This is a character background excerpt from the main story. It is from the POV of Naria, one of the two main characters. Naria is a young woman who has had a pretty serious eating disorder since her teenage years, and who also has had a lot of bad experiences with men, which direct most of her actions in the story. I’m pretty confident in this piece of writing as a whole, although I do worry that readers might not be able to relate to the unique aspects of growing up in New York City.
Sam had the dubious honor of being the first to make her cry. They met on a Saturday afternoon in May of 2001, just as the summer she would turn 18 was beginning to blossom, and, up until the heartbreak, it was one of the best summers of her life. Her high school graduation was in a few weeks, all schoolwork was effectively over and done with, she was headed to Barnard in the fall, and the entire summer lay before her. Her entire life lay before her, and she knew it.
She and her friend Nicole had taken the subway downtown to the Village, for a desultory day of shopping, strolling, and people watching. At some point they’d ended up at a record shop on St. Mark’s Place. Naria had been examining an album by Pennywise, a band her friend Tabitha had recommended, when a boy approached her.
“You could do a lot better than Pennywise, you know.”
She looked up, and felt her face instantly flush. He was punk rock gorgeous, slim and pale with icy blue eyes and deliberately messy, jet-black hair. He wore black skinny jeans, boots, a D-Generation T-shirt, and a cocky little smirk.
She opened her mouth, tried to speak, failed.
“If you’re looking for some good punk albums, you should try something like this,” he said, thumbing through a nearby rack. He pulled out a copy of London Calling by The Clash, and held it out to her.
With great effort, Naria found her voice: “I have that one already.”
“Oh.” The smirk faded for a moment, then reappeared: “Well, what about The Sex Pistols? Or The Ramones? Iggy Pop? The Dead Boys? The Damned? The Talking Heads? The New York Dolls?”
“Yeah, I’ve got all those too.”
He almost looked impressed, but then recovered himself. “So, what are you doing buying crap like Pennywise?”
Her eyes flitted around nervously, avoiding his gaze. “Well, my friend Tabitha said I might like them, that’s all.” She gestured towards his T-shirt. “She’s the one who turned me on to D-Generation, and now they’re one of my favorite bands. My favorite punk band, anyway. It’s kind of a weird coincidence that you’re wearing their T-shirt. I don’t know anyone else who listens to them. Well, except Tabitha.” She flushed again, realizing she was rambling. He was just so beautiful. It was nerve-wracking.
He gestured at Nicole, who was flipping through a rack at the other end of the shop. “Is that Tabitha?”
She glanced over at Nicole. “Oh, no, that’s my other friend, Nicole. I mean, one of my other friends. You know.” She laughed nervously. Her hands suddenly seemed awkward, like she couldn’t figure out what to do with them, so she shoved them into the pockets of her jacket.
“I’m Sam, by the way,” he said. The cocky smirk was still on his face, but its quality had subtly shifted from contemptuous to a sort of indulgent condescension.
“Naria? That’s unique.” His bright blue eyes were fixed on hers, but she couldn’t meet his gaze. It was like trying to stare into the sun.
“It, uh…it was my great-grandmother’s name,” she stammered. “Her middle name, actually.”
“How old are you, Naria?”
“Me? I’m 17,” she said, apologetically. “I’ll be 18 in August. What about you?”
“I’m 20. I’ll be 21 in July.”
“Oh. Cool.” She looked nervously around, desperate for something to say, but finding nothing.
“Well,” he said, “I was going to invite you to my band’s next show, but, you know, you have to be 18 to get in.”
Now she smiled, brightly and confidently. “Oh, that’s OK. I can be either 21 or 23, depending on which fake ID I use.”
He smiled approvingly. “Oh. OK.” He pulled a flier out of his back pocket and handed it to her. “It’s May 30th, 11 o’clock, at Don Hill’s. That’s over on the West Side, at Greenwich – ”
“I know where it is,” she interrupted, taking the flier. Her fingers momentarily brushed his, sending live wires up her arm and down to her stomach.
“OK,” he said. The smile faded back into the cocky smirk. “But if you come, do me a favor, OK?”
“When the guy at the door asks you which band you came to see, remember to tell him you came to see my band. We’re The Kick. I’m the lead singer.”
“The Kick. Got it.”
