Do you know why I always wake up every other morning at 8am even though I don’t have to start work until 3 in the afternoon? It’s because I like having the gym to myself. I monopolize it in the mornings. There might be a lot of uncertainties in my life, but if there is one thing I could definitely be sure about, it is that there would be no one in the gym except me at that specific time. No one would look at me, no one would pester me, and I won’t have any competition to the only cross fitness trainer that they have. So, imagine how appalled I was when I saw you there. With my trainer. At 8 in the freaking morning! Well, I could have said something but you were good looking.
You barely spoke english, and you don’t know any arabic word except for habibi. Usually, I would think that you’re stupid for coming to Egypt to build sites when you couldn’t speak anything else other than italian. Talking to you was so painful I kept fantasizing I would get struck by a lightning just so your little attempts at hitting on me could end already and I could go back to my training. But you were handsome and I let you get away with it. You had the most delicious, fudge brownie eyes and the longest eye lashes that curl up when you laughed. Your hair was long and had soft wavy twirls. You had this cute, tall nose that would crunch up when you’re thinking deeply of an english word. That happens every ten seconds by the way.
You puzzled me, Nicco. I don’t know how you managed to flirt with me in one hour without even speaking. I mean, you spoke, but it’s all gibberish. I might as well be talking to a toddler. I guess action does speak louder than words, ‘eh?
“I. Cairo day one only. Habibi. Tomorrow. Work go one year.” You said and I just stared at you like you were someone or something from Mars. A very good looking creature from Mars.
“Italy yesterday bye bye. Today hello Cairo. Work one year.” You said trying again.
“Oh. OK.” I said, hoping that I understood your message right.
I thought you were adorable trying so hard to make sense out of probably 50 english words that you know. I gave you A+ for the effort. And my number too. We spent the next few days talking on the phone. I wasn’t really sure you can consider what?, huh?, hmmm?, OK?, and repeat again an actual conversation, but that’s how we talked. Actually, we laughed more than we spoke. I think we laughed a lot because it was a lot easier to do. Two weeks later, I found myself already speaking in your language. And by your language, I didn’t mean italian!
“You dinner eat, habibi?” You asked.
“No dinner eat.” I answered.
“I you girlfriend me, habibi.” You said.
I didn’t say anything.
“Habibi, you sleep?”
“No,” I answered.
“I want you girlfriend me, habibi. You understand?”
“I no understand.” I lied.
“You girlfriend me, habibi. I boyfriend you. OK?”
“OK,” and that’s how we got official.
I have a boyfriend! I have a fucking italian boyfriend! I told my friends about you and they all scratched their heads.
* * *
“Why would you want to have a boyfriend like that?” They all sang in chorus. I think they were just jealous.
“Because he wants to be with me? And because he’s not Egyptian which means I can have a normal relationship?” I told them sourly because they weren’t being supportive.
“It’s not normal. You guys can’t even talk to each other.” They teased.
But they were wrong, Nicco. They were wrong. We’re normal and we were having a normal relationship. We would go to the gym together. We would have brunches together. We went out during weekends. We watched Dumb and Dumber dubbed in Italian and subtitled in english on your laptop. And we cuddled and kissed and tickled each other and laughed like any normal couples did. It was a normal thing to do–to laugh when you are being tickled! My friends were just being hyper judgmental.
* * *
On the way to a salsa party one evening, my best friend, Ashraf, asked me why I was doing this.
“Why am I doing what?” I asked him and shot him a deadly look.
“This. You and Nicco. Are you that desperate? You know it’s not going to work out.” Ashraf said sounding really convinced of his own theory.
“You said it’s going to work. I’m just following your advice.” I told him.
“What advice?!” He asked as he pushed the pedal brakes so hard it almost sent me flying out of the dashboard.
Look, Ashraf is my best friend. He knows everything, like everything. Like, basically, everything written in this book. And everything that is not written in this book. He’s my shrink. At least that’s how I refer to him. And he is also the most pragmatic, realistic person I ever know. He calculates the success rate of any relationship based on statistics, and he is usually 92% accurate (based on a pretty patronizing percentage that he gave to himself.) On his last calculation, he said that my success rate to a happy relationship is 64% higher if I date foreign men than egyptian men. Same background, same field of experience, same concept of relationship, you know, the works! And I just followed his advice. Nicco is cute, he’s Italian, he’s an expat like me, and he’s here in Cairo and he likes me! Check! Check! Check! Nicco fits the category!
“Jennifer, your success rate at happiness in dating foreign men is 64% higher if and only if he speaks english!” He said really slowly hoping that doing so would make the numbers sink in to me.
“OK. So what is my success rate with Nicco now?” I asked, and Ashraf does his mental math for what seemed like forever.
