Monday, May 1

Three Strikes, You're In.

(Homecoming Quadrilogy - Part IV.)
(Catch up on Part I, Part II & Part III before reading.)
Three Strikes, You're In.

I got in.

To this day, I don't know why I did. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. Maybe I'm a pushover. Maybe I wanted to make the most out of my rad blazer. Whatever it was, it won.

Gail was driving, with Vinny riding shotgun. Me, Kim and Charlotte lined the backseat with a flat storage area behind us (it was an old Suburban or something). Everyone was talking loudly at once, and I was doing my best to stay silent and still, perhaps meld into the upholstery and disappear altogether. Peeking over Kim, I could see that Charlotte wasn't crying, which meant that I had done my job earlier on in the night. She stared straight ahead, which was all she could really do with her neck brace.

My anxiety finally got the best of me, and I peeped, "Where are we going?"

"Never you mind!" snapped Vinny.

At this point, it was about 1:30am, and I was thinking to myself what could possibly be open at this time of the night. Not only that, where were we going that wouldn't seem ludicrous as we sported gowns and formalwear?

Of course. The bowling alley.

Three Strikes, You're In.

The local alley was open all hours of the night; it was a nice place for white 13-year olds with thuggish tendencies to smoke and brandish weaponry. It also seemed like a magnet for teenage lesbians for some reason. Beats me, all I knew for sure was that I wanted to be in bed right now.

As it turned out, we didn't show up to bowl; we showed up to smoke and meet people I wouldn't ever invite into my home. Gail knew some people that were far less pleasant than Kim and Charlotte, and every time one of these baggily-panted alley-dwellers got within a yard of me I clutched my wallet and stared at the ground. I avoided one ass-kicking tonight; I wasn't in the mood to press my luck.

Me and Charlotte don't smoke, and our eyes met up through the haze and stench of the deafening alley. She laughed and smiled, and I could only assume she understood the head-shakingly brilliant irony of this night. After everything the two of us did to make our evening perfect, here we were at 2am, in what was one of the least-classy places in the city, sporting $300 outfits and wishing we were anywhere else. Hours ago, we were strangers; now we were allies. She came over and attempted to take a seat next to me, walking as elegantly as someone could do with a tight dress and a busted neck. On the other side of the table, Kim sat on Vinny's lap and inhaled her Camel Light.

Before Charlotte could sit down next to me, she stared over the top of my head, presumably at something very frightening that was going on behind me. Judging by the look on her face, I fully expected a wrecking ball to collide with the back of my head in microseconds, transforming my skull into malt powder.

I turned back quickly to see nothing serious; just a few people at the next table over. However, when I looked back at Charlotte, I could see her face change shades and the tears start to well.

Well, I'll be damned. Sitting just feet away from me was her ex-boyfriend, the very man that broke up with her hours before Homecoming. The very man that should be sitting where I'm sitting. Instead of doing what he should have been doing tonight, he was sharing an intimate bowling alley moment with his All Star Lanes mistress.

Charlotte took off for the bathroom, with Gail and Kim in tow. "We're leaving," Gail said.

Three Strikes, You're In.

The next thing I can remember, we were all back in the truck, driving much faster and cursing much more than was really necessary. Charlotte was completely inconsolable and my night's work was shot directly in the can. Earlier in the evening, I came to the conclusion that the Utility Man was the role I was destined to play, and what just transpired was clearly Exhibit A.

Everything I had regrettably speculated came true. When the night started, I was determined to become the kind of guy that Charlotte's ex-boyfriend was. Essentially, an insensitive ass that made injured women cry. In reality, the greater good called, and if it meant wasting my life making others happy, then so be it. After sobbing for a while, Charlotte sunk into hyperventilating quietly in the corner, as I silently counted off the blocks to my house.

Kim should have been consoling her. Kim should have been doing her girlfriend duties. Kim should have done everything I had been doing for her all night. But once again, instead of stepping up for a friend, she left that job to a complete stranger. It turns out she wasn't the person I thought she was when I met her.

No less than six inches from Charlotte's face, Kim and Vinny started viciously making out.

For my money, there's nothing sexier than getting to first base next to an injured woman in the midst of an emotional breakdown; I could barely hear her bawling over the two of them. Angry and more than a little disgusted, I reached over Kim's wildly bobbing head and tapped Charlotte on the shoulder. Someone had to get her out of this wide-awake nightmare.

Obviously, she couldn't turn her head to see me, so she just screamed "What!?" into the back of the passenger seat, where she had her face mashed. I had startled her. Eventually, I motioned for her to jump over the backseat and into the flatbed area in the back of the SUV.

This was how the night was going to end for me. Sitting in the storage area of a Chevy Suburban with a red-faced stranger who should be in traction. Still incoherent, she was sitting cross-legged in the flatbed with her dress twisted up around her waist. She either didn't care or didn't notice, and I did my best to divert my eyes.

"Thank you," she blurted out. "You're a good friend." I didn't have the heart to tell her that I didn't know her last name, and I would almost certainly never see her again after tonight.

"You're welcome," I whispered back as she threw her arms around me, instantly drenching my blazer with tears. In the corner of my eye, I saw Kim and Vinny happily stretched across the backseat, where minutes ago we were sitting. Reaching out over the top of the seat, I attempted to strangle the both of them to death, to no avail.

