It all started with craigslist.
Believe it or not, the world of a freelance artist doesn’t pay all that well, so I was in the market for a roommate. Sadly, I had left the safety of college and home and traveled roughly 750 miles to make it on my own. As soon as the money started wearing thin, so did my landlord’s patience.
So I went to craigslist. I know, I know, it’s basically a hive of scum and villainy the likes of which Obi-Wan never saw…but I was desperate.
It’s full of skeazeballs, but if the skeazeball could front a month’s rent for the down payment, so much the better. It’s also full of predators and rapists. Ah well, I thought, I hadn’t gotten any action in about three years, so it wouldn’t be totally awful…
Okay, I was kidding on that last one. But it almost came to that. Probably would have if I hadn’t seen this little gem hiding under the thinly-veiled pornographic “massages” and broken, semen infused futons:
“Craiglist is a pile of shit, but I’m running out of options. 26, female. I’m a talent agent, so money is there but spotty.
I am armed. I won’t take any bullshit, and I expect perfection. Two of my last three roommates wound up with complexes, and the third is in denial. I’m the worst person to have as a roommate, but as fucked-up fate would have it, I need one.
And underneath was her number and the name W. A postscript put the icing on the cake:
“I will not violate you.”
That put a smile on my face, so I called up this mysterious W, while trying not to think of George. We hit it off instantly, if only on a brash overseer and timid lackey basis. Soon, however, that melted away, and we wound up working well together. Her abrasive but charming personality added strength to mine, and I gave her some of my more mousey traits in return, effectively balancing both of us out. We both tended to have fairly open work schedules, so we saw a lot of each other and managed to bond. I helped her find artists in the area to represent, including myself, and suddenly my iron-clad roommate was wrestling me jobs all over town.
“Gotta make sure you pay the rent, Rembrandt,” she would drawl in her low alto voice, mischief flashing behind her blue eyes.
Oh, those eyes. Those damn blue eyes. They started all this trouble.
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December…except I don’t have a bird haunting me about my past love. No, this was the birth of love anew! Love, grand love! Have I mentioned I’m a fucking idiot?
Will had just broken up with her boyfriend. Her…latest boyfriend. I’d known her for about six months, and she would change fellas pretty much whenever the calendar would change. I joked once that it was because she wanted each guy to match the picture for each month, and I wound up with a lemon-sized bruise on my bicep for a few weeks. She was always falling into it with the same kind of guy: always stoic and oh-so masculine, but with just enough foibles to masquerade as deep or gentle. Problem was, those foibles were really just a manifestation of deep-seated issues with their mothers, for which Will was serving as a surrogate. After a few weeks, she got sick of holding their leashes, and showed ’em the door. Well, actually the two doors…the one out of our place and then the one at the bottom of the stairs that exited next to the Latino grocery. Coincidentally, I’ve come to love avocados, and to be a connoisseur of guacamole…
Anyway, it was after fella number six, a particularly hard-boiled leather-clad fellow named Trace (they always had those obscure names like Trace or Hunter, a word you know was something else before it became a name) and she was pretty broken up about it. I guess six one-month courting excursions would take it out of anyone. In a display of, well, very un-Will like behavior, she got loaded on a bottle of Montezuma and I came back from a mascot-rendering meeting with a local bowling alley to find her in her underwear watching Love, Actually…over and over.
Seriously. I went into the kitchen, made dinner, brought her a box of Triscuits, and finished the movie. Hey, I’m a ridiculous romantic, it’s one of my favorite films. Also, I’ve been trying to call them films more, don’t know why. After dinner, I ruffled her dark hair a bit (our roommate-code for “you’re better without him/her, everything will be all right, and bring a bucket to bed, something she’d done much more often to me, actually…) and headed to bed.
I went to bed very proud of myself, because I had managed to not stare at her in her underwear, which was a very welcome sight, if you catch my drift. However, I was woken up around two AM by some rather loud crying.
Now, maybe you don’t understand: Will doesn’t cry. She is tough. Civil War hardtack circa 2007 tough. She doesn’t do this over guys, especially not one like Trace. I rolled out of bed and peeked my head out into the living room, knowing immediately that she was about halfway through the movie, er, film, and it must be about the third time running. She was still watching intently, sniffing loudly, tears on her cheeks (although I can tell she tried to rub them out.) Well, I had only known her six months, but I had lived with her for those six months, so I figured it was my roommately duty to help her.
