First

February 21, 2002

First

I can’t recall what she said or did or even what the fight was about, but I know that we were standing outside a place in Harvard Square called The Garage, which isn’t a garage at all but an indoor mall. Also there was a trash can there, right where we were standing, so I kicked it over, or did something else to it, I don’t remember what exactly. She was – this I remember well – surprised; I could see it in her eyes.

I’m not given to violent displays, but the feelings between us were so intense that if we weren’t fighting, we were fucking, or about to fight, or fuck, sometimes it didn’t matter which.

This time, though, we were definitely fighting. And so while I was doing whatever I was doing to the can (which plenty of people were watching me do), I shouted, “I never want to see you again! Get the fuck out of my life!” Something to that effect.

As it turned out, that just the first of many breakups. It was the most dramatic but not the most traumatic – not by far. That one occurred six years later, in her apartment in San Francisco, as I reached down to untie my sneakers. All she said was, “Don’t untie them.”

February 14, 2002

Floating

E-meter

At the first office I was given a piece of paper and was told to deliver it to a person in a second office. At the second office I was given a different piece of paper and was told to bring it to a third office. At the third office a bald man took the paper and asked me to sit down across from him.

On the table between us was a device with a meter with two metal tubes attached to it by wires. The man explained how the device worked. I was to hold a metal tube in each hand. When my reactive mind was triggered, the meter would register this and the man would report it to me by saying that my needle was “floating.”

The man asked if I understood and I said I did and then he began what he called the process.

When it was over he gave me a new piece of paper to bring to the second office, where I was given a different paper to bring to the first.

Eve was waiting for me in the car.

“How’d it go?” she said, seemingly casual.

The truth is, I had no interest in Scientology. It’s just that Eve couldn’t imagine being with someone who wasn’t a Scientologist, so I had agreed to try this one thing this one time, knowing what it meant to her. We both knew, although we never acknowledged it, that if things went badly, which they likely would, we would break up and I would leave Los Angeles.

“It went fine,” I said. “The only weird thing was the part where he says that your needle is floating.”

“Why did that seem weird?”

“It just seemed to be floating a lot.”

Eve’s eyes narrowed. “Wait, he did explain this to you, right?”

“About the needle? Yes. But it was weird because every time he said that, I felt okay. We’d be talking something and he’d say that my needle was floating and I’d think, ‘Why it is floating again? I really thought I was over that thing.'”

Now Eve was livid. “He was telling you you’re okay! When your needle is floating, you’re okay! It’s his job to make sure you understand this!”

She slammed her hand on the dashboard. “Shit!”

This was the end. Eve knew it and I knew it, and it was terribly sad, a sad stupid waste. However the mix-up about my needle floating was just too fucking funny, and I burst out laughing.

February 11, 2002

Gum

My tenth birthday party

My best friend growing up was Richard Sauginkan. My mother says we met by crashing our pedal cars together, but I don’t really remember it. In fact I barely remember Richard at all.

I have only one photo of him, taken at my tenth birthday. He sits to my left, wearing a light brown jacket and holding a slice of pizza in his mouth and making a peace sign. If it weren’t for this photo, I would have no way of knowing what he looked like. He looked like Sal Mineo.

But for all I’ve forgotten, I do remember this: everyone loved Richard. I recall my mother saying how gorgeous he was. And it was true: he was a looker. And not just a looker but a sweet-tempered kid.

When we were ten, Richard convinced two neighborhood girls to play kissing games with us. I would have given anything to kiss either girl, but it was clear they both preferred Richard. Not that I minded so much. Of course it hurt when Lisa Rothman kept turning her head away during Seven Minutes in Heaven, but I had no problem with either girl liking Richard. Richard glowed.

When we were eleven, he and his family moved to Syracuse. We said goodbye in the street, standing next to his family’s station wagon, which was packed full with boxes. After Richard got into the car, I walked around back and stuck the piece of gum I was chewing under the fender.