He looked at me straight in the eye and said with a voice full of conviction, “3.1416%.”
“That’s unfair! You just gave me the equivalent of pi!”
“Seriously, why are you doing this? You know it’s not going to work out.”
“I don’t know that, Ash Ash. If it works out then khalas! I’m happy, and if it doesn’t work out, khalas! It’s an experience. Dating a guy who I barely understood? It sounds like a love-conquers-all kind of story. Very romantic. It could be a material for my next novel, who knows?”
* * *
It was a long weekend which meant you and I were finally going to have sex. God, I waited for this moment. We sucked at communicating. My idea of a perfect day is sushi followed by quality watermelon flavored shisha. Your idea of a perfect day? Watching football Italia. I read Yann Martel and John Green. You subscribed to For Men magazine. I love Al Pacino movies. You love Will Smith movies dubbed in italian. I love dancing salsa, you have two left feet. I grew up watching The Simpsons, then South Park, then Futurama. You think the most brilliant show on TV is Sponge Bob dubbed in italian. My idea of a simple dinner is a kofta wrap or felafel sandwich at the least. Your idea of simple dinner? Chipsy. Or microwavable popcorn. Fine, so we liked different things. So, we’re two completely different people, but opposites attract, hence the idiom, right? We balance each other. Yeah! That’s what we do! We might suck at everything else, but man, we will have great sex! Hardcore, tiring, over-extended hot, sizzling sex!
But it was the most silent sex I ever had in my life. No headboards were broken. There was no screaming, no moaning. Nothing. Our hardcore, tiring, over-extended hot, sizzling sex lasted two minutes, Nicco. Two. Fucking. Minutes.
Total radio silence.
* * *
As much as I hate to admit this, Ash Ash was right. Nicco and I had 3.1416% chance. Maybe even less. Our relationship ended not because we sucked at everything together. Obviously, it was a big part of the equation, but all of those factors can be worked on if we tried. With a little practice, he could get better at speaking english. If I started taking a language course, I could learn italian in a few months. The sex? It’s something that we can improve through time, or do I just sound like someone who is highly optimistic? What is difficult to work on, however, is trust and honesty. A few days after we had sex, Nicco sent me an sms that was meant to be for someone else.
“Marwa habibi. U girfren me. I boyfren u. OK? mwah mwah <3”
And that was it. It was a weird break up period. Usually, after a relationship ended, I would have to stock my freezer with at least three gallons of ice cream to last my mourning period of at least five days. I wouldn’t be getting out of bed for days and I would just be crying, either on my bed or on the bathroom floor. Well, sometimes the kitchen floor works too. I usually obsess on my exes too, like I follow them virtually more than an FBI agent could. But with Nicco, in particular, there was no need to cry or mourn, or move on. It was as if nothing happened, and I wasn’t being in denial about it.
Maybe deep down I did know that it wasn’t going to work out. Maybe it was because all I really cared about is being part of a normal relationship. It didn’t matter who I was going to be with. As long as it was normal, as long as I felt wanted, and that the feelings were reciprocated, it was fine. Truth is, I was in love with the idea of falling in love more than the actual person involved. I love love more than I loved Nicco. But at least now I know that the next time I would fall in love, it would be for the right reason. It would be because I fell head over heels for that person and not just the idea of that person. With everything that had gone wrong with Nicco, I was right about two things: 1.) he is an experience, and certainly 2.) a good material to write about. But the best thing about that break up? I got my gym time back!
I started seeing you in November. It had only been two months since Hussein broke up with me. But everything was peachy and fantastic. It was a new relationship and I was excited all over again. I felt jumpy and giddy inside and wanted to do cartwheels on the outside because my heart was too small to contain all of this love. Being in love? I’ve been there, done that! I could recognize that feeling from a mile away. But, with you, it felt as though I was falling in love for the very first time.
I’m not really sure how to start with you. You were Hussein’s twin brother. We met while I was still dating Hussein, and we used to hang out in big groups. You went with us and a couple of our friends to Marina for a short holiday. I was in love with your brother and had no inkling that six months after your brother introduced you to me, we would be screwing each other. I always saw you as just the brother of the guy I was in love with, until you became the guy that I love who just happened to be the twin brother of the guy that I used to love. I know, this is so sick and I wish I could just call it fiction for your sake and mine.
Long story short, Hussein broke up with me and I obsessed on him like I obsess with How I Met Your Mother. I would call you to find out where Hussein is, what he’s doing, who he’s with, and whether or not he’s still seeing that bitch. We went out a few times after the break up, and of course, like any twisted, poorly directed, low-budgeted film, we fell in love and had a lot of sex. Fast forward to three months later, you were gone. Like you never existed. Like we never had sex. That left me lying on my bathroom floor for days. You were the guy that everyone warned me about, Amr. You were bad news! You were high sometimes, you were drunk sometimes, but you were both high and drunk most of the time, in the morning, in the afternoon, and more so at night. You were damaged and I thought I could fix you. I thought you just needed someone to love you, and that if I love you, you would change and become better.
