Fall, 1990. Eve left Fairbanks for Seattle and I left Kenai for Portland. Both of us were excited about going to art school in the big city, and looking forward to getting together as often as we could to compare notes.
It was exciting, but also there was culture shock. For starters, we couldn’t believe that it was dark by 9 PM – in August. A few months later we would agree that it was just wrong to have so much green in the winter, and what with rain instead of snow, it seemed even darker and more depressing than our homes in Alaska. Very unnatural.
And when it did snow – like twice – it didn’t stick around to make everything look pretty. It turned to freezing rain and covered everything like a glazed doughnut. It paralyzed the whole city. Nobody knew what to do, or especially how to drive. A couple of snowflakes and everyone turned into quivering ninnies. What kind of place was this?
But the people. So many types of people doing so many types of unexpected things (what the hell is a barista?!) and speaking and behaving in inexplicable ways. Everyone seemed to be in the know about all kinds of important topics and so full of urgent commentary about them. We were both a little unprepared for this. The difference was, while I was eager to become one of those people, Eve was mostly just annoyed.
Eve had won this full ride scholarship to Cornish, but she didn’t seem to be reaping any glory from it. On the other hand, I was basking in the notoriety of this dinky little portfolio scholarship I had gotten right at the beginning of the year. There was a show of my work in the student gallery, and I was at the opening in my coolest duds (tattered lab coat with paint all over it, Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, torn jeans tucked into vintage German motorcycle boots), and sporting some pretty well developed dreadlocks just so that there would be no mistake: there was a new artist in town.
Wendy Vanwik liked the cut of my jib, and she sidled right up.
Bitchin’ drawings man, she said nonchalantly. She was short, with an unruly mop of hair, cute as hell with a leather jacket and a sly look in her eye. I knew there was some kind of fun trouble up ahead.
Wendy and I were instant buds. In addition to her other fine attributes, she had a foul mouth and a penchant for cheap beer that appealed to me. She liked my artistic skills and especially my arrogance about them, and we both had caustic senses of humor that we shared liberally and loudly wherever we went. We had a riot skipping class to go bombing around town in her ‘65 Mustang listening to rap (no car stereo, just a boombox in the back seat that I was in charge of). She was a Portland native and seemed to know everyone in town, and everyone in town loved her.
Then there were the phone conversations with Eve. I told her about the great shows I was going to and the cool friends I was making. She told me she wasn’t into the music scene and the people were aloof and insincere. I empathized, and tried to console her. She was having a hard time, and it looked like I was her only friend. That was quite a bit of pressure.
Meanwhile Wendy had sort of grafted herself to me. Even though she was the one with the wheels, she lived with her mom way out in Southwest, and all the action was closer in. She started sleeping over a lot, so of course we fooled around. It wasn’t like serious fooling around. I mean, we were not doing it. It wasn’t like I was cheating on Eve, really. Just having a good time.
On the other hand, I had to admit I was pretty crushed out on this chick. She was the opposite of all the things that had been bumming me out about Eve for a while now, and especially recently. And she was right here. Eve was far away and neither of us planned to move. So one night Wendy and I went for it.
It was not a planned thing, so we had to interrupt the action to look for a condom, or actually, to ask her friend for one (that night we were having an away-sleepover at her friend’s apartment), which she fortunately had. But condoms, as you know, are manufactured at the Vatican to be almost impossible to tear open, and then once we did get it open, it turned out to be on the small side. Plus it was red – distracting – so by that time Mini-Me had clocked out for the evening. I had probably had one too many Rainier Pounders anyway. The whole thing was a flop, basically.
Nevertheless, the next morning and in subsequent days I was engulfed in a suffocating vortex of guilt and self-loathing. You see, in addition to being a slaphappy rogue, I also had a very Puritan side. That side would remain completely hidden and forgotten about, and then pop out at random to flog me over some moral infraction I’d committed. Usually it just made me moody for a bit — actually a desirable quality for an artist (some try to fake this disposition, and that just makes us all look bad). This time I had really sinned, though. I’d done the unforgivable. So of course I called Eve up to confess.
