Wednesday, September 05, 2007
With Love and Resentment, Your Past
So, let's make this a trilogy and be done with it. (Part 1: Into the Maelstrom/8.24.07) (Part 2: Imperfect Strangers/8.30.07) It's fitting that the third and final chapter of what's unintentionally turned into "The Ex Files" deals, itself, with a relationship triangle. Last week, I mentioned that before meeting for dinner in New York City in the weeks following 9/11, the last time Abby and I had seen each other was at a party almost a year earlier. By now, it probably won't surprise anyone to learn that it was a little more complicated than that. The following took place in the early days of 2001. I was living in L.A. at the time, with my wife Kara. I was already deep into a very serious heroin addiction -- a secret cycle of catastrophic self-destruction made worse by the fact that after slightly more than a year, my marriage was already coming apart and arguably had been from the very beginning. I tried several times to stop doing heroin while I was in Los Angeles. I failed every time.
"One day you're gonna have to face the deep dark truthful mirror."
-- Elvis Costello
January is chilly, even in L.A.
The day after a storm-front blew through town, the skies are perfect. The usual sickening haze, the unfortunate product of several million cars, has been washed away. You can see downtown all the way from the Hollywood Hills. It’s a perfect day. Better than perfect actually. Flawless.
It’s a Saturday morning and I’m sitting in the rear parking lot of the Hollywood Video store on Miracle Mile. Biggie Smalls was killed about four blocks from here. The lot is huge, and parked against the high back wall—perpendicular to it—are two large semi trailers. In between them is just enough space to fit a car. My car. I’m effectively shielded from sight on all sides but the rear. It’s almost impossible to see me without specifically knowing where to look.
Kara thinks I’m at the grocery store.
The radio is on and I’m listening to the weekend version of Morning Becomes Eclectic on KLSX. Nic Harcourt is playing a song from David Gray—My Oh My.
My oh my, indeed.
I’m high. Wonderfully high. High like I haven’t been in months. High like the first time.
The time bomb went off.
I allow myself a second to marvel at the simple twist of fate that led me here this morning. The event that tripped the wire and set off the explosion.
It wasn’t a bad day at work.
It wasn’t a fight with Kara.
It wasn’t depression or wrath or sloth or envy or lust or wrath or—what are the other ones?
It was pure chance. Pure accident—or possibly pure predestination.
You’d think that someone who's become a serious addict wouldn’t forget where he’s hidden his drugs. That’s something that—no matter how fucked up you get—you always seem to keep track of. It’s sort of a matter of survival.
Not me though.
I’d lose my head if it weren’t screwed on—which it isn’t right now.
All it took was a quick look through the glove compartment for my Hollywood Video card, which had somehow mysteriously disappeared from my wallet.
I’d lose my fucking head if it weren’t screwed on.
I pulled everything out of there, and lo and behold what did I find wedged all the way in the back but a small white envelope. Inside that envelope was a pen-pipe, two squares of aluminum foil, a lighter and two tiny balloons. My mobile kit. I have no idea how I forgot that it was there—although now, in my endless attempt to rationalize all of my bad behavior, I can’t help but feel like it’s a good thing I found it and got rid of it. Had I been pulled over and not realized it was there, I could’ve been screwed. I realize that I should’ve gotten rid of it by throwing it away as quickly as I could, but I’m not Superman for God’s sake. Or maybe I am, and this is simply my Kryptonite. The balloons were green after all.
I was being so good. I was really trying to get things together. Then the gods handed me this. It’s obvious what their intentions are for me. Who am I to argue with providence? I didn’t find my video card, but what I did find immediately led me to the very back of this parking lot where I found the perfect place to smoke. Nicely hidden. Once again, a gift from the gods—further proof of their divine will.
Within a half hour, the two balloons are empty. The foil is scorched black. I’m fucking high. I’ve never felt better. All I need to do now is go to the grocery store like I told Kara I was going to. I’ve got supplies to buy. Food. Drink. Stuff.
We’re having a party tonight.
Because I haven’t touched heroin in weeks, the high lasts surprisingly long, which is a good thing, because I’m going to need it.
I hang up the phone in our kitchen.
“Who was that?” Kara asks from the living room.
“That was Isa.”
“So what’s up? What time is she gonna be here?”
