In My First Apartment
In my first apartment after the separation I would often lay awake in bed at night and listen to the traffic on Thirteen Mile Road. There were big, thick pine trees in front of the building and I had thought that they would act as a buffer against the noise but they didn’t, especially not when it came to the ambulances and their screaming sirens as they headed down Thirteen to Beaumont Hospital on the other side of Woodward. But even without all of that I doubt I would have slept well there.
I wouldn’t call the place a dump or anything, but it wasn’t home. (Home was where my ex was with our daughter.) This apartment was just space for me to exist in temporarily until…I don’t know what. I had not a fucking clue. I had no clear view of my future.
My ex is the one who found the place, on Craig’s List, she was so eager to get me out of the house, although she made it seem as if she was doing me a favor. And the shit of it is I went a long with it, letting her usher me right out the door without so much as a complaint. The apartment had seemed like deal at $500/month but that was until I learned that heat wasn’t included. I’d have to pay both a heat and an electric bill, one would be high in the winter and the other would be high in the summer. I’d never catch a break. I’d be too cold or too hot or broke. Probably all three, truth be told.
My ex was the one who made the money. (So in a way I guess it made sense that she should keep the house. She was the one who could afford the mortgage payments. Of course, it had been a different story years before when we were buying it and needed a down payment – then it was our house, we were in it together. But that was then, and this is now. Things had changed.) Oh, I had a job all right, but I didn’t make money like she did. I made the mistake of thinking that I didn’t have to. What a sap I was.
My ex said that she didn’t care how much money I made, that it didn’t matter, that what was important was that I was a good husband and a good and attentive father to our daughter. I thought that I was. I mean after all I was the one who altered my work schedule so that I could work from home and tend to our daughter while my ex went into the office to pursue and advance her career. Working from home it was all I could to do hold onto my job, never mind advancing. It’s difficult to get things done when you have an infant to deal with. I did most of my work late at night after my ex got home from work, usually after she’d gone to bed. While my ex was moving up and up I was administering feedings and changing diapers and trying to get her to sleep so that I could answer just a couple of emails. It was a lot harder than I ever could have imagined. But you know what? I didn’t mind. As frustrating as it could be at times, it was one of the happiest times of my life, and I would not trade it for the world, especially for example days when I would pack up my daughter and take her down the Detroit Zoo to stroll around and eat lunch. Part of me wished that I could do that every day for the rest of my life.
In the end clearly it did matter how much I made, otherwise my ex would not have replaced me with a guy who made even more money than she did.
One of the only good things about the apartment was that it had two bedrooms so my daughter had her own room, but she wasn’t very comfortable in it. She said it smelled funny and that she heard strange noises at night, in addition to the traffic and the ambulance sirens. She didn’t sleep well there either.
Because I couldn’t sleep I spent a lot of time reading and watching TV and trolling the internet. I read a lot of old private detective and crime novels that I’d already read several time before, plus some of the books I kept from my college classes, the ones that I’d liked, like Hemingway, I had “The Sun Also Rises” and the collected short stories of his and I liked to read and reread them. I don’t know why but that made me feel good. It was comforting somehow. Also, I figured I should watch as much TV as possible since I was paying for cable anyway and couldn’t really afford it. Mostly I watched reruns of old TV shows, and movies I’d seen dozens of times already, like “Jaws” and the “Star Wars” movies, but really whatever was on. I just wasn’t that interested in anything new, you know. I joined Facebook and started reconnecting with old friends from high school.
It was satisfying, almost exciting, to touch base with people that I hadn’t been in contact with for years, and in some cases even decades. It felt familiar and strangely new at the same time. Also, I was encouraged to learn that I was not alone. It seemed as if every other person I spoke to was either divorced, going through a divorce, separated or in a marriage that they wanted out of. It was like some kind of fucking epidemic.
It was via Facebook that I hooked up with Kelly, an old high school girlfriend.
I saw her online and shot her a message via chat. She responded almost instantly, pleased to hear from me. It wasn’t long before we were chatting about our current circumstances – me separated, her divorced. She had been seeing someone but it had recently gone bust. Also, she’d recently moved into a new house and we quickly figured out that she wasn’t more than a mile from my apartment. Next thing I knew I was grabbing what was left of a six-pack of beer in my refrigerator and heading over to her place. It was already late and I had to work in the morning (I still had my job at that point; I hadn’t yet been laid off) but I figured why the hell not.
