The Friend — Chelle Mueller
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A lesbian friendship crumbles in the aftermath of a revelation.
It’s the early summer of 1995, and I recently turned thirty. I sit across the kitchen table from Felica my dark twin. She and I have been in a relationship for three months, an “in between” relationship that sits uncomfortably on us both.
She is divorcing her husband while I haven’t seen Caleb since the previous winter. We are both irritable and prickly, primed for a fight. Not even necessarily a fight with each other, but we are the closest targets to one other today.
Felica is thirty as well, her birthday falling only a few days from mine. We celebrated in a joint party only months ago as people in the bar peeked at us and wondered. We laughed a little too loud, sat a little too close.
She is the dark version of my light, her dark Hispanic skin and long black hair contrasting with my porcelain and red. We danced and twirled, laughing under the lights, sneaking kisses. Both of us stand only 5 feet tall and weigh under a hundred pounds. We always get a lot of attention when we go out and we know it. I think it’s one thing we like about our relationship, maybe even more than each other.
Felica pops another cracker into her mouth and takes a swig of wine. We are both half-drunk in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Our kids are out on visits with their respective fathers, so we are alone.
Most Saturdays this summer it’s been like this, a light lunch, a pleasant trip to the bedroom, and a kiss on the cheek as she leaves with promises of love forever. I think we both know better but we are bored and bisexual with nothing better to do than each other.
“I can’t believe anyone could think that is sexy,” she muses, chewing. Her brow furrows. “He is degrading her, for God’s sake.” She’s seen the movie 9 1/2 weeks and has been talking about it nonstop ever since. I shrug, and swig more wine.
“I don’t know Felica. People are different. Maybe what you see as ‘degrading,’ someone else sees differently.” I’m holding back, being agreeable, hoping the subject will miraculously change. I’m too drunk to be talking about this. My mouth always gets me in trouble, doubly so when I’ve been putting wine into it.
“Differently?” She sputters, spitting cracker across the table. “Differently?” She levels her gaze at me.
“Could you tell me how anyone could see him ordering her around as different from degrading?” The sarcasm drips.
“What was he going to do with that whip, anyway? Beat her up?” She shakes her head vigorously.
“Context, Felica.” I try to keep my voice from shaking. “Context.”
I stand up and face away from her, doing busy work at the sink so my face doesn’t give me away. I’ve seen 9 1/2 weeks too, and while I see it as a cautionary tale of “too much, too fast,” I don’t necessarily agree with her wholesale hatred of the film.
“Well, you let some guy come at me like that and I’ll be handing him back his balls.” She stands up, and shakes herself off, like a puppy who is overstimulated.
She wrinkles her nose. “Can you even imagine some.. some.. asshole HITTING you?”
A memory washes over me.
Flashbulb. Snapshot. Caleb. Standing at the end of my bed with black eyes bearing down at me, snaking his belt out of his pants, with a sideways grin that lands somewhere between naughty boy and serial killer.
I pull my mind back into the room. “Damn it, Felica. It’s not that simple. You always over simplify everything.” I’m getting worked up, too worked up.
I walk back to the table. “Sit down and eat. We haven’t even finished lunch yet. Enough of this, okay? It’s just a movie. No real women were harmed during the filming.” I try to muster a reasonably jolly laugh. I probably fail.
“Well, it may be ‘just a movie’ to you, but it pisses me off. It is totally degrading. Real men do that shit. I’ve heard about it. They dress all up in leather and beat on women with whips and..”
I stop her. “Whoa, Felica. Nope. Stop. What you are talking about now? Dress all up in leather? Where the hell did you get that?” The Internet is still in its infancy, with Google barely a pipe dream in the minds of Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
“I SAW it. Okay?” Felica sneers. “In a magazine.” She pokes her fork into the air for emphasis.
“They did a whole article on this stupid ‘subculture’ thing with pictures and everything. I do TOO know what I’m talking about,” she insists.
She is still eating, but getting more and more angry. With me, with men in general, with Mickey Rourke, I can’t exactly tell.
“I’m telling you, Chelle, they do it. And the article said the men sneak around and hide it from their wives and go to these places to find women who will let them do it. What kind of woman could do something like that? How sick and fucked up do you have to be to…”
“FUCKED UP?” I choke on the wine in my mouth. “Felica, goddamn. That’s harsh. Fucked up? How do you know they are ‘fucked up?’”
My face is turning red. My skin gives me away every time. I can’t feel any strong emotion without it writing itself across my face in crimson. “Give it a break, Lis. I mean, look at us? How many people would say WE are ‘fucked up?’”
“Two women making love is beautiful. BEATING IS NOT BEAUTIFUL!” Her voice rises into a higher pitch. She looks like an enraged pixie with a cloud of black hair.
