Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn, novel-in-progress.
Anya and I had almost three weeks. The flirt and tease of a young forever.
It felt good to be with Anya in this new way. We were no longer ourselves, we were ourselves as a couple, this third and wholly original thing. I was her boyfriend, she was my girlfriend. We had titles. It was like something out of a sitcom.
It felt good but it also felt awkward. I now felt a new sense of pressure, a responsibility that I didn’t quite grasp or understand. Anya was mine and I was hers. What did that mean exactly? What were we supposed to be, how were we supposed to act?
My concerns and confusions took a backseat to the high of coupling. I was concerned and confused but I was in love, which was different from being concerned and confused and out of love.
Anya and I had always confided in each other, but these confidences now came with kissing and hand-holding and coupley actions. It was confiding with benefits.
That being said, the shadow of Anya’s relationship with Angelo hung over us. Or maybe it was the shadow of Anya’s relationship with herself that hung over me. Did the shadow of my relationship with myself hang over Anya? I didn’t ask because none of these notions were conceptualized at the time. They were latent and wordless, awaiting a ripened vocabulary.
One night Anya and I were hanging out in my living room. My father was in Atlantic City. My mother was dead. Had been for almost three years at that point.
Anya and I had the place to ourselves. We watched TV and drank vodka and orange juice. Anya had poured about half of Boris’s Smirnoff into a jar, and had re-filled his bottle with water. It was a trick she sometimes pulled. I provided the O.J.
Anya and I started making out. It went on for a long tangled while. I ventured to Anya’s breasts, smoothing my hands over them through her shirt. Then my hands went under her shirt and I was in exciting, unfamiliar territory. My fingers explored the breast-sculpted fabric of her bra. I tried to unclasp the back of Anya’s bra while maintaining kiss-contact with her mouth, like I had seen men do in the movies, but I wasn’t skilled enough and my clumsy attempt at multi-tasking met failure.
Anya unclasped her bra while continuing to kiss me. She obviously possessed more cinematic grace than I did. Once her bra was off I lifted her shirt over her head and tossed it to the side, with what I imagined was a small measure of cinematic grace. My mouth naturally gravitated away from her mouth and toward her breasts, specifically targeting the nipples. I kissed and sucked what felt like pebbly buttons or rubbery pellets. My hunger for Anya’s breasts was commensurate with the sound of Anya’s desire. The louder and more intensely she moaned, the greater my feeding frenzy. I rubbed my eyes and nose and mouth and chin against the tender geography of her breasts. As a child I hadn’t been breast-fed, and wondered if something innate and primal was kicking in, a long-forestalled urge and yearning.
At one point Anya stopped moaning. And stayed stopped even though I kept teething. I looked up. Tears were streaming down her face.
I raised my head until it was level with hers.
What’s wrong, I asked, taking her hand.
My guess was that things had gone too far too fast. That, despite the speed and intensity which flavored other aspects of Anya’s life and persona, when it came to intimacy she liked to move slow.
What is it, I squeezed her hand.
There’s something I have to tell you, she said.
My stomach instantly dropped. The stomach is always the first to know, and the rest of your parts catch up later.
She told me how last night she had gone to Manhattan Beach with some of her friends.
I told her she had already told me that.
What I didn’t tell you, she continued, is that I ran into Angelo there. He was hanging out with his friends.
Angelo’s name, and Anya’s speaking of it, was the landmine I had been waiting to step on. I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when, nor its setting. Now I knew. Last night at Manhattan Beach. Boom.
We started talking—
Did you kiss him?
Daniel will you listen—
Did you kiss him?
I swallowed an important breath.
Anya, did you kiss him?
Anya lowered her head.
Yes, we kissed.
I couldn’t see Anya’s face anymore. I wondered what it was doing. Then, despite the fact that there was no sound, I knew she was crying because of the way her head shook.
She looked up. I could smell the warn wet coming off her face. Her face was bright and pink and scarred with sorry. It was like looking directly into the open hurt of a child.
You are the last person on earth that I would ever want to hurt Daniel—
And yet you have. So what does that say about you Anya? What does that say about you?
I don’t know what that says about me. I guess it says I’m a fucked up person.
Anya went quiet. Perhaps she wanted me to swoop in and gentle a reprieve by telling her she wasn’t a fucked-up person. Perhaps she wanted me to act as judge, jury and executioner and rip into her. Whatever she wanted, all I had to offer was frigid silence. That sort of silence which deep-freezes the center of everything, even the words you manage to speak, as I heard myself saying—Well I guess that’s it between us.
I waited for Anya to respond. A part of me hoped that Anya would tell me that it was a mistake, a foolish drunken moment, and that she didn’t want to be with Angelo, that she wanted to be with me, that she was choosing me over Angelo. Yet my stomach, the weather prophet, knew that wasn’t the case.
Daniel, Anya uttered my name softly, like a small wound.
Did you fuck him, I cut in.
My stomach braced me for the yes that it warned was coming, and was surprised when she said—No.
My diaphragm released and my breathing regulated. It was good to know that the stomach wasn’t always right. Though, later, after Anya had left, and my Svengali mind completely had me under its dark power, I wondered if my stomach hadn’t been wrong, and Anya had fucked Angelo, and had lied to me.
A week passed. Anya and I didn’t speak. When I saw her, I pretended she wasn’t there.
Then, one night, she arrived at the train station, where all of us were hanging out and immediately made a beeline for me.
Daniel are you never gonna speak to me again?
Anya’s timing was bad in that I was blackly drunk that night. Her words tripped a switch in me and I tore into her without holding back. I screamed and cursed and verbally brutalized her until she was in tears. Jake, like a conscientious referee, came between us and said—That’s enough Daniel. You’ve said enough. Look at the girl. Look at what you’ve done to her.
I didn’t look at Anya. I didn’t want to see her as a human being, as someone who could be hurt by my words and actions. I turned away and left the sobbing Anya with Jake.
After that incident, Anya and I didn’t talk or acknowledge each other for almost two months.
What I came to understand was that the laws of forever pertaining to young love also applied to young hate. That the insistent charge of forever is or can be a lot shorter than it purports itself to be. Forever needs a bit of time to work out its ingrown expectations.
Anya broke the ice between us in a relatively casual and straightforward way. One afternoon I was sitting on the stoop, reading Jack Kerouac’s Maggie Cassidy. Anya came from the street. I expected her to breeze past me with neither one of us exchanging a word or glance, as had become custom, but this time she stopped and stood in front of me. My heartbeat quickened.
Who’s Jack Kerouac, she asked.
I told her who Jack Kerouac was.
The fact that I had responded must have functioned as an invitation, because Anya sat down next to me. I could smell peach fragrance coming off her neck.
She asked me if I was still writing, and I told her I was. She told me she was proud of me, as if I were her son or student.
When I asked her how she’d been, she said she was good, that she had cut down on her drinking and was trying to get her life on track.
The conversation that Anya and I had that day on the stoop reunited us as friends, but things were never quite the same. Something tender and vital had gone away, or had grown into something unrecognizable.