Driving over to Kelly’s, I felt a giddy nervousness, like I used to feel when I was in high school, going out at night, especially if I thought there was a chance I might get laid.
Kelly was the first girl that I’d ever had sex with. I’d fooled around with other girls before her but I was always too afraid to go all the way. With Kelly I didn’t feel as if I had a choice. She wanted to have sex, so we did. I wasn’t her first. She was one of those chicks who, when we were freshman, had a senior boyfriend.
Kelly answered the door in her pajamas, a pair of loose cotton pants with a drawstring in the front that hung low on her hips and a tiny tank top. I could tell that she wasn’t wearing a bra.
“I’m sorry, I know,” she said, after inviting me inside. “I look like shit. I just got out of the shower.”
“Are you kidding,” I said. “You look great.” And she did too. But she also looked kind of tired, slight bags under her eyes. Her hair was shorter and straighter than it had been back in high school, blonder too.
We cracked open a couple of beers and sat down on the couch. The TV was on low because her kids were asleep in their bedrooms. The house wasn’t that big. She had two kids, a boy and a girl. They were both teenagers.
“So is this weird or what?” Kelly said. She was slouching back on the couch with her bare feet up on the coffee table. Her toenails were painted dark purple. Her tank top rode up and I could see that her naval was pierced.
“Yeah. A little, I guess.”
After a couple of beers we started talking about our exes again. She told me how she and her ex had lived in Florida. They had had a big house and boat, living the high life, she said. Her ex had worked in construction and business was booming. And then it wasn’t. He lost his job. And the next thing Kelly knew she was pulling double-shifts as a cocktail waitress just to try and pay the massive bills that they had while her ex sat around drinking and feeling sorry for himself. One day, in the middle of the day, she went looking for him and found him playing golf when he was supposed to be looking for work. And she lost it. She and her ex got into an actual fist fight, beating on each other. He was a big guy, but Kelly is tough, no one you wanted to fuck with. I could actually imagine her kicking the guy’s ass. Like the time she got into a fight with this guy in the Burger King parking lot after a football game. The guy said something to her that she didn’t like. I don’t even know what he said. All I know is that she threw a half-empty beer bottle at the guy’s head, just missing him. Of course, the guy was pissed, but he said he wasn’t a going to fight a girl. She didn’t give him a choice. She walked right up to the guy and clocked him hard. He went down. And she jumped on him, pummeling him mercilessly. It was kind of scary.
I told her how my ex had basically decided that I didn’t fit into the life that she wanted now. She wanted someone different, a man who was serious about his job and his career. I had interpreted this to mean that she wanted someone who made more money, and as of course I was right.
“You just need to go out there and get a better job,” Kelly said. “Show her you’re the man.” She struck a pose with both her arms up, making muscles, both hands clenched into fists. I thought she was joking, but she wasn’t. She was serious.
“Yeah. I don’t know…”
“What are you going to do? Just feel sorry for yourself?’
“I don’t feel sorry for myself.”
“Bullshit!” She laughed.
Kelly’s house was small – only two bedrooms and one bathroom, a small living room and galley kitchen – - but it was neat and clean, and filled with “nice things”. “I like nice things,” she told me, as if it was something immensely important that I needed to know about her. “And I’m not about to apologize for that.”
“Of course not,” I said. “Why should you?”
“I won’t. Not to anyone.” And there was an edge to her voice that made me a little nervous.
After exhausting the subject of our exes and kids we reminisced about high school and talked about work a little. And then suddenly we both got quiet, as if we had nothing more to discuss. We just sat there for a time, drinking beer and starting at the all but silent television. Kelly’s hand was resting there on the couch between us. After a time, I finally made a move and took her hand in mine. We both looked at each, smiling.
We were about to kiss when her teenage son, the older of her two kids, came stumbling out of his bedroom, passing through the living room behind the couch where we were sitting, seemingly oblivious to us and went into the kitchen to get something to drink from the refrigerator.
I immediately let go of Kelly’s hand and sat up on the couch, as it was Kelly’s father and not her son who had just entered the room.