Although what we had didn’t last for too long, it still hurt nonetheless. You took my pride and self-respect with you when you left. And I was broken more than I was before you found me. We exhausted each other. We fought more and slept less. We argued about small things, big things, and everything else in between. Why didn’t you pick up the phone? You don’t miss me enough! Who are you with? Why are you at salsa? You don’t love me! You don’t have time for me! You always go to salsa! No, you’re the one who don’t have time for me. You have always go out with your friends! What time are you coming home? You didn’t call back! Are you hiding something from me? You’re lying! Are you going behind my back? All our silly and stupid fights? They’re called silly and stupid for a reason. We weren’t ready for each other, we weren’t right for each other, and yet I wanted you back. I was a fool in love. Or maybe I was just a fool. Period.
Writing about you and your brother today and looking back on what used to be make me feel strange, foolish, and old. I mean, I’m here sitting in my room trying to feel the pain that you and your twin caused me so that I could have a dramatic finish to a dramatic chapter. It’s a hard thing to do two years later. The brooding, lonely days had long been over. I can hear your names, and smell the exact same fragrant on another guy and it will no longer shoot a big whammy. All the crippling sensations are gone. I can think of your faces, imagine you kissing and holding hands with whoever took my place and the rush of jealousy combined with bitterness doesn’t come. I can look back at every single detail, and remember even the littlest moments and there is no more tightening in my chest. Everything–the songs, objects, and places that I have associated with you–that I kept myself distance from–is finally mine again. I have everything back!
The scars don’t make me wince anymore. Your ghost and Hussein’s shadow stopped haunting me a long time ago. All the photographs had been deleted, letters had been burnt. There is no more proof that both of you existed. That I loved you both, one after the other. That there used to be a we, and that I saw it happening with my very own two eyes. Right after you left, I remember wanting to fully understand what went wrong between us. I never found out actually, but it’s not a big deal anymore. It’s not even anything. Wounds heal, people move on, things are forgotten. I don’t love you anymore. I don’t love Hussein anymore. And I certainly don’t want any of you back. I don’t miss anything from what we had. But I do miss certain feelings, sometimes.
However, what I don’t miss is being that 24 year old woman who loved two brothers like a 16 year old girl. Damn, thinking of how I used to be when I was with Hussein up to the time that you and I were canoodling on my couch? It makes me really cringe. It makes me nauseous. How I acted, how I thought that that was love, how I was convinced that I know how to love, I’m mortified! I was overly dramatic, swallowed in emptiness and pain, desperate in my grave attempts of winning you guys back. I was insane! I wanted you to know how much you ruined me, I wanted my feelings to be validated, I wanted you to feel regret and despair, but I no longer want any of that, I don’t feel like that anymore–somehow, a light bulb had been switched and that girl is just unrecognizable to me right now. Was I really that person? Yes. And now, all I want is to be swallowed up by an open crack. But you and your brother were something that had to happen so I could learn what love is and what it is not, so I could differentiate between love and sexual desire. So that I would know what is healthy and what is lethal. So I would learn what I will and will not accept. So that I would know what it is that I want out of a relationship, and so that I can be with someone whose definition of relationship is the same as mine. It all seems too clear and obvious now, but I didn’t know any of these in the beginning, and neither did you.
After my fall out with Clayton, I shared my bed with a fair amount of guys. Now, this is not about all the one night stands I’ve had since then. This is not about them. This is about you.
Who the hell are you? Seriously. I mean, I literally don’t know. I can remember the exact date and time I sent you running half naked out of my room. It was the morning just before my birthday. And I’m sure you were out before 9 o’clock. I could even remember that I invited you to come to Lava Gold where my friends and I would be celebrating my 23rd. So, we slept together and I couldn’t remember your name. Do you have any idea how frustrating that is for me? Usually, I would remember some pretty amusing details. The tone of voice–low, smoky, rough, dead sexy. The color of the eye–chalk grey, green with touches of brown, blue with a goldish ring in the center, deep black. I’d remember who started undressing who. Whether it was boxers or briefs or commando. The belt and whether or not it matched with the jeans. The number of attempts before my bra was unhooked. Thickness of chest hair, thickness of hair down there, facial hair and hair everywhere else. No, I don’t have any fascination with hair whatsoever, and that’s really gross! I just happen to have a good, graphic memory. I could close my eyes and be reminded of the scent–musky, old spice, aftershave, sandalwood, fruity, or fresh. The position. And the sex of course. I would remember if it was mind-blowing, or sloppy, or slapstick, or so-so. I would always have a Pandora’s box of snippets in my head that would remind me of the night before. I’m so good and awesome at remembering. And I would remember it all. But not with you. Not even your fucking name.
