Life may be a video game, but some of us have a few of the cheat codes. Here’s one of mine: I am never playing the game I appear to be playing.
Indeed, I often have hidden longer-term ambitions that are both quite strange and private. If I told people these goals, they would probably think I’m crazy, ridiculous, or plain laugh. Still, they are often multi-year things and usually involve a meaningful relationship with someone I am fond of. So, while I might tell you a story about me randomly sitting on a curb and having the serendipity of meeting Josh, well, that would be a total lie. There wasn’t anything random about it. For him? Yes, sure. But for me? Absolutely not.
The very first time I came to Flagstaff in middle school, my mother drove through downtown on San Francisco Street. Outside of the local record store that I later obsessively worked at, there was a group of mohawk sporting punk rock boys. Among these boys was Josh. I’ll never forget seeing him for the first time. I was struck by emotional lightning. I knew that someday I’d know him and that someday he’d want to know me, too, but I wasn’t yet sure how our paths would cross. I was but a junior high kid, and he, a high schooler. The odds were already not in my favor, so I’d have to wait, and wait, I did.
So, while I swore off boys, he was the one and only exception to my rule. I decided I was no longer going to pursue guys; they had to pursue me. They had to want me first and had to demonstrate their want in some form or another, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t be exactly where I needed to be for that to happen. We make our own luck.
After school, I’d get a book, and I would sit outside of the record store Dab Nabbits, and I would wait. We didn’t have cell phones; we had something called patience instead. I waited for him to walk by and maybe, just maybe, notice me. A few times, Josh walked by, and he said “hey” to me and nodded at me. I nodded back, and then I would go straight back to my book. My book was more important than he was. Or at least, that’s what I thought I needed to project.
One day I struck gold while reading a Kurt Vonnegut book. Quite coincidentally, I knew Vonnegut was his favorite author. No, I lied. I knew Vonnegut was his favorite author, so I set about reading every single book by him that I could, just in case he sat down and talked to me. Then we’d have something to talk about. Or so I thought. The day I hit the jackpot, I happened to be reading Cat’s Cradle. I saw him coming towards me on the street, and I thought for sure he’d give me the usual nod and walk on by, but this time he sat down next to me, and he pulled the book away from my face.
“I fucking love that book! Have you read anything else by Vonnegut”?
Why yes Josh, yes, I have. All of it.
Luckily, I liked Vonnegut too. It would have sucked if I didn’t think his writing any good. I am a horrible liar – or am I? – so I’d have to tell him I hated Vonnegut but luckily, I could gush about it and in an intelligent way because I had waited for this moment to happen for many years. And it finally happened.
We sat on the curb and talked, and then he asked me to have dinner with him at Denny’s. We went to Denny’s, and we stayed there until the sun rose the next day. We talked and talked about everything from math, music, and everything in-between. It just so happened that Josh was also brilliant. In fact, he was in the very same gifted program I was back in junior high. We shared a lot of things in common which I didn’t expect or know much about. Josh even liked my Toad the Wet Sprocket shirt, a shirt which my friend Sarah told me I should never wear around him. I wore it almost every day to piss her off because I really hated elitism related to art.
We were inseparable after that day for many months. We didn’t start dating immediately, though. It was gradual. We spent our time getting to know one another by listening to jazz music on top of his car in the woods, exploring where they discovered Pluto at the Lowell observatory, writing poetry and music together, and joining a band where I screamed in a cookie monster like way with indecipherable lyrics.
The big night for us happened kind of accidentally because neither of us knew where all of this was going. I just knew I liked him a lot.
Josh invited me on a camping trip with some other band people, but not just any band people - The Primitive Tribes, who were the topmost favorite band of all of Flagstaff in the punk scene. I couldn’t say no to a weekend with him and them. I went out there without any food, water, or plans. Luckily there was plenty to eat and drink, but what I didn’t anticipate was beer consumption. That night was my first and last beer I’ll ever have in my life.
We started the night playing games in the dirt. I taught everyone how to play Moncalla playing with stones and little holes I dugout. We then moved on to shooting rifles and handguns, killing a few birds, which we fed mostly to the dogs, but which one person decided to eat. In Flagstaff, you can open carry firearms, and many of my friends did. Shooting guns like this for fun wasn’t abnormal but rather a bonding experience. After shooting everything we felt like shooting, we settled into a campfire and started eating and drinking.
Before long, one of the guys offered me a beer. I tried it and found it disgusting, but I decided to drink it anyway. Something magical happens with beer which is if you keep drinking it, it just starts to taste like water.
Sasha, the lead singer of Primitive Tribes, seemed to take a liking to me, and we played games together in the dirt, and eventually, I challenged him, like an idiot, to a drinking game. I told him some bullshit story about how I am Irish, and by being Irish, I can handle my beer. It was a genetic given, haven’t you heard? My last memory of the night was laughing with Sasha and us going off to the woods together. I don’t remember anything else until the next morning where I woke up in the woods with my pants down.
I pulled up my pants, and I noticed I really didn’t smell good. My head hurt fiercely, but I heard my friends nearby waking up themselves, and so I followed their sounds back to camp.
“There she is!! Holy shit, Cyan! You were nutso last night! How do you feel?!”
Then I listened to several hours of horror stories of things I had done before and after my last memory of the evening. To this day, I cannot conjure up those memories. I had blacked out at some point, and I only remember walking into the woods. I didn’t remember the dance party we had or anything I talked to Sasha about.
Well, apparently, Sasha did like me, and we went off into the woods to make out. But I wouldn't stop talking about Josh when we were kissing. I told him how much I loved him and wanted to be with him and that I shouldn’t be out there in the woods with Sasha. Sasha encouraged me to go back into camp and declare my love for Josh and sleep in his car, but I apparently didn’t want to move. Instead, I vomited all over Sasha and my sleeping bag. Sasha helped clean me up the best he could, but my sleeping bag was unusable. I refused to move despite multiple attempts by people trying to move me. I also (thankfully) pulled my own pants down.
Josh drove me into town to get some meds for my headache and feed and nurse me back to health. After that, I decided I’d never drink beer again. I never wanted to blackout again. I had to take full responsibility for making the choices that I did. It disturbed me that this other person might emerge and do things that I later would have no real explanation for.
That night, after brushing my teeth and changing my clothes, I slept in Josh’s car, who Sasha already teed up. Sasha told him that while he was trying to make moves on me, all I could talk about was Josh. How embarrassing, but it definitely got the point across. We started dating that night. Thanks, Sasha! Sorry about your shirt and your pride.
That night changed my life forever. I went from not caring about many people to having a +1. Not only a +1 but someone who started occupying my thoughts when I was idle. Nobody had ever taken up that space before Josh. There were cute boys before who I wanted to hold hands with, sure. But, this, this was different. With Josh, I wanted to know how his day was, where he was and when I’d see him again. I started caring about his well-being in a profound way that frankly shocked me.
Slowly, I began to feel what can only be described as a sickness. There was a warm feeling growing within me that felt both foreign and scary. I didn’t know what it was but understand it now. I was falling in love.