I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

2. Bad Boyfriend

Even more satisfying than telling my mother I would no longer be hanging around as her overgrown loser baby, even more thrilling than handing in my notice at Fluffernutter, was breaking up with Bex. Actually I can’t technically “break up” with Bex because he always insists we’re not boyfriend and girlfriend. True, neither of us dates anyone else, but on the other hand, there’s really nobody around to date, and neither of us hard working grunts ever had the time. Plus Bex has sort of a temper, which is why I’ve learned not to cross him. But it is annoying that I don’t ever get to win an argument just because I’m not willing to yell as loud.

Bex and I actually met at my high school graduation. If he wasn’t really the brother of a cousin of a friend’s friend’s sister, (I checked) I’d have suspected he cruises high school graduations looking for pathetic graduettes whose futures just derailed. On the surface he seems really attractive because he has a job and a motorcycle and he’s quite handsome, but after our “dates” degenerated into TV with his squalid, brain-dead roommates or videogames at his sordid biker bar (Dutch treat – naturally) I was definitely looking to get out. But since we weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend it was somehow never possible. You see my problem. What guy can you date anyway when you’re always working weekends? Weekends are prime mall crawling and princess paraphernalia-buying hours.

Bex treated any change I attempted to negotiate in our relationship as a personal insult, or an attempt to shackle. Sick of listening to lectures about what a free bird he is and how no girl is ever going to game him out of his independence I took the exhausted road of least resistance. Whenever I shared my dreams with him or I tried to tell him how determined I was to go to college someday he acted as if he was as high as I could possibly rise. College is a ripoff. Not for such as us.

When I invited him out for coffee at the mall – I figured it would go easier in public – his answer was, “You’re buying.”

I agreed that I was.

I didn’t beat around the bush. As soon as we sat down with our self- service mugs, I told him, “I got into college!”

His face refused to catch fire from my delight. It’s a dark, swarthy face, and if anything, he looked darker.

“Oh really,” he said, eyes narrowing as if I this was some elaborate con. “Where?”

“Cadensis. It’s a really small school but it has a great reputation. I got a two year scholarship.”
I deliberately brought no packet materials. Not so much as a brochure for him to desecrate. I realized uneasily just how certain I had been that he’d “act up”. Wreck something, break something, spatter something. Make a scene. I sure didn’t want him to find out about the “out of body” research I’d signed up for – I’d never hear the end of that. But I was totally unprepared for what he actually did. He slammed his cup down on the table so hard coffee flew everywhere. I had to grab that little metal napkin holder and start shoveling out the miniscule slips that they call napkins.

“That’s bogus!” he said, so loudly everyone in the place turned to stare.

I was embarrassed, but I was also congratulating myself for having the foresight to tell him this in public. He’s never gotten physical – he’s already got a police record – but he really doesn’t like hearing things he doesn’t like to hear.

“It’s real,” I said uncomfortably but faking it. “I’m leaving next week.” I had worked up to the final moment and there hadn’t seemed any reason to tell him before I quit my job.

He looked at me like I was a liar/betrayer/snake-woman from one of his video games.

“How long have you been planning this?”

“Not long,” I said. Outright lie! Wish I was better at it. But I do have this blushing problem…thank God for hard-shell geisha makeup. “I was on the waiting list. I just found out.” The trouble with these scary dudes is they make you lie to them. Anything is easier than arguing with him.

“Do you know what you’re letting yourself in for?” He pulled at the sprouting whiskers on his grimy chin. “Don’t sign anything. They’ll make sure you’re broke for life. They come after you. You can’t get out of college loans through bankruptcy, you know.”

“It’s a full scholarship,” I tried explaining. “Housing, books, food. I even get a small stipend.” I emphasized the “small” so he wouldn’t think I was too lucky. I knew he wouldn’t understand the word “stipend” but sometimes you can’t avoid using words people don’t understand just
because they think you’re stigmatizing. So look it up! Get smart! Vocabularies don’t get smaller because you won’t learn them. People who refuse to learn new words deserve having fun made of them.

What could I say to help him to get the message – start trolling for somebody else? His contorted face did relax a bit at the mention of money. Gold is gold in Bex’s world.
“You get an apartment?”

OMG! Saw it in a flash. Out of sheer self defense I’ve learned to read his mind. He’s thinking of coming with!

“I’m in the freshman dorm,” I disabused him. “With a roommate. But what a great opportunity, huh? I get two whole years before I even have to declare a major so I can experiment…take classes in all departments…” My voice died away. Like he was interested! “Find out what I really want to do.”
He seemed somewhat appeased. “They have a nursing school?”

I tried so hard not to roll my eyes. Bex hates when I do that. Bex is very dismissive of any possibility of future employment in the arts, even fashion. Whereas – I’ve heard this interminably, nursing is an expanding field. Bex’s mom is a practical nurse.

According to the both of them, it’s a government plot that we’re all getting sicker and sicker. You know, poisoned water, poisoned air, poisoned food, yada, yada, yada.
“They do NOT have a nursing school,” I emphasized.“That’s too bad,” said Bex. “Because nursing is an expanding field.

So what are you gonna do?”

He just wanted me to say anything so he could find fault with it. I wasn’t falling into that trap. I only wished I had the nerve to stand up and tell him we had never had anything in common and he’d be happier without me, but if I injected any negatives into this conversation he would just take it as a license to escalate like crazy. I said, “It’s my best shot and I’m going to take it. If it doesn’t work –“ I shrugged my shoulders.

He fired up like I’d insulted him! “You think I’ll be waiting here for you?” he asked angrily.
“No, no, no,” I hastened to clarify. Trying to keep my poker face. How desperate could I have been to waste a year on this guy? “I understand we’re not like a couple. You’re always saying – so –“
“Oh, so now it’s my fault,” he said, pouring some of my coffee in his mug. Not for its missile properties, I had to hope.

“I’m going by what you said,” I insisted. “We both agreed. We left each other completely free.”
“And you’re really looking forward to all those college boys, those jocks, right? “ he sneered. “Is that it? Well, thanks for nothing!” And he went right ahead and slammed his newly filled mug on the table spilling all that coffee. And he got up and stormed out.

“Well, that went well,” I said to all the startled faces watching me mop up. Actually I was kind of relieved. I had been afraid the next fight would be over not seeing him for the week I was trying to get ready to depart. Moral of this story is, never celebrate too soon. Jazz, the jinx.
He was outside waiting for me. Heart plummeted as I expected the worst.

“Ride home?” He asked mildly. Tall guy. He always liked looking down on me. Even when I wore my highest heels I could never reach his height.

“I’ve got Mom’s car,” I said stiffly.

“Sorry I got upset in there.” He kept pace with me to the car. “You know I hate surprises.”
“Some things happen fast,” I said. “I’m sorry you’re angry.”

“Let’s just get things squared away so we know where we stand,” he said. “Let me take you out one more time. Dinner. At like the Olive Garden.”

“What if it’s like coffee was today? You don’t like rules and I don’t like yelling. Let’s just part as friends, OK?”

“I don’t get why you keep trying to make this my fault –“ stormed Bex, but when I got into the car he slammed his hand so hard on the hood I was afraid he made a dent. As I drove away he was yelling, “Talk to me, dammit!”

He called and emailed me so many times that week. He even sent flowers which was an absolute first. I did try talking to him but there was nothing to accomplish. I considered us broken up, and he treated me like a dog who had gotten loose. For some weird reason, he seemed to interpret my departure as some kind of personal challenge. He just wouldn’t agree to disagree.

But I had so much to do. I had a life to plan.

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