We played a game of softball Truth or Dare at your house while waiting for the sun to go down, letting the lazy evening sweep us away. There were six of us -you and four of your friends who considered your house a regular haunt, and me, the only girl, like always. We were sipping vodka Sprites casually on your large grey couch lining the white walls of your living room with its signature vaulted ceiling, with nowhere to be since it had been another sweltering day in the San Francisco Valley that August, but it was a Friday. And since it was a Friday, we all quietly felt like we needed to go somewhere in order to preserve some measure of social standing, like some perennial Millennial internal panic. I had always found the house an anomaly -a long bungalow in the Valley with a looming living room in the back that made the whole thing feel a lot bigger even though the two-bedroom house was made for a bachelor. You loved this house, because it now bore your history all over the walls: art that you’d collected over the years, and nicks on the wall from drunken minor mishaps.
E tapped on his phone to show the next instruction in the virtual card game, and he looks at me. It’s my turn.
“Oh this one’s a good one,” he muses and reads the instruction aloud. “Say something that will make us all uncomfortable.”
E had always been somewhat enigmatic for me in a manner I found hard to explain. In general, he was an open book: always down to share whatever salacious and wild story had happened to him from the night before, always unfiltered and uncensored, game to talk about anything from his kids to his cordial yet strained relationship with his kids’ mother, to the women he was currently sleeping with, to his shortfalls, to private details about his work. He could always make fun of himself even on the most damaging points, he was always the biggest flirt. He wore his demeanour -the smoothness of a laid back city playboy – on his sleeve rolled up for all to see; sure, he was over forty now and shouldn’t be partying so hard, sure he should be a better father figure to his kids, but this was his life and to hell what stuffy prudes with a stick up their ass think. And it worked -people loved him, you most of all since you looked him as a mentor, the person who believed in your work when you were nobody in this sprawling city. What is a god if not simultaneously revered, feared, and resented? Yet there was always this feeling at the back of my head that his closest held secrets were impenetrable, that his refusal to apologize for anything and change his lifestyle bordered on a refusal for self-reflection, a quiet sign of denial of brewing conflicts in the undercurrents. And because these latter suspicions kept coloring the way I viewed him, I always kept a calculated distance from him.
My eyes go cold for a moment but nobody catches it in the moment they swivel their heads at me. And immediately, I am on; I’m smirking my signature smirk, glass in hand, sitting straight with my hair tousled neatly behind my shoulders. Everyone in the room is your friend, and by extension, my friends of course.
“Okay, give me a moment. I’ve got to think of a good one.” I say playfully, and pause to think. “Hmmm… okay… I got it.”
Y’s eyes light up. I never disappoint with the uncomfortable and controversial in games like these.
“All of you want to fuck me.” I announce steadily and draw out the consonants as my lips curl up in another mischievous smile.
All the boys burst out laughing. No one denies it. You chuckle. There’s a flash of bother that crosses your face, but it’s fleeting and it wouldn’t have been noticeable to anyone else. And even to me, it was not of concern. After all, it was true. It’s the elephant in the room but obviously not the greatest and most pressing one, and it’s all in good fun. Everyone in this room is easy going; you most of all, and you never disappoint. And the game resumes with I’s turn and we don’t think it about it again as the words dissipate into the air and up into that high ceiling. Because they’re all in love with me and all want to fuck me. And we act like and tell ourselves that we’re okay with that.
We met at S’s house party in LA four years ago, a few months after my break-up with the boy who shared the same name as you albeit a different spelling. I was on my ongoing crawl out of rock bottom, having finally made strides in kicking a decade-long addiction to cigarettes that started in my rebellious teenage years as well as ending a brief bender of self-destructive behaviours to help numb the pain of my recent breakup. I almost hadn’t come to S’s party in large part because LA was so far from where I was working now and I didn’t know any of S’s friends except one (whom I also didn’t consider a friend but more of an obliged acquaintance), but S had been a kind soul when I met him -it had been so easy to talk to him the first night we met, and I thought that even if nothing grew out of our handful of run-ins at parties, he was a friend that I wanted to keep. So there I was, on a Sunday night in a beautifully and eclectically-decorated West Hollywood two-floor penthouse, paying my friendship dues surrounded by people I didn’t know, whom I didn’t look like, who certainly shared no interests. I recall vividly the ocean of black bomber jackets, skinny jeans, and bright sneakers, daring haircuts and hair colors, stunning multi-pierced ears and detailed tattoos bumping around me, constant five second scenes of hugs and drunken rejoices as I shuffled awkwardly around the party, confident that I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew, but also desperate for someone to say hello and divert my attention away from my dizzying discomfort. I hadn’t run into S yet to say hello, but given the number of people who were squeezed into this penthouse amplified by the fact that I wasn’t exactly a go-to friend to say hello, I knew S would probably have to bump into me in order for me to have the occasion to say hello. When I’d wandered close to the kitchen, that was when I caught a break.
