Words with Friends
“Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.”—Friedrich Nietzsche
The winter his mother’s heart stopped I bought him a Webster’s New World College Dictionary and an iridescent glass pipe. We sat basking in the tick-tock of primary colored lights blinking on a Christmas tree strung with handcrafted ornaments his mother left behind. We toasted the ripe pine with brandy on the rocks. “Cheers mom." He wept into my lap, man-tears and breaths moistening my thighs, as I stroked the fine dirty blondness of him and whispered “oh sweetheart” in varied soothing lulls. I wished to cry along. It seemed the proper thing to do, but I failed to conjure up the emotion required. I was more consumed with thoughts about how this relationship would end, the end of desiring more than friendship, but less than forever. His mother’s heart stopped and I couldn’t feel it.
I remained cool, offering to pack his new pipe with nubs of stale weed. He unwound himself from me, rubbing out tears while nodding his head like something manly might rattle between his ears. He looked like a boy gone lost in an empty department store with a PA system blasting in foreign languages. I was the sole witness to his entire being mourning the passage of his blood mother. Sickeningly exquisite, his exposure elicited an egocentric pleasure in me, a bliss not aligned with the event. I felt alive, standing far from decay, hers and mine. Distanced from my own mother’s inevitable passage. Running from our imminent split. That night we were a sizzling bundle of neurons and limbs entwined. Vital.
We fumbled with the lighter. A little spark set us free. Buttery smiles and bedroom eyes took our faces hostage. Our hands reached out for the other as we hovered over the mammoth dictionary that lay open on both our laps. We invented the “Dictionary Game” that night, a game of chance that we returned to when it was too difficult to speak.
My psychic mantra during these trysts was always make meaning, make meaning, make meaning . . . The entries we landed on were bestowed supreme importance. They should speak to us by relaying mysterious knowledge from unknowable sources. It was a slightly more cultured version of Ouija, something for the 21st century word whores. Haunting is a quality both games share.
When I touched down on “plump,” it suggested my future impregnation. When he alighted on “fertile” and “pipe,” it meant it would be by him. If we settled on “archipelago” it launched us into a conversation about large groups of islands, what three items we would take if stranded and why we find the invention of singles-cruises abhorrent. Once we alighted on “refrain” and unable to decide if we were to repeat something in sonorous tones or put down our drinks, we chose neither and kept drinking, sloppily belting out Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson’s “Candy, Candy, Candy” until the neighbors started banging on the walls. We made love quietly.
Like children with a newly invented secret game, we played obsessively. Discussions about our “status” were avoided—allowing only the dictionary, cheap pot and booze to act as counsel. But, no matter how hard we tried to keep it puerile and unsophisticated, the damn adult with moth eaten bags full of tattered history books crept in. Stories that reminded us that we were compulsively inclined to be promiscuous, cynical by nurture/ nature, frequently inebriated and developmentally arrested- features that nourished our FWB status but didn’t allow for mature love. But the gravity of his mother’s passage seeded a silent monster that grew on our backs. It bloomed until we became lovers, lovers who began to love one another, and such love a thing we mistrusted and pushed back at while building fortresses around our unprepared selves. The monster was crippling and carried a hatchet.
So I slept with his best friend.
I slayed the beast but the blood is still on my hands.
Our last days together we bickered about who of us did or didn’t have a leg to stand on and how it takes two to tango—mincing definitions of fidelity, intimacy, and boundaries. I stomped about in his messy apartment, buying time. Kicking mounds of junk mail around. Fiddling with boyish trinkets. Twisting the edges of his bed sheets raw, while I sat being reprimanded. Committing to memory this place where we’d spent lovely hours. I missed him madly already.
He paced a lot then, fighting contradicting urges, crimson flushes creeping up his neck, staring me down with flared nostrils and strange new yellows in his eyes, speckled ambers that growled. I wished for miracles, for the wildness in his eyes to recede back into their usual cool gray confidence and the swagger I adored to be restored.
