Darla

Once or twice a year, I have a lucid nightmare where I’m trying to physically reach out to my old friend Darla, but I can never make contact with her. She is always beyond my touch or made of a nebulous gas or I can’t move my arms. These dreams are based on a real interaction more than 20 years ago. I wonder, why I am plagued by this continually-reinterpreted rehashing of our last meeting? I used to wake up angry, but over the past few years, my anger has given way to bemused curiosity. How did she and I end up in such an awkward and violent confrontation?

This is a true story about the joys and perils friendship, the elusive crown of self-esteem, and blindly trusting others where you would not trust yourself.

After two years of trying to find a place for myself in the punk scene of Olympia, Washington circa early 90s, I found myself unemployed, disowned by my family, and living on my friend Jane’s couch. My home was, generally speaking, the corner of her and her roommate Josh’s living room. Lucky for me, Jane, while religiously punk at the time, had within her an unflinching stability that would make her apartment a haven compared to the other rat’s nests of cool kids around town. Josh too was punk, yet his drama quotient was low. We were poor financially, but culturally, we felt loaded. We cut and dyed our own hair, saw tons of bands, partied with real rock stars, ate a lot of beans and rice, but got most of our energy from jet-black coffee. We all had our own fanzines, and Josh was the singer for a band called Mukilteo Fairies.

Jane decided that she wanted to move to the Bay Area, having fallen in love with the East Bay punk scene, 924 Gilman, and Oakland’s much better weather. Since I didn’t have a job, school, family, a place to live or anything else keeping me in Washington, just a trickling but transferable fund of unemployment, I did what made the most sense to me at the time: I tagged along on her migration south.

We left Tuesday morning, January 4th, so that we’d be in Arcata with Jane’s crush, Tall Josh, for her birthday on the 5th. I packed my meager possessions: clothes, toiletries, journals, and a treasured box of colored pencils that I carried everywhere, into a large, gray, hard-shell, vintage suitcase with blue satin lining and a Fitz of Depression sticker on it. Beyond that, I had a pillow, $80 and my typewriter — a precious and perfect blue-green 1960’s Smith-Corona that I got at a yard sale in Berkeley, on my previous and only other Bay Area visit, for $10.

The rest of Jane’s tiny, silver Dodge Omni was crammed to the edges with her stuff. It was her car after all, her gas money, and her new life plan. I was just crossing my fingers and hoping that the place she'd lined up to stay at wouldn’t mind one extra little old me in the corner. I’d learned to take up very little space and be extra portable.

Once packed, we got in the car and Jane put on Op Ivy to get us in the mood for our new and improved punk scene and presumably better life. She drove us down 4th Street one last time, and we saluted Olympia with all four of our middle fingers as we yelled out, “Bye, fuckers!!!” We were so done with that town.

We talked for a bit, but the long trip gave way to mix tapes and bootlegs that Jane acquired through having a DJ slot at KAOS — the radio station at Olympia’s infamously liberal Evergreen State College. There was a lot of Green Day and Rancid, but plenty of Pinhead Gunpowder, Tilt, Fifteen, and Blatz to mix it up.

Arcata was cold and rainy. It was January after all. Having only been to California once before, I didn’t realize that the north coast would be so much like Washington: wet, windy, chilling us to our skinny bones through our hipster high-water pants and cheap, used leather jackets. We stayed at Tall Josh’s place for two days. He dyed Jane’s hair, and we dined on burritos and cheap beer. I slept on the floor of an empty bedroom and covered my ears, while Tall Josh made embarrassing noises with Jane in the other room. Though she was into him, Jane had vision and goals and didn’t consider trying to stay in Arcata or get him to come along with us. He was just a station on her way. On our way.

We arrived at Phyllis’ bungalow in Berkeley on Sunday afternoon. Though, it wasn’t Phyllis’ place exactly, it was her mother’s—as Phyllis was only 15 years old. I don’t know how Jane got them to agree to let her stay there, but that was the agreement that I found out about after we arrived.

The next morning, Phyllis came out into the living room where I was sleeping and hit the bong .  “Wake and bake,” she called it. We poured huge bowls of cereal and watched cartoons until she left for high school. Living in California was awesome, so far.

