TWO TO TANGO

I had a stalker for a summer and I encouraged it.

I met her at a show where I was reading amplified confessions, came sweaty off stage and she grabbed my arm and held it hard like she was trying to restrain me. She had jet black hair, pale skin, looked like Betty Page in all red and black with knee high boots and burgundy bra straps. Her stare was unnerving, like a laser that would drift occasionally to some place past your eyes.

Later I found out someone had hit her with a stick in the head when she was a kid and knocked an eye loose. It gave her a lazy eye that would drift but there was an intensity to her face, a sharp nose, eyes that felt like trying to play chicken with the sun.

She says, “My name’s Syd and I’ll give you a choice. You can either finish my drink or come home with me.”

I didn’t drink red wine yet, so the choice was easy. I’m 23 years old, just escaped my small town by living homeless from my backpack, hopping from bed to bed like a checker-board across the Bay Area. No girlfriend, no job, just a notebook and a tongue that keeps talking me into trouble.

She tells me she’s a kick-boxer photographer and she’s been looking for a sparring partner. I say I don’t know how to fight anything but dirty.

She takes me home to her parent’s house high in the hills past a locked gate. It was in a neighborhood I never knew anyone who was rich enough to afford. Her parents were in Tokyo for the summer, and her dad’s liquor cabinet had bottles I couldn’t even pronounce. She makes me a steak, asks if I like it bloody.

She shows me her photographs of her blindfolded in front of a mirror and says this is how she sees herself.

A week later she buys me champagne every night. We toss the empty bottles out the third story into the pool. Two weeks later, she takes photographs of me breaking her mirror with my fist wrapped with a belt. She lays me down on the shards and kisses me until my lips bruise.

Three weeks later she shows up with her arm bandaged. She got the same scorpion tattoo as me, said it was easy to sketch from memory. She holds our arms next to each other and says see?

Now we’re a reflection of each other.

I can tell she’s obsessed with me, but I love the power of it, I love that this girl who’s six years older buys me food I’ve never heard of, know that her king size bed beats the couches and floors I was courting.

Our first time at a party, my best friend takes me aside and says there’s something not right with this girl, it’s not right about the questions she asks about you, like which girl you think he’s loved the most and where do you see him in five years from now. My best friend says his spidey sense tells me she’s bad news. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?

Of course not! What’s the fun in that? I’m fine. She’s just a little extra. It was like being in a magnifying glass, to feel the heat of their obsession when you can’t tell if it’s a spotlight or headlights barreling at you.

That night she punches a girl for looking at me too long. We have to escape from five guys by jumping a fence, we leap in her car and the door gets ripped open long enough for a frat boy to smash his fist in my face. My nose bleeds for an hour into food wrappers I find on the floor of her car. She drives me back to the estate, has me hold an ice cold champagne bottle to my nose. I ruin every paper towel in the house.

She asks if I love her. She has a wine glass in her fist and her eyes are sharpened slits. I realize how alone I am up in the hills, how no one knows this address.

I say I think we’re taking things too fast here. We have to slow down.

She throws the champagne bottle through the sliding glass door, I tell her we have to take a break. I want to walk into the dark but we’re miles away from anywhere I know. I drink champagne until I pass out. When I wake up, there’s blood all over the sheets. I think it’s from my nose until I see she’s carved the first letter of my name in her other arm.

Syd says we can’t go back now.

She says anyone can learn to love anyone, it just takes time.

She says mine is running out.

‘I know you love me, just say it.’

I tell her the blood in my throat makes it hard to answer.

When she drops me at a train station I already know I won’t call her back.

I was playing a game and for the first time knew I didn’t know the rules anymore.

Two months later, I’m dating a librarian. I break up with her because books and green tea doesn’t light my spark the same way. I look at my tattoo and miss my dark doppleganger. I miss blood in a champagne glass.

The next night it’s my birthday party at a bar. An hour before closing time, Syd walks in, all in black. She says she was just in the neighborhood, didn’t know I’d be here. Says the therapy has been going well. I ask around, hear she’s been calling my friends finding out the when and where of tonight. The bartender is telling everyone they have to leave.

Syd says can’t I just give you a ride home for old times sake?

My best friend takes me aside and says, she’s nothing but poison man.

I finish my shot and say, isn’t that we’re buying?

She’s still staring at me, and I feel that itch for something, for bruised lips on mirror shards.

Syd says look, I’ll just give you a ride to Bart. Nothing more than that.

I say nothing more than that. A ten minute ride at most.

Ten minutes she says, nothing more than that.

My friend shakes his head, tells me to call in a half hour.

She walks me to the car and soon as I strap on my seatbelt and she hits the gas I realize I’ve made a mistake. The doors lock, and she starts driving at 45mph down a 25mph street. She’s speaking in a cold clipped voice that slurs at the end of each sentence about how anybody can learn to love someone, that it just takes time, that if she had more time, I could see it her way. She’s not looking at the road, only at me.

