I hadn’t been out my apartment for months when I met her at a party. I’m not exactly a party person and was busying myself finding a cracker or anything to leverage some dip with when she said to stop staring at her.
“Ha, ha!” She had a witch’s laugh. “I’m screwing with you. Stare all you want.”
“Me?” I had made myself go to the party but had forgotten to prepare for talking to people.
She told me I probably recognized her from the commercial where she played the girl on the bus with headphones on, eating a submarine sandwich. She did a little dance and mimed eating an impossibly huge sandwich.
“Can you imagine someone actually doing that? Who writes that shit?”
By now I’d assumed she was talking to me because there was no one else in the hall. Her lips were stained with holiday punch and her tumbleweed hair was held in place by one strained strand tucked behind her little ear. She took my phone and followed a handful of accounts on Instagram that she said I would find repulsive but in a fun way. One was a septuagenarian porn star with a plastic surgery addiction, another a toothless collector of botched taxidermy plus an obese woman bottle-feeding her possum.
“Instagram must’ve take down the photo where she’s breastfeeding that giant rat,” she said, disappointed and scrolling.
I never found that cracker but after I left the party I immediately unfollowed all those unfortunate people except for the girl; she had used my phone to follow herself which I thought was a clever and forward way to connect us and who was I not to reach out and ask if I could buy her a beer.
On our first date she had me lie on the couch with her and run lines for a big audition for another sandwich spot. “I’m getting typecast cause I can open my jaw wide,” she said and stuck a socked foot in my face. “Don’t get any ideas, perv boy.”
She complimented my line readings and filled our mason jars with red wine and told me this would only take a couple hours. “And don’t think I don’t know what you’re thinking right now! Another crazy fucking actress.”
She took pride in calling herself out on things before anyone else could.
“I know my laugh is over the top so stop looking at me like you want to kill me” or “Don’t think I don’t remember that I said I was only going to have a drink at dinner” or “Just because I have X amount of cats doesn’t make me a cat lady.”
We would sit down to eat a dinner she destroyed her kitchen in the process of making. Before I could even try it, she’d shove a bite in her mouth and proclaim it a disaster. “Don’t eat that!” She’d hustle the plate out from under my fork with beet-stained hands, toss the entire plate in the garbage like it was rat poison and tell me to open another bottle of wine.
The first time she came with me, she threw me off her, darted out of the bedroom and returned seconds later in a turtleneck and sweats, crunching through a bowl of cartoon cereal like she’d just been binging a TV show. “Oh what? So now I’m the selfish lover?!” she accused me through a mouthful of blue cereal. “Oh god that word! Gross, gross, gross!”
She called me “perv boy” when I kissed her and “Judge Judgey” if I didn’t say anything and “Mr. Scratchy Beard” when she introduced me to people.
One time in bed she told my penis lolled to one side like her boyfriend’s in Quebec. His is a little bigger though, she added. This time I may have looked at her a little like I wanted to kill her. “I’m kidding” she screamed and did her witch’s laugh. “You should’ve seen your face! You should’ve seen your face!” Then she thrust her tumbleweed of hair into the crook of my arm and told me she made dumb jokes like that when she was afraid and liked someone. I kissed her blue-stained mouth. “Oh perv boy."
She informed me I was terrified of commitment and was always loaning me self-help books and demanding them back if I hadn’t read them the next day. Out in public, she accused me of flirting with any woman that talked to me. “Who? That woman with the clipboard?” I’d ask. She blamed her jealousy on her OCD which didn’t make much sense if you saw her bathroom.
She cranked Fox News up loud and yelled at me that she was learning how the enemy thought and that I needed to get out of my bubble. She was vegan unless it was after midnight on a weekend and she’d howl drunkenly for pizza. “I know! I know! But how many cows did you save this week!?”
Before I could decide if something bothered me, she’d already accused me of resenting her for it, thrown up her hands as if to say that was just who she was, then lasso her boney arms around me and lick my face like a dog and ask if I could still stomach the sight of her for even one second longer. I could. We often fought for hours, broke up and got back together without me uttering a word.
Eventually she stopped throwing me off her to go eat cereal after she came and I’d gratefully wrap up my side of things lickety-split. If I saw her staring at me jealously at a party or drug store, I’d let my jaw go slack and roll my eyes back until whatever female was talking to me hurried away in embarrassment. That made her laugh. I’d pick up a bag of tacos on my way to her apartment, hiding them in my coat pocket and pretending to find them like magic after she flung our dinner away. When she told me to stop looking at her like I wanted to kill her, I’d roll on top of her and smother her with a pillow. “Are you dead yet, baby?” I’d ask then lift the pillow up. Her face would be red, mostly with laughter. I’d do this over and over, tickling her and kissing her face before clamping the pillow over it again. “Dead yet, baby?”
She flew off one day for a commercial shoot in New York this one for double-cheeseburgers. She said that was a step up from sub sandwiches. Later in the week I noticed on her Instagram that she was in Quebec. She was cooking dinner in a beautiful apartment with brick walls and hanging plants her hands red with beet juice.
“You know . . . My boyfriend,” she said when I asked her over the phone about who took the picture. I said I was confused and she explained in an exasperated tone that she told me all about her boyfriend.
“You said you were kidding?” I answered.
“I was kidding about him having a bigger penis. Who would say something like that? Like I would actually measure anyway. Why do think I’m always wearing a beret?” She did her witch laugh. “I know I need a new laugh. Did you read that Eckhart Tolle book I gave you yet? Otherwise, can you send it to me?”
I didn’t make a big deal about it but we didn’t really talk after that. I went back to not leaving my apartment and ran her joke over and over in my mind. I wanted to read the Eckhart Tolle book but didn’t want to give her the satisfaction so I dropped it with no envelope in a mailbox I slunk by.
I had coffee with my landlord’s wife one day as she’s more or less an invalid and she asked why I was so broken up about this person, this girl with beet-stained hands who accused me of flirting with cashiers, called me a perv and threw away all our dinners, even the plates. I shrugged like who’s to say.
But I know; I know as much as a person knows anything. Even now when I pass her favorite cartoon cereal in the store or eat beets, I admit I ache a little for those boney arms lassoed around me. What a beautiful holiday from myself it was to be the normal one for once.
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