by Benjamin Andrew Moore
The snow was fat, thick, white, and wet, except on the ground, which was dark and filthy, and Andrew Johnson had not worn his hat. But still he walked, right on through it.
And the reason why he was out walking in that drenching, soak you head-to-toe kind of wet snow was, quite simply, love, or as young men of his age often referred to it: Sex. The feeling of feeling someone else, inside and out, wrapped around you hard and soft. The taste of sweat, the taste of their desire, you, on their lips. That’s what love was to him, though he thought it was love. Real love. “True love.” It was not, and she knew it.
Her name was Nadia, a gorgeous name for a gorgeous young girl of twenty and two months. Just two years older than Andrew, which was a first for him of the ‘many, many’ girls he’d previously been with. She’s the first older woman, a fact that he was unashamed to share with everyone. A fact that seemed insignificant to everyone but him. Her hair was long, flowing, and shimmering dark; her eyes, a bright, velvet green; and her skin, brown, creamy, and softer than the snow stuck in his eyelash. Speaking of eyelashes, hers were to die for—long and threatening, like the needles of a venus fly trap. She was half-Spanish and half-English, if you’re the kind of person to believe what she had told Andrew. Her father was ‘mostly English,’ her words, but American, and he had met, slept with, and married her mother in Spain while he was studying abroad to escape the Vietnam War.
She hated her father. If everything else about the man was ambiguous and unclear, this was most obvious, and she couldn’t stand talking about her mother because it made her too sad or something. He only knew that she was very beautiful, like Nadia, because according to Nadia, she had “her mother’s eyes” and “her mother’s lips” and “her mother’s nose,” et cetera, and so on. In fact, whenever a random body part was mentioned for whatever random reason, odds were that Nadia would find a way to slip in her general resemblance to that mysterious mother of hers. It kind of annoyed Andrew, actually.
Thus, this was all there ever was to know about her family. She had no brothers, no sisters, no cousins to speak of. As to whether or not her parents still lived, Andrew didn’t know and barely cared. All he cared about was her—strong, bold, and beautiful Nadia.
The snow was unrelenting now, but still he walked, right on through it.
Andrew sat in front of his childhood easel—atop which was the blank canvas he had purchased earlier that night for $18.95 at the DickBlick store with the 10% student discount in the campus mall from a girl who pissed him off with how she looked at him like he didn’t belong there because he was prettier than she—and just stared at the canvas. He stared at its lack of anything; its blankness; its nothingness and nonexistence. He sat and stared because that was all he could do, sit and stare, blankly at something so blank. It was, without any intentional metaphor or symbolism, the perfect reflective surface to his soul. Not that his soul was literally, you know, white—if it did indeed exist and had a color, it was probably a mixture of various crazy colors from some trippy hippie nightmare of the 1960s. Why then, if it did exist that is, was it now so clear, so blank, so metaphorically and symbolically, but not on purpose, white, his soul? Because: All was well and right with Andrew’s world. It's not as though he had a perfect life; Heavens no, he sarcastically thought to himself. Far from it! Truth be told, he had the usual bullshit everyone had to attend to and deal with—for instance, keeping his scholarship and, obviously, homework. Who didn’t hate the homework, for god’s sake?
It was the girl, though, the pretty young thing he had met at his best friend’s ex-girlfriend’s party on Friday. She had done the impossible -- stripped all the trouble and taint away and turned ‘Andrew the Artist’ from less-than-happy to more-than-content. And contentedness, he had quickly learned, was detrimental to his art.
“Fuck,” he said in an exhale, then dropped the paintbrush in the cup of water next to him, exploding red and white candy cane swirls of paint-like-mists throughout. Fuck, indeed. Where in the world might one find inspiration for a final project worth fifty percent of one’s grade when one’s soul, right there, and right then, was clear, white trash?
Oh well, he thought to himself. I’ve still got four months. Something’s bound to go wrong by then.
As he walked to the sink to wash his hands, his phone vibrated in his pants and he frantically fumbled to flip it open.
“Hey Nadia,” he quickly answered. “How’s it going?”