My wife is busying herself about the apartment—putting the finishing touches on the place before tonight’s big event. Candles in polished brass holders surrounded by fireproof faux-foliage still have to be placed along the mantle over the fireplace. The mixture of crème fraiche, chives, tarragon and lemon zest still needs to be taken out of the refrigerator and ladled into the bowl made from the hollowed-out loaf of spiced-herb olive bread. The fig compote needs to be—fig compoted. Something somewhere needs to be somethinged. Like mother, like daughter. The brushed-silver torch of artificial perfection has been passed.
I may be high, but I’m not completely oblivious. That’s unfortunate, because I’m now going to have to figure out a way to tell my wife not only what time our friend is arriving—the guest of honor whose birthday we’re celebrating—but also just who she’s bringing with her.
I walk out into the living room. Kara is adjusting the sheer white curtains which she hung over the horizontal blinds because together they provide both form and function. I’m wincing at the mere thought of the conversation to come. I can’t even imagine what this would be like if I weren’t on drugs.
“Uh, honey?” I say hesitantly.
That’s it. Start the conversation like you’re the goofy husband in a bad sitcom. That’s sure to get the best out of a woman like your wife. Oh, and get ready to duck.
Kara looks over her shoulder at me. At least she's smiling.
“Well, what did she say?”
I take a few tip-toe steps across the room toward her.
“Well, she’ll probably be here around nine, but there’s something else I think you should probably be made aware of.”
Now Kara turns, giving me her full attention.
Something to hide behind close by? Check!
“She’s bringing Abby with her.”
Kara lets out a bitter chuckle—running her tongue along the inside of her bottom lip and putting one hand on her hip.
“Great,” she says—the word dropping to the floor like an anvil.
“There’s not really much I can do about it. Abby flew in for Isa’s birthday. Isa’s coming to a birthday party we’re throwing for her. A plus B equals C.”
Isa and I go back about as far as any two friends can. She’s like a sister to me, and is one of the few people who’ve been kind enough not to make too many judgments about some of the asinine things I’ve done throughout the years. Unfortunately, I’m well aware that for the first time in my life, I have to keep a secret from her. It’s the same one I’m keeping from almost everyone else. She works in the music industry and has subsequently seen too many of her friends go down the road that I’m going down now. They’ve usually ended up dead. She can’t know about this.
As for Kara’s relationship with Abby—it’s non-existent.
This will be the first time my past and present lives have collided like this, and to say that I’m not looking forward to it is like saying that Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe weren’t looking forward to that final stop on the train ride. My ex and my wife are literally at opposite ends of the spectrum of humanity. Millennia from now, when aliens land and dig up our ancient civilization from under the ground, they’ll find the fossils of these two women and probably won’t classify them as being from the same species.
Kara is perfectly structured. Abby is gloriously haphazard.
Kara is clinical. Abby is spiritual.
Kara trusts her head. Abby goes with her heart.
Kara puts what she feels is an important value on vanity. Abby could fucking care less, yet still usually manages to look good.
Kara will send you a "thank you" card for a gift, but not really mean it. Abby will forget to send you a gift in the first place, but will still love you.
Kara is tough, and looks like she’s faking it when she tries to be tender. Abby is tender, and looks like she’s faking it when she tries to be tough.
Both however—as much as they are polar opposites—are extraordinary women.
The fact that Kara hasn’t actually met Abby face to face doesn’t, unfortunately, mean that she isn’t intimately familiar with her. My relationship with Abby has always been the subject of much admonition and condescension from my wife. Kara’s never been thrilled with the idea that—in keeping with her track record of everything always being just so—she wasn’t able to marry a man who hadn’t already played house with someone. As far as she’s concerned, the fact that I once loved a woman like Abby is living, breathing proof of just how immature and impetuous I was until she came along and set me straight. She considers Abby a child, and me, childish for having loved her. Still, any resentment of this magnitude, especially from a woman who's usually as confident and unflappable as Kara, has to be rooted in some form of insecurity. In this case, I’m well aware of just how true that statement is. Kara isn’t just intimately familiar with Abby—she’s a little too intimately familiar.
