Chapter 2: Lil Help
One morning I woke up a passenger in my own body. It was dictating specific instructions in its own language, and the best translation I could infer was, “Go see Mr. Mister tonight.” My mind concurred, “It’s Wednesday. Open mic tonight… and Mr. Rolex is getting on a plane in a few hours.”
I never allowed myself to question what my body or mind’s intentions were. I had been spending every Wednesday and every Sunday night at the bar, listening to music with a nice bunch of people for several months. I drank. I danced. I wrote. I talked to people a little more… When I found myself being hit on by a man, I smiled and laughed and danced and walked away. I paid for my own drinks. I felt safe.
…Mr. Mister had continued to flirt with me on occasion. He flirted with all the pretty girls. When I had visited his campsite at the Philadelphia Folk Fest, we played “Lil Help”- a game in which we would pretend a ball accidentally rolled into the dirt path to lure women. I understood. I was safe- I had a boyfriend.
My friendship with Mr. Mister was more like that of two children. He was a lot like a kid, in his Cookie Monster and Super Mario Brothers t-shirts…
There was nothing unusual that night… about the way I looked, what I said. But as I stood by the door with Mr. Mister and Uncle Phil, I felt it. Like animals, like cavemen, he would pursue me and pull me by my hair back to his dwelling.
Uncle Phil was an unwelcome audience to these events. Somehow he had been there throughout. From the first night, when he had shared a joint with me and Mr. Mister. He had been like my tour guide in a new frontier. He had introduced me to this foreign species, “Fest kids”. They were second or third generation hippies. They grew up surrounded by live music, dancing, drinking moonshine, and experimenting with drugs. Every summer they converged at festivals, played with one another like children again.
Eager to escape Phil’s watchful eye, I said goodnight and scurried down the street. Within minutes, Mr. Mister’s car pulled up next to me. He peered out the open passenger window, “Echo. You wanna go watch cartoons?”
“Um… How about a diner?” Public. Safe. I couldn’t consider taking him back to the apartment I shared with Rolex, even if he wouldn’t be home for days.
“Where is there a diner…” He knew the answer to this question better than I did at that point in time. I did not realize he chose the diner closer to his apartment.
We split a stack of French toast and drank coffee. We were the only customers… by the end of our meal, he had convinced me it would be safe to go back to his place to smoke a joint. He promised to take me home later.
It turned out that we both loved anything from Jim Henson, Futurama, South Park. We got high and chatted about our lives thus far, our families, our dreams. He was in college studying music. He was eager to become a “music teacher”. I looked at him bewildered, “You already are a music teacher.”
It would take many months before I could explain that this was a compliment and not an insult. So strange how we naturally look at the negative perspective of ourselves.
…There would be many nights like this. Over the next two months, I would text him whenever I knew I had an opportunity to slip away. Sometimes he would invite me to accompany him to other venues in the city. He introduced me to the Grape Room, Dawson Street Pub, The Fire, Connie’s Ric Rac, Johnny Brenda’s. I watched him perform, believing he had much more confidence than he did at that point. His music was wonderful. It played in my head constantly.
He started touching by tickling me. Sometimes he would lay his head on my lap, like a little boy. Over weeks, I gradually began to melt. The tension of behaving badly slowly loosened into the relaxation of how good it felt to be with him. Before I knew it I was reclining in his arms, tracing the outlines of his tattoos with my fingers.
“This is so different. You are so different from anyone I have ever liked…”
“Good. I like that.”
“This is so difficult for me… I can’t even talk to anyone about you,” I whined.
“You can talk to my sister, Bethie,” he shrugged.
Although she lived on the west coast, I had already crossed paths with Bethie several times, commenting on Facebook. On a whim, from his insincere statement, I messaged her and introduced myself- as her brother’s friend. She was adorable and wonderful to pen-pal with… I suddenly felt like a Victorian novelist, conversing via letters with the woman who I wished could be my sister-in-law. But I would never say this, not to anyone.
