Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List

Page 16


Maybe Naomi and I haven’t learned anything. Or maybe your history just repeats and repeats until it batters you enough to snap the seams that hold you together. I don’t know. All I know is that this feels wrong. But if she won’t talk to me, there’s no way to make it right.
I am so mad at her.
What we’re doing is, technically, the opposite of splitting. We’re reuniting our possessions. Returning them to the rightful owners. As if some kind of iron curtain fell in the hallway between our apartments and we’re exchanging the refugees.
“Here,” I say, handing over her I JAKE RYAN T-shirt and her Pokémon watch and her Dawson’s Creek DVDs and her Hello Kitty pajamas—the ones where I wrote in a mouth on every damn Hello Kitty because it always freaked both of us out that Hello Kitty had no way to speak, like a cartoon geisha vulnerable to any dog who came along.
She takes everything I put on the table and doesn’t say a word.
“How are things with Gabriel?” I ask. Rumor has it he’s gotten a bad case of the Naomis, to the point that he was overheard whistling “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” when she checked her mail the other day.
No answer.
“Things with Bruce are great,” I say. “Thanks for asking.”
Truth: Things with Bruce feel precarious, although I don’t know why. I find myself wondering what he’s thinking much more often than I ever have with any boy.
I know it’s not exactly good form to mention Bruce to Naomi, but all I’m looking for is a reaction here. Any reaction.
But instead she dumps a bag of my own possessions onto the table.
When he laughs, I want to laugh, too. I almost smile back.
He’s looking at our favorite panel of Hello Kitty cartoon bubbles, on the left shoulder side of the pajama top. In Ely’s handwriting, one Kitty purrs, “Me love you long time.” The next Kitty, in my handwriting, points out, “No nice kitty appreciate racist stereotype.” The last Kitty, rounding the shoulder in Ely’s scribble, promises, “I would be most delighted to give you pleasure at the time of your convenience.”
Now seems the appropriate time for the movie exchange. I take out our shared classic and return it to him.
“I really didn’t need this back,” Ely says, reaching for the DVD of Mount Fuckmore. “Watching straight people have sex really creeps me out.”
We found the DVD in a trash can on the street the summer after ninth grade; the find merited a sleepover at his apartment that night while the parents were out. And if I want to laugh now, it’s not at the sight of Ely sitting in the world’s most wholesome beverage establishment, holding up what I swear to Lincoln and Jefferson combined is the filthiest DVD cover in the history of our forefathers. I want to laugh because I’m remembering that first time we watched Mount Fuckmore, when Ely hit pause at the grossest part and turned to me to ask, “You know that song about You’re a grand old flag, you’re a highflying flag?” and I was like, “Yeah?” and he said, “Well, that part where it goes Every heart beats true ’neath the red, white, and blue / Where there’s never a boast or brag?” and I was like, “Yeah?” and he goes, “Well, that’s totally false. The whole song is about boasting and bragging!” and I was like, “Yeah, you’re a genius!” and we fell out of his bed, we laughed so hard.
I refuse to take the DVD back. Much as I can’t help but be intrigued by porn, at the same time, watching it makes me feel unbearably sad and empty inside. Like there’s nothing left to wish for.
Discovering Mount Fuckmore at too tender an age is probably what screwed me so badly with men. I mean, yeah, there’s the whole parent situation, and the Ely baggage, and the weird convergence of my looks and my body and my bitch streak, plus the ick way ick men have been looking at me since I was fourteen. But I blame Mount Fuckmore.
I could give less of a fuck how Bruce and Ely are. But how does Ely know about Gabriel?
How much of a loser am I, anyway? The hottest doorman in the history of our forefathers and their foreskins really likes me, like like-likes me, and I can’t like him back, because I’m overwhelmed with grief, and also, I know if I like him back, if I let it happen, I will fuck it up. And then I won’t just have to avoid my former best friend across the hall, I’ll also have to avoid the entrance and exit of my building. Which would be awkward as well as logistically impossible.
But, Mr. Lincoln? Hello? Gabriel is sooooo cute. Honestly. I sooooo want to let it happen.
I sooooo wish I had clue one as to what I am supposed to make of the mix Gabriel gave me.
“Is that my glitter belt?” Ely asks.
I don’t want Ely to take back the belt. I want him to say I should keep it. It’s the belt that binds us. If I keep it—if he offers—then maybe not all hope is lost.
I nod.
Ely reaches for the belt.
I have to know it’s pretty bad when the sight of glitter depresses me. I guess I just wanted to see it one more time. Then I move it over to her box.
“You can have it,” I say.
It’s sad that I don’t want it anymore.
The things I want, I’ve kept. All of the notes and letters we’ve passed to each other. The place-mat drawings she’d give to me like a proud kindergartner every time we went to a restaurant where there were crayons. The pipe-cleaner jewelry we made for each other. The NYU sweatshirt she bought me when she found out I’d gotten in; her mail came a day later, and I had to hop on the subway to reciprocate immediately. I can give her back her tampons and her porn and her hair clips and her Plath and her Sexton. But some things have to remain mine, or else the falling apart will be too complete.