2. Fuck, indeed.
Andrew came harder than he ever had before, and came too quick. Not too quick, mind, or too quick!, but nonetheless too quick for her to spin around and take it in her mouth as previously planned. Instead, he pulled out from behind, screamed, “OHGAHDIMCOMING,” and just as she turned, sprayed a lateral line of ‘love lotion,’ as he jokingly referred to it in front of his friends, from hip bone to belly button.
And he didn’t care, either. He just didn’t care. He didn’t care because what it was was so good, so wonderful, so pure and personal and downright powerful. Heck, the feeling was almost enough for the boy to believe in ‘God’ again. Hard as it might be to believe, Andrew would have, at one point, considered such an act to be dirty, nasty, or otherwise unclean—not that he wouldn’t have partaken in such an act of dirt and nast, or even thought it was wrong to do so, but that’s beside the point. The point was that this act of sexual intercourse, this joining of two bodies as one, was to Andrew anything but unclean. It wasn’t about shooting a huge, honkin’ load of jizzm all over some chick real good, man, totally—rather, it was one person trying to make another feel utterly fantastic because of how she cared about him, and vice versa. In short, it was incredible and beautiful and it made him feel like more than a bitch, hack, good-for-nothing starving artist. Slash college student. For the first time in his young life, he felt perfect, and in feeling so perfect, he perfectly remarked, inwardly, So this is what it is to be a man. This is how it feels. I am a man, and she is the proof. If my dick is my sword, she is my queen, and I’ve just been knighted Sir Andrew David “Big” Johnson. The first.
Then he almost cried, and would have, too, had he not remembered he was a man.
Six days had passed. Six boring, blissful days since Andrew and Nadia’s love for one another had been made physical via the act of coitus maximus. It was official: Andrew had never before felt for a person the way he then felt for Nadia, and as silly as it sounded, putting his penis inside her only increased those feelings exponentially. From the moment he met Nadia, he liked her, a lot, and that was a fact. From the moment he started dating her, he was infatuated with her, intensely, and that was a fact. And from the moment she accepted him inside of her, an act of acceptance no girl had ever granted him, he’d loved her like he’d never loved anyone. Despite what Andrew had told her, despite what he’d told anybody who’d listened or asked, Nadia was his first and foremost, his beginning and, in a way, his ending, and for that he loved her most. He loved her. I love her, he said in his head, and felt so good saying it.
“I love her,” he whispered to himself, aloud this time.
“I love you,” he said again, in preparation for later, in preparation for her.
Because soon she would be there, at his room, to spend the evening with him liked they’d planned, and that was when he would tell her how he felt. He imagined his position being similar to a superhero wanting more than anything to reveal his secret super identity to his girlfriend, his wife, his whatever. Nadia, in that moment, was his Lois Lane, his Vicki Vale, and his Mary Jane, all rolled into one weird combination. And that, Andrew thought, was awesome.
Unfortunately, his newfound feelings for Nadia were messing his head up so bad he could barely hear Iloveyouover the sweat dripping furiously down his forehead—or was that the thunderous beating of his heart inside his chest? Whatever it was, only two things were certain to him now: he was a mess, and she would be there soon.
And then, she was.
The knock on his metal door wasn’t loud, but it was loud enough, and that thunder inside his chest became a be-all, end-all earthquake of doom. BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM, BA-DOOM. Like Duran-Duran was playing his heart for a goddamn drum machine.
Slowly, his head turned toward the door. Slower still, he stood up and walked straight to it. And slowest of all, he carefully unlocked and opened the door, revealing his beautiful, brown-haired girlfriend right behind it—crying her beautiful, brown-haired head off.
“Whoa, Jesus, Nadia, what in the—what’s wrong, baby?”
Everything stretched to the horizon, the vanishing point, the place where everything disappears, and in a moment that seemed so much longer, Nadia remained silent, increasing the intensity of his chestquake immensely. But everything, Andrew learned, even eternity, ends eventually.
“I—I’ve got something to tell you, Andrew,” she said, barely stopping between the heaves of her chest and the catch in her throat. “I’ve got something—it’s terrible, I know it is, but I have to tell you. I have to. And I’m so sorry.”
