I had always preferred the company of complete strangers over people I had known for years.
“Shit.” I ripped my glasses from my face, frantically rubbing my eyes, mascara dripping off my lashes. Dustin looked over at me.
“I’m fucking crying. Godamnit!” I punched my knee and tried to hide myself in the passenger seat of his car.
“No it’s fucking not!” I ground my teeth willing myself to stop crying. I could not be doing this in front of him. He tapped the ash on his cigarette out the window.
“It’s ok, you can cry in front of me.”
“But I don’t want to. It’s a bitch move. I am not a bitch.” I could feel sobs starting in my diaphragm and held my breath.
“You’re a fucking cunt, tell me what’s wrong.”
“I don’t even know,” I hiccuped. “I’m just stressed out and my dad sent me the most depressing e-mail in the universe yesterday and I can’t do this right now. I can’t break right now.” If I kept up the drunken litany of I will not do this, I will not break, I will not do this, I thought I could hold it at bay. But the words kept coming. “He said that he even knew it was depressing and that we need to live each day like it might be the last because we don’t know if it could be, and damnit he’s over there and a Serbian embassy got bombed a day before he sent it and I’m like, for fuck’s sake dad! Don’t do this shit to me! Don’t make me think about this shit!”
The “shit” I was thinking about wasn’t even my dad though. He was a constant concern on my mind, but usually it was something that would just spill out of me when I started crying so I could avoid the real issue. I was jealous and upset because Dustin had something I didn’t. Dustin had a working relationship with his new girlfriend. He was happy. He even told me that he had moved up from just being content with raging at the injustices of the universe to happy when he met her. And I was breaking to pieces in the passenger side of his green-grey Saab because I wasn’t the one to make him feel like that.
“Well, you never know, you might be looking at a new step-dad soon,” Dustin said stroking my knee. That was all it took. The pocket of mental tissue I had stuffed all the pent up emotion into for the past few months in exploded at the impact of his hand and I collapsed into a sobbing mess on his shoulder.
“Oh shit!” he pulled me to him, other hand on the wheel “I’m sorry, that was the wrong thing to say, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it!” I heard him from far away as I sobbed into his shoulder, caving into myself and all the while hating myself for it.
I met Dustin during the summer of 2007. He was in my friend Joe's room playing “rock the boat,” which I would learn to play later in the evening, when Morgan and I wandered in after last rounds Friday night. Not that we actually needed to do them anyway. Summer classes didn’t attract that many people and the ones that were here didn’t seem the type that would vandalize.
A few beers and one massive drunken phone call later, where a ten minute message had been left by all in the room on my current irritations phone, I found myself sitting on the bed next to Dustin. He was intriguing, about six feet and some change, muscular and broad shouldered with kinkier brown curled hair than my own, a beard and a blue rose growing out of a heart tattooed on his right forearm. I had been dying all night to ask him about that tattoo.
“So, can I see your tattoo?” I really just wanted to touch it. He moved his arm so it was resting on my thigh. I traced the contours of the blue rose, memorizing where it darkened to a bruised purple and faded to a light pink. “Does it have a meaning or did you just like it?” I looked up at him.
“Actually it does have a meaning,” he shifted the arm away from me so he could trace the lines with his own hand, “I got it right after I got kicked out of this fucking college actually. The heart represents everything you do, all the good intentions everything…” my brain stopped listening somewhere between that sentence and the next. I was absorbed by the passion and slight sadness in his voice as he explained his ink. Maybe it was how drunk I was too, but I was hooked.
“I like that,” I remember responding after he was done. “I actually just got a new one, wanna see?”
“Okay!” I turned around and pulled the collar of my undershirt down past the base of my neck. “It says “Life is Hard” in my dad’s handwriting.” I felt his fingertips pull the collar of my shirt a little more to get a better look. I shivered slightly.
“Nice.” I turned back around.
“Yeah, there’s actually a story behind that one. My dad diagrammed my life in shot glasses one night and at the end of his whole speech, which had to be like, and hour or so long, he told me that all he could tell me is that life is hard. And he went and scrawled it on the chalk board in our kitchen. My uncle, who does all my tattoos and piercings, and I decided that it would be a pretty bitchin tattoo. So I got him to write it out again and got it tattooed yesterday.”
“You know, I think I like it even better after hearing that.” We continued talking about ink and I also showed him the recently detailed feathering on the giant double dream catcher I had tattooed down my left side. He lightly outlined the red, puffy skin on my hip before handing me another beer, which I rolled against the swelling ink before opening. Somewhere between that beer and the next three I found myself alone in Joe’s room with Dustin while the rest of the crew made the trek to Dunkin Donuts.