Plus, she was still in her underwear…
It was the scene where Colin Firth (a wholly under-appreciated actor, by the way) is slowly falling for the Portuguese girl, even though they can’t speak the same language, in true romantic comedy form. Sounds saccharine, but it’s nice, give it a try if you haven’t. Er, the film. Not falling in love with Portuguese girls. Although, if that’s your thing…
“It doesn’t work like this,” she muttered grumpily. The tequila was starting to wear off. “In real life Firth would just fake the whole novelist thing to get in bed with this girl, and ride the physical connection to the breaking point while she’s running around picking up after him…”
“Swearing in Portuguese all the way,” I added, sitting on the wood floor, in front of the couch, next to her. This got a little snigger out of her, and she finally let go of the death grip she had had on the couch cushion since six last night.
“Aren’t you cold? It’s like 10 degrees outside and not much better in here. I should know, you never let me turn the heat on.”
“Put on a sweater if you’re cold, no need to spend more on heat,” she grumbled.
“You’ve got to be cold. This floor is freezing through my pajamas. Come on, I don’t want you getting sick. If you pull a Jim Henson I’ll be pissed, because I like the way we have things set up and I don’t want to find a new roommate!”
This was a little cranky, and the Henson joke was a little low, but somehow it got through to her. She turned away from the television for the first time in roughly eight hours and looked at me with big, wet, sparkling blue eyes, shining out from fair skin and dark brown, almost black straight hair.
It was those eyes, those eyes fucked me right over from the get-go. Looking back, it wasn’t even anything romantic or dramatic, just a little look that probably lasted half a second, but I kept replaying it in my mind’s movie theater, er, cinema for about a week. She looked back, a little forlorn.
“I’m so sick of myself,” she muttered as Colin Firth got his awkward on, “I’m so sick of being this person that no man can stand to be around, even though I’m willing to bend over backward for them. I’m sick of being the Mom, the teacher, always seeming like it’s me giving and them taking. Just makes me want to go have a lobotomy, shove it in my tits, and have someone give to me for a change.”
Now, I wanted to make a comment about how her tits were fine the way they were, but I value all my teeth. Instead, I went for the cheesy boy scout line, dripping with maple syrup.
“Will, you’re amazing just the way you are, and you should really stop selling yourself short for these guys.”
and the kicker:
“One of these days you’ll find the right guy…”
ME! I screamed inside my head.
“and you’ll be so happy, because you won’t have to compromise and it will just…work.”
She sniffed, half to be derisive and half to reclaim and errant snot flow. Still was cute, though. I decided to close with a good old-fashioned self-deprecating joke, to take the pressure off her and to confirm to her that I wasn’t implying myself as “that guy” in any possible way.
“I mean, if there’s no chance for you, what’s a beanpole like me got in the world, eh?”
There was silence for so, so long. So awkward. All I could hear was Hugh Grant babbling on the TV. Why can’t I sound cute and charming when I babble, when instead I just sound nasal and offensive? Maybe I need a British accent…
“I am cold,” Will finally relented. I couldn’t persuade her off the floor, but I got a cozy afghan blanket wrapped around her shoulders. In a move that almost burst my heart, she decided to lean over and rest her head on my shoulder, speaking so softly, so sweetly.
“That Jim Henson joke was really fucking bad…but now I want to watch the Muppet Movie.”
So I spooled up the old VHS and we watched the Muppet Movie at 2:30 AM in a cold apartment on a snowy morning above a Latino grocery store in the Bronx. I was worried she’d hurl and ruin the beautiful moment…but that girl can sure hold her liquor.
Of course, there was the cursory post-hangover awkwardness for a few days, but soon it was back to normal for her…but not for me.
It’s been four and a half years now, I’m now 29 and she’s 31. We’ve managed to carve out a comfortable enough life, still without heat and without AC…but comfortable enough. I’ve been in love with this woman for four and a half years, but I love her too much as a friend and partial mentor to risk fucking it all up now. She still brings home the occasional greaser, and I try to have a fling once in a while with one of those eccentrically hot art chicks in the village, but it never really works out, anything to not arouse suspicion.
I’m security, I want to get married, and that’s hard to find in the art community. I’m a true romantic, unscarred from my myriad of love failures in the past, still believing in love happening at first sight, conquering all, and being a many-splendoured thing. That night so long ago, she was in her underwear, and pretty drunk, but all I could think of was how worried I was for this person I hardly knew, and how I wanted her to be happy no matter what, even if I wasn’t part of the equation, because she really was amazing and she deserved it.
And that’s what love is to a true romantic. Hurts like hell, but it gives life such…tangibility. Coincidentally, my DVD of Love, Actually got played out…but I just can’t seem to bring myself to buy a new one.