After Mr. Mister and I began having sex, he once told me, “You know, even if you were single again, you’d have to go fuck other people… Like at least five other guys.”
Little did he know this simple statement would take over my life until the prophecy was fulfilled.
My affair with Mr. Mister did not end my relationship with Rolex. On the contrary, I was trying to maintain the status quo. I assumed that Mr. Mister did not want me beyond the occasional hook-up, and it seemed as if Rolex already suspected but did not care. In my self-centered rationale, I thought the best resolution was to forge a friendship between my two beaus. Rolex wanted to start playing a banjo, and Mr. Mister was selling a banjo.
…The day before we went to pick it up at Mr. Mister’s music shop, I was invited to go on a drunk bus by Jube. Jube was a bartender at the Pub. Her roommate was one of Mr. Mister’s best friends, Betty. I did not know what they knew or did not know- only that they were giving me an opportunity to spend a wild night out with my Mr. Mister and an excuse to not find my way home until morning.
Unfortunately, the evening is a bit of a drunken blur. I remember the bus ride to West Chester. I remember going into the first bar and having a round of shots. I recall ordering the next round for us… Then blank. Then nothing- until hours later, Mr. Mister and I were making out like horny teenagers through the kitchen and out the back door of a venue.
This was the third time in my life I had blacked out time while drinking. I was terrified that I might have professed my love for Mr. Mister or something of such childish absurdity. By the time we got back onto the bus, I had lost my jacket, my glasses, and could not recall where I had spent all my money. I was wearing Mr. Mister’s grey hoodie when we returned to where our cars were parked, but I was too cold to stand outside while everyone had a cigarette. I ran to my car and placed myself in the passenger seat. I knew it was a liability to be in the driver’s seat, and I was planning to ditch my car there for the night anyway.
Everything might have been fine… Except Betty got into the driver’s seat. Mr. Mister and Jube rolled up next to us and urged us to get into the car with them. I was drunk and in no position to argue with Betty. I had already learned there was no sense in trying to talk her out of or into anything… But I should have gotten out of the car!
The next part happened in slow motion. She swung around a wide curve, crossing from one small town back into my small town, less than a mile away from my apartment. There two police cars pulled her over, one from either town. It surprised me how calm and polite she remained throughout the interrogation. She did not have a green card, and all I could think was, “She’s going to be deported.”
I was likewise polite, but I knew I was drunk. They allowed me to call for someone to come drive my car home. Rolex was the only person I could think of, “Rolex… have you been drinking tonight?”
“Never-mind then. The car is being towed.”
The next day, Rolex and I were both hung over. Nevertheless, all I could think about was Mr. Mister, what I might have done or said during my black out, whether Betty was okay. I nudged Rolex out of bed and out to the music shop. There I found Mr. Mister sitting at his piano, in his private teaching room. This was the first time I saw it… covered in cartoon posters and drawings his students had given him.
He told Rolex to take the banjo home for a while before deciding whether to purchase it. He did not say much to me- Except to explain that Betty had been taken to the hospital. Her blood was tested to confirm her alcohol level, and she was given a DUI. I tried to apologize- Mr. Mister reminded me it wasn’t my fault… But I knew things would never be right, and beyond all the other negative consequences, I was selfishly aggravated that now one of his best friends would always have a reason to hate me.
There was a moment in time, a brief one, during which I believe we had a window for love… It ended abruptly, without any pomp and circumstance or screaming and tears. One night at the open mic, I dragged Rolex along with me. Mr. Mister took the stage and said he wanted to play a “half-song”… He said he didn’t want to finish it anymore. Then he played the most beautiful love song about asking a woman to be his bride.
I told myself it was about his ex. Maybe it was. I will never know. What I do know- is that he began sleeping with several other girls quite openly again… and we drifted, not completely apart, but a good distance.