That was when his heart stopped beating, thunderously and otherwise. It was a wonder what a handful of words from a girl could do that no bullet or blade ever would. And for a second, just a split/fragment/fracture/point-two-two-two-fifths of one second, Andrew wished he weren’t the newly-made man that he knew he now was.
And then he forgave her and told her it was all right and hugged her, because he loved her so, or so he thought.
Andrew knocked one, two, three times on the hollow, hardwood door to Nadia’s apartment and awaited her anxiously. Involuntarily, his fingers began twitching, his heart racing, and his lips easy-spreading. Three months and change and he still got jittery just anticipating her presence. Andrew considered himself, whether right or wrong, a man not easily intimidated by other men, a man who never, under any circumstances ever, got nervous. Yet here he was, nervous as a baby boy on his first day of school, and all because of some girl almost half his size. That had to mean something, right? That had to mean love? And if not, what?
Nadia came to the door half-naked, her hair tied on top, in one of those long-as-hell T-shirts that girls occasionally wear for pajamas. As girly as it might sound, Andrew caught his breath hard at just the sight of her. Every-damn-time, he thought to himself, and this was no exception. Beneath the ‘pajamas’ were, assumedly, only her panties, because all he could see of her there was bare leg that went on forever down to her socks. Those legs, long, dark, and fit from years of obsessive running, had given him a newfound appreciation for, well, legs. Before Nadia, he would've rated body parts from eyes to tits to ass to nipples. Now it went from eyes to legs to ass to a 2-way tie between nipples and tits. What a difference one girl can make.
She shot him a smile.
He could barely contain his.
“Hey Andrew—” she said quietly, giving him a hug and quick kiss on the lips before realizing how drenched he’d been by the snow outside. She continued, groaning in sympathy, “Ohh, you’re soaked. I didn’t realize it was still snowing out.”
Sarcastically, Andrew replied, “It’s still snowing out? I wonder how I missed that.” Nadia chuckled generously in response, and Andrew, knowing how funny it wasn’t, loved her even more for it.
He followed Nadia into her apartment and closed the door behind him. Without missing a beat, she grabbed the remote, turned off the television, threw it on the couch, and asked Andrew, rhetorically, “Do you mind if we just go straight to bed? I’m pretty exhausted.”
The thought had occurred to him.
“Nope, whatever you want,” he said, absolutely meaning it.
On the way back from the bathroom to join Nadia beneath her many bed sheets, Andrew shed his clothing, sliding his left sock off with his right foot, and his right with his left. Then, before he could get his jeans even halfway down his hairy legs, Nadia asked him, “Could you turn off the hallway light, babe?”
She called him ‘babe,’ and not in the way you would a talking pig or big, fat, drunken baseball player. Or even, for that matter, a big, fat, drunken pig that plays baseball on the side. What was he going to do, say no?
So he switched off the light while he removed his jeans and shirts, and then he slipped into bed alongside Nadia, who faced him fully as he did. The warmth of her body, even if it wasn’t yet touching his, was of marked difference from the frigid mid-February air outside. Staring into her barely moonlit greens, Andrew saw Nadia breathe in deep and difficult, and for the first time in a long time he wondered: Maybe she’s as nervous around me as I am around her? He wanted to comfort her like any good boyfriend does, so he gripped her left shoulder with his right hand firmly, but with care, and kissed her lovingly on the mouth. Immediately, her heavy breath subsided and Andrew felt a surge of triumph. In fact, his comforting act of boyfriendlyness felt so triumphant, he came to the conclusion he was a good, great, or better boyfriend, the poster boy for romantic chivalry and thoughtfulness. And if the victorious smile on his face didn’t say that, the raging hard-on ‘raging’ thirty inches southward surely would. In the immortal words of GW, Mission: Accomplished.
But then she turned completely away from him and onto her side, and the air of confidence that had filled Andrew’s head seconds earlier vented just as quickly out. What was wrong with her? Why was she resolving to fall asleep without talking to him, or saying good night, or kissing him first on his forehead, next on his nose, and last on his lips like she always did? Maybe she just wants to be coddled, or cuddled, Andrew thought. Maybe she just wants to be held?
