Thanksgiving night, I started in on some cheap white wine one of my brothers had brought and we hadn’t gotten around to opening. I had lived alone in my furnished apartment for a couple of months at that point,having begun my graduate studies at the university. My brothers had come down from Portland for the holiday. My ex, Marty, had flown up from California. He was a good boyfriend and every bit as good an ex. He was living at his artist brother’s place in San Francisco.
We’d eaten early and they all hit the road by four. I spent the night picking at the leftover stuffing and sipping from a plastic tumbler of wine. Outside my furnished apartment, my tree-lined street was bereft of green. The sidewalk-colored sky seemed slashed with hard black phone wires. I didn’t want to leave my apartment, even though its very impersonality normally soothed me.
I had this giant old microwave someone had discarded and left in the laundry room. But I burnt the microwave popcorn into a black and smoldering ball, and now my apartment reeked. I was drinking and drinking that ersatz chardonnay, and calling Marty. Now it was seriously late. But I just kept calling and listening to that ringing phone in his brother’s concrete studio, willing myself to register the sound for as long as I could, before the next billowing silence.
It wasn’t that I wished we were a couple again. Hadn’t I just put the brakes on that crazy affair with my old flame from college? It had ended spectacularly, with him driving me to Matador Beach. Me nauseated from the drive. Begging him to take me back home. Stopping at the Westward Ho supermarket in Brentwood, seeing him deliberate over ten dollar bottles of bubbly. I had gotten used to expensive things by then.
By the time we got to my place, I had gathered myself to say at last that I really was leaving for Oregon. That I wanted him to be happy; to meet someone great. A surreal night flowed, with him repeatedly leaving the apartment, then returning. In my sleep-deprived state after those crazy nights of love I was having waking dreams he was coming back again and again. Then, at last, he was gone.
I finally got drunk enough that I stopped calling Marty and lost consciousness in my bed filled with books. The next morning I awoke with a caved in feeling in my skull, belly roiling. The streaming sun made my eyeballs pulse. I was hefting that giant microwave back into the laundry room when I ran into a neighbor I’d met only once before. Tall, good looking, friendly, Gay, of course. I remembered my landlord telling me he was a high-end hair stylist. He surprised me by inviting me to take a bike ride. An invitation so normal, so not-me. I was still pretty green around the gills, as my grandmother would have said.
“Say yes,” he instructed me, so I did. We rode for an hour or so. I had this red Schwinn I’d brought from Santa Monica. This hairdresser guy and I rode down the empty midtown streets, then cut over to the river. I must have told him about my struggle to be happy. My starting graduate school after this crazy affair and how my old flame still wrote to me and telephoned me every day. How he’d informed me that if I was breaking up with him, I needed to do it in person. And then calling from the train station not far from my house, scaring me. How cruel I ended up being to him on the phone.
My building was so quiet I could hear the splash of urine in my upstairs neighbor’s toilet bowl. According to my landlord, he was a Japanese violin maker. But all I ever heard was his soft footfall; his piss. I was trying to begin graduate school life, but it was going badly, with the sleep deprivation and the late night calls.
I guess I told my neighbor the famous visiting editor who was leading my writing workshop had called me out for coming to class unprepared. That I’d torn though all of my material the first-ever class I taught, then realized only twenty minutes had passed. That I’d visited the famous women-owned bookstore in my neighborhood. My idea that I’d work there part-time. Join a community of women, now that I was single. But the cashier had snapped at me that I needed to close the door so the cat wouldn’t get out.
In the clouds, airplanes appeared and reappeared like a line of stitches in laundered-thin quilt. Sitting beside our bikes on the weedy bank, the sun had a chance to warm us. “See that plane up there?” my neighbor said at last. “It seems like everyone on it must have it made. But how much do you want to bet every single passenger is up there asking themselves why does happiness elude me? What am I supposed to be doing. I’d be complete if I could just have that job, that partner, that lucky break.”
I know; I know. It sounds simplistic now. But for some reason, sitting on the warming dirt beside our bikes, I laughed. The night of drink and self-pity began to turn the corner in my mind. I never saw that guy again. It really was an extremely quiet building.
Bidar means awake. Patricia Bidar is a writer and California native looking forward to life’s third act.