In Need of Repair

I followed him up a narrow, wooden staircase and wondered if this was a bad idea. I hadn’t gotten high since I graduated college more than two years ago. Blonde fur collected at the corners of the stairs. As James unlocked his door to reveal the inside of his apartment, I considered making up some excuse to leave, but when the door opened, I followed him inside.

James was a non-traditional student at the state university where I was enrolled to start my MFA that fall. He’d done ten years in Iraq in the military and now he was getting his degree in political science and living with Kai, his service dog, off campus. We’d met one week earlier while I was filling out hiring forms for my teaching assistantship. James’ apartment was flanked by a church on each side and it looked like it could have been an old bank, two stories high with small windows close together.

I was never sure what I wanted with men or from them. On some level, I liked the attention they gave me, the distraction for my everyday woes and anxieties that seemed to plague me at every turn. Friday afternoons were the peak of my nervous tendencies. I’d dream up what felt like thousands of different scenarios for my weekend and then be hard pressed to choose one. The state of indecision was a mental place of sweet torture and one I chose to inhabit often. So when someone invited me to do something, took some agency over my plans, it was a relief. I could simply say yes to whatever they proposed and that released me from my suffering for a moment.

In the case of James, I couldn’t discern my desire from my fear, so I crossed over his threshold knowing where going into his apartment would probably lead. There were sexual places in myself that I hadn’t explored much as a teenager and which I wanted to understand now. I was missile seeking whatever didn’t feel like home.

James’ walls were adorned with framed military awards, electric guitars, and art. A psychedelic wave swallowed a dark silhouette in a swirl of color. Pepper licked Kai’s metal food bowl so it rasped across the kitchen floor and James invited me to sit down. I chose a black chair at the edge of the living room which was also the kitchen and bedroom. Next to me was a table with some rolling papers and a bong. James sat on the futon and lit the bong for me, told me to hold the glass to my lips and suck in. I took two hits and I felt fine. James took a turn and then gave it back to me. I took another hit. And another. Then everything started to disintegrate.

We went for a walk in the nearby woods where we held hands and Pepper got sprayed by a skunk, so we had to come back and wash her. Time started slowing down and that made me sweat and do lots of nervous yawns and check my phone even though no one was messaging me.

The summer night blossomed, heat pushing its way in through the window screens and causing the tapestries covering them to billow subtly inward. After washing Pepper, James joined me on the black futon. His flat screen TV loomed in front of us and I thought I heard the rustle of leaves from a nearby tree. Everything felt eerie and dangerous and I wanted it all to stop, but I didn’t know how to make that happen.

If I could talk to my younger self, I would remind her that she had legs. She had strong legs that could move her up off that couch and away from intimacy with James. I would give her a small lesson in quantum physics, tell her that nothing is real until you look at it. Your perception brings things into existence. What was I changing by continuing to look at the TV screen in front of me instead of looking at James? His parents were from Korea and he had jet black hair with a round face. He was taller than me, but so were most men. If I’d looked at him more that night, would I have been able to change things? I don’t know.

In other universes, other things happened, but in the universe I’m conscious of, I stayed on James’ futon watching a terrible comedian on Netflix until James took off his tank top to reveal the ripples of muscle on his chest, his tan skin, a map of his body in front of me. He noticed that I was shivering and draped his wool poncho over me. I snuggled up to him with my head resting on his tattoos. He rolled a joint and after he smoked it, he rested his fingertips on my inner thigh. I played with the soft edge of his board shorts and then he moved to touch me under my dress.

That’s when my phone started buzzing. My sister was calling, and I went to the bathroom to talk to her in private. She was in Vermont and called to catch up. I told her I’d gotten way too high and was at some strange guy’s place and didn’t know what to do.

“Wait it out,” she said. “You’ll be okay.”

I hung up and stared at myself in the mirror. My skin was covered in salt from the ocean. I moved my mouth to make sure it was attached to my face and I was still living in my body. All the wires appeared to be connected. I wondered how I’d become the kind of person who hung out with random guys and smoked weed. Before, I’d always protected my ladylike presentation at all costs. A lady would never get high. A lady would never have a one-night stand with a military man. I didn’t know what else to do, so I walked out of the bathroom and sat back next to James.

“Let’s go to the bed,” he suggested.

Kai slept below us in her den and I thought about her being there, not watching but feeling the walls of her den press a little closer onto her under our weight on the mattress above her. James decided the bed was too hot, so we got in the shower. The falling droplets of water all around created the atmosphere of tropical rainforest and I imagined how peaceful a place that like that might be: with large roots and tree trunks triple my size, the echoes of monkey calls from above and leaves bigger than my face. That sounded like home. The sex wasn’t pleasant or unpleasant, but neutral. I couldn’t open my eyes due to the water streaming down, and eventually the pounding stopped.

We stepped out of the shower and toweled off and when we got our clothes back on, we resumed our places on the futon. I found my phone blinking with a new message. Taylor had come to pick me up and she was waiting outside. I told James this and we walked down the stairs, my hair still soaked and dripping down my back. The clouds had become so heavy and dense that they couldn’t hold on to their wet cargo any longer. James and I hugged on the front lawn of his apartment. I got in the passenger seat of Taylor’s lime-green two-door.

Two weeks later, I’d find needles in his apartment in the cupboard under the gecko tank. I’d wonder if he was a junky and be afraid to ask. I’d sit on his front lawn while he read J.R.R. Tolkien in a lawn chair while smoking another joint and get the feeling that he probably wasn’t a junky but that I wanted him to be. If he were a junky, then I would have a reason to stop hanging out with him.

About Bethany Clarke

Bethany is an MFA candidate at the University of New Hampshire. She enjoys writing about New England culture and is working on a memoir. You can most often find her walking in the woods and drinking tea.

Bethany is an MFA candidate at the University of New Hampshire. She enjoys writing about New England culture and is working on a memoir. You can most often find her walking in the woods and drinking tea.

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