Catching Up With Friends

Considering that I used to see this particular friend on a daily basis, it’d been quite a while since we got the chance to hang out. She was a “traveling kid,” meaning that she hopped trains and hitchhiked her way up, down, and across the country. She also happens to be around my age, intelligent, and particularly attractive, so of course, our closeness was suspect to my girlfriend at the time.

She and I were standing in the kitchen, beers in hand, and I was ritualistically chiding her for wasting her biology degree from UC Berkeley when Girlfriend said, “I’m going out for a smoke if you want one.” It was less of an invitation, and more of a demand.

She puffed impatiently at the cigarette while she told me that she didn’t like how close we were standing. “I feel like you two are doing your own little thing and I’m not allowed in the conversation at all!”

She was right – we were blocking her out for the sake of expedience. When you’re friends with someone for years and you see each other every day, you develop a kind of conversational shorthand that can be exclusive. That, and Girlfriend’s attitude wasn’t exactly making either of us thrilled about having her jump in.

At some point while we were outside, my friend got a call from a fellow traveling kid, informing her that their mutual acquaintance had died. I can’t recall from what exactly – the traveling lifestyle is wrought with dangerous activities like jumping onto fast-moving metal death boxes, riding those death boxes through harsh climates, catching rides with total strangers, and frequent meth and heroin use.

I’m not sure how close they were, either, but my friend was clearly rocked by the news. I did my best to console her, but my expressions of loving sympathy were too much for Girlfriend to handle. She went off the rails (pun intended), and started screaming at my friend. “Don’t think you can just come in here and take MY! BOYFRIEND! with me sitting right fucking here!”

My friend choked back tears and tried to explain that she wanted none of this sweet, sweet lovin’, but there was no getting through the wall of rage and jealousy Girlfriend had quietly been erecting the whole night. All she saw was red.

Finally my friend had had enough of being screamed at while simultaneously mourning the loss of her companion, and she ran out my front door, face in her hands. Girlfriend started after her, and in an attempt to stop the situation from continuing its downward spiral, I grabbed her in a bear hug. She flailed for a second, then reached around and grabbed the underside of my bicep and pinched as hard as she could until I let go. Then she ran out the door after her grieving target.

I took a breath, assessing how much I cared about continuing my involvement. I stared at the recently-slammed door thinking, “If I just lock it…” I sighed, in part because I was out of breath from the struggle, and in part because I knew I had to do something; I needed to help my friend at a minimum. I ran out the door, and found my friend sitting on the grass around the corner, still crying, with my girlfriend knife-handing and yelling in her face.

“Go back inside!” I yelled. I’m not sure why I thought that would work, but it did. She ran back to the apartment. I got about three sentences into trying to make my friend feel better when Girlfriend rounded the corner, steaming back in our direction. There was murder in her eyes, so I apologized to my friend then ran to intercept her.

We went back to the apartment to consume vastly more alcohol, and puff away at countless more cigarettes. My friend took the opportunity to find respite elsewhere, Girlfriend took the opportunity to continue belittling me as best she could for being a philanderer, and I took the opportunity to daydream alternatively about being single and being dead on a train track in the middle of nowhere – both sounded pretty awesome in that moment.

I eventually chose the former, but not before proving Girlfriend right. “If I’m constantly being accused of cheating no matter what I do, then I might as well be enjoying the thing I’m in trouble for,” I thought. Or I could have been an adult and just broken it off, but that’s just not my MO.

A Not-So-Brief Review of A Not-So-Brief Engagement – Part IV

We were on the Coast Starlight Train heading north after my mother’s wedding, just past sunset and San Francisco. The conversation turned to our status as relationship partners, as it often does after a wedding. She told me that she had fallen in love her 54 year old writing partner. “Honestly, I haven’t exactly been present lately and you’ve been working closely on an emotionally intense project. I’m obviously upset, but so long as you haven’t acted on it or communicated that to him, I think it’s something we can work on.”

We agreed that we were both at fault and she assured me that she had come to me first, but I hadn’t exactly cooled off by the time the train came to a halt in Sacramento. It was about 1am, there weren’t any cabs and Uber didn’t exist, so we were walking home. It’s tough to communicate your anger in your stride when you’ve got large rolling bags trailing behind you.

When we got home, I was putting things away, and she was typing frantically on her laptop in the next room. That wasn’t exactly out of character given that she was a poet, but this seemed different. I asked her what she was writing, and she said “nothing,” which was definitely out of character. I asked to see her computer – nothing in the sent folder, but there’s a Trash folder in just about every email ever in case you weren’t aware. She was unaware.

“I told Sean that I loved you tonight.” I don’t remember what the rest of it said, but I’m pretty sure that’s not something you say unless you’ve talked about it previously.

“Get out of my home.” I felt confident that the proportion of the bills I was paying allowed me that sentence, so I went for it. She packed a couple bags for immediate use, and I did my best not to talk to her. It was late, and I caved in the face of her crying, and said it would be fine if she stayed there for the night, but the next morning she had to leave.