About three months after we’d begun dating, Kara caught more than a fleeting glimpse of something that no new girlfriend should ever have to see. It came about thanks to the time-honored tradition of a man becoming so completely distracted by the concept of sex that the rest of his brain shuts down. It’s technically the same inclination that Kara herself has benefited from more times than I can count. She knows that all she has to do to shut me up is take off her top. There’s only a limited amount of blood in a man’s body. Once it all starts flowing to the penis, there just isn’t enough left to sufficiently power the brain.
What led to Kara’s moment of Clytemnestran omniscience was actually the harmless act of housecleaning—not hers, but mine. I had a couple of free hours one morning before I had to go in to work and decided to spend it sifting through a box of old cassette and video tapes. It was an entertaining little trip down memory lane. I listened to old tapes of my radio show and ancient music from the heyday of MTV—recorded through my stereo—and I watched concert footage of my band playing various gigs around Miami, as well as a couple of old episodes of Beavis and Butthead. It was about an hour or so into my nostalgic reverie that I reached into the seemingly bottomless box and pulled out a videotape with a hand-written label on it that read simply "Hot Shots." I remember immediately thinking that I appreciated the thespian brilliance of Charlie Sheen as much as the next child of the eighties, but not enough to waste an hour and a half of valuable blank tape space on any movie of his that wasn’t about a Soviet takeover of the United States. It took all of about ten seconds for it to hit me what really was on the tape that I held in my hand. In hindsight, Charlie Sheen probably would’ve been proud.
Once again, when sex is involved, all better judgment goes out the window. In this case, it didn’t just go—it took a graceful swan dive.
I put in the tape.
I left the fucking thing in the VCR.
This last less-than-inconsequential fact didn’t dawn on me until about 7pm, which coincidentally was about fifteen minutes after Kara left our office in Downtown Miami to head to my apartment and wait for me to get home. The next few seconds and minutes—the ones that immediately followed this startling revelation—played out like the worst episode of the stupidest sitcom written by the most talentless hack in Hollywood.
I covered my mouth.
I gasped for air.
I shouted “Oh shit!” about seven or eight times in rapid succession.
I suddenly looked like I was doing a Don Knotts impression.
I tried calling her cell phone to divert her somehow, but got no answer.
I grabbed my coat and my car keys and bolted for the door like someone had just told me they were giving away free beer in the parking lot.
I screamed out “Personal emergency!” as I streaked across the newsroom.
I tore through the streets of Miami like Sonny Crockett.
During the twenty minute drive home—which was punctuated with the requisitely farcical amount of swearing and horn-blowing—every kind of thought imaginable was whirling through my apparently worthless brain. The foremost being: what if all of this is for nothing? There was a better-than-average chance that she’d get to my place and completely overlook the VCR and just watch TV. My second thought was that even if I did get there before she saw the tape, how the hell do I slyly get it out of the machine and thus, myself out of harm’s way? These questions were immediately followed by visions of possible damage control. The best-case-scenario had me wondering how I was going to calmly explain what I was doing watching a sex tape of me and another woman. The worst-case-scenario had me debating the best possible story to make up for the insurance company should it question the suspicious nature of the apartment fire.
Throughout all of it, I did what any sane atheist would do when his current girlfriend was about to be confronted with an hour’s worth of visual proof that he still firmly believed his ex to be a spectacular lay: I prayed like a son-of-a-bitch. I promised God I’d change. Promised I’d go to church. Promised I’d become a true fucking believer and shout his holy name from the rooftops like John the Baptist on crank.
So what did I find when I arrived at my apartment?
Well, I’m still an atheist.
Technically it could’ve been worse; Kara could’ve been sitting on the couch actually watching Abby ride me into the ground. As it was though, the scene she purposely left me with was enough to convey the sheer enormity of her fury at what she’d discovered—at what I’d obviously been watching. When I walked through the door of my apartment, the tape was playing in vivid, fleshy color on my thirty-two inch television screen. I actually figured out that I was too late before I even opened the door. That’s because Kara had turned on the home theater speakers and cranked them to 11. I’m not sure how long my neighbors were subjected to my sexual exploits in surround-sound, but I know that I got strange looks from them for months after that.
Missing from this surreal little sexual horror show, was Kara herself. She had set the scene, then left. Like a serial killer positioning his victims to inflict the maximum emotional gut-punch—just as a little gift for the cops. I actually had to marvel at the sadistic beauty of the whole thing, which I did—just before turning down the sound, stopping Abby mid-act, and contemplating the most efficient way to kill myself.