Jane was snippy two days later when she told me that I had to find somewhere else to stay. I had failed to grasp that I really didn’t have very many options, at all, in the whole world. Luckily, the punk scene provided, and another young girl who hung out, 14 year old Jessica, said I could crash in her room where she was staying in Concord. It was accessible by BART, so I thought, how bad could it be? It was great actually. It was a huge, really nice house. I got a little corner in Jessica’s room and the woman who owned the house, a friend of Jessica’s mom, said I could eat anything I wanted. I tried not to take advantage, but it was hard not to load up since there seemed to be a real chance that I could end up homeless and hungry again at the whims of people I barely knew.

After a month, I found other arrangements for myself, securing a spare futon in the laundry room of a flat in North Oakland on Alcatraz Avenue occupied by five other punk kids: Karen, Forest, Geoff, Jaime, and Mikel.

Once I settled into my new spot at the Bunnyhole, so named for the large plastic rabbit nailed to the front of the house and an ironic obsession with bunnies, I started looking for a job. I put in an application at a beautifully restored art deco movie house in North Berkeley called the Oaks Theater. After a short interview with Dale, the mellow and cool manager, I was hired to work in the concession stand.

The Oaks had just two screening rooms, and the films’ start and end times were staggered just slightly, which gave the staff about an hour to kill between showings. I spent a lot of time drawing in my sketchbook and poring over the latest issues of Eightball and Dirty Plotte. Those were my favorites, but I also loved Optic Nerve, Naughty Bits and Peter Bagge’s Hate, and pretty much anything by Canadian comix publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

Part of the reason that I moved to the Bay Area, instead of staying in cold, rainy Olympia trying to find another couch to live on, was because I had developed a crush on a guy in a band who lived in San Francisco. When his band came to town over the summer of 1992, I ended up hanging out with them and making out with the bass player later that night. He and I became pen pals, and I even booked a show for them when they toured through Olympia again a few months later. That guy sent the best snail mail; made the coolest mix tapes. He gave me an issue of a comic book/fanzine that he made. It was a loose narrative of two characters created from angular bits of black paper, arranged and xeroxed to evoke silhouettes. Many of the pages had multi-colored stencils dusted on the background or foreground. It was so cool and inventive. He sparked my creative impulses like that. He'd engaged with me through the mail, and we’d had some phone calls, so I figured there was at least a possibility that we’d hang out if I happened to live near him.

That bass player only hung out with me once. We got some beer and went to his extremely small apartment. He showed me the elaborate spray painting operation he had, complete with multiple drying lines in his tiny bathroom. We had pathetic, quick sex on his floor and then he sent me on my way. My pride was hurt that he didn’t actually want me to be a part of his life. That stung. However, I had a positive takeaway from that liaison: a new confidence that I could make art, do design, be creative, y'know… make something and share it with the world. If that guy could do it, I could do it. Even if cool band guy didn’t want to hang out with me or didn’t think I had anything to offer, I knew that when I got my life together, I would do my own cool things.

Though the underground comix that I collected were considered “alternative” to the flashy slick superhero comics or gothy graphic novels that occupied most of the shelf space at the local zine store, Comic Relief, they weren’t inferior. They showed a degree of illustration skill that was far beyond my own doodles. I was also interested in filmmaking and furniture design, so I began researching art schools.

After about a year and a half slinging popcorn at the Oaks, I finally managed to get myself into the overtly commercial Academy of Art, in San Francisco. There is no academic criteria to get into that school, just a financial one. I quit my chill job at the movie house in Berkeley, and moved on up to the snazzy new Embarcadero Center Cinemas in SF's financial district.

The ECC was Landmark Cinemas’ flagship location. Landmark is a small franchise of movie theaters showing mainly independent and foreign films. The ECC was freshly constructed and the movies were cool. If you had to work part-time, for a hair over minimum wage, and supplement your sustenance with all the popcorn and soda you could handle, it was a pretty nice place to do it. Everyone who worked there had other things going on. There were a lot of young people: high school and college students, actors and artists. Only the managerial staff made a real living wage.

