Escape from Purgatory

“Well picture this. It’s basically, like, a separate plane of existence where everything is formless and meshed into nothingness. This is where our consciousness truly resides, and this world that we live in is nothing more than a creation of these ‘beings’…”

“What, like we are the avatars for some god-like beings?”

“Nah man, you can’t think about it like they’re physical beings at all, they are just… existence in it’s purest form—I guess. So our bodies are nothing more than unconscious animals roaming the Earth. We have the natural drive for sustenance and reproduction, but the intervention of the consciousness allows us to progress further than beasts. Our consciousness works with our bodies in a sort of symbiotic relationship. For example, the stronger a consciousness is within a body, the more likely that person will be able to separate his primitive, or animalistic, thought and action from his consciousness’ guidance, and give himself solely to the realm of the consciousness…”

“Like that fat happy Chinese guy?”

“…You mean the fucking Buddha?”

“Just listen. These formless entities seek to find liberation from our bodies… like I guess in a process like nirvana? It’s all about internal improvement… ‘all betterment begins with the self,’ and stuff… you know what I’m saying, right?”

Damn it! I really had that thought going for a second. It all seemed so clear in the beginning, but I felt myself losing it right around the, “primitive or animalistic” section. And then Mary had to open her mouth, as usual. How the hell does she not know who the Buddha is? Why is she even here? One of the let downs of philosophical thought while stoned, I guess (I can never resist the plea of my inner philosopher), or maybe it was that hand I felt on my thigh?

Normally, I wouldn’t have made a big deal about it; that was just Becca. She was always very free spirited and affectionate, liberally giving out hugs and kisses—among other things. She never meant anything by it, more than friends. However, this time was different. Her hand didn’t fall on my leg, or grab it in a short affectionate gesture. No, this was much more subtle.

I hadn’t even noticed it at first, due to how gentle it was, but she had placed her hand on my knee sometime around the beginning of this Alan Watts-inspired discussion. It was nothing I would normally take note of, but this cunning fox had a plan! She had slowly, walked her hand up my thigh. Let me repeat, she had gently crawled her fingers up my leg, occassionally adding pressure to tempt me into noticing. Picture a centipede, but with a beautifully soft skin tone, fire-red nail polish, tiny wrists, connecting her slender hands to long arms, leading to the most innocently seductive face you’ve ever seen on an arthropod—you know what? A centipede probably isn’t the best metaphor.

I suddenly notice an intense sensation of heat on my cheeks. A moment of panic at the realization that my face looks like a Voltorb right before it uses self-destruct. It’s just Becca being Becca, I think, so I try to play it cool—except I just can’t help but notice she hasn’t moved her hand! It feels like she put it there an hour ago! I calm myself, and slowly turn my head to look at her.

This is it. You’ve got her this time old boy! The commotion in the room vanishes, leaving me alone with her on the couch, and the world seems to slow in anticipation of what I have waited for since the moment we met. I turn to look at her, convinced I will be greeted by puckering lips.

My gaze meets the back of her head. She’s talking to Emily, who’s wrapped up in Mike’s arms. That sorceress! Her mind games rival the riddle of the Sphinx.

“Sounds like we’ve got a regular Ram Dass over here!” blurts out Harold.

I was thinking Alan Watts, I would have retorted, but I can’t tear my conscious from that witch’s fucking hand!


Becca had been my partner for a presentation a couple months ago. We were both taking an intro course on the history of South Asia. Being a history major with no need for credits before graduation, I had taken the course because of general interest. Becca on the other hand, was an English major who desperately needed to fulfill several of the sundry general university requirements, and was utterly out of her element in this class.

If it weren’t for her sitting down next to me on the first day, I would’ve dropped the class the moment I found out about the ridiculous amount of reading. But Becca was irresistible (and I mean that in the most superficial and shallow sense of the word).

Intriguing, I thought to myself, as she took her seat.