I immediately drove to Kara’s apartment on the beach. When I walked in I found her sitting on the couch crying. I didn’t have much in the way of excuses. I did something dumb. I admitted it. I apologized. I threw out the tape. I spent the obligatory amount of time sleeping alone.
End of story.
Except that it wasn’t.
She’s now about to meet the girl on the tape.
She can laugh haughtily and criticize all she wants, but Kara saw for herself one of Abby’s most attractive and powerful qualities: her sheer, unbridled, raw goddamned passion. When our relationship first began, Kara and I had no problem mimicking that kind of ferocity—in bed and out—but as time went by things chilled considerably. I guarantee that the image of the palpable connection between me and Abby stayed with Kara, possibly even until now. Until this very night.
“Fine—can’t wait to finally meet her,” Kara sneers, then turns and goes back to adjusting the curtains.
It’s going to be an interesting evening.
I’m really glad I’m on drugs.
Three hours later, the party is getting into full swing. Everything is perfect to a fault—the only way my wife would have it. Candles create a gorgeous lounge-like atmosphere in our living room. The dining room—also glowing with soft candlelight—has been made into a serving area. Hors d’oeuvres—elegantly and artistically placed along polished silver serving trays—take up almost the entire dining room tabletop. The music coming from the stereo is sufficiently cool and mood-enhancing. Right now it’s Strangelove Addiction, from The Supreme Beings of Leisure. The martinis are being shaken in the kitchen. The friends and neighbors are mingling in the living room. The wife is basking in the glory. The husband is still too high to be anything but happy. All’s right with the world.
The guest of honor, and her guest, have yet to arrive.
About five minutes later, the doorbell rings.
I make my way through the crowd, across our living room and to the door. To say that my heart is suddenly racing is a gross understatement. With the bustling and cool sounds of the party at my back, I take a deep breath—hold it—open the door.
Standing in front of me is Brando.
“I thought you were Abby.”
“Which Abby -- your ex?”
“How many Abbys do I know?”
“She’s gonna be here tonight?”
“Oh yes,” I say.
He smiles wide.
“Oh shit man, Abby and your wife in the same room together. I’m suddenly glad I came.”
“Why the hell am I friends with you again?”
I invite Brando in and get him a cocktail. Like me, he favors gin and tonics. When I return to the living room, he and Kara are laughing together. Once again, a matter of propriety and etiquette: Kara would never publicly be rude to a friend of mine, especially not at a party she’s hosting. It also doesn’t hurt that Brando’s almost impossible to dislike, even if you know that your husband’s got a bad habit of doing heroin in his presence. Kara doesn’t currently blame my friends for my drug use, which is actually wise on her part. Still, it doesn’t take much to gather that the favor shown to them can and will fade quickly if I continue down this path.
Speaking of which—
I pull Brando off to the side, which conveniently allows Kara to continue her power-mingling. I hand him his drink and lower my voice, trying not to seem too shady.
“I’ve already had three of those,” I say, touching the side of his drink. “I’m ready for something stronger.”
“Shit, with Abby and Kara here together. I don’t blame you kid.”
I make the slightest motion with my head. It says it all. Let’s go.
“To the Batcave,” he says.
I make one call to Isa to get her E.T.A. It’s not for at least another half-hour to forty-five minutes. Perfect. I may be willing to take a minor risk to replenish my high, but I’m not fucking stupid enough to leave Kara and Abby unattended. Propriety or not, the results could be disastrous. Kara stands a good chance of keeping it together. Abby however is a different story. The passion that makes her incredible in bed, also makes her as volatile and dangerously unpredictable as a suicide bomber.
Less than a minute after I get off the phone with Isa, Brando and I are out the door and trotting back to the garage, which is just behind my apartment. The door goes up. We get in. My car, which I had backed into the garage, is pulled straight out. Despite the chill in the night air, the windows go down and the sunroof opens as the gleaming vehicle slides down the driveway along the side of my apartment building. It emerges, headlights flaring bright white, from the small space between the building and a large hedge which separates our property from the one next door. It really does look like we just pulled out of the Batcave. Arriving partygoers, walking along the sidewalk directly in front of our apartment, jump out of the way as I gun the engine, turn the wheel and speed off into the Los Angeles night—tires screaming.