One of the assistant managers was a young woman named Darla. She and I got along pretty well for the first few months that I worked there, but around Thanksgiving we became real friends who hung out outside of work as well. I didn’t have any plans for the holiday, so she invited me over to her apartment to make apple pies. Together we attended an orphan’s Thanksgiving at her friends’ arty warehouse called, “The Warepad.”

Darla was just a year or two older than I, but I looked up to her because she was my superior at work and because she really seemed to have her life together. She had her own studio apartment in a big, white, ornate 1920’s building on Van Ness Avenue. She had an extensive collection of gorgeous vintage coats, dresses, scarves, lingerie, miles of shoes. It seemed that everything she owned was from another, more glamorous, time.

We eventually started spending a lot of time together. We went out dancing at the Cat Club, drank drinks and when we got back to her place, things got kind of sexy. It wasn’t a thing. It was just some fun we had because we were young, tipsy, and we felt free and adventurous.

Things got even more exciting when she got a car. We went on a trip down the coast and smoked pot on a grassy hillside, talking about our plans and ideas for the future. Another time, we went to see the Sex Pistols at the Shoreline amphitheater and Darla took acid, so I got to drive us home. It was ridiculous. She was so fun.

Darla was a southern girl. She had just a hint of a twang in her girly yet throaty voice. She was incredibly sexy. She was a bigger girl, curvaceous though, not unpleasantly plump. She had a gorgeous big butt and perfect boobs, a doll’s face and pin-up girl red hair. She dressed right for her body and always looked great. She had impressive sewing skills and would buy or adopt vintage clothes that others would pass on because of tears or other flaws. She’d fix them up better than before or even turn them into something else entirely. She was a siren out of a noir film, a dame in need of a private eye, a wild, flirtatious, sparkly and sweet diva.

She taught me a lot about style, and from her I learned that even if you don’t look like what you think is perfect according to magazines or society or boys, you can always play up what you’ve got, and more than anything, your attitude makes all the difference. She seemed so confident.

Darla and I loved to dress up and take Polaroid photos posing like we were in movies. She introduced me to the torchy love and loss songs of Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, and Blossom Dearie. She even taught me some of her sewing techniques.

I never imagined that she didn’t see herself how I saw her. She didn’t have a serious full-time boyfriend, but instead had a lover, named Asa, who she was mad about but saw irregularly, mostly just for sex. I assumed it was what she wanted, though she mentioned that it made her sad sometimes to not have more. Anyway, it didn’t stop her from living her life to the fullest. She was not the kind to lie around, sad and moping because some man wasn’t making her dreams come true. She was doing that all on her own.

These rose-colored memories have been fairly forgotten over the many years since our days in the sun. Instead, I mostly remember when things changed.

To supplement her still fairly meager income from the theater, she got a job doing phone sex. She said it was great. She just hung out at home and waited for her phone to ring. When someone called, she’d talk dirty and moan and groan, sometimes even actually masturbate and get off. Then she got paid! It sounded like really easy extra money, though it was “under the table”, so she had to keep it as cash. She couldn’t put it in the bank, but she could spend it on clothes, food, going out, drinking, pot… so she did. Her social life got a bit more high profile, and we spent less time together, not out of any dislike, but we were both busy in unrelated worlds that didn’t quite meet.

I had begun dating a writer, nm, who not only wrote poetry and short fiction, but also was a published journalist in Wired Magazine. I was very impressed by him and fell in love with him in the two months (so long in my memory, so short in actual days) before he left for graduate school at MIT. He was beautiful and brilliant (he still is), but he was also upstanding and respectable in a way that far exceeded so many other guys I’d dated (or more likely, had merely slept with). He was incredibly sweet to me and treated me better than I’d ever been treated before. I felt like he could see real potential in me and even valued me as I was, something I wasn’t used to in a boyfriend or even myself. I wanted very much to feel like I was worthy of his attention and affection. He made me want to be — and dare to believe I could be — more confident, more educated, more accomplished.

It was 1996, and in San Francisco at least, the internet was becoming something that anybody who was cool and modern had a hand in. The kids at my art school all had Hotmail accounts, though I had yet to see a use for one. Who was I going to correspond with over a computer?

