I hadn’t felt handsome in a very long time. So I just began to let the clothes pile up in my apartment. Colors were different and my thoughts must have gained physicality because the more I thought the heavier my head became. There would be days where I would lift it maybe just twice. If that. Which is also much easier to do when you’re only awake for five or so hours a day. I would swipe a couple bills from the mason jar I keep near my keys, pull myself together for just enough time to walk over a block and down to my liquor store, where I would sheepishly smile at the man behind the counter because he knew what kind of man I was-- guilty and musky and too young. It was an exchange that sometimes felt like selling my soul. I’d pull bills out of my billfold to rid myself of a potential paper trail if my loved ones ever decided to look into where my money is going. One block up and over and back into bed.
There were reasons of course. Reasons that I ended up this way. Ones that I blamed on chemistry and bad timing and the color of my skin. That’s the only difference that there was between him and me. He was fair and light eyed. A red head. My skin felt ruined by by the summer I seemed to be stuck in. I’d look at the back of my neck in the mirror. I would wince. It looked dirty and my hair was so black and my eyes are so dark and how could I even compete-- but I would be damned if our kids had even a single strand of red hair.
A close friend, Dimitri would often come over to my house, knowing somehow when I needed him the most. Generally on my darker days. With very little to no warning at all, he would arrive at my apartment and let himself in. He’d shout from the living room, instead of just knocking.
When he’d find me where he probably last left me, he’d traipse around dirty clothes and soda bottles filled with piss to sit on the edge of the bed with me.
He’d ask me if today was a better day.
I’d roll towards or away from him depending on my answer. I wasn’t too great at talking. But he is a stubborn fuck and it is for that reason I’ve decided I would ask him to be my best man when I got married. I could hear the sounds of him hiding bottles of sleeping pills I stored on my nightstand. He’d disappear for a little if and when I stopped becoming responsive. I would be able to hear things rustle outside my room. He’d wash my dishes for me, pick up the living room or run out to get me a banana across the street, knowing where I keep my keys in a dish by the door-- right next to an almost empty mason jar filled with change. There were days when things were more fragile and he’d pick me up like a wounded soldier. He’d sling one of my arms around his shoulder and hold me up with a grip under my armpit. Together, we would travel. I’d set all my weight on him, apologizing to him in my head, hoping that he could somehow hear it. He must have been able to because he would keep reminding me that it was okay. The eight paces that turned into many more all the way to my bathroom. He’d sit me on the toilet and start the shower, leaving me with a towel and a friendly suggestion that it’s been too long since I’ve done this.
I had days I felt lighter. In density not pigmentation. These were my good days. I could dress myself, maybe go on a walk. Dimitri would come over. We would sit out on my stoop, chain-smoking a pack we would split because the air was so hot and we had nowhere to be. No real place other than right on that stoop and no one was even looking for us. He’d complain that the cigarettes were menthol and I wouldn’t give a shit because I paid for them.
Earlier that year we had planned to drive out to California. Planned to be dharma bums and find out what the rest of the country had for us. We called it our “Hell or High Water” trip. Because we promised ourselves that nothing would stop us from taking the trip. We used to dream about the desert and shove any extra bills and change into a mason jar I kept next to the door. I met him at the gym pool at 6 in the morning so he could spend a couple hours teaching me how to swim-- a skill he swore I would need on our road trip. I remember not being surprised by his almost impractically baggy swim trunks. Like a child I would hold my breath and sink my head into the water, because he told me to. I’d blow bubbles through my mouth. I distinctly remember the feeling of drowning and thinking that this must be what water boarding felt like. But, I felt his hand on my shoulder and I would rise and fall into the water.
We bought a foldout map and would sit in diners and mark stars on it at four in the morning. We’d order another cup of coffee and warm our hands around it and guess what the Grand Canyon would look like in person. (He thought smaller than it looked in pictures. I thought bigger.) We’d stay until sunrise or until the waiter kicked us out for only having enough money for coffee refills-- Whichever came first. We’d wander by to my apartment and stay up because we were filled to the brim with coffee and so punch drunk with wanderlust. That was before life got in the way and suddenly there we were, on my stoop watching the clouds darken for a summer shower. People all around began to run to get themselves out of the rain. But we stayed. We squinted at the sky until pinpricks of wetness told us to hang our heads low to catch the rain on the back of our necks. I looked over to Dimitri, to make sure he hadn’t disappeared again. He hadn’t. And even if he had, he would be back, with good reason, good news or a banana. His cigarette was still dry. Thinking back to Salinger who accredited poets to “taking the weather so personally,” I took a breath. I couldn’t wait to feel the rain again.