The Flesh Behind Our Feelings

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You’ll never know who someone really is until they have a damn good reason to let you in. And for most people, it’ll only happen when they break down from so much pain. But when they do, I’ve learned to always be prepared.

Because if you’re any like me, you’ll only get one shot at it.

[4143 words]

ACT 1

1. The Fool’s Errand

Are you fucking serious

I knocked as loud as I could on the window

Four minutes after closing

An icy whisper and drunken sigh

I gripped the wheel and continued down the empty street toward whatever light I could find to keep me sober

I didn’t know how much longer I could safely drive

Maybe I made a big fuckin mistake

2. The $100 Cat  

It’d been ten minutes on my clock, maybe twenty on hers

I needed to roll my first two into the medium hole and sink the final one off the ridiculously angled ramp in the far back

Trust me, I’ve done this before

She glared at me, smirked, and knew I was full of shit

I pulled out another twenty and asked her to get me more coins

We already have this pig, he’ll do just fine

I saw your eyes when you saw the cat. Like you, it’s going home with me

She looked down at the pig, smirked, and then ran to get more coins

When she came back I handed her the cat

Thank you Kyle 

3. The Peanut Gallery

H and B were the last guys up

I could hear them taking bets on whether or not I’d actually pull this one through

And like any drunken friend would do in such a situation, they both bet against me

I couldn’t blame them

I was completely unprepared for what was going down

I was completely fucked up as well

But I knew A wouldn’t stop what he was doing unless I figured something out

If I didn’t stop him now, there’d be a chance it could get a lot worse for him

I gave them a wave and told them to shut the fuck up and carefully watch what I’m going to perform for them

I looked back at A, smirked, and rolled up my sleeves for the final act

Trust me, I’ve done this before

4. The Least Expensive Friend Ever

Why’d you get me this drink, tell me truthfully

I heard it’s your birthday

No, tell me the real reason, you’re lying

He paused for a second, stared at the nearby stripper, and then smiled back at me

You seem like a cool guy

Okay, I knew we were getting somewhere

I’m John

Before I tell you my name, I’m going to blow your mind, are you with me?

John paused again for a second, put his drink down, then smiled at me again

John, I just met you, but I’m having a great fucking birthday at this fine vegan strip club out here in Portland. I’m known to do some crazy ass shit when I’m drunk and tonight is your lucky night. May I proceed?

John slowly waved me on 

John, I just met you, but I’m going to list three precise things about who you are. All of them will be exactly precisely correct. And when I’m correct, then I’ll tell you my name, and we can talk shop like men

John smiled

Now a normal magician would just slowly list the first thing and pause after that to maximize the audience’s surprise. Because if you nail the first one and give them time to process their emotions, they’ll start liking you enough to say you’re close on the second and third, even if you really weren’t

It’s a safe bet for you and your audience 

Since I wasn’t a magician and just a normal dude who was really drunk, I decided the hell with playing it safe and said them all at once

You make over $500k a year

You sleep with four different women a week

And you’re only here because you were recently divorced

Before John could react, I stuck the dagger in the heart by throwing him a fourth freebie (they never expect the fourth one)

And you’re only divorced because she fucked another guy

John picked up his drink, clicked it against mine, and told me to get the fuck out of here

I took the shot he bought me, smirked, and then told the nearest half-naked waiter I wanted four more

I’m Kyle  

5. The Eternal Adolescent

It’d been ten minutes on my clock, maybe twenty on hers

This was the third gulp she took

She’d just gotten off work and we were going to her favorite Vietnamese place for dinner

I’d never seen a girl consume Hennessy out of a water bottle while smoking a joint at the same time

I’d never seen that shit live just on YouTube

I’d never seen that shit done in my car either

We’d been dating for a while now

The more we got to know each other she started finding ways to self destruct by evening’s end

I was obviously no stranger to the intoxicating ritual of getting fucked up

But this girl was next level  

I liked her because she was so distanced from the normal female experience

She was incredibly wealthy by age 20, all from her own work (strippin’ ain’t a bad career for now, she’d always say)  

She dropped out of high school, immigrated to America, and was not the least bit culturally refined or intellectual

Despite the empty paper resume, she was the most perceptive and socially adept human being I’ve ever met

She knew my entire backstory without me letting on any bit of it

She knew my real motives behind my lifestyle and actions (even why I liked certain pieces of clothing)  

And she knew I was the guy she’d always wanted to meet  

It’d be just a few more days, though, before she found out why  

But far longer, before I did too

ACT 2 

1. The Loneliest Couple

A and I shared a lot in romantic common

Our first real relationships were with incredibly attractive yet inexperienced chaotic woman that only officially lasted a year