I tell her to slow down. We hit a speed bump so hard my head smashes against the ceiling. She’s yelling that I know nothing about love but all I hear is the gas revving, horns blaring. I realize that I’m gonna have to jump out of a moving car and start rewinding every action movie I’ve seen to remember how to roll right once you hit the ground. I hear the sound of her hitting the child lock. She says that she just needs to hear I love her. I realize if I grab the wheel we’re going to crash no matter what. There’s no openings on either side of the tight street.

SLOW DOWN.

She’s says, what, am I taking it too fast for you again? You want me to slow down?

What do you want me to say?

You know what! You KNOW!

A man is in the head-lights, he jumps out of the way.

I’m going to die in this car.

STOP! I LOVE YOU, ALRIGHT! STOP THE CAR!

She turns and says, love doesn’t stop.

We fly through a red light into an intersection. I turn and watch it pass.

She SMASHES headlong into a car that goes spinning into the crosswalk, glass shattering across the street. There’s the sickening screech of metal grinding, her hood gnarling up into a twisted mess.

I sit there heaving a second, hands on my face, moving my toes in my boots. Nothing feels broken. My head throbs, but mostly everything is spinning.

The other car is twenty feet away. A black woman is at the wheel, holding her head, checking herself for damage.

Syd turns to me, blood trickling down her forehead.

“I knew it. I knew you loved me.”

I slowly unclasp my seat-belt.

“Syd, we need to get out of the car now.”

She looks around, as if the movie theater’s lights just came on.

The woman in the other car is opening her door. I can hear metal scraping open and glass falling into the street.

Syd says, “What happens now?”

‘What happens now Syd? What happens now is the cops come, you get a DUI and you go to jail. Or you can try to run, but that woman you just hit doesn’t look like she’s going to let you get too far.’

The other woman is out of her car looking at the wrecked metal of her trunk and how few feet Syd missed the drivers door.

Syd says, “No, what happens now between us?”

I want to wipe the blood streaming into her wandering eye, but don’t want it on my hand.

‘There is no us Syd. This is known as a clean break. Look, it was a fun ride, but I think this is my stop.’

The other woman is outside Syd’s window. She has her phone in her hand.

ARE YOU CRAZY WOMAN? GIRL WHAT THE HELL YOU DOING! GET OUT THE CAR!

Syd undoes her seatbelt. I get out, making sure my ankle isn’t broken. One of her headlights is busted. The woman is about to pull Syd out of her window by her hair until Syd steps out on wobbly high heels.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? YOU JUST HIT MY CAR! YOU BETTER HAVE INSURANCE!

Syd isn’t even looking at the woman, she’s got her eyes locked on me.

“I knew you loved me. I always knew it.”

I can hear sirens approaching.

“Syd, for god’s sake, pull it together. This ain’t the time. Talk to her.”

Syd turns to the woman.

“I don’t know what happened, I just missed the light.”

YOU MISSED THE LIGHT? IS YOU DRUNK? OH HELL NO! YOU GOING TO JAIL GIRL, I’M GONNA SUE THE HELL OUT OF YOU!

The woman is dialing her phone in a fury.

Syd turns to me.

“You can’t go back.”

No. I can’t. But I can go.

I break off running towards the one alley without streetlights. I hit the second block before my lungs catch fire and hide behind a car. I see cop cars peeling up, hear the woman screaming and Syd looking off in my direction. I change my shirt for one in my backpack and put on a beanie to hide my face. I walk ten blocks, turn and circle around, long enough to see Syd in handcuffs getting put in the backseat of the car.

When she calls me from jail that morning, I don’t answer. She leaves another message the day she gets out. I stay away from the old bars. I tell my doorman at my show to not let her in if she comes back. He tells me one night she’s out front waiting, I leave out through the kitchen. She never comes back again.

The game is over.

Ten years and three girlfriends later, I’m on a new kick of self-improvement. I get a free pass to a yoga class and I stretch out my tattoos and scars on a mat, ready to sweat out years of toxins when the instructor walks in. It’s Syd, now impossibly toned and tanned, her black hair cut short. She sees me and our eyes lock. I don’t know to run or not. She looks away, starts the class. I can see the faint scar of my name on her arm. It’s faded, impossible to read. I follow her instructions until she asks everyone to close their eyes for deep breaths, but I keep mine open. She stares at me in silence. The class ends, everyone rolls up their mat. I’m ten feet out the door when I hear her say my name.

I turn and she’s standing there with her keys.

“Want a ride?”

I take a deep breath, look around for witnesses.

She points at her car. It’s a station wagon with two child seats in the back.

She holds up her wedding ring.

“Just kidding. There’s no room.”

I laugh. Yeah, I’m on foot anyways.

“What a ride, huh?”

We stare at each other and her eyes stare straight this time.

Yeah. What a ride.

She beeps her car locks open and I keep walking. I don’t look back as her headlights pull away behind me, just another car going the opposite way.