Despite the ‘buddy-buddy’, happy picture of college that most delusional people have, lecture is like a giant game of keep away. Everyone looks for those coveted seats in sets of three that leave you totally isolated, like an island among the ocean of chairs. Yet, this girl had chosen the one next to me.

I casually looked around to reassure myself that the room was actually empty. It was! She had a plethora of potential locations to berth her island, yet she chose to join mine. Ours was now the biggest of all the lands in the archipelago of 3340 Mason Hall.

Inspired, I laid down my best line, “Hey, how’s it goin?” Oh yeah, you panty droppin’ motherfucker.

We had a pleasant enough chat before lecture began, and at the end, she said, “I’ll see you next time,” and gently grabbed my wrist (meaning I was definitely in). I decided to play it casual and act aloof by not sitting next to her in the following lecture. In fact, I made sure to show up two minutes late so that she would already be sitting by the time I entered the room. Aloof…

But when I had finally found a seat in the back, I noticed the door open. It was Becca casually strolling in fifteen minutes late. She had out-loofed me! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as she took her seat next to me and shot me an expression that said, “oops,” in the cutest way possible. She made those pictures of people shaming their dogs on the internet look like nothing.

The relationship remained, ‘in the classroom,’ so to speak, for a couple more lectures. That is, until our first project. She had invited me over to her place to ‘prepare’ for it, and I was sure that we were about to get it on. Our preparation began in the living room with her roommates and some other friends, none of whom I knew. I didn’t mind though. It’s not as if I expected to go straight to her room and find out how thick the walls were. I knew I’d have to work for it, but that’s when I noticed something disheartening.

All of the signals that Becca had been sending me in class—the subtle touch on the shoulder, the radiant smile, the spontaneous hug outside of Hatcher Library—were not signals at all. She was just as affectionate with all of her friends. I felt like a dumb-ass sitting in that room. I should just bail, I thought, but something about Becca was so appealing to me that I couldn’t leave.

She took me to her room to work. Her walls were an ode to the great protagonists of American literary history. She had them all: Salinger, Kerouac, Fitzgerald, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman. The range was staggering. Every author that I had ever admired had a place on her wall, and it made me that much more infatuated with her. I hated that.

After our work was finished, I grabbed my things and attempted to make an escape from this failed effort to break out of my shell. She had been the first girl I had seriously considered in a long time, and all I wanted to do was get out of there—but at the same time, I wanted to let go of the doorknob, lay my hand on her shoulder, with my palm gentle caressing her neck, pull her close, and passionately kiss her.

“Leaving so soon?”

It was one of Becca’s roommates, wrapped up in her boyfriends arms. Her hands were curled up in front of her mouth for some reason, which made it hard to understand.

“Well, I have a lot of reading to get to,” I made up a bullshit excuse.

“Bullshit!” Yelled out the guy sitting in the chair on the far side of the room. Well played, good sir.

“Why don’t you come in and sit down for a while?” Asked Becca’s roommate, revealing the freshly licked joint in her hands.

I haven’t smoked in a good… couple hours, I thought. “Sure, why not?”

“Do you play Fifa?” Asked the guy sitting in the chair.

I told him I did; he told me his name was Harold, and that I was about to get my “ass whipped.” As the joint began it’s twisted loop around the room, Harold and I began our match. Years of single-player play had prepared me for this bout, yet Harold still proved a tough adversary. The match came down to the final minutes, and aroused the sentiments of the entire room.

Exhaling a healthy sized hit, Mike cheered on Harold as a cumulus escaped through his teeth. Emily, Becca’s wrapped-up roommate, shoved mike’s arm off her shoulder, “Hey, be courteous to the guest. Let’s go James!” She scoffed in a know-it-all voice. In the end, Harold won, but I had gained a new group of friends.

Soon, Becca came back downstairs, immediately snagging a drag on the roach as she flopped into the beanbag chair next to me (shout-out to all my brothers and sisters still rockin’ the beanbag chair, respect). The second game between Harold and I had just begun when I felt her softly grab my forearm, handing me the roach. Despite my distain for roaches, I took a hit. The intense heat and scooby snacks singed the back of my throat.

