I was moving stuff around in my room yesterday and these boxes stacked on top of my dresser fell on my head like a proverbial golden brick and memoirs from the past ten years of my life spilled on the floor of my bedroom, covering the beer stains and other residue from my party Saturday night. How poetic.
The photo that landed on top began an interlude of sordid reflection culminating in disenchanted sighs. It all goes back to Jim’s Big Ego.
The photograph, riddled with holes from when it was previously affixed to my dartboard, is covered with red paint. I donned Jim’s adorable face with horns and a devilish goatee. Glued to the bottom is an ad from the Phoenix for the band Jim’s Big Ego. That was not his band. It was, however, his ego. The listing seemed so appropriate that I had to augment the photograph with it when he dumped me.
I still can’t believe he dumped me. I don’t usually get dumped. But he threw a couple of knives while he was in there raking my heart over the coals. First off, he did it on Valentine’s Day. But that’s pretty much the end of the story. Where did it all begin?
I worked at the dining hall in college. I swiped meal cards at the entrance to the cafeteria in my dorm. Hence, I knew 900 people — by name if I was interested in them. A quick glance to the school ID would clue me into the details of various crushes. I had little to do while sitting there during seven hour shifts in my booth, so I learned the names of all the cute diners. Jim was one of them.
It became apparent after two weeks of school that we had common friends. I consulted one of them. Yes, he was single. Yes, he was an English major. Yes, she would have a discreet talk with him. His response? “She’s too cool for me. She would never go for a guy like me.”
Let the manipulation begin.
This kid was slick. He played the shy, dejected artboy well and used it to his advantage. The loner in Converse One Stars. The guy sitting by himself reading Ezra Pound in an ugly sweater. He had Weezer syndrome. This was just about the time of the 1995 So Geeky I’m Cooler Than You movement. He knew damn well that I would go for a guy like him.
I don’t recall how we first hooked up. There was the Saturday night Allston party circuit and the Moonlight Jazz at Venus de Milo dating ritual. And then Jim became the perfect Indie Rock Boyfriend. At first.
He made good mix tapes with bad handwriting, came down six floors to my room to do his music theory homework. We talked about family and fears and futures. We talked about being from suburban Connecticut. He bought me the new Catherine Wheel CD and lent me his whole Superchunk catalog. He sprawled in my chartreuse chair in his brown corduroys and tucked his hair behind his ears, crinkling his eyes at me through wire rimmed glasses. He even let me play his drums after band practice.
We had a blast together for a few months. We went party hopping, stayed up all night in his bed that overlooked Kenmore, the sun coming up over brick and copper buildings. He read my poetry. He read me Kerouac’s poetry. He read me articles from Alternative Press, a copy of which he always had rolled up and stuffed in his back pocket. We drank cheap red wine from the bottle and chain smoked cigarettes under the slowfade Christmas lights. He gave me The Unbearable Lightness of Being and inscribed it, “To Stella.” He was strategically sweet — and I later discovered, calculatedly devious.
His best friend and bassist Alexa, who he had known since high school, had a slot on the college radio, the station of which was located in the basement of our dorm. We would go down to the listening room and call the studio from the phone there, pretending to be various people. She interviewed me on the air as “Daphne,” a stripper paying my way through medical school, and another night Jim and I were staged as Billy Corgan and D’arcy talking about the upcoming Boston gig. All was giggles and happiness and light.
And then, Merzi.
Merzi was the bane of my existence and everything I was not. There were three of them — the Alterna Puff Girls. Matching vintage quilted vests in pink, blue, and mint green. They all had skateboards. One blond, one brunette, and the token Asian chick. Merzi, Zoe, Ginhee. I wanted them all dead.
On the night that began our downward spiral, I was at a party with Jim. With, as in, we came together. I was curled in a chair halfway across the room, and I watched as Merzi slid in beside him on the loveseat, smiling slimily. I gritted my teeth and clenched my hands, but he was my boyfriend and I trusted him. So I shoved that territorial instinct back down. She oozed all over him. He blushed, looked at me sideways, and looked briefly uncomfortable, tucking his hair behind his ears. “Jim, how’ve you been? I haven’t seen you since your last gig. How are your classes this semester? We have to catch up soon.” And then her intonation changed. She reached out and touched his arm. I squirmed visibly. “Are you seeing anyone special?” He kind of laughed.
He actually said this. Out loud.