“It’s printed on the flier, in case you forget.”
“OK, sure.” But I won’t forget.
“See you there, then.” He turned and walked towards the back of the shop, which was Naria’s cue to get Nicole and leave.
The night of the concert was one of the best nights of her life, a balmy, dreamy summer’s night that came to epitomize that entire summer, which became, for her, the Summer of Sam. Hot, humid nights spent in and out of bars and nightclubs and house parties, strolling the old downtown streets with groups of friends and acquaintances: the winding, secretive, tree-lined streets of the West Village, or the silent, cavernous, cobblestoned streets of TriBeCa, or the East Village, its dark, dirty streets somehow beautiful under the wide expanse of sky that reigned over the low, tar-covered roofs of the ancient tenements and railroad flats. New York was magical that summer. It was magical every summer, but some summers were more magical than others, and that last summer before college was one of these summers.
She had had friends, and not just a few, but multiple circles of friends. She had gone out every Friday and Saturday night, and usually a least another night or two during the week. She had never had much of a social life until the last two years of high school, when she seemed to start slowly coming out of her shell. She had always had friends, but only a couple of really close ones, never an actual crowd. And now she found herself with not just one, but multiple crowds. It was almost too good to be true.
She spent her days working as a paid intern for an art consultant, and her nights roaming the streets of New York, smoking weed in the dark in Washington Square Park, sitting in a circle on the grass, passing joints around, giggling, and then falling into a somber silence when someone – usually Naria – inevitably mentioned that in the old days, they used to hang criminals from the trees in the park, and that some of these hanging trees were still standing today. Gazing around the suddenly spooky park, trying to figure out which trees were the hanging trees.
This was usually when Naria told everyone about all the bodies buried under the park, the bodies of those who had died in the yellow fever outbreak. The park had been used as a quarantine area, and those who died were buried there, and remained there: “We could be sitting on top of some of these bodies right now,” she’d say, and everyone would look uneasy, until someone invariably made some stoner comment that got everyone laughing again.
Warm night breezes smelling of soot and saltwater, blowing down dark, half-deserted streets and avenues. The smell of summer rain on pavement. Long, intoxicated walks home through the late-night streets, so quiet and secret they seemed to belong to her, to her and all the others who roamed them late at night. Shouts of laughter and rowdy conversation emanating from bars, the smell of bars, stale beer and cigarettes.
The night of May 30th had kicked off the Summer of Sam, so to speak. The concert itself wasn’t bad, even though she paid little attention to the bands that were on before The Kick. In truth, Sam’s band wasn’t great: they were skilled enough, but their songwriting skills were lacking. Naria didn’t care. In fact, she barely even noticed. She was transfixed by Sam. Not only was he beautiful, but he had all the naked, desperate, hyperkinetic energy of Iggy Pop. He may not have had the talent to elevate him to real success, but he sure did have the soul.
After their set was done, Sam invited her and Tabitha backstage to the “green room,” which was nothing more than a bare room with peeling paint, a few cheap tables and chairs, and hard wooden benches set against the walls. There were about a dozen or so people in the room, all of them either male band members or female fans.
“That’s Scott,” Sam said, gesturing towards The Kick’s guitarist, a shaggy-haired boy with chunky black boots on his feet, who was seated on one of the hard wooden benches. “That’s Clive,” (the bassist, blonde and blue-eyed as a Hitler Youth member, who sat next to Scott on the bench), “and Mark,” (the drummer, who looked a little bit like Professor Snape, and was seated on a folding chair near the other two). Naria and Tabitha smiled at them and said hello. They nodded their greetings, all three of them eyeing the two girls distrustfully.
Sam sat on the bench that was situated along the wall at a right angle to the bench Scott and Clive sat on. Naria sat down next to him. Tabitha pulled up a folding chair near Mark.
“So, where do you girls live?” Sam asked.
“I live on the Upper West Side,” Naria said. She nodded towards Tabitha. “And she lives on the Upper East.”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Uptown girls. What are you doing down here?”
Naria raised her eyebrows. “We came to see the show. What are you doing here?”
He stared at her as if she were retarded. “Um, what do you think? We came to play.”
“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I thought we were taking turns asking stupid questions.”