She did, and that was the end of our engagement and that three-year chapter of our young lives. I waffled on my conviction to end it, but her choice to move in with the subject of her infatuation made it easy to maintain a hard line on both sides. With the gift of hindsight, it was the right choice for a litany of reasons, but when you’re young and in love, it’s nearly impossible to see straight.

I made similar mistakes in the name of love since, and I’ll likely make them again in the future. I drink in spite of the hangover, and I fall in love knowing that it’ll come to a crushing end eventually. I’m a strong proponent of jumping off the cliff and figuring it out on the way down – the rush is worth it.

A Not-So-Brief Review of A Not-So-Brief Engagement – Part III

I took her on a backpacking trip, and we got a late start so we didn’t arrive in Yosemite until 1am, but being us, we decided to start the hike anyway. We were tired and winded, and stopped in a clearing to catch our breath. I asked if she’d like some water from my pack, then got down on one knee and didn’t give her any of the water she asked for. She cried and hugged me and said yes under a beautifully full moon, and at the tender age of 20 we were engaged.

I was nearing the end of my college career and was told for the first time I needed to complete three quarters of a foreign language. Taking them sequentially would’ve extended my time in school, and I wasn’t having any of that. In my scrambling for a solution, I discovered that going to a foreign country for three months allowed you to do all three required quarters of language classes in one go, so duh that’s what I did.

Because I was engaged, it took a little extra planning and money (thank you parents), but not too long after we were both on our way to Madrid – me to take classes and her to teach English. We had a beautiful studio apartment on Calle de Toledo near Plaza Mayor. The cabinets and desk were built in, the floors were marble, and there were huge windows that looked down on the vibrant streets of metropolitan Spain. I did my homework in bars where I got help from locals who argued over verb conjugation, and I actually watched sports with a vested interest for the first and only time in my life.

One night we went to a Gogol Bordello concert, which I’d highly recommend you try – gypsies know how to party. After, we headed to the nearest expat bar to continue the drinking we had started before the show. There was a pair of fairly attractive women standing at the bar, and as soon as I turned my back she was making out with the one with blue hair. Call me old-fashioned, but if you’re in an agreed-upon exclusive relationship, making out with any gender without a discussion with your partner is just not cool. I was upset, I said as much, and stormed out of the bar.

There was a whiskey place nearby that was extremely packed and had rock music blaring over the speakers. She followed me in, was incredibly inebriated, and dressed in a mini skirt and a leather jacket. The bouncers of the bar saw her repeatedly trying to get my attention, saw me rebuff her, and figured, “this chick is a prostitute that’s disturbing our patrons!” So they promptly flanked her, picked her up off the ground, and dropped her off outside the bar. At the same time, the two whiskeys I ordered arrived, and I had a really hard time walking away from them to go tend to someone who had just upset me. I downed one of them, took a sip of the second, sighed heavily, and walked outside.

I didn’t talk to her – I just kept walking. We had another friend with us, so I spent my time venting to him. There was a group behind us that I didn’t pay much attention to. I hailed a cab, and when I turned around she wasn’t there. I was too tired and angry to wait for her, so I got in the cab to go home. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized she had the keys to the apartment. I slept on the stoop, and she finally rode up in another cab after the sun was up, and she had an orange bag that she had swiped from a construction site over her shoulder. We both stumbled up the stairs and went to sleep in the hopes that these feelings wouldn’t still be there when we woke up.

I was shaken awake because she had a bloody nose, and it freaked her out. I told her it was probably nothing, and was reluctant to deal with her as she was still pretty hammered, and I was still pretty pissed off (and also maybe a little drunk). She woke me up again when she screamed. She went to blow her nose, and her her face near her eye immediately inflated like a fleshy water balloon.

I learned that she had been separated from my friend and me when the group we were walking with veered down a different street. In the hopes of spotting us, she climbed some nearby scaffolding, but her high heels weren’t up to the task. She slipped, and pinballed off the beams with her face on the way down. In the process, she fractured her orbital bone, so when she blew her nose, snot and blood flew through the new opening in her sinus cavity, filling the area around her eye underneath the skin. Also she was concussed.

Once I pieced all that together via some hungover Googling and the parts of the story she was able to spit out between gross facial secretions and immediate unconsciousness, I woke her up again and dragged her to the nearest emergency room. Pro-tip: foreign emergency waiting rooms are a great place to hash out relationship problems. Apparently I cared more about her physical well being than I did about being slighted. Go figure.

A Not-So-Brief Review of A Not-So-Brief Engagement – Part II

Our first romp in the grass was literally in the grass of the local YMCA, as our drunkenness gave way to the sun rising over the San Fernando Valley – clearly we were in love. Things progressed as quickly as the 350 miles between us would allow. We spoke on the phone every day, and we made frequent trips to visit one another in our respective cities. After six months or so, we couldn’t stand to be apart, so we decided to find an apartment in a neighboring town, as her artistic sensibilities, and disdain for college towns and the shackles of higher learning in general wouldn’t allow her to be in the same town as a university.

It was our first time having our own space, and I got wrapped up her hippie fun and frolicking. Our apartment was filled with beautiful antique furniture that we coated in day glow, stacks of records and books that spilled out of every shelf, and half-finished paintings and drawings that were done in varying states of inebriation. Luckily it was in a shitty neighborhood, so nobody really minded the loud young couple next door. Except that one time.

