The Thursday before what I assumed would be the final Spring Break of my life, I was hanging out in Lucas’ dorm room, sitting/sprawling on the bed and kind of leaning up against the wall. Not terribly long before this evening, I had been informed by the girl that, for various, yet quite specific reasons, we were no longer what one might refer to as “an item.”
Obviously, my first step was to act like I was unfazed. This would be good for me. I’d get to be independent again. No more side-long glances when I grabbed a beer in the evening or afternoon. No more slap-in-the-face type passive-aggressive little jabs when I was trying to relax at the house or we were hanging out with company.
I was really, totally, completely fine with everything. And made quite sure that anybody else in the group was crystal clear. It really wasn’t the hardest task anyway, considering how everything had started to unravel over the last six months. Everyone was looking for jobs, settling down, figuring out a future. The fact that Lucas was a year behind me (he’d taken some kind of break or trip or something after high school though I never did quite figure out what), and that I spent most of my time with him, had sort of given me a vicarious feeling of having more time than I did. Something would turn up. I didn’t even know if I wanted to stay in town, move back to Arden, or find the third option someplace brand-new. I was starting to realize, in a weird way, I was probably waiting on Lucas to make a move so I could just follow.
I’d been hanging out with him as much as I could, or sitting in libraries. Occasionally I’d mix a drink and go to a park somewhere. The thing was, with only a few months till graduation and the end of our lease, neither I nor the girl was willing to abandon the townhouse. I was chivalrous enough not to ask her to leave (I don’t know if she would’ve anyway) and too childish and lazy to leave myself. So I set up camp in the guest room and tried to plan my day around when she wouldn’t be there. Every now and again we’d cross paths, but usually if I made a pass by the place and saw her car, I just kept on going. Because I was totally fine. Just really busy with finishing up school, final projects, grad school plans, job hunting, whatever reasonable excuse you wanted to fill in which no one would believe.
Anyway, that’s why I was in his room that night while he typed away on the computer, doing something. I don’t know where his roommate was, which was nice since I was technically on that guy’s bed and looking through his books. Lucas had pretty well dodged any discussion about the girl, which I appreciated. I did feel bad about just loafing around his space, but it didn’t seem to bother him. Plus, he got a phone call that night that was practically a deus ex machina.
Even across the room I could hear it was his mom. I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying, but there were lots of laughs from him, a few “that’s awesome/great/perfect” type phrases. Whatever it was, he was sure the timing couldn’t’ve been better. He wrote down a phone number, hung up, gave me the “hold on” finger and dialed. As soons as he started talking, I knew exactly who was on the other end, and like Pavlov’s dog, started getting reeeeeal excited by the sounds.
Unless I was wildly mistaken, Lucas was talking to Uncle Alex. Lucas and I had made a few trips back toward Arden over the past two years, but never actually made it that far. Most of his family lived in and around the state capital, so we typically chose to just stop and save the extra two hour drive to my little town. I’d met his folks a couple times, and his little brother once, but Uncle Alex was the four-leaf clover of the family. Every now and again we’d run into him at a littler bar in town we typically frequented on visits.
Uncle Alex was a semi-retired something or other. Another one of those guys who I never figured out what they did. He had retired for the first time when he was thirty-eight, then again at forty-five. Apparently that was his thing, his way of counting accomplishments. How many times can I make enough money to live off of for the rest of my life? By the time I met him, he was close to his third successful stepping-away from life.
I’d always kicked around the idea of pressing Lucas for more than just the random details, but he seemed to lack the desire to avoid things, which is basically what I thrived on. Lucas was the type that wanted to actually do something. In a way, he would have made more sense to be the child of my parents, the older brother of Chris, than I ever would. He had a drive to achieve that I merely acknowledged in passing. My goal was to somehow become suddenly rich and successful and admired. His was to work really hard and earn all of that. Or at least the successful part. I don’t think he really carried an awareness of most other people. Not like he was on the spectrum or anything. But like, he truly didn’t let them on his radar. He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it. So, while he was sitting straight-backed at his computer desk across the room, I would typically be slouched on the bed, doing a lot of nothing.