“I’m glad you’re still here,” she said with a gentle smile, “I was just thinking about you.”

Alright what the fuck? I was seriously confused. Normally, I would consider that to be a form of flirtatious banter, but I had no idea what it was to her. Do I go for it? I had no idea, opting for the neutral reactionary smile, and returned to the task at hand against Harold. However, as much as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Needless to say, I lost the second match as well—Madrid has no right to have Ronaldo and Bale.

“Well maybe next time?” Asked Harold, trying to get me to play another match. “You’re pretty good.”

“Better than me by a mile.” Remarked Mike.

“Can’t we do something else?” Begged Emily, “Something more stimulating than electronics?”

“What could be more ‘stimulating’ than electricity?”

“You know what I fucking mean, Harold.”

Harold made a face at Emily, and she snickered in retort, while Mike settled everything by suggesting ‘we all go out’ (whatever that meant). Emily and Harold both agreed, and looked at me expectantly. This had probably been the longest I had hung out with any new people in years, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could go.

“You should come,” chimed in Becca.

Once again I must put on the dunce cap and apologize for falling into another one of her treacherous traps. She wants me to go. “I mean, it sounds like a plan to me,” I mustered up some genuine enthusiasm for Becca.

As we all got up to leave, I noticed she was still lounging on the bag. “Aren’t you coming?”

“Oh no, I have a friend coming over pretty soon.”

Woman, you are fucking killing me. She had done it again.


Surprisingly, our outdoor adventure proved to be a merry venture, in which I bonded well with Harold, Emily, and Mike. Emily had known Becca since high school, and had been her roommate every year of college. She gave me the low down on Becca’s dangerous habit of leading nice guys on, but that she was really a “bad-ass” type girl. Qualifying that it was essential information to know, if I was going to be hanging out with them more.

Mike and Harold had been freshman roommates. Harold was a townie, having grown up in Ann Arbor, while Mike had made the mistake of leaving the warmth of LA for the freezer box that was the Mitten. The way they acted together, it seemed fitting that Harold would be the boyfriend of Becca. I was beginning to wonder if Mike was immune to jealousy until we ran into Harold’s boyfriend, Craig, bar-tending at a local brewery. Craig was kind enough to give us a substantial cross-fade for free before we left.

Over the next couple months, I began seeing Harold, Mike, and Emily more often. But mostly, I saw Becca. I knew what those guys had said, but something about her made me swoon. She was absolutely gorgeous, but she didn’t acknowledge it. I don’t mean that in the way most girls talk about themselves in a negative light, like a disgusting angler fish waiting for prey to feed their insatiable vanity. Becca truly acted as if she was unaware of her beauty, or better yet, unattached to her beauty.

That’s not to say that she didn’t care about looking nice. Let me put it this way, she wouldn’t be caught dead in the yoga pants and tight top that leave nothing to the imagination (or respect) so valued by the gaggles of sorority geese squawking about campus in their Uggs. If her style could be given a label, I would have to say that it is a modern flapper. Even as the weather grew cold, and winter approached, Becca stayed strong with the flowing skirt or dress. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many layers of stockings.

She loved new things, and exploring the city. In the first three months I don’t think we ever did the same thing while we were together. But, of everything that I loved about her, it was her taste in music that I just could not get over. Being a person that takes great care in the music he listens to, her ability to perfectly explain her likes and dislikes of music ranging from Tchaikovsky, to Bob Dylan, to Flying Lotus, kept us talking for hours. She introduced me to Nujabes and the jazz-influenced hip-hop scene in Japan and on the West Coast. I gave her something that no music collection is complete without; Dan Reeder, and good ol’ wholesome folk. Our violently dichotic history of genre exploration gave us the unique possibility to explore the merits of all kinds of music together.