So then he spooned her, this time like a mother, not a boyfriend, his raging hard-on dying slowly against the small of her back. And, after five, maybe six minutes of make-believe mothering, he finally worked up the courage to ask her the one thing he knew, somewhere deep inside, that he didn't want the answer to: “Is everything all right, Nadia?”
There was no response.
“Maybe…maybe it’s just my imagination, but this week you seemed to be…more distant with me.”
Again, no response.
“I dunno…like I said, it’s probably just my imagination.” Even as he said the words, he didn’t believe them. So one last time, and ever so hesitantly, he asked, “Is it…my imagination?”
At first, Nadia was, yet again, unresponsive, and Andrew assumed that they’d then fall asleep without speaking about it further. Unfortunately for him, this was not the case.
“Nooo,” she said, her voice muffled by her pillow.
“No,” she said again, this time facing him.
Irritated by her vague response, Andrew asked, “Is there more to that or—?”
“It’s just—I want you to understand that—that I never meant for any of this to happen—but I just—and I know, it’s so stupid of me and selfish of me to’ve gotten into a relationship with all these problems still lingering from my other relationships, but I can’t just—I can’t do it, Andrew. I can’t be what you want me to be anymore, and with all these—with my all my exes knocking at my door again, I just—”
That was the moment, and those were the words. With the mere mention of her ‘exes’ and their ‘knocking at her door again,’ Andrew couldn’t help but imagine that Nadia was fucking him in the heart with a 12-inch metal dick, relentlessly. That was the moment he wanted to kill somebody.
The yelling that followed no doubt woke all neighbors above, below, and beside her apartment.
“Say it, Nadia, if you’re gonna say it,” Andrew yelled into her face, all compassion dripping out of him like mascara off a sobbing French whore. Then he sat up and away from her before shouting, “Can you just say it?”
She fought back. “I am saying it!”
“No, you’re NOT fucking saying it. You’re being CRYPTIC and VAGUE and confusing. Saying, ‘I have baggage’ is not saying it.” Andrew’s once retired ‘eat-shit-and-die’ condescension dial was not only back in action, but turned way up, and he didn’t care in the slightest about whom it hurt. Or, actually, he did, and he was more than happy to do it to his ex-girlfriend. “That doesn’t mean anything to me, Nadia! That doesn’t fucking mean anything!”
Andrew stopped talking, and Nadia followed suit. Nothing then was said between either of them as he found his scattered pants and shirts and socks and threw them on in as quick and pissed off a way as possible. Nadia stood up and watched him do it, like a great hostess with good manners who gets up from her seat while her guest is leaving. She just stood, and watched, and continued to stand some more, and then she whispered, “I know I’m gonna regret this.”
Andrew bit his tongue. And what the fuck does that mean? He wanted to tell her to go fuck her father, but stayed silent instead. Go fuck your fucking father! Well, just because he wouldn’t say it, didn’t mean he couldn’t think it.
“Andrew, I don’t want to stop knowing you,” she said. “Okay? That’s not what this is about.”
Andrew couldn’t help himself, but he laughed out loud the second he heard her say it. “What, you wanna be my buddy??” The thought pissed him off almost more than anything, considering she’d shared her view with Andrew, many times, that once-lovers can never truly be just-friends.
“That’s exactly what I want,” she said. “I know you think that’s bullshit, Andrew, but it’s not, I swear to God.” Andrew didn’t say anything, but in his head: fuckgodfuckgodfuckgod&fuckYOU.
In the minute or so he’d taken to get dressed, Nadia had hovered next to where he was standing, his back facing her, and she said to him, “Wait, Andrew.” Her tone was pleading, almost begging, like a soft and soothing guilt-trip. “Give me a hug.” Then she moved closer, her arms outstretched to hug him, only to have Andrew move as many feet away.
He walked out of her room, down the hallway, to the door, put on his boots, opened the door angrily, and started to step outside. She stopped him fast by saying, “Don’t hate me, Andrew.”
Oh, no. This he could not ignore. This he could not let slip. So he said to her, slowly, “I can hate. Whomever. I want to.” And the hate in his voice agreed with the words out his mouth.
As a last ditch effort, she tried one more time to hug him, whispering in tandem her desire to do so: “Hug me, Andrew—please.” She again reached for him, and again he shrugged her off.