One of the things that I thought was adorably dorky about nm was the fact that he regularly chatted with his friends via his computer in his apartment. It wasn’t a website or a standalone app; this was before AIM. It was a simple Unix program somebody had written which allowed remote connection and group conversation. It was called Spacebar.

nm’s fellow chatters were mostly locals in San Francisco. They were fledgling tech workers with a range of social skills and odd work hours. To augment the virtual community, a visionary named Jonathan hosted a weekly Thursday Night Dinner, aka TND, first at his apartment on Ramona Street, then later at the enormous office space he rented for a business that never manifested into what he dreamed.

When nm finally introduced me to his chat friends, over lunch at a Thai restaurant in Union Square, I felt shy and clueless, even jealous that they’d had more time with him and shared an elite geek connection. It wasn’t two weeks after meeting Scooter, Bitch and Damnit for the first time that nm left for Cambridge.

We were both heartbroken, he even cried. I’d never known a guy to cry over me.

To stay in touch, I figured out how to use Spacebar. I got an email account and procured a computer, modem and net connection. I started going to TND — partly as a way to stay connected to the brave new world nm had thrown open for me, but partly too because there was suddenly a giant hole in my social life.

nm and I eventually drifted apart in fits and starts. We had no resources to bridge that distance, and I don’t know that he intended to. We stayed in touch, but it was occasional and no longer romantic after a few months. I was very sad and very lonely, but at TND I saw other hunky geeks — potential replacements for nm.

People are, of course, never replaceable. Even if I found another tall, handsome, genius, funny, sweet, caring, awe-inducing wordsmith with luxurious hair who was genuinely interested in me, people are so much more than the sum of their descriptors and résumé and quirks. I believe that the differences between people are deeper than they seem. We are all very different, unique — at least, that’s what I’ve found each of the many times I’ve lost a love and desperately grasped at the next human who shared a few traits with the departed. I’d done it before, and I’ve done it countless times since. I know it doesn’t work, and I know it leads to disappointment and dysfunction, but under the crushing pain of being permanently separated from someone who had previously made me happy… in that time of great need and fragility, a replacement hurts less than feeling what I should surely just allow myself to feel.

TND became tryouts for filling the emptiness that nm left behind. There was a lot of drinking and making out, and no small amount of one-night stands. Despite being clear about the real reasons why nm had to leave me behind, I still felt the pain of abandonment and ached for companionship. I coped in the way that I'd learn to cope as a teenager. I tried to be fabulous, funny, smart and alluring, but I was a mess. Flailing in my relationship with alcohol, and out of my league when it came to technology, I relied on being sexy. At least, I felt sexy after enough to drink, when the lights were low and the music drowned out my bottomless insecurity. I was self-destructive and didn’t behave in a way that would garner respect, but in a way that garnered what I convinced myself felt like affection. I wasn’t sure any of these guys would be genuinely interested in me. After all, they were the cool tech-savvy geeks who were being written up in Rolling Stone and the New York Times for grabbing the future by a T1 and networking whole neighborhoods. But nm had wanted me as I was, a poor, fledgling artist, part-time theater worker, lost soul with wild friends. Maybe one of the others would see something in me too.

After I don’t know how many drunken failed attempts at instant intimacy, I somehow captured the attention of Joe. A bit of an oddball, socially, he rarely came to TND, but he hung out regularly on Spacebar. His private messages to me began to increase in frequency and intensity. He talked to me in a way that made me feel like we were two weird peas in a pod. He said other people weren’t as perceptive as we were. They didn’t have the excellent taste and worldly knowledge and interesting experiences that we had. Also, Joe, by my ramen-diet and milk-crate-furniture standards, was wealthy, and he was dead beautiful.

I started spending real time with Joe. He drove a little red Porsche 911 and lived in an apartment overlooking the ocean. Although he shared the apartment, Joe’s roommate was rarely there, apparently often staying over at his girlfriend’s place. He bought me dinners and clothes and took me on a trip to LA. We stayed at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and I felt like a Ava Gardner. For a little while, I thought I’d found my next special relationship, someone who would buoy me up from the depths I’d been drowning in.

