Whenever a new year rolls around, one inevitably starts to reflect on the passing of time. We will count back the years since the momentous occasions in our lives occurred, or perhaps how long we’ve known the special people in our life. Sometimes, as the mind travels backwards, it stumbles on funny little incidents that had no real lasting effect except, possibly, to earn our keep at a dinner parties.
I was the first one to meet the guy in Room 2. He’d moved into #31 Store Street while most of us were at work, and we’d yet to get a look at him. We were all gathered in the kitchen, when we heard him come out of the bathroom. I was the only one with more balls than class or patience, so I took myself down the hall to check him out. “Hi!” I said, with not much originality. “You must be the new boy,” and stuck my hand out. I don’t think we made much small-talk; I find it difficult to speak to people who are that beautiful. He was all limbs and floppy hair, perfectly proportioned features that were too pretty to belong to a regular boy, too sexy to be from the same planet as the rest of us.
“His name is Joaquin,” I reported back to the crowd in the kitchen, “and he’s the most gorgeous human being I’ve ever set eyes on.” Gay or straight, they all asked, but it was hard to know right away. Even those with the most developed gaydars took a few days to work it out. Stella said he was too stylish to be straight, Aric said there wasn’t enough sashay to be gay, and for the most part, and he seemed to direct the same amount of sparkle to men and women. He had us all completely confounded. Later on, we noted that his taste in women ran toward the pale and curveless, so I privately decided he was hetero-flexible and left it at that.
Turns out that the Sexy Thing had an honours degree in Philosophy, would go on to work on his Masters, and even his hung over mornings started on the sharper side of clever. Joaquin had an angry black tattoo that ran up the back of his neck and into his blond, blond, blonder than blonde hair. He was six feet two inches of low-slung jeans, ribbed undershirts, and leather motorcycle jackets, the lovechild of James Dean and any Calvin Klein model circa the winter ’97 campaign, male or female. I think he had a guitar, but it may have been a keyboard. I know there was an instrument involved, but I don’t think it got played very often. He used the word bourgeois disparagingly, and often. He was a 22-year old American; he’d finished university, and thought he’d give London a whirl.
We came from completely different worlds.
I was – am - a suburban homebody with a sheltered Italian upbringing. I called home twice a week and missed my mother quite a lot. Joaquin came from, I don’t know, hippies maybe? From like, northern California, all free-love and Birkenstocks. In my head, his mother ran away from her staid parents and their wealthy and established home. I’ve imagined that she conceived her son with some dashing stranger that was passing through, and liked the idea of naming him after a Mexican bandit. I’ve added so much flesh and colour to this story over the years that I sometimes forget that I’ve made it up. He insisted that his relationship with his mother was close and healthy, but he also said, very casually, that he hadn’t called her before he left the country, and she probably didn’t know he was in England. Well, which is it, then? I thought, and probably voiced. I didn’t understand, and what’s worse, I didn’t get why it was so strange that I didn’t understand. Isn’t that what people do for heaven’s sake? If you’re going to leave the country for months and months, aren’t you supposed to at least call your mother? It was all just so weird for me!
We did not get along.
He would say things that would wind me up, and I would forget that his brain could eat mine for breakfast; I would stamp my feet and stand up for what I thought was right, and he would chuckle, say something witty, and make me feel foolish and terribly unsophisticated. Stella says that I use language tremendously, but around Joaquin, it was like English was not my native tongue. He made me feel small-minded and silly and resentful. Our mutual friends got a kick out of how much we didn’t see eye to eye, and it was Stella who finally said that I would just have to accept that we were born on different planets, and once I got that into my head, we’d get along so much better. I remember that one day, he got me going so that I angrily – and accidentally - let rip with the word “motherfucker” in his direction, which made my friend Tricia gasp and tell me later that I’d gone too far. That made me feel guilty, so I went to apologize and tell him that he may have been a bastard, but he wasn’t a motherfucker. He laughed and told me keep trusting my instincts; apologies weren’t necessary.
We didn’t get along, and that’s how we liked it.
One Saturday afternoon, a few weeks after he’d moved out of #31 Store Street, he came and knocked on the door of Room 7, which I shared with Stella. Both she and Tricia were out, Andrea was working, all our cool and clever mutual friends were away, but he came in anyway, surprising me by throwing himself down on my bed looking for all the world like a friend who wanted nothing more than a chuckle and a chinwag.
We spoke for hours that day, about everything and nothing, very likely because he was bored and I was lonely and we had both caught accidental glimpses of the human being in each other. I think I had a tale of woe that particular afternoon, which he patiently listened to, alternately chastising and sympathizing. I kept waiting for him to get up and leave, or run out of things to say, but eventually, it was eight o’clock at night, we were hungry, and he asked me if I wanted to go find something to eat. Twenty minutes of walking got us no closer to anything that excited our appetites; until we passed a Hart’s, and I remembered that I had a package of tortellini and a branch of fresh tomatoes at home. So we stopped for wine and cheese and a crusty French loaf, went back to the surprisingly empty house, and I made a tomato sauce that would have made my Italian, suburban parents proud. We ate; we drank; we traded stories. He told me about his last girlfriend, and I told him about my fortunately brief phase of crushing on men twenty years my senior. He told me about his job working behind the bar of some dingy club, and I told him that every day, I got more and more scared that somebody at work would find out I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. We talked about Pulp; I told him that the first time I heard Common People was when a friend made me listen to it because he thought it was about me, and he told me that he thought Jarvis Cocker was a handsome guy. We moved onto cheese and grapes and more wine, and eventually, it was 11:15 on a Saturday night, and he talked me into going to some martini bar in Soho.
We had shared two bottles of wine at dinner, and went on to have three double cocktails each at Red Martini, all of them sweet and exotic, ridiculously large and delicious. I introduced him to chocolate martinis, but when he went up to order another round, he mixed up crème de cacao with Curacao, which is how we ended up with some concoction we laughingly dubbed the Blue Hawaii.
I drunkenly expounded on a theory I was working on whenever I was in an alcoholic state in those days, something about beautiful people ruling the world or some such nonsense. He confessed to me how much he loved his nose. We both rued the day the ones we loved crossed our paths. He and I both offered our congratulations for not killing the other, and we laughed because we knew that though we’d never be friends, on that day and night, we took advantage of the best we had to offer to each other. He conceded that I’m not entirely stupid, and I clinked his glass and agreed that his heart wasn’t located in his ass. Eventually, we staggered home, made microwave popcorn and stayed up talking with whoever was in the kitchen. I eventually poured myself into bed, and he crashed on one of the couches in the lounge. He was gone when I woke up, and later that day, when Stella and Tricia came back from their weekend trips, I watched their jaws drop as I merrily entertained them with my unlikely tale.
To this day, they still barely believe it happened.
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