Without a word I removed myself from the room and stumbled into the kitchen. I sat down at the table numbly. This girl Jesse from the 8th floor, who we deemed “Fro-yo” because she always ate it and always called it that, lit my cigarette. “What’s up, Pumpkin? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I told her that I had been sitting in the living room when Merzi came in and Jim told her he wasn’t seeing anyone. “Well, sweetheart, it’s the truth. Why do you think I’m sleeping with him?”
*please pause for a moment of silence*
“Oh yeah. You know, on and off, whatever. Since September. He’s a real rock star in bed.”
“Oh — you’re banging him too? Jeezus the kid gets around.”
I had no idea how to react. Apparently, everyone knew this kid was Valentino in the sack and no one knew I existed.
“Why do you look so floored? Were you and Jim, like, together?”
“I thought that’s what we were calling it.”
“Oh honey — I had no idea. I totally wouldn’t have gotten all up in his shit. That bastard.”
I left the party and went home. I locked my door. I took my phone off the hook. Four days later I ran into Alexa from the radio station. “Did you hear? Jim had to go back home. He’s got Chicken Pox. Really bad, too. Poor thing.” My first reaction was, who the fuck gets Chicken Pox at 20? My second reaction was the part of me still so hooked on this kid that I couldn’t see straight.
So I called him like the moron I am.
He was really sick. He could barely speak. The first thing he did was apologize for the “incident” at the party. “I didn’t know how to react. She made me all nervous sitting there next to me.” I wanted to believe it. I did.
“What about Jessie?”
“Well, she and I were hooking up before I met you.” Which was true. I tried to forget about the whole hooking up with Jessie while we were together too thing. I was worried about him. Sick and all. Plus, his cocker spaniel Pepper had died while he was home. He was all broken up over it. He cried and everything.
To further my moronic status, I made him the care package to end all care packages, and mailed it to his house. A few weeks later, he was still stuck home, and he asked me if I would come visit him for Valentine’s Day. So I drove four and a half hours to white-picket-fenced Darien, CT to see my lying, cheating, dying boyfriend. Who looked remarkably repaired. I thought it was weird, but I was working on my goal of growing up to be the Biggest Moron Ever to Walk the Earth.
We hung out at his house. And then we went to the Greenwich Diner. At the diner he sat down across from me, unceremoniously ordered coffee, and without preface said, “So, Alexa and I are seeing each other. And I need to end things with you because I’ve been in love with her since high school and this is my chance to finally be with her.”
After all the drama, it fully made sense. It fit in comfortably with the schema I had built of our relationship.
“Oh, and she’s meeting us here.”
She walked in the door behind him, giggling with the Asian Alterna Puff Girl in blue. And he said to me, “I don’t want you to think I’m not attracted to you. I don’t want you to think you’re not a pretty girl.”
To my credit, I told him, “I have a fucking mirror. I know what I look like.”
He kissed her as she sat down. I wanted to grab both of the thick lipped white ceramic sad latenight coffee cups from the table — one in each hand — and smash the two of them in the skull. Spill coffee and brains all over the pristine floor of the 1:00 AM Greenwich Diner.
Again to my credit, I simply got up and left. I started walking back to his house, where my car was parked. I had no idea where it was or how far. Miles and miles. I just wanted to get away. It took him almost half an hour to get in his car and follow me. I didn’t say a word to him as he dropped me off in his driveway. He started to apologize and I slammed the door in his face. He drove back to the diner. I drove back to Boston.
I saw him every day for the rest of the semester. At lunch I swiped his meal card. When he came in with Alexa I spit on it. To add insult to injury, he never returned the two dozen Beatles CDs I lent him that belonged to Ruby when we were sharing a room.
The funniest thing was, the first day of school the following year I was running on my way to the elevator and I bumped into my friend John, who was standing in the hallway with some people. I talked to him briefly and excitedly and then continued on my way, until I heard the voice behind me. “Kristin, wait.”
I spun around and there, next to John, stood Jim and his Big Ego. He had gotten a Green Day makeover. Cropped his chin-length golden hair off and dyed it black. Contact lenses. Blue ringer T-shirt and jeans, which he had never worn a pair of in his life. Wallet chain. He had freckles on his nose from the summer sun. He was smiling.
“You don’t recognize me, do you?”
And I said, “No — I don’t.”
So I graduated to Grade A Moron that year and I haven’t wanted to repeat the curriculum. I wouldn’t say I’m guarded in my relationships. But one experience after another like that, even when I started ending them before I got real stupid, will give you some sort of turtle shell to duck into. There’s always the flinch for every conversation that begins with, “Kristin, listen…”
I don’t know if that explains the whole dry spell dilemma.
Maybe it’s just Urban Isolation Syndrome.