Mike was tall, and had a habit of waking me up at two in the morning to ask me questions about assignments for our 8 a.m. French class, six hours before they were due. I never dreamed of complaining, and instead crowed in silent victory, that although he could have called any of the five other people in the class, it was me he called, he picked me! I would follow him with my eyes as he slouched into class, perpetually ten minutes late, willing him to sit next to me. Sometimes he did, and I would glow for the rest of the day.
Unlike everyone else in the class, he already spoke French perfectly. I had assumed he was North African, but I would find out later that actually, he was half Russian, half Ethiopian. He was tall, lanky, and angular, with dark hair and amber skin, and sharp, almost sinister features. Sketchy hot, I would think, and I was hopeless for him. He had a foreign air of worldliness about him that set him apart from all the other white bread frat boys on campus. He belonged in a café in Paris, on a beach in Algiers; he belonged on a train rushing through the frozen Russian countryside, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette by an open window. He did not belong in Westminster, MD, home to a small private liberal arts college and the Carroll County Farm Museum.
One night I went out with a couple friends to a newly opened bar down the street, that with its grand opening brought the sum total of bars in town to an unheard of three. A little drunk already with the novelty of the situation, to be drinking beer in public and not shut up in a tiny dorm room, swaggering a bit with our newfound age of majority, we huddled around a table, glancing around the room and pointing out people we knew. Students and locals, old and young together, drinking peacably, and nary a campus safety officer in sight to break up the party. I thought for a second that this might just be what heaven is like. Then I spotted Mike, and suddenly I was sure.
He came over, introductions were made all around, and we sat and drank and talked for the next two hours. In a cozy tête-à-tête, he and I became engrossed in conversation, half in French, half in English, as he drank Guinness and chain-smoked cigarettes. He told me about everywhere he had lived, everywhere he had been, and I glowed in his attention, in my foot touching his under the table, in how easily French was flowing from my mouth, in the fact that our conversation must have seemed mysterious and incomprehensible to anyone else listening. And then, finally, after all this..."You know," he said, glancing across the table, "your friend is really pretty when she smiles." Suddenly, the glow evaporated; we were just in a dark, smoky bar, and my head hurt. It was time to go.
Some weeks later, I called my friend Dave, bored. "Hey, whatcha doing?" I asked.
"Oh, just hanging out with Mike," he said. "Drinking gin."
"Mike?" I said. "You mean Tall Mike??? I'm coming right over."
And the three of us proceeded to get drunk in Dave's tiny corner single room, playing video games, watching porn. I was boisterous, happy in a way that anyone who knew me would have been able to tell was trying too hard. I had a chip on my shoulder, and something to prove. When the alcohol ran out, the party was over, it seemed. Except..."I have more gin in my room..." I mentioned.
"Yeah?" Mike said. "Well let's go."
Having rid ourselves of Dave, we trekked across the deserted quad to my room, where we sat and talked on my floral-covered twin bed. Finally, interminably, Mike said, "Have you ever heard of a vacuum kiss?" I hadn't, but I was intrigued. "Can I show you?" he asked. Could he? Of course he could. He started out with his lips barely making contact with mine, followed by a whispery inhaling, exactly as if he were vacuuming up crumbs. I started to kiss him back, but he stopped me. "No, no," he said, and he continued the breathy inhaling, varying the suction against my lips, until he apparently reached a stopping point. "So," he said, "do you want to try it now?" It was all the invitation I needed. We started kissing in earnest, and it escalated rapidly until I found myself lying on my back with his weight pressing down on top of me. Something about the position, his insistence, bothered me, and I struggled slightly to free myself. But my efforts were fruitless; I was pinned against the bed, and this realization made me slightly frantic. I struggled harder, becoming desperate, like a caged animal, and still he bore down on me, holding my arms so I was unable to move. I said no, I'm sure I said no, but I was breathless, and he was on top of me, and I felt helpless, like in a nightmare where you're unable to scream, or make even the slightest of sounds. I summoned all my strength, using my core muscles to push against him, and into an upright position once again. I took a deep breath and exhaled a huge sigh of relief at this new freedom, but before I could even think, before I could chide myself for getting into this situation, he had pushed me back down again, holding me with even more force this time, as I felt my tired muscles grow weaker. Thoughts flooded through my mind; What will I do, I thought, if, you know, it comes to the worst? And then I knew; I'll call Pat, I thought. That's what I'll do. And he'll come over and he'll hold me and take care of me, like he did when I drank much too much and got sick much too early on Homecoming night. And he had; not only did he put me to bed, removing my shoes and taking off my necklace so it wouldn't fall in my mouth when I got sick, but he held vigil over me all night long, though I wasn't aware of it until the next day. In my leopard-print folding chair he positioned himself next to my bed, and he strummed my guitar, quietly, and he watched me. Everyone else was out drinking and partying- his friends, frat brothers- but he stayed sober, and he stayed with me. He answered my phone, he sent away visitors, and the next morning I woke to find him bundled in my sweatshirt, stretched out next to me on a strip of mattress only inches wide. Yes, that's what I'll do. I'll call Pat, and everything will be ok. As this was going through my mind, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye; the glowing digital face of my alarm clock. Three a.m.?! There's no way I can call Pat at three a.m., no matter what happens! I would be on my own until morning, then. Somehow this thought, the lateness of the hour, and classes rapidly approaching the next morning, panicked me more than anything else. "Holy shit!" I yelled. This seemed to startle him, and he stopped momentarily and looked at me, confused. "It's three a.m.! You have to go! I have to go to bed, I have a spanish test tomorrow morning. You have to go!"
"Mais," he said, dazed, "mais on n'est pas satisfait?" He said this incredulously, as if never in his life had anyone dared refuse him before satisfaction was attained (for one party, at least). I shrugged my shoulders silently, exaggeratedly, palms up. Tant pis. He stretched himself up to his full height, still eying me with disappointment and reproach, and ambled towards the door. He stopped suddenly, and selected a cd from my collection. Bob Marley. "I'm taking this," he informed me. "I'll give it back," he added, unconvincingly. I knew I would never see it again. At first I was resentful, but then decided it was a small price to pay to be rid of him, when it all could have ended so differently.
And, just like that, I was cured of my obsession. I stopped wishing for him to sit next to me in French class. When I saw him around campus, I looked the other way. All I had wanted was to prove to myself that I could get him, if I wanted to. That I was as pretty, as desirable, had as nice a smile as any other girl. That he could be interested in me. I never dreamed victory could taste so sour.
Somewhere in the night, a moth gets too near a bright and fascinating flame, and singes its wings. This time it escapes, alighting into the dark relief of the cool night air, mostly unharmed. Off on a new adventure, it turns its eye to the dimmer but more plentiful lights of the millions of stars, twinkling overhead. And as it goes, it sings: No, woman, no cry. Little darlin, don't shed no tears. No, woman, no cry. Everything's gonna be alright. Everything's gonna be alright. No, woman, no cry.