I’ve been juggling my mind for the last hour and nothing. Not even a letter. Is it Mehmet? Or Erkan? Or Gorkem with that funny-looking ‘o’? I’m desperate. I even googled the top 100 names for turkish men just so I could revive a distant recollection. I thought that reading 100 names would bring you a lot closer to me, but all I got was that fleeting feeling from the night before.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I would take full responsibility of my actions, Turkish Guy. But I would still blame my friends all the same. They told me that I should get laid before my birthday, as if having sex with you before my birthday would later serve me a greater purpose in life. Only now did I realize that my friends were really drunk last night. They must have been listening to Jeremih’s hit single in repeat. And they took the song to heart. Birthday sex, right? Don’t take this personally, Turkish Guy. It didn’t necessarily have to be with you, but you just happened to be there, at the same club, and at the same happy hour.
There was more to it than just my friends ribbing me to catch your attention. I was also in the middle of my three-month backpacking trip around South East Asia feeling this inherent pressure to be young and wild and free. I mean, traveling is the ultimate set up for personal growth, life experience, adventure, and casual sex, right?
It was a technicality. It was given, and easy, and there would be no hang-ups the morning after. We both knew what it was from the very beginning. You and I both knew that there’d be nothing good about it except, fingers crossed, sex. That was all there was. It’s great that we signed this invisible contract to stop bullshitting each other and save ourselves from falling into an allusion that maybe, just maybe, we could start to hang out and see each other regularly like normal people who met in an orthodox way do. We had no expectations, no obligations whatever. We didn’t have to agree not to see each other tomorrow. We knew that that’s exactly what’s going to happen. You would be out of the door. And you wouldn’t be coming back. Not even if you left your wallet. There would be no spooning, no cuddling, no holding hands or any act of false intimacy that would equate to weirdness. We didn’t have to pretend that we were interested in each other’s personal lives. We just wanted to get in each other’s pants and that’s what it was. Simple. Clear cut. No strings attached.
What I learned is that there is an openness that usually happens when someone travels to foreign countries. It’s like a switch had been turned on. The shy becomes the social butterfly, and the lamb is transformed to the lion. I had become more fearless and daring in trying new things during this time. I was in a place where I could be anything and anyone I wanted to be. I could have told you that I’m Vietnamese and you would have believed it. I could have told you that my name is Patrice, and you would have bought it. I could have said that I’m a molecular biologist and you wouldn’t dare question it. I was a clean slate. I was a blank canvass. I was whoever I willed you to think I was. I was a new person and everything else around me was new–the people, the food, the culture, the friends that I met at the hostels, the men! It felt like I was this living, breathing testament of that stupid idiom “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Flirting with that brawny Malaysian guy? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! Kissing that random drunk Irish guy in Phuket? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! Fuck-buddying that yummy surfer dude in Bali? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! I was invincible! I was indestructible! No one would know what craziness I got up my sleeves. Unless I post it on facebook. Which, of course, I didn’t.
You were so in Vegas that you wouldn’t have happened in East Lansing, or in Manila, or in Cairo where I am living right now. You were a result, just like the rest of the other results, of my being obsessed with wanderlust. The only disadvantage playing this whole what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas thing was that you managed to sneak into my luggage on my flight back to Manila. The slightest wind could pull the trigger. I could be walking on a shopping center and smell the same cologne, and all of a sudden what happens in Vegas stays in this shopping center. I could be having sushi for dinner and see a guy with the same haircut, and all of a sudden what happens in Vegas stays in this Japanese restaurant.
So, here’s what really went down between us: you were attractive, toned and fit. I liked the shape of your nose and the grayness that you had in your eyes. I was fuck drunk with my friends at a table, and you were fuck drunk by yourself at the bar in that pretentious, meat market club in Khao San Road. Despite my alcohol level at the time, I still noticed that you were staring at me, like intently. It was the kind that made me feel like you were sizing me up and stripping me naked in your filthy, little mind. Look, let me just put it out there. A creepy looking guy stares at me relentlessly and it would be, at best, awkward, and at worst, insulting. But a hot male piece of ass… well! I decided that the best approach was to glare back. Guys don’t capitalize the staring business, after all. So I looked at you for who knows how long until you finally came over and said hi. That ended our mini game of tug of war and we both knew I was the victor! We didn’t need to speak much after that, we just let the alcohol do the rest. Your hand immediately went cruising up and down my spine and man! That felt really good.