During this same time, I was learning a lot about technology, code, websites and servers, and I was surprised at how natural and straightforward it was for me. It's a lot of details, but it was easy enough to figure out because I was motivated—first in an attempt to stay in touch with nm, then in trying to wriggle my way into his social sphere, and eventually to fit in with my new friends.

The new friends turned out to be awesome. I got hooked up with some freelance work where I was taught, on the job, how to write HTML, edit files and folders, use UNIX, use Photoshop. It was looking like a way up and out of living off popcorn, and I was very excited.

Darla and I had begun hanging out again after nm left, but we had both grown in very different ways. While I had been realizing that I could work with technology, maybe even be a writer or a developer… someone special, accomplished and respected, Darla had moved further along her easy-money route and had taken a job at a "massage parlor" in Marin County.

Working up in Marin made it classy and okay. She didn’t have any training as a masseuse, but she could rub a guy’s back and give a hand job, so she was qualified. It was rough work though, much more demanding physically and emotionally than the phone sex. She relayed a humiliating night when someone made an appointment and asked for a redhead. When he got there, he said to the manager, right in front of her, that he didn’t want her because she was fat. She didn’t say anything then, just politely swallowed the insult and waited til she was driving home to cry it out. She’d gotten used to the money though, and the massage parlor was much better money than the phone sex, which I think she was still doing.

By this time we’d both quit the movie theater, but she was making really good money, and I was poised to start making money working on websites, so we hatched a plan to get an apartment together. We were going to have the time of our lives.

I gave notice at the place I was living in the upper Haight, and with Joe’s help, brought the meager heap of my possessions to Darla’s apartment. The fact that I was able to move in two trips via Joe’s tiny sports car tells how few things I had. In order to save money, Darla and I were going to live together in her studio for a couple months and then get a bigger place.

About a week into our cohabitation, Darla went on a trip to San Diego to see her family and friends. When she came back, she seemed kind of irritable and sharp with me. It seemed like I could do nothing right.

One afternoon, while she tried to nap, I sat in the corner “chatting” on Spacebar. I was having a pretty animated “conversation”, and probably let out the occasional giggle. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright in her bed and yelled at me for making so much noise, and “tap-tap-tapping so loudly on my stupid computer just to chat with my fucking geeky friends.” To say that I was taken aback or shocked is an understatement. I was thoroughly confused… I suggested, “Do you want to maybe put in earplugs?”

She barked at me, “Do *I* want to put in EARPLUGS!? This is my apartment!!! YOU ARE A GUEST HERE! Maybe YOU could take your fucking computer somewhere else!!!”

Genuinely afraid, I quietly replied, “I’ll find somewhere to go. I’m sorry. Geez.”

Quickly, I packed up a few things figuring I’d probably spend the night elsewhere. I called Joe, but he didn’t answer. I ended up at my friend Aaron’s loft for the next week, semi-permanently decamping to what was basically a closet. Days later, she was still mad. When I went to pick up the rest of my things, she wouldn’t really talk to me or even look at me.

As much as I was confused and distressed at apparently losing one of my best friends because I made too much noise one afternoon, I was glad to be clear of her since that blowup seemed to be part of an increasing ease with which she could go from sweet and congenial to scarily hostile. I knew the sex work was hard on her, but it seemed to be making her hard.

Things weren’t going that well with Joe either. He had gone on a business trip to LA and when he got back, he wasn’t very responsive on chat. He was idle a lot and didn’t answer emails or phone calls for a couple weeks.

Eventually though, he began chatting me up again, and I assumed things were back to normal. But, when I went to his apartment, he had sex with me without kissing me or even really looking at me. I slept over despite his distance. The next day, he paid me $50 to do his laundry. He taught me the best ways to hang pants and specific folds for t-shirts versus sweaters. Joe was a very particular man and liked to have things done in particular ways. His diet was extremely limited. He liked pasta with olive oil, orange juice, steak, and olives. He wore Armani and Ralph Lauren suits and loved to listen to Radiohead, Phil Collins and Roberta Flack. He’d play his favorite songs for me and then detail what parts he liked best and why. Years later, I got extraordinary chills when I read American Psycho and noticed his uncanny similarities to the main character, Patrick Bateman.