“What did you tell Kara?” Brando shouts over the wind and the sound of the stereo, which is blasting Girls Against Boys’ Park Avenue.
“We were going to get more beer.”
“Think she bought it?”
Brando smiles, which makes me smile.
“You’re fuckin’ dialed-in brother—you’re dialed-in I tell you,” he says, spouting L.A. lingo I’m almost sure he invented himself.
He sticks his head out of the sunroof and shouts.
“COME ON BE MY BABY TONIGHT! I SEEN THE WAY YOU TREAT THOSE OTHER THUGS YOU BEEN WITH!”
I shift—press the accelerator almost all the way to the floor. Wilshire Boulevard goes by in a blur.
The buy is simple. Even simpler than usual. Get to the Westlake District. Make the deal. Head back home. Stop quickly to actually do what I said I was going to do—pick up beer. The entire trip takes a total of twenty-five minutes.
We pull the car into the garage and spend about ten minutes sitting in privacy, smoking the fruits of our labor. Thirty-five minutes total. Right on time.
Abby’s about to arrive and I’m high as the sky.
This whole situation tonight is completely fucked-up. Now, thankfully, so am I.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Reality is so much better when you’re not facing it sober.
Once again, the will of the gods.
This has all been preordained and everything is proceeding as they have foreseen—according to their divine providence.
Five minutes after Brando and I walk in the door and put the beer in the refrigerator, the doorbell rings. This time there’s no heart-racing. There are no nervous deep breaths. There’s just me and the glorious, satisfied calm I’ve inhaled into my system. I give Kara a tiny, required smile of solidarity, push through the crowd—which has grown quite a bit in the last half-hour—make my way to the door and open wide.
Isa’s there smiling.
I wish her a happy thirtieth birthday and give her a hug, inviting her to come inside and enjoy the cool fucking party in her honor. As she steps aside, there is only the sight I had been anticipating and dreading in equal parts all night—that is, until I carpet-bombed my apprehensions into complete submission.
Abby gives me a tight little smile and silently nods her head in what looks like a strange sort of acceptance of the discomfort of the situation. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Kara watching me—waiting to see what I’ll do and how I’ll do it. I smile, careful not to make it seem either too inviting or too bittersweet. I lean in and give her a hug.
She’s wearing a black coat over a red button-down blouse, and a pair of jeans with black high-heels. Her hair is slightly shorter than I remember. Tonight’s little excursion to the other side of the tracks has all but guaranteed that my stomach won’t be tied in nervous knots at the sight of her, but the overwhelming desire I feel whenever Abby is in my immediate presence—that’s something even the drugs can’t calm.
I invite her in—into the lion’s den—and take her coat. For what it’s worth, I understand fully that this entire confluence is a hell of a lot harder on her than it is on either Kara or me. We have the home field advantage. She’s the outsider. I’m almost sorry she’s not on drugs. I watch her quietly and coolly look around our apartment as she enters. She’s sizing things up, like a stray cat that’s wandered in and proceeds farther into unknown territory with caution and restraint. Still, if she’s trying to project an air of confidence, she’s not failing. In this room full of people, she seems to silently draw attention to herself. I’m not sure whether it’s an innate magnetism or the fact that Kara has probably seen to it that a whole lot of people at this party know exactly who she is. If the latter is true—and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is—then I’m going to find myself walking an even finer line than I thought tonight. I won’t let Kara ally her forces against Abby. At the same time, my overall loyalty has to lie with my wife. I can’t allow either of these women—or both of them—to create a tense spectacle.
My diplomatic solution: act like absolutely nothing is wrong.
I close the door and make my way through the crowd over to Abby.
“Come on. Meet Kara,” I say, gently putting my hand on the back of her arm. I’m fully aware that my thumb makes a tiny and involuntary circular motion against her bare skin as I do this.
I hear her take a deep breath. “Can’t wait,” she says.
“That’s the exact same thing she said about you—and it sounded like bullshit coming from her too,” I say, walking her through the crowd and keeping my eyes forward at all times. Out of the corner of my eye I watch Abby continue to look around inquisitively. The flickering candlelight casts deep and long shadows. Poe’s Amazed drones beautifully from the stereo.
