Name Game


I said, I can't remember your name.  Yeah, that's what I said.  And what was I thinking?  You never say that to someone you wake up next to in bed.  You may think it, but you keep your damn mouth shut and hope for clues.

You said, Really?  And turned your head towards the white stuccoed ceiling.

I said, Well, it's not like we had sex.  But from even before the time I'd said what I said you didn't have a shirt on and I couldn't tell if you'd kept your boxers on 'cause your bottom half was covered by the sheet and I was wearing my dress but somehow my panties'd ended up in my purse by your bed.  Okay, it wasn't really somehow.  I'd done this myself; I actually remembered doing this, dropping my purse by the bed before crawling into it with you.  I even remembered taking them off and putting them in it, snapping my purse shut with a certain movie star flair and finality in your hotel bathroom, I'm thinking Bette Davis from Now Voyager flourishing that last cigarette or Barbara Stanwyck watching her abandoned daughter through the window in Stella Dallas, a melodramatic pinnacle.  And then maybe even giggling to myself, 'cause who can take that seriously?  I could remember the what but the why and the who were something else.

I could kind of remember your last name.  But not your first.  (And when does anyone introduce themselves with their whole name?)  I could remember talking to you about religions (Quakers rock, even though neither of us was one) and schools and principles/moral codes and governmental responsibility (health care for everyone and getting really passionate about that one) and the frat boy wannabes who were making gorilla noises and breaking beer bottles all around us, I think they added a certain danger to our conversation, this was Texas after all and we were two very drunk and very earnest liberals, two intellectuals meeting up at a conference who both like to pretend to be not so smart until they get drunk or coked up and then lecture their friends on Bellourian film theory, the Oedipal trajectory of classical Hollywood movies (okay, I'm the only one of the two of us guilty of that, possibly the only nerd in the whole world who's wasted good blow like that; plus, you may not even like coke, I don't think I ever asked, and, by the way, I don't anymore 'cause you lose a lot of your sense of self and your coke buddies when you insist on deconstructing patriarchal paradigms in Alien and Aliens of all movies at five in the morning) and what else were we talking about?  Oh yeah, family—you have one older brother, I think, and I was so drunk I forgot how many sisters I have, they doubled before my eyes, I think I may have told you six to eight, but I probably didn't 'cause I'm so damned honest sometimes, even when I'm still drunk I hold on to some thread of truth or I think I do.  Which leads me back to the problem of what I said.

I said, I don't remember your name.  The first words out of my mouth that morning.  Not good-morning, how are you?  Sleep well?  Or even, did you like having your hand between my legs?  Maybe I was still drunk.

And maybe I said what I said to keep myself safe.  Is that a cop-out?  I don't know, maybe I was trying to introduce some hipster-doofus chain-wallet and pre-faded jeans swagger into our morning waking-up-next-to-a-stranger convo.  Isn't that what you're supposed to do?  Keep it glib, shoot from the hip (especially if you've had sex with the person), but our whole trajectory never followed the traditional one. 

Or maybe I'd wanted to think of you as a missed opportunity.  Another I-fucked-up.  Maybe I think I fell in love with you at a certain moment in the evening (and sometimes it's that easy for me—a certain action, a guy unlocking a car or the way he turns the steering wheel, arm draped over it, laidback control).  Maybe it was the way your mouth kind of tilted awkwardly as you told me about your painful adolescence that mirrored mine (and isn't that a cliché by now?) or maybe it's the way you loosely gripped your beer with long, slender fingers—hands so at odds with the gorilla beer-breakers' showering the patio with brown Budweiser glass, your non-destructive hands, or so they seemed to me.  Or even how you smeared your top lip with pizza sauce as we shoved huge Texan slices (folded up New York style) into our mouths at bartime in the middle of the street, or maybe the way you licked your lip clean.  So nonsexual an act, a nonchalant flicker, that made me want to kiss you.

I didn't.  I usually obey those impulses, so maybe I was unsure from the beginning. 

But, there was groping involved at some point in the night.  After I said what I said and you said what you said and I compounded the insult or whatever of it that was what I said, still looking at the ceiling, you said, I think I was groping you.  Then you looked at your hands, folded them on your narrow chest.  You said, Sorry.  Then looked at me, kind of letting your mouth tilt open awkwardly. 

