Come As He Was


For Ian.

This story, which might flaunt itself as an article, is about my best friend at the time, and something he did back in high school, when love was so simple or dumb it perhaps wasn’t even the right word.

He would stay awake eyeing the yellow band of light from the hall under his door until it went black. He would carefully and quietly put on his clothes and climb out his window. He would ride his bike for twelve miles on an unlit road connecting two suburbs, a road known for the long and wide hill it covers, in order to breach the latter suburb in which a girl he liked resided. They would have — this was before texting or email — planned beforehand, and she would be waiting for him in her kitchen, such that the light which made her visible to him coming from the backyard would not be visible to her parents or siblings. He would enter the kitchen with a throat burning from breathing, and they would kiss for about twenty minutes, perhaps split into five rewarding and communicative sessions. Then he would leave, and ride up the same hill he came down, past the dark rolling mounds, at around 1 or 2 a.m. on a weeknight, climb back into bed, and sleep for whatever time remained until the imminent alarm buzzed him back into the normal world. I remember him being very tired those days.

I would hear updates, excitedly, at recess or lunch, vicariously living out the imperatives of my youth in ways I was too scared to do myself. I would fantasize about her, inventing small details which I kept to myself — the way her hair, perhaps, touched but did not rest on her shoulders, as if the world’s perfect haircut, each strand fussed over by a suddenly attentive creator, existed around her head as a brushable halo. We were both virgins, and the two weeks i.e. 5 – 7 visits it took just to get his hand up her shirt seemed reasonable, and in a way, still does. In a world where life’s boredom and death run so slow and fast, respectively, racing towards goals made up of nothing, save numbers or signatures on pieces of paper, speeding though sex like a handshake, I am grateful to the girl who says slow down. He never got to her pants, the pensive choreography of his limbs too tentative maybe, and after a month it was over.

I asked how he could have rode some twenty-five miles, almost every night, and in the dead middle of said nights. He said he just kept thinking of her, an abstract goal of sorts, the built in heat of her body someplace to move towards on a cold night, that any breached orifice was less important than the person around it; of course, this is my romantic interpretation, or imposition now. I don’t know why they didn’t have sex, or what went wrong in that kitchen in that house, on that block, in that city next to ours which looks in so many ways so similar to our own, another suburban slab just waiting to sprout tombstones, full of grocery stores and banks and fast food drive-thrus, of prom kings and queens, a constellation of acne bridging the universe of adolescence, and a chubby girl’s broken heart lubricated with ice cream, somewhere in her own secret kitchen, a place where sadness is protected, and born.

He once told me he made a mixed tape for himself consisting only of “Come As You Are” to listen to the entire way. We all found our way to relate to Kurt, because we were so desperate to. Past the pop stars and hard rock jocks, he was the only one around. His songs were gross and jagged hymns, and we finally had a reason to go to that church; something about that fluid ephemeral riff, the repetition of the open A-string ringing throughout the song. He said later on every time he hears (a present tense, in the past) that song he’s suddenly there riding his bike freezing in darkness, pushed by a hope whose loss we eventually concede to, lit only by the occasional 2 a.m. car, the threat of its encroaching headlights chiseling him into a marble life-sized sculpture, the one placed in the museum of my chest, a special room roped off by loose droopy unused arteries. My permanent collection.

I recently visited my parents, who live in the same suburb, hence me driving over the very hills he diligently did some 20 years ago. You can see the entire townships below, the constant lights of civilization as a blurry slab of yellow, almost rusted by the rain, their loyalty of being “on” in competition with the sun. Every bright dot is a girl in her kitchen — is how I prefer to see things, makes my world more bearable. It was around 8 p.m. — uneasily easing into the gas pedal in my approach towards a decade of sad yet forgettable memories — though the night, that night, read as 2 a.m., for me at least. I hate visiting my parents, but again, everyone is a girl waiting in her kitchen. I don’t turn on the radio because I know it won’t be that song, for that would be too perfect, and part of our living agreement on earth is the suspicion of wonderful things happening to us. Still though, I hear the opening riff. Maybe love is simply a lesser form of it, slowly augmented into its original hope over time, when its proponents are finally ready. Memoria. I gaze out the window, at the passing blurry chaos from which we run but are merely parallel to, and see my friend.