We could spend hours together just talking and listening to music, yet no matter how well things went when we saw each other, nothing changed between us romantically. I tried making hints and subtle moves several times, but she brushed it off as nothing more than friendly play. When we went to concerts, it was always with the rest of the house (not that I particularly minded), and she would usually bring a date (that I particularly minded). As Kerouac said it, “A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.”

The type of guy was always the same. Artsy as fuck, and proclaiming his superiority to the masses like a fucking god walking amongst us mere mortals (Maybe I’m a little biased, but seriously, the depth of their psyche was bested by a thimble). These guys came and went, occassionally scoring an ‘overnight pass’ by the end of the show. It fucking killed me, but how could I say anything? Besides, when I didn’t care for that self-pity fest, focusing on Harold, Emily, or Mike was never a bad option.

Harold and I bonded well over soccer. We were both heavily involved in sports as kids, and we were still able to vicariously live out our competitive nature through video games and discussions of current leagues. His boyfriend, Craig, was the polar opposite of an athlete, and was never willing to play, or even learn how to follow sports.

Mike was always down for a quick game, and generally kept up with current sports news, but his main focus was his affair with a wonderful lady named Mary Jane. The amount that Mike could tell you about marijuana growing, processing, cooking, and smoking would dwarf the prowess of any professor in his or her area of expertise. His degree in biochemistry was nothing more than further research into the perfect pot plant. It goes without saying that Mike was a good guy to know.

Emily was always hooking me up with her friends. “If I wasn’t with this oaf, you could have me in a second,” she joked while playfully being angry at Mike (he didn’t find it that funny). I couldn’t tell if she was being serious, or if she just felt bad for me and my situation with Becca. It wouldn’t be surprising if she pitied me. I guess I looked pretty desperate hanging around for a girl that was clearly not in to me. But everyone had truly made me feel like a friend. I was willing to accept defeat with Becca and be her friend, if it meant that I could continue to chill with everyone else.

Then came the night of the Explosions in the Sky concert. They were the first band that Becca and I had ever talked about, and we decided to go a long time beforehand. As usual, everyone was supposed to come, but Mike and Emily bailed last minute, and Harold had forgotten about Craig’s a-cappella concert. So, Becca and I headed over to Royal Oak early in the afternoon, dropped one tab each, and proceeded to adventure the downtown area. By the time the concert began, our trip had entered a perfectly mellow stage.

The music was incredible. The set climaxed with the hit of ‘Your Hand In Mine,’ coordinated with a backdrop of blinding white light. I still think we were taken to a higher place as they sustained that beautiful chord, and we were inundated with—what can only be described as—the light of heaven. I turned to Becca, who was already staring at me. Our eyes locked, and there was nothing that needed to be said. The movement of my hands around her waste felt so natural, our lips locked, and all that was wrong with the world was suddenly set right. The song ended, but our embrace lingered. She grabbed my hand, and whispered in my ear, “I want you,” and I swear I felt my heart melt (which is quite a sensation on LSD). The concert ended that moment for us, and we hurried to get home. I’m not necessarily proud of what we did in the cab on the way back to her place, but how the hell were we expected to wait an hour?


I wish I could say that that night sealed the deal—that the nice guy won. I’d like to say that Becca and I are a couple, and that the girl practically massaging my thigh right now is my girl. I envy the other me of a parallel universe that is so lucky. Instead, she said that it was a mistake. She blamed the drugs on her actions, and even though I protested, she said that I was equally at the will of the acid. “Our friendship is more important,” she had said.

And there it was; I was officially deemed unworthy to be her boyfriend. I mean, I’m not mental. I knew that she had friend-zoned me this whole time, but to actually hear it coming from those perfectly shaped lips was worse than seppuku.

She had at least had the decency to keep her distance from me. I had made it clear that I didn’t except her excuse, and that something emotionally significant had manifested that night. In my mind we had crossed a plain, and there wasn’t any turning back. I hadn’t just gotten my feet wet, I had held her hand as we dove into the deep end. The fact that she was ignoring it infuriated me, and it had apparently upset Emily as well.

