I Didn't Know Anything About Philadelphia (or: Kristy, Lance, and I)

sent to: jeeadam@tao.com
adam, hey, i’m here in portland. it’s cool. sorry, got little time. i’ll catch you later. be good! lance. ps: i fucked kristy. you don’t mind, right?

Kristy was the only girl I ever loved.

I met her at Golden Gate Park where I mostly hang out after my parents had died and I had finished high school and had moved into the city, sharing a room with two friends and mainly living off sketchy day jobs, panhandling and minor hustling.

Kristy had a home in Pacific Heights. Her parents were rich and she had everything she wanted. She was just bored out there and liked us semi-street-kids as company. I loved her so much I would have jumped the bridge for her. Or done something like that. Well, you know. The first night she kissed me on the grass in the park near the tennis courts, telling me that she thought I was really cute and that she wanted to make love to me right there and then, was the greatest moment of my life. No other came even close.

This was two and a half years ago. I was 18. Kristy and I, we had so much fun. Whenever her parents were gone, we hung out in their house in Pacific Heights and drank all their booze and ate all their food, and Kristy told me all the stupid stories she always sold them when they got back, about how all that stuff had disappeared, and how they always bought them ‘cause of how clueless they were, and we laughed and laughed, and made love on their expensive carpets. And when her parents were around, we ran off to the park again for days and played music with buckets and sticks and rocks, and chased each other around the trees, and swung on the playground’s swings until the cops chased us away, and scored free food on Haight Street and made love in the bushes. We pretty much lived like that for two years – even though Kristy supposedly went to school without ever actually going, but somehow she pulled that off too and her parents never noticed – and life was just beautiful.

The only thing that maybe wasn’t all that great was that at one point we lost control over the drugs and went from experimenting to plain addiction, but at the time we didn’t see it that way, and so it didn’t faze us, and everything just seemed cool. And even once we did realize that the drugs had become a problem, and even once Kristy tried to get off them: in the beginning playing it down like it ain’t a big deal, then more and more ambitiously, and in the end even kinda desperately, even then things still seemed great between us. But at this point I’d say that, yes, maybe then it was already more pretense great than real great, but how can I tell now? That was a long time ago. (And we were whacked out a lot, so I don’t really remember all that much either, to be honest.) What I do know, however, is that I always loved Kristy like I never loved anyone else, and that, essentially, we were made to be with each other, and I don’t care what happened, and I don’t care what anybody says.

Lance was my best friend since I was eight years old.

We met in primary school, ended up living on the same block, had both nice moms but fucked up dads, liked the A’s and preferred Pepsi over Coke, and that was that. From then on we went through thick and thin together, as they say. Lance was there when I stole my first CD at age eleven, scored my first homerun two years later and smoked my first spliff not too long after that. In fact, Lance was always there. Even when his parents moved to Lafayette when we were 15 and he went to a different high school, we saw each other almost every day: over in Oakland, or at the skate park, or one of us stayed over at the other’s house, especially on the weekends.

Lance also moved to the city with me when we were just out of high school, hung out with me in the park, and we even both discovered new interests together, like literature or politics. I had no life without Lance. Wherever I was, he was. Closer than any brother could ever be – all that stuff. The memory was nice. But what it translated to now was appalling.

You don’t mind, right? What an asshole. “No, of course I don’t mind if you fuck the girl that broke my heart. In fact, I hope she had multiple orgasms and told you how much better it was than it was with me!” You don’t mind, right? I should bash his fucking head in.

He called the next day. He was all excited and told me how cool Portland was. I said yes and aha and oh, really? Then he told me to be good again and hang up the phone. No word about Kristy. Probably they were fucking again. And I didn’t mind. Ya, right.

I watched the Simpsons. That didn’t help either. There was no other way. I had to get drunk.

I hit Tony’s at 6.30. Anyone in there who was already hanging over double shots of whiskey at that hour was either one of the serious alcoholics or a pathetic loser seeking refuge in the poison like me. It wasn’t a pretty scene. But if you’re pathetic you can’t ask for much, I guess. I ordered a double shot of whiskey myself.

Tony’s had been my bar for a good year now. Mainly just ‘cause it was the neighborhood bar. There’s just a lot to be said for a bar on the corner three doors down. And the place itself could have definitely been worse: The juke box actually worked and had more choice than Chris Rea and Bruce Springsteen. There were even pictures of Louis Armstrong on the wall. And Tony was a compassionate owner, employing compassionate people. (All drunks themselves from what I could tell. But maybe that’s why.)

I thought of Kristy. How she would laugh at little kids trying to catch pigeons in the park, and roll down the mounds, and eat cotton candy, and play some kind of Irish whistle at the drum circle. And how she would hold my hand while we ran up Strawberry Hill and then hug and kiss me and tell me how much she loved me. And then I would go to Lance and he would say how lucky I was, and that Kristy was a really great girl, and that he was so happy for me, and then we would get high and I felt so fortunate that I was blessed with such supportive and caring and loving people around me.

