I stumbled upon the idea that our exes all leave lessons, reflections on experiences we’ll have in the future. Those “us” moments, the laughs, the arguments, the cute little spots, the things that make our bodies tick, the break ups: they all find themselves mirrored in our future. Staring back at us, and we think, “Funny, how…” I had such a moment about two years ago.
See, at some point I was a pretend-woman of twenty-something, with a serious thing for bartenders. Really, a thing. I was prey, mistaking myself for a predator. I would sidle up to the bar and place a hand on the bar top that never left. An extension, an invitation. Sometimes, I heaved myself up on the barstool to get their attention. Chest leaning forward, my face half a foot above the crowd. One knee firmly in place on the barstool, a foot dangling over the side. My eyes watched them… slowly… following them, until they caught mine. The rest was easy. I would return, each time my tongue looser, my tits more playful, each joint seemingly unhinged. By the end of the night, they were responsible for the dizzying excitement I felt. Naturally, I fell for them.
He worked at one of the nightclubs downtown. I was in college in the sticks, and he was the embodiment of city life. A cute one bedroom apartment on the edge of downtown. Exposed brick, marble top kitchen counters, minimalist modern style, a neat freak, older, $100 jeans. He smoked pot all the time. I, at the height of my marijuana use, could not keep up. He waked and baked. I baked and slept. Still do in fact. He turned out to be highly emotionally unstable. HIGHLY. I would later find out as a result of his cocaine habit-turned-addiction. Gasp! Cocaine? That was the real deal. Real fuckin’ shit. I had barely dabbled in ecstasy, how had I ended up dating a cokehead who would call me at 9 am from a bathtub in Minneapolis crying? Full grown-man crying. He wanted to kill himself. “What if I just let myself slip under the water?” I crisis managed. The first of many. He swore he would change, get help. His mother showed up. I stayed, hid his porn, fucked him, babied him. Then I left.
It’s 3-4 odd years later. I’ve just left my girlfriend’s loft in downtown. I have the dream. She’s drop dead gorgeous, smart as whip, funny, loving; an impeccable catch. The loft is a gift to herself for the $120,000+ she’ll be making at her new big-girl job. Exposed brick. Marble top kitchen counters. Two bedrooms. Windows the size of doors for us to fuck on. The past, exaggerated. I can’t remember where I was going, but I’m thinking of the other woman as I amble down the street. The one I was cheating on my amazing girlfriend with. The thrill of a lifetime. Bringing me to the edge, just to peer over it. I don’t like heights, and I don’t like edges. But there we were, on the edge of madness.
It’s a hot August day, flowing green skirt, fresh out of the farmer’s market, like every good progressive should be. My mind churning as always. A constant cacophony of should-have’s, and would-have-been’s. There’s a man on a bicycle. Shirtless (why do men feel the right to be shirtless in public?). I once read about a topless rally in the North East, Maine I think. Some women had gotten together to campaign for their right to be shirtless in public as well, free of the sexist objectification of their bare breasts, of course. Anyway, the man without the shirt. He’s watching some street performer, visibly enjoying it, clapping, and cheering him on. The uninhibited smile of a grown man. It’s sweet, slightly disturbing. There’s something familiar about this shirtless man with the bicycle.
He turns, I smile. He reaches out to hug me, sweaty bare skin and all. He apologizes, with a huge grin on his face. He looks so damn happy! And good too, his face is glowing, his muscles taut. “How are you? I never thought I would see you again!” Me neither. He doesn’t know I have a girlfriend, and a mistress. He doesn’t know that he doesn’t know me anymore. I am nonetheless happy to see him. I’ve wondered about him from time to time. He says to me, “I really want to apologize for all the things I did…” It’s one of the AA steps. He’s clean, sober, and so fuckin’ happy!! So FUCKIN’ HAPPY!!! He doesn’t know that I’ve spent the last month snorting plates of coke in questionable houses, with even more questionable people. He doesn’t know that I have a bag somewhere on me, filled with the purest coke in the city (or so I’m told). That I am falling victim to the very thing I left him for. I am his past. He was my future. And so, we stand.
I realize now that part of the thrill is that familiar sting. I like the feel of the numbness as it moves down me. I know now why it’s called a habit. Because habits entail routines, patterns, familiarity. In this case, the sting, the cutting, the crushing, the back room club, hands underneath the table, bags tucked closely to moist skin, the dollar bills flattened to be rolled, then held vertically against the smooth glass, the quick inhale of those imperfect white lines. And then the rush, the instantaneous, inescapable rush. A jolt to the brain, you feel your eyes get wider, brighter, the tempo picks up. You are there. We were there. Her and I. The one who’d brought me to the edge just to peer over it. She and us.
But in the end, it was all a game of hide and seek, a chase I could never win. I spent months chasing that first rush, my body in heat. I had it, no, we had it. We ate and slept it, the cream of the crop. The world, our metaphorical oyster, though we were content with our one cell city, an oyster within an oyster. It was dazzling. We made lofty plans, stayed into the night replicating highs, falling deeper in love with the highs we created. “Vampires never sleep,” she used to say to me when we first met. I didn’t understand what that meant, until those 4 am mornings spent lying in bed, heart racing faster than I thought possible, willing myself to go to bed, for sleep to come.
And so, we raced, each of us more reckless than the other, a bad combination. A mutual friend once said to me; “The problem with the two of you is that there’s no one to say no.” There was no regulatory mechanism. We ignored the scientists who had intimated that all living things, systems, required balance. We were a dysfunctional system, and if we are to believe that the product of any processes regulates the process itself, then we were toying with mutual destruction. Our product was shit. Like all living systems out of balance, we were unsustainable.
The demise was not unexpected; it would be deceitful to say so. The fashion in which it took place though, was, and the eventual fallout. In the end though, we had fulfilled our biological duties, each mutating the other. And so I left her, hurling insults on a sidewalk on a sunny April day. The cocaine, though, that was harder to quit.