“Why??” His question was unrelated to the hug.
“I don’t know, to make me feel better?”
Andrew leaned forward slightly. “And why would I want to do that, bud-dee?”
This time she had no answer, but Andrew wasn’t finished. As a parting gift of pain, he added, “By the way—Thanks for the STD, you dog-ugly cock-tease.”
Then he slammed the door in her gorgeous face.
5. The Painting.
He arrived home at 4:34 in the A.M., twice as drenched as he had been earlier, and twice as down about it, immediately climbing into bed to fall asleep. Unfortunately, the pain inside his head and heart and ‘soul,’ now red and black and brown, but mostly red, was eating him up in ways he’d never before experienced. This made sleeping difficult. He couldn’t breathe, but his lungs were working just fine. He couldn’t stop hurting, but there was nothing physically wrong with him. He imagined being covered in an invisible grime and filth that couldn’t be scraped off, no matter how hard he scratched and clawed and punched himself. And yes, he did punch himself, like a thirteen year-old girl might cut herself to make her outside-pain resemble the inside. Meanwhile, his mind was running wild with every minute of their last moments together, and every moment of every mistake he’d ever made in her presence. Was this his fault? Did he do something wrong? If he hadn’t said that thing that one time, might they still be together? If he’d let Nadia have the last slice of pizza that other time, would she now be resting her head comfortably against the fleshy, softer side of his shoulder? But most prominently, and maybe most importantly, his mind raced with questions of his own self-worth:
If he’d been a better boyfriend, a better hugger, a better kisser, and a better lover, would she still love him like she once said she did?
She was his poison. Not drugs or booze or donuts, but Nadia, and there was no antidote.
So he crawled out of bed like an overgrown slug and found his way eventually to his chair, in front of his easel, on top of which was his frustratingly blank canvas. Then, using his least favorite brush, he painted his pain, his rage, and his furious hatred onto the blankness, and mixed it with his tears, and sadness, and love so rejected. He painted and painted until he could no longer paint, until his fingers and hands were numb and useless. And then, he slept.
He slept as peacefully as the devil.
Andrew looked at himself in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw looking back. He was thin but not skinny, broad but not muscular, tall but not too—but all these things he was were things he’d always been. His #1 favorite physical part of himself, though—his eyes—a shade of pure jade that rivaled even his ex-girlfriend’s, lacked that sharpness, that aggressive animosity, that sureness of self they were so known for. His #2, his shaggy, wavy hair, had lost its soft fluff and dark blond luster to the growing greasy buildup of his newly adapted European shower regimen: Bathe when you can’t breathe. He’d never been able to grow a full beard, and now, a week since having last shaved, that was all the clearer. Basically, what Andrew was, was slowly but surely falling apart, and soon he would fall too far to ever find his way back again.
So Andrew made a decision, and caught himself before he did. Faster than he ever had in his entire life, he took off his clothes, shaved his not-a-beard, hopped into the shower, and, layer by layer, cleaned off the filth, sweat, and paint. When he was done, he wasn’t quite old Andrew again—his eyes still lacked their infamous luminousness—but he was better, and that was a start.
Suddenly, Andrew’s cell-phone vibrated off the edge of the porcelain sink and just barely into his hands. He quickly read the caller I.D. before flipping the phone open.
“Hey Leslie,” he said. “How do?”
Andrew squeezed her as tightly as he could while she sobbed into his sweater fabric, as if loosening his grip, however slight, meant the chance of losing her forever.
It didn’t matter what she’d done to him, it didn’t matter what she’d said.
Though a very small part of him wanted to drop her ass off a cliff, or at least kick it out the door, the rest of him wouldn’t allow it. He felt so strong and mature, standing there in the doorway, having just suppressed that stinging bout of weakness—in the form of vengefully malicious anger—that had briefly risen from its dormant state inside his gut. It had risen, wanting to attack and hurt her, and he had refused, sending it swirling back down into the depths. He was so strong, and it was all because of her and what she’d done to him.
It was all because of Nadia.
“I love you, Nadia,” he whispered softly in her ear. “I love you so much.”
“Oh, I…Me too, Andrew."