He stood in the kitchen, tilting a plastic two-liter of Faygo Red Pop up to his mouth, chugging. He had curly brown hair that hung down in his eyes and he was wearing a blue and green pj bottoms that were too long and a black t-shirt with the name of some band I’d never heard of.
When Kelly introduced us I wondered if I should stand up and shake his hand but I didn’t. I just sat there and gave him a little wave. He belched in reply.
My hope was that he would quickly return to his room, close the door and stay there for the rest of the night, but he didn’t. He lingered in the kitchen, nosing around in the refrigerator and cupboards.
“What the hell are you looking for?” Kelly said.
“I don’t know,” her son said with a shrug, and kept on looking.
She got up and went into the kitchen. “Can I get you something, honey?”
“Nah. Not really.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
“Then what are you doing?”
The two of them stood there looking at each other. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to leave but I couldn’t just get up and walk out. I turned away and watched the TV.
Finally, Kelly’s son headed back to his room but Kelly stopped him. “Where are you going?”
“Back to bed. Where do you think?”
“Because it’s late and I’m tired.”
What the hell was she doing?
“…stay and hang out with us.” She stood in the doorway to his room, blocking his way. He tried to push passed her but she was having none of it. In fact, she seemed to be enjoying frustrating and embarrassing him. “Come on, baby. My sweet baby.” She laughed. Then she grabbed him by the face and planted a kiss right on his lips. He did not react. He just stood there and let her. He showed no sign of anger. I was kind of pissed off for him. I wanted to say something, tell her to leave him the hell alone, but I couldn’t.
Then she said: “Hey, honey. I got an idea. Why don’t you get your guitar and show my friend Sonny here how well you can play?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come on. Don’t be shy.”
“I’m not shy. I just don’t want to.”
“Oh, stop being a whiny little punk and get your guitar.”
“It’s cool, Kelly,” I said finally. “He doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want.”
“It’s okay. He’ll do it. He just needs a little encouragement, don’t you sweetie.”
“What am I your performing monkey?”
“Yes,” she said, laughing. “That’s exactly what you are. My little monkey.”
“Fine,” he finally capitulated.
Kelly waved me over to stand with her in the doorway to her son’s room. He slung the guitar over his shoulder, a bright red Gibson semi-hollow body with a black pick guard, and turned on his Marshall amp. He fiddled with the tuning keys for a moment, plucking at the strings to tune them. Then, after another moment spent adjusting the dials on the guitar and the amp, his hands suddenly burst into action, working furiously, harmoniously. I stood there and stared, impressed by his abilities. Clearly he was not only good at playing the guitar, he loved doing it. You could feel it in the music, see it on his face, which was contorted with a strange kind of joy.
But I was nowhere near as impressed as his mother, who fawned over his playing like a giddy high school girl.
“Doesn’t he fucking rock?”
“Yeah. He’s really good.”
“Good? Are you fucking kidding me? He’s a hell of a lot better than just good.” She seemed offended by less than adequate praise.
“No. Yeah. You’re right. He’s great.”
“Damn straight he is.”
He played for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Afterward Kelly rushed him, smothering the poor kid with hugs and kisses, which he tolerated uncomfortably.
After her sweet little boy had been tucked back into bed with the lights out and the door closed, Kelly insisted on showing me a video clip on YouTube of her son moshing with a bunch of other young guys at some outdoor concert. How it got onto the web, she didn’t say, but you’d have thought he’d made an appearance in a major motion picture or something, the way she acted. “Look at, look at. That’s him. Right there.” No matter how many times we watched it, she never ceased to be delighted. She showed me more video clips that she had stored on her computer, of her son and her daughter. Pics too. After she’d gone through them all, she hauled out some photo albums and a box of loose photographs and we went through them. She chattered on ceaselessly about her kids, placing each photograph in context for me. Of course, it was more or less white noise to me but it was clear that she was proud of her kids.
“And why shouldn’t I be?” she said.
She gave me a hard look and took a drink of her beer. I looked away. Then we both got quiet for a time, staring at the all but silent TV screen. Finally, I said, “I should probably get going.” I figured Kelly would be glad for me to go, but she said, “Are you leaving so soon?” Her voice was suddenly meek, and sweet, even a little scared, almost as if she couldn’t bear for me to be gone.
