blur, blur, blur

When the alarm goes off at 7:15, I've been asleep for about four hours. Snippets from the previous evening float back to me as I try, with futility, to suppress thoughts of the soju still in my system. An unreasonable amount of heavily seasoned, oil-soaked meat at Korean BBQ. The somewhat wild drive from K-town to Little Tokyo, looping unnecessarily through Skid Row, while listening, weirdly, to classical music. A private karaoke room, stuffy and dark, filled with loud and intimidatingly beautiful girls I don't know. Later: cramming into a photobooth in an Arts District bar, with the three people I do.

I consider canceling my 8:00 hair appointment, but I know I can't. My color has reached the crisis point; I can see it in pictures. Plus, I want bangs.

My stylist is a friend; she and her husband own the salon a block from my apartment. When I was married, the four of us were close, and hung out several times a month. Extravagant dinners at Mastros, drinks at Nic's in Beverly Hills; impromptu, slightly drunken trips to Malibu, where I once skinny dipped in the pitch black surf. They often cooked us meals at their home, and we'd stay late afterward, sitting around the fire pit on the rooftop, talking and drinking wine long into the night.

Chaucer dawdles on his morning walk, and 8:10 sees me running down the sidewalk, sloppy in Saturday sweats. But my rush is for nothing; she and her husband haven't even arrived yet, and as I take a seat to wait, my phone rings. Husband has been made to call by wife; it's his fault they're running late, and they're still another ten minutes out. I tell him not to be silly, and to just drive safe: I'm relaxing on the salon sofa and catching up on Instagram.

As usual, I entrust as all decisions re: my hair to Y., who has never once made me regret it. What color, how much, the cut, the length of my bangs, etc. As usual, she deeply discounts my color, and doesn't charge me for the cut. As usual, I make up some of the difference in my tip.

Back at home, Chaucer has energy to burn, having not gotten a good long walk the day before. So I grab a hoodie and we go up the street to the John Ferraro Building, where after a long session of fetch, I spend several minutes brushing him. The area we play in is still flooded in the building's cool morning shade, and when he accidentally kicks his ball in the fountain, my ankles and feet go numb from wading into the icy water to retrieve it.

Wally and I pick up our text conversation from the night before. He's at All Worlds Resort in Palm Springs, and has invited me out to join him. I decline, citing the estate paperwork that sits unfinished on my desk, and a lack of preplanning for boarding Chaucer. Plus, I'll get to see him when he's in town next weekend. Our three-day conversation covers such topics as porn, sex toys, and video games.

- I've been informed that the TV in our room gets a myriad of porn channels.

- Speaking of porn, I have a theory that so far has held up, which is that guys who watch it are demonstrably better in bed.

- Interesting. The only potential flaw in the theory might be that guys who say they don't are lying. Unless they're me, of course.

- I've thought of that. Corollary theory: guys who are hung up about porn to the point of lying about it aren't good in bed because they have hang ups.

- The corollary theory seems sound. Good science. (thumbs up emoji) ...I am using the wifi at All Worlds to play Mermaid World. Only 8 days left to get Lum, the Easter mermaid. 

He sends a screenshot from the game: a trio of animated, doe-eyed mermaids with scant clothing but elaborate hair and makeup. Lum is in the middle, between Aries and Aqua. Her eyes are mint green; she wears a white pearl choker and white seashell bra. Her hair is cotton candy pink and woven through with flowers. A badge above her head reads 8 Days Left.

- Lum has awesome hair. I can't stop laughing about the fact that you're playing Mermaid World. It makes me inexplicably happy.

- It might as well be porn, because I probably act as if it were, closing out of it or positioning the screen so it can't be seen if someone walks by.

- So awesome.

- Awesome. Tragic. It's a fine line. 

Spyro texts, too, from San Diego, where he's partying with Mason. They'll be there until tomorrow, he says. This is standard operating procedure that we undergo every few weeks. He invites me to drop everything and jump on a train. I explain patiently that as much as I love spontaneity, I have a pet who requires forethought. The invitations are always last minute, often drunken, and disclose little to no information about the logistics of travel or accommodations.