But I did think that you have some serious issues because during the taxi ride back to my hotel room, I invited you to come to my birthday party and you said you didn’t have the money. I wasn’t sure if you were asking me to give you money, or you were telling me that you don’t have the money to buy me a present. To this day, I’d like to think it was just too much alcohol plus your perfect grasp and command of the English language. Right there and then, I wanted to take you back to that club where I met you because we were talking about your financial status. One night stands can’t have a money issue! They can have a penis and an open mind and a body but not this. Damn it, who’d be paying for the taxi?
My alarm woke me up at 8:30 and I remembered that I had an organized trip to see the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew at 9. But I realized that my self-worth and value had gone missing. I must have dropped it at that hookup joint when we were wet-kissing. I looked at your naked, sleeping body next to mine, which looked really edible last night, but now just looked like a grotesque chunk of rotten goat cheese. I thought I was gonna get sick. I felt nauseous just seeing you sprawled on my bed like that. I nudged you with my elbow and told you that the police were coming. That got you out of the door in, like, two seconds.
I spent the rest of that day (the day exactly before my birthday) feeling an all time low. I was demoralized by my own doing. I was shattered into little, sharp splinters and was left scattered all over the place. I was filled with this feeling of emptiness. In the end, I guess it really didn’t matter whether or not I remembered your name. Because it wouldn’t make a difference. No, it wouldn’t. You would still be that random dude that I slept with. You would still be that random guy at that sleazy club that seemed like a good idea at that time, but now seemed like an ultimate mistake. If anything, you were a number–an addition to a list of guys who poofed. However, sleeping with you, Turkish Guy, and being reminded later that I couldn’t remember your name made me realize that I shouldn’t be sleeping with people without context and substance. And that ultimately, I should just stop sleeping with anyone who will make feel terrible and awful and disconnected and left alone afterwards.
I met you at a college frat party (whose Greek name I will not divulge for all intended purposes.) A friend (whose name I will also not divulge for the sanctity of my friendship with him,) from an Asian organization I’m a member of, is also a member of that fraternity. Said friend invited me and some of our college friends to said party. It was on a Friday night, and although frat parties, or parties in general weren’t my thing, I went anyway because they said it was going to be fun, and epic, and legendary, and free booze. Ah. The conviction of words. Irresistible. They had me at free booze.
That night started with me getting drunk and then challenging everyone at the pool table to play bets against me, and to make the game more fun, I suggested that everyone play with their left hands. With everyone’s alcohol consumption at the time, everyone just agreed. I won every bet. 80 dollars, four games straight. No one questioned my skill in playing lefty. Everyone just thought that everyone were drunk, and that I just got lucky. Even after I stopped playing, the bets and the games continued on. No one realized what really happened. No one noticed. Except you.
I was counting my winnings in a corner, my red cup already empty, when you came and told me that I was very cheeky. Of course I knew what you were talking about, but I had to pretend I had no idea what you meant. You said I was good at acting drunk too. Maybe you were right. Maybe I was. Or not. It wasn’t that I was good at playing drunk. I just know my alcohol limit and I stop even before I reach that limit. Plus, it’s a hell lot more fun to be the only sober person in a crazy ass party. The joy of seeing my friends’ faces tomorrow when I recount what went down tonight? Priceless.
I asked if you were a brother, and you said that you’ve only been invited. I told you that it was such a coincidence because I was only invited too. And you said that I didn’t look like I would be a fraternity member unless wearing a dress was a very good disguise. I laughed, and you did too. But what you didn’t know is that I was laughing a lot longer than usual because I was having this monologue inside my head.
Is he flirting with me? Should I be flirting back? Ok, he’s kinda cute, no, really cute. Stop staring at his green eyes. Look somewhere else. His nose. His nose, cute, pointy. And only a couple centimeters away from me. Step back. Step back, Jess, your breath smells like draft! You’re gonna kill him! And his lips, thin, and delicate, and very kissable. Goatee, hmmm. I never liked facial hair, but I’m kinda digging that. Stop it, what are you doing, Jess? You’re not that kind of girl. You don’t wanna do this. You think you do, but you really don’t. Listen to me. Don’t listen to me. Where is Mona Lisa? Talking with some random dude at 2 o’clock. Where is Adam? Squashed in some girl’s face at 9 o’clock. OK, I think I’m good. Jess, you’re good. You’re alright. Pat on the back. You’re fine. You’re 21 and you can ‘fuckin do this. Laugh. Smile. Just don’t forget to breathe.
“Everything OK?” you asked.
“‘Course!” I mean, I can’t really tell you that I was just consulting myself for a good minute there, right? I mean, that will probably turn you off. Not that I want to turn you on, or anything! But that will give you the impression that I’m this crazy, mad, person, and I’m not. Like, really, I’m not. Seriously.
