The Coast

 

Although my friendship with Anthony had existed for years before my marriage, Adam had decided that he had the final say on whether or not Anthony and I were allowed to continue our friendship. Every few weeks he seemed to shift his line of thinking. If I seemed judgmental and harsh, Adam would encourage our interactions, telling me to not be so hard on him. “He’s in the military, too, and that means that even if he’s just a P.O.G. in the marines, he’s my brother. You should rely more on Anthony, talk to him more. He’s the only one who knows what I’m going through right now, and he’ll keep you out of trouble.”

If I seemed to be too close, Adam would demand I stop talking to him.

“I don’t trust Anthony. He fucks too many whores in the barracks. You two dated before, so he probably wants to date you again. I don’t want you talking to him, and I don’t want him in our house.”

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I wasn’t about to spend every other month cutting off and picking up a friendship that had provided so much support and escape during high school, so I started to hide our friendship from Adam.

So began the nights of long phone calls or video chats with Anthony while messaging online with Adam. Or vice versa. We usually talked about normal post-highschool garbage (The school slut had settled down and started a family, the quiet skater girl had had both her kids taken away from her), and what missions he had recently been assigned (“We just played X-Box while monitoring the radio in an airconditioned room with high-speed internet”). Sometimes, Anthony would brag about his recent sexual conquests.

“I bent her over the chair like this, she was so fuckin’ wet, dude…this one girl said she could feel me in her stomach…hang on, I’m gonna send you a picture of her tits. Aren’t those so fuckin’ hot?”

“Why do you think I want to hear about this shit? You think she’d want you telling me all this?”

“She tells her friends about it.”

“Bet she doesn’t.”

“You’re married, dude. Why do you get so upset over my shit?”

“Because it’s fucking disrespectful, that’s why…and because you don’t like it when I talk about what I do with Adam.”

“That’s different…Adam’s my friend. You don’t even know these bitches.”

“I know them well enough to know that they don’t deserve to be treated like some kind of pussy prize. Like some kind of bragging rights for you and your buddies.”

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“I—I mean—whatever man…fuck, watch this…” And he would then perform whatever stupid human trick he had picked up from his buddies on base. He would never admit it, but I think he would intentionally fuck up his tricks so I’d laugh and break the tension. The only thing he seemed to crave more than my frustration was my admiration.

Every couple of months, Anthony would make the 1,100 mile, 16 hour drive up to Portland to visit friends and family. He and Katie had broken up a few months before, but when he was in town, she was always down for a good fuck. Sometimes he’d check in on old friends from high school, but Los Gatos Quatros had long been disbanded, and many of our classmates had long since slipped into the life of children, drugs, and no-cause evictions. I’d usually get a few days’ notice—at most—and when he announced his trip up to buy a new car (sales-tax free), he’d told me only 24 hours before.

I stayed up all night cleaning the apartment for his visit. I felt like a meth head as, at three AM, I vacuumed the carpet, wiped down the couch, laid out clean sheets, pillows and pillow cases, and stacked  blankets of varying thicknesses—each one folded and smoothed out into perfect, freshly-laundered squares. I mopped the kitchen floor, scrubbed the cabinets, and stuffed all my dirty laundry into my bedroom closet. I bleached the bathroom so intensely that I lost my sense of smell for two hours. I cleaned until the sun came up, and then I talked to Adam until it was time to go to work.

I spent my entire shift at the coffee shop sitting on the chest freezers, nodding off in between scooping out fruit for smoothies. bar-768564_1920.jpgShortly before my shift was over, an old summer fling happened to wander in. J.R. had icy blue eyes, light brown freckles, and one of those chiseled bodies that effortlessly came to young men who have not yet gone to seed. He had dropped out of high school, was in and out of jail, and had once proudly declared that he had never had a relationship that lasted longer than three months. We’d met when my mom moved out from my dad and into a small apartment complex across town. Struck by his good looks, my mom initially encouraged me to get to know him, but then quickly forbade me from talking to him after she saw him smoking cigarettes next to the playground. This made my late night talks and make-out sessions with him even more exciting. We eventually lost contact when he went to jail for six months for drug possession.

J.R. hung around the shop and talked to me in that careless, badass way that all sexy high school losers have, telling me that he had just taken on a job in his uncle’s construction company framing houses, and that he was quitting smoking. He was down to just three cigarettes a day, and didn’t count the times he smoked when drinking. By the time we were closing up shop, Anthony had made it to town and was slouched in a patio chair outside, waiting to drive me home.

“Hey,” J.R. sipped his iced vanilla latte and flicked his gaze out the window towards Anthony. “So uh, you think your friend would mind giving me a ride home? The last bus runs in like, fifteen minutes, and it’ll take me half an hour to walk to my stop.” My heart fluttered as I imagined what my mother would say now—at my standing here, talking to the boy she hated most, with another boy outside—but I frowned, uncomfortable with how comfortable he felt asking for someone he’d never met to do him favors.

“Um, let me ask. I’m sure it’ll be okay, just—just let me ask…” I rubbed my pinky finger against my wedding ring, a newly-acquired habit when I felt awkward. I was married, and J.R. was a chronic loser, but I still couldn’t shake the flattery of having that Bad Boy from my youth asking for something from me. Something that only I could give.

Anthony took a drag of his cigarette, slowly blowing the smoke out through his nose as he looked over my shoulder at J.R.. His eyes narrowed.

“Where’s he live?…Alright…fine.”

After we had dropped J.R off at his uncle’s house, Anthony was quiet. He lit a cigarette at a stop light and flicked a cherry out the window. His eyes still on the light, he said “He wants your nuts, dude.”

“I don’t have nuts, thanks.”

