Once I had a boyfriend, and when he got into my car for the first time he said, “Oh, it’s dirty.” I could tell he was concerned, because it was not just cluttered — it was strange messy. I looked around and tried to imagine what I would think of the owner of a car like that if it wasn’t mine. I moved things out of the passenger seat — shoes, rackets, books, orange rinds, glasses of dried smoothie — but then I thought there was no use in pretending. “It’s just like this normally,” I said. “It just is.” It was a time when I was too worn out to lead anyone on. “Hey, you know I ride a bike,” Sean said.
He said sometimes people flipped him off while he was riding, or threw drive-thru drinks at him from their car for no reason. I told him the glass in the driver’s side window of the Corolla slipped into the door well on occasion, and when it rained I sometimes got wet. “Still, it’s a car,” he said. “Yeah, I know.” I said. I shrugged. I shifted. “It’s a good car.”
And I liked picking him up in it. I found messages on my phone in his oddly calm voice that said, “I’d like to see you, dude.” So I drove to his apartment and cleaned a place for him on the passenger seat. He would walk down the steps with his receding blond hair line, dressed in board shorts and a hooded sweatshirt, and kiss me. It was so strange for someone to be that close and I always balked a little. Then I drove. It didn’t matter where.
Sean was a fan of John Fante. He liked outsiders, loaners, the flawed. He said he struggled every day, and he could relate to those kinds of characters. He had dimples. “You know, this is going to end badly,” he said about us. “I know,” I said.
Then summer changed to fall. We sat on his porch and listened to CDs on a cloudless day. We ran out of beer. “Wanna take my car?” I asked and handed him my keys. “This one goes to the door, and this one goes to the engine.”
He had been talking about leaving Portland that afternoon. He felt a sense of impending doom, and he didn’t know if he could handle the rain again in the coming winter. Maybe he would leave the state, he said, but he didn’t know where to go, or if moving somewhere new could even make him feel differently anymore. Then I gave him my car to go to the grocery store.
I sat on the threshold that separated his apartment from the outside. I got up and changed the CD. I sat back down and waited for him. It was taking a while.
“You know a part of me would really respect him if he just never came back with the car,” I said to his neighbor, who was also outside drinking. “I’d be pissed, but it would be a great way to end things. What am I going to do, like, call the police on Sean for taking a car with a $1,000 Blue Book value?”
I imagined him driving to Mexico. He surfed, so maybe it would be easier to be happy there. Less of a struggle. The water would be warmer anyway. “He’ll be back,” his neighbor said. I looked behind me, and there was nothing in his studio but a used futon, stereo, and the gray 10-speed. The CDs were from the library. He didn’t have to come back. I thought maybe, seriously, he shouldn’t come back.
But he did. He parked my car into his empty parking place. He got out and put his hands over his head with a paper bag of alcohol and food, like he was a prophet bringing us the word of God. I could see his stomach. I might have loved him a little. “That is one sweet ride,” he said, and I tried to act like he wasn’t being sarcastic, and that I always expected his return, the keys, and a kiss. • 14 January 2008