“I won’t do anything you don’t want me to,” he whispered in my ear before kissing me.
I stared at the wall watching it brighten as the sun poked its way through the blinds. My mother had always told me not to go anywhere with someone I didn’t know and yet here I was with a boy I had met mere hours ago. Dustin’s breath was soft on my shoulder and one arm held me back against his chest. It was warm and safe and totally against all the rules they drill into your head as a child. But I loved it. There was something about the sheer anonymity of being with someone I knew nothing about that made me feel safe. I had always preferred the company of complete strangers over people I had known for years. Something about the fact that neither of you knew anything about the other was magnetic. There was a safety in being with someone you didn’t know. They couldn’t hurt you because they knew nothing about you. Sure they could hurt you in other ways, but on the level I was worried about, I was safe.
It was also that on some levels that the unknown was the only thing I really knew. Being bounced back and forth between five states by the time I was five had gotten me oddly acquainted with the unknown. Plus all the kids I would make friends with on the military bases knew as well as I did that we were only friends for a set amount of time. Because in six months, a year, maybe two, we would all be shipped off to a new harbor.
There was also the excitement of something new. Something unpredictable. I wouldn’t know how this person moved, felt or kissed until I had them pressed down against the bed. Not that kissing was ever really at the topmost priority for me. I had only met one boy who kissed me the way it was supposed to feel. Kissed me like I was forbidden, because in our case I was. Kissed me like a starving man, to be cliché, who had just found the means of survival in the heat of lips, tongues and teeth. He ruined me for anyone else’s kiss.
But there was something about this boy, snoring lightly beside me. I thought I might like to know him. I might like talking to him a bit more. I might like kissing him again. Although, from my standpoint that wasn’t really an option. This was a one night fling, and when the sun got a bit higher he would be gone. I sighed and snuggled back against him. I could at least enjoy it while he was here.
And he did leave a few hours later with the rest of the boys, but not before following me back to my room and pulling me into a hug that smashed my nose into his chest. His chin rested on my head for a minute before he pulled away with a smile and followed the boys out for a smoke before he drove home.
I closed the door to my room and leaned my forehead against the blue painted wood. I couldn’t help the slight smile that tugged my lips. Shaking my head I climbed back into bed.
The beginning of spring semester 2008 found me back in Joe’s room again. I sat on his bed trying to ignore the boy behind me. I should not be enjoying this, my brain screamed at me as Dustin ran his hand along my back. Especially since he had a girlfriend now. I could not be enjoying his hands on me. Fists clenched on my thighs as I attempted to continue the conversation I was having with Morgan. It was no good. The slurring in my speech was not from the alcohol. So I did the only thing I could think of at the moment. I swung my fist back behind me and punched him square in the jaw. My hands flew to my face at his groan of pain.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to hit you in the face! Are you ok?” I whirled around to where he had buried his head in a pillow.
“No! That fucking hurt!” he mumbled into the pillow.
“You really should know better than to do that anyway,” Morgan intoned over her beer. He grumbled something and said he was going outside for a smoke. We all followed out of habit.
I stood to the side and made faces at Morgan while Joe and Dustin smoked on the front steps of the dorm. Then I was aware of being lifted off my feet by a pair of familiar arms. I screeched and locked my legs around Dustin’s waist and arms around his neck. I stayed like that for a few seconds, then was hurled into a snow bank on my head.
“Ow,” I moaned, eyes squeezed shut to keep the tears that were not from pain from spilling. He didn’t want me anymore.
“Brittany, Brittany I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Dustin’s voice pleaded with me and I covered my face with my hands to hide what I knew was coming. I had been tossed, literally, to the side for some new girl who he wanted me to meet and I wanted nothing to do with. I didn’t want to come face to face with what was better than me.
The vodka, kahlua and Bacardi had done its job and opened the emotional floodgates. I knew he was just sorry for throwing me, but I could hope that he was sorry for leaving me. Sorry for all the things we never said.
I fought the quiver in my lip and sob threatening to squirm through my throat. I wasn’t ready to let him know that I was attached to him. I wasn’t ready to let him know that I was fucking pissed that he had found something that I was terrified to even try for. I wasn’t ready to let him know just how much he had hurt me.
I let the cold of the snow sink into my jeans a bit more before hoisting myself up onto the concrete. Dustin stood in front of me looking like a kicked puppy and then a shocked kicked puppy as I hurled myself at him knocking him into the same snow bank. He hit my indentation with a satisfying thud. I brushed the snow off my pants and walked back inside.