Reputations Changeable, Situations Tolerable, Baby, You're Adorable, Handle Me With Care
My first experiences in California wasn't what you'd expect from the movies and television. I was not greeted by a plethora of beatnick surfer-types at the airport. Nor was I accosted by any strangely erratic personages at the hotel. I wasn't even invited to meet up at an oxygen bar until my fourth day in the Golden State. What I found was a place like any other. Only more spread out. And sunny. Sure, I did notice a few differences right away. It's the only place I've been to where having a car is a birthright, a necessity, and a curse all at the same time. It's the only place where one can go from snow to shore in the span of a couple of hours. It's also the only place where people can be professionally unemployed.
It was the summer before I was to start at Georgia and my good friend here had invited me to spend a few days living the unexamined life before my life slowly, but surely, became the examination life. Being the adventurous sort and finally wanting to make good on promise to visit E. at least once in my life, I made short work of making arrangements to fly out. When I had first broached the subject to my parents, they were hesitant but encouraging. It was the first long-distance trip I had ever taken without them. They weren't completely confident I was mature enough to handle five days in a foreign land, yet when the final decision came down I had a relatively easy time explaining that I was merely getting a jumpstart at being away from them while I was at college. After all, I said, you've already made arrangements for me to move away at the end of the summer. You can't unscramble the eggs now.
"And they just relented like that?"
"I can be quite the charmer so I've been told," I said, taking another bite from my spare ribs. We were at some steakhouse near Santa Monica and I was discussing how weird it was to be so far away from home and not know a single person out there except for the person across the table. As long as I've travelled I've suffered from bouts of self-realization. I'm like the puppy given to new owners who constantly wonders why everything looks so different, even after being in a new place for a few days. The hotel, the highways, the scenery--I was processing it all with a reluctance born of the fact that I would have to bid it adieu in a matter of days. California, at the time, was a matter not to be studied too exhaustively. California was more like cramming for a test because you knew the information you gathered wouldn't be of any practical use after the semester had finished.
"Ah, yes, the mythical charm of one Breane Holins. I've heard of such matters discussed in tucked-away alleys, but I never dared to believe it was real."
"Well, you know, darling, I only like to whip it out for special occasions. It even came with a warning when I picked it up at the pawn shop--handle with care."
"I don't know whether to blush that you think this occasion special enough to warrant whipping it out or to blanch at the fact that, indeed, your charm is so overwhelming."
"Foolish Patrick, don't you know that such textured allure, the likes of which I happen to possess, must always cause uncontrollable awe in those who are fortunate to be caught in its flowing tide?"
"I must have missed that memo, Miss Breannie."
I watched as he took a sip of his ice water, contemplating the next bon mot to foist upon my willing foil. Sometimes I take these mental exercises for granted, as if all individuals enjoy the see-saw motion our conversations usually take on. Ah, the joys of being a cunning linguist and/or a master debater.
As much as I was relishing the conversation, there was a cloud hanging over my whole trip. We both knew it. We both didn't want to speak about it either. It was the pink elephant in the living room that everybody can see but no one wanted to broach the subject about. Actually, it was both a cloud and a pink elephant. It was the pink cloud in the shape of an elephant that kept occupying my thoughts and was about fifty percent of the reason I was out here.
I was going to be away from home for the first time for a long time. I was going to meet new people--witty, profound, intelligent, and otherwise interesting people. I wasn't going to be able to keep up the frequent nightly talks the two of us had shared. I was going to become sequestered and shut away from the world at large it seemed. He was worried that I wouldn't have time enough for an old friend when the world over there would soon become more hectic than I could appreciate. He already thought it bad enough that the bulk of our friendship rested in the confines of modem wires and telephone sound waves. He had me believing that our closeness would fade away with the added pressure of even more distance.
"What's the old adage again? Neither a senile, old fool nor an absolute liar be?"
"There she goes again with the talk of my convenient memory loss. I do have a problem with retention, you know, Breanne?"