Everyone but Scott laughed, making her blush furiously with dazed pride and disbelief. This was a miracle. She never had a snappy comeback handy, especially when a boy she liked was around.
“Yeah, well,” Scott sneered at her, “you’re here in a sundress and flip flops. At a rock concert. You look like you wandered in here by accident.”
“I came here from work. I didn’t even think I could come, but they let me leave early.” This was the truth, and Scott apparently could sense it was the truth, because he said nothing more.
An awkward silence fell over the group. Tabitha broke it by asking the guys where they were from.
“Needham, Massachusetts,” Sam answered. “It’s a suburb outside Boston. We just moved here three months ago.”
“Do you like it so far?” Tabitha asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Sam said. “It’s great. We work all day, and then we party and play all night.”
“Have you done any of the touristy stuff yet?” Naria asked, in a mildly teasing voice. “Top of the Empire State Building? Rowboats in Central Park?”
Scott waved a dismissive hand. “We don’t go above 14th Street. What’s the point?”
“Um, to see the rest of the city?”
He rolled his eyes, and another awkward silence fell.
This time Naria broke it. “Did you guys go to college?” she asked.
Sam scoffed. “No, we’re not going to college. What the hell for?”
So you’ll be employable when this whole rock band thing fails, which it will, because you aren’t nearly as talented as you think you are, Naria thought. But she said nothing this time.
An older man entered the room, looking anachronistic in the same skinny jeans, band T-shirt, and black boots that all the boys were wearing.
“Oh, my God,” Sam said, more to his bandmates than to the girls, “that’s Todd Angler.” His tone was hushed, reverent.
“Who?” Naria and Tabitha said simultaneously.
“He’s Editor-in-Chief of Scene Magazine,” Sam said, apparently so starstruck that he’d forgotten his condescending smirk. “He’s been on the scene since the seventies. He’s a fucking legend, man.”
Mr. Todd Angler approached the group, an indulgent smile on his face. “Somebody talking about me?”
“Hey, man,” Sam said, and Naria was amused to see that he looked as nervous as she undoubtedly had when he’d first approached her in the record shop. “We were just saying, you’re a fucking legend, man. It’s an honor. Seriously, a fucking honor.”
Angler cast a paternal eye on the group. “Yeah, I saw you guys play. You were pretty good.” It was hardly a ringing endorsement, and the man didn’t even seem all that sincere about it, but Sam and his bandmates didn’t seem to notice. They stared at each other in mute ecstasy. For a moment Naria thought they were going to jump up and down and scream like little girls at a Backstreet Boys concert, but they managed to hold their composure.
Angler stayed for awhile and chatted with them about music, and living in New York, and playing in a band. For Naria, the highlight came when Sam and Scott started talking about their decision not to go to college.
“Everyone thinks they all have to go to college and work in some stupid office and wear a fuckin’ suit and tie,” Sam said. “Like there’s no other way to live your life.”
“They all look the same,” Scott concurred. “And dress the same, act the same, think the same. It’s bullshit, man.”
“Right,” Naria said. “So you came to New York and joined the punk rock community, where everyone also thinks the same, acts the same, and dresses the same. Didn’t you just mock me because I’m wearing a sundress and flip flops?”
Scott scowled, while Angler gave her an appreciative look. “Hey. She’s smart.”
Sam looked at her with newfound respect, as if fully seeing her for the first time, and she felt she would burst with delight.
Not long after, Angler left, and the circle began to break up. Clive drifted off to talk to some people on the other side of the room. Mark said he was tired and was going home.
“Do you guys all live together?” Tabitha asked, after Mark had left.
“Yeah,” Sam said, “over on 3rd Street, in Alphabet City.”
Silence. And then Scott spoke, in a low voice that was directed at Sam: “Did you see Georgie tonight?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “Thank God she didn’t stay. Dunno how much more of her I can take.”
“Who’s Georgie?” Naria asked.
Sam shook his head. “Just some groupie.”
“She came home with Clive and me last week,” Scott said, and again he was clearly speaking only to Sam, not the two girls. “Basically followed us home. She came into my room, trying to fuck me, but I was no mood for her. So I sent her over to Clive’s room, but he wasn’t having it, either, so he sent her over to Mark’s room, and she ended up fucking him.”
“She still wants to fuck you, too,” Scott said, “even though I keep telling her you have a girlfriend.” He looked pointedly at Naria.