The point is, I was hungry for Uncle Alex’s secrets; Lucas was uninterested in them. Uncle Alex, I think, had reached the nirvana of success that altered his perspective on life to one of viewing everything as an intriguing, if somewhat simple, game. He had won so much, with so much ease, that it was genuinely difficult for him to explain it to others.
The few times we had talked, his advice had been only of the most useless kind for a person like me. “You need to find something you can be passionate about, and chase it.” “All you have to do is pursue something, know everything about it, work everything to your goals.” “Remember, nobody can name the guy that invented the zipper, but everybody uses his product every day.”
Half the time when we actually saw him, Uncle Alex (this was how I’d been introduced to him, and it struck me as just hilarious to continually claim him as my own as well) was already drinks ahead of us, something that was equal parts encouraging and infuriating. He was what I wanted to be: the guy that could show up at a bar at nine am and it didn’t matter even one tiny bit. The very worst case scenario, he could just make a call from the bar and reserve every taxi in a fleet to stand ready for his designated driver call. That or just call up his cop buddies. The kicker there was, they’d always arrive in twos. That way one could drive his car back for him and he wouldn’t have to return to the bar to retrieve it the next day. You don’t scoff at a guy like that, even if he is slamming Crown Royal in a dive bar at brunch.
So, when Lucas got off the phone with a big smile on his face, I couldn’t have been happier.
“It looks like we have Spring Break plans after all,” he said.
“Let’s hear it.”
He briefly, but excitedly, gave me the scoop. Uncle Alex was taking the wife and kids up to Michigan to visit his parents the last bit of the break (his kids were off the same week as us, thankfully). So, he needed somebody to house-sit, feed the dogs, just kind of make sure the house didn’t appear completely abandoned. I’d never seen the place, but I’d heard about it plenty, and it sounded exactly like somewhere I could spend a few days.
It wasn’t precisely what I was looking for from Uncle Alex, but still. I mean, what I basically heard was, “We’re offering you a house and an excuse to not do anything responsible for seventy-two hours. There will be excessive amounts of alcohol and a pool.”
So, of course, we immediately accepted. It was for the weekend after next, giving us ten days to plan an extravagant party with whoever wanted to join. A chance to get the whole gang together, hit the bars, pick up girls, have one of those classic “mom and dad are out of town” type parties. Maybe that’s what we needed to pull back together.
Over the next few days, I’d tried to track down, text message, or call the ten or twelve phone numbers I had, most of which came back with vague “yeah that sounds cool” type answers that, let’s be honest, we all know means no.
By Wednesday I was pissed. By Thursday I’d started thinking maybe I’d just let Lucas do it on his own. It wasn’t my fucking family after all. By Friday I was practically waiting outside his last class with a packed bag, my brain already filled with girls and grills, never-ending drinks, and at least three nights of experiences, of laughter, of that feeling of everything being exceptionally good. (Like a *real* seventeen-year-old…..)
After a five-hour drive that flew by in a flurry of ever-more-outlandish plans and chain-smoked cigarettes, we let ourselves in through the garage, Uncle Alex and his crew having left around noon that day. I’d (briefly) tried talking Lucas into skipping his afternoon lectures (I did, anyway), but was able to blow it off as a joke when I saw his reaction. He actually wanted to work ahead on school stuff. I could only shake my head. Thank goodness the switch (mostly) flipped when the car started.
As promised, the fridge was stocked front to back on two shelves with cans of beer. The door rattled with bottles when you opened or closed it. There was a note stuck underneath one of those pig-shaped magnets that explains which part of meat is cut for what.
“There’s another cooler in the basement. Liquor in the cabinets. I bought it all for you guys, so if there’s anything left, you’re a pair of bitches.” Having never mentioned any other guests, Uncle Alex either anticipated our plans or was attempting to kill us. Who was this guy? But, gird up. Challenge accepted.