I can’t do this anymore. I push the box back in her direction.
“Just keep it all,” I say. “Or throw it out. Or give it to Housing Works. Or mail it to some orphanage for fellow mutes. If you wanted to make me even more miserable, you’ve succeeded beautifully. I hope you’re really proud of yourself. Bravo.”
I get up to leave.
This is so much worse than I imagined.
He’s actually crying as he stands up to leave. He’s not outright sobbing like the pathetic fool I feel like right now, but tears spot his flushed cheeks and his eyes are wet and he is insistent on staring straight into my gaze—he will not back down or look away. It’s like he’s squeezing every last ounce of matter from my heart.
In the future, I vow to never, ever again take advice from Bruce the First. The stuff exchange was his latest insomniac idea, and I went along with it when he proposed it to Ely, mostly to ease my conscience over toying with the high school boy’s affections. Also, the curiosity.
Also, I miss Ely so bad.
I push the plastic bag of  Ely and I have lifted from various restaurants over the years in his direction. I kept the collection of coffee creamers we’ve stolen from restaurants for myself. Ely doesn’t seem to notice the discrepancy.
I miss Dad, too.
I’ve gotten used to it.
I just don’t see the way out for Naomi & Ely. Or the way back in.
“You really have nothing at all left to say, Naomi?” His eyes plead, Please don’t do this, Naomi. There’s still time to back down. “I can’t believe you’d give up everything we have together over a guy.”
I have to do this. How can Ely not understand that? Why does he think this is all about him and Bruce? The guy was just the catalyst. It’s my entire belief system of planning the Naomi & Ely future together that’s in shreds now.
There’s plenty of room for me on the empty side of Mom’s bed of despair. I hope it doesn’t take me as long as her to snap out of it and move on.
How come Ely never wanted me? At least once? What’s wrong with me?
Finally I have words to speak. I place my hand on the red glitter belt. My red glitter belt. Thank you, Ely. “The belt really does look better on me,” I say.
And here is why I will love Ely to my dying breath. He laughs.
Snot runs down his nose. I hand him a Kleenex. Somehow I think he’s never looked more beautiful. Teary-eyed, splotchy-cheeked, runny-nosed, laughing and crying. My boy.
“Are you going to talk to me now?” I ask. Who ever thought that getting her to speak a single line of sarcastic banter would be such a challenge?
She just shakes her head, gives me that sad smile.
Fine. I figure I’ll take what I can get. And maybe just a little bit more.
That’s the way it is with me.
Naomi understands. Or at least I have to think she does.
We never really did play well with others. Only each other. Maybe that’s another reason this is so hard. Or so stupid. Or so necessary. Or all three.
“I gotta go,” I say. Then I leave a space for her to say “Don’t.” I leave a space for her to say “This is hard” or “This is stupid” or “This is necessary.” I leave a space for her to get up and kiss me on the cheek. Or tell me to open the bag of crayons so we can graffiti over the abandoned latte cups. Or tell me there’s been some mistake.
But instead she says nothing. Not even “good-bye.”
And because she gives me nothing, I give her nothing back.
Hard, stupid, and necessary.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
Now if the juggler entertaining the tourist crowd in the middle of Washington Square Park would just stay still for a moment, I’d have a better view through my binoculars as to the identity of the persons sharing a bench with Naomi at the other end of the park. I already know the where of Naomi in her life after Me; if I could just know the who, I’d have the closure I need to move on with the rest of my life.
Tomorrow may have to settle for ringing in the first day of the rest of my life.
The chess players nearby are antsy—they want my table. But Cutie Pie is having a nice nap on top of the game table where I’m sitting. She’s basking in the sun shining onto her contented face. I wouldn’t dare move her. Who am I to disturb peaceful sleep? I can only envy it. I can only envy Mrs. Loy’s sleep, as well. She’s sitting on a bench a few yards away from our table, holding her cane, her chin lodged on her chest.
“You’re not a very good stalker.”
The voice comes from behind me. I turn around. Oh no.
I set the binoculars in my lap, on top of Mrs. Loy’s handbag, placed there for safekeeping during her nap. He hesitates for a moment—at least!—like he knows the better instinct would be to act as if we’d never noticed one another. If he had any decency whatsoever, he’d acknowledge we’d prefer not to acknowledge each other for one more agonizing second by just walking away.
But oh yes. He sits down on the empty bench opposite me.
Why does the universe hate me?
“What are you doing here?” I ask Bruce the Second. I line up the chess figures in opening rank-and-file positions. He could make himself useful, at least.
“I just had a class in that building over there.” He points in the direction of a school building on the Naomi side of the park. He places his hand on a pawn. “I can’t make an opening move unless you move him.” He points at the sleeping Chihuahua.
“Cutie Pie’s a girl.”
No respect for good sleep. He reaches over to the dog and lifts her into the air, his hand underneath her stomach. “Nothing to brag about here,” he says, “but if you examine more carefully, you’ll see she is in fact a he.”
I verify. Bruce the Second wasn’t kidding about Cutie Pie having nothing to brag about.
The dog has no loyalty, either. Cutie Pie nestles himself into Bruce the Second’s lap to resume his nap.