GIRLFRIEND?!?!? Naria thought, practically swooning with shock. He has a GIRLFRIEND?!?!? “Oh, you have a girlfriend?” she said.
Sam looked uncomfortable. “Uh, yeah. She’s back in Needham.”
“How long have you been together?”
Another awkward silence. Then Scott stood up, a triumphant gleam in his eyes. “I’m gonna get another beer.”
Tabitha stood up, too. “I’m actually gonna go,” she said. “It’s late.” And indeed it was: quarter past two. “Naria, you coming?”
Naria wavered. She knew she should give this up now – the word “girlfriend” should have stopped her in her tracks – but when she opened her mouth, she found herself saying, “No, I think I’ll stay for awhile.”
This left her and Sam sitting side by side on the hard wooden bench. After a few moments, she spoke: “So, what’s the difference between a groupie and a female fan? Or isn’t there any?”
He looked at her affectionately, which brought a warm tingle to her stomach. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re not a dumb slut like Georgie.”
“Thanks,” she said. It really wasn’t much of a compliment, and she knew it was ridiculous to be in such ecstasy over it. Nevertheless, ecstasy was what she felt, and so she almost stopped there and let the whole matter go. But then, before she knew it, she was talking again: “That doesn’t really answer the question, though. I mean, not to get into a big discussion on gender politics, but I don’t really understand why male fans aren’t held in the same contempt as female ones. Why is it male fans are great, but female fans are just worthless ‘groupies?’”
“It’s not all female fans. Just the kind who wanna fuck us.”
“So, would that make me a groupie?”
He shifted his weight uncomfortably, and looked around the room, as if searching there for an answer. Finally, he seemed to find one: “Groupies…they’re not about the music; they’re just about fucking rock musicians.”
“That doesn’t really make sense, though. If we didn’t love the music, we wouldn’t want to fuck you. You wanna fuck someone because you like who they are. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. And rock musicians is what you are. It’s not the same as liking a man just because he has money, or he’s good-looking, or something shallow like that. When you like someone because of who they are and what they do…what’s wrong with that? I mean, you’re men. We’re women. It’s only natural.”
He shook his head and gave her his trademark condescending smirk. “You’re so young. You don’t understand.”
“I’m three years younger than you.”
She suddenly felt like she needed another drink. Badly. “I’m going to get another vodka and club soda,” she said. “Do you want anything?”
“Yeah,” he said, pulling a battered leather wallet out of his back pocket and handing her six dollars. “A Bud Light. Thanks.”
When she stepped up to the bar, she was slightly surprised (and very much dismayed) to find that she was standing next to Scott. She hadn’t realized it was him; the place was dark and filled with shaggy-haired punk boys. “Oh, uh, hi,” she said.
He gave her a sideways glance, but didn’t reply. The bartender came over and handed Scott a beer, and then took Naria’s order. When he had gone, Scott finally turned to Naria, giving her an affected look of cool detachment.
“Look,” he said, “Sam has a girlfriend, in case you didn’t hear the first time. So why don’t you fuck off and go back to your yuppie rich girl life.”
“How do you know if I’m rich or not?” she demanded, indignant.
“You live on the fucking Upper East Side.”
“Upper West,” she corrected him.
“Yeah, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s rich up there.”
“How the hell would you know? You’ve never been above 14th Street.”
He glared at her and walked away, leaving her to wish Sam had been there to hear her record-breaking second– and best by far — comeback of the evening. It was nothing short of a miracle, and, like all miracles, she had no idea why it was happening, how she managed to keep silencing him with comebacks. It didn’t occur to her until years later that it was because the boy was fucking stupid and kept walking right into them.
Scott left the club soon after – glaring at both her and Sam as he went – and the two of them stayed until closing time, four in the morning. By quarter after three, the green room was deserted. They were talking about something, and then suddenly, forcefully, with all the speed and agility of a cat, he leapt at her and began kissing her.
She kissed him back eagerly. His hands slid down her body, exploring the contours of her small breasts, her tiny waist, her bony hips, her almost-nonexistent ass. He steered her towards one of the cheap folding tables and she sat on it, spreading her legs, wrapping them around his slim boy hips. They dry-humped, kissing with ferocious urgency. And then he slid a hand up her dress, inside her panties, and began touching her, stroking her, sticking his fingers inside her.
