A little over an hour ago, Lisa Green did something I’d never seen before–she retreated. It happened in the East Village during our historic, long-overdue bar crawl. She’d briefly glimpsed someone she knew, and the effect it had on her had the same effect on our heartfelt, confusing, energizing, and, at times, shockingly violent reunion. Silently we went on a short walk, a train ride, and another short walk, until returning to my soon-to-be-vacated apartment. The whole time, questions crawled around inside of me, pleading to be unleashed–the biggest and most insistent being, “Who the fuck was that guy?” I kept them sedated, out of respect.
However, after she spent an unknown amount of time on my mattress, staring at the ceiling, I decided to skip past the question in question and dive into our inevitable back-and-forth: “You have to tell someone.”
She shrugged weakly. “I’ll get around to it eventually.”
“No,” she replied, “it’s not.”
“What I mean is, you’re positive you’re never talking, and then I usually drag it out of you anyway.”
“Really?” She gave me a look that made me wonder if I’d just told her that purple rhinos were contemplating with shoes. “Really? Do you think that, after ten years, you know anything about me?”
Clearly this was a rhetorical question, so I didn’t answer.
“I actually trust people now,” she said. “More than one person who just might not be there tomorrow.”
“Now just wait a minute.”
“Just shut the fuck up, Max.”
“Um.” Though we were only seven when we’d met, we’d never used each other’s first names. Originally it was because our relationship was strictly business. Later, it became a private joke. The only time I’d ever called her Lisa was during the heated conversation that would separate us for a decade. Even then she didn’t call me Max. And now, as the word set fire to my ears, I was reminded of how I felt the moment I gave up my virginity, and how, even though it was only an imaginary construct that meant nothing, I’d lost something I could never own again.
“You don’t get to talk anymore.”
“Now you’re just being dramatic,” I told her.
“I said shut up!” she roared. “That’s what you always do! You just keep talking and talking, and you never have to fucking deal with anything.”
“I always listen to you.”
“No, you fucking don’t.” Her voice was softening, but my heart was terrified. “You just let me give you something you can use to make yourself my hero. Like you were some kind of a fairy princess, and it was your job to turn me into a real boy.”
“Your analogy is problematic.”
She shook her head with the kind of disappointment that cause me more violence than her fists ever could. “You’re just like him.”
“That’s none of your goddamn business.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because you weren’t there.” She spat out the words. “Because you told me to go fuck myself, and you left me alone. And I had to fix myself. And I think I did a pretty damned good job of it.”
She had, but that’s not the part that stuck. “I left you alone because it was impossible to be your friend. You pushed me too far.”
“I’m bipolar. I had no control over myself back then.”
“So you had no control when you smashed the hell out of my kitchen? When you shoved our friend Angelo into that arroyo because he said something stupid about your breasts? When you ran around and had sex with every teenage boy who would? When you called the cops on my cousin and got him thrown in jail for dealing, where he still is?”
“You are so full of shit.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You don’t have any idea how mental illness works.”
My eyes rolled. “Please. You should know better. When someone gets drunk and beats the shit out of his family, do the cops arrest the six-pack?” That was low of me, I admit, considering her father. But I was mad.
“Drinking’s a choice.”
“Maybe the first couple.”
“Hitting’s a choice.”
“So were the times you hit me,” I told her, “but I forgave you yesterday, because…” Shit. How should I put this? “Because I love you.” It was a weird kind of love, and that something we both understood, even to this day. It went deeper than the love I felt for my family, and was sturdier than the love I’ve felt for anyone I’ve ever had sex with.
“I know,” she sighed. “But I’ve moved on.”
I needed to escape and slump down on a chair, but the closest thing I had to that in my now-empty apartment was a pair of barstools in the kitchen. I shuffled over there, because I couldn’t stay here in my bedroom with her forever. I had no idea whether or not I wanted her to follow.
After a while, she did. “Do you ever want to look at me again after this?”
“It depends,” I replied. “Do you miss me?”
“Oh, God yes,” she sighed. “You have no idea.”
“I probably do.”
Another long hush smothered us.
I said, “Want another drink?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”