So this weekend Sketch draws me for the first time. Never in one spot long enough for him to block me in on paper, my attention caught on all the things outside the margins, I finally remember this remarkable party-trick I’m calling sitting still and doing nothing. That’s when he takes out the pencil. Sketch is half hidden behind a battered easel, dressed in his day uniform of black workpants and combat boots, wearing a hat to cut the glare. I am wearing nothing, perched on the edge of a stool with one foot tucked up on a rung and one leg stretched out of the carpet, sucking in my stomach, wondering if the cast shadows from the studio light make me look older.
I’ve seen him draw a thousand times, but never from this angle, where I’m the thing he is looking at. He measures, one eye squeezed shut. Looks down, marks something out in vine charcoal. He looks up again, squinting to catch the values in the stack of shapes that is my body, and then back to the paper. My body is faxed one shape at a time across the room. And I’m watching him back. It’s a weird, center-of-attention experience that is both concentrated and utterly abstracted, and when Sketch makes appreciative noises, I’m not sure if he is approving of the lighting, or me, or the drawing, or something else entirely. In the studio his dying cat cries, wanting something but not knowing what. It’s hiding, a noisy lump under a blanket.
Things between Sketch and I have been particularly good since the blizzard locked us up together for a weekend, and all of New York finally caught up on its sleep. Now I’m back in that place where I feel restless until I see him, missing him, texting him random pictures of blobfish or the songs that get stuck in my head in the middle of the day, but when I do finally see him, I think about heading home. I want to get out of here before I fuck things up again. The whole thing feels like an open window, a banana peel, an accident waiting to happen.
It scares the shit out of me, and looking for a distraction I make plans on Sunday to go see that horror film The Boy with some friends. I invite Connecticut along, still trying to determine if I am capable of having a friend who is straight and male and single. He’s chubbily adorable, and I try to shake off wondering what it would feel like to make out with him against the side of a building, his hands down my pants. I like you as a friend, boys used to say in grammar school when they wanted to blow you off. But I genuinely like Connecticut as a friend, one who is vivid enough that I can almost make him out through the thick murky dimness of my own self-centeredness. I sit next to him in the movie theater, and when scary things pop out, I lean appreciatively toward him, our shoulders touching. In the film, people are talking to a doll like it is real. I understand, because I am broken and other people can feel like dolls, animated by my interactions with them, lapsing into plastic once I walk away. Some of my most successful relationships were the ones I had with my stuffed animals as a kid; actual human interactions are wildly confusing.
Connecticut is my friend, but I can’t stop trying to assess if he wants me or not. I can’t stop caring if he wants me or not. I’m taking him to a hot yin class after the movie at my yoga studio, an opportunity to parade half naked in front of him to try to find out. “So that’s why you’re wearing make-up to yoga,” my yogini friend Veronica says knowingly. Connecticut gives nothing away as I strip down. Poker face.
Three mats over in the yoga studio, which is bedecked with budhhas and smells like a boxing ring, all feet and effort, I spot that girl who stopped wanting to be my friend last September. It’s the first time I’m seeing her since she broke off contact with me, ending our friendship with a vague text. I still don’t know why we’re not friends anymore. Sometimes I wonder if she caught a whiff of lust off of me, but it really wasn’t like that; she was just my perfectly imperfect friend that I liked to meet for tacos. It’s the first time I’m seeing her since the breakup and I’m not sure what the protocol here is, but I can’t not say hello. I give her a hug and do that back-patting thing, which I never do; I find it weird and confusing. I’m hugging you but I’m hitting you.
Connecticut is of course friends with this girl because our social circles are weirdly cramped, considering we live in a borough with over two million other people in it. After yoga class, which is front-loaded with lengthy hip-openers that make me feel both like crying and like fucking everyone in sight, I wave goodbye to the two of them, enmeshed in conversation, and beat an undignified retreat, dropping things in my haste to get the fuck out of there.
There will be no making out against the side of a building today, and there will be no trying to explain Sketch to Connecticut, luckily; afterall, I can’t even explain it to myself. Sometimes it feels like some karmic consequence. Maybe I’m doomed to go on loving, wanting, fiending for this person, making the same mistakes and then: taillights. Maybe this is why Sketch has never drawn me before; we’re both too worried about getting it wrong. That’s why pencils have erasers, is a thing that teachers say. I am always explaining to my students that we learn more from our mistakes, our failures, than we do from the easy and early successes. Not a lesson I have personally taken to heart, but it is still a thing I say. Around the right angles of his easel, Sketch looks at me, drawing, and I look back around my laptop, typing, and I wonder if we’ll get each other right eventually.