It was amazing. She wasn’t a virgin, but she’d never before been with a boy she desired as badly as she desired Sam, and barely ten minutes later she had an explosive orgasm, rocking back and forth against his fingers, her inner thigh muscles clenching and unclenching against his torso.
Then she relaxed, limp and exhausted and utterly content. Her eyes met his, and he kissed her again. “That was amazing,” she breathed.
“Thanks,” he said. The cocky smirk was back on his face, and there was a strange gleam in his eyes, too. At the time she’d taken it for a look of infatuation. In retrospect, years later, she realized what that gleam had really meant: he had not taken her because he really wanted her, but simply because he could have her, because she so obviously wanted him so very badly. That was all she’d meant to him: an ego trip. He liked her, sure, but she was no one special to him. She was just a cute girl who wasn’t as stupid and boring as most girls were.
But at the time, she had been too young and too blinded by infatuation to see the truth.
Not long after, the manager came to the green room to tell them they had to leave, it was closing time. He walked her to the subway and kissed her one more time, roughly, once again running his hands up and down the narrow curves of her anorexic body.
“We’re playing another show in a few weeks,” he informed her, once their kiss had broken. “June 15th. Same place. Don Hill’s.”
“I will definitely be there,” she said, and laughed giddily.
And she was, and the night went pretty much the same as before, just as perfect and glorious and exulting. The only difference was that it ended with a blow job in a narrow alley half a block from Don Hill’s, a blow job she was not just happy, but eager, to give.
As it turned out, she had just one more night of giddy exultation. The Kick played the Continental that night, over in the East Village, on St. Mark’s Place, right across the street from the record shop where Sam worked. Once again, she and Sam stayed long after his bandmates had gone home, sitting at the bar drinking and talking and making friends with the bartenders and fellow patrons.
It was nearly five when they left – having stayed to have one last “on the house” drink with the bartender – and began winding their way back to Sam’s place. He didn’t invite her back to his place, and she didn’t invite herself, either. They simply started walking, too drunk and tired for any kind of organized thought.
When they left the club, the birds had just begun to sing, signaling the imminent approach of dawn. It was a sound Naria always found depressing, because it meant the night was over and there was no choice but to return to the cruel, glaring reality of day.
By the time they reached Sam’s place, the sun was rising, and the relative cool of the evening was rapidly gathering into the oppressive, humid heat of another July day in New York.
He lived in a small building on East 3rd Street between Avenue C and Avenue D. It was an old, dirty building, four stories high, looking squashed between the nearly identical buildings that flanked it. He inserted his key into the front door, and they entered into a small vestibule that housed the building’s mailboxes.
He inserted a second key into a second door, and they passed through into the ground floor hallway. The walls were painted a ghastly red, obviously the last paint job of many, judging by the lumps and ripples and paint drips that stood out like blemishes on bad skin. The floor had black and white linoleum tiles, the white gone yellow with age.
He led her up a steep, narrow staircase to the 2nd floor, and down the short hallway to the front apartment. The door to the apartment opened onto a large, rectangular room that served as both kitchen and living room. Across from the door was the open kitchen, a small, dingy-looking area with a utilitarian gas stove, an old refrigerator, and an even older microwave situated on a stained white counter next to a battered-looking chrome toaster. Opposite the kitchen area were two mismatched couches, so old and ratty that, if it had been 5 years later and the bedbug epidemic had hit, Naria would not have dared to even come near, and an equally ratty coffee table.
And it was hot, suffocatingly hot.
“We don’t have air conditioning,” he said, not apologetically, but righteously.
Because air conditioning is for poseurs, she thought, and lapsed into hysterical giggles.
“Shhhh,” he intoned, looking genuinely alarmed. “You’ll wake everyone up.”
“Sorry!” she whispered, still giggling, but more softly now.
“What’s so funny, anyway?”
She shook her head. “Nothing. Nevermind. Just drunk giggles.”
“Yeah…OK,” he said, leading her down the hallway to his bedroom, at the front end of the apartment.
