There was a banging at the door as Brian* flushed the toilet. I was sitting on the couch of his mother’s townhouse, where he lived with her and his half-brother. Brian emerged from the bathroom and opened the front door to reveal a mangy-looking man walking away from the stoop. “I’m calling the police!” Brian’s mother yelled from upstairs.Brian saw the man eyeing my mother’s BMW convertible I drove sometimes. “The cops are coming, motherf–ker!” Brian raged. He said he was going to get his knife from his bedroom. Brian’s mother convinced him to stay calm, but he continued threatening the man from the door. “This is supposed to be a safe neighborhood!” his mother yelled at no one in particular. I faked sympathy. My neighborhood, just one town over, looks like Wisteria Lane. The only reason anyone comes to the door is to attend a barbecue or borrow a lawnmower. I felt utterly removed from my surroundings. I was just worried about the car—these things don’t really happen, I thought. But to Brian and his mother’s reality, a man (who turned out to be a neighbor) that bangs on your door and loiters on your driveway deserves a visit by the police.
Although Brian was six months younger than me, he seemed lifetimes older. I had just graduated from NYU and while I studied writing and history, Brian finished up vocational high school. When I explored New York’s nightlife with an array of intellectuals, Brian became a Marine and fought in Iraq. Brian knew how to drive a car very fast, and he knew how to repair one if it broke down. He knew how to kill someone, and did so to defend his life.
He also knew how to kiss well.
Which he did, the first time we met. He sidled up to me in a South Jersey bar and said hi. I felt instant attraction, and he had all the correct characteristics for me: brown hair, brown eyes, an eager smile and a crisp white shirt. The jungle of indistinguishable tattoos on his forearms? Surprisingly hot. When he found out I didn’t smoke, he refused to do so in my presence. We talked the typical talk one does when being picked up in a bar, which led to making out against his beige pick-up truck. We all know the connotations of his automobile, and his lack of a college education didn’t help dispel the stereotype he seemed to be embodying. Our kissing lacked the excess saliva and teeth-clicking that comes with kissing someone new, though. He pulled me closer by my long, beaded necklace. It snapped.
It might be because he called me beautiful, or maybe because he texted me just to say “Hey there,” but I continued to date Brian. I enjoyed our outings. I didn’t have to talk about the intricacies of looking for a job in journalism. It was summer and we drank $5 Coronas on the patio of a neighborhood bar. I didn’t have to impress him with political discourse — he was astounded that I got my Bachelor’s degree in “only four years.” He didn’t press me for sex, and I didn’t ask about his refusal to give me his number of partners. He was a good hugger and held me as long as I wanted.
For a month, I was happy with someone who required only my loyalty and affection. For all four weeks, though, the feeling that I was embarking on an anthropological expedition nagged me. I was Jane Goodall, studying the habits of the have-nots. I infiltrated their homes and haunts while fraternizing with one of their own. My feelings were genuine, but conditional. I found my limit when Brian drunkenly revealed that he used cocaine in high school and committed a plethora of crimes, only a few of which he went to prison for. He was comfortable telling me about only a few, too — DUI’s, stealing cars and robbing houses.
I wanted to be open-minded. I wanted to give him more chances. Why couldn’t I have been proud that he overcame his demons, defended our country and held open doors for women? Was I shallow? I was too cowardly to hurt him, but I knew the relationship couldn’t grow. I couldn’t get past our polar differences.
As it often happens, though, I didn’t have to make any choices. After he was kicked out of his house for a reason never articulated to me, he went to his ex-girlfriend’s. They’re getting back together. I miss Brian. I miss the smell of Axe and freshly laundered shirts. I miss our habit of kissing at red lights and the sound of his gasp when I kissed his neck. But it’s only right he be with her — she is the mother of his son, after all.
*Name has been changed.