Flashbulb. Snapshot. Caleb. Swaying. Standing behind me, holding me up, massaging my wrists and kissing my neck, my lower back burning with fire.
“Beautiful,” he whispers. “You are so beautiful.”
I grab both plates, ripping hers away from her side with too much force, spilling food on the table. “Felica, please! Enough! I mean it. Stop being so goddamn judgmental. JUST STOP!”
My mind whirls around the words “fucked up, degrading, sick.” I’ve had it. We are at a crossroads. I can feel it.
She snarls at me. “What? Do you know something I don’t? That jackass you were seeing back last winter? What was his name? Caleb? Is that why you stopped fucking him? Was he trying to beat you up or…”
I throw the plates in the sink and hear glass break. “Caleb and I…” I try to speak.
“Caleb was..” I glance down, struggling.
I can’t even get the words out. Caleb was. Caleb was my everything. My heart has been shattered since he left me and here is my lover, my friend, digging the shards in deeper, drawing blood.
“Felica, Caleb never beat me up.” I look to the ceiling, searching for words. “We had an intense relationship. And…” I’m trying for vague, looking for words that say things, without saying anything.
“OH MY GOD.” She eyeballs me. “You aren’t saying this. Tell me you aren’t saying this!” Her eyes widen into full moons.
“You aren’t like that,” she yells. “You CAN’T be like that. Only sickos, you know? Drug addicts or somebody sick in the head would let some fucking asshole hit them. How does a woman even GET like that? I mean, really? Her Dad or something? How fucked up do you have to be?”
I can’t hear her anymore.
Flashbulb. Snapshot. My twenty-first birthday at a dance club in Charlotte. I’m young and drunk, dancing like a maniac when I fall into a random cute guy’s lap. He grabs me by the arms, laughing, yanking upward hard trying to help keep me upright. I sigh and snuggle back against him, involuntarily. “Oh,” he whispers into my hair, “You like it a little rough, huh?”
Flashbulb. Snapshot. I’m 25, just starting my first classes in college, trying hard to project way more confidence than I actually feel. Memories swirl in my mind of the smoking mecca, as we called it. Positioned outside the Liberal Arts building were a circle of tables where students could hang out and smoke cigarettes between classes.
I’m standing outside the circle, leaning against the building wall smoking when he saunters up and props himself against the wall with one stiff arm, blocking my path out and leans into me. “Hey, pretty girl.” He takes my cigarette from me and takes a long draw. “I saw you,” he says, casually blowing out the smoke. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
Sam. My Mickey Rourke. My own personal 9 1/2 weeks.
Flashbulb. Snapshot. Caleb After several weeks of forcing distance between ourselves this past fall, we began a torrential affair despite the horrific complications. He was so tense, holding back, his hand shaking as he ran it down my exposed flank. I thought it was nerves.
As the kissing became more heated, his eyes went dark and his hand found my hair, pulling. A sharp intake of air from me startled him, and he jerked back so hard he almost fell off the bed. “Oh damn. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to..”
I laughed, nervously. “Hey, it’s cool. It’s cool.” I reached back for him.
“It didn’t hurt.” I’m lying. It did.
He looks down. “My hand just got tangled. I’m really sorry.” Looking back up at me, our eyes locked, some ancient message passing.
He called me last week, out of the blue. I haven’t told Felica, holding that brief, tentative conversation close like a newborn baby.
“How are you?” he asked softly.
“Okay, I guess,” I said, the tears falling, as I angled the phone away from me so he couldn’t hear me cry. “Just working some.”
I don’t know what to say to him. “Please come back. Why did you leave me? I can’t breathe without you.” I settle for “How’s work been?”
He breathes. “Okay.” A sigh. “Look, I’ll call you. Okay? Soon. I will.” He hangs up.
I have no idea what just happened, but the sound of his voice has ripped a hole in my heart like a cavern, again.
I realize Felica is looking at me, hard. “You’ve talked to him, haven’t you?” A pause. She fairly screeches, “YOU HAVE!”
I’m drunk. I’m tired. I’m tired of secrets, tired of this conversation, tired of Felica.
“He called me, just to check in. It was no big deal.” I turn away, so I can catch my breath and stop the tears before they rise. It was a very big deal, but that isn’t hers to know.
“Well, if you are going behind my back to get together with that.. asshole!” she spits at me.
I turn back to her, enraged. “He’s not an asshole! Caleb didn’t want to leave me Felica! He..”
I slam my hand on the table. “He had to, okay?” I heave a sigh. “It’s all fucked up.”
“Fine.” She picks up her coat. “Perfectly. Fine. Talk to him all you want. Fuck him when I leave here for all I care. He’s all you ever wanted anyway. Everyone knows that.” She moves towards the door.
“ESPECIALLY ME!” she screams back at me.
I want to argue with her, convince her she is wrong. But, she isn’t.
The door slams. I never see Felica again.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]