I found him in a health food store. He was barefoot and ankleted, surrounded by shelves of herbal supplements. His careless facial scruff and cloud of unwashed hair suggested nights of near-catatonic yearning and countless viewings of High Fidelity—and yet he held himself with what I initially considered a regal bearing, in the way that cavemen without clubs sometimes look civilized.
I was young and strobe-light-addled, a rave girl cliché with an addiction to rainbows. I wore candy necklaces, pleather everything, and hoisted my pigtails above my ears with a full spectrum of scrunchies. My pink lipstick and blue hair fought like two siblings on a roadtrip. As you might have guessed, health food stores weren’t exactly my scene, but my vegan roommate had sent me on a mission for carob chips—a task I would normally have scorned, but which I felt guilted into performing after accidentally feeding her cat MDMA.
He shuffled sensitively across my path, then back again, cradling eco-friendly laundry detergent and kava kava in his hirsute arms. I suspected him of macrame. Eventually he made his approach, peering up from beneath his furrowed unibrow to ask, “what’s your real hair color?”
“What? I was born like this,” I answered. “I was conceived amidst toxic waste.”
He blinked. His eyelashes were long and oddly clumped; they looked like tassels.
“Your jokes are a cover for your insecurity,” he said, then punctuated his statement with a nod.
He asked me to dinner. I said yes. At the time, I considered it a social experiment; now, I can only look back in shame.
He took me on a tour of the street vending community, where he filled my arms with felafel, corn dogs, and ice cream cones that melted down my spandex-sheathed arms. It wasn’t quite dinner, but it was whimsical. He tried to hold my hand as I shuffled along, but ended up twining his fingers within a pretzel. He massaged the salt right off; it drifted like snow in the chill night air.
“Would you like some nectar?” he asked. “It’s home-brewed and potent.”
My gag reflex activated and the corn dog I had been eating shot out of my mouth. He chortled and shook his head.
“You misunderstand,” he smiled, and, with his free hand, unscrewed the cap from his faux-Navajo canteen. “I make my own mead. It’s kumquat-infused and peyote-spiked.”
He held the canteen to my lips. I tilted my head back and imbibed.
I can’t explain the taste. It reminded me of wet, congealing laundry—of rotting, bug-infested fruit—of mold. It slithered down my throat and lay coiled in my stomach, waiting to strike. My mouth filled with the taste of impending vomit, but I choked it down and sucked a scoop of ice cream off a waffle cone in desperation.
“It’s layered with so many notes,” I said. “How did you get such depth of flavor?”
He laid his hand across my breastbone. “It’s all in here,” he said. “You have to put your heart into it.”
“But that’s not—the location—never mind.”
We kept walking. He ran his hand down my spinal cord and whispered Dave Matthews lyrics in my ear (hike up your skirt a little more, and show the world to me). I was cold and entirely too sober, so I suggested we go to a rave. He acquiesced, but looked unsure.
I took him to my favorite spot, a former-slaughterhouse-turned-nightclub with bouncers dressed in latex fetish gear, who handed out free ring pops and glow sticks. P and I shuffled around on the dance floor, until he dragged me off to the side and gazed deeply into my drug-blurred eyes.
Strobe lights divided his face into neon triangles as he said, “I get it now.”
“Why you are the way you are.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Of being who you are.”
And there was so much noise. So many lights. The pretzel rhetoric abused my already chemically-bruised brain. I couldn’t think straight.
Don’t judge, alright? We’ve all done stupid things. And sometimes, those things are people.
His apartment was oppressively warm and thick with the smells of beef jerky, Drakkar Noir cologne, and crisp mountain waterfall. Half-melted taper candles waved jauntily from the necks of old Reisling bottles; the candles were curved in an oddly phallic manner, making the white drips that had solidified on the bodies of the bottles suggestive at best. He poured me a tumbler full of peach Arbor Mist, a shot of Black Velvet for himself, and insisted we toast to Fidel (may he rest in peace). His frayed, white lace curtains added a touch of maudlin poetry to the scene.
In his bedroom, a brass Buddha watched us with solemn, heavy-lidded eyes. I saw our faces reflected in a dozen crystal balls, and then he whispered, “I can see your future in them. I can see the bliss.”
Bliss in this case meaning ice cubes and refrigerated massage oil.
I don’t know what made him think numb skin would be sexy. I don’t know who gave him the idea or why his ice cubes were shaped like chrysanthemums, but the moment that frozen flower began its slow descent down my forearm, I leaped away with a ferocity that made him jump and ultimately resulted in my knee to his manbits. In the background, Cat Stevens crooned his sympathy.
“You prefer warmth?” he mumbled.
“Doesn’t everyone? Jesus fuck, man.”
I wished he wouldn’t talk into my neck.
“You want me to warm you back up?”
“If you can.”
And thus commenced the least fulfilling massage of my life. He started with my ankles and moved to my knees—then my ribcage, then back to my knees—and, after a brief detour to the parallel islands of my ears, ended at my knees. Even now, when I look at my knees, I sometimes hallucinate thumbprints.
Anyway, after about ten solid minutes of vigorous erogenous-zone-missing, he sheathed his mancandle in a creepy spiraled condom that transformed it into something vaguely resembling a corkscrew, looked at me quizzically while I explained that Vaseline does not in fact work as a lubricant, and assaulted my cervix with a fervor usually reserved for prom night. Over his shoulder I caught the cold dead eyes of a stuffed frog; it judged me silently, like the nuns who scolded me for wearing combat boots with my school uniform.
I apologized to Jesus. P mistook it as praise for his technique and thrust unrhythmically on.
The nuns were right.
I awoke the next morning to the smell of scorched marmalade. I found him in the kitchen, attempting to fry toast (he didn’t have a toaster); his scrambled eggs bore a crust of wheat germ, and lily pads of mold floated in his coffee pot. He presented me with a breakfast collage—random bits of food, oily and congealed, thrown together on a chipped mauve plate. I swallowed without chewing, as Che stared down with silent contempt.
“I have to go to work,” I mumbled. “I need to—things. There are things. So many things.”
He took my hand. “Last night was beautiful for me,” he whispered. “I want to give you something to remember me by.”
“Just so long as it’s not sperm.”
He ignored that, but grabbed one of his Reisling bottle candleholders from the shelf above his sink. “I made this,” he said, “while daydreaming of a girl like you.”
At which point I took the bottle and ran.
That night, suffused with shame, I posted a rant on Craigslist. “Drakkar Noir? Really? And Cat Stevens? FUCK YOU.” I fell asleep at my computer, P’s candle dangling limply beside me.
In the morning I found a message from Pepper: “Fucking crystal balls.”