I felt like I might barf. It was nothing serious, not food poisoning or anything like that. I didn’t eat any bad clams or ipecac-laced soup carefully prepared for me by my arch nemesis. I don’t even have an arch nemesis. I mean, not yet anyway. Who knows what could happen in the future. The future is full of unpredictable things.
Anyway, the reason I felt like potentially spewing chunks was simple. My girlfriend just told me she thinks we should split up.
“What?” I demanded, because that’s not at all what I had expected her to say. After all, it was our anniversary. We were supposed to be having dinner together, eating it, chatting about how much we love each other and how it only feels like a few weeks and not two years, and then going home and making sweet, passionate love on the floor while listening to my new-old Radiohead album I just bought from the CD Warehouse that’s going out of business down the street from my house. There were lots of things I thought she might say to me that night, but not any of them were…
“It’s just not working out. You’re kind of smothering me. I just think we need a break. And by break, I mean we should break up, not that we should get back together later.”
“Because I don’t want to get back together later.”
More stomach churning ickiness. I’d almost rather have food poisoning than feel like this. “But…why do you want to break up? I mean, I thought we were doing so well, I moved out of my parent’s house and everything so that we could have more time alone together!”
“Right, but you moved in with your best friend, so really, we just have more time alone together with your best friend.” Sarah (that’s her name) rolled her beautiful purple eyes. She had her purple contacts in today, she doesn’t naturally have purple eyes, though that would be stupid cool.
“But Dritz loves you! Just not as much as I do!”
“He hates me.”
“Probably, yes, but in a loving way! And he doesn’t hate you.“
“He hates me.”
She stared at me. I sighed. I didn’t know what to say next. Sarah seemed to have her mind made up, which was shitty, but not quite as shitty as the fact that I had bought her an anniversary gift which currently sat in my pocket, burning a hole of misery and despair through my jeans.
She shrugged, and shifted awkwardly. “So…I’m going to go home, now.”
And you would think that wouldn’t have hurt me so much, you would think that the worst hurt would have come when she first said “I want to break up,” and that certainly stung, but only half as much as the searing pain that tore through me when she said she was going home. Because that meant The End. That meant the conversation was over and this was really happening, a Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace kind of deal, and I’m a grown ass man, so I’m a little ashamed to admit what happened next, but I cried like a little kid who had just fallen on the playground and skinned his knee pretty bad, all alone and hurting.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Joey,” Sarah said.
I sniffed deeply and wiped my nose. “I’m sorry,” I said, because I was, nobody should ever have to watch a man cry like I cried in that moment. “I love you so much,” which, granted, probably wasn’t the best thing to say, but I DID love her so much, and I thought maybe if I just reminded her, she wouldn’t leave. She’d smile, punch my arm and say, “Ha, gotcha! Just kidding! Let’s go to dinner after all, you big baby!”
But she didn’t do that. She didn’t leave right away, either. I think she felt really weird about the whole situation.
“Look,” she said, “we can, you know, still be friends.”
I sucked some sadness back into my face and pathetically whimpered, “Friends who occasionally make out?”
“…hug?” I held my arms out.
She rolled her eyes. “I guess. But don’t grab my ass.”
I totally grabbed her ass, and she totally slapped me, but not super hard, just enough to remind me that it’s not my ass to grab anymore.
Then she left.
And then I curled up in a ball on the couch and cried my face off. Dritz wouldn’t be home for another hour, so I had a little bit of time to try to get my shit together and act like everything was cool.
I wouldn’t get my shit together, though.
At the time, I thought it was a great gift. Sarah and I have a “no gift” policy, she says she doesn’t believe in gifts, but I always knew that was just a test to see if I’d actually fail to get her things on important dates. Either that, or it was her excuse for never getting me anything.
