My first writing assignment of the semester was a total emotional purge, and I’d like to share it with you guys.
Our instructions were to draw our own personal map of Birmingham, and it could revolve around whatever kind of theme we wanted: where we’ve lost pairs of gloves; where we’ve had the best or craziest of times; or where we’ve kissed boys and girls… and the assignment (if you’re curious) was inspired by this book.
Filing for a legal name change on Monday spun my emotional wheel, and I’m genuinely happy to report that – after drawing my map, drafting a 95% nonfiction story, and tearfully depositing an old necklace, poem, and ring by those rusty ole’ railroad tracks – I am now ready to read and report on something other than old news.
I’m done — d-o-n-e — re-living all of these soul-crushing heartbreaks, both old and recent, and it feels so, so good to be facing forward for once. Actually letting go after holding on SO TIGHTLY for SO LONG has made it easier to breathe, easier to think, and easier to feel alright with who I am and how things really are. I think they call that peace.
And this is the last time we’ll be talking about ’em, so goodbye, boys.
Birmingham: Boys and Coffee Shops
Number one tasted like resin. If taste was a color, stone grey; a nut, an old walnut; a chip, a stale Frito.
Number three tasted like baby powder. Or he smelled like baby powder, which made me think he tasted like baby powder… and I believe I was his first.
Number four tasted and smelled like tacos and fish. Fish tacos?
And number two was just like coffee. I love coffee.
I love the coffee on the corner of 1st and 17th most. This cafe is directly across from the park where families picnic, pups startle one another, and trains howl. The baristas make the whipped cream in-house and know me by my mug: “It’s Pumpkin Spice Season!” Thought I’d scored a real vintage treasure when I’d dug it out of a bin at a thrift store. Then I flipped it over after running it through the dishwasher at home and saw the streaky remains of a Walmart sticker.
I first started drinking coffee after I broke up with number one. It’s like I started needing something that would make me feel as alive as he did… and now – every day – I taste like white chocolate caramel, or white chocolate lavender, or white chocolate pumpkin spice. And nothing else.
First kisses happened everywhere.
With number one, it was on a picnic blanket in Georgia, two guitars in two laps, the boy leaning in quickly and surprising the girl. Squishy, wet, blunt pressure… like: Is this a kiss? We’d forgotten to bring food, and we’d also forgotten it was sabbath. All we really wanted was each other that day, so we drank water for free and kissed freely until sunset.
My third first kiss was on a boulder, way high up… and he asked first. Sweetheart. As inexperienced as I felt I was, he was the real baby that time.
Number two got me at a coffee shop — not the best coffee shop, but its sister café; the one that’s plagued with tourists on Saturday mornings, visitors with too many peaches in their baskets and kale sticking out of their reusable Whole Foods shopping bags. I’d signed separation papers with number one earlier that morning and then reported to my then-favorite cafe for a comforting latte. The girl behind the counter had leaned in, close, and grabbed my necklace while I was ordering, cooing over the material of it or the word on it, I can’t remember. I could smell cigarettes on her. Anyways, I took a seat on a couch and then a few minutes later, number two had walked in, wordlessly, and smooched me on the lips. “You’re mine now” is what I felt… the old blunt pressure becoming words.
And number four took me on his couch. The jackass. I think of him and think: shaved head; fish tacos; an old amplifier left turned on, buzzing throughout the room. He loved that damn amplifier more than he ever liked me. Raved about it like it had just taught itself the major scale. And when I broke up with him in the car, this was his stupid response: “Guess I’m not in the band anymore?” No shit. I’d stuck my guitar and effect pedals in the trunk before we’d even left his house. His home, I’ll mention, was a literal walk away from a pretty great frisbee golf course… that’s one of my deepest losses, looking back on us.
They were all great guys until they didn’t work out.
Number one liked to smoke weed in the house, so we didn’t really go anywhere. We’d move from sitting on couches to sitting on beds to sitting on floors. We’d travel the house in rooms, in socked feet and old t-shirts, an overweight German Shepherd padding stealthily along behind us. We stayed there. The world was small: wooden beams and frying pans and the fat dog and us.
But number four liked going places; punk shows, waterfalls, coffee shops, under my shirt. He was always going. He never settled down. I knew he wouldn’t, but I hoped I might change his mind. Reading this, you think I’m a teenager, but I’m older than that… I should know better than to expect someone to change for me.