I tossed my bag on the couch in one of the two living rooms, the one that opened out onto a screened-in porch larger than any room in my parents’ house. The pool stretched out beyond it, surrounded by concrete and another loop of bushes and plants that some other random person from town was in charge of. The landscaping people had been notified of a free weekend. The place, the living rooms, the five bedrooms, the game room downstairs, the damn treehouse outback (itself bigger than my current bedroom), the entire ridiculous thing was completely and entirely ours.
Lucas plugged in his computer on the counter and pulled up a barstool. I shuddered for a second, until I realized he had already pulled a beer out of the fridge while I’d been staring, half-open-mouthed out the floor to ceiling windows at the back of the house.
“This is insane.”
He laughed. “Yeah, he does all right.”
I stood there for a second, trying to understand that this wasn’t even the richest guy in town. Uncle Alex was just a guy. For a moment, it was the most incredibly depressing experience of my life. Standing in this house, knowing that no one really knew who Alex was, at least not the way that somebody could rattle off the lineup of the state’s football team, it made success seem suddenly too approachable. It wasn’t a mysterious, magical Thing that some people just had and some people just didn’t. It was a real, tangible goal. I was standing barefoot on a carpet that told me how exceedingly realistic it was.
And yet, at the same time, it was the most encouraging moment of my life. Because Uncle Alex *was* just a guy. He was nobody. He did well for himself, that’s how people would phrase it. And it was the, up to then, unworded goal I’d had. I wanted to “do well” for myself. I wanted to not worry about money. I wanted to not worry about work. I wanted to not worry.
In that moment, watching the water glint off the pool, I resolved to have this. Because, obviously, people did, and I was a person. Hence, according to the transitive property, I had every right to it that anybody else did.
“This is so great.” I walked over to the fridge and then leaned on the top of the kitchen island across from Lucas. “What do you want to do?”
“Gimme two secs. I just needed to finish this up,” he said, taking a drink and glancing toward the screen. It was seven oclock on a Friday and he was choosing studying (not ever *required* studying) over extravagance. I could not grasp it.
“Right, okay, but then what?”
He shrugged. “Whatever, man.”
I walked outside, smoking a cigarette as I rounded the pool, almost able to hear the voices and laughter that were waiting for us.
Over the course of the next three days, we tried, valiantly, to balance the house and life outside the house. That Friday, and early till late the next day, we hit up the few bars we knew from other weekend trips, tried out new ones we’d heard of, tried to find a new group, a crowd, something. Someone, in spite of my history of the opposite, would surely want to talk to us. Lucas, for his part, had fully embraced the break and directed his flow of endless energy away from school and toward aggressive, driven fun. We bounced off each other at bars, attempting conversations with whoever was standing next to us. We played pool. We played darts. We tried to get people to play with us. And constantly, we scratched potentials from our list of invites.
Friday, it was too early, or too late, for most people to come up or over. But, neither of us wanted to get strapped down with some random crew on the very first night of the weekend anyway. Saturday, we’d had pre-noon drinks around the corner at a dirty little sports bar we usually went to. The clientele there was wonderful, so long as they stayed there.
Around one, we’d gone back to let the dogs out. Lucas, briefly, fell under the spell of his computer screen. I at least convinced him to move out to the screened porch, where we set up a kind of command center, him studying and me tumbling down black holes of “research” into get-rich-through-the-internet type plans. By five that night, we’d headed back out, completely sure that the timing was right to find some folks who’d want to hang out with us. No need for the old gang at all. Plus, we’d be impossible to track down once anyone would’ve finally got there. Too many unknowns waiting for us out there. I mean, granted, we didn’t venture far, but the neighborhood was close enough to a dozen or so places that surely one would pay off sooner or later. The odds were in our favor. They had to be.