A couple weeks into hanging out again, Joe got really sick with the flu or food poisoning and asked me to come over and make sure he didn’t die. I obliged, ever hopeful that my caring ways would improve his attitude toward me.

It was a Sunday morning at Joe’s apartment and a rare overlap where his roommate and roommate’s girlfriend were also there. I’d been waiting on Joe like a waitress/nurse, fetching meds and tissues, getting water and juice, moving the TV so he could see it better. On top of the television, right at eye level, I noticed the side of a CD jewel case and thought, isn’t it funny how you can go your whole life without knowing about something, then you find out about it and sometimes that thing pops up randomly and repeatedly in a short time frame. Was everyone but me already hip to the wispy, girlish jazz of Blossom Dearie?

We laid in his bed, watching TV and resting. He said he felt like he was going to throw up, but he was so weak that he could barely fall out of his bed and crawl to the toilet. I went into the kitchen with his dirty dishes while he made terrible retching sounds behind the closed bathroom door.

As I washed a glass, Joe’s roommate’s girlfriend came in to get something to drink. She filled her glass and stood across the counter from me, contemplating her beverage. She stood there so long that it seemed a little strange. I looked at her and she at me, and I said, “Hey. How’s it going?”

She said, in a very level and low voice, “I think you should know… that your friend Darla has been over here. A few times actually. I don’t know if you know, but if you don’t, you should.”

I wielded the emotional tools of staying measured and thoughtful for about five seconds before erupting.

“You've gotta be fucking kidding me." Luckily, I’d put down the glass, but the sponge still in my hand was thrown at the sink and bounced out sudsy and sopping onto the floor. I stormed past her, down the hall and around the corner to find Joe, painfully ill, crawling back to his bedroom.

“You slept with my friend??!! You piece of shit. She is a WHORE!!! You know that right? You slept with my friend and she’s an ACTUAL WHORE!!! She gives strangers hand jobs for money!!! What the FUCK is WRONG with you!?” With that last sentiment, him still on all fours and nearly immobile, his head hanging down like a shamed dog, I kicked him swiftly, if ineffectually, upside his ass cheek.

My pitiful assault continued until he made it back into his room and climbed onto his bed, whimpering, trying to convince me that he was sorry. With the sickening realization that the Blossom Dearie CD was not his, I snatched it from the top of the television. What I saw made my blood boil and inspired immediate revenge. The cover was autographed with black marker, “To Darla, All my best! Love, Blossom Dearie”

“You see this? This is what she gets!” And with that declaration, I raked open his window, making an unholy scraping screech with the metal frame and frisbee-flung the CD as far as I could. It spun and flitted out onto the street and I watched for just a minute… until a car drove over it leaving sparkly shards on the pavement.

Back at Joe, I bellowed, “Fuck! You! Fuck you both!” And I left.

Weeks went by. I didn’t have contact with either of them. But, like so many who are empowered and emboldened by the remote reach of the internet, Joe eventually started chatting with me yet again.

The disturbing truth is that I was furious with her, but I was merely disappointed with him. Other than the exception of nm, my experience with, and thus expectations of, guys I liked, dated or slept with had been nothing short of abysmal. Darla’s betrayal was almost incomprehensible to me and devastating to my trust of other women who I thought of as friends. I just could not understand. We had been friends for well over two years, had shared so many intimacies and affections, plans and dreams. From nearly worshipping her to fearing and loathing her, at this point my attachment to her was irreparably severed.

I had no interest in getting any answers from her, but when Joe and I began talking again, I did ask him, “How did that even happen? How did you orchestrate these rendezvous?”

Apparently, when Joe helped me move my things to Darla’s apartment, one of them gave the other their phone number when I wasn’t looking. (He told me who slipped who the little piece of paper, but I’ve since forgotten and it doesn’t matter.) When Darla went to San Diego… and Joe went to LA… they found a way to meet up somewhere in between. They only hung out a few times, he claimed. She wasn’t his type anyway, he said. He really missed me, he whined. My anger softened and subsided. I said we could be friends.