Our first real relationships were founded on insecurity and desperation

And our first real relationships ended with the girl immediately getting with a guy who made hundreds of thousands more than we did, drove a way better car, and supposedly was “everything we weren’t”

Maybe that’s why A and I became so close when he broke up with her

He was then navigating one of the most common tropes of young male insecurity

That he’d never do better than her

And while A enjoyed our late night drug induced meditations for my eager ear, more eager nose, and suitable enough warm body to quell his youthful misery

I secretly enjoyed our meditations for a completely different reason

Because unlike him, I was trying to find a way to build his confidence one conversation at a time

And it would take a lot more than Jameson, expensive drugs, and sad stories to change him  

It would require our loss of friendship

2. The Student and the Master

An old Zen story goes

When two thieves meet they need no introduction

They recognize each other without question

John was the first other thief I’ve ever met

Now people mistakenly advise others to never judge on appearances

And I’m here to tell you they’re full of shit

People unconsciously or consciously act, look, and dress a certain way

John was a more attractive Bruce Willis archetype, perfectly groomed for a straight guy, in better shape than 99.9% of people in their 40s, and missing his wedding band on his left hand (you look for that shit, right?)

I mean no guy sits fucking alone at a strip club looking like that unless it’s only a warmup for what he’s going to do later that night, probably with someone hotter and for free

I could tell by how the staff treated him he was not only a regular but a regular they genuinely enjoyed having around, meaning he was skilled with people and loved attractive women

And no guy buys a random younger guy a drink—especially if he already has tits in his face—without him really requesting that guy to come over and talk

John reacted so calmly to my earlier trick because he expected it out of me

He also knew I had one more lesson to learn

3. The McFly

I need to ask you a question. I’ve never met someone like you, and I think you can give me the best advice

Shoot

Sometimes I have this feeling that I’m really good at some things and people even tell me straight to my face, but I can’t get over the doubts in my head. That it’s not real. That it’s not possible what I’m actually seeing with my own eyes and feeling in my body

Kyle

Dude, I’m so excited, go on  

Kyle, shut the fuck up

I paused, took a breath, and prepared myself for what he was going to lay into me

Kyle, you’ve spent the past hour using a lot of words. Alpha that, beta that. John, oh you’re so cool, you’re this and that

He wasn’t fucking around

But, Kyle, you’re it

What?

Kyle, you’re fucking it.

For once in my life I had no idea where a conversation was going

Kyle, you want to be alpha? You go do that. You want to avoid being beta? You go do that. You want to make money? You want to bang bitches? You want to be a great friend? You go do that. What I’m trying to say is your life is whatever you actually do, not what you literally and personally define it to be. And every time you use these grades or descriptions of what you think is great, you’re never going to be that

I took a deep breath

Why can’t you, Kyle? Because you can’t be a fucking word. You can’t be that alpha guy you think exists because that alpha guy isn’t a real human being. All those ideas from your reading you’ve been saying tonight are just fucking that: ideas. You’re not an idea. And when you give up that addiction of seeing the world as concepts and labels to be finally earned, you’ll be able to do whatever the fuck you want. Because you’re not a fucking alpha or beta, Kyle. You’re fucking you. So just be you

Fuck. That made complete sense

And what we have right now isn’t some god damn thing that you have a word for. It’s just now. You and me. This isn’t the past or the future. It’s just now. We’re not going to have this moment ever again. I’ll be gone, I’ll make sure of it. And the very second you leave this table tonight you won’t ever have this again because all those memories you’ll try to remember aren’t fucking real. All you have is what you’re doing in this precise moment. And that’s all that matters because that’s all that’s real in this world. So just be you. Because you’re fucking it, Kyle. You’re it.

My friends started waving me to get back to our table. I’d spent nearly an hour with a complete stranger on my 30th birthday

John, thank you so much

It’s your birthday, so get the fuck out of here

Wait, before I go, and this is kind of weird, but could like we stay in touch?

Kyle, have you listened to a fucking word tonight? Hello?

He slapped me across the back of my head

I got up and rejoined my friends, telling them they’re never going to believe what just happened

A little bit later, I went back to where I met him to say my final goodbye

And just like the man I knew him out to be, he kept his word

The waiter said he was already long gone

4. The Perfect Pearl

Bobby was sitting exactly where I left him an hour earlier

He still wasn’t sober enough to even sit straight

He wouldn’t have been able to drive as far as I did

She really needed this. Thanks Kyle. It was getting pretty bad (though he disgustingly said it like baaahhhd)

So that saves your girl, now what about mine?  