The partygoers part for us like the Red Sea. They watch us as we move past them. They seem to be waiting for the moment when the Irresistible Force meets the Immovable Object. It becomes perfectly clear: Kara has told everyone here what’s going on. As much as I love her, the realization makes me shake my head and grimace slightly.
The last of the crowd parts and there, in the clearing, is Kara. She’s standing with Isa, talking and smiling. She’s wearing skin-tight black leather pants and a thin white tank top with nothing underneath. She looks—for lack of a more euphemistically appropriate term—really fucking hot. I give a brief glance in Abby’s direction and happen to catch a glimpse of her eyes.
Oh, holy shit.
I suddenly stop, take her by the arm and hold her back firmly. She turns and looks at me with a slightly-too-innocent smile.
“What?” she says.
I just look into her eyes.
Dear fucking Christ.
“Nothing,” I say. “Nothing at all.”
I’m not doing this here and now. Not this close to Kara.
I turn and lead Abby one more step forward. Here goes nothing. Almost everyone at this party is pretending like they’re not watching—but almost everyone is.
Who to introduce to whom? What the hell does Miss Manners say about a situation like this? Simple, don’t get yourself into one.
“Abby, I’d like you to meet Kara.”
Abby extends her hand and Kara smiles and takes it. Abby gives another tight-lipped smile. Kara smiles back. I hold my breath and wait for time to stop and the universe to collapse in on itself.
“It’s really good to finally meet you. We’re so glad you could come tonight,” Kara says, giving Abby’s hand one quick shake. To her credit, she really doesn’t sound insincere at all. Still—she's from the South. Who the hell can ever tell?
“Thank you for inviting me.”
Such innocuous conversation and such fucking hysterical subtext.
Kara asks Abby how her flight was. Abby says fine—tells Kara that we have a beautiful home. Kara says thank you—offers Abby a drink. Abby says no thank you.
And that’s when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.
I look across the room at Brando, who takes a second out from chatting up a great looking brunette I don’t recognize to give me a confused look as if to ask me what’s wrong. All I can do is shake my head. Just then, Kara—in what appears at least to be a somewhat genuine effort to be congenial—offers to show Abby around the apartment. In the short time she’s been in our living room, I’ve already caught a whiff of potential disapproval coming from my ex. Left unchecked, it could boil over into a quiet, yet angry and jealousy-fueled, rant at some point during the night. For now though, I choose to leave well enough alone and see if the Greasers and the Socs really can play nice. Abby follows directly behind Kara as she leads her through the crowd into the dining area. Everyone stares as they pass. Everyone probably marvels at Kara’s graciousness and calm in dealing with this sadly uncomfortable situation—just like Kara hoped they would.
I’m left alone with Isa—which is exactly what I wanted.
I take her by the arm.
“Can I borrow you for a minute?” I say through a forced smile of clenched teeth, pulling her into the dark of the downstairs hallway directly off the living room.
I stop and turn to face her.
“Are you fucking crazy?” I say.
“What’s she on?”
“Don’t who me. You know exactly what I’m talking about. What is Abby on? Her pupils are the size of saucers and she’s not drinking. There’s no way Abby would walk into a situation like this sober. The only reason she wouldn’t be drinking is if she doesn’t have to.”
So much for feeling sorry for her because she isn’t on drugs. And the hypocrite of the year award goes to—
Isa just shakes her head and sighs, resigned.
“What the hell is it with you two? Why are you both such pains in my ass?”
“It’s ecstasy isn’t it,” I say.
There’s an interminable pause.
“Mushrooms,” Isa finally says.
I close my eyes and exhale through my mouth loudly. I’m not high enough apparently.
“You let her come here tripping?”
“Hey, don’t look at me. I’m not responsible for your ex.”
“She’s staying with you for God’s sake. Is she so wily that you couldn’t keep an eye on her for a couple of hours?”
“She got them from John. I think he was kind of hoping to sleep with her if she got fucked up enough.”
“Who the fuck is John?” I say, trying to stop my voice from turning into a high-pitched squeal.
“Nobody. Some guy.”
I’m shocked that I immediately feel a twinge of jealousy shoot through me like electricity. As far as I’m concerned this gives me a second reason to kick the living shit out of this John guy if I ever meet him.