I said, Sorry?  I didn't know what else to say.  I mean, isn't that what I'd ended up there for?  Hadn't I wanted some groping?  That's what two adults usually end up doing to each other after all, at least in these circumstances.  But, I didn't try to explain.  I didn't even try to explain myself.  How I could forget your name, what I wanted, what I'd hoped for.  How I felt about the way we ate pizza together.  My hopes and dreams that could so easily be quashed.  I thought all this, but all I said was, Sorry?

You said, Somehow our legs got tangled up in the night.

I said, Sorry.  But even I couldn't tell if I was apologizing now or still questioning your original sorry.

You said, Yeah, groping.  Sorry.  Then you gave me what had to be the only real wry grimace I've ever seen in all my twenty-eight years.  Maybe the only real wry grimace ever in the history of humanity.  Truly wry.  So wrung out I could almost hear your lip muscles contorting.  A painful sound—the pain of the engine as it's ground, the pain of a string as it's tautened and finally snapped, the pain of things used incorrectly. 

I said, I took off my underwear.  Which even now, seems more like a non-sequitur rather than an admission of something—responsibility?

You said nothing.  Your mouth closed, didn't even move.  Maybe it was broken, why people didn't ever truly grimace like you.  I wanted to say, Did I break your mouth? 

But, I was kind of afraid of the answer.

I said, Well.

You said, Well.  You looked at your hands on your chest.  You only had a few scraggles of chest hair, it made me feel protective, it made me feel bitchy, it made me feel something.  It made me want a drink.  Yeah, I was gonna have to split and get a Bloody Mary or two or maybe just start the whole day over already with tequila shots.  By myself.  I was going to get the hell outta there and hit the bar.  I hadn't entered your life very elegantly; I didn't have to worry about leaving that way.  But for some reason I did, secretly.  So, I tried glib again.

I said, Remember that crazy lady at the bar last night?

You said nothing again.  You unfolded your hands and moved them to your sides.  I was lying on my side, looking at you; you were still on your back.  I briefly wondered if your neck had ached when you'd actually looked at me.  If that was why you weren't, still.  Sometimes I play obtuse even with myself.

I said, She wanted the threesome?

You said, Yeah, yeah, right, right.

I said, She wouldn't leave us alone.  Thank god for the frat boys, their monkey calls.  I laughed, kind of.

You shrugged your skinny shoulders, then turned your head to look at me.  You said, Why?

I said, You know.

You said, Hmmm.

I said, Otherwise she might have ended up here, too.

You said, She did.

I said, Sorry?  I coughed, Sorry.  I screamed, Sorry!  Okay, I didn't scream, that would have been too melodramatic and I was still envisioning this conversation in wife-beater and jeans and silver hoop earrings (gold's too tacky, too bling).  A hipster slouched at a concert pretending not to want to dance.  A hipster pretending not to get chills at the chills s/he didn't get at the end of a beautiful poem.  A hipster ironically pretending irony.  But, I did sit up, quite dizzily, I might add, to look around the room for the first time this morning, trying to see if the crazy were still there. 

I don't know what I was expecting (something romantic—something to show me you had really wooed me here, that romance had actually entered the equation, that both of us were playing our roles in the right play; a long stemmed rose, even a solitary red petal left for me on a coffee table), but . . .  The hotel room could have been nice, probably had been before you checked in or before you brought me here (and did I help do this?).  It was trashed, rock-star trashed, Hunter S. Thompson (did I tell you he was my hero?) trashed.  Beer bottles and cans and ashes and butts and toilet paper streamers and slashed couch cushions and a blow-up Godzilla or Tyrannosaurus in the corner with undies hanging off its plastic snout.  From the bed, the panties looked feminine, hot pink—almost the color of the ones I was wearing.  Had been wearing.

Even if I like to pretend to be cool, I'm a nice girl inside.  I am.  And I liked you.