Anyway, this thrift store had just opened in town and Dritz and I were dying to go. Dritz is constantly working on these little projects, buying used furniture for twenty bucks, fixing it up and then selling it for $300 on Craigslist. And me, well, I like paying less than a dollar for a t-shirt. So we took a day-cation to downtown and ate at our favorite cheap pizza place in the square and hit up Second Hand Land, quite possibly the best thrift shop name I’ve ever heard, except if I ever open up a thrift shop, I’ll call it Universe of Crazy-Mega Discounts.
Second Hand Land had all the usual thrift shop finds: Ass-tons of clothes, shelves of knick-knacks that no one really wanted but were super fun to look at, toys (the most awesome section, if you ask me), furniture that’s usually falling apart, and VHS tapes that would die on those thrift shop shelves, because who the hell owns a VHS player anymore? (Unless you bought one from their highly modern and trendy electronics section, of course.)
I certainly wasn’t looking for a gift for Sarah. Definitely not jewelry, either. Sarah doesn’t really wear it. But sometimes you see something, and you know you’re supposed to have it. I’m sure that’s happened to you. It doesn’t make any sense, but it doesn’t have to, the thing may as well have a label that says “For Whatever Your Name Is”. In this case, it was a necklace, and I knew it was supposed to belong to Sarah.
Except I’d find out later that wasn’t the case at all, and probably I shouldn’t have bought it in the first place, because neither of us should have had the stupid thing, but more on that later.
Anyway. About this necklace. It was on a simple silver chain, which matched Sarah, she’s a simple girl. She doesn’t go for flash or over the top bling. A small cage hung from the chain. It looked like a miniature bird cage, actually. I’d never seen something so intricate. Usually, little jewelry cages are just a flurry of wires and you can tell it was done by a machine to save as much money as possible. This one, though, looked almost as if a master bird cage craftsman had designed the most delicate, detailed bird cage in his arsenal, and then shrunk it down to the size of the tip of his thumb.
Resting inside the cage sat a purple sphere about the size of a marble. It really looked just like a marble, except for the fact that it seemed to emit a gentle, swirling glow at all times. I can’t fully describe this properly, because it wasn’t really glowing, so to speak, in the way that lightbulbs glow, or glowsticks glow. It just…looked like it was glowing. It was easily the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in a thrift store. I found myself wondering how the hell something so nice got here in the first place.
“Hey, man, check out this hat, it makes me look like a giraffe,” Dritz said behind me. I turned, and he did, in fact, look like a giraffe. Or at least like a man wearing a hat shaped like a giraffe head and neck.
“That’s awesome, dude. Check out this necklace.”
“Necklace? Are you a girl now?”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s a totally sexist thing to say, you giraffe-toting asshat, dudes can wear necklaces too.” I held the purple sphere birdcage necklace up to him. “Except that this one is totally for chicks.”
He snatched it out of my hand. “Hey, is that glowing?” He cupped it in his hands and tried to peer through his fingers to investigate the glow factor of the piece.
“I don’t think so, man, I think it just looks like it could glow-“
“Dude, this thing doesn’t glow at all, it just looks like it could glow.”
“Yeah,” I said, snatching it back from him. “I just said that. I’m thinking of getting it for Sarah,” which was only half-true, as I’d only just developed the idea of giving it to Sarah.
“What? Why? I thought you guys had that whole ‘no-gift’ thing going on.”
“Well, I mean, it’s pretty. It looks like something she’d like. It matches her eyes.”
“You do realize her eyes are not actually purple, right?”
“Why do you hate happiness, Dritz?”
“I don’t hate happiness, it just seems like a waste of a perfectly good necklace, giving it to that shrew.”
“She’s not a shrew,” I said. “Plus, we have our anniversary coming up next month, and it’s a big one, two years. She deserves something nice, to know that I think about her. Even if she never wears it, it could be something she’ll have as a reminder. You know. That I care.”
“I guess, if she even has feelings.”
“Also it’s only $3.50.”
“Well, now you have to buy it.”
I clutched the stupid box containing the stupid necklace in to my chest and wept openly on the couch for the entire hour before Dritz got home. Sometimes the cat would curl up on my chest and I would scritch her ears.
