The first time we met was in a bar like a lounge in the back of a Chuck E. Cheese. With a card table sheathed in plastic and the kind of wall-to-wall carpeting that no matter how long you look at it you can’t tell if it’s gray or purple or blue. If it’s stained all over or if those are just shadows stuck in the wool. If it feels any softer on your feet than tile. Why it is even there, when all it can do is absorb spill after spill.
There wasn’t cake or Velveeta pizza or napkins with cartoons printed on them that night, even though it actually was a birthday party. There was beer for three dollars and local Bed Stuy boys trying to pick up the white girls who’d come for the DJ’s twenty-fourth.
At the time all my friends were either getting married or resigned to the fact that they never would, staying at home in apartments with granite bathtubs and track lighting they were straining to afford because they thought they could, should have nice things. At least by now.
You were different. You were out here off the C line, on a ten-degree weeknight. You were drinking like you had nothing to do tomorrow. The fact is, you probably didn’t.
You talked to me first out of anyone. You had blonde bangs shagging in your face and an outfit made of eighties children’s clothes. You had the body of a kid but skin that wasn’t quite smooth, like something had happened to it. Later I’d learn your alcoholic mother raised you in San Francisco, crying the whole time into her dinner. But I’d never really learn if you had money. You lived like you had something to prove, in a part of south Bushwick no one even walked through, eating ramen for breakfast, sipping a flask in expensive downtown bars.
You tried on my glasses. You said you liked my shirt. You said your friend who’s a lesbian got called a fag when she was walking in Long Island because she sort of had a moustache. I said that never happened to me. You were surprised I liked girls. I still didn’t know you were gay, not right away. You were still figuring it out.
Later we went on sort of a date. You took me to a bar in Greenpoint and we split beers and talked about Charles Manson. You leaned across the table.
“He made those girls kill,” you said. “He said find a house, and kill everyone inside. Kill the teenager in the car and kill the pregnant starlet. Kill the hairdresser and the coffee heiress. Stab them over and over and write with their blood on the walls.”
At the end of the date we almost kissed. You leaned on me drunk in McCarren Park. The Hasidic men were playing baseball even though it was past midnight. I just got out of a five-year thing and I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know things would evaporate so fast.
When I was in Sheep’s Head Bay one night, sitting in a hole dug by boys in the sand, you texted me. You called me Little Criminal. That was as close as it got.
In May, we went to the beach. You said a man on the subway screamed at you, and you were upset. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if you wanted me to be protective, or angry, or to hold you, so, like an idiot, I did nothing. We peeled leechees and walked into the ocean. When we were hundreds of feet from the shore but only up to our ankles we looked at the rides in Astroland that would be torn down the next summer. We didn’t want them to go. But at least they were there then, scaffolding climbing off the sand, throwing carts of children in arcs through the air. I’m glad they were still there then, at least.