- Is this the part where you half-assedly invite me with no tangible details or plan? I love this part.

- No it's the part where you get your ass in a rental car. We're seriously with 16 good looking German dudes who all make great money and they're humor. ...They'd love you. You could be here by 4.

- East or West Germany?

- East. It's Mason's last night with us.

- Jew so funny.

- We're getting him a forearm tattoo at dusk.

This goes on for some time. I have absolutely no intention of shoving Chaucer, last minute, into boarding so that I can join them (and he knows it), but we'll banter about it, anyway.

- Please ask the Germans to take ein piktur of you, ja? Both of you at samen timen, ja?

My request goes ignored, but a little while later I'm sent a picture of what appears to be a party bus full of attractive thirty-something men, smiling widely for the camera. Mason sits towards the back, also smiling.

- They heart Mason. Shocker. When do you get here?

- Whoa, fuck. Some of those dudes are right bone-able. 

- 14 inches and then down. If you stack them we can climb out of a building.

- Do you think they'd be down to enact my WWII sex fantasy? I'm a French girl living in the countryside; they're the Nazi troops occupying my dad's farm. We're all bored and there's an abandoned barn in the back...

- Get your ass down here. Mason came last minute. It's so good that he paid to come, when he could have come for free with my buddy pass.

- I can't. I have to shave my mustache, see? I take and send a picture of myself pointing sadly at my upper lip, scrunched tight so that the shadow above it is enhanced. This is a reference to a recent, profanity-laced exchange we had wherein he complimented my use of the "mustache removal" filter on an IG selfie.

When he doesn't reply, I make a visit to my bathroom, where I uncap an eyeliner pencil and carefully run it under my nose: line, swirl, swirl. I text again.

- It's grown, look... I take and send another picture of myself, this time with the thin handlebar mustache I've just drawn, the edges curlicued delicately on either side.

(no reply)

- You don't like it. :( :(

(no reply)

I go the bathroom, wash off the handlebar, and reapply the eyeliner in heavy, up-down strokes, a narrow rectangle that spans only the bow of my lips. I take another picture and send it, captioned GO GERMANY.

Finally, I get a reply.

- You're an idiot.

- The carpet matches the tablecloth, if you know whumsaying.

He ignores this and tells me he's coming to LA next weekend with his daughter, and that I should "be ready". I neglect to ask specifics or even reply at all, because I've learned better than to believe Spyro's plans until I see them enacted with my own eyes.

I decide to take a nap. It's about 2pm.

---

I wake up a little after 4pm, and see missed texts from Wally, Spyro, and Mason, and a voicemail from A., which I listen to. He just wanted to say hi. He wants to see if we can continue our plan to not lose touch. He wants to know if I'd like to grab a coffee today or tomorrow. If so, call him back, or send a carrier pigeon, so he can stop leaving this stupid message, ok, bye.

Still laying in bed, I return the call immediately.

Small talk. What are you doing? - Nothing, just took a nap. You working? - Yeah. - How's it going? - Good. I can't hear you. You're eating the phone. - Sorry, is this better? - Yeah. Are you still in bed? - Me? No. - Oh. 'Coz that's what I sound like when I talk on the phone in bed. I hold it too close to my mouth. - Ok, yeah, I'm still in bed. 

More small talk. Ok, I'll let you go. - What? Why? I don't have to do anything. - Because I'm gonna get sappy. I just wanted to say hi. - Get sappy! What? What's up? - Nothing. ...I kind of want to come cuddle, but you already had a nap. - Come cuddle! I'll cuddle. I'm still sleepy. 

And just like that, that happens. No hesitation on my part whatsoever.

I'm straightening up, hurriedly picking last night's rejected outfits off the floor and wiping down my island countertop, when he texts to say he's downstairs. I retrieve him from the lobby and we hug in the elevator. It isn't until I step back to lean against the railing that I notice he's holding a large piece of poster board. He unrolls it to show me: a pen and ink drawing he did recently, of characters from an animated short we used to still joke about. He's brought it as a gift for me.

