We had agreed to break it off, if only to keep our sanity. We scared each other shitless, so that morning we'd decided to scurry back behind the line separating friends from lovers. He pushed all the wrong buttons. I made him think, he made me laugh. Suddenly he had an Asian fetish and suddenly I didn’t think Spanish was so harsh and noisy. But the power of self-preservation is a foolish a thing.
China, what was it about the Chinese banking system? For the better part of the day I couldn’t really concentrate. Holed up in the ‘bat cave,’ the basement of the library, that magical journey the written word makes between page to eye to brain wasn’t working. My deadlines were fast approaching.
He sent me an SMS late in the afternoon. Did I want a beer and dinner he said. I was lonely and missing him, so I texted back yes. That was one of the longest text message my thumb had ever had to type. I’m not hungry, erase, No thanks, erase, I don’t feel like having a beer, erase, Sure, erase, Ok, 10 second pause, 20, 30. Was it 5 minutes that went by before I hit the send button? All the while, in my head, the night before was on replay.
He came for me in the library, looking disheveled as always. He didn’t like to iron his clothes. He didn’t like to fix anything really. The genius rebel who topped his country’s high school college aptitude exam but could not be bothered to crack open a book. I hated him so much for being brilliant without trying. For not giving a shit about grades. For initially being dismissed for his height, then commanding the attention of a crowd of ten for the smarts and the funny. I hated him.
He was already a little drunk. He proudly announced having downed four bottles on Prof. Murray’s tab. Man, why did I miss that one class where he treated his students to alcohol?
He said to go to the bottle shop at Market Square for the booze and maybe take-out dinner at the fish place. He didn’t ask what I wanted. A man’s decisiveness, to me, was unfamiliar territory. Growing up, it was men who took instructions from women, not the other way around. How dared he not ask, I thought. And secretly thrilled to it.
The trek to Market Square was quick and woozy. Those short legs maneuvered the asphalt and grass as easily as mine. We made small talk about Murray’s class. I was worried he idolized him too much, the xenophobic, homophobic, woman-hating prick. But he was a cool and hip teacher. Even if I didn’t agree with his politics, I could see why girls positively vibrated around him. And, too, I could see why my would-be misogynist thought Murray was ‘the best.’
We split a pack of six Pure Blondes. I’d never liked beer ‘til I got to Australia. If the national pastime was drinking, then it made sense all sorts of alcohol would be great. We sat near the ‘lake’, an off-shoot of the waterways dotting the small city. Between the walk from the library to buying food and booze, it had gotten dark. The lights from the apartment across twinkled on the water. It was all the light we had, the nearest lamppost was busted. On the grass we sat, opened the twist cap of our beers and ate quickly.
He was spoiling for an argument over climate change. Mankind was a virus he said over and over. The misanthropy made sense because he’d spent two years as a volunteer ranger in the Amazon. I’d called him Mowgli for his distaste of civilization and his constant yearning to be out in the wilderness. He’d make a terrific, credible greenie, I thought. But there was nothing for us to argue about as I shared his opinion on the matter.
On my second bottle and on his sixth, he said for me to lay my head on his lap to look up at the stars. Unthinking, a little tipsy, I did has he asked. Imagine the skies covered with smog you can no longer see that, he marveled. He was talking with his hands, gesturing up at the constellations. Then he was palming my right breast. I gasped, but said nothing. He squeezed and kept talking about climate politics and the on-going conference in Bali in a hushed, unhurried voice. I wondered why his words didn’t slur. Drunk, he only got more insistent, his voice more passionate. I said nothing.
When he noticed I was quiet he looked down at me. In the darkness I couldn’t quite make out his features, but the stars twinkled behind his head. In the silence, his hand snaked into my blouse. What are you doing, I said. “We agreed to stay friends but a few hours ago,” didn’t come out as indignantly as I’d wanted. He said not a thing and kept stroking. “People will see!” But there was nobody near the lake. The nearest building was twenty meters uphill and there were people inside.
“Let’s go back to your place,” he said. He never asked. Oh, the thrill of capitulation. Like children, our trek back to my house was quick and exhilarating. Both housemates weren’t in. Conspiracy of fate. My rational self was performing somersaults getting my attention. It was holding a one-person picket in my head, damning me for looking over the cliff about to jump. Yet I kept walking.
He put on his earphones and started humming a song in Spanish. Something about the devil. Bemused, I listened to his voice grow louder as we neared my house. What is that, I said. He gave me one of the earphones and rock music blared into my eardrums. A song about the devil, he said. I wanted to wipe off the smug look in his eyes. I hated him so.
The house came into view. It was dark, as were the neighbors’. Gloom never looked so enticing. “Are you sure about this?” I said. “Why, aren’t you?” he fired back. I bet him I could hold off when he couldn’t. He muttered a Spanish expletive and said he bet he could too. Oh yeah? Yeah. “Ok let’s turn back right now,” I dared. Fine. I motioned to walk back. One, two, three steps was all I managed when he pulled my arm so hard I whipped around.
Up the hill we walked, me taunting and laughing at him. He promised to make me suffer. I did.