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An odd comfort 

And the smells of home

The next-to-the-last time I saw Dennis, he was saving me from a cluster-fuck -- and I mean that literally.

I was in San Francisco, not to visit Dennis but my other friend Joanie, who had a guy she wanted me to meet. My then-boyfriend had just dumped me like a load of toxic waste -- I mean he ugly dumped me. I came home one day, and taped up all over our dining room walls were lists titled "Five-Year Goals," "10-Year Goals," etc.

And I had to go and ask where I fit on his lists. I seriously think I could have kept that truth at bay for a while, probably for goddamn decades. But I guess it wasn't in me, that capacity for falsehood. I had to go and ask him, and he had to go and tell me.

So that Thanksgiving -- I mean that very weekend -- he moved me out of our apartment. I like to think it wouldn't have been so hard if he hadn't been so happy throughout, but the truth is it would have been hard nonetheless. It made for a bad Thanksgiving, me alone eating mushroom gravy out of the can and watching Dennis Miller's talk show back before they stupidly pulled it from network television. But hell, at least I had the odd comfort of my ex-boyfriend, who would call occasionally to say he'd forgiven himself for how he'd treated me.

During this time, Joanie lost all her worldly possessions in a wildfire, and was living in a furnished apartment outside San Francisco until she could recoup. I went there thinking I could help her cope, because I think it's times like this that your friends serve as emotional oxygen to your breathless heart, and you must pass from one to the other, borrowing air until you can breathe on your own again.

But once I arrived, Joanie didn't turn to me for comfort. No. She took comfort in a most odd way. First, that man she wanted me to meet? It was her boyfriend's best friend, but by the time I'd arrived, she'd developed a crush on him herself. "Joanie, whichever one you decide you want, I'll distract the other, OK?" I told her, not fathoming she'd decide not to decide, and end up in bed with both.

I swear, it's not easy pretending you're asleep on the couch when three people are fucking on the floor right beside you. By morning, they'd mercifully moved to the bedroom and, left to wander her apartment on my own, I tried to drown out the howlings coming from Joanie's bedroom by making long-distance calls on her phone.

"Just join in," Lary suggested. "That's what I'd do."

"Retard," I said, "I would rather rip out my kidneys with a crowbar."

But Lary could only comfort me for so long before he had to go grade a door down with an industrial sander or something, so soon I was alone again, and utterly miserable. Seriously, there's nothing sadder -- nothing that'll make you more certain you're wasting your life -- than spending the day in a strange apartment in a strange city waiting for your friend to finish getting fucked by strange men.

Eventually I ran out of numbers to call and chose, simply, to leave quietly -- and for good. Joanie's apartment was serviced by an exterior security gate -- and once past that, there was no turning back. Plus, my coat was locked in her car, and I had to abandon it to walk, freezing, to the car-parts store on the corner.

It was there I called Dennis. It had been three years since I'd last seen him in San Diego, where he served as an intern at the magazine where I worked as a tortured copy editor. But still he pulled up to the curb 15 minutes later, where I was waiting by the phone booth clutching a plastic sack.

"What's in the bag?" he asked.

"A headlight," I said. He didn't even ask why I bought a headlight in California when my car was in Georgia.

He took me to a coffeehouse, and there I poured forth. "You'd think the man you loved would include you in his five-year plan, or even his 10-year plan," I blubbered, recounting my most recent Eiffel-Tower-in-the-ass moment. I'd been having them a lot lately, doleful reminders that the world was not my personal balloon on a string after all. "You'd think I'd fucking fit somewhere."

Dennis just let me leak until I didn't have any air left, then he took me to his family home to sleep in his sister's bedroom. What I remember most about his childhood home is the counter spaces. They were cluttered with wondrous things it must have taken decades to collect, and I loved the way his house smelled, like heavily peppered vegetables.

I don't know how Dennis explained to his family why his college friend showed up coatless on a cold winter day to spend the night, but I think it says a lot for them that they let me stay as long as I wanted, sitting there at their dining table, taking an odd comfort in the commingling of aromas that made up their family. They let me borrow their air until I could breathe on my own again, and for that I will always be grateful.

hollis.gillespie@creativeloafing.com

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