“Isa, I’m the idiot. I’m the one who does irresponsible, stupid shit. You’re supposed to be the smart one. I don’t like you stepping on my toes. Now, we’ve got to get her the hell out of here.”
“She’ll be fine. She’s very subdued.”
“Yeah, so are most spree killers, until something sets them off.”
“Just leave her alone. She’s gonna walk around quietly and no one will be the wiser, make a scene and who knows what’ll happen. Did I mention how tired I am of you two by the way?”
“Leave her alone? Honey—she’s hallucinating. She already thinks Kara’s a dragon lady. Chances are right now she’s actually seeing it.”
As if on cue, I glance over and see my wife—who’s buzzed on three martinis, and my ex—who’s tripping on mushrooms—come around the corner and back into the living room.
This is just all kinds of fucking perfect.
I fall back on the drug-induced haze in my own brain to help me bring a perfectly insouciant smile to my face as they spot me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Isa look at them, then back at me, then shake her head and walk away—no doubt to the bar. I just keep right on smiling. Kara is willing to play the polite and pleasant host to Abby, but only up to a point. Her canteen of good will is only so big and there’s no telling how long she’s going to have to wander through this uncomfortable desert tonight, so she’d better pace herself. This is likely why she’s now leading my ex-wife in my direction—to pawn her off on me. The look on Kara’s face as she approaches—with Abby safely behind her—I have to admit, is a hilarious mask of faked cheer. She’s giving me a big toothy grin and an overall look that seems to say exactly what I was just thinking a moment ago:
This is just all kinds of fucking perfect.
Of course Kara doesn’t know the half of it, unless Abby began playing with the knives in the kitchen like a baby playing with a rattle for the first time—with a noticeable combination of excitement, confusion and wonder.
“It looks like we’re starting to run low on hors d’oeuvres,” Kara says through her exaggerated grin. “I’m going to go get some out of the refrigerator, ‘kay? Here, why don’t you show Abby around a little bit more.”
And with that she steps out of the way and the woman I have more of a history with than just about anyone is once again standing in front of me, her face looking suddenly to me like one of those paintings of the puppies with the big eyes. I’m sure that right now to her, my face looks something like that too, if not worse.
I shake my head and sigh as Kara steps away.
All I can think to do at this point is scream “Serenity Now!” like Frank Costanza on Seinfeld. That’s really all that’s missing from this entire experience. Abby continues to glance around as she takes the final step to fill the space between us.
“Nice place you have here Chester,” she says looking around, then turning her head to look directly at me with a big smile. “And she’s just lovely.”
My expression is blank. I need more drugs. No sane person would deny me that right now.
“Glad you think so Ab.”
“No I’m serious. It really is a beautiful home you’ve made here,” she says, nodding and smiling and nodding and smiling.
I already know what’s coming. I know where Abby’s going with this and, high as a fucking kite or not, I don’t want to be around when she gets there. Still, I can’t leave her alone. So I just stare at her and wait for the inevitable.
It’s on its way.
“Yeah,” she continues, looking around again and nodding and smiling and nodding and smiling. “A really beautiful home. A beautiful wife. A perfect life.”
I stare down at her.
Here it comes.
“Everything’s just perfect,” she says, nodding and smiling and nodding and smiling.
She once again looks directly into my eyes. Her pupils are monstrous. They’ve practically swallowed all of the hazel surrounding them like two black holes. Mine meanwhile are the size of pinpoints. Together we just about even out to one normal, sober person.
There’s suddenly silence between us.
Come on, spit it out.
“Of course, I did happen to notice the shelving units from our apartment in your perfect little kitchen,” she declares with a satisfied smile.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath and try not to choke on the air in the room. I’m about to do something incredibly dumb—which is pretty laughable at this point considering that I can’t imagine anything dumber than being on heroin while your former love, who’s on mushrooms, is wandering around a party with your wife: I’m actually going to debate this with her.
“You agreed to let me have those when we broke-up, remember?” I say calmly.
“No, I don't remember that actually.”
“You’re really gonna do this here—right now?”
Suddenly her brow furrows. She blinks rapidly and heavily. She glances around at the floor. I don’t know whether this is some effect of the drugs—her drugs that is—or if she really is how she appears to be: hurt.
She suddenly looks very hurt.