Still we caved in to touch, waiting for some explosive conclusion that would make our dissolution complete. I chain smoked while he mixed drinks. He asked me not to smoke (bad for the heart) and I asked him not to drink (bad for the heart). We continued at an accelerated pace. Damned be our hearts. Proverbial cans of worms sat collecting dust on the shelves of our psyches, while we found banal subjects to twit about. I felt the leaves on his money tree,
“It’s so healthy, the leaves look waxed,” I noted faux casually, feeling the smooth, green life between my fingers.
“I’ve been giving it fertilizer and wiping the leaves. Should I re-pot it soon?”
“Probably. Roots need space. You’re lucky you have a green thumb on those good hands, I kill everything.” Feeling the leaves harder, near tearing.
“So you still like my hands?”
“Of course. That will never change.” Torn.
“I like your hands too, wish I hated ‘em but I don’t. So what about his—”
“Tell me again about the mansion you dreamt about, the one with the dumbwaiter and fairytale quotes on the walls.”
“I can’t. It doesn’t matter.”
“But dreams like that matter.”
These casually loaded exchanges confused us. Our eyes locked between lines of domestic twitter, allowing the beautiful monster chances to unfurl between us. But when you sleep with a man’s best friend, the image of that blinds both parties.
During our last fight, we eyeballed the book the way divorcing couples cast glances at their uninformed sired. I wanted it to live with me; he wanted it to stay with him. When I realized how important the book had become, its force as the glue between us, the diffusing device that leveled the gravity of that first Christmas without his mother and tempered my breach of loyalty I released it to his care. It was a gift after all, a consolation and peace offering. That night we slept together for the last time, with the dictionary watching us, a voluminous hospice nurse to our expiring affair. There are not enough words in the world for some scenes.
In the morning, I left empty-handed. With 988,968 words in his bed, he slept. I tiptoed out into such a gauzy and filmic Los Angeles dawn that I had to pinch myself to be sure I was real. I cried finally, driving through a gorgeous tear-blurred sunrise, finally moved by his mother’s passing and mourning our dead friendship.
I will miss noisy nights loitering in dark alleys on our way from one dive to another. Never will there be flamboyant public displays of him dipping me on the dance floor, long black hair sweeping the hard grain of drink sticky floors. We won’t drink tall cans from crinkly paper bags while trying to learn how to Pop ‘N Lock. No brow-furrowed whisperings over tea about the mad absurdity of humans. No abject body humor eliciting giggles like fake farting children. We will not read to one another from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses in humid, checker-tiled kitchens littered with bottle caps and baubles that men collect and women palm. We can’t fill rooms with swirling O’s of smoke while naked with only mismatched socks on. Under no condition will we sit side-by-side on the misplaced couch, facing the door, staring at a remnant from target practice (never hang a shadow of a man shot full of real bullets on your front door, a man walking away from and towards you at once. No good can come of it). No more will my lacy bras and shimmering adornments be slung over torn retro chairs. We cannot ever again shiver in a freezing room, melting into each other for warmth, a cake pan of calcifying water evaporating on the radiator, creating a subtropical pocket that we fit so neatly into. No more memories will be born of us.
My mind houses final lush images, looping vignettes and retro gifs of the way he held that blood-red dictionary in his skilled hands, fingering the delicate pages with splayed fingers, smoothing over words like lovers and reading aloud while I watched his mouth move. Registering nothing but the slow crushing pain of having to let go, to finally admit deaths.
Maybe he still plays the dictionary game alone, employing that oracular index in a house he has built. I see him on the ancient Queen Anne couch, pillows askew from the restlessness of him. He is lank and shirtless, letting slats of warm pink dusk crisscross over him. Magnificent son. He could be twiddling and bending stray hairpins lost in bed, including mine, of girls he has made love to. Does he fall to dreaming with the book cradled in his arms? Or with it pressed to his heart, open to a rare blank page, far from entries like “whore,” “matriarch,” and “heart.”
Does it even matter now? Now that I know for certain that someday our eyes will all close (no cheating) and with great intention, we will land there and finally make meaning.
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