Monday, November 26, 2007
These Things Will Kill You
Here's the second installment of "This Takes Me Back." A special thanks to all my readers, especially Scott, for the kind words!
"What are you guys planning for the rest of the night?" Anderson asks.
"I'm going to practice saving Roger," Michelle says, hugging Roger around the shoulders, getting glitter on her leotard.
"Can we skip the party and stay home with them?" Anderson asks.
Coley shoots him a look and says, "If you don't want to go, I can find something else to do."
After a few quiet seconds, Michelle says, "Roger, let me show you that new dress I was telling you about," leading him down the hall into her bedroom.
"I can't talk you out of this, huh?" Anderson asks.
Coley gives him a smile that doesn’t include her eyes and heads for the door.
"What do you think about Michelle and Roger?" Anderson asks, trying to start conversation as he drives through residential streets on the way to one of the senior partner's houses.
"He's a fag, Anderson. That's pretty obvious to everyone but him."
"That's what Michelle said. Actually, I believe she said he was gay. I thought your generation had embraced difference," he says.
"You don't know anybody gay, queer, or otherwise, so don't give me any of that p.c. shit. I know lots of them. They're my friends. I haven't even met any of your friends."
"That's not true. You know Phil." Phil, Anderson's oldest friend from law school, met Coley about a year ago when the relationship was still relatively new. After Coley went home, Phil said, "I know you're probably lonely, but Jesus H. Christ. The girl is morbid."
"Phil bores me, " Coley says. "He's just another fat middle-aged guy who thinks he's endlessly amusing." She plays with the automatic window switch.
"So I guess I fall into that category as well," Anderson says, trying for a light tone and not quite making it.
"I didn't say anything about you."
"Are we having a fight?"
She shrugs her bony shoulders, looks out the window into a sky that might storm. On the radio, St. Joseph's Hospital offers to x-ray Halloween candy for free, checking for razor blades. The last hospital he spent any time in was MD Anderson, one of the best cancer centers in the world. You're lucky, everyone said, the hospital you need is right here. Some comfort to know that the best in the world would not be enough to save the person you loved.
He remembers Christmas day, five long years ago, sitting in an I-Hop with Michelle, the hospital cafeteria closed for the holiday and nothing else open. While they picked at their food, a woman in a truck kept circling the I-Hop. She scared him at the time, her desperation palpable as she slowed down and looked through the windows. Anderson sighs, wondering about all the dangers you can't see no matter how advanced the technology. He knows it's those things that get you in the end.
Anderson and Coley walk into the house, music blaring into the foyer, and the mood is one of people who rarely get to have fun and so are trying desperately to enjoy themselves, the way Anderson felt in high school when he drank beer to get drunk, downing bottle after bottle just for the effect, ignoring the taste. The music on the cd player sounds like a record permanently on skip, though Coley hums along on the chorus, singing I feel for you, I think I love you.
"Do you know who this is?"
"Chaka Khan," she says. And then she asks, "So tonight are we one of those 'split up and work the crowd' couples, or one of those 'stay together and ignore everybody else' couples?"
Anderson shrugs and looks around the room. Despite the fact that everyone at work claimed they would come, the room seems empty. The party is a grown-up version of Ricky's party, sans fog machine. Being with Coley in this setting makes him feel lonelier than if he'd been alone. He likes Coley best when he is with her in bed. She's easily the most beautiful and sexually uninhibited woman he's ever slept with, and even though that's not supposed to be enough, for Anderson, it is.
"There's Deborah," Coley says, pointing to Anderson's last girlfriend on the other side of the room, a twice-divorced blonde corporate lawyer his own age, forty-nine, who made him feel completely inadequate with her own efficiency. Deborah had a surly teenage son who constantly reeked of Polo cologne, a black lab that bit Anderson twice, and a pressing desire to get married. He was not entirely unhappy to see her go. Coley seemed edgy and sexy by comparison, a graduate student in anthropology who appeared to be utterly unconcerned with domestic life.
"So are we going to stick together, or can I do what I want?" Coley asks.
"I hadn't really thought about it." He smiles at people he knows. Nobody looks surprised to see Coley, but her costume draws a few stares. He starts to tell Coley about the time he attended one of these parties many years ago with Donna, how one of the partners had come dressed as Jesus Christ, cross and all, with his wife as Mary and his mistress as Mary Magdelene.
"Well, you'd better think about it," Coley says, and walks off toward the food, leaving Anderson in her wake, watching her go.
Anderson spots Phil standing by the bar and walks over. Phil's not in costume either, instead he wears jeans and a green Izod shirt. Within minutes, Anderson and Phil are pouring serious drinks, one after another, trying to come up with combinations more and more bizarre. They try them all, finishing none.
"Everything a guy could want," Anderson says, motioning to the large display of bottles lining the wall.
"Remember that night we made Chicago Boxcars?" Phil asks, alluding to a night they got a copy of Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide and experimented with any number of drinks, much to the horror Phil's date, a woman whose name Anderson can't remember, and Donna.
"Who knew that milk and rum wouldn't go great together?" Anderson asks.
Anderson takes a large glass and pours in two different types of rum, a little grenadine, some orange juice. "These things will kill you."
"But you don't feel anything while it's happening," Phil says, looking at a woman dressed like Nicole Simpson, an eerily realistic knife mark painted against her throat.
"That's the plan," Anderson says. He surveys the room and thinks about how these parties never improve, how they've always been an excuse to drink too much and get out of the house, neither of which he needs to do.
"Trouble with little Wednesday Addams over there?" Phil points to Coley who's standing in a group of people by a punch bowl filled with green liquid, gummy worms crawling up the sides.
Anderson taps his glass and takes a long sip of the Zombie.
"How much longer do you think you guys can last?" Phil asks.
Anderson shrugs. "I don't even know what's wrong."
Somebody takes control of the stereo, and Chaka Khan is replaced with K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Instantly, Anderson's back in his law school days, studying for Torts. He can see the room he lived in with a clarity that seems astonishing: the way the sun looked coming through the windows, his old plaid couch, the hook Donna hung her nightgown on when she stayed with him.
"Man, this takes me back," Phil says, pouring another drink. He hasn't finished his first one yet.
"Everything does," Anderson tells him.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"On the whole, I preferred cats to women because cats seldom if ever used the word "relationship"." Kinky Friedman
Drinking cookbook suggestion: Dr. Pepper Cookbook
Benedictions and Maledictions