“Why do you think we all suddenly became too busy to go to the show?” She said while we lounged in the Diag one afternoon.

“It was all Emily’s idea,” said Mike when he and Harold explained their plan. They had been rooting for me from the beginning. Apparently, Emily had gotten into big fight with Becca about it the next day. Things had remained rough with the group until today.

Today is the first day since the concert in which everything feels like it’s back to normal. Harold and I are playing Fifa, while mike discusses philosophy with the girls. I throw in my two cents taking bits and pieces from Alan Watts and my Buddhist studies at school—all in vain because of the stimulating presence on my upper thigh.

Mike notices her hand, and gives me a heartfelt look saying, “I’m sorry man, but I don’t know how to help ya.”

Not that he needs to. I’ve accepted my place in this group of friends, and I honestly don’t mind it. No matter how much I toy with the idea that she is purposefully trying to grab my attention with those devilish fingers, I know that it’s just Becca being Becca.

“Mike, you only know who Ram Dass is because of that meditation manual I gave you freshman year,” Harold points out, keeping his eyes glued to the screen, “‘The Psychedelic Experience’ right?”

“Yeah man, I’ve read that one too,” adds Emily

“Didn’t Kerouac say something like, ‘we are fallen angels who didn’t want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life’?” quips Becca.

Her point makes more and less sense the longer I think about it. I’m not sure Kerouac has a place in this discussion, but I guess in this circle of friends, the Beats always have a place. He also said, “pretty girls make graves,”—as long as we’re on the topic.

Focusing back to the task at hand, I stop Harold’s fast break with a clutch slide tackle from Hummels and follow up with a long through-ball to Reus on the left wing. Slowing down to draw in his defender, I wait for him to make a move. He dives right, I push left. Frantically, Harold calls over Ramos, but he falls for my fake shot, sliding right past Reus. From here it’s a simple finesse kick into the upper right corner, and past Casillas in goal.

“God damn it,” exclaims Harold.

“I told yo,u Lopez was quicker, man.”

“Mike, shut the hell up, you don’t even follow Madrid.”

“He’s right though,” I concurred.

Harold grabs the joint from Mike in defeat, and pulls a massive drag. After a puffy white ghost, he makes several smoke rings and exhausts the rest. I’ve never been able to play with my smoke like Harold and Mike can. They said that it was their greatest achievement from freshman year (that, and their godly skills at Super Smash Bros. on the N64).

Giving the joint back to Mike, Harold turns off the game and heads to his room. He always gets too emotionally attached to the games. I would say he shouldn’t take them too seriously, but how could I rob the room of the entertainment in watching him lose?

“That sounds like a good idea,” Emily says, thinking out loud. I remember the clock going off several minutes ago, which would put us at around 1:15 in the morning. Becca’s hand finally leaves my thigh as she stretches her arms and lets out an extended yawn. She mumbles something about being tired as well.

Being the only person that doesn’t live here (besides Mike, but he has free room and board), I recognize the hints and excuse myself. Mike and Emily say goodnight, and head upstairs to their room while I grab my jacket and gloves. Becca also leaves her seat in another stretching motion, but lingers a bit longer, presumably to let me out. Having bundled up for the frigid and windy night brought by the recent cold front, I head to the door.

“Thanks for the smoke down,” I casually say as my hand touches the doorknob. I don’t even turn to look at her. I can’t. Despite everything that has happened, my feelings haven’t changed. Sure, I can convince myself that being friends is ‘ok’, but there’s no way that I can change my emotions. Logically, my conscious brain understands the problem, and has dealt with it by acknowledging the solution of friendship—but logic holds no sway in the primal realm of emotion.

Every time I touch this doorknob, that same adrenaline rush comes over me like the “fight or flight” reaction your learn about in high school health class. Do I run away, avoiding conflict, and unwillingly accept her oppressive decision, or do I fight for Becca?

