Thursday, June 3, 2010

How to Become a Girlfriend

I cannot even begin to describe the differences between last summer and this summer.

Last summer I was committed to my writing. I'd set a deadline for myself. I wanted my story manuscript to be done by the end of May. So, for that first glorious month off, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I also did a lot of yoga, walking, and eating of All Bran products.

At lunch, I stopped writing and paused for egg salad (or tuna or bologna or turkey) sandwiches and to watch a little West Wing. I'd try to write again in the afternoon, and at 4:30, I was starving and spending many minutes telling myself it was insane to get hungry at 4:30 PM, that no one but 85 year-olds get hungry for dinner at 4:30 PM, that surely getting hungry at 4:30 PM meant I was a freak--a depressed little freak--and that I needed something other than food to occupy my mind.

Occasionally, I'd meet Emily in Portland for drinks or force my office-mate to fill large water bottles with white wine so we could stand in the never-ending ocean mist of Summer 2009 and watch the tide come in.

It was a quiet summer.

This summer, however, is not quiet.

This summer I'm staying up late and sleeping in late and eating at strange hours and saying yes to everything. Do I want to drink martinis and play Dance, Dance Revolution? Yes! Do I want to drive to the top of the parking ramp downtown and take pictures? Yes! Do I want to have some drinks and then go make fun of the bad screenwriting in the new Robin Hood movie? Yes! Do I want to learn how to drive a manual transmission, even though I am confident I will suck at it? Yes! Do I want to drink more Jagermeister than I've drunk in my entire life? Yes! Do I want to go sit in a tiny room and see a tattoo being etched into someone's skin? Yes!

And this--the tattoo-watching--brings me to my point: I am now someone's girlfriend.

This may not have been the point you thought you were going to get out of the tattoo story, but, well, it is.

It started like this:

On Friday night, at 10:30 PM, I was standing in my kitchen, in front of a steaming wok, and I was making stir-fry. Normally, 10:30 would be way past my dinner time, but my entire sense of time has been skewed in the last month because there's this boy here now, and we stay up late, and we sleep in even later, and we sometimes forget to eat, and when we do remember to eat, it's usually at awkward times. I'm skipping breakfast and eating lunch at 4:30 in the afternoon.

And Friday was really no different. We'd been running around all day, and finally, after we got back to my apartment, we were starving. So I was doing my thing--I was chopping onion and mushroom and peppers--when the boy came and leaned next to me.

"So," he said, "I'm trying to figure out how to introduce you tomorrow."

Saturday was going to be a big day for him. We had to wake up early in the morning so that the boy could get his second tattoo. And I would guess that normally, in a regular ol' tattoo shop, no one would bat an eye if a guy brought a girl in the door with him. They'd just assume that the girl was the guy's woman, his old lady. But we weren't going to a tattoo shop for this tattoo. We were going to the house of a guy the boy used to work with. He did tattoos in a space off his living room, and he would probably be mildly interested in the girl who was sitting in the corner with her nose buried deep into Aryn Kyle's Boys and Girls Like You and Me. I would have to be acknowledged somehow.

"I think it's really sweet that you're thinking about this," I said.

"I want to introduce you as my girlfriend," he said. He flashed a smile at me--and that's when things started going a little crooked in my head. This boy has a smile with wattage that does some serious damage when it's aimed directly at you. This, among other things, is the reason he has quite the following of girls, a verifiable harem. Wherever he goes, women of all ages fall down around him. His aura is constructed completely of charm. And when that charm is directed at me, I'm useless. Absolutely useless.

He is, if nothing else, a lady-killer.

And The Lady-Killer had recently begun trying to convince me that I should be his girlfriend. At the beginning, I wasn't too keen on the idea, but a few weeks into things I was lying in bed and listing for him all the things that could go disastrously wrong if we really got into a relationship together, which clearly meant I was considering it. Here's how we would fail, I said. Here's what you would hate about me. Here's how I'd drive you absolutely fucking crazy.

But TLK didn't care about any of that. He just kissed me and told me he knew what he wanted.

And on Friday night, he was telling me again he really wished I was his honest-to-God girlfriend, that he could introduce me that way.

"So introduce me that way," I said.

"But it's not true," he said. "I don't want to say something that's not true." And then he smiled again, opening his eyes--also beautiful, also lethal--wide.

And looking at him--that smile, those eyes--I couldn't help myself. I heard all the lists I'd been making, the ones that had been clattering around inside my skull, suddenly go quiet. Then I heard only one thing, and that thing was telling me to stop being a pussy and just do it.

"Well, maybe it should be true," I said.

He stared at me. This wasn't exactly the response he'd been expecting.

I stirred the wok and set the spoon aside. "It could be true," I said. "I mean, you wear me down about everything else. You always get what you want."

"Oh!" he said. "I see! You don't really want to! You'd just do it to get me to shut up!"

I stood on my tiptoes and matched our foreheads together. "That's not what I mean at all," I said, "and you know it. I'm saying you're very persuasive, and this is what I want, but I've been scared. It's going to happen eventually, so why not now?"

"Really?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"No, really?" he asked.

I told him yes, really, really, really. It was true. I was his girlfriend now. And why? Because he'd needed to know how exactly to introduce me to the guy who would spend a few hours inking his skin the next morning. But it was more than that, of course. It was because I was happy, that I was delirious, that I was breathless from a month of being with him. It was because I knew I was going to give in eventually, that I wanted what he wanted, that I always had.

And the next morning I spent four hours in a chair holding his legs because the room was too small and the chair was too small for him to stay on his side without help. I held his legs and flipped through my book, through his magazine, through my magazine. I made small talk with a tattoo artist with a bald head and a kilt, and I told jokes and watched as first the outline then the blue went onto his skin. And outside, just beyond the door, summertime reruns were playing on the television and just-born puppies were yowling. I sat very, very still and thought how strange everything was, but how nice, too. I couldn't stop thinking about how, just before falling asleep the night before, he'd said, "Goodnight, Girlfriend" and I'd said, "Goodnight, Boyfriend" and that was the only thing in my head--that and nothing, nothing else. I didn't hear my lists and my reasons why we shouldn't. I didn't hear panic. I didn't hear what everyone else was going to say. I heard nothing but him, nothing but me, and that was almost as good as a miracle.

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