On a Friday night a couple weeks later, I was over at Joe’s. After dinner, we were hanging out listening to music, when he got a call from a friend who needed help with a computer problem. He told me he was going to leave to help his friend, but that he’d be back later and I could stay if I wanted. I said sure, I’d been planning to make some cassette copies of his Radiohead and Roberta Flack CDs anyway.

After he left, I put on Pablo Honey and hit Play & Record. I decided I had enough time for a shower, and since I was there alone, I turned up the stereo and left the door open so I could hear the music. I took off my clothes and stepped into the steamy stall. I was just rinsing the shampoo from my hair, when I thought I heard knocking at the front door. Over the water and the music, it was hard to tell at first, but the knocking became audibly insistent.

Shit. I figured the music was too loud and the neighbors were coming up to complain. I turned off the shower, grabbed a towel and quickly wrapped it around myself. I turned down the music, then opened the front door just barely, ready to apologize…

“Robyn! What are YOU doing here?!?!”

“Darla," I seethed, "What the hell are YOU doing here?”

She snapped, “I came to get my CD. Oh, and you have some mail at my apartment.”

I was incredulous. “Seriously? I don’t care about any mail. Just... throw it away. As for your CD, I threw that thing out the goddamn window. And then I watched cars drive over it. It's gone!”

Her eyes grew huge, and I swear they changed color in that moment. Her face reddened and her stance became agitated. I stood there dripping and naked except for the towel and a necklace ( a chunky, tarnished piece of costume jewelry my grandmother had given to me.) Yet I did not fully appreciate how vulnerable I was until she shrieked, “YOU FUCKING BITCH!!!!!!!!” as her arm wound up and sprang at me, scratching and snatching the necklace from my throat. She spun around on the porch and ran down the steps, yelling, “I’m going to throw this thing in the fucking ocean!!!”

I just stood there, stunned. I was unclothed, after all, in no state to chase after her, despite my affection for that necklace . However, I was shocked back to reality when I looked down at my chest and saw blood trickling down, mixing in the wet rivulets streaming from my hair.

The bitch clawed me.

Back in the bathroom, I saw myself in the foggy mirror: two long gashes on my neck, and one longer, deeper claw mark on my left breast. In a daze, I cleaned up, dabbing Neosporin on my wounds, and waited on the couch for Joe to return.

When he arrived, and I told him what had happened, it was pretty rich when he replied, “Aren’t you two a pair!?” As if he had no culpability in this high-drama event.

Joe and I stopped hanging out after that. We saw each other a couple times, but just casually and then no more. Years later, I saw him at a restaurant with a young woman, and I thought, “You poor thing.” But we didn’t make eye contact. Maybe he didn’t even see me.

I have rarely thought of Joe in the many years since, but my psyche has treated me to recurring nightmares in which Darla is the star. In each, there is a variation of seeing her and trying to touch her or hurt her like she hurt me, but I cannot make contact with her body. She seems close, but when I reach out, I am thwarted by misperceived distance, a physical obstacle or her moving out of range. In one especially vivid dream, we were in a second-hand clothing store, and she was her old sweet self but ethereal, just barely opaque. I was angry and tried to swipe at her, claw her as she’d clawed me. My hands, ever impotent, scraped fruitlessly through her airy presence while she laughed, all loveliness and light, looking through the racks of pretty, vintage dresses.

In waking life, I saw her just once since our last inglorious interaction, at a grocery store in the city, but I don’t think she saw me. Later, I heard from a mutual acquaintance that she’d moved away. I have no idea where she is now or what she’s doing. I don’t want to know. I'll likely never know for sure, but I think she was envious of certain aspects of my life and felt indignant that I was succeeding at things she didn’t think should be regarded by anyone as better than anything about her. In retrospect, our relationship was heavily characterized by me looking up to her, following her lead, playing Robin to her Batman. When that dynamic shifted, when I started rising on my own, she did what she did. Despite being actually haunted by this debacle, it hasn’t stopped me from forming close friendships, even sexy ones, with other women. However, and I don't know how much of a tragedy this really is, but now I build trust over time. It will never again be implicit from the start.