"Just like I have a 'real' problem with baring my lily=white ass to random pedestrians," I chuckled. "One of these days somebody else is going to catch on that if you really forgot all the things you say you forget you'd be labeled a legitimate imbecile."
"Imbecile, huh? Is that what you really think of me?"
"Oh, you don't want to know what I think of you."
"And why's that?"
"My opinion of you wavers with the coming morning. I wake up each day wondering exactly how I feel about you and why in hell's bells do I bother to remain constantly yours so vigilantly?"
"Because nobody else will put up with your crapola?"
"No, that's not it."
"Because everybody else is scared of you?"
"Closer, but nah."
"Because you have a deep, all-consuming love for me that you can't quite shake?"
"I give. Why?"
Just then the waitress came by to clear our plates and inquired as to our willingness to endure having dessert. Never one to pass up sugary confections, my companion immediately requested to have a dessert menu sent our way post haste. I was just about to ask if there was perhaps a dessert that the pair of us could divide. After the feast of Herod I had just paced myself through, I wasn't assured that I could endure another Herculean eating task. That's when I remembered yet another quirk of Patrick's.
He doesn't share desserts.
I mean--we all have quirks. God put us on the Earth with a mind bent towards free will and free will usually entails some often strange behavior. I could have made a bigger deal of his eccentricities, but any stern admonishment coming from a chronic represser with entitlement issues would have fallen on deaf ears, I'm afraid.
I decided against dessert, full and content with the meal that came before. After his dessert order had been placed we continued the conversation.
"As I was saying, I oft wonder what have I done to deserve this... what have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this? Or, more succinctly, what have I done to deserve you?"
"You sound like I'm a punishment, Breanne."
"Oh, the worst. I'd take the rack over you any day of the week, Mr. Patrick."
"The rack, huh? I'd sure like to rack you, let me tell ya..."
"Anyways. I was thinking about it and thinking about it the whole plane ride over here. Why do I put so much effort into something that could have faded so many years ago? Why does anyone choose to remain in any type of long-term partnership?
"Is it apathy? That certainly does explain a lot of my behavior. I've often been told that I would rather let a friendship sour rather than admit someone in my circle of trust should no longer be in my circle of trust. I find the need for a buffer of personages around me enough motivation to stand aside and do nothing when it comes to the bad relationships I've had in my life.
"Is it loyalty? Do I stay a part of this difficult, often tiresome twosome as some reward to your sticking around with me this long? I have been told that at the end of the day, when the dust bunnies settle, I rather like the distinction of having a close friend that I can say has been there for me through thick and thin for the last five years. But is the only reason we are so close because no one else has lasted with me for five years?
"Is it love? Hell's bells, it's no secret, sugar, that, if not the first, you were one of the first guys I ever fell hard for. And Providence knows a piece of my heart will always belong to you. But I think we've both gotten to a stage in our lives where we know whatever we have isn't exactly that romantic kind of love. It's a different beast altogether."
His dessert arrived right on cue.
"I think the real reason we're friends is that I happen to think you're adorable. It's this constant newness, freshness, that makes the last five years seem so short a time period. You keep me on my toes. Everyone else figured me out a long time ago, not to mention I had them figured out a long time ago. I think, I think, I think, it's not knowing where and how you'll meet my every sentence, my every pronouncement, that keeps me coming back. I want to see what kind of reaction I can get out of you. Like I said, even when you get freaked out by something I do, there's a slight adorable factor there."
Just then he pushed the humongous slice of mud pie in my direction and gestured towards one of the two forks hanging on the edge of the platter.
I didn't question his decision, I just accepted the offer for what it was, an unbelievably uncharacteristic act of friendship. I took a bite and looked into his eyes.
It was one of the sweetest things I'd ever experienced.
"And to answer your question, Breannie," he said, between bites. "I'm not sharing my dessert with you. I ordered this for you so, technically--technically--you're sharing your dessert with me."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Patrick."
We both laughed with our mouths full.
"What can I say, B.? I just know how to handle you with care."