“You know what?” I find myself starting uncontrollably. Strengthening my grip on the doorknob, I continue, “I know that you’ve made your decision about us, and I respect that. I don’t want to do something to mess up this group of friends, but I need to tell you something. You’re wrong.

“You didn’t hook up with me after the concert because you were ‘fucked up’, or still tripping. Sure, that night was heavily influenced by acid, but all it did was allow you to see clearly what you wanted. You torture yourself with guy after guy, each no better than the last—and the first wasn’t worth shit—while sitting me on the bench.”

Words are flying out of my mouth faster than I can think, “Becca, you have so much that makes you a strong and independent girl, but you’re constantly seeking these guys that do nothing except put you down and assert themselves as superior to you in every way. There’s a reason that none of those relationships last.”

“Which is?” Becca retorts with a pedantic guile. I release my grip on the door, and take several steps toward the living room to stand in the entry way.

“Because you can’t connect with people like that. They put you into a role of dependency that belittles you, and you fucking hate it. I can see it! It’s like you’re a god-damn glutton for that shit.”

“So leave me to my own mistakes then,” She keeps her voice down, but it wavers and cracks. I can’t tell whether she is seriously accepting what I’ve said, or if she is becoming completely enraged, and I’m about to be slapped.

“Why would you want to date someone like me then? You know it’ll just end in a couple weeks anyways, ruining our friendship, and totally fucking up the harmony of my apartment.”

“Because I’m not like them,” She squints her eyes at me, but cannot retort because she knows it’s true. “Becca, I don’t want you to be dependent on me. I want you to be independent with me. Free to have you’re own opinions and to look at me with a critical eye. I don’t want to change you, I want to grow with you. Not like these misogynist assholes that manipulate and mold you into their twisted disciple.”

She’s crying now. I don’t fully understand why, but I know I’ve gone on long enough. My intention wasn’t to make her cry. Actually, I don’t know what my intention was, it all began so suddenly.

“I’m sorry,” I say, dropping my gaze, and softening my tone, “I didn’t mean to say all of that, I just couldn’t keep it in me. I’ll let myself out.”

You shouldn’t have said anything! My conscience is screaming at me. I am somewhat ashamed of what I just said, and the implications that it will have on our friendship. I have a feeling that I just lost my only real group of friends at this school, but fuck it. Fuck logic. I went through three years of college without a steady group of friends. So what if I end my last year the same way? Becca deserves better than the people she dates, and she deserves to know it too.

My hand is back on the doorknob, but I can’t turn it. Not that it physically won’t turn, but I’m so nervous that I can’t move. The accelerando of my heart has turned into a drumroll, paralyzing me. I exhale trying to calm myself, and it helps enough to at least get the door open.

But I still can’t leave. Something else is stopping me, and this time it’s tangible. I feel Becca’s hand grab my arm, abruptly turning me around. As her lips touch mine, I can’t tell if my heart stops, or if the drumroll has hit a hypersonic tempo. Regardless of which is correct, I am confident I will surely die.

Just as I come to terms with my mortality, I notice a gentle squeeze on my bicep. Becca’s hand slides down my arm and lightly comes to a stop on my wrist as she takes a step back. Our gazes lock, and I watch her black-streaked, royal blue iris dart from my right to left eye, search for something; I know not what. My heart returns from purgatory in a lethargic beat of a bottomless bass, and I thankfully remember to breathe.

“I…” I stumble at a loss for words. She leans into me again, and places a soft kiss on the left side of my lips, like a signature.

The night doesn’t end with Becca and I having sex. She tells me she wants it to be different between us, and I agree. In the morning, the suns rays illuminate her golden hair as it gently moves atop my chest with every breath I take. I try to breathe as shallow as I can to minimize the movement, and let her sleep. Her hair lightly tickles my stomach, making my muscles clench. The slight movement causes her to stir, but only enough to wrap her arm tighter around my torso. And for once I’m sure that this hug means something.

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