It was almost as hot in here as the rest of the apartment, despite the large, twin set of windows that opened onto 3rd Street below. It seemed he had the best bedroom: probably the only one with windows, anyway. He took a moment to plug in a large desk fan that sat upon a big cardboard box. Naria took the moment to collapse on the bed, still rocking with the last, dying traces of her giggles. She looked up at him. “Hi,” she said, and momentarily lapsed into giggles again.
He came towards her, eclipsing the rest of the room. “Hi,” he said. As he fell into bed with her, he reached out with his left hand and knocked down a framed photo that sat on the nightstand, quickly, but not before she noticed that it was a picture of him and (apparently) his girlfriend.
And they made love – or, more appropriately, they fucked – in the early morning hours of that July Saturday. It was real sex, too, not the dancing around of 3rd base or sloppy 3rd. They really had real sex, hot and urgent, not even bothering to get undressed, and Naria tried to savor every last moment of him inside her, every second of his breath against her ear, the weight of his body on hers, and the subtle smells of hair gel and laundry detergent and clean summer sweat on his skin.
Then he came, and it was over. Naria hadn’t come, but she didn’t even care. It really wasn’t even the point. She was happy just to have had him inside her; that fact alone was a fulfillment of every daydream she’d had that summer.
He kissed her briefly, pulled his pants back up, and then rolled over on his side, facing the wall, and fell asleep, leaving Naria to gloat privately. I’m here, she thought deliriously. I’m really here with him in his bed. This is really happening.
She was tired, she was tipsy, and it was six in the morning, but still, she was wide-awake with breathless delight. She looked around the room, taking in every detail, every last trace of his presence. To her left, above the bed, were two D-Generation posters, one from each of their two albums. In the far left corner, in front of her, were three tall stacks of CDs, each one at least three feet tall, and situated side by side, presumably to keep them from toppling over. Hanging on the far wall, to her right, were posters of The Clash, The Misfits, and Pulp Fiction.
Underneath the Clash poster was an ancient, battered dresser that looked like it had probably come from the Salvation Army. Its top was cluttered with a fascinating assortment of items, fascinating only because they belonged to him: a bottle of Listerine sitting on top of a large yellow Post-It pad, a ceramic figurine of a white cat, sitting on its haunches, holding a block of gold Chinese characters in its paws, a white coffee mug with the word, “CHOWDAHEADS” emblazoned in red capital letters, which served as a pen and pencil holder, a spiral notebook, and a small stack of books: a Lester Bangs collection, George Orwell’s 1984, Stephen King’s The Shining, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and, situated at the top of the stack, and looking more battered and well-loved than any of the others, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Naria had the same book at home, and her copy was just as battered and well-loved as his.
To her immediate right was his “nightstand,” a wooden crate standing on one end to form a makeshift table. She reached out and righted the picture that lay on it, flicking out the wooden flap at the back that served as a picture stand with her pinkie finger.
She studied the photo.
It seemed to be a professional photo taken in a studio: the background was pure white, and Sam and the girl were posing in center frame, at a medium distance from the camera, only the upper halves of their bodies visible. The girl looked a little older than Naria, probably the same age as Sam, she guessed, and almost exactly the same height. The girl wore a denim jacket over a white, V-neck tee that prominently displayed her gigantic tits, and she had long black hair and big, dark eyes with long lashes. Even though the bottom halves of their bodies were cut off, Naria could tell that the girl was chubby. Perhaps not fat, exactly, but on the heavy side. In fact, the girl undoubtedly weighed more than Sam did (Her tits alone probably weigh more than me, she thought, stifling back another giggling fit), and this knowledge gave her a surge of vicious satisfaction. Fat bitch, she thought. Stupid, fat bitch.
She hated the girl with an intensity that both surprised and frightened her. Rationally, she knew it was ridiculous to hate a girl she’d never even met, a girl who’d done nothing more to her than meet Sam first. She was probably a perfectly nice girl, and under any other circumstances, Naria would probably have no reason to dislike her.
Nevertheless, the feeling persisted, until finally Naria put the picture down face-first again. Guilt had nothing to do with it; she felt no guilt at all. It was a long-distance relationship, after all, and the girl was a fool – as was Sam – to think it could survive. Long-distance relationships never survived.