“Well your pussy then, whatever. The dude’s a shitbag.”

“Yeah? You think so?” I smirked, and he finally glanced at me as the light turned green.

“Shut the fuck up, dude…just…aye whatever, man.” He turned up the radio, cigarette dangling from his mouth, the slightest hint of embarrassment behind his eyes.traffic-lights-242323_1280.jpg

 

Anthony was gone most of the next day, the blankets stuffed into a neat-ish pile on the couch’s matching, forest green, microfiber chair. By the time he came back, it was close to ten, and I had just started an early weekend after drawing the winning straw during a excruciatingly slow day at work. It wasn’t my fault I could tell which straw was shortest from its tilt in Diane’s hand.

“Let’s go to the coast, man!” Anthony said as he walked through the door, clapping his hands together and bouncing as he walked. I was used to these sudden changes in moods—he could snap from sullen to ecstatic in the same heartbeat.

“It’s…it’s ten o’clock at night…we don’t even know what the tides are like right now.” The Oregon coast had two tides: Half a Mile Out, and Drown You.oregon-51680_1920.jpg

“So, let’s pack up and go! Just crash there overnight and head back tomorrow!” His exuberance was contagious, and I felt myself getting excited at the prospect of a late-night beach trip. I sighed in resignation—still trying to be the voice of reason.

“Alright, fine. Just let me pack a few things.”

An hour later, I was packed: An extra pair of pants, two shirts (long and short-sleeved), a hoodie, several pairs of underwear, a swimsuit, toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, several blankets, a sleeping bag, snacks for the trip, bottles of water, emergency cash, dry shampoo, hair ties, a jacket, flip flops, and several books, pens, and notepads for random writerly scribbles.

“Jesus fuck,” Anthony looked at my duffle bag and tote as though I had packed up the cats. “You know we’re not even gonna be gone 24 hours, right?”

“Yeah, well, the coast is cold,” I shoved the sleeping bag at his chest as I picked up the bags. “And you never know—what if we break down and have to wait for a tow truck or something?”

“We both drive brand new fuckin’ cars, dude…” I shrugged my way past him and opened the door.

“I gave the cats extra food, so they should be okay. The tides should be out for another few hours. Lock the door behind you, but leave the light on so it looks like somebody’s home.”

“You’re way too fuckin’ over-packed, man…how are we even gonna fit this shit in the car?” He threw the sleeping bag over his shoulder and packed it down the stairs.

“I’ll drive.”

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It was well past midnight by the time we got on the highway. We cracked the windows and let the sweet, pine-scented air slip into the car. Fatigued by work and hours of talking to Adam, I started to weave.

“You need me to drive?” Anthony looked uneasy.

“No, I’m fine.” I rubbed my eyes with my fist as a third semi passed us on the two-lane highway.

“Let’s pull over for a sec.”

I stopped the car along a little stretch of shoulder that had been widened and paved with gravel. Six old railroad ties had been laid at even intervals along the stretch—along with a small plaque mounted on a metal post behind them, they were the only indicators that this was intended to be a lookout point.

Once we were out of the car, our eyes began to adjust to the darkness. The lighter, star-speckled blackness of space seemed almost bright against the deeper, eye-straining darkness of the trees. A distant dip in the forest’s silhouette hinted at the sprawling valley before us: During the day, we would see a massive bowl lined with evergreens, punctuated by gashes of clear-cuts along the mountainside. For now, all we had were hints and faith.

Anthony and I sat on the hood of my car, shivering ourselves awake under the cold, silvery points of starlight. A spear of silver shot across the sky, dying as soon as it had come.

“Sometimes I worry that marrying Adam may not have been the right decision…” I hugged my knees to my chest and slipped my hoodie over them. “He gets angry sometimes…and he doesn’t seem to care that it’s a problem. He tells me it’s my fault. That I’m the one with the problems. That I need to get my shit together and start acting like a wife…but I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that anymore than I already am…”

Anthony lit a cigarette. I’m in a movie, I thought, as he took a drag. A really corny movie. His eyes were deep and dark, not reflecting the dark, but adding to it—had always been there, waiting for it, and was no more a stranger to its arrival than a tide pool was to the returning tide. I wasn’t afraid of him, but I was afraid of what he might say.

“We all made our choices, man,” he said, blowing the smoke out of the corner of his mouth. “Sometimes I wonder if joining the marines was the right choice—but it’s what I did, ya know? We can’t go back and take it back now, so we just gotta kinda do what we can with what we got right now.” He rested his arm on his knee, flicking a cherry away from the car. I watched it die on the gravel, slowly burning away until there was nothing but a tiny speck I imagined was still glowing—a memory of burning ash, embedded in my memory, fooling my eyes. When I looked back at the sky, my eyes had to readjust—the ember’s hot light had blinded them again.

Anthony took a deep breath. “Adam’s a good guy. He’s one of my best friends—him and Ben are probably my only friends.”

“Thanks,” I smirked, wryly aware of the diss. Anthony looked at me—looked through me.

“You’re different. That’s—that’s not the same.”

I was suddenly self-conscious. I slid off the hood of the car and fished around in my hoodie for the keys.

“Let’s head back to the house…it’s cold, and we don’t have anywhere to sleep once we get to the beach…”

Anthony nodded, stubbing out his half-smoked cigarette on a railroad tie before tucking it back in its carton.

“Yeah, let’s get back. It’s getting pretty late.”

 

More Love of My Life:

Pt 1: High School

Pt 2: Graduation

Pt 3: Welcome Home

Pt 4: Wedding Day

Pt. 5: Married Life

Pt. 6: Deployment Struggles

Pt. 7: Deployment Struggles Continued