What had we done?  Was I starting to feel a little panicky?  It could just be the hangover.  It could be my enormous faux pas.  What I said.  It could be 'cause I'd lost control again and I hated when I did that.  My brain would start to loop; I could feel it starting.  I had so many questions, but I didn't have anyone to ask.  What if we'd had a threeway with that old lady from the bar who said she'd been a prostitute but now had found God?  What if she'd had an STD?  What if she'd tried to proselytize me?  Yeah, in the greater scheme of things all my scenarios didn't add up to a hell of a lot.  But, hey, whose life does? 

I looked down at you still lying there; you hadn't smiled once since I'd woken up.  Had I really hurt your feelings that much? 

Repeating yourself, you said, Yeah, she did.  I think her name was Michelle.  Then you kind of fluttered your hands at your sides.  It seemed almost like a twitch.  Still lying there, you held out your left hand for me to shake.  You said, I'm Joe Smith.

I said nothing.  I did shake your hand, but Smith didn't sound right.  I'd heard the name Joe Smith before; I didn't think it was last night though.  For some reason, even through my blurry memory, the snapshot stills of the night before that still somehow remained, I'd swear your last name had ended in a ski or at least an s.  And that it had more than one syllable.  Joe Smith?  Sorry?  Joe Smith, Joe Smith.  Where had I heard that name before?

Moroni, Moroni, moron.  What was I doing here?  You were going to reject me.  You, a nice guy, were gonna reject me 'cause I was a drunk.  I drank too much.  I drank till I couldn't see.  Till I couldn't remember—I'd erased your name, what'd happened last night.  I remembered fingers; that was it.  I hoped they were yours.  I kinda hoped they weren't though.  You seemed so nice. 

Have you ever felt like the back-up singer?  I know this is off-topic, but have you ever felt like you were the lissome one who could hit all the notes?  Who knew the scales and all the words?  That's how I felt—maybe, that's how I felt about you.  You were a Hamlet in the wings that knew the soliloquy better than me.  My understudy.  But I was on stage. 

You said, You and Michelle were really going at it.

I said nothing. 

You said, You two brought a couple frat boys back with you.

You said, I only got a couple of gropes in here and there after the party died down.  Before you passed out.

I thought, Really? 

Then I thought, A couple of gropes in?  What happened to religion, health care, family talk?  Who are you, guy?

And then I thought, I'm not an orgy kind of girl, am I?

You said, Who's gonna help me pay the mini-bar tab?

I leaned over the side of the bed and grabbed my purse.  I opened it to take stock of my financial situation.  I opened it to give myself a breather.  I opened it to take stock of my life.  My panties were not in there.  I looked at you.  You did not move.  You did not look at me.  You just lay there with your arms folded on your chest and the sheet wrapped around your legs.  You said nothing.

I got out of bed and walked over to the inflated Godzilla.  I grabbed my panties, they were my panties.  Why did I think I'd put them in my purse?  Why were they hanging on a blow-up replica of a reptile?  Why had I taken part in a cretin-filled orgy?

You said, You should have seen all the orifices in use last night.

You said, Yours for starters.

You said, Maybe I took a video . . .

I looked at you, still lying in bed.  Your skinny arms were still folded over your chest.  You were looking at me and smirking now.  The understudy who'd tripped the star on the way to curtain call.  I sat down on the couch.  It wasn't really slashed; it was just covered in toilet paper.  In fact, nothing was really damaged that I could tell.  I picked up a streamer of toilet paper and rubbed it between my fingers.

I thought, Why did I think you were a nice guy?

I thought, Aren't we both too old for this shit?

Then I thought, Fuck fuck fuck. 

But what I said was, I am so naïve.  And started crying.

You said, There, there.

You said, I was only kidding.  It was just you and me.  Nothing really happened.

You were lying on the bed still; your arms still folded.  I was sitting on the couch, feeling sick and wanting to cry more, harder, wanting to get the hell out of this room and away from your immobile torso, your smirking face still turned towards me, but also wanting to make sense of all this.  What was shit and what was not and why it was spewing from your mouth. 

Still kind of crying, I said, What's your name? 

You said, I told you.  I told you everything.  You looked like you were about to cry.  Or laugh.  Or both.

You said, Get out.

You said, Don't.  

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