Not only that, but they were very young, and just starting out in the world. Sam and the girl had no more hope of staying together than a high school couple who are heading off to separate colleges. They were young adults, and Sam had moved to New York City to start his life. He was changing, growing, becoming someone different from the suburban Massachusetts boy he’d been. Trying to stay together during all of these transformative changes was every bit as silly as expecting to marry the kid you kissed on the playground when you were five years old.
The girl should’ve known this, should’ve known that you don’t stay with your hometown teenage boyfriend. After high school you take separate paths out into the world, and as much as you may love each other, separate paths means separate lives.
For Christ’s sake, the girl was still there! Still in the suburbs, apparently content to stay in the suburbs and not change, not grow, not develop into someone more interesting. That was her fucking mistake.
If she really wanted to stay with him, then she would’ve moved to New York with him. The fact that she was content to stay behind meant that she had effectively consented to lose him. She had given Sam up when she’d let him move to New York without her. Unwittingly given him up, sure, but was it Naria’s fault that the stupid bitch had no wits?
It wasn’t guilt that made her turn the picture back down. It was righteous envy, hot and filthy and relentless.
She rolled over and looked at Sam. He was definitely asleep, his breathing shallow and relaxed, his eyelids fluttering. She watched him for awhile, smiling contentedly, admiring his body, his pale, smooth skin, his jet-black hair, the teasing, barely visible contours of his hard, flat torso beneath his T-shirt, his hands and forearms folded out before him as if in prayer, the black hair on his forearms, the big man’s hands with their big male fingers that had touched her so gracelessly yet so exquisitely. She shivered with delight, despite the heat.
She watched him sleep, feeling a secret sense of power, but a warm, soft, protective kind of power. It was like watching the slumber of some strange and fascinating beast, one that could maim or kill at whim, but was now harmless and even sweetly vulnerable in its sleep.
After awhile, she realized she had to pee. Slowly, quietly, she got to her feet, so as not to wake him, and crept across the bedroom to the door. It was only a few inches ajar, and she opened it slowly, afraid it would creak, but it didn’t.
She tiptoed down the hallway, passing three closed bedroom doors, and came out in the kitchen slash living room area. To her left, flanking the kitchen, was an open door leading into the bathroom.
She closed the door, locked it, peed, and then, for good measure, threw up as much of the night’s food and alcohol as was left in her stomach. It wasn’t much, but it made her feel better – thinner – all the same. Then she crept back down the hallway and into Sam’s room. He was still asleep in the same position she’d left him in, on his side, facing the wall.
She stood over the bed for a moment, just watching him, and was about to climb back into bed with him when he spoke, startling her: “Hey.”
“Oh…hey,” she said, smiling tentatively. “You’re awake.”
“You’re still here?”
Just three simple words, but they hit her like a hard jet of ice water from a garden hose. She felt her joyful delirium spiral away into nothing. “Um…yeah.”
“Right, well, you should probably go. If Scott wakes up and finds you here, he’s gonna be pissed.”
“Oh. OK.” She stood there a moment, thinking he would at least ask if she had money for a cab, or if she knew how to get to the nearest subway station. But he said nothing more. So she gathered up her sandals and her purse, and left to begin the long, sad walk of shame home.
Outside, it was shaping up to be a fine, hot summer’s day, the sun already bright and glaring, birds singing with lustful abandon. It was half past six on a Saturday morning in July, and the Lower East Side couldn’t have been more at peace with itself.
She walked slowly, taking a winding, roundabout route back to the West 4th Street subway station that would take her home. First a detour south to Grand Street, through an enclave of mostly Jewish apartment buildings, passing through small throngs of Orthodox Jewish men on their way to early Sabbath services. Then back up and across Houston Street, eerily quiet, its bars and shops closed and shuttered against the morning light. On up through Washington Square Park, where strung-out gay club kids sat on benches, smoking cigarettes, trying to face the morning comedown. Finally over to the West 4th Street and 6th Avenue intersection, dirty and smelly, where the morning sun glinted off the steel frame of the 24-hour McDonald’s, and homeless men begged for change. One stood right outside the entrance to the subway station, and she gave him $18, all the money she had left in her purse. Somebody should have a good morning, she figured, and clearly it wasn’t going to be her.
Naria saw it all from a distance, through a reverse telescopic lens of hurt. She did not cry – that would come later, months later, in fact – but the tears were there behind her eyes, aching, heavy as thunderclouds waiting for their chance to burst.
