March 28, 2009

I Like Girls With Bangs

It has been almost five years. On that night five years ago, I was trapped in a sea of plaid and sweat. The night was young and the music was good, but I was far-gone and tired, my energy had been sucked away by the crowd.
“Hey. Let’s head home.” I took her sweaty hand in mine, and she swung around to look at me. Her hair traced hazy black through the smoky dense air in the club.
“Aw, come on. One more song,” she said. She swept aside her overgrown bangs and grinned at me. Sometimes she smiled so wide I could see her gums, which were just a little too red. She then pumped my hand twice and disappeared back into the crowd.
Later, lying spent on the floor, she gave me that same grin. I tucked a loose lock of black curly hair behind my ear, thinking she was smiling at my unruly mane of hair. She reached for her bag, this big hemp thing lying under our bed, and gave me a little box. It was velvety and soft, and probably black—but I couldn’t really tell for the darkness in our room.
“For you.” she said. I could tell she was looking intently at me.
I knew what it was the moment she grinned at me. I could see red.
I found a hinge on the box, and opened it. A flash of gold.

She was always pulling dumb stunts like this—things you’d never expect a rational person to do.
And I loved it.

It was 1980 and I was fresh out of school at Universidade de São Paulo. According to my parents, I was just fucking around right now. I ran a coffee shop by day and a music venue by night. I spent my days arguing politics with the homeless men who were fixtures at the café. I spent my nights running sound and lights for local bands and ushering drunk customers into taxis. But I was only 25, and I didn’t know what it meant to fuck around: I did what I only knew I should, and that was what I wanted and loved and therefore, kept close to me.
She shared that philosophy of sorts with me, and if anything, she helped me keep it even closer. She worked at a radio station and wrote short stories in her spare time. They were usually really cutesy stories about rescuing cats in boxes and lovers reuniting, but I really enjoyed watching her write them. She got this look on her face, like she was going to stab something with her pen. One time, I stood behind her without being noticed for a good half hour. I was eating an apple. But she just wrote away, the gentle but firm scritch-scratching noise of pen on paper sometimes going on late into the night.
We weren’t always happy. The café only did well some of the time, and her job at the radio station paid shit. And she had a drawer full of “no thanks” letters from literary magazines. We yelled at each other every now and then, our hot-tempered dispositions sometimes making for an explosive clash. I threw a frying pan at her once, only half-heartedly meaning for it to injure. It was made out of cheap aluminum, but it smacked her on the upper lip and she had to get five stitches to fix it up. We said an abusive boyfriend did it to her, and the doctors and nurses talked at us apologetically for the rest of our stay at the hospital. She has only a tiny scar there now, thanks to a concoction her mother sent her after telling her about the incident, using the same alibi we used in the hospital. But it is a scar, nonetheless, and a reminder that things will not always be as good as they usually are.
Lying side-by-side in bed, I was twisting the small golden band around my ring finger, thinking about the sincerity of her voice earlier that night. Not because I doubted her or thought her a fool; she was far from that. But perhaps she was a little too wistful. A little too hopeful. There was very little hope for us around here. Friends and acquaintances of ours had gone missing, and with each successive disappearance, we became increasingly afraid and bitter.
I turned in bed, my back to her. I thought then that maybe this is what my parents meant by fucking around. I tried to shake the thought from my head.
“Apparently, the cerebellum isn’t all that necessary. You can function without it. You’re just more clumsy.”
I was 19. I took a long, slow, hedonistic drag from a blunt and looked back at my audience, a tall gangly boy with Buddy Holly glasses— attractive, if that’s what you’re into.
“Cool. Where’d you learn that?” He blew a hazy ring to the side, flicking the ash off his cigarette. We had met just ten minutes ago, introduced by mutual friends. And now we were sitting on low couches in a dimly lit apartment, blowing smoke rings.
“Neurology.” I gave him my most daring stare. It was coming.
“Whoa. You’re at the school of medicine?” He perked up a little.
“Yeah.” I said.
“That’s pretty hard to get into, isn’t it? You needed to score at least an eighty-three on the entrance exam to get in, and even that didn’t secure you a spot, right?”
