Friday, November 18, 2005

when it changed

“So what happened?”
“What do you mean?”
I’m in a bar in the city with a date. It’s crowded and late. Lots of professional types. Black slacks and shiny shoes and spaghetti-straps. We’re dressed up.
I tap a smoke on the table. I’m bored. I know what she’s about to say.
“Well, I read your stories.”
“Yeah. I can’t believe that’s you.”
I smile and look away. I’ve had this fucking conversation too many times. Let me guess. You can’t believe it’s me, I’ve changed so much, I should write a book. Know what? You don’t know shit about my head, and lucky you don’t. You’d have a nervous breakdown.
I peel off a match and light the smoke. I take a drag and shake out the match.
“So they’re not real right?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “What do you think?”
“Well, there’s just no way that’s you. I mean, right?”
I toss the match into an ashtray.
“You know, maybe that’s the point,” I say. “It’s not me anymore. That’s why they’re stories.”
There’s a long pause. She sips her drink and sets it down carefully on the coaster.
“So they’re fake,” she says.
Fuck. I slam down my pint glass and heads turn. “What am I, your fucking entertainment? Why don’t you talk about your own fucked-up life for once?”
Damn, I did it again. Her face goes red, she swears, gets up and leaves. The couple at the next table stares at me.
Whatever. Glasses clink behind me. I lean back and smoke, looking at her empty glass of ice, looking around the room. These people are beautiful. Fucking mannequins. I think, trading a shitty life for a boring one ain’t all roses.
So what happened, I think. I take a long drink. “Tell you what happened,” I say to nobody. “I met a girl.”
* * *
“Hello is D there?”
“This is him.”
“D, it’s me.”
I’m just out of high school. It’s early and I’m waking up. I think for a second, and then remember the voice.
“Holy shit. How are you?”
“It’s been a while. How are things?”
“Same shit, you know. How’s Cali?”
“I’m back now,” she says. “Start college next week.”
“No shit?” I say. “Fucking college. That’s crazy.”
She was the girl from high school. Spent a summer together, out at night, the boat launch, sneaking out. She was the first. Then she moved.
“So there’s this dinner,” she says. “Sorority thing. You should come. We’ll catch up. I’ll show you around.”
I think for a second. What the fuck is a sorority? It’s too early for this.
“Yeah, sure.”
“Okay, I’ll call with an address Friday.”
“Stay out of trouble, okay? No fights. See you then.”
* * *
I leave the construction site early to clean up. I borrow a tie and slick down the curls. Shirt’s too tight and shoes feel weird, but whatever.
I head across town. Past the low-slung houses on the block, across the bridge to the city, onto the freeway, past the nighttime skyscrapers, past the posh hilltop part of town, down into the sprawling tree-lined streets of the university.
It’s nice. Never seen a campus. So this is where rich kids go.
I park in front. It’s cool and dark. I smell the fall leaves. I look up at the house. Brick mansion, ivy walls, oaks line the curb.
I knock. There’s voices from inside. I feel weird, like a phony about to be discovered.
The door opens. It’s a tan blond with a tight shirt. I tell her I’m here for A. She yells behind her, and turns back and smiles.
I think, What the fuck am I doing here? I stuff my hands in my pockets and look at the street. I think about running for a second.
I turn and see her. The green eyes, the tan skin, that smile. She’s gorgeous.
“Hey lady.” She hugs me, and I feel her against my hand. I remember the smell from before.
She takes my hand and we go inside.
* * *
I’m driving on the freeway home from the campus. Dark and cold, windows down, stereo all the way up.
Should’ve stayed in school
But the streets say why bother
So I’m on the corner shooting dice into the late night
Trying to make money
Hoping soon to live a normal life
But things are looking bad
Rollers sweat me every day
My mother tried to warn me
What comes around goes around
Deep down I know she’s right
But maybe soon I’ll make her proud
But now I’ve got to struggle
Day by night and night by day
Stuck with all these problems and these games people play.
Elbow out the window, I’m staring at the city. The blending of the lit cityscape, cloudy sky, music, the rush of wind.
Shit. I can’t believe how fucking jealous I am.
Those kids at dinner. So rich, so optimistic, so well mannered. That beautiful big house. That campus, the fountains, lawns, books, amazing people.
Why can’t I have that? Why don’t I get that life? So unfair.
I think about the future, and there’s nothing. Roofing houses, getting fucked up, same homies. More tattoos. More fights. More fucking bullshit living in that slum.
But her. She has everything.
Fuck. I’ve got to get out of here.
* * *
“Hey lady.”
There’s a pause.
“Excuse me?”
“Hello A, it’s D. From high school?”
A long pause.
“Wow. My god, it’s been years.”
“Yeah. How are you?” I say.
“Um, good. I heard you moved east?”
“Yeah, been out here a couple years. Just writing and stuff.”
“Wow, so the bad boy’s an intellectual now huh? Wow, that’s a change.”
Seems right hearing it from her. She understands it. Hell, she caused it.
“Hey I won’t keep you long,” I say. “Was just thinking about old stuff. I just wanted to say thanks.”
“Thanks? For what?”
“You know, for changing things. I still think about that a lot.”
“Changing things? D, I don’t know what you mean…”
That’s when I realize we haven’t really spoken for nine years. Since that dinner. Guess I was too upset. She has no idea that she’s the reason I went to college. No idea that she changed my life forever in a single night.
“Hey I’m sorry, I guess I shouldn’t have called.”
“No no, it’s fine,” she says. “D, are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m okay. I should go though, really.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Hey, I hope things are good. You take care babe.”
“Okay D. You too. Stay out of trouble.”
* * *

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