Bobby looked up at me and slowly pointed toward my bathroom door

I think it got worse

His rebound at the time crept out of his room, gripping her stomach  

I handed her the blue and green box

The fuck? How’d you know I use Pearls? And this size?

Bobby and her looked up in drunken awe

An icy whisper and drunken sigh

Trust me, I’ve done this before

5. The Last Bath

She started coughing as I opened the bathroom door

Half her hair was in the bowl and the other was wet across her shoulders

When she saw me she started crying

WHY THE FUCK DID IT HAPPEN TO ME?

I told the remaining friends on my floor to go downstairs and closed the door behind me

I knew what was coming

There was always a subtle distance between us in bed

You can tack that to a woman’s lack of desire toward you or to something completely else outside your control

Her lack of desire for sex at all

She lifted her head and stared through me

WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU SO GOOD TO ME? I’M A FUCKING STRIPPER 

I like you, you’re cool, and I love talking to you

THEN WHY THE FUCK DID HE RAPE ME?

WHY DID MY UNCLE DO IT?

MY FUCKING UNCLE?

KYLE?

An icy whisper and drunken sigh

I walked over and kneeled before her, carefully marking my words before I opened I mouth

I’m good to you because of who you are and how you treat me. I like almost everything about you, and these past months have been some of the best of my life. I act this way toward you because I’m reflecting the same love you give me. I’m just a mirror. It’s really you this entire time

She placed her head in the toilet bowl and vomited

Her hair was now fully drenched in bowl water

THEN WHY DO I HATE THIS SO MUCH?

WHY ME?

I sat next to her and embraced her as warmly as I could, knowing this will probably be one of the last times we would ever hold each other again

You’re okay here

Twenty minutes passed without any talking

She removed her head from the toilet and rested it on my shoulder

I felt the cold water fall against my neck and her colder breath release upon my cheek

Can you do one thing for me Kyle?

Yes

Can you make a bath? I feel so dirty

I left her alone and waited two hours for her to return to bed

That’d be the last time I ever made a bath in my life

6. The Failed Finale  

It’d been ten minutes on my clock, maybe twenty on theirs

In sober time, probably closer to an hour

You see guys, he’s still able to accept factual events from his history and perform basic logic, but that logic is being flawed by some deep hidden assumption. I just need to figure out what assumption that is and have him realize it’s wrong

I looked at A to signal round six  

Didn’t you know the reasons why she even dated you? She liked that you were smarter than her, helped her with her problems, and were unlike every guy that hits on her at the bar. She liked that you deeply care about your career and did your best to make time for her neediness. And you know she loved fucking you

I don’t know, it’s not a big deal

Did these things I just said actually happen? Can you work with me logically here?

Yes, but I mean, it’s not a big deal

A, your old manager and mentor hand picked you out of every other new employee to start his department. You told me this. He trusted you the most with the most difficult projects because you never failed him. He even told you he believed in your mind more than anyone else in that department

I don’t know, it’s not a big deal

Did these things I just said actually happen? Can you work with me logically here?

Yes, but I mean, I’m not a big deal

I noticed after fifty responses he finally changed one word

One single word was all I needed

I now knew where to dig

Give me five more minutes, I’ll have him

The peanut gallery exchanged looks, shook their heads, and gave me their complete attention for one last time

A took another shot and stared off into the distance behind me, not even listening

I rolled up my hoodie sleeves as far as they could go and pulled up my pants just a bit

I’m going to go one level deeper

ACT 3

1. The Coup De Grace  

A, do you take me as an honest person and also a person who cares about who his friends are? That I don’t associate myself with people I don’t like? That aren’t of good caliber?

Yes, of course

A, then give me a single reason why you should be my friend

I don’t know

You can’t give me a fucking single reason why you should be my friend?

Kyle, you’re not serious

Who the fuck have I been living with all these years? A guy who can’t even tell me one good reason why I should be friends with him?

I don’t know

A, you’re pissing me off so much. I don’t want to see you ever again after tonight. In fact, I’m officially announcing to the IAB you’re out. We don’t need your rent, I’ll cover it. And since you don’t know why you’re friends with me, you shouldn’t have a problem moving on with your life

You wouldn’t do that

A, you already admitted I’m an honest guy. Do you think I’m lying?

Wait, no you wouldn’t. Oh shit. You’re serious.

A started to weep

You’re goddamn right

I don’t know

H and B’s jaws dropped

By now, a few of our other friends were awake, talking amongst themselves, and hiding behind their half open doors

A, since I’ve known you for a while and frankly I like you a lot, I’m going to list out the exact reasons why I want you out. That way I’ll go on record for at least giving you a fair chance at rebuttal

A panicked and more tears dripped down his face

A, when we first moved into the IAB you were such an asshole you took the garage parking spot without even asking me if I’d be inter….

