She left on a Saturday. The roommates weren’t around, so we said our goodbyes alone in the mildewed apartment and then I watched her drive away while my stomach devoured itself. “Lovesick” might be the most perfectly descriptive word in the English language. I have a history of broken bones unrivaled by the non-shark jumping population, and I’ve never felt any pain as profoundly as the day that Jody drove away.
I curled up on our mattress, held my gut, and slept. When I woke up I held my aching stomach, and then I slept some more. Her scent was still on the pillow, her ghost still in the room. How was I going to live there without her? I held my gut and tried to sleep some more. I got up and I wrote in my black book, but it didn’t help. The problem wasn’t that she was gone, but that she took me with her.
Days passed before the telephone rang. “Hey baby,” she said. “I made it.”
“Hey, where are you?”
“Manhattan! They found me an apartment with some other girls from the agency.”
“Is it nice?”
“It’s amazing, like something out of a movie.”
“Cool,” I said.
“The rent is, like, 1,500 dollars.”
“Man, that’s almost five of our apartment.”
“Isn’t that crazy? Listen to this: Last night we went to the China Club and Bowie was there. He is so beautiful in person.”
From the night she kissed my shoulder I knew that this was where she really belonged. I was a way to kill a little time before she moved on to her real life, but knowing the truth didn’t help the ache in my gut.
Every phone call was more fabulous than the last: parties at the models’ place, sitting next to Stallone at a dinner party. I listened to each exciting tale, but all I heard was the sound of Jody slipping away.
“One of the girls knows somebody from Saturday Night Live, so we went to the wrap party Saturday night.”
“Really? Was Dennis Miller there?”
“Yeah, he kind of kept to himself and laughed at his own jokes.”
“Sounds about right.”
“You know Theo on Cosby?”
“Yeah, Malcolm-Jamal Warner.”
“We’re totally friends now. He comes over all the time. We call him Mal-Jam.”
Her new life was parties and TV stars, and I was a record store manager in a small Southern town. I couldn’t compete with television.
I wrote her letters and sent drawings. The drawings weren’t very good and neither were the letters. Sometimes I wrote about my fantastic success in art classes, both real and imagined, but mostly they were lovesick letters from back home, overwrought and clingy.
Nights were the worst. I hated sleeping alone. I still do.
“I haven’t heard him, but I trust anything on the Blue Note label.”
“Oh, big jazz fan?”
“I’m from New York. Is there any other kind of music?”
“My girlfriend lives in New York. She’s a model.”
“And what about you, young man? You look like you go to that art school downtown.”
“And what are you going to do with that art degree?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking something in television.”
“Then you should be in New York, too, not working in a record store.”
“Oh, I plan to move up there,” I said.
“Let me borrow your pen,” he said, and then he scribbled on the back of a receipt. “When you get there call this number. He’s a good friend of mine over at Children’s Television Workshop. I’m sure he can find something for you in the art department.”
The next time I talked to Jody I told her I was on my way to Sesame Street. “That’s great,” she said. “I’d love for you to be here, but it’s so expensive.”
“I can crash with you,” I said.
“This isn’t my place, you’d be crashing with a crasher. Sesame Street, that’s so exciting….”
New York City. The idea terrified me, but Jody was there. Maybe when I was doodling Kermit for a living I’d be as cool as Mal-Jam and Dennis Miller.
My illustration professor, Traci Haymans, spent a few years in NYC making the rounds with her portfolio. She was a brilliant artist, her pastel work reminiscent of a feminine Brad Holland. I lingered after class and asked for her advice on making the transition.
“If you want to move to New York you need to save up at least 10,000 dollars,” she said, and I laughed. “Why is that funny?”
“That’s like a year’s salary,” I said.
“Yeah, New York is expensive. I envy you, though. I’d love to go back.”
It was her turn to laugh. “I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Why do you need so much to move there?” I asked.
“Well, you have to pay first and last month’s rent for starters. And you’ll knock on tons of doors before you even find someone who will look at your portfolio. You need enough to survive because it will be a long time before you make a sale.”
“So what? If you really want to go, go,” I said. “Wait tables or something.”
Traci half smiled, half sighed. “I’m a little old for that life,” she said.
There was no way that I could save up ten grand. Sorry, Kermit.
A new store opened in Oglethorpe Mall. It smelled good and was draped in silk, satin, and lace; bows, straps, and snaps. I didn’t know who Victoria was, but I liked her secret. Walking the aisles was better than my childhood visits to The Ohio Players in the record store bins. I looked at all the pretty things and my head buzzed and my ability to reason vanished. There was nowhere to hide my reddened face, but years of facing toward the record bins clued me in on how to maintain a little dignity.
I left that day with something lacy along with my visions of Jody wearing it. Back in the mildewed apartment I sat down and wrote my first attempt at erotica. I miss you. If you were here…. I tucked the letter inside the lace and mailed the package.
A few days later the phone rang. “I got your package,” Jody said.
The Ohio Players feeling returned. My face flushed and my head buzzed. “You did?”
“Yeah. Oh my God, It was so funny. I read your story to my roommates and they laughed so hard. You are such a good writer.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“It sounded just like one of those stupid sex stories, like in a magazine.”
“I know, those things are so lame,” I said. “Can you believe people like that shit?”
I could no longer smell her on her pillow when I fell asleep that night alone. Somewhere in the distance a lone Mal-Jam howled.