From that point, things started to blur, as they are wont to do, when they're things that you want to remember, but that you also maybe try not to, because you know you probably shouldn't, because you know you're walking a fine line between being OK with all of this, and not being OK with it at all.

Blur, blur, blur.

"Make yourself at home."

"I will," he replies, with exaggerated tartness. "I'm going to lay on your bed.He throws himself jauntily onto my just-remade bed. I step into the bathroom to brush my teeth, run a comb through my hair, and swipe a makeup remover-soaked cotton ball under my eyes. I do these things with the door closed. Because he's not my boyfriend. He hasn't been my boyfriend since July, in fact.

July.

I come out, we take each other in with smiles. I feel well rested, in a great mood. He's not well rested, but is in a good mood anyway. I throw myself on top of him and he hugs me tight, growling and burying his face in my hair, my neck. I pull back to look at him for a moment, then jump back up to blow my nose in the bathroom. Spring allergies.

When I come out, I lay with my chest between his legs, which are bare except for long khaki shorts - an extremely rare wardrobe choice for him. I run my hands up his thighs, raising my eyebrows playfully at him.

"Stoooooppp."  He's grinning though.

"What?" I say with faux innocence. "I just want to see if there's any cargo in these cargo shorts." The grin widens. "Well, is there?"

He doesn't move an inch. "Get outta here."

"You're going to have to clear it with customs if there is. And I've heard the customs officer is a real c**t." I emphasize the last word. We're smiling like idiots.

What else is new.

He reaches down towards me, the grin growing more coy by the second. "I've heard she can be a real whore..."

---

Afterward, my head on his chest, he asks if he can buy me dinner. I scoff. "Oh my god. You don't have to buy me dinner. This isn't a commerce-based transaction."

He pulls away to look at me, his voice rising in genuine indignation. "Fuck you! I know this isn't commerce. I'd just like to get dinner with you."

We stop at his place so he can change first, and on the way over, he takes my hand. When we cross a busy intersection, he moves to position himself between me and the rush-hour traffic, which inches impatiently into the crosswalk. In his apartment, I wait while he puts on a clean shirt and jeans. I wander around his living room and kitchen, feeling like a stranger among familiar things - clothes I've helped fold, a guitar I've watched him play, a pocket knife I've fiddled with a dozen times before. "Be careful with that," he says, when he sees me fiddling anew. He shows me his rooftop, which I'd yet to see. When we step out onto the terrace, the cold hits us hard, and without a word he takes off his heavy leather coat and drapes it over my shoulders.

On the way out of the building we run into an acquaintance of his. Pause for a conversation, introductions. Afterward: Ugh, I don't like that guy. We had it out pretty badly recently. Tells me the story. You should be nice to him, I advise. Clean slate. He clearly idolizes you. I could see it in his face, in his body language. - Yeah, well, he thinks I'm a reputable artist. That's his problem. I shoot him a look. You are a reputable artist. 

Back down on the street, the city has grown hectic around us. Sushi? - Perfect. - Little Tokyo? - Yes. Let's drive though. Indecision as to where. Yelp something good. - I can't. I'll throw up. - Yelp makes me nauseous, too. I hate that site - Shush. I can't look at my phone when I'm in a car, I'll get carsick. - What about the place we went to that one time, in the Arts District? - The one when we went running? - No, the other one. Where the chef gave us free samples. - No, let's go someplace else. - What about the ramen place, where we sat at the counter? - Is that what you want? - I don't know. - How about the place on First, with the good tempura, and that mango soda I like? - We could do that. 

Running through our options feels like leafing through a tour book of our relationship. Yep, ate there. Remember it because it was the night we talked about possibly living together one day. Yep, remember that place, too. You humored me by joining me on the longest, coldest run ever that night, even though you hadn't run in ages.

All of this is in my head, of course.

Dinner. Dumplings, shrimp tempura, miso soup, noodles, sashimi, rice, mango soda. While we wait for our food, sitting at the sushi counter, he shows me the misunderstood spider meme on his phone. When I laugh loudly, he sighs, looking momentarily sad. "What?" I ask.

"Nothing. It's just good to hang out with you, that's all."

