Out of Body
Your friends are pretending to be all kinds of stuff, and your special job is to call them on it. Drew says he’s going straight to law school. After practicing awhile, he’ll run for state senator. Then U.S. senator. Eventually, president. He lays all this out the way you’d say, After Modern Chinese Painting I’ll go the gym, then work in Bobst until dinner, if you even made plans anymore, which you don’t— if you were even in school anymore, which you aren’t, although that’s supposedly temporary.
You look at Drew through layers of hash smoke floating in the sun. He’s leaning back on the futon couch, his arm around Sasha. He’s got a big, hey-come-on-in face and a head of dark hair, and he’s built— not with weight- room muscle like yours, but in a basic animal way that must come from all that swimming he does.
“Just don’t try and say you didn’t inhale,” you tell him.
Everyone laughs except Bix, who’s at his computer, and you feel like a funny guy for maybe half a second, until it occurs to you that they probably only laughed because they could see you were trying to be funny, and they’re afraid you’ll jump out the window onto East Seventh Street if you fail, even at something so small.
Drew takes a long hit. You hear the smoke creak in his chest. He hands the pipe to Sasha, who passes it to Lizzie without smoking any.
“I promise, Rob,”Drew croaks at you, holding in smoke, “if anyone asks, I’ll tell them the hash I smoked with Robert Freeman Jr. was excellent.”
Was that “Jr.” mocking? The hash is not working out as planned: you’re just as paranoid as with pot. You decide, no, Drew doesn’t mock. Drew is a believer— last fall, he was one of the diehards passing out leaflets in Washington Square and registering students to vote. After he and Sasha got together, you started helping him— mostly with the jocks because you know how to talk to them. Coach Freeman, aka your pop, calls Drew’s type “woodsy.” They’re loners, Pop says— skiers, woodchoppers— not team players. But you know all about teams; you can talk to people on teams (only Sasha knows you picked NYU because it hasn’t had a football team in thirty years). On your best day you registered twelve team-playing Democrats, prompting Drew to exclaim, when you gave him the paperwork, “You’ve got the touch, Rob.” But you never registered yourself, that was the thing, and the longer you waited, the more ashamed of this you got. Then it was too late. Even Sasha, who knows all your secrets, has no idea that you never cast a vote for Bill Clinton.
Drew leans over and gives Sasha a wet kiss, and you can tell the hash is getting him horny because you feel it too— it makes your teeth ache in a way that will only let up if you hit someone or get hit. In high school you’d get in fights when you felt like this, but no one will fight with you now— the fact that you hacked open your wrists with a box cutter three months ago and nearly bled to death seems to be a deterrent. It functions like a force field, paralyzing everyone in range with an encouraging smile on their lips. You want to hold up a mirror and ask: How exactly are those smiles supposed to help me?
“No one smokes hash and becomes president, Drew,” you say. “It’ll never happen.”
“This is my period of youthful experimentation,” he says, with an earnestness that would be laughable in a person who wasn’t from Wisconsin. “Besides,” he says, “who’s going to tell them?”
“I am,” you say.
“I love you too, Rob,” Drew says, laughing.
Who said I loved you? you almost ask.
Drew lifts Sasha’s hair and twists it into a rope. He kisses the skin under her jaw. You stand up, seething. Bix and Lizzie’s apartment is tiny, like a dollhouse, full of plants and the smell of plants (wet and planty), because Lizzie loves plants. The walls are covered with Bix’s collection of Last Judgement posters— naked babyish humans getting separated into good and bad, the good ones rising into green fields and golden light, the bad ones vanishing into mouths of monsters. The window is wide open, and you climb onto the fire escape. The March cold crackles your sinuses.
Sasha joins you on the fire escape a second later. “What are you doing?” she asks.
“Don’t know,” you say. “Fresh air.” You wonder how long you can go on speaking in two- word sentences. “Nice day.”
Across East Seventh Street, two old ladies have folded bath towels on their windowsills and are resting their elbows on them while they peer down at the street below. “Look there,” you say, pointing. “Two spies.”
“It makes me nervous, Bobby,” Sasha says. “You out here.” She’s the only one who gets to call you that; you were “Bobby” until you were ten, but according to your pop it’s a girl’s name after that.
“How come?” you say. “Third floor. Broken arm. Or leg. Worst case.”
“Please come in.”
“Relax, Sash.” You park yourself on the grille steps leading up to the fourth- floor windows.
“Party migrate out here?” Drew origamis himself through the living room window onto the fire escape and leans over the railing to look down at the street. From inside, you hear Lizzie answer the phone—“Hi, Mom!”—trying to fluff the hash out of her voice. Her parents are visiting from Texas, which means that Bix, who’s black, is spending his nights in the electrical engineering lab where he’s doing his Ph.D. research. Lizzie’s parents aren’t even staying with her— they’re at a hotel! But if Lizzie is sleeping with a black man in the same city where her parents are, they will just know.
Lizzie pokes her torso out the window. She’s wearing a tiny blue skirt and tan patent- leather boots that go up higher than her knees. To herself, she’s already a costume designer.
“How’s the bigot?” you ask, realizing with chagrin that the sentence has three words.
Lizzie turns to you, startled.
“Are you referring to my mother?”
“You can’t talk that way in my apartment, Rob,” she says, using the Calm Voice they’ve all been using since you got back from Florida, a voice that leaves you no choice but to test how hard you have to push before it cracks.