“Hey, you wanna play beer pong?” A tall wiry guy with wavy blonde hair and of course, a black and white silk bomber, yelled at me from a table tennis table that he had been refurbished -at least for tonight- as a beer pong table. When he realized I was startled by his greeting, he laughed, and nodded, “Yeah, you, the one who looks like a lost deer in headlights.” And as I gingerly walked over, he had instructed that I be paired up with you, the scruffy brown-haired guy, clad in black skinny jeans and a black novelty shirt, with tattoo sleeves laughing to his friend -not about me, you were too caught up in the moment talking to him over the loud music to notice your newly-assigned beer pong partner.
Someone had put us on the same beer pong team, but we were a poorly matched pair. You missed almost all your shots while I made most of them, which hobbled us to victory by slim margins and I constantly rubbed that in. Fuelled by the increasing amount of alcohol in my blood, I spent a great part of the night loudly complaining to everyone about how bad you were at the game and that I deserved a better partner. And every time I complained, you would shrug over your shoulder, palms open, and smile at me beer in one hand and ball in the other. The smugness pissed me off, but in my drunken stupor, I laughed, took the ball out of your hand with playful force, and would begin the next round. There was something startling about you, but I refused to think about it so I wouldn’t start digging myself something that resembles a well, so I dismissed it as an annoyance about your character. You pestered me with constant quips about my competitiveness in that game, where you tried to make the argument that this made up for how devastatingly bad you were, and silently I didn’t want the night to end.
“Never trust a pretty girl with two different colored eyes”, you whispered in my ear, once I missed a shot that I had loudly and haughtily announced that I would sink. I smirked and wouldn’t look at you, like some hapless attempt to save face when my heart was already lost and somehow dangling in your hands. And how right you were: I couldn’t even trust myself.
I went home with you that night. We both saw it coming and I just let my feet sweep me away.
I was 22. You were eight years older. You woke up from the sound of my slamming your cupboards looking to make breakfast, and complaining that you were so much of a bachelor that you didn’t have basic breakfast foods. I see eggs and bacon in the fridge, but where’s the toast? Where’s the cheese? Mushrooms? Avocado? Come on, you live in Los Angeles. How do you not have a single avocado in your house? You didn’t like my questions but you were amused. Later as we sat at your table munching on the eggs and bacon, me visibly defeated, we laughed over our mutual agreement that it was a decent hook-up and that we should do it again. And before I knew it, I flew across the country two weeks later to see you again. That time around, I brought eggs, milk, and cheese so I could make myself an omelette in the morning, and you thought it was the funniest thing ever when I carried that grocery bag into your house. But I didn’t care.
Actually, I did care. A lot. But I couldn’t tell you that. I didn’t know what to think about you: you were charismatic, effortlessly humorous, amusingly and kind of alarmingly immature. I tried to convince myself that I held all those qualities against you even though we had that in common. Yet I knew deep down you were kind of, sort of everything I’d ever wanted in some manifestation that I hadn’t anticipated. We hooked up casually for almost a year and fell out of it for a while due to busy schedules, and the situation felt like the childhood game of holding bubbles in your palm: now you see and feel it, and next, you don’t feel anything at all. The high would last for a night, and then afterwards for a fortnight, we would claim there was never anything there except some remnants of chemistry that you could wipe off your hands and onto your shirt to be forgotten. And we laughed and I acted like it didn’t start to hurt every time the morning came around, like how can you hurt when you weren’t supposed to feel anything at all?
I vividly remember the one time I tested the waters, and instead, just dove head first into the sharks. We went to Dave and Buster’s, one of your go-to casual haunts for a typical meal, and I insisted it was a date.
We’re grabbing dinner and you took me out for a night of fun. I said.
Yeah, but a date requires both parties to agree that it’s a date. And we’re at Dave and Busters to eat because I like the food. We’re not here to play games so therefore it’s not a date. You retorted.