I started to get up to go but she stopped me, reaching out to take my hand.
We made out on the couch like the teenagers we used to be. And I was reminded of all those fumbling encounters we’d had all those years ago. In the front and back seats of cars, on couches in basements, outside in back yards behind garages and on the sides of houses, behind bushes, in swimming pools after dark, in cheap motel rooms after dances.
“God,” she said, her breath hot on my neck, “to be together again after all these years.”
“Yeah,” I said, rushing my hands up her top to fondle her breasts. “I know…”
I tugged at her pants. “Going in for the kill already,” she laughed. And then she pushed me off of her and stood up. For a second I thought she was going to walk away from me, a tease, just like in high school, but she didn’t. She undid the tie at the front of her pants and let t hem drop, then pulled down her panties, stepping out of them. She stood before me, naked from the waist down.
“Check it out,” she said, smacking her ass. “Two kids and not a single stretch mark.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just smiled.
Straddling me, she wrapped a blanket around us. “I don’t want my kids to see us fucking,” she whispered with a little giggle.
It was kind of like being in high school again, except instead of being worried about her parents busting in on us, it was her son and daughter that we had to be concerned about. It was kind of strange, even a little creepy. Part of me wanted to stop but I didn’t know how. Kelly was really getting into it. I guess I was enjoying it too, but not like she was. I doubt I could have stopped what was happening if I’d tried. Finally, Kelly did stop, but only because she wanted to switch positions because her knees were hurting her. We moved into the missionary position, lying down on the couch. It was an awkward and uncomfortable transition. I really just wanted this to be over with. It was like work and I was struggling, I guess you could say.
“Don’t think about it so much,” Kelly said. Her tone was sweet and encouraging, but also a bit impatient.
Afterward, I grabbed my pants and scurried off to the bathroom to peel off the condom and clean up. Then all I wanted to do was make a quick exit, but Kelly wanted me to stay.
“It’s late,” she said. “You don’t have to go. You can sleep on the couch and leave in the morning.” We were by the front door. I was kneeling down, putting on my shoes. Kelly was standing over me.
For a second I was tempted by her offer. I thought it might be nice to wake up and not be alone for a change. But then I remembered that I wouldn’t be waking up to just Kelly. There was also her son and her daughter, and being there in the morning when they woke up would just be too weird. For the first time since I’d moved out of my house all I wanted was to be back in my apartment, alone. So I stood up and said, “Thanks. I appreciate it. But I can’t. I really have to go. Sorry.”
“Yeah. Sure. Fine. Whatever.” She was trying to act like it was no big deal but I could tell she was unhappy, even a little pissed. I steeled myself for whatever might come but nothing did. She saw me out the door and that was it.
In my car, driving the dark, empty streets at three o’clock in the morning, I felt relieved, even kind of happy, which I hadn’t felt in…I don’t know how long. I was buzzing, and not just on beer – after all, I’d only had two beers to Kelly’s four…or was it more? I felt a twinge of that giddy excitement that I used to feel when I was in high school and I’d been out all night, driving around or at a party, hanging out, talking with people, meeting girls, getting laid. I rolled down my window and let the crisp summer night air blow in across my face.
I was actually whistling as I climbed the stairs to my second-floor apartment and let myself inside. Suddenly the place didn’t seem so bad. In fact, it was kind of cool. A little grungy and run down, sure, but so what. It was my place, all my place. I could do what I wanted there when I wanted how I wanted and with whom I wanted. I could come and go as I pleased, just like I used to be able to do, before I got married and had a kid.
And for the first time in a long time I was going to have no trouble falling asleep. I was a little drunk and tired as hell, and I needed to get up in a couple of hours.
But just as my head hit the pillow my cell phone rang. It was Kelly.
“I just wanted to make sure you got home okay,” she said.
“I did. Thanks.”
“So…what are you doing?”
“Trying to sleep,” I said, making no effort to conceal my annoyance.
“Oh. Yeah. Right.” Then, after a moment: “So that was pretty fun tonight…” It was somewhere between a question and a statement.
“Yes it was.”
“Yeah. It was. Really great. We should do it again.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, agreeing in hopes of ending the conversation quickly.
“Cool. How about tomorrow night?”
“Yeah. You could come over again.”