I wept profusely as I related the despicable thing I’d done, how I’d sullied the pure and sacred bond we’d shared. She listened as the remorse gushed out. Surely this damage could not be undone. Surely there was no going back. I waited for her to let me have my punishment, to tell me we were finished. Over and done. Now go to hell, worm!
But she did not.
She wasn’t exactly happy about it, but she didn’t break up with me either, and that was… unexpected. Rather than incurring her wrath and a quick end to our stalled relationship, I incurred her disappointment, with just a dollop of scorn here and there. I got off the phone feeling confused, and even more in limbo. Nothing was resolved.
What we needed to do was just officially break up, but I didn’t want to be the one to say it; I figured cheating on her had done the deed for me. Cowardly, I know. She could give me the thrashing I deserved (my inner Puritan told me), but I wouldn’t have to be the double bad guy by saying, Anyway we’re broken up now, so good luck and toodle-oo.
But no sooner did the phone go “click” than my inner rogue popped up, patted me on the shoulder and said, Good enough though, eh, mon ami? Come, come! Sweet Wendy awaits!
That’s right, I agreed. Screw it. I am now unfettered and free to cavort with sweet Wendy to my heart’s content. Besides, Mini-Me is demanding a do-over.
Strangely enough though, when I announced the happy news that I was a free agent, Wendy just said, Cool man, and that was it. I pressed the issue, but she didn’t have much more to say than, That’s cool. Weird, I thought, A woman that doesn’t want to “talk about it”. But yeah, whatever, that’s cool. Her and me are solid. It’s cool.
In fact, things changed abruptly. We still hung out, had beers and talked trash, but the sleepovers stopped. There was no more park bench canoodling. No more sweet talk. No more references to “us”. At one of the nightly parties at the Hell Cows house one night I espied her and Donny Murray in a fierce lip-lock over in the corner. Among our classmates at PNCA it was generally agreed that Donny Murray was a top-tier scumbag — like Smeagol but with less integrity or personal hygiene — so this was beyond shocking. What was my girl, my Wendy, doing sucking face with that walking stack of fecal matter? My mind reeled. I searched for my inner slaphappy rogue; surely he would know what to do. But he was nowhere to be found. I saw the Puritan, though. He was by the door, smirking at me nefariously.
I did not confront Wendy, or even see her apart from now and then at school after that. I went into a deep, soggy funk that lasted for months, coinciding perfectly with the shittiest part of Portland’s shitty winter. I haunted the coffee shop near school, sucking down gallons of joe and writing furiously in my journal. Day after day I filled sketchbooks of quality drawing paper, not with drawings but with angst-ridden ramblings about my sorry state. I was alone, a wretch, the victim of a diabolical twist of fate — a fate that I myself had written. Where had I gone wrong? I was a fool, I knew that. A weakling. To think that through my own hubris I had been duped by that chimera, Wendy, into believing I had found something more real, and I could just flick Eve into the dustbin without a care. Eve… Oh, Eve. What have I done?
Pages and pages of this shit. Volumes of it. Other patrons of the coffee shop must have noticed me and thought, Man that dude is a fuckin’ artist! Look at him go!
Things improved a bit when the weather got better. The Puritan took a break from flogging me and only showed up occasionally to remind me I was unworthy. But Wendy and I became art school-slash-drinking buddies again, and it was like our fling had never happened.
Eve and I resumed contact from time to time over the next couple of years. She started to toughen up and be more outgoing, something Seattle, and to some extent that tough chick Wendy had taught her she needed to do. She embraced her rugged Alaska woman persona. She drove around Seattle in a ’73 Land Cruiser. She took up bodybuilding. I was proud of her, and I admired her from afar.
For my part, I spent most of art school unhappily single. I chased after this girl or obsessed over that one, but the rogue was gone for good, it looked like, and he had taken my mojo with him. I no longer had the cool confidence to seal the deal with the girls I liked. There were girls who were clearly into me, but they had no Eve factors, so I had no interest. Eve had become monumental in my mind, and it was impossible for them to measure up.
The real Eve was still not that far away, and we visited each other occasionally. We would commiserate on the lack of action in our respective love lives, and make furtive references to sex. But Eve had changed her name back to Evelyn, so Eve wasn’t even Eve any more, and I made no attempt to rekindle the flame.
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