He suddenly leaped up from defeat and screamed at me

WAIT, NO, I ASKED YOU FIRST OUT OF EVERYONE BECAUSE YOU LOVE YOUR CAR

A, are you sure?

YES, I WOULDN’T FORGET THAT

Wow A, I didn’t know you were such a good friend, that’s incredibly thoughtful of you

A wiped some of the tears off his face, and finally his eyes, ears, and mind were now open to my words

A, you never invite me out to drink with you or your friends. You never drive me around and you never come up to my room to hang out when I haven’t been downstairs in a while

NO, I ALWAYS ASK YOU TO HANG OUT AND…

And?

WOAH

A, since I’m an honest guy I’m going to be honest here. I haven’t had a social life this past year if it wasn’t for you. You’re the only guy who takes me out and makes an effort to hang out. You’re the only reason I get out of the house. And I’m eternally grateful for you in doing that

NO, WAIT, OHHH

KYLE, KYLE, WHAT?

I stood silent

And knew what was coming

Minutes passed before he raised his head to speak again

I always knew I did these things but at the same time I didn’t. I just never thought about it like that. It never felt true 

I know

A let his guard down and started weeping in full

I’ve never felt this way before

I know

He looked up at me like they always have done in the past

I stood silent again

My words were no longer useful here

He needed to solely accept the feelings of his own new reality

No one has ever done what you did to me. I always rejected them. Not even my parents or other best friends. No one ever tried to do what you did.

I know

Why are you so good to me?

Because you’re worth it. And I love you, A. If you weren’t such a good person to me, I wouldn’t be standing here on my very own birthday weekend until 8AM in the morning trying to tell you what everyone else already knew

But how did you do that?

I awaited my cue and took a deep breath

Well, you still followed conversational logic but you weren’t assuming your qualities were good. Your assumption was tragically flawed, and that’s what was keeping you from admitting anything. I just needed a way to bypass that deep seeded assumption and have you say the traits without being directly prompted. In other words, you needed to believe these things instead of think of them

He looked confused

I sighed and made myself clear

I know you to be an incredibly honest person. The last thing you’d ever do to a friend is lie straight to their face. So I made you tell the truth. And I did that by creating a lie.

He started crying again

The first time in his life tears were for joy and not sadness

I walked over to him and hugged him

I then took my left hand, raised it up behind A, and flipped H and B off

Get the fuck over here you idiots, I think he needs a group hug

I released from the group and remembered what I really came to Portland to do

Guys, we still have to go to that vegan strip club tonight  

2. The Most Expensive Friend Ever

I can’t believe you’ve never been to one of these

Kyle, I’m gay  (though he said it like gaaaaaaye)

Wait, can’t gay guys love tits and ass too?

Like most first timers, Zach was a little nervous

Strippers aren’t only hard working, they’re pretty smart too, so first timers are always marked with a crosshair of easy prey

Zach was approached nine times in 30 minutes

No girl that night even patronized me with a bored look

That was okay, I usually approached them because the best ones never needed to walk the main floor, they instead waited on the back wall for hungry clients to approach them

Simple supply and demand

Right as I was explaining how the floors worked, she grabbed my face with both her hands

I turned to my right and met her eyes for the first time in my life 

Oh my god, you’re so Korean

Only by birth, I’m really white

I’m Lily

3. The First Ride Home  

I sat in A’s car quietly as he drove me back to Seattle

He was silent

It would take time to process his new life

It would for me as well

I really did love these guys

I never really accepted it until then

I always thought about it

But never allowed myself to feel it  

I looked out the passenger window

Rain started falling on the horizon

A few teardrops spread down my right cheek and then my left

I thought back to years ago with Lily on the floor of my bathroom

I thought back to a day ago with A in the kitchen

Naked and stripped bare

The real human uncovered from the guise of everyday personality

The real pains of being alive

The real horrors of our own past emotional scarring

More teardrops spread down my right cheek and then my left

The difference between tears of joy and those of sadness may be clear to some

But to me on that ever so long drive back home

I could barely tell the difference

AFTERWARD

The Safest Slumber  

Lily carefully got into bed to my right, trying not to wake me

She was warm from the bath but icy to the touch

Kyle

Yeah

She rubbed her feet between mine and held herself close against my back

Do you think we can go to that fair tomorrow you were talking about?

I’d love to 

I began telling her how I always wanted to win a stuffed animal at a fair for a girl

But before I could finish my thought

She’d already fallen asleep