Watching Friends Get Old and Large on Social Media

Well shit.
The truth is, I'm referring to myself. Like, I thought I would be one of those people who doesn't age, or who ages into some kind of soap opera star, but suddenly I look at myself -- or I look at the way other people look at me and I realize, yes, I am in that new category: unfuckable. And so it goes. I mean, I'm happily married, whateverthehell that means, and I'm in acceptable shape as I bang out the occasional kickboxing vid or yoga stretch-a-thon. I'm not big on make-up or jewelry and my clothes are pretty much shapeless rags, which probably doesn't help. But as I really never drink and haven't smoked in over a decade, I pass for all right. Frankly, I look better than I did when I was 23 due to the fact that I was living on merlot, champagne, petit pan and the occasional spliff. I was sort of rough looking; a bit wild-eyed, puffy, bad dye job, jean jacket with a tattered scarf, dangling cigarette-chic. Which is a look that clearly did it for some people. But what was the inspiration for this post? Oh, yes, it was a memory I had. Today I remembered this guy who used to come into Surdyk's. I was working in the cheese shop there. He worked across the parking lot, at a camera shop called West Photo. He was tall and had a shaved head. He was frequently surly and he rode a yellow motorcycle (right?) He was also a fan of my art. At times I thought he was a fan of me. He'd stop in the cheese shop for lunch or coffee, and he'd wait for me to wait on him. He asked me to draw him things on his receipt, or the white paper of his coffee cup. He took my photo a few times and he'd bring me the print. Then he'd mention a girlfriend or a date or an ex, and so... Naturally I had complicated feelings for him. But he never asked me out. It wasn't until I was actually leaving town, like, for good, that he took me up on an invitation to go out. It was the night of my goodbye party. I was moving to Pennsylvania to go to graduate school and try out what I thought it meant to be a real adult. Fifteen years ago, almost, and though it was another life entirely it feels like it could be last summer. The party was at a bar called the Union -- or used to be called that, so that's what we called it. People came. Girls who'd been my parachute. A divorced couple who I'd waited on, first together and then separately. A slew of coworkers. An ex-boyfriend who was gentle and kind. I remember one of the cashiers from the liquor store, Mike Witt, came. He was like six and a half feet tall and 300 pounds. He loved GWAR and this beer called Little Kings. He wasn't a huge talker. During our breaks at Surdyk's I'd read him poems from whatever book I was carting around. One of them was an anthology with a poem by Billy Collins. I read it to him and he told me it was pretty much shit, but he also cracked a smile. Before I left the Union that night, I ran up and threw my arms around him and he picked me up and squeezed me. A few years later I got a call from one of the wine consultants who was, and is, a dear friend. He told me that Mike had choked on a piece of steak at a family bbq, had gone to his room to lie down, and didn't wake up. I got this call while I was driving home -- home was Philadelphia now -- from Minneapolis. I took 80 across the state, instead of 76 and when I looked out the car windows there were oceans of trees; it was really beautiful. I can guarantee that the guy from West Photo took the news hard. He was sensitive. Or I think he was. Maybe I am projecting that onto him. We didn't really get to know each other in any way that would allow me to say: he was "this" or he was "this." The night of the goodbye party we stayed up until the sun came up. We drove around in his Malibu. He talked about my jewelry. I took off my shoes. They were my grandmother's heels from when she was a girl. We walked across a wooden bridge. When I got home that morning I climbed into bed and couldn't stop smiling. It wasn't that anything crazy had happened or he'd said anything dramatic, it was just special. We were young, and would always be young. The sun was coming up, and would always come up. I was wearing a black leotard, a tight yellow miniskirt, deep pink lipstick and like six necklaces -- and I always would adorn myself thus... There was a thought in my head when I started this, but this, too, has gone, and I cannot recall if I miss it. But I think I do.


You know the parlor trick.
wrap your arms around your own body
and from the back it looks like
someone is embracing you
her hands grasping your shirt
her fingernails teasing your neck
from the front it is another story
you never looked so alone
your crossed elbows and screwy grin
you could be waiting for a tailor
to fit you with a straight jacket
one that would hold you really tight.
Billy Collins 

No comments: