"I’m really sorry."

"Yeah, me too."

"Where are you going?"

"I don’t know." I just needed to walk. We stood there in silence for what seemed like a month but was really only thirty seconds, and then he leaned in to kiss me goodbye. On the mouth. I don’t know why that seemed like an even bigger insult to me, it just did. It was as if I grabbed one of the rats and licked it to see if it really was a rat. Yup – it was a rat. And I walked away first. I knew he wouldn’t follow me. He didn’t. But the second I realized he was walking in the opposite direction I wanted someone to jump out and say, "Ha! They weren’t real rats – they were mechanical rats! It was all a big practical joke, and because you were such a good sport, you an have the place rent-free for as long as you want!" But as much as I wished that it were a joke, I knew that I would never be able to let go of the guy who played such a mean and awful trick on me. I’d hold him memory in my gut, right next to that decayed blob of undigested gum in the pit of my stomach. So I walked. And walked, and walked, and when I finally got home, I found that my roommate – who, incidentally, I had always suspected was gay and he just wasn’t sure yet – had cleaned up the Chinese food mess, which made me feel even worse because we hadn’t been getting along too well and he probably got home and saw the mess and got all pissed off at what a fucking thoughtless, irresponsible slob I was and cleaned everything up just to prove some sort of twisted point – which was exactly what I would have done. Perfect. Just fucking perfect.

Zach and I never spoke again. I don’t know why – I guess it just felt too weird. And he also seemed so much more annoying. And he had that stupid laugh. His best friend, ari, confided in me that he thought Zach was absolutely crazy for letting me go – -- he had even told Zach this – and ari and I made out – I’m not sure why, but I’m sure I had my subconscious reasons that of course had nothing to do with getting back at Zach… And I learned the hard way never to get involved with any guy who absolutely loved to dance.