There was a woman on the other side of the bar who was sobbing incessantly. I had never seen here at Tony’s. Tony was watching her too. His eyes met mine. I didn’t do or say anything, so I guess he gathered that this night it wasn’t my calling to be the Samaritan.

He walked over to talk to her. I couldn’t hear what he said but he poured her another drink and got a smile out of her within seconds. Tony was a good man. He really was. ... Or had he ever fucked the woman his best friend was hung up on too? I didn’t even wanna think about that. You gotta keep your faith in mankind, right? Even when your best friend who you thought was the best guy in the world just all but destroyed it.

Lance was always there for me. Like the day my mom overdosed on some pills in the bathroom and he got her down into the car and rushed her to the emergency room just in time, while all I had done was freak, not being able to do shit; or when he did the 170 miles drive up to Glass Beach that night at three in the morning to pick me up ‘cause I had lost the keys to my car tripping on acid; or when he made up this elaborate story for the cops about how he had given me all this wrong advice on shopping at Target’s which must have led me to believe that I could just take the electronic goods out through the backdoor (he really got me off the hook that way, believe it or not). He was the best friend anyone could have ever wished for. Which made me want to kill him even more now.

The problems with Kristy started when I tried to get off drugs. I don’t wanna give you the whole moral spiel about how she was just a hopeless addict not being able to watch her boyfriend go clean, but it is true that it bothered her. Especially since I managed to do it within just a couple of weeks at my first serious attempt when she had tried so often but had always failed. I do think that I was neither judgmental nor smug about it, and that I remained there with love and support, but something was just off after those weeks. Well, this sounds like I’m blaming her for things falling apart. Well, maybe I do, actually. I don’t know.

All I do know is that things just didn’t work out anymore. Our contact lacked affection, we were short-tempered around each other, and we were bickering like old couples. However, it all happened really fast and I thought it was just a weird phase that maybe all couples had to go through at one point, and I really was still full of love for Kristy, and even the short-temperedness and the bickering seemed more like a stupid game to me than anything really serious. Mostly, even during that time, I just wanted to put my arms around her, pull her close, whisper nice things in her ear, make her food – even get her dope, for all I cared. But, as I said, we seemed to go through a phase where it seemed inappropriate to do any of these things, and so I didn’t, yet never doubting for a second that different times would come around again and looking forward to those.

And then Kristy disappeared from one day to the next, leaving a letter that said that our relationship had run its course, that she felt suffocated, and that she would move to Portland.

Portland? We had always made fun of the new place for the hip and cool who just waited for the next town in the US to be declared the new place for the hip and cool so they could move there. But I figured she was just on some weird trip and would be back soon. The notion that she could have actually left me for real took a long time to sink in. Even after I had figured out how to reach her by phone and we had talked a few times and she had repeatedly told me that things were indeed over for good, I didn’t believe her. At least not until I ran into Jimmy, an old friend from the park, who said he had been to Portland recently and seen Kristy at a show with a guy she had introduced as her new boyfriend. That’s about when I started to crumble. And when I found out just a few days later that Lance had not only known about this but had been in regular contact with Kristy ever since she had moved to Portland, I was falling apart.

To recover from those days to a degree where I could follow a fairly normal routine again took a good three months. But in the end I believed Lance’s version that he thought it had been best for me not to know ‘cause he had figured I had to realize things on my own and sort my own shit out, and maybe he’d been wrong by not telling me (in which case he’d be sorry), but generally he had really done what he had done out of consideration for what I was going through and the state I was in. I mean, if who you think is the greatest guy in the world and your best friend says that, you would believe it too, right?

So not only did I stay around Lance after all this, I even entrusted my recovery, and so my well-being, to him. Ain’t that crazy? It was only a-month-and-a-half ago that I told him how glad I was that I had him, how lucky I felt that he was always there for me, and how grateful I had to be that he had helped me get through all this with Kristy – I even affirmed that it was only thanks to him that I was able to feel pretty good about everything now. He looked all like he was about to cry (just keeping the tears at bay ‘cause he was tough), and he gave me a big hug and said that this was what friends were for, right?, and then he did this little thing with his fingers that we had invented in junior high as a childish bonding ritual and said “bear, bear, never let go!”, which was part of the childish ritual, and we both laughed. Only a-month-and-a-half ago. Fuck that prick!

Tony was still talking to that woman. She almost looked happy now. Tony was pouring her drink after drink. Alcohol does wonders that way. Especially in combination with Tony. It was nice to see the woman smile though. Even lifted me up a little.