Our cat, Spazzers, showed up one rainy morning, about a week after our Second Hand Land visit. On my way out the door to go to work, I saw her; a small, shivering black cat huddled under my front bumper, attempting to keep dry. If you’re a cat person, you know that feeling of sympathy that grabs onto your heart and refuses to let go if you see one in trouble.
The cat had a collar, so it had to belong to someone. I looked around, as if its owner might materialize out of the sheets of pouring rain, but of course no such thing happened. I leaned over and stretched out a hand, the one not currently holding an umbrella. The cat sniffed it cautiously, and then she shoved her furry little head into my palm.
I was hooked.
We never managed to track down the owner, and I got written up that day for being late. But the cat turned out to have a surprisingly mellow demeanor, aside from random bouts of chasing nothing at all around the house for hours at a time, for which we named her Spazzers.
Anyway, scratching her ears didn’t seem to calm me down like it normally would. I’d have some moments of calm; my head would clear and briefly I’d think about nothing at all. But then I’d remember, because in the stillness I’d think about something I wanted to say to Sarah, or how I loved holding her, or the way her lips felt on mine, or I’d just squeeze the box and remember who it was for, and I’d fall to pieces all over again.
I think when Dritz actually walked through the door, he found me sitting on the floor eating ice cream straight from the half-gallon container and making a low-pitched wailing sound.
“What the fuck happened?” He asked, taking off his coat and hanging it on the hooks we had installed a week earlier, because we’re responsible. He made his way through the pile of laundry we hadn’t put away yet, because we’re irresponsible. He pulled out his comfy pants and sat down on the couch behind me. “Joey? You look very unwell.” He grabbed the ice cream from me and took a bite.
“Well, that would be because Sarah decided I was ‘smothering her’ and broke up with me.” I used air quotes, of course.
“Ah, I see.” Dritz patted my head. “Welcome to the single life, dude. It’s way better anyway.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” I said, grabbing my ice cream back. “You’re single by choice, or whatever, but…fuck, man, you’re so talented, what with all of your projects and stuff, I mean, you’re probably going to be working for yourself in a couple of years, and meanwhile, I’ve got…” I held up the ice cream container and stared at it, willing it to provide my life some meaning. “I mean, I always sort of thought that as long as I had a girlfriend, I was winning at least one portion of the Life Olympics.”
Dritz laughed, snatching the ice cream once more. “Joey, what you were doing with Sarah wasn’t winning at life. You weren’t even your own person. It was like…like you let her absorb you or something. Like one of those alien monsters from MST3K.”
I sniffed. “That’s not true.”
“Oh, really? Tell me one thing you’ve done in the past, I don’t know, six months? Just one thing you did without her.”
I considered that. “Well, last week I went bowling with you and Max from work –“
“Because I made you do that, man! Remember how you wanted to stay home and plan your anniversary date instead?”
“She was a bitch anyway, Joey, you can do better than her.”
“I was just telling her how you don’t hate her.”
“But I do.”
I sniffed and sighed. “You never gave her a chance.”
“I gave her plenty of fucking chances!” He shouted, waving the spoon pointedly in the air. “How many times did I let her stay over and criticize the movies we picked for the night? How many times did I cook her dinner and let her bitch that there wasn’t enough salt or some shit like that? Plus I watched her treat you like crap,” he said, poking me in the chest. With my own spoon, no less.
I snatched the spoon out of his hand and took the ice cream back. I shoveled a huge bite into my face. “She didn’t treat me like crap,” I said through the mouthful of cold, creamy slush. “She just had a lot of opinions.”
Dritz snorted. “Yeah, opinions about how you should act and what you should wear and what you should or should not watch on TV. I mean, who the fuck gives a shit if you like Project Runway?”
“Tim Gunn is such a beautiful person.”
We sat in silence for several moments, sharing the ice cream until there was nothing left but tiny drips of melted goo that refused to budge from the corners of the container. Dritz reclined on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, probably contemplating going to the store to get more. And that’s when I had the epiphany.