Throughout the next hour, you told me that you’re a forestry major and that it’s already your last semester. You said you’d probably take a good time off mountain trekking all over Asia before you start looking for a proper job to pay off your loans. I asked which mountain you would want to climb first, and you said that you still haven’t really planned that far. I don’t know if you were just bullshitting me at that time. I told you that I’m a junior and that I want to become a best-selling author. You asked what I would write about, and I said that I haven’t really thought about it yet. “Maybe you?” And you laughed and probably thought that I was just bullshitting at that time. I was impressed that we managed to talk about stuff even though we were really struggling with the music blasting in the background. It didn’t help that there were a few freshmen throwing up just a few meters away from where we stood.
“You want to go somewhere?” You asked. I can’t remember now if you were whispering it to my ear, or screaming it out loud against my earlobe.
I took a deep, liberating breath. “Do you want to walk me back to the dorm?”
I pulled Mona and Adam by their sleeves and told them that I had too much to drink, and that I’m too tired, and that I’m just gonna walk back home by myself and go to sleep. But I lied. I was a sneaking, cheeky liar. Because in front of the frat house was you, waiting for me to get out so you can walk me home.
The closer we got to my dorm, the faster my heartbeat became. So, now what? Like, do I just invite you in? Is that how it goes? But, I guess, at 1 o’clock in the morning, my foot was a lot faster than my brain, because we were already inside the room even before I could decide if I want to let you in.
You saw a burned copy of 300 on top of Mona’s desk. You asked me if I’ve already seen the movie. And I embarrassingly admitted that I haven’t yet. Your mouth fell open in disbelief.
“How can you do this? We’re spartans! This is Sparta!” You said but I was convinced it was the alcohol talking.
“I was supposed to, but then I had to be dragged to this frat party, didn’t I? I said in defense.
“Then there’s only one thing left to do.” And with that, you put the disc in the player.
We sat comfortably on my couch, well, Mona’s couch, technically. You started putting your arm over my shoulder even before the opening credits appeared. And I laughed a tiny bit inside because I see this happening in movies all the time. My eyes were glued to the TV screen. I was trying too hard to focus on what was really happening in Sparta. I watched in earnest as King Leonides and his 300 men reached the Gates of Thermopylae. But I never found out what happened after. You probably don’t remember that scene either, because by then, your tongue was already tied to mine. It was wonderful and awful at the same time. Wonderful because you’re the best kisser I ever kissed. Well, there was only one before you and we all know how that first kiss went down. The point is that I have a point of comparison now. I could tell that this was a way better kiss than my first kiss. Either that, or I just had too much beer to drink. I like to think that you were really a better kiss. The only reason it was awful was because you tasted like alcohol. I’m sure I did too, and you didn’t mind.
We kissed long, intense, pressing kisses. And I knew that sooner, you would want to move a little bit further. So, I asked you if it was OK that we just kiss and cuddle that night. You didn’t have to know that I have never slept with anyone before, and that I wouldn’t want my first sex to be with someone I just happen to have bumped into at a frat party, no offense. I didn’t have to tell you because that’s way too much information for someone I just met right before midnight.
If it would make you feel any better though, that was a really hard call to make. You looked really attractive, and we were both already a bit too drunk, and aggressively kissing. You were already there, solid on the couch! But I couldn’t do it. I can’t be that girl. I can’t be some girl you would tell your roommates about. At least not yet. And definitely not with a bloodbath of 300 men happening in the background.
I was expecting that you would put your shoes back on and immediately leave. I was ready for you to go berserk and slam the door to my face because that’s what usually happens in the movies. I really didn’t mind if you left. At least we don’t have to deal with the awkwardness of saying goodbye to each other in the morning. At least I wouldn’t have to explain my disappearing act to Mona when she gets home because you’ll be long gone before then. So, you got up, turned the TV off, and sat back on the couch again.
Ok, what just happened? Because you’re supposed to be heading straight out the door like two seconds ago!
Then you pulled your iPod out of your pocket and wrapped yourself around me to a tune. I only want one night, cause I’ve seen a bad light. Light. Li–ght. Li–i–ight. And that song just kept playing in repeat as we snuggled and kissed each other softly until we both fell asleep.
The next morning, or afternoon, I really can’t remember the time now, we woke up to the ring of your phone. Of all the days your roommate can lock himself out, it had to be today. You gave me one short kiss and then you were out the door. So much for the anticipated awkwardness.
“Wait!” I just had to stop you.
“Did I forget anything?”
“You forgot to tell me your name!”
“Darren.” You said really quick before racing off again.
“Aren’t you even going to ask mine?” I called out in the corridor before you could go too far.