Lance told me he was gonna go to Portland about two weeks ago. I thought that was kinda weird since, for one, Lance never really went anywhere, and, for two, when he did, it was usually a big thing and he announced it like three months in advance. I did have thoughts that made me sick instantly but I just figured I was being ridiculous and that this just wasn’t possible. Not Lance. No way. I bought the story about one of his best high school mates trying to get together his best friends for some kind of a reunion since he had just landed a pretty big job at NASA’s Oregon office. (Don’t ask me what they do there. I’m sure it’s scary.)

Lance had never been around women much. He definitely wasn’t a ladies man. He had had girlfriends here and there, but his relationships always seemed kinda funky and never really lasted any significant amount of time. It was like he was into girls but didn’t really know how to go about it properly. Plus, it seemed hard for him to really open up or to really like someone. Maybe it was just a longer process in his case. Like, maybe, in order for him to establish any kind of relationship that made him feel more comfortable, he needed to know someone longer. Someone like Kristy.

Tony finally moved away from the woman he had transformed from emotional wreck to happy drunk. She was getting up and putting her coat on, obviously ready to leave. I could see her getting her wallet out and Tony just waved it off, but she sternly shook her head and said something in mock irritation and put some bills on the counter, and Tony shrugged his shoulders and smiled and probably said thank you, and it looked like the woman said something like: no, thank you, and she blew him a kiss and walked off smiling the smile of, well, a happy drunk.

Tony came over.

“What was this all about?” I asked.

“Man, you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “This broad breaks up with her man like three months ago, then she has this affair with his best friend, then her old man finds out, gets his old pistol, and shoots his best friend dead.”

“No shit,” I said.

“Yes,” Tony confirmed. “Ain’t that wild?”

“You can say that again.” I imagined me putting nine holes in Lance’s torso. The thought was rather exciting but I wondered if its effect would remain. Didn’t matter really though. In reality, I was not gonna kill Lance. I didn’t wanna go to prison. I wasn’t that tough. “You’re a good man, Tony,” I said.

Tony looked slightly bewildered. “What’s wrong with you, man?”

“Nothing,” I said, not caring a bit that Tony knew I was lying. “I’m just saying that you’re a good man, that’s all.”

Tony got the message and left me alone. He knew that I preferred it that way and that there was no point in trying to talk to me about something I didn’t wanna talk about. And he also knew that I wasn’t the type either who wanted to talk about something but had to say like a million times he didn’t before he finally spilled his guts like they were the purgatory’s waterfall (if such a thing made any sense – I was never very good with metaphors).

I grabbed my coat and put the money I owed on the table. Tony looked at it for a second with that look and I said: “No way, man, you take it. You took it from the lady, so you can take it from me, right?” Again he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

For a moment I meant to ask him after all if he had ever fucked the woman that had broken his best friend’s heart, but then I thought I better not. Certain things are better left alone, I figured. Like I said, we gotta keep our faith in mankind, right? Unearthing everything might not be the best way to go about this.

I didn’t wanna go home yet, so I staggered through the neighborhoods till I ended up in front of Lance’s house. I hadn’t planned to, but it happened. I know it’s some thing that can pretty easily be explained psychoanalytically, but my mom, whose family had fled some town in western Austria when the Nazis marched in, told me very early on never to trust a man from Vienna, even when he was Jewish, and so I never gave psychoanalysis much thought. And, in fact, what does it matter why I ended up in front of Lance’s house anyway, I just did. His shitty old Chrysler was sitting there. It was worth just about nothing at this point but he was very attached to it. He had had it for eight years. I killed it instead of killing Lance. (Which can also very easily be explained psychoanalytically, but I just told you what my take on that is – or my mom’s anyway.) I took out the lights, windows, keyed the body up and down, yanked out every single lever, bar or handle I could find, cut open the seats, even produced some sugar from a nearby 24-hour diner to pour in the tank. I told the guy, some Arab dude, why I was killing the car, and he said hamdidullah and passed me a whole bag. When I heard the sirens, I ran. They never caught me. The neighborhood was fool of tiny alleys you couldn’t take a car into and I knew these alleys well.

I felt good when I was home. It was 4.30 am.

I saw the phone book on the table and suddenly everything was crystal clear. I called Greyhound and booked a ticket for an eight o’clock bus.

I grabbed the two bags I had and threw my most important belongings in. Then I put some bills together and scribbled down a note for the landlady saying that I was gone and that she could do whatever she wanted with the stuff that I was leaving behind. I put the keys in the lock, left the door open, and caught a cab to the station.

At 8.05 I was rolling westwards, headed all the way for Philadelphia. I didn’t know anything about Philadelphia, but it seemed like a good enough place to make a new start.

Kristy and Lance? Fuck ‘em both. If there is one permanent chance we get in life it’s the one to reinvent it. I was down.

I threw my Iron & Wine tape in the walkman and fell asleep for a long, long time.

(2005)

An abbreviated version of this story appeared in the SoMa Literary Review.