No it doesn’t. You can accidentally go on a date. You chuckled at that.
Fine. I replied. Let’s ask the girl working the prize counter.
I laid out my case for both parties’ amusement, and she ultimately agreed with me. I bought us 20 tokens. On me. I said gleefully, looking back at you. You shook your head and smiled. We used all of them on a basketball game. You won only because I’m atrocious at basketball.
You naturally lit up every room you walked in. You could start a conversation with anyone so effortlessly that I would feel a small pang of resentment. I’d watch you from afar at our mutual friends’ house parties and it never ceased to impress me how everyone could fall for your sneaky concoction of easy-going California cool, a red solo cup in hand, and a smile that would spread to your eyes. It was an open secret that we were hooking up and it was not at all exclusive, and I played it off as though it were an afterthought for the both of us. Because I too was supposed to be cool. I was what Gone Girl would call a Cool Girl, except I wanted so badly to convince myself that she were real, she was me, that I had somehow defied the laws of physics and wholly embodied the girl who could drink beer and hold her liquor without gaining any weight, who could laugh with the boys, who didn’t treat anything too seriously. I wanted to be cool among your friends, who were all jet-setter creative types who always knew what the next big thing would be. They were underground Valley royalty, whereas my only LA childhood connection was a smattering of years growing up in Brentwood. You could tell that I was a kid from the Hills (by some liberal means of naturalization, I suppose) from a mile away. I never really fit in. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I had even tried.
Eventually it caught up to me though, because like Gone Girl’s Cool Girl, she doesn’t exist. And when you feel like you’ve been living a lie on weekend nights for a full year, it breaks you the instance you let your mask slide and are forced to confront the truth. So I said I needed to talk to you on a Wednesday afternoon out of the blue, and I know it must have been a strange message to receive given the nature of our usual conversation. I asked for 30 minutes of your time; I needed to talk. I would fly home afterwards. Please. I pleaded.
You know I’ve never actually visited your house without sleeping with you. I muse as I stepped apprehensively into your bungalow. We were both standing awkwardly, too stoic for this to feel familiar or natural. Not sure where to keep our hands, how to stand, where our feet should go. How ironically comical this all was given that down the hall from your foyer in the enclave of your bedroom, we had never had that problem.
First time for everything. You said curtly. There was silence that we both didn’t know how to cut or fill. I think you knew what was coming, but thought it was ludicrous that I would bring it up now. You had been working that morning, clad in a black hoodie and flannel pyjama pants, hair dishevelled, stubble out to play. It was heartbreaking to see you dressed like that -it would probably be the last time I’d see you so unfiltered.
I told you that I couldn’t keep doing this. I told you that it was fun at the beginning but I slowly realized I liked you too much for this to be nothing. This had dragged on for a year and I was kidding myself. And if this was going to end, I’d rather have the Band-Aid ripped off in one go than have this prolong itself into something that felt like self-torture mixed with false hope, to endure this game knowing I would never win. I cried and told you not to hug me.
No, just let me go through with this. It’s not you, you’re a good person. You’ve been nothing but honest about where you saw this going. I said. I don’t hate you. I just… I just needed to do this, and I’m going to cry but I’m going to be happy after this.
I smiled weakly through tears. It really wasn’t your fault. I just needed to be honest with myself.
About a month later, you asked me for lunch and I knew that it was futile to fight the urge, so I said yes. When I got on the plane, I kept telling myself that I was crazy to fly across the country once again for some remnants of false hope that I still had left in my heart. I was apprehensive when my car pulled up to Chateau Marmont, slowly walking to the back restaurant with thoughts racing through my head about whether or not this was a joke. When we sat down, exchanged platitudes, and ordered our food, you asked me if I wanted to go to Dave and Buster’s afterwards. You know… like a date, you said. And your smile curled up and reached your eyes and I felt my stomach drop and my heart break once again. And immediately, I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or a pity gesture or I was dreaming this. I felt a lot of things, but I was feeling so many things at once that it was difficult for me to compartmentalise and lay out exactly what I felt. I don’t understand where this is coming from. I told you, rather bewildered. You told me that you had thought about our parting conversation quite a lot over the past month, but not by choice. I would pop into your head as you were doing other things, and you began to realize that you kind of, well, missed me around your house, in your car running errands with you, and going to Dave and Buster’s. Specifically, you told me the amusing and grand classic story of how you had gotten a blonde into your bed and it was going so horribly for so many reasons that you knew this would make a great story. So you had started to laugh and turned to the right to tell me exactly that, except I wasn’t there on my usual side of the bed, and there wasn’t going to be me on that side of the bed any longer, and in some strange twist it started to feel lonely in your bachelor house without the usual plus one. And I laughed sheepishly at the story and told you that I didn’t find it that funny at all, because I actually still really liked you and frankly, this story wasn’t really helping any cause. So you digressed, and said you acknowledged that it wasn’t executed well since you hadn’t fully thought how you were going to tell it but just that you needed to tell it when I got to lunch. And I smiled, I said I understood. I said that whichever way this story goes from here, I would not win.
