Closer

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the autumn of Joy Division cover bands. I’d seen one of them the night before, at a party house up behind the ballfield, around the corner from my Dad’s place. I’d drowsed on a sticky vinyl basement sofa of mid-century vintage, back in the days before vinyl midcentury sofas became a yuppie status symbol, and entertained myself by doodling on baby doll heads glued to the wall, while a reputed local drug dealer did a C-grade Ian Curtis impression. I was probably the least trashed person there, on account of having driven there alone, and I figured that explained  most of the discrepancy between my enjoyment of the band and everyone else’s enjoyment of the band, but looking back on it now, it’s probably because almost everyone else was already in some kind of Joy Division cover band and worried than any lack of enthusiasm detected by a competing local cover band would reflect badly on their own. Which was sort of the way Asheville worked in the early oughts. Everyone was equally supportive of everyone else’s creative endeavor out of both genuine empathy and a paralyzing fear of karmic retribution, which made it frankly impossible to know, in advance, whether anything was actually worth going to see.

I’d bowed out of the party during “She’s Lost Control” because I certainly hadn’t and I had a record review to edit before midnight deadline. I was not at all worried about karma on the record review front, because the publication I wrote for was based in Chicago, not Asheville, and maybe got more hits when I hated records, and I hated records rather grandiloquently in those days. So the editorial staff sent me either terrible bands or bands comprised of women (and often terrible bands comprised of women), probably because  I was a woman writing in an overwhelmingly male dominated area for  an overwhelmingly male audience and it’s safe to say they all  figured a woman would only ever voluntarily write about music if she were already accustomed to being despised.

My desk was in the dining room of the second best apartment I ever lived in. It had this elaborate balcony tricked out with oversized Corinthian columns and weird secret compartments, and a kettle warmer on the radiator and high windows that looked out over an intersection where I regularly watched low-level car accidents from my chair. I loved that apartment even though it was old and rundown. The plumbing didn’t always work and you’d blow a fuse on the whole building if you tried to make toast and coffee at the same time.  Untended vines grew through the windows in the back bedroom. And just about the only thing that made it fit for human habitation was the whimsical antique  architecture.  Our slumlord of a landlord made us sign waivers when we moved in to indicate we were aware of:

1) His plan to do nothing about the lead paint and asbestos

2)`The fact that the building was highly flammable

3) And we lived on a third floor accessible only by wooden staircases

4) So in the event of fire, we would almost certainly die horrible deaths

5) But we were cool with that because location, location, location.

My roommate sensibly balked at the outset. She threatened a rent strike the first month, after our landlord informed us we’d need to use a bucket to flush the toilet until he felt like paying a plumber. North Carolina law is not super-friendly to tenants, especially tenants of a good-old-boy slumlord who inherited all his property. I tried to explain this to my roommate before the landlord showed up and threatened to evict us. I remember he said, people don’t live here for the comfort and convenience; they live here for the charm, as whole sections of the Sunday NYT floated about the living room, borne upon the currents of the frigid draft. But the fact that my roommate argued anyway, unperturbed at the prospect of being suddenly homeless in January because of the principle of thing was one of the reasons I loved her. And I like to think the fact that I had zero intention of letting either one of us end up homeless in January is one of the reasons she loved me as well, even if she did get mad and accuse me of being a capitalist pawn from time to time. She was also, frankly, my best friend.

She was moving in a few weeks, back to the west coast from whence she’d come. I planned to stay on behind her for another six months or so, before moving further east and out of my hometown, I thought, for good.  I was sad about my roommate leaving and a little anxious about whatever choices I was and was not making about my future. In other circumstances, the situation might have been fraught. But I was twenty-five, barely two years out of a personal nadir, and it was November of 2001, where there were more things than just Joy Division cover bands to worry about– like George W. Bush and the War on Terror and  whether it was, strictly speaking, okay to enjoy that Strokes record as much as we all did.

I addressed this with my roommate the night after the party. I bought us a couple Taco Locos at the cheap Mexican restaurant with the sparkly waterfall fresco. I told her I would miss her. She told me she didn’t have much of a plan for what came next.  I confessed that my plan was similar, but, like, walking distance to several venues with decent rock shows.  We drank most of a bottle of wine we bought at the fancy corner market. She worried about leaving her boyfriend–a warm, smart, generous man who was impossible not to love. There might not be another like him. I worried about ever finding a boyfriend. Most of the guys I was into were caustic, self-obsessed know-it alls who were basically incapable of love and certainly incapable of loving me. The world seemed only too full of guys like that. We sat on our freezing porch, smoking cigarettes amid all-season Christmas lights and a downstairs neighbor plunking out perfectly imperfect Debussy.

