When Keith met Jessica, she was sitting on her best friend's staircase. She was drinking a rum and coke. She was thinking two things: 1. how gross it had been to clean up the puke of her best friend's sister's boyfriend after he threw up penne and sauce into the kitchen sink before the party even began; 2. she missed her Cousin's Boyfriend, the boy she loved like no other, so much that she would never, ever, ever move from her best friend's staircase. This was it for the rest of her life. This staircase, these dustbunnies, the smell of Curve for women hanging like smog in the air.
When Keith met Jessica, she was thinking she never wanted to kiss another boy again.
When Keith met Jessica, she was thinking she might get a chance at one of her childhood dreams--the one where she became a nun and watched over a greenhouse filled with poinsettias.
But as these stories go, the staircase wasn't it for our heroine. There was more to her life than dust and heavy perfume and rum and cokes. For the next two years there would be a boy named Keith, and he would be her boyfriend.
Oh, that old story. The story of my first real boyfriend. And, listen, let me tell you this: that boy is an Ass Head. I feel safe telling you that because I've known him for eight years now, and I've witnessed him being an Ass Head many, many times, the last being the week before I left Minnesota. He called when I was having a mini-breakdown, so I cried on the phone to him and he told me he didn't feel sorry for me because nothing was really wrong with my life and anything that was wrong (i.e.- the Wily Republican) was my fault anyway. So I told him he was being a jackass, told him I had to go, then I didn't speak to him for a week. But after a week it was okay again. That's what happens with him. That's what happens with best friends.
And it's nice to still be friends with him. Even after our breakup, even after I came home on winter breaks from Minnesota and he was dating other girls, we still had our Days-o-Fun. We would organize days of complete nonsense. If we wanted to go to the butterfly conservatory in Niagara Falls and then go for margaritas at Cozumel in downtown Buffalo and then go shopping for new shoes on the boulevard, we would do it. If we wanted to go to Tops and buy stuff to make chocolate cake and stuffing, we would do that too. It was Day-o-Fun, and Days-o-Fun have no rules.
Now, though, I'm beginning to get the impression that there will be no more Days-o-Fun. He and his girlfriend, the Big Head, live together. They've lived together for awhile, and now she's talking about marriage and babies. And apparently she's getting testy about me.
Yesterday I asked Keith for his new address so I could send him a birthday card. He's going to be twenty-nine in a few days, and I feel that occasion calls for a funny card and some sort of weird drawing I would make for him--a drawing where he's holding his friend's wife he doesn't so much like by her ankles and roasting her over a tailgate fire at the Bills game. What says Happy Birthday!!! more than that?
But Keith said he wasn't going to give me his address. "She won't like it," he said.
"It's a BIRTHDAY CARD," I said. "You'll be getting at least 1,000 of them. I can use a fake name, if you want."
"You don't understand," he told me. "You don't live with someone. It will cause strife. I don't want strife."
I tried to reason with him. "Keith," I said. "I am not going to write in it, Let's get back together and have babies. I'm going to write, Happy Birthday, Ass Head. What's the big deal?"
Keith told me no matter what, it didn't change the fact that I couldn't have his address because the Big Head would not approve. Keith tipped his voice into a high octave. "She'll say Ooooooh, did you get a birthday card from your giiirlfriend?"
I did not like the sound of that. That seemed pretty unreasonable. Mocking Keith because he got a card from his ex-girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend he's remained friends with many years past their breakup? What gives her the right to think it's wrong of me to remember his birthday and wish him a happy one?
"She'd really say that?" I asked. "Because if so, that's just crazy."
"She already does. Sometimes she'll ask, Talk to your girlfriiiiiend today, Keith?"
I was appalled. So when I got off the phone with him I called Amy immediately. "I'd decided to give Big Head the benefit of the doubt," I told her. "He's happy, so I'd just decided I was going to get over the fact he's not with the cute blond one I really liked anymore, but now Big Head is being kind of bitchy. Do you think that's bitchy?"
She did. And then I asked if she thought that men and women could be friends, even if they'd dated at one point. She did. Which reassured me. It made me feel better.
But later on that evening Katy called, and I asked her the same question. I said, "Do you think men and women can be friends?"
"No," she said. "Not at all. And eventually Big Head is going to say to Keith, You have to choose between me and Jess, and he's going to choose her."
Oh, that made me want to gnash my teeth. Of course he's going to choose her--fine, fine, she's the one making him dinner and letting him have some ass on occasion, I understand that--but why should he have to choose in the first place? We don't ever see each other. We talk a few times a week. God forbid I try to send him a birthday card. Where's the harm in any of that?
So I told Katy I thought it was ridiculous. I told her I didn't see anything wrong with men and women being friends. She asked me if I wanted to maybe re-watch When Harry Met Sally and see how I felt about it after that. "Do we have to reenact that movie for you?" she asked. "The orgasm scene, maybe?"
When I got off the phone with Katy, I felt bad about the whole situation again. She'd said that if she were Big Head she wouldn't allow me to be mucking around with her boyfriend either. But there's absolutely no mucking around going on. We haven't had a Day-o-Fun in a year. We don't sneak away to have secret phone calls with each other. He's not buying me sexy gifts and sending them to my house. I'm not writing love letters and sending them to his work address. What I am doing is talking to an old friend, someone who knows everything about me, a boy who was with me during some of the most potentially scarring moments of my life, like the time I walked into my parents' bedroom and saw dozens of lit candles and a giant bottle of baby oil next to the bed. I don't want to have a life where I can't talk to the boy who was sitting in the living room when I came back down the hallway, blinking and shaking off the sight of my parents looking guilty with the blankets yanked up to their chins. If I can't call someone up and say, "You know how bad this day is? This day is as bad as the Baby Oil incident" and have that someone understand exactly what that means, then, really, what kind of fun would that be?