“I want her back,” I said.
“That’s a terrible idea.”
“But I need her back. It’s not so much an idea as my only option.”
“Joey,” Dritz rolled over so he could look me in the eye, “I’ve known you since we were twelve. In that time, you’ve dated exactly three girls, and you’ve gotten obsessed with all of them. And every time they dump you. Twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern. You get it?”
I shook my head.
“The common denominator is you, my friend. You’re not living. Don’t get me wrong, Sarah is a total bitch, and I’ll take that to my grave. But she’s not wrong about you being smothering.”
“But maybe I just need to find her and convince her that I can be less smothering!”
“That thing you just said? It sounded pretty smothering.”
But I didn’t feel like listening to Dritz be a Debbie Downer. I had just started to feel renewed, invigorated. “No, I think this could work.” I held up the box. “I have this. This will prove to her that I love her, and that she shouldn’t leave me. She’ll see what a nice, caring guy I am. And then we’ll make out and everything will be fine.”
Dritz stared at me. Then he said, “Yeah, sure, okay, that sounds like a great plan.”
“I can’t help but feel like you don’t really mean it.”
“It’s because I don’t,” he said, standing up to head to his room. “But you’re going to do it anyway.”
“Yes I am.”
“So it doesn’t really matter what I think.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“Okay,” he said. “If you’re going over there anyway, get her apartment key back. And enjoy your failure.”
I would, Dritz, my friend. I would.
I woke up the next day with renewed vigor. I didn’t bother with breakfast or coffee. I didn’t even brush my teeth. I simply threw on some clothes, laced up my shoes, grabbed the necklace and headed out the door. Dritz was already awake, sitting on the couch watching TV in the living room. He let out a feeble “Stop, don’t, come back,” on my way out the door.
Sarah lived pretty close by. A different neighborhood, but a short drive by car, just under ten minutes. My confidence stayed high the entire ride over. It wasn’t until I found myself sitting in front of her house that I began to worry this might not be the best idea. I mean, she might not even be awake, and she’s incredibly cranky when she’s just woken up.
But I didn’t want to talk myself out of this. I had to at least give her the necklace. I’d bought it for her. She should know how much I care.
I sucked in a deep breath and opened the car door. My feet hit the pavement, and I marched toward her front door, not letting myself think. Closer. Closer. Don’t think. Just knock. Bang, bang, bang. Simple. Wait. Don’t panic now. The girl you love is right on the other side of the-
“What the fuck are you doing on my doorstep at ass crack o’clock in the morning?”
Shit. So I did wake her up. No time for groveling. Tell her how you feel.
“Look, Sarah, I’m sorry for waking you up-“
“If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have woken me up.”
“-but I have something to say. I love you.” She rolled her eyes. “I do. I’m sorry, I can’t change how I feel. And I know you can’t change how you feel, either, but before you disappear from my life forever, I want you to have this.” I shoved the box in her hands.
All night, I’d imagined what she’d do, what she’d say when she opened the box. She’d see the necklace and be blown away by it, just like I was. She’d realize how thoughtful I really was, that maybe I wasn’t smothering after all, maybe I just cared a lot. She would lift it gingerly out of the box, realize that this gift had been made for her, and her eyes would fill with tears.
“I’ve been so wrong, Joey,” she would say. “You know me so well, I love this. I love you. I’m so sorry.” And then we would make out.
But, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, that’s not what happened. She opened the box, peered inside, picked up the necklace, looked it over, put it back in the box.
“You drove over here first thing in the morning to give me jewelry?”
“I had planned on giving it to you last night, for our anniversary.”
She did not seem impressed. “You know I don’t wear jewelry.”
This wasn’t going well. “I know, but this is kind of unique, like you, and-“
“Joey.” She closed the box. “I don’t know what you thought would happen here, but I’m tired. And cranky. And I don’t appreciate getting dragged out of bed so that you could mark giving me some crappy necklace off of your to-do list. This is exactly the sort of thing I’m sick of.”