By midnight, after seven hours in six bars, we were nearly over it. There had been a “near miss” at bar number two, but Lucas and I both hadn’t been sold on the group. It was one of four girls, two of which seemed like decent people, two of which were obviously bitches. We’d talked a group of guys into letting us join their pool game, subbing one or the other of us in as games rotated. I’d had an extremely long conversation with an old man about his “inventions,” and was half-convinced this was the “ground level” thing I needed to get in on when he had wandered off to piss and never returned.
The girl next to me during this missed opportunity had then struck up some kind of chat. However I was one thousand percent focused on finding Lucas to tell him about what had just happened. Not because it had gone so well, but because a Thing had occurred. I’d never talked to an inventor. It was an experience. It was what I wanted more than anything.
“Hang on,” I’d told the girl. Then smiling, “Hey. You’re super cute. So, sincerely,” I covered my heart with both hands and gave my best supplicating eyes, “With all my being, I beg of you, if you do nothing else for a poor wretch like me tonight, please, please deign to, um, gimme a sec.” She laughed and gave me her word “as a lady” before I raced off in search of Lucas.
Forty-five minutes later we were in the car heading somewhere else, when I remembered her.
He laughed. “Wanna go back?”
I flicked ash out the car window. “Nah. We’re just getting warmed up. It’s gotta keep getting better, right?”
By the last bar, I was ready to go back.
Of course she was gone. The place had filled to shoulder-to-shoulder status by the time we fought back through the door. Lucas slithered through the crowd somehow, making it to the bar and returning with two tall beers, a receipt wrapped around one, the paper slowly becoming transparent.
“I don’t know about this,” he said.
We drank the beers, almost silent in the jostling and bumping, fighting to hold onto our tiny bistro table.
I scanned the crowd constantly, trying to convince myself I wasn’t becoming desperate. And the thing was, it’s not like we were trying to get laid. We were just trying to assemble people. Trying to create an event. There was an opportunity and we wanted to use it. Maybe me more than him, but I didn’t have opportunities at life very often, and never one like this. I just wanted a thing, some thing. And really, looking back, if I’d just wanted to get laid, it would’ve likely been about a thousand times easier.
After about fifteen minutes Lucas said, “Well, what do you think?”
He laughed. “Yeah.”
I swallowed the rest of my beer and we disappeared outside, guiding the car back to the house, windows down.
Sunday, in spite of our resolve, we both fell down the black holes. The sun was warm and we had a screened-in porch. We could constantly smoke cigarettes, sip drinks, and just do as we pleased, experiencing outside and inside at the same time. We never left our seats but to get drinks and pee.
At first, I was disappointed, but the longer the day went on, the way it slowly drug itself past our eyes, the way we could laugh at one minute and then slip back into our own worlds, it felt almost better. I found myself thankful I wasn’t trying to gracefully scoot people out the door. I was glad I didn’t have to wander around looking for other people’s clothes or keys or missing flip-flop.
I was happy to be doing even this little thing. And yeah, sure, probably I was just soaking up Uncle Alex’s obvious success, but it felt like I was doing something too, even if that thing was just crossing “potential jobs” off the list. Sometimes you have to know what you don’t wanna do before you start seeing what you do wanna do.
Around seven, Lucas had fallen asleep in his chair. I tipped it back, letting it slam down on its feet, waking him up. By ten, we’d both wandered back inside, him to crash on the giant couch in one living room and me in the leather massage recliner in the other.
I woke up at six am to Lucas packing his bag and starting to put the house back to rights. “I figured we’d just bag all this shit up and put it in the garage,” he said. “You don’t need to get up or anything; I just couldn’t sleep anymore.”
I said it was fine; I needed to shower anyway. I then promptly fell asleep for a few more hours. Around ten I got up, ran through the shower and tossed my bag back in the car. We made a quick stop for gas and cigarettes, later food. Sitting in a booth at a Hooters on the state line, I pulled out my phone. After three days of vacation, almost a week of invites, no new messages, no missed calls.