Hours passed while I stood on my fire escape, marinating in guilt. I made a fist and almost rapped on my neighbor’s window before stopping myself. What the hell did I think was I doing? I was having a crisis, and this is how I chose to handle it? With mindless sensual gratification? I couldn’t even begin to describe how utterly selfish I felt at that moment.
But what was more selfish than sex? The only point of it–if you’re doing it right–is to feel physically good. I was the kind of guy who took great pride in the lengths I went to please my partner, but I’d always known that I performed that way because I got off on getting her off.
“Coming!” she yelled. When she opened the window and saw me, her expression shifted from hope to anticipation to hunger and finally to confusion.
“Dude,” she said, “you look like someone pissed on your head.”
“Not literally.” She asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t feel sad at all and I should and I don’t know what to do?”
She sighed, and the look on her face shifted to disappointment. “Why don’t you come inside and tell me all about it.”
I followed her into her kitchen, which I hadn’t really studied before. Last time I was here, I only paid attention to obstacles and solid surfaces I could use for leverage. Now that I wasn’t drunk on lust, I was surprised that I hadn’t injured myself.
“Need a beer?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“Well, I do. Have a seat.”
I turned to the living room, noted a futon, and collapsed onto it.
She entered the room, took a long swig out of the bottle, and curled up on the far end. “So,” she said, “what’s up, dude.”
“Banjo was one of my best buddies but he’s gone now and now he’s really gone, and I don’t miss him. I mean, I did miss him, but not anymore.”
“Back up,” she demanded. “You were best friends with a banjo?”
I pulled myself to my feet. “This was a mistake,” I muttered. “I’m sorry.”
With a sigh, she gestured me back to her futon. “You’re here, I’m awake, my beer’s open, so you might as well explain yourself.”
“Just try to keep it simple. It’s fucking late.”
“Banjo’s my cousin.”
“You have a cousin named Banjo,” she replied. “Really.”
“Benjamin,” I sighed. “Benjamin Joshua. We called him Banjo because whatever.”
“And he’s gone.” She scrunched up her face, trying to concentrate on my verbal diarrhea from a few minutes ago. “Twice.”
“He went to prison,” I told her. “And he just died there.”
“He went native,” I said. “Kicked some asses. Knifed a guy. I didn’t recognize him the last time I saw him. Hell, I didn’t even like him.” I shrugged. “Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Somebody stabbed him.”
“You think it was because his name was Banjo?”
“What?” I yelped. “Why would you say that?”
“I don’t know!” To her credit, she really did look like she regretted saying that.
Still: “You are such an asshole, you know that?”
“Well, I’m sorry,” she replied, “but I’m no good at this kind of thing.”
“What are you good at?”
“Take off your pants, and I’ll show you.”
I did, and she did.
Eight days later, I was sitting in bed, contemplating something or other, when a tap came from my window.
“Dude,” Emma whispered, “are you there?”
I opened the blinds.
She frowned, apparently in shock. “I think I just lost my job.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but had nothing.
“No,” she continued, “I don’t think I lost my job. I did lose my job. What the fuck?”
“You want to have this conversation on your futon?” I asked her.
In a haze, she led me into her apartment, her words spilling out uneasily. “My current gig was supposed to last until Labor Day, but they just canceled the contract.”
I sat her down headed to the kitchen.
“And the temp agency can’t promise me anything yet. I don’t know what to do,” she continued.
“Do you need me to make suggestions,” I asked, rooting through her refrigerator for beer and finding only empty cardboard boxes that were supposed to contain beer, “or do you just want me to tell you it’s going to be okay?”
“Wait until I’m finished, then tell me it’s okay.”
I gave up and joined her in the living room. “Go on.”
“If I don’t find work before July, then I don’t know how I’m going to get by. I’ve been living off of credit cards for so long. I’m so scared.” She waited a few moments before adding, “You can tell me it’s going to be okay now, dude.”
I reached over and massaged the inside of her thigh. “It’s going to be okay now, dude.”
She moaned, “Thank you.”
Five days later, she invited me into her apartment to tell me, “The A train broke down two times last week! Twice! I was late to work! Twice!”
“I thought you were unemployed.”
“I got a new one,” she replied. “And it’s in Battery Park, as far as possible from this apartment.”
“At least it’s not Ozone park.”
“Twice!” she reminded me.
“Bed or futon?”
Three days later, she opened her window.
“I got arrested again,” I told her.
“I can never tell when you’re kidding,” she replied.
“Not kidding.” I asked her, “Have you ever been arrested?”
She shook her head.
“Well, if you’re going to sympathize,” I said, “you should probably experience it for yourself.” With that, I produced a pair of recreational handcuffs.
Three days later, she peeked into my bedroom. “All the copiers at work ran out of toner at the same time.”
“I’ll be right out,” I said.
Two days later, I crawled through her window. “I had to interview Martin Hughes.”
“The Martin Hughes?”
She shuddered. “Strip,” she demanded
Two days later, she told me, “I maxed out one of my credit cards.”
The next day, I told her, “My editor chewed my head off.”
The day after that, she told me, “The heel of my favorite boot broke off.”
The day after that, I told her, “My photographer won’t quit snapping her gum.”
The next afternoon, she said, “I got a paper cut.”
That evening, I said, “My knuckles hurt from knocking on your window.”
After that, we just stopped with the excuses.