Charlotte pulled her head off of my shoulder and pressed her wet nose against my face. Hiccupping over words and shivering, she looked me in the eyes and said, "Do you want to kiss me?"

At this point, I was secretly wondering how injured I'd get if I popped the hatch and flung myself out of the vehicle. This was the worst possible thing she could have said. I would have more preferred it if she said, "This neck brace is actually a bomb that's set to turn this stretch of highway into a smoldering crater in 3-2-1..."

Honestly, what would you do? On one hand, this was my opportunity to prove that the nice guy will get the nice girl in the end (hooray! vindication!). On the other hand, Vinny was proving that the jerkass always wins, and always has more fun along the way. Honestly, I wanted nothing to do with this situation; the last thing she needed on her fragile psyche was another loser who made decisions with his ween. On yet another hand, she might once again feel rejected if I said no, and that might actually hurt her far more than if I just went along with what she wanted. "Think man, think! What would Larry Csonka do?"

Finally, I saw through it and realized that she was just begging for acceptance, and only asked me because it's what she thought I had wanted the entire night.

This was nowhere near the truth, of course; I was just doing my job.

So what happened? What did I do? It doesn't matter what happened, does it? Just know that it stopped her crying, put a smile on her face and made her happy. Wait, that actually sounds suggestive. I better redeem myself and spill it.

If you must know, I told her the same story I'm telling you right now. About my night; about my ideas and projections for what I wanted to become as a man. I told her about my near ass-kicking at the hands of a vengeful boyfriend and sadistic woman. I told her about the mystery girl and how I felt when I saw that she already found someone to make her happy. I told her how I need to accept the role I chose to play, because it was what made me content, for better or worse. I told her that as much as people need a sympathetic ear, I need to get my attention and acceptance as well, and this was the best way to make myself happy. I told her that her suffering probably made my night, because it allowed me to feel important and mend wounds I has no business tending to in the first place. I told her that no matter what I became, I was still operating on selfish and egotistical morals. I told her that I was an asshole that deserved everything I had coming to me tonight, and she was better off never seeing me again.

She understood. She actually understood. The night suddenly was in perspective.

For the second time tonight, we pulled into my driveway. This time, however, I had to pop the trunk to get out. Vinny and Kim didn't even realize that I was leaving, far too busy tearing at each other to peek their heads up. Charlotte smiled as the red brake lights reflected off of her face. We hugged and I told her that everything would be okay.

"You, too," she said. It was the truest thing anyone had said to me all night.

It made sense. In my honest confession to her, I made her feel empowered and let her know what my motives were. On a night like this, she very much needed a guy like me to come along. A selfish guy, bent on feeling self-important and making an impact on someone. On a night like this, I very much needed a girl like her to come along. A train wreck of a girl so gruesome that the only thing that could save her from destruction was the complete and undivided attention of someone more sad than herself.

Guys like me are attracted to trauma because it makes us feel dominant and important, much like everything else we're attracted to. It didn't matter what our names were and what we looked like, as long as we possessed these qualities and spoke the same language. We weren't necessarily special in each other's eyes, we were just what the other needed to make it out of Homecoming with our dignity.

I never saw Charlotte again, and we made no attempts to contact each other. I think we knew that Homecoming happened for a reason, and it didn't matter what happened afterwards.

So long, Charlotte. I hope your neck is feeling better. You saved my night; hopefully I saved yours.

(As an epilogue, the Missus wanted me to remind everyone that I eventually ended up with her, proving that nice guys with emotional problems don't always finish last. She also wanted to tell everyone that I have incredibly smooth and soft forearms, whatever the hell that means.)

Seriously who hasn't been in your shoes. I'm a ridiculously nice guy myself and don't think I would have done anything any different. I'm glad you could end the night without being the jackass you intended to be. I'm sure you're proud of that or you wouldn't have written a four part blog about it.
Well, I wrote it for a few reasons, not the least of which being that I'd been slacking in the essay department as of late. I don't want the CDP to stop being an outlet for my short stories, no matter how mundane or self-serving.

Honestly, it's not so much about me being a good guy, as it is what people tell themselves to be happy. In the end, I knew that what I was doing was satisfying some sort of selfish need, no matter if it was emotional or physical. While Vinny did his work more up-front and physical, I did my work more underhanded and emotional. Was that a good thing? I really don't know.

I do have soft arm skin, though. The Missus is right.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with a man wanting to get with a woman. Sure, it's selfish, but that doesn't make it a bad thing. No one should have to make excuses for the things that they want when those things are only natural to desire.
True 'dat. I hate it when the jerks win, though. One part of me thinks that women need a more rigorous screening process, and the other part says that you get what's coming to you.

Kim played out that role perfectly. Despite what your projections are of someone at first, chances are that they'll end up with someone they deserve. I'm much happier that she ended up with Vinny that night, because I would have absolutely hated her.
Not referring specificy to characters in your story, but I think there's often a huge misconception between people with lots of confidence and people who are jerks.
I agree with you, but speaking as someone with little to no confidence, I generally don't get along with those people. It doesn't make them a jerk, but it's not exactly a charming quality in my eyes.

Then again, there are people who will tell you I am bursting with confidence and egotism, and need to be knocked down a peg. It all depends on the context, I suppose.

I'm a much better wingman than main attraction; I'm like the Steve Bucemi of everyday life.
Except without the really wierd eyes.
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Except without the really wierd eyes.
You got it; except without the really weird eyes.

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