It was over. In fact, “it” had never really existed in the first place, but whatever had existed between her and Sam was over, and on some level she knew it, and it hurt, but the hurt felt somehow numbed and distant, like having a tooth drilled while on Novacaine. She wasn’t ready to face the rejection yet, and so her mind pushed it away as best it could, minimizing it until it was no longer fully real.
After all, he was probably still conflicted about meeting a new girl while in a relationship, especially a childhood relationship that was doomed to fail, but which still reminded him of home. Maybe he had acted so cold because he was afraid of his own feelings. That was possible, wasn’t it?
Of course it was. It wasn’t likely – even in her denial, she could admit that – but it was possible, and this miniscule possibility was enough to push most of the hurt away, at least for the time being. Reality still bled in through the cracks, reminding her of his dismissive eyes, the condescending smirk that sometimes became an outright sneer, the fact that he had never called her, not once (had, in fact, never even asked for her phone number), or expressed any interest in seeing her on nights when his band didn’t need people to show up for their concerts. All of these things she saw, and knew, but could not accept.
And, topping off this uncomfortable grab bag of emotions, was an undercurrent of bitter, corrupt anger. How could he possibly want some suburban fat girl instead of her? What was so special about this fucking fat bitch? Naria was smart, she was fun, she was sophisticated, urbane, and most importantly, THIN. How could he possibly think some dumb fat girl from the suburbs was better? It was beyond insulting; it was infuriating.
She saw him once more, almost two months later. She came to one of his band’s shows at the Continental. She looked up their shows in the Village Voice religiously, but refrained from going the rest of the summer. But this show was special. Faster Pussycat was playing the same night, and she knew Sam liked them as much as she did.
She couldn’t find anyone to go with her, so she showed up alone. She watched them play their set, and afterwards, when he came out from backstage, she approached him.
“Hey,” she said, smiling what she hoped was a casual smile.
He looked both surprised and discomfited to see her. This look alone dashed all of her hopes. “Oh…” he said. “It’s you. Uh…how are you?”
“Good, good. I just saw that you were playing a set with Faster Pussycat, and I thought, hey, why not?”
“Right…yeah,” he said, in an oddly cautious tone. “So, who are you here with?”
“Oh…no one,” she said, avoiding eye contact, which was not difficult, since he was doing the same. Desperate to explain herself, she kept going: “I mean, I didn’t decide to come until the last minute. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me on such short notice, so, you know, I figured, I’ll just go by myself.”
“Oh…yeah. Right on,” he said, still eyeing her with that strange caution.
“I’m glad I came, though,” she pressed on. “You guys were great. Maybe your best show yet.”
A few moments of painful silence followed. It was only a few seconds, but it was long enough for Naria to register the expression on Sam’s face. It was the look of someone who has suddenly come to a very uncomfortable realization: in Sam’s case, the realization that she was not just some groupie who wanted to fuck any rock musician she could get her hands on. She was a young girl who was deeply infatuated with him, and him alone.
But what she saw on his face was not the acknowledgement of guilt, or remorse for having unintentionally hurt another person. Instead, it was the frightful look of a man who believes he may have opened a Pandora’s Box of female emotion. He was afraid of her, afraid of what she might do, of what kind of hellish fury he might release by scorning her.
Finally he spoke: “Listen. My girlfriend is coming in a couple of days. She’s coming to visit for a few weeks. So…”
She was suddenly, achingly embarrassed, and yet again, strangely numb to the hurt. “Oh,” she said. “I…I’m sorry. I should get going, anyway.” She gave him one last, long look, preserving his face in her memory, and then she turned and left, quickly, practically running out the door. She came out onto 3rd Avenue, turned north, and walked all the way home through the hot, end-of-summer night, 5 miles in all. And again, although she felt as if she would cry at any moment, she never did.
A few months later she heard from Nicole (who had struck up an odd sort of friendship with the aging rocker who owned the record shop where Sam worked) that Sam and his girlfriend had broken up, and Sam was going out with a new girl, a fellow punk rocker who played guitar in an all-girl band. Sam was reputedly head over heels in love with this girl, telling anyone who’d listen that she reminded him of Joan Jett. After hearing this, Naria went home and finally cried.