Chibimagic's Weblog

I close my eyes and let the piece of lamb rest on my tongue, savoring its juices as they seep through my mouth. When I open my eyes again, he is doing his thing: flicking the meat, impaled on a fork, back and forth in front of his nose. Almost clinical—the chemistry lab waft we’re taught in high school. Then he stuffs it into his mouth with a sound effect: “Nomnomnom,” he actually says outloud. “I love being rich.”

I smirk at him. He’s full of himself, but in an adorable way. And this meal is delicious. Gloved hands sweep away crumbs and bring fresh utensils with each course. I can taste each listed ingredient on the menu, recited again as they place each dish in front of us. The flavors meld together yet stand distinct as instruments at a symphony. A dinner so good it sparked an obsession with Michelin starred restaurants.

When the lamb is reduced to a small smear of dark brown sauce, they clear away our plates. He holds out his hand on the table for mine and I oblige him. Everything is Very Romantic. At 25, I feel like this is my first Real Date—and I’m a little lost.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small velveteen black box. “Happy birthday,” he grins as he places it on the table between us.

Jewelry.

My heart pounds as the panic starts to rise. Shit. We’ve only been dating for two months. It’s too soon for serious jewelry. Oh my god what kind is it. I’m pretty sure ring boxes are smaller than this but I can’t think straight right now. It can’t be a ring. He’s not insane. Is this what people do when they’re 30?

“Open it,” he encourages me.

I reach out slowly, hoping my calm smile is convincing, and steeling myself to express a reasonable reaction to what’s inside. I flip open the top of the box. When my eyes manage to focus on the contents, I find an aluminum pendant staring back at me: a computer power symbol engraved on its surface and embedded in subtle circular grooves.

“And!” he announces, pulling another package from his pocket. “It glows with batteries.” He hands me two sets of button cells. “And you can program it to pulse in whatever pattern you want.”

I can’t stop myself from beaming as I trace the pendant with my finger. Cute, nerdy, and just the right amount of girly. It’s perfect. Panic fades away, replaced by appreciativeness and adoration with only the slightest hint of irrational disappointment. I pull the pendant from the box, insert the batteries, and put it on just as dessert arrives. It pulses at us from between my collarbones for the duration of the last course. It, like the others, is flawless.

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I like D’s music better, I think to myself.

Balancing the half-melted container of ice cream on my knees, I catch myself. Is it wrong to be comparing them like this?

They call me
D-U-D-E-T-H-A-T-

The Lonely Island blasts from M’s speakers. Just as Cobra Starship blasted from D’s speakers four weeks ago. M put on their penultimate album as he started driving tonight, then asked me to buy their latest album with his phone and play that instead.

That he uses the same music app as D only further highlights their juxtaposition. D has the career that M dreams of, and I’m pretty sure D would trade a chunk of his soul for M’s personal life.

But it feels wrong to draw these direct comparisons. It feels like objectification: reducing them to a pro and con list of qualities that are attractive or convenient to me.

A message from D pops up on my phone. I read it without launching the app, then proceed to ignore him until four hours later when M steps into the bathroom.

I probe my feelings. I empty my mind, then throw them up one by one against a stark white background: S? No reaction. No emotions there. M? None. D? I hestitate. I am beginning to remember.

Two and a half years ago, sitting at dinner with J: I am complaining once again about D. “Why are you dating him then?” J asks me. “Because—” and I stop. I can think of no good explanation to follow. I realize this is the third person I’ve complained to about him and the third time I’ve had to justify myself. But I have no justification. I make up my mind: I’m going over there tonight.

Somehow in the intervening years I’d forgotten.

“I think you are very cautious because you’ve had your fair share of being hurt, so you hide away your feelings so you don’t have to make yourself vulnerable,” S said me earlier that day. Cheap five cent psychoanalysis bullshit.

“I think I search out emotionally stunted software engineers so that I can be in control,” I reply.

S laughs. “There it is again,” he says. “Control issues.”

Later that night M kisses me, and I do not turn away. New experiences today.

“Use my phone,” he commands, and I obey. I grope around in the dark for the aux cable, then run my finger along the edges, feeling for his headphone jack. Top middle. The lock button is on the side.

“Unlock code?” I ask, holding it up so he can keep one hand on the wheel and one eye on the road. He starts describing the gesture for me to perform, but I already saw it over his shoulder earlier that day. I trace it before he finishes explaining.

I struggle with the app. The OS is unfamiliar and taps don’t do what they should. But soon music is pouring from his speakers.

Task complete, I hesitate before setting down his phone. It feels wrong to have this much access; too personal. As if I’m holding his heart in my hands. I turn it over slowly, and graze the warm red rubberized-plastic back with my fingertips. Ta-thump. Ta-thump.

“How much further?” he asks a little later, eyeing the estimated range remaining for the tank. I pick up his phone and repeat the dance: press, swipe, tap, tap. “Thirty more miles,” I report, being careful not to tap on faces in circles that would pull up message logs and histories. One face I recognize: one of the few friends of his that I met when we were together. As I switch back to the music app, a new notification rolls across the top of his screen. I avert my eyes before I can read it, but I catch the name anyway. This is not a part of his life I should have access to, I think.