“Sure.” I took a sip of a coke from a bottle in front of me. I didn’t know whose it was.
“Well, shouldn’t you be well, like studying or some shit?”
“Yeah, something like that. But I like this too much,” I laughed, wagging my blunt at him.
He smiled complacently.
“Well, you see, my father is a doctor. Not just any doctor, you know,” My eyelids were heavy, and I knew I was about to run my mouth off. “he’s the president’s physician. I didn’t get in just because of that, though. Oh no. I know my stuff. But it doesn’t hurt.”
“Whoa, cool.” His eyelids looked as heavy as mine felt.
“Yeah, well, not so fucking much.”
I thought of the stiff white blouse I wore when my father was inaugurated as the President’s physician nearly a decade ago. I thought of my boarding school in Connecticut and how I hated it there, the cold being a far cry from home.
At some point, I got a beer. And then another. And then another, and soon after, it was deemed that I was piss drunk. Buddy Holly went to get help at some point, because apparently, I was vomiting so much that he thought I was starting to lose my innards.
With him he brought back a girl who had long black hair just as curly as mine. Every inch of her seemed like it stretched on for long, tan miles. Her eyes were maybe a little too widely set apart, and forehead too protuberant, but she was beautiful. As I heaved into the toilet, she rubbed my back soothingly. She murmured her name in my ear as she knelt over me. Her name, among other things.
The morning after, we both lay in the bathroom, spent and exhausted on the floor. She told me her name again, but I already knew who she was.
Buddy Holly and I also became great friends after that. He got me into coffee, which I had never liked before. Strange, as I had grown up with it— my parents took theirs black and strong every morning for as long as I could remember. Buddy Holly was the son of the son of a diplomat, so we both enjoyed deprecating the government together. These days, I do more problem-shooting than deprecating; but we were young and refused to think any other way.
Not long after that night after the concert, days at the café became longer. There would be some days I wouldn’t get any customers. To make up for the financial strain, she started to take longer hours at the radio station, and would sometimes come home so tired I often would be sitting alone at our dining table, the cat sleeping in her chair as I picked at my dinner. But the little things—like the small peck I’d feel on my cheek at 5 AM as she left for the day or the oranges and apples I found tucked into my messenger bag— kept us happy. Buddy Holly sometimes came to keep me company, and we would spend our days in busy silence. I would clean the counters, he would read the day’s paper and drink coffee, and the silence we shared would only remind us of the fact that as the years went by, we had less and less to complain about as we became more and more like our parents. We did things just to get by.
In the end, short tempers and sleepiness do not make for happy people: pots, pans, and vases flew. We would go to bed angry, which is the most terrible thing I think people can do to one another—you sleep on it and feel better in the morning, but only because sleep has buried it even deeper. Anger soon led to indifference, which led to nothing. I went through days just to get by for the sake of getting by. My lunches were no longer supplemented with surprise fruits.
My philosophy was fading.

Some weeks later after she proposed to me, she disappeared. She didn’t come home one night. I figured she had a night on the town with some coworkers; it happened every now and then. But when I called her office the next day and nobody had seen her, I already knew.
But I wasn’t sad. I paced the streets with missing-person fliers. I felt like a crazy person, harassing people who were just trying to go about with their lives. But at the same time, I didn’t want them to just go about with their lives. I wanted them to know what it was like to live to love and to strive to keep those things you love close to you. But walking the streets, my multicolored fliers in hand, I realized that people thought I was fucking around. And if that was what it was, then so be it, so long as I got to keep her here, even if just on paper.
In a strange way, her leaving brought me back.
Friends and acquaintances of ours had gone missing, and with each successive disappearance, we became increasingly afraid and bitter.
I turned in bed, my back to her. I thought then that maybe this is what my parents meant by fucking around. I tried to shake the thought from my head.
She turned over in bed a few minutes later and flopped an arm over my waist. She gave me a squeeze.
We fell asleep.