A pair of middle-aged blond women relocate from their table to sit adjacent to us. They speak excitedly in German, studying the menu and looking over at our plates. I catch the expression on A.'s face.

"You'd so talk to those women if you were alone." He doesn't answer, but laughs guiltily. "You totally would. You love talking to people. You'd totally be all friendly and charming to them, wouldn't you? Because you'd know they're tourists, and you'd want to be nice to them."

"Yeah, or to fuck with them."

Blur, blur, blur.

We rehash and revisit the relationship, as we compulsively, inevitably do. When he feeds me bites of food with his chopsticks, I shake my head. "Remember how mad I used to get? When you'd try to get me to eat things I didn't want?" He nods. "Why did I do that? So dumb. You were only being sweet. I should be so lucky, that someone wants to show that kind of care to me."

He shakes his head. "Yeah, but come on. That was annoying. I got really pushy about it." But I won't accede.

"No," I say. "It was ridiculous of me."

And so it goes. We rehash and revisit. We apologize, we take accountability for this, we refuse to let the other person take responsibility for that. I'm told I was the best relationship he's had. I'm told I was his favorite girlfriend. I'm told I'm awesome and amazing and so smart and so talented and so pretty. Prettiest pumpkin in the patch. I smile. - I love when you say that. - I've said that before?? - Shut up, you know you have. 

Somehow, the subject of my father comes up. Somehow, I start to tell the story of the recent dentist's letter. I get as far as "...because apparently, he had an appointment scheduled for October..." before hot tears surprise me, choking me mid-sentence. The German women glance over.

A., who is straddling the chair he's turned to face me directly, squeezes my arm briefly before wordlessly lifting my purse from the back of my chair. "Let's go," he says softly, and puts his hand lightly on my elbow to help me up. As I move past him, wiping my eyes quickly in the busy restaurant, he wraps his arms around me. He holds me like this for a moment before letting me walk outside, where he again hugs me.

I tell him about having written to a reader of my blog a few days ago, a young women who recently lost her own dad. "You know," I say, as we walk slowly down the sidewalk, "I put a lot of effort into my blog. I really do. I try to make it somewhat interesting, even helpful, on occasion. I try to write things that will make people laugh or smile or maybe even think. But nothing I've ever written felt as good as the letter I wrote this girl. She's so young, A." I look at him. "She's so young. And I felt like I knew what to say to her, you know? I knew what would feel good to hear." He nods. He listens. He tells me for the hundredth time how resilient I am. How much I've bounced back - in his eyes, anyway.

And then he takes me for frozen yogurt.

Which we gorge on while walking back to his car. Where he takes my hand briefly, to kiss the back of it, before returning it to my lap. Where he plays Bon Iver and Angus Stone while we drive to my street. Where he drops me at my door, but not before inviting me to the art show he's on his way to. Where he texts me from a little bit later, with a picture of one of the sculpture's descriptions. Which I read carefully and reply back about, before picking up the conversation with Spyro again, telling him where I've been for the past few hours.

- Never take relationship advice from me again. I'm the world's biggest hypocrite.

- You suck almost as bad as I do. 

- I feel like I want to vomit my heart up. 

- You could have come down here and laughed your ass off. You should be here. 

- Sorry, too busy putting my heart through a meat grinder.

- Stop. You're better than this.

We text for a little bit, but I can barely keep my eyes open, I'm so exhausted. Spyro's a good friend. He says all the right things to prop me back up after this unexpected little storm dustup of emotion, and to help me get my head back on straight. And that's what I start to do, as I drift off, vacillating between the need to write it all out, the fear of misrepresenting what went down, and the uncertainty as to precisely what that was, anyway.

The facts are these: it's very easy for me to get swept up in the good feelings of being around A.: the affection and the playfulness and the care he shows me. And the intimacy. Because intimacy is nice. But nothing has changed. We are still who we are, with all the same things to offer one another which are good, but all the same things to thwart a healthy relationship, which are bad.

So it was just ... what it was. And today we return to status quo. And I'm mostly ok with it, even though I have a few creeping regrets that are less easy to kill than spiders with books, because I have this neat little trick my brain does, which is to go blur, blur, blur...