The rituals repeat themselves a few more times: song requests; navigation questions. Each time I pick up his phone and repeat the swipe. It feels too intimate still. Like stepping around a corner and suddenly finding him fresh out of the shower, towel around his waist as he brushes his teeth.

At one point his roommate requests his phone so he can choose a song. I pick it up from the center console and almost hand it to him, then pull back and trace the unlock code. “Oh, I know his code,” he comments, matter-of-factly. Of course. He hands it back to me after selecting his song. I set it down in the seat beside me, resting against my hip.

Soon he’s had enough of his seat warmer. He fumbles for the off switch but has difficulty locating it while watching the road. I reach out and switch it off for him without thinking, and he replies with a murmur of thanks. Suddently the act seems overly domestic. I have a brief flash of a possible future: driving back from Disneyland, children exhausted and happy in the backseat, my hand squeezing his thigh in a quiet gesture of support and appreciation.

I stare out the window, not thinking of white elephants and his phone. Periodically it buzzes against my hip and I watch the notification bubbles accumulate across the top menu bar. So much of his life sits in this 5 inch slab. Like peeking over the edge of a cliff; dizzying. A pool of vertigo seeps through my body.

I close my eyes. A sensation—of falling—in—

I catch him, by accident, out of the corner of my eye. At a stop light a car honks at me to move so it can turn right. I glance around, catching a flash of green, but there is nowhere for me to move except into traffic, so I hold my ground. When the light turns he gives me a nod of acknowledgment and zooms off in front of me. Neon green cycling jersey, real bike, bulging calves: he’s here for some Serious Biking.

At the next light I pull up beside him. “Nice bike,” he comments, eyes darting down. “It’s cute.” I smile in response, unsure of what to say. It is a cute bike. Pastel pink with flower decals. Folding bike; 16″ wheels. It looks like a child’s bike. In my purple flowered helmet, running jacket, high school gym shorts, and pink Hello Kitty messenger bag, I probably look like I’m on my way home from school. He asks me questions while we wait for the light to change: what do I do; how far I’m biking today; where I’m from. This time I size him up. He doesn’t look like an engineer. Indeterminate age, probably early 30s. He’s decked out in cycling gear, but this is a strange street to be biking on. There’s too much traffic. If he were really serious he would be 3 miles west on F St. with its protected bike lane, few traffic lights, and rolling hills.

The whole interaction has me off guard, so I’m relieved when the light changes again and he once again darts off before me, this time with a wave. Within a block or two he disappears from sight, zipping through a yellow light that’s red long before I reach it. A line 2 bus passes me, making me perk up. Now I have something I can actually race. Depending on traffic, lights, stops, and handicapped passengers, I can generally keep pace with the bus for most of this street. I weave around cars left and right, concentrating on beating the bus.

To my surprise, a few miles down the road, Green Shirt passes me on the left, calling out a hello. He must have stopped somewhere. I catch up with him again at the next light. We’re both going to R, where I live and where his parents own a grocery store. He’s from S, and planning to circle around across the bridge. I try to calculate how far that is in my head. Must be 40, 50 miles. Maybe he’s more serious than I thought. Again the light turns and again he zooms off.

The next time we meet at a light, we exchange names, and I promptly forget his. B? M? This time he holds back, letting me set the pace. I wonder if it’s boring for him, to bike so slowly. He is a fountain of questions and anecdotes, keeping the conversation going. Something about Christmas deliveries; his brother’s wife’s brother; how it must be nice to work in software. It’s refreshing to talk to someone so full of words that they bubble out endlessly with the slightest provocation. I forget about the chill of the wind on my hands and neck. We bike together until I hit my street.

He asks me for my number. A for effort. We pull up onto the sidewalk and I end up missing the cross signal for another two rounds of lights. He disappears down the road once more, headed to see his family.

Startling: to see my car on the street as I come around a corner, in a shape that is mine but a shade that is not mine. This one bright shiny red like an overgrown ladybug missing its spots; that one brilliant blue as a piece of candy you could pluck up and pop in your mouth.

They are the same, but different too. This one with a gash in its bumper, stark against the pale green paint; that one with its seats pulled back in a configuration I would never use. It is my car, transformed.

And then, occasionally: the same as mine. Enough to make me wonder exactly where I parked. Block after block, I am surrounded by cars that are mine and not-mine.

A man clad in suit and wool coat, bending over to pick up dog shit.

Early morning runners, scattering pigeons every which way.

A dirty shopping cart, overflowing with derelict possessions.

A royal blue Fiat, flittering at the periphery of your vision.

A pink mustacioed car, slamming on its brakes because it misjudged your trajectory.

Working class men, walking the 5 short blocks to work.

A pounding in your heart, an aching in your lungs, a burning in your quads; full of dreams and possibility.

On H Street five blocks from their place is a mural. Halfway across is a mouth, giant and gaping, a maw oozing bright fleshy pink. A rivet in the building sits squarely in the middle of its tongue, suggesting a piercing, or perhaps venereal disease.

I’ve run past it a few times now. The art is not particularly skilled. I never see anyone admiring it; it’s merely a part of the urban landscape. What hopes and dreams did they have when they poured their energy into this work? Was this someone’s masterpiece, or merely the aftermath of a disinterested afternoon of teenagers fulfilling their volunteering requirements?

The mouth hangs open, unanswering. The lump shifts colors as I pass it in the early morning sun, and soon my footsteps fade in the distance.