“Surprise gifts?” I guessed.
My jaw dropped. “What? How is it selfish? I got it because I was thinking of you!”
“But you didn’t think about the fact that I might want to sleep in on my day off. You didn’t think about the fact that I just got through telling you how you’re smothering me. You didn’t think about the fact that I don’t even wear fucking necklaces. You thought about how you wanted to feel good about yourself by trying to do something nice for me.”
“But-“ I protested.
“No. If you don’t get it, you won’t ever get it. This necklace? Is why we’re through.” And she handed it back to me.
She started to close the door. I let out a super pathetic, “Wait!” Like, SUPER pathetic. There were tears in that “wait”. I knew she heard them, too, because she held the door open a crack and leaned her head on the door frame with a weary sigh.
“Look, Joey,” she said, her voice a bit less harsh now, “It’s not just me I’m worried about. It’s you. You haven’t done anything on your own for the past, what, five or six months?”
Again with the accusations!
“That’s not true! I went bowling with Max from work.”
“Because Dritz made you go. Listen, I’m really, really sorry this is painful for you, but I can’t be the only thing in your life. It’s not healthy, it’s just…it’s too much pressure.”
I blinked helplessly at her. “What should I do?”
“I don’t know, find a hobby? See what life is like without being attached to me at all times?”
“I’m sorry, Joey. I’m going back to sleep now. I’m – good luck.”
She shut the door, and I heard the lock slide into place.
I needed more ice cream.
I got Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, in case you were wondering. I ate the entire pint and didn’t feel much better. Spazzers jumped into my lap and I pet her for a while, but I still felt like shit. I poured myself a drink. It stung on the way down but felt warm in my belly. I wondered what Sarah might be doing right now. Probably congratulating herself on being so fucking judgmental and cowardly to not give true love a shot because she’s afraid of a little attention. Yeah, and probably she was starting to feel a little bit of regret for letting me go. Who else is going to climb in bed with such a heartless bitch?
Dritz came home four drinks later to find me yelling at an armoire in the process of getting painted. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIKE IT, YOU JUST HAVE TO KEEP IT,” I screamed.
Dritz hung his coat up. “Shit, Joey, have you been drinking? Or did the armoire insult your mother again?”
“The flurst one. First one. Drinking.” I punched the armoire in the drawer for good measure. It was looking at me funny anyway.
“Well, don’t drink alone. Pour me one.”
And that’s how we ended up drunk, on the floor of the living room, playing seven degrees of whoever the hell was in that one movie with that other actor we just thought of.
“Because Will Ferrell was in Elf AND Anchorman,” I pointed out, “and Christina Applegate was in that and the…that one about…about the babyshitter.”
Dritz cracked up. “You just – you just said babyshitter instead of babysitter.”
I smiled. He had a point. I was extremely clever, even though that’s not what I meant to say. “Yeah, and do you know who else shits on babies? Sarah.”
“Sarah Michelle Gellar was in Cruel Intentions with…a bunch of other people,” Dritz replied.
“Yeah! You’re really…” I burped. “You’re really good at this game, man.”
There was a knock at the door.
“The pizza’s here!” I shouted.
Dritz snorted. “We didn’t order any pizza, dude.” He pushed himself into a standing position and lumbered toward the door.
“Maculay Culkin ordered a delicious cheese pizza just for himself in Home Alone,” I said.
Dritz paused at the door. “Dude, WE’RE home alone! What if that’s a burliger knocking?”
I waved my hands in the air. “Burligers – burglars – don’t knock. They break your window and shit.”
Dritz doubled over. “They break in just so they can take a shit? In your house?” He wiped tears out of his eyes. “Man, shit’s hilarious.”
The knock came again.
“Fuck, man, there’s someone at the door!” Dritz said, jumping at the noise.
“I know, dude, that’s why you’re standing by the door. You were gonna answer it probably.”
Dritz put a finger to his nose and pointed at me. “You’re right.” Then he opened the door.