“Oh…I don’t know, Kelly…”
“What’s the matter? Why not?”
“Well, I’ve got a long day at work tomorrow…today, actually. And I’m going to be pretty wiped out by time I get home and…”
“You know what? Never mind. Forget it.”
“I’m sorry. I just –“
“Don’t be sorry, Sonny. You don’t owe me anything.”
“I know I don’t.”
“Whatever,” she said and hung up.
Maybe I should have felt bad, but I didn’t really. I was too tired. Besides, I had enough grief in my life; I didn’t need it from Kelly too. I just sort of forgot about the whole thing until a couple of weeks later when I saw Kelly online. I’d seen her online previously but I’d purposely avoided her. Now, I had the impulse to contact her. I assumed she was still pissed at me but hoped that I could somehow make amends.
Turned out she wasn’t mad at all, or if she had been she’d gotten over it. We chatted amicably. She asked me how I was doing and I told her that I was feeling kind of down. She told me what I needed was to get laid. “I’ll fuck you,” she IM’d. “Give you self-esteem.”
I IM’d: “Okay. I’ll be right over.”
“HA! Sorry. Not going to happen tonight. I’ve got the period from hell.”
“Some other time???”
“Maybe…if you’re lucky ” Then she asked: “So what’s got you down today?”
I told her it was just one of those days; I was feeling lonely and missing my family. For some reason I thought she might understand, being divorced herself, and that she might have some sympathy for me, but she didn’t. Instead, she went off on me.
“You’re still all fucked up on your ex,” she wrote.
“I don’t need this shit. I don’t need your psycho ex giving me shit.”
“She’s not going to give you shit. What are you talking about?”
“I’m not going to play second fiddle to some other bitch. I know who I am and I know what I want. I work hard. I pay my bills. I take care of my kids.”
I had not a fucking clue what she was going on about. And she was typing so furiously that I couldn’t even respond. Eventually I gave up even trying. I just logged off, relieved that she didn’t know my address, afraid that she might want to come and kick my ass or something. Later, I blocked her; I couldn’t quite bring myself to de-friend her. I guess I probably should have. She was clearly nuts.
That was back in the early spring. By that summer I’d moved back into the house with my ex and my daughter, but of course that didn’t last either. The following winter I ran into Kelly again, at the bar. It was one of those high school alum get-togethers that people had been setting up via Facebook. When I saw her I went cold. She was with some guy that I didn’t know. She looked good, all done up, wearing a cool black leather jacket over a black turtleneck. I pretended I hadn’t noticed her and tried not to look in her direction. But I knew I couldn’t escape her attention. I was sure she’d seen me. I swear I could feel her eyes staring daggers into my back. What would she do? I wondered. Smack me upside the head? Punch me? Clock me with a beer bottle? Drag me off my seat and start stomping on me? These all seemed like real possibilities. I wanted to bolt, to just get the hell out of there, but for some reason I couldn’t make myself move.
The longer I sat there and nothing happened, the more I was convinced she was fucking with me, making me twist while she plotted her strike.
And then she did, sneaking up behind me, slipping her arms around my neck, and pressing her cheek against mine. “Hi, Sonny,” she said, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
What was this? I wondered. The kiss of death? Was she going to shiv me in the back? Or maybe pull a gun a shoot me down?
Nope. Nothing of the kind. She had no intention of harming me in any way shape or form. She was just saying, hi, being friendly, sociable.
She introduced me to the guy she was with, Bernie, an amicable guy who smiled and shook my hand with no trace of malice or threat. “Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Sonny and I went to high school together,” Kelly explained. “We were friends.”
We were? I thought. Friends? Just friends? Really? Because I remembered it a bit differently, and wanted to say so, but I didn’t. I kept my mouth shut, nodding in agreement.
Later, after we’d hung out and drank and talked a bit, I found myself observing Kelly with Bernie. I wasn’t staring at her, ogling her anything. And I wasn’t jealous exactly. But I did notice something. It was the way Bernie looked at her, with a kind of goofy admiration bordering on reverence. It was sappy and a little annoying, but nice too. And, it was the way she was with him, sweet and solicitous, kind of giddy like a school girl. I got the impression that I was witnessing two people who were in love or falling in love, or at least something close to it. And it made me wonder. Was there something I’d missed?