There’s a game called the “Dude v. Fuck Game” – you watch The Big Lebowski, and each time someone says “Dude,” the Dude Team takes a shot, and each time someone says “Fuck,” the Fuck Team takes a shot. She and I decided to play by ourselves with a bottle of rum, that in all likelihood we shoplifted from the nearby grocery store. I don’t remember who was on what team, and really it doesn’t matter. This game was likely to kill us both if we kept going at the one shot pace, so it soon became half a shot, then a quarter, then just a sip.

“I have to tell you something,” she said about three quarters of the way through the movie, her voice quivering with the fear of what might come next. “I cheated on you.”

It felt like I got punched in the chest. Hard. The wind left my lungs and I made every attempt to unhear what I heard. As the air filled my lungs again, so too did the kind of anger that only youth and half a bottle of rum might allow for.

“HOW LONG AGO?!” I finally got to after a run of ranting.

“Six months, maybe? I’m not really sure. I was really drunk, and it was just the one time, and I regretted it right away, and I couldn’t tell you!”

“Damn straight you couldn’t! I never would have moved in with you! I could have avoided all of this!” The yelling wasn’t cutting it anymore. My arms started thrashing around – I threw things, I broke things, I punched things. I have a distinct memory of pushing her against the fridge, but I was blinded by rage and too much alcohol, so I don’t recall much else.

There was a pounding on the door. I could see red and blue lights flashing through the window. “Open up!” I sobered to the degree I could and opened the door. I was immediately taken onto my porch and put into handcuffs. I hadn’t hurt her in any physical way, though repeatedly calling her a “whore” probably didn’t feel great emotionally. We each explained our sides to the story.

“I know you’re hurt right now, son, but is this really something you want to go to jail for? Because that’s where this is headed.” The police officer took a kinder approach than I expected. Maybe he was used to seeing so much worse when he arrived at scenes like this, or maybe he felt pity for me because he had been in a similar situation, either way, his approach was appreciated.

I was let up, and the rest of the night was quieter. As it has the tendency to do, love conquered our negative emotions. We resolved to work it out – we knew that with grit and determination and willful ignorance we could make it work. Dammit, we were better than all those other couples, and this would just be another shining example of how true that sentiment was. Love was all that mattered, and we definitely still had that, at least. “Love is all you need” and shit, right?

“Sooner or later you’re going to have to face the fact that you’re a moron.”
– The Dude

A Not-So-Brief Review of A Not-So-Brief Engagement – Part I

I was at the tail end of my first year of college, and on one of my too-frequent trips back to The Valley to putz around doing not much of anything. I dropped my friend off in the parking lot of one of the many strip malls that litter the suburbs of my hometown, popped two hits of acid into my mouth and drove away in no particular direction. After three or four aimless turns, I decided to head back to see what my friend was up to for the rest of the night.

“Sean!” I heard a female voice from behind me that wasn’t immediately recognizable, and I turned just in time to catch the embrace of one of my former classmates from AP English in 11th Grade. We hadn’t hung out much, but she was always someone that caught my eye. She was always dressed in ridiculous, haphazard outfits, her hair and makeup were always a finely-tuned mess, and she was absent from class about as often as I was.

“Me and my friends are going to a poetry reading across the street – do you wanna come?”

“Sure!” I eked out, as I swallowed the two small pieces of paper that were still moistening under my tongue. I had never been to a poetry reading before, and per usual, I was in the mood for a new experience.

The event was in the back room of a piano shop. I was ushered in along with my lady friend and her hoard of regulars. It was dark, had a blue hue to it, and was filled with your standard hippy amount of local art, tapestries at odd angles, and stray cushions. I sat at a table by myself, and waited to be entertained.

“Welcome to the [I forgot the name of the show] Poetry Night!” boomed the overweight, heavily-bearded host with an ironic and expensive black hat covering his receding hairline. “As most of you here know, each and every one of the people here is required to come up on stage and perform something!”

Oh shit… I thought. Maybe if I just sit quietly, I won’t be noticed. There are so many people here… They can’t know everybody.

They can. “You there!” The host was pointing directly at me. “I don’t recognize your face, and I noticed that you’ve yet to go up on stage. It’s the end of the night, which means it’s your turn to get up here!”

Just then the effects of the acid started peaking. I hesitantly got up out of my chair, went up on stage, and sat on the stool in the center.

“My name is Sean Farrell, and this is my first time.”

My memory clicks off here. I don’t know what exactly it is that I said, but I spoke for about five minutes. My memory clicks back on as I thank the audience and walk offstage into a sea of applause, hooting, hollering, and women wiping tears from their eyes.

The host came up to me, clasped me firmly by the hand and said, “That was truly incredible, man. You’re welcome to come back here and do that again any time you want!”

“Thank you, but I really don’t think that I can.”

The rest of the evening is a blur, as I was whisked from place to place with this new group of poet friends, and one old classmate who I had managed to woo with my performance. Bottles of red wine were passed around, I drank heartily, endearing myself to the group all the more as that’s what artists do, and to them, I was an artist.