Still, I must have been thinking about that Joy Division cover band when I finally went to bed, because I drifted in and out of chilly dreams about ice ages and radios and their black transmissions. I heard the kitchen door rattle closed and knew it was my roommate’s boyfriend, coming in late after a closing shift at the bar where he worked. I rolled back into sleep and came too sometime later out of a dream about England when I heard the toilet flush, then my bedroom door open, then bare feet over the floor and, after a moment, the squeak of the bedsprings as someone pitched onto the bed beside me.

I was pretty sure I was conscious, though not entirely. And I was just comfortable enough under the blankets that I didn’t want to move.  I thought it’s probably my roommate, even though my roommate had never crawled in bed with me before. I thought, her boyfriend is probably snoring, even though I didn’t think he did. Then I realized the person behind me was wearing very little. I remember thinking, is my roommate naked? Is she making a pass at me? Weird that it would happen now. We’d never discussed it. I wasn’t even sure she was into girls. But maybe she was emboldened by the fact she was leaving soon. Maybe she thought it would be a way to say goodbye. And sure, it was awkward, especially given the fact that I’m maybe, maybe, a soft two on the Kinsey scale and she’s not really my type and her boyfriend is in the other room. But fine. She didn’t seem aggressive. She probably thought she was being nice and I’ll just lie here until I figure out how to nicely tell her this isn’t a great idea. And then I felt a warm breath on my ear that reeked of alcohol and I tried to remember how much wine did we have that night, it occurred to me that the chin nestled into the hollow of my shoulder was quite a bit hairier than I remembered my roommate’s being and God, that’s awkward, I wonder if she’s having some sort of hormonal . . .

And suddenly I was wide awake.

My roommate’s boyfriend decidedly was not. He snored operatically as I wriggled out of the sheets, half panicked that he would wake and half wishing he would. I crept around the bed and out the far door—our apartment was a modified railroad style and my bedroom was the middle car—back into the dining room and then circled back through the kitchen to my roommate’s door.

As it turned out, she also snored. I knocked frantically. “Roommate[1],“ I said. “Roommate! Roommate! Please wake up. Get up. Wake up! Please wake up!”

 She groaned, finally, annoyed at having her sleep disrupted, and told me she didn’t care if the building was one fire.

“No,” I said “Your boyfriend is in my bed. And you need to get him out of my bed.” Which circumstances required me repeating a 7-8 more times until she roused

“Also,” I said, when she finally appeared, alert, at the door, “I think it’s possible that he’s a sleepwalker.”

I walked out into the living room and stood in front of the windows, half-watching for crashes, as I listened to the muffled conversation from my bedroom, you need to wake up, you’re in the wrong bed. No, I’m already in bed. But the wrong bed. No, I’m already in bed. You’re not in our bed. I’m already in bed, etc. which preceded in the same repetitive fashion as the one I’d just had with my roommate until her boyfriend came to sudden horrified consciousness and realized what had happened.  I heard him shuffle back to her bedroom in a flurry of  apology. After a moment, she reemerged and asked to bum a cigarette.

We sat on the sofa, and smoked, with the balcony door cracked, for a minute or two until I started laughing. And once I started laughing, I could not stop laughing and at that point, she was laughing too.

I left early the next morning to have breakfast with a friend, so it was hours later before my roommate’s boyfriend, much humbled, begged for my forgiveness. And it was so obviously a misunderstanding–and such an over-the top fluffy French bedroom farce of a misunderstanding for the dark-clothed cynics and self-identified intellectuals and smoke drenched music snobs we believed ourselves at the time— I couldn’t even pretend to hold it against him. I think I said something like, “Figure out the sleepwalking thing.”  And as far as I know, he did.

Three weeks later, my roommate moved back to the west coast. Six months later, her boyfriend followed. Not quite two years later, they were married.

I djed their wedding reception. I didn’t play any Joy Division. I played New Order, “Bizarre Love Triangle” to be exact.

It was a real crowd pleaser.

 

[1] Names have been have left out, not to protect the innocence but because we guilty must protect each other. Honor among thieves and all that.

Standard