Number two was and is a homebody, like number one, but he’s different. Quiet, deliberate, thoughtful. He is a lot like a turtle – slow and wise. He smokes his weed, but he also cleans the fridge out, also throws sticks for the dogs, also records the songs that he writes and goes out to buy us orange juice when he’s drank the last of it. I try to remember what went wrong with us and it’s hard to say. Timing? Plus the fact that I was still in love with number one?
Number three — I didn’t get to know him very well. But I believe that his time is divided pretty equivalently among three spaces: his workplace, the lab where he creates brilliant things, and the house where he sleeps upstairs and dreams about the girl next door. Spoiler: That girl isn’t me. And he really should have told me he was in love with his best friend, who is also his roommate, before we slept together. But that’s alright. And by that, I mean it’s totally fucking not.
So there was the issue of going nowhere, going everywhere, going too soon and going blindly. And then there were also things that they simply liked much more than they liked me.
For number four, it was marijuana, alcohol, LSD, DMT, and anything else mind-altering. Why he’s always dying to get out of his own head is still a mystery to me, but it probably has something to do with him being a complete jackass.
Number two likes coffee and tea and marijuana and mushrooms and cereal and almond milk and peanut butter and regular butter and chips. And falling in love. He really loves romance. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t make myself stay in love with him, and me breaking up with him nine times in two years sort of seemed to kill the romance for him. He’s now, wisely, looking elsewhere. We still enjoy talking and sharing dinners.
Number three likes protein bars (the same ones she likes), playing games (the ones she and he make up together), and riding bikes (with her). I got him to ride bikes with me once and – in retrospect – I do remember him finding interesting ways of bringing her up constantly. We like to talk about what and who we actually like, you know? Too bad I was too busy planning our future, non-existent wedding reception in my mind (catered by Chipotle? Yes please!) and didn’t notice.
Anyways, wrapping things up, number one likes jazz, weed, stability, big boobs and anime. And the big boobs are probably why he’s so into anime. And my flat chest, paired with my lack of stability, is precisely why we are no longer together.
I can remember exactly when I fell in love with each of them.
With number two, it was when we were hanging out upstairs one afternoon, printing off chords for a song. I’d forgotten to pull the printer’s tray out, and papers started falling to the floor. I apologized quickly, setting my guitar down and scrambling up from sitting cross-legged on the rug. It was a burnt orange rug – scratchy, warm. “No,” he said gently, holding his hand up. “This is exactly what I wanted to have happen.” I loved him right then — right at that very second.
With number three, it happened when we were stargazing at the park, the one in front of the cafe. The falsa blanket was under us and the lights were over us, and right in the middle of pointing out some constellation, he stopped himself. “You know, all I really want to talk about is black holes.” Bam. There you are.
And with four, it was totally random; we were cuddling on the couch one evening, studying Spanish (independently but together — both of us working our own lessons on DuoLingo). He was absentmindedly repeating a phrase out loud, his voice different than usual, because he wasn’t thinking about someone listening. “Un… ves-ti–do… a-zul…” I could, by really hearing him, see him more clearly then, and I loved him.
There was another, unnumbered guy: Audio. I loved him but never dated him. He told me a story once, while we were sitting underneath the awning at that park (it was raining), about how he’d worked at this warehouse that was perpetually slow. “They used to let me sweep the store when nobody was in there, but then, I became confined to the ‘box’ — the area where the cash register was.” He paused, shaking his head. “So I started doing math.” Math? I laughed. He’d said it so seriously, and after confirming the word, he went on to explain that this was how he got a job working as a math tutor later on that year. That’s when I fell in love.
And then there was number one, of course. He’s the only one I loved before words. I just saw him one day, standing maybe thirty feet away from where I was in this dimly-lit sanctuary, and I felt something. It was a strange mixture of recognition, pain, and soul magic. My next memory of him is of me sitting next to him on a piano bench — him turning his head to the right, toward me; eyes half closed, fingers still tapping the keys, smiling.
I remember them when I smell pastries baking inside of Urban Standard, write about them from my camel-brown chair at Red Cat, and laugh over how stupid they all are when I’m alone in the shower, twenty-four driving minutes away from Birmingham. I think the funniest thing I’ve ever said to any of them in my mind was directed toward number three, picturing him in his tiny, white lab coat, in a sterilized corner of some room at the university, wearing smart-person glasses and holding a test tube like he’ll never hold a lover:
“I hope your research papers smell as good as my hair with leave-in conditioner.”