I reach out and take her arm and walk her through the crowd, pushing her gently in front of me. As we head for the front door, for a brief second I allow myself the thought of simply turning her, marching her up the stairs and into the bedroom and having sex with her.
Let’s settle this like adults. Let’s settle this the way we always have.
We push our way to the front door, open it, and step outside. I’m not even going to bother concerning myself with what anyone at the party thinks about me being outside and alone with Abby; I could just about care less at this point. Once we clear the windows, I turn her around and look her right in her huge, childlike eyes.
“Alright, come on—let’s get this over with,” I say.
“Get what over with?”
“Just say what you want to say, so that we can try and put it behind us and have an uneventful rest of the evening.”
As these words come out of my mouth, I immediately regret them. Abby takes full advantage of the opening I’ve given her.
“Put it behind us?” She hisses. “It looks like you’ve had no trouble doing that.”
“What do you want from me Abby?”
“I want you to take some goddamned responsibility.”
“For what?” I say, trying not to sound too shrill. It isn’t easy at this point.
“For what you did to me. For what you did to us.”
“And you’ve decided that you want this mea culpa right now?”
“I think the poetic justice is kind of fitting.”
“What do you want? Do you want me to march right back in there, shut off the CD player and tell everyone, ‘Scuse me folks, can I have everybody’s attention. I am an asshole. See that beautiful woman right over there? I cheated on her and took her for granted, and in doing so robbed her of her heart, soul and innocence and crushed every dream she ever had, and I don’t deserve any of the glorious trappings of this wonderful life that you see around you here tonight. Now if anyone needs me, I’ll be hanging in the shower.’ Is that what you want?” I say, then before she can even respond the way I know she will—“Don’t fucking answer that.”
“This could’ve been our life Chez,” she says, her face becoming a mask of hurt again.
I turn and look over my shoulder at my apartment—my gorgeous two story apartment in West Hollywood. It is indeed perfect.
“No it couldn’t have,” I say, almost a little wistfully. “I mean look at me Abby. You know me better than anybody—even better than Kara. Do you really think all that domestic flawlessness in there is me? This whole place is Kara. This whole life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful and I like it, but make no mistake—I had nothing to do with creating it. All I do is help pay for it. Jesus, Kara was pissed that my paycheck wasn’t good enough to get a bigger and nicer place. That’s me—the guy with the average credit and the sordid past and the ton of emotional baggage. This?” I say, pointing to my perfect apartment and the perfectly cool party currently going on within. “This is all just a floor show.”
“We could’ve done it together.”
I give a tragic little exasperated chuckle.
She just looks at me.
“I know. I always was.”
The overwhelming sadness of that simple statement hurts like hell. There aren’t enough drugs in the world to bury my sorrow under.
“I’m sorry Abby. I really am.”
“I know you are Chez. You’re always sorry.”
It’s not an attack or indictment; it’s simply the truth. I used to half-joke that my personal mantra was "Apologize Often, Change Never." It was funny for awhile, until you find your selfish and immature ass looking down at the face of someone who reaped the cruel reward of loving someone who lives his life by that pathetic standard.
There’s a sullen quiet between us. A moment of silence for the death of youth, innocence, love, dreams, passion—everything we once had and were. The moment feels like it goes on forever. I just look at her.
“You look great,” I say quietly, breaking the stillness.
“Thank you. So do you. You’re too thin though.”
“Thanks mom. I really wouldn’t trust my eyes right now if I were you.”
Despite her best efforts to remain angry, a sweetly mischievous smile slowly slides across her face.
“Uh-huh,” I say, nodding. “I can’t believe you came here tripping. Tonight just wasn’t challenging enough for you already?”
Her smile suddenly turns sad. God only knows what I look like to her right now.
“Believe it or not, I’m worried about you,” she says.
“What’s to worry about? Haven’t you seen my apartment and my wife? Everything’s just marvy. You said it yourself.”
I want to tell her. I want to tell her that I’m high, and I’m scared. Instead, as usual, I say nothing. I’m terrified of doing drugs. I’m even more terrified of not doing drugs.
“We should get inside, it’s chilly out here,” I finally say.
“Please, I’m a New York girl.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll have to come visit you sometime.”
We turn to walk back inside.
“Don’t even think about it. I moved there so I wouldn't have to see you. Stay away from my city,” she says.