Sorting through my stuff after I’d moved into the FBI Surveillance Van, I came across a picture taken many years ago. One of my Pranksters had suggested that I find a truly happy picture of myself and put it somewhere important to remind myself that there is happiness to be had again, so I slapped it onto my fridge. That way, when I go for my diet Coke, I’m stuck looking at a happier version of me.
The picture had been taken years ago, during a party at my parents house.
Being a server meant that, because everyone else on the planet was snuggled up in their wee beds, we were like an insta-party – just add booze. Every night, we’d go out to clubs, bars, or (rarely) party at someone’s house.
That night, my parents were out of town, which meant it was party at Becky’s. We managed to invite everyone – bar patrons, serving staff, friends of friends, restaurant managers, you name it, we were there. The picture from that night had been taken by one of those old disposable cameras, and clearly shows me with my arms around a dude, smiling brightly into the camera, his arms still in the air, caught before he’d had a chance to put them around me.
It’s a fitting picture, I think, for our relationship, which had begun years before.
I’d met Mikey at my first job: an upscale dining establishment that had been around since the beginning of time, where I, not yet 18, was a hostess. He, also not yet 18, was a busboy. We struck up a friendship of sorts, at least, the sort of friendship you have with someone you are also crushing on. And boy, was I crushing.
The guy had everything that made my young heart go pitter-patter in my chest: he was wryly funny, clever, could, upon occasion, be sweet, was kind, and showed me the little things in life.
Once, I remember, when we were both old enough to serve liquor, we spent the 4th of July working the outside part of the sprawling restaurant complex, serving beer in plastic cups and nachos with day-glow cheese so bright it nearly glowed in the dark. I’d just come out of the bathroom, where I’d been sneaking a smoke, when he grabbed my arm and led me across the pond, not speaking, refusing to answer my question, “Where the fuck are we going?”
Eventually, we stopped. He turned my shoulders so that I was facing North.
“Look,” he said. And I did.
From that vantage point, we could see the fireworks going off in three separate towns, peppering the sky with shimmery reds, whites, and blues. I breathed in, deeply, happily. It was beautiful.
Mikey was always doing shit like that. When I dyed my hair a terrible shade of red by accident, he insisted that I come over for an inspection right away. There, in the hot sunlight, he peered at my hair, studying it. “I like it,” he finally said. “It suits you.”
We stayed friends after my first son was born, he and I driving around late at night, the baby strapped in the backseat, soothed by the music I played and the gentle rocking of the car. We’d get out, now and again, to look at the stars, far away from the lights of the city, the silence filling the air deafening as the baby slumbered on.
I often pictured life together, he and I. Raising my son. Helping each other grow and learn. Relying on the other to remind us to do better; be better. I never spoke these words to him, of course, because, I suppose, I didn’t know if we could solve for zero. Knowing that some words, once spoken, can’t be unspoken.
With him, I was never sure where I stood. Did he like me? Did he like me as a friend? Did he respect me? Did he love me?
I couldn’t answer those questions. In small part, because I didn’t want to know the answer and in larger, more annoying part, because I don’t think he even knew the answer. Trying to decipher Mikey was like trying to solve for zero – impossible unless you know the other factors. And I never did.
Eventually, after seven years of friendship, it happened. One drunk night, we hooked up. It was nothing I’d dreamed of. No romance, no courtship, no flowers, no nothing. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Entirely unlike either of us.
After that night, nothing was the same. I wanted more. He did not. But, of course, these words remained unspoken, probably because we finally understood where the other was coming from.
Things finally came to a head seven years after I’d met him. I’d been invited to an unveiling of Sam Adams Light in the city and G Love, one of my favorite bands, was playing. Having some extra tickets, I, of course, invited Mikey. Ten of us crawled inside the limo that was already full of booze and we began the party before the party began. By the time we arrived at the club, we were all toast.
Mikey chose this opportunity to start hitting on my friend and coworker. I pretended not to see.
That is, until he began to tell me, in his drunken stupor how much he liked her, and began to grill me for her phone number. Disgusted, I took off and wobbled in my heels down to Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s to “catch some air” and “eat a cheeseburger.” When I returned, he was still all over my friend, who was trying her best to dissuade him.
I rolled my eyes.
In the limo going home, we were all silent. That is, except for Mikey, who was still drunkenly hitting on my friend.
The next time I saw Mikey, we’d gone out to the golf course where we’d once watched the sunset on the 9th hole, a couple of friends along for the ride. Once again, he asked after my friend, specifically for her phone number. I stared at him.
Seven fucking years.
For seven fucking years I’d held this guy in the highest regard, never solving for zero, never asking after the formula, always assuming that we were “meant to be” or some happy-crappy bullshit.
At that moment, I knew that it was over; I’d never solve for zero, not with him.
He continued to look at me as I stared, not quite understanding my behavior. Finally, I spoke, “Mikey, you’re either an idiot or an asshole. Either way, I don’t need you in my life.”
Flipping the bird in his general direction, I turned heel and walked off across the perfectly maintained lawn, chastising myself, knowing he’d never follow. It simply wasn’t who he was.
Slamming my foot on the clutch and starting the car, it dawned on me.
I’d finally solved for zero.