And he promptly closed it again.
“Who is it?” I asked, swiveling my head around to look at him.
“I don’t know. I’m really drunk, man.”
“Me too!” I said happily, pointing at myself. “Me, too.”
“Joey, I think there’s a llama at our front door.”
I sat up. “What? Shut up. What?”
Another knock, this time with a voice attached. The voice said, “Hello? Um, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve come a long way, and it’s, uh, it’s kind of important?”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not a fucking llama. Llamas can’t talk.”
Dritz nodded. “You’re right, man. You’re right.”
He opened the door again.
And closed it.
“Dude, it’s a fucking llama.”
“No,” I said, getting up myself. My head violently protested my new upright stature, but I managed to make it to the door anyway. I opened it.
And closed it.
“Holy shit, man, there’s a llama at our front door,” I informed Dritz.
“That’s what I’ve been saying, man!”
The knocking became rather insistent. “I’m really sorry, but I’m kind of in a hurry,” the god damn talking llama at my front door said. “Do you have a minute? I just need one minute.”
I opened the door again. The llama smiled at me and held out a hoof. “Oh! Hi, look, please don’t shut the door in my face again, I’m Rick, may I come in for a minute? It’s pretty cold outside.”
I looked at Dritz. “His name is Rick.”
“Yeah, I caught that,” Dritz said, but he wasn’t looking at me, he was staring at the llama.
Rick the llama put his hoof back down, as it had become apparent that neither Dritz nor I possessed the appropriate mental faculties at present to shake hands – hooves - with a llama. “So…may I come in?” He asked again.
I looked at Dritz. He shrugged. “I guess.”
I stepped out of the way and gestured for Rick to come in. He picked up his skinny llama legs and clip-clopped his way into our home.
“Thanks,” Rick said, shaking his head roughly. “It’s so much warmer inside. You’d think having all this fur, I’d be better equipped to handle the brisk autumn air, but to be completely honest with you, I hate the cold.”
“Yeah,” I said, still not entirely sure what to make of all this. “I think I’m way too drunk for this.”
Rick’s face sagged. “You’re drunk?”
“Yeah. Who are you, the drinking police?”
“No, no, nothing like that.” Rick held up a hoof, waving away any drinking police accusations. “I mean, you’re certainly allowed to partake of alcoholic beverages at any time in the privacy of your own home.”
“Damn right,” Dritz said, plopping himself down on the couch.
“It’s just that I have a very important message for you, and, well, maybe you shouldn’t be drunk for it.”
I nodded. “Did you know that my girlfriend broke up with me yesterday?” I asked Rick.
The llama didn’t seem to know how to respond to that. He shuffled around a bit and said “Er” and “Um” a few times.
Dritz raised his glass in the air, pointing a finger toward Rick. “It’s true. He just got dumped. This is dumped drunk.”
I laughed. “That kind of sounds like dump truck.”
Dritz nodded. “That one was for you, Joey.”
Rick made a weird, flustered bleating noise. “Listen, I’m just going to tell you my message and hope that you remember it, because I’m tired and I’m very sorry you just got dumped, but I had to miss out on a first date thanks to getting sent on this mission, so, here goes.”
I nodded, gesturing for him to speak when ready. Rick cleared his throat.
“Okay. Here goes. Sometime in the near future, you will find a necklace. A purple bead in a cage. It is of the utmost importance that you do not acquire said necklace. Leave it where it is.”
I snorted, pulling the box containing Sarah’s unwanted anniversary gift out of my pocket. “What, you mean this thing?” I said, pulling off the lid.
Rick’s eyes grew wide. “Um,” he said, eyes fixed on the necklace, “yes. That thing. You definitely shouldn’t have that thing. Shit.” Rick shifted from hoof to hoof, the size of his eyes growing with each passing second. “Shit, shit, shit, shit.” He looked from me to Dritz to the box to me to the box to Dritz. “SHIT.”
I held out my glass. “Drink?”