“I already know. Adam told me, Jess!” And with that, you were gone.
Forever Goodbye by The Mostar Diving Club was the song you played last night. I didn’t think that it was going to be forever goodbye for us too, but I never saw you again. We didn’t exchange numbers, and I don’t know your last name to find you on facebook. Not that I would search for you there. I never ran into you in campus. We were never in the same bus together. Our paths just never crossed for the rest of that semester. For the rest of your last semester. What I know is that you know Adam, and that you know my name even before you knew that I was left-handed. You know where I lived unless you were too drunk to remember. But you certainly weren’t too drunk to remember my name. So, I figured, you would have found me if you really wanted to find me. I never told Adam or even asked him about you. I think it was because I was already happy with what we had, and where we left things off. It had a good start and a good finish. And we didn’t need to do more only to mess it up in the end.
I wasn’t just some girl. I was the girl who got away. And you, weren’t just some random dude. You were the guy who also got away. Wherever you are Darren, if you’re reading this, I hope you were able to climb those mountains, the way I was able to write about you now.
Whenever I see the Orion’s belt in the night sky–those three equally spaced diamonds that flicker in the dark, I think of you. I think of what we could have had.
Isn’t that constellation the very foundation of whatever it was that we had? It was something distinctly ours.
Two years in East Lansing and I haven’t met anyone I could actually really be interested in. My roommate, Mona Lisa, told me it was because I’m quirky and I haven’t met someone with the same amount of quirkiness.
I think Mona Lisa was just delivering some general pep talk shit that works with most people in general. It was the kind of comment that will make you think hmmmmm. You don’t necessarily agree with it, but you also don’t necessarily disagree with it.
I didn’t think we share the same amount of quirkiness, Theodore. But I liked you nonetheless. It was the beginning of the spring semester in 2006 when I started watching you. It creeped me out. My brain discombobulates every time I looked at you. Why are you watching this guy, Jess? Why do you want to know him? Who is he? Why this guy and not someone else?
See, Theo, you really baffled me. You’re not someone I would typically find attractive. I mean you’re alright, more than alright, but you’re not my type. Still, I find my eyes glued to your direction like that dried up chewing gum under your chair. Don’t ask me how I knew that there are three chewing gum stuck under your armrest–two pinks, and one white–because it will make me sound creepier.
I guess this creepiness started after you finished your presentation in our writing transcultural contexts class. Your topic was about travel, migration, and exile. You focused on the different reasons people are prompted to travel, and shared travel experiences of your own. You spoke about how you think you would have been a completely different person had your parents not migrated from Athens. And you spoke about the Greek community you grew up with in Detroit, and how it shaped you to who you are today. You spoke about how humbling it was to be in Delhi, and how your volunteer work in Ethiopia changed you as a person.
You had me at Delhi, Theo. I didn’t know you then, but all of a sudden I just wanted to fly kites with you in India. I wanted to know you. I wanted to know more about you. There was a seeping interest growing inside my stomach that at that moment, I was convinced I want to travel with you. I want to migrate with you. I want to exile with you.
So, when the class finished, I pulled myself together and went straight to you. Our first conversation orbited around Gandhi and mughlai cuisine. You told me how you appreciate the aroma and distinct taste of spices in tandoori and biryani, but this was just a stream of gibberish passing from one ear to another. In my head, I was already thinking that mild to spicy is what I wanted out of you and me. I asked if you wanted to have coffee so you can tell me more. That coffee agreement started a series of afternoon coffees we had that semester. And from one coffee to another, we moved to having dinners together. You liked talking and I liked listening to you. I liked how the words that came out of your mouth swirled and fluttered the butterflies inside me.
One evening, as you walked me back to McDonel hall, you looked at the sky and pointed out three stars.
“I never paid attention to stars before,” I told you unapologetically. And that’s when you told me about the hunter and his belt.
“I didn’t know you’re into constellations.” I said.
“I’m not, but I can relate to Orion a lot.” You telling me about a Greek god, and me looking at the stars–it sounded romantic and mysterious then. It felt like we were Jack and Rose watching the stars so vast and endless but so small. This was back in our university days, Theo, so everything felt tremendous and dramatic and related to pop culture at the time. But that scene in Titanic never made it to the big screen. It was cut. Deleted. Just the way you edited me out of your life.
The next day, while we were having our usual afternoon coffee, I told you that I like you. You said that you like me too, but you don’t see me like that. I asked how you see me, and you said that you see me as your reliable, chubby friend. You said you enjoy my company, but that’s what it was. It was only coffee, and dinner, and talking, and nothing more.
Reliable. Chubby. Friend. You denied me romantic affection because I was overweight. Because I did not fit your criteria of bombshell body for a girlfriend. Your choice of words said a lot about me at the time–that I was bigger and rounder than average, and did not fit the conventional definition of beautiful. It says a lot about you too–that you might appear genuine on the outside, but you’re shallow and superficial to the core.
