McDonald’s, North Dallas.
Tuesday evening, 10:06 pm . . .
“Alright,” I say. “Let’s make a rule that for the next hour, we cannot discuss the dead, dying, undead, phantasmal, ghosts, or even monsters.”
We’re both sitting on the polished black hood of his SUV, our food spread out. And if you’re wondering why I refer to his truck as an SUV, or vise-versa, that’s because we’ve been arguing about it for weeks, now. When he’s in one of his driving-over-curbs moods, then it’s a truck. So I start calling it a truck. But then he’ll see some pick-up, or some other kind of redneck-ride—his words—and then it’s an SUV, again. I guess a Land Rover can be both.
Well, on our way to drop Ms. Josephine off at her shop, we saw two old pick-ups—one actually pulling the other, with sweaty people cussing and everything.
“No supernatural shit,” Ricky agrees. “That’s a good idea.” Again, he has three Double Quarter-pounders . . . with cheese.
I went with the Extra-value Meal, Super-sized, of course. And even though my throat is burning with each bite, the fries and burger are so good that I’m willing to endure the pain in exchange for the pleasure. I try explaining this to Ricky and he tells me that’s what S&M is all about.
Pain mixed with sex, to bring out the best in both? I’m not sure I subscribe to that.
“The more you enjoy the first one, the deeper the satisfaction is for the other,” he says, chewing.
And while I understand, logically, what he’s getting at, I still find it difficult to imagine pain and sex being part of a symbiotic relationship. I ask him, “Isn’t that just an excuse for neurotic people to abuse their girlfriends?”
“No, man.” Fries shuffling in and around his mouth like scarecrow teeth, he says, “. . . most times, she’s the one who’s whipping you.” He can tell that I obviously don’t get it. “Think about it like hot sauce.”
“Yeah, with chips at a Mexican restaurant?”
“I know what hot sauce is,” I say. “I just don’t get the analogy.”
“Okay. The chip itself is good. Just salty enough to grab you. Crunchy enough to give you that tactile feel of breaking something between your teeth. But then you dip it into the hot sauce and it really comes alive.”
He nodded as he chewed, “Even though it burns your mouth as you eat it, some part of your brain demands more, releasing tiny amounts of endorphins—which are opiate proteins. They reinforce your desire for more hot sauce. They work together . . . like pain and sex.”
“Maybe,” I propose, “I’m just too old fashioned to mix pain with sex. I’m pretty much just looking for the pleasure part of it. I like the idea of close intimacy with a girl. I think mixing pain and suffering with it would be sicko.”
“Jack,” he said with a laugh, “. . . you have the hots for a dead chick.”
“Kristen, you mean. Kristen.”
“Whatever,” he says. “Point is, you’re in love with a girl that has probably been dead for some time. That, my memory-challenged friend, is the very definition of sicko.”
“You don’t know her. She’s a part of my past. She might be the key to all of this.”
And right as he was about to unload a whole mess of psychological explanations for how screwed up my love life with a deceased girl truly is, he stopped himself, “Wait! No dead talk. Remember. My bad.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
I asked him if he had a girlfriend.
“A few, I guess.” Picking through his fries to find the crunchiest ones—which are always a little browner than the others—he is thinking about my question.
“Anything serious?” I ask him as I take a bite of my burger. They definitely don’t have Quarter-pounders in Deadside. A guy could make a fortune by opening up a McDonald’s there.
He leans back, considering my query still. “I did,” he says slowly. But he doesn’t seem sure of his answer. “. . . I, sort of, do. It’s complicated.”
“What’s complicated about it? You either have deep feelings for her or you don’t. So what’s the prognosis doctor?”
He looks down at his fries, as if they’ll hold the answers he’s jockeying for. His fingers are mindlessly playing with the fries. “I guess . . . yeah. I like her a lot.” He nods to himself. “She’s into law and stuff. An entertainment lawyer. Well, that’s what she wants to do after law school.”
“How often do you see her?” I ask, kind of curious how this whole dating thing really plays out in real life. People magazine is too confusing for me to use as reference material on the subject of love.
“I used to see her almost every night, but she’s going away to school, now. In Los Angles. So it’s pretty difficult.” Then he shrugged, took another sip of his drink, and added, “If it’s meant to be . . . it’s meant to be.”
“And that’s it? You just let her go to L.A.?”
“Life ain’t that simple, Jack. You can be right for a person . . . at the wrong time.”
And after that neither of us said much. We just ate quietly, him thinking of this girl who went to L.A. Me thinking of Kristen, the girl I can’t remember, yet.
And I’m not sure which side is more complicated—here or over there?
Somewhere inside my convoluted mind is a brick full of colorful memories that Kristen charged me with. I want them so bad I can feel it tearing at me from within. The thought is only now crossing my mind, that my mistrust of her, it might push her away. She could lose faith in me.
But then, I have to put things in perspective. I met a ghost. She may be from my past, or I may just have a huge crush on her. As sicko as that sounds, it is what it is. I like her. I feel for her. I want to help her so that I can help myself find out the answers to any or all of these questions.
If, as an added bonus, it turns out that I can be a saint or a savior that would be fine. But I’m really only interested in her. The thought of leaving her, over there, alone, to fight whatever it is might be hunting her . . . that just kills me.
I don’t understand love, but I think I’m stuck in the middle of it. Like quicksand.
By the way . . . absolutely none of this can come out of my mouth when I meet my new caseworker, tomorrow. They’ll label me ′shit-spewing crazy’ right off the bat. And I’ve got too much going on to be strapped down to a bed in the middle of a cushioned cell while happy music plays in the background—to drown out the screaming and slobbering and aimless pacing.