THE NIGHT FOR PINEAPPLE, KIWI CHICKEN HAD ARRIVED. We had ONE market downtown, so that’s where I started walking after classes. Being a college kid, fresh fruits and protein were foreign, scarce items. I subsisted mostly off of cupcake mixes, ramen, Jell-O, coffee, and cheap liquor. My ingredients list was long, my arms are comically short, and stretching my malt-liquor budget for a champagne type meal meant I was going to have to smoke nasty ass Pall Mall cigarettes for the next two weeks.
I made it in and out with my ingredients packed to the top in a single paper bag because they had no plastic, and no handles, and I only had two ridiculously tiny arms to tote the bulging bag home. I balanced the heavy bag full of rice, chicken, pineapple, kiwis, oil, and chicken stock atop my boobs to help the weight of the bag seem less like a boulder. Eighteen year olds aren’t the brightest creatures though, so I overestimated my capabilities and decided I could totally smoke, no-handed.. With a lit cigarette hanging out of my mouth, plumes of tiny toxic clouds bouncing from the lit end, off the bag, and back into my face, I headed in the direction of my apartment 5 blocks away.
Being short is already vision impairment, but when you add in being a dumbass too, well, it isn’t surprising that I didn’t notice the groups of people cooing and awing with their phones out across the corner where I was headed. My right flat shoe-clad foot came down on top of something squishy, warm, coarse fur brushing against the side of my foot skin, and a wretched squawk I just knew was imminent rabies, made me scream, dropping my cigarette, and desperately trying to keep my overpriced groceries inside their little paper bag of hell. As I regained my balance, I looked over just in time to see the possum I had just used as a step stone look back and hiss at me, before squeezing himself into the sewer.
“You little fucker,” I whispered trying to breathe again between heart palpitations. This can’t be a good sign. Stepping on a possum had to be a fucking precursor to some awful event to come. I tried not to turn lobster red as people laughed into my back as I sulked home.
As I finished the pineapple-kiwi salsa, a lazy knock in perfect rhythm made me feel like puking. His knock said “no fucks to give,” which is bad for a person like me, who has many fucks to give. So many fucks people tend to not see a difference between that and neuroticism. I collected myself and flipped the deadbolt to open the heavy door to that blue eyed, semi-familiar face. The rest of the night was as smooth sailing as a chipmunk on an ice cube in the Pacific could be. He ate half the dinner, handed me a season of Sons of Anarchy to play, and passed out on my couch in the middle of it. I prodded him awake after the episode ended.
“Want to come over Friday?” Chris asked me in a smooth way that I’ll never be able to attain.
“Sure. Is it close enough to walk to?” I asked, hoping it was so I didn’t have to ask for a ride. I didn’t have my license yet because I had failed my driving test twice and just felt like an idiot stepping into the SoS again and I didn’t want to come out with THAT baggage on the first date thing.
“I’ll pick you up,” Chris said with something that seemed to border on humor. I initially thought it was because he was so chivalrous, he found it funny that I offered to walk and not just ask when he would be by to pick me up. Don’t get me wrong, he is super chivalrous; in his own way. But that wasn’t why he was laughing.
I closed the door behind him as he left and waited for our next ‘date’.
Few places were as well known as the house he was living at, at the time. It became pretty apparent to me why, from the moment I set foot inside. Instead of the normal feeling of carpet or hardwood in the living room, the floor was a sea of old fast food bags that crumpled beneath my feet wafting up the smell of old grease as I made my way over to the couch that looked like it had definitely been puked on before. Chris made his way to the kitchen to grab food for us. In the dining room was a half assembled motorcycle, with skids of tire rubber marking up the floor around it and pools of oil scattered across the hardwood. A large tank with a mesh lid and a light sat in the corner of the archway between the two rooms.
“What’s in there?” I asked the closest person.
“There was an iguana in there.”
“Was?” I moved over to the arm of the couch to look down into the tank, praying to see a scaly tail. I didn’t.
Where the fuck am I? I wondered. Just then a tall, shirtless, sweaty dude in daisy duke denim shorts with his underwear hanging out the bottom of the leg holes, tall socks and boots jumped out from around the corner wielding a machete the size of his forearm, yelling nonsense. I’m no stranger to wild behavior with weapons. My brother threw knives at my head and I chased him with baseball bats yelling that I was going to kill him, for fun. But never in the presence of company and instead of people laughing and cheering, usually my Mom was tearing out behind us screaming at us to “knock our shit off!” Everyone seemed like this was pretty normal for a Friday night though, so I just hoped I still had blade-ducking luck left in me and laughed along. Besides, I had always been fast paced and bored and, for once, I wasn’t bored anymore.
“Wanna go out and have a smoke?” Chris asked, appearing out of nowhere. I was hoping a break outside in the quiet would reset what I had just witnessed and give me the time I usually took to suit up for insanity. We stepped out right in time to see another one of Chris’ roommates put a cigarette out on her tongue though, so that ship had sailed, probably 3 cases of beer, 2 hours, and an iguana ago. Smoke clouds turned into snowflakes and a snowball fight broke out from the front porch to the dining room, turning the sea of McDonalds bags into wet, greasy, mush that I really doubt would get cleaned up any time soon. Hell, maybe not ever.
As fucking wild as the house was, Chris was like the eye of the storm. The chaos seemed to swirl around him, but never phase him and it was a quality that followed him everywhere. When snowballs flew from every direction and machetes were being used as baseball bats, his face was bright and calm, fixed with a steady gaze on me. It was a gaze that I didn’t say no to. It was my first time having sex on plastic sheets that required me to peel my butt cheeks off of like a bizarre Band-Aid, to grab a cigarette, but as I reached across him, he kissed the top of my head and I couldn’t help but be almost sleepless by the juxtaposition of the scene. Here was someone who FINALLY kept me on my toes when everyone else seemed to be predictable, boring, dependent, and unmotivated. Chris was someone who didn’t seem to ‘NEED’ me to fill a gap or care for him somehow and it was refreshing, even if refreshing smelled like old PBR cans and an ashtray.
Earlier in the night I had picked up that his 22nd birthday was in two weeks.
“What do you want for your birthday?” I asked. I love giving people gifts and often, my perfectionist attitude drives me crazy finding the present receiver just the right thing.
“I don’t know.” Chris said, pulling a heavy drag of a Camel Special Blend.
“What kind of music do you like that you don’t have?” I asked, trying to get any sort of helpful hint out of him.
“GG Allin and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,” he finally caved.
Firework type noises ricocheted outside the window of the sunroom that had been converted into his room. Chris yawned, already half asleep, and with closed eyes said “Those are probably gunshots, so stay below the windows,” instead of ‘goodnight’. I took the still smoldering lit cigarette from between his fingers, snubbed it out in the ashtray beside his bed, and snuggled into the plastic sheets and heated blanket.