You avoided me, Theo, like a plague. You stopped hanging out with me, you stopped talking to me even when we are in the same discussion group. You pretended that I’m invisible even when we’re standing next to each other in the elevator. Did you think that I can’t handle rejection? Or that you’re making it easier for me when you ignore me? The rejection, I can handle. But you acting like a total jerk is what I can’t.
A few weeks after I told you that I like you, I heard a girl, one of our classmates, the same girl who sits next to you in our creative workshops class, talk to a friend about flying kites with her Orion next fall.
You know what, Theo? I liked you, I really liked you because you seem so original. It took a while to realize that you’re just a knock off. Orion’s belt? Delhi kite festival? Take it back, Theodore. Take it back. It’s all yours.
Nine years ago, we were all dreamers. We were enthused and inspired by some of our professors, and belittled and sneered at, and bashed by others. The point is, we felt feelings from sheer bliss to dread. We were so eager to start sinking our heads on piles of freshly photocopied reading materials. We were afraid to run late to that creative writing class because the professor is known to be a terror. We were confused and thrilled, at the same time, but mostly scratching our heads contemplating on how we will finish a three-page, double-spaced, font size 12, times new roman writing assignment with Michael Jackson as the main character and Cuba as the main setting.
We were raw, and ready to be cut open, and bleed for that 3.0. A 3.0 can mean a perfect mark depending on the professor, and we can sure be damn proud that we don’t have to retake that class. It’s more sacred than passing Math 11, that’s for sure.
We all wanted to be published authors, story tellers, editors of the most popular fashion and lifestlye and whatnot magazine. We wanted to be playwrights, and screen writers, songwriters, whathaveyous.
But what happened to that? Somewhere along the way, we got a little bit distracted of this, a little bit distracted of that. Most of us moved on to different directions, while some of us stopped completely.
Was it because there is no money in writing? Was it because of too many rejections and failed attempts? Or the lack of motivation and inspiration?
I still have the blogs we were required to write in our uni days bookmarked. I still check it once in a while, just in the off chance that some of you might remember it and update it one bit. But what I get is my heart broken once in a while. Nothing changes. The last post you wrote on your blogs are still dated 2007.
It seems that the closest way I can get to your writing is through your smart one liner status on facebook. Sometimes, it comes in the form of full-on, full-length, quasi-literature ranting about the daily chaos you go through. From the clumsy coffee spills, to how riveting Jennifer Lawrence looked, then back to how badly your boss sucks, to celebrating your 113th month anniversary.
And I must admit, when I read those status, those moanings, and whinges, and whatnot, I smile. Because it’s funny! Because it’s witty! Because it’s spot on! Because I can taste how vinegary your awkward first date went. Because I can feel the pressure you placed on the handlebar on that one hell of a bus ride. Because your words have texture and aesthetic! Because you’re still temperamental, and we all know that writers are meant to be bipoloar or something!
I smile because I know that you still have it in you, despite your corporate or academic attitude sometimes, no offense. I just wish you guys can tell me more, I wish I can read more of it, I wish you will write more.
Maybe some of you stopped writing because there was no material to work on. Well, experience is like Santa’s big red bag! Turn that trip to Nagsasasa Cove into a travelogue and I will be the first one to read it! Make a review about the last book you just read because I can use a good insight. Write a review about the latest blockbuster movie, or write a commentary about the Sundance Festival and I will read it all because I trust your taste in film.
Maybe you stopped writing because you’re going through a hard time right now. Maybe your relationship really really really sucks. That’s no excuse. Look at Adele and the tons of songs she has written! Maybe some of you stopped writing because you don’t have the time. Well, if you have the time to browse reddit and 9gag, please, shoot me now!
Maybe you stopped writing because you got pregnant or got married, whichever came first, but that’s no excuse either. Write children stories–stories that you know your little kiddo will love listening to before bedtime. That’s inspiration and experience right at your fingertips.
Writing is a state of mind. Although having that perfect cup of coffee and feeling the breeze on your hair while you’re sitting under the shade of a tree somewhere in the outskirts of India is highly recommended, most of the time, you will find yourself waking up at 2am in your cockroach-infested apartment, with a drool drying at the corner of your lips. Wipe it off, and pen it down, dammit! Or write it on your computer. Or phone. Whatever. You have no idea how many brilliant ideas get lost in ideasphere every single night just because we’re too lazy to try.
Kidding aside, just start writing again and make sure to send me a link. I mean it.
PS. If you’re reading this and you belong to the UPLB Com Arts 2004, yes, this letter is specifically addressed to you.