I don’t believe that Richard and I ever corresponded, and then, years later, I learned that he died at nineteen of a heroin overdose.

That was twenty-three years ago. And it’s been thirty-one years since I watched his family’s station wagon turn onto the next street.

In thinking about that day, I imagine it must have been traumatic to watch my best friend drive away like that; but the truth is, I don’t remember it. My last memory, as well as my most vivid, is of sticking the gum under the fender. If memories were like films, the screen would go black at that moment and the credits would begin to roll.

February 7, 2002

Pool Hall

I ran into my grandfather last week in the pool hall at Mott and Houston. I was just passing by and got the urge to play. My grandfather’s been dead over a decade now. He was alone at one of the tables in back.

He looked the same as always and was smoking the same brand of cigars. I recognized the smell immediately; that’s what made me look.

Funny thing: it was my other grandfather, Abbie, who played pool. This one, Max… I never saw him play a game of any kind, not even a card game. Aren’t grandfathers supposed to play card games? All this man ever did was sit in his recliner and smoke cigars.

When I saw him I thought maybe I was wrong about him being dead. This is not as crazy as it seems, since I don’t have much contact with my father’s side of the family. It goes back to my father, who calls me once a year to say he wants to have a relationship with me. Except he doesn’t say it like that. Instead he talks in this weird lingo he picked up from The Forum, saying things like, “I want to acknowledge your willingness to put yourself out there and share your authentic truth.” I try to be nice about it – my father has feelings, the same as anyone – but it’s hard to get around the fact that my authentic truth, when it comes to him, is fuck off.

My sister is the one who keeps in touch with him, so it must have been through her that I learned that Max had died. It’s strange, though, because I don’t remember her telling me this. Or maybe it’s not so strange given that my memory is not the greatest and I hardly knew Max.

It was Abbie I knew. We were close. In fact he was the one who taught me to play pool. We’d go to a place in Roosevelt Mall and play for hours at a time.

Because of this it was confusing to see the wrong grandfather at the pool hall. And then to top it off, I had the awful feeling of wanting him to be Abbie. Because Max… Well, I don’t really know for sure, but my sister says he used to beat my father with a board or something. I don’t know how she claims to know this, but he certainly never hit me. In fact he rarely ever sat up in his recliner. Still, my sister usually knows what she’s talking about, so I suppose it probably happened.

Then I remembered something else my sister told me. Actually this was the first thing I remembered. She said that my father used to hit me as well. Just not with a board. Honestly I don’t remember what he hit me with. Anyway I can’t say for sure that it happened, except that my sister is pretty insistent about it.

So when I saw Max again, I thought about him hitting my dad and my dad hitting me, and the whole thing just put me in a shitty mood. Perhaps I overreacted, but after that I decided to leave the pool hall.

On the way out I had this crazy thought that I was going to see Abbie coming down the street. In fact I constructed this entire cornball fantasy where I run up and embrace him and tell him how much I’ve missed him. It was all so vivid that I started to sort of cry (in the pool hall, I mean), and the guy at the counter said, “You alright?” and I said, “Sure, I’m fine,” and then I got the hell out of there.

Naturally Abbie wasn’t coming down the street. I didn’t have to look to know this, but I looked anyway. He wasn’t coming.

February 6, 2002

Dark

The voice is always the same: a kind of a barely controlled rage. It doesn’t frighten me. I hear it, and know, and I’m with her again.

This most recent time she shouted, “What the fuck is your problem!” It’s always something like this. I put my arm around her, to wake her.

“I had a bad dream,” she said.

“I know. It’s okay.”

“You were there. My mom was in the basement screaming at us to get downstairs. She would always scream like that. I don’t think she had any idea. I felt embarrassed because you were there.”

I pulled her closer and fixed the blanket.

“She doesn’t know what happened,” she said. “She’s forgotten everything.”

“I have too,” I said. “It’s easier that way.”

Her cheek was resting against my chest. I felt her tilt her head back to look at me, not that she would have seen anything in the dark.

“That’s true,” she said, “you have.”