And despite all my reservations, I went with you anyway to Dave and Busters after that lunch. I went home with you that night just like clockwork except this time we didn’t punch out. I was just shy of 23. Your birthday had recently passed. I hadn’t said happy birthday.
I had a reputation for jokingly charging my friends $1,000 exclusive of travel and accommodations as a wedding-date-for-hire because I knew all their mothers and peers, and was a good conversationalist. I also loved going to these weddings because it almost counted as crashing them. I’d done about 14 before you asked me in the car while we were running an errand if you could hire me as a wedding date for a family friend’s wedding. It was three weeks after the Dave and Buster’s Official Date. Your parents along with your extended family would be there . You said you’d throw in an extra $2000 if that would convince me to come. You were nervous asking me. It was the first time I’d ever seen you nervous and uncomfortable. I smirked and didn’t look at you so you could save face just a little.
For you, it’s free.
And when I said that, you kept your eyes on the road and didn’t look at me. And you were trying not to smile, but I could tell. It was settled then: it was another date.
When E had said “Say something that will make us all uncomfortable”, I had immediately thought of something else. The thought came naturally to me since I’d been thinking about it for a long time although I had never told you. It was something that I knew would have won me the whole damn game, ended the game, cleared the room. And it was a sore topic, frankly, as its forms came up in more and more often as you had gotten older and your parents had been insinuating that they were hoping you were going to settle down and have a family soon. But I did’t know how to bring it up without it seeming like a terrible omen.
You see, it would be World War III if we ever broke up.
That was what I had really wanted to say.
It would shatter us. We would never truly recover.
Everywhere around us stood the signs that we won’t last, but neither of us would dare touch the topic: how your friends have kids but aren’t married anymore (or never were), how you still travelled for work, how I had gotten approached about a civil service opportunity in Detroit but haven’t divulged it to you. You would have been so proud of me in some alternate universe or some universe that existed two years ago, but not in this one. Because it is unsaid that I would eventually move to LA and we would live together. And that expectation is supposed to come to fruition soon, if not yesterday. But it is complicated and you hate this topic getting brought up in social situations and with your parents, so we pretend that this arrangement of my living in New York and visiting you almost every weekend like in the nascent days is working fine, like we are still hooking up with nothing to lose. But obviously the most hilarious part is that it wasn’t, but no one wants to point out the omen until the omen has consumed everything.
And that’s why we’re here now, in this living room with its vaulted white ceilings that now seemed to cave us all into this roomy glass-pocked prison. The sun is shining bright and bathing everything with light. E has brought his legs all the way up on the couch, lounging comfortably like he owns this place; no care in the world. It’s not like he would put his legs down if any one of us called him out on it anyway. And I am the only girl in the room, with thirty articles of clothing stashed messily in the right side of your closet like I live here every once in a while. And the game continues. And we all sip our drinks. And the elephant stays in the room and grows larger each day, but it’s a big airy living room, high ceilings and all. So it can grow larger than most elephants can. It’s an anomaly that it can grow so big and show no sign of bursting just yet.
And he taps the screen. Another instruction shows up. It’s not my turn.
I never disappoint with the uncomfortable and controversial in games like these.
I say it. Out of the blue.
I got a job in Detroit. I think I’m going to take it.
And then the elephant disappears. But the room doesn’t clear like I imagined it would. The boys are still here and one of them looks up and nods as a polite gesture and gets his head back in the game while the rest are waiting for O to come up with a good answer. But your eyes train on me. Because you understand the ramifications of what I’ve just said. Your head is now completely out of the game and it feels like it’s just me and you in the room. We looking at each other. I breathe in.
I have so much to tell you.