I should come to terms with my own villainy, that is, if my ego will allow.
“You’re the most arrogant person I’ve ever met,” she told me, “but I still like spending time with you.”
(And I’m only like this because women like it. If you women could all get your shit together and, I don’t know, change your wiring and wean yourselves off dark triads, maybe I could be a nice guy and have a nice polite life again.)
But wait, I’ve been there done that – and was it really that great? Does the fact that I don’t miss it mean something? Yes.
It gets dark at 6 pm in Vietnam. We met at 6:15 because after dark felt like the right time for that sort of thing, and I drove her up and around the lake. The hidden road that no one knows about, or at least I imagine they don’t. I just like knowing things other people don’t, so I pretend. On one side of it is the monument to where they shot down John McCain; on the other side is a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
She was on the back of the motorcycle and nibbling my shoulder. I felt the engine vibrations jiggling her pale thighs. At stoplights I put my hands on them. We drove and talked because we couldn’t do anything else. She has a boyfriend.
She didn’t tell me until we woke up last weekend, so how was I supposed to know.*
(*This is what I’d like to say. But it’s a lie, I actually knew before.)
You’re a good guy, people have told me.
Well no, I just look like one, only because I’m descended from one or two and wear collars often.
She did tell her boyfriend about the time when it happened, when I had her in my sweat lodge of a bedroom until 3 pm, and he had a bad week. Must have. I tried to conjure up and feel his agony, but I couldn’t replicate it, even though I’ve felt it before.
But even if I’d been able to, I wouldn’t stop trying to see her. Every man proclaims preference for the right thing, right up until he sees how nice the wrong thing is.**
(**I hope that’s true, anyway, so I won’t be the only one.)
This situation is Exhibit A of selective empathy. If my students aren’t doing well, my heart really hurts for them; I see the guts, and the push, and how they’re literally willing themselves onto a higher plane.
But then this other guy, who made himself vulnerable to a woman and surrendered himself into a love story: fuck him, apparently. I’ve let in the animal and the Darwinian sinner with his killer instinct. So I’m actually a bad guy.
I actually do want her, because she’s ultimately his, and the concept of any man in the world being with any woman in the world deeply annoys me. Any man and woman under the age of 40, that is. After 40 you’re dead so who cares.
I want her because she’s funny, and also I want her because I’ve already had her, and it doesn’t count unless you do it twice, because the second time is confirmation that the first wasn’t a mistake. Every conversation we have is fast and graceful. Makes me think of a nice tennis volley. Her friends hate me though, so it’s game over.
I would be something like a sad indie movie character, a stumbling hero or a redeemable villain, if the situation were actually as clear-cut as I’m selling it. But I want more than her. My portfolio is diversified – this other girl and I send GIFs to each other all day.
The happiest time is now, while we do this great circling dance, getting ever closer like planes settling ever lower above the runway. The best time is now, when they still mostly exist in my phone and I mostly exist in theirs. She’s 20, she looks like Ke$ha. She’s witty but I can keep up. When we see each other and talk I think of it like chess. Her friends hate me too. They’re babies, and I’m a scary, scarred old beast with a bad rep.
At least I keep my mind otherwise engaged.
The book. I don’t tell anyone about it now because I want it keep it in the chamber for when it comes out next year. Surprise, and then watch no one give a fuck. But I’m trying to savor the process, because who knows if I’ll ever get another deal.
I get it, if not. I wouldn’t hire me either.
Endless amounts of work. I interviewed a photographer, and we were talking about local crime. She’d had a vintage film camera stolen.
Did they catch the thief? I asked.
No, she laughed. But I don’t worry about him, because we believe in rules and respect, and no one can break the rules forever.
When I left the coffee shop, there was an origami bird on the seat of my motorcycle. Blank white paper, no note. No note, so I was supposed to infer something from the mere presence of the bird. But I was missing a piece of the puzzle, because I didn’t know who it could have been from.
They probably got the wrong bike. Probably a sweet gesture meant for someone else. A nice little thing someone else should have had, but I got it instead.