I roll my eyes as he rolls his cigarette. Marathon morning coffees that turn into lunches that morph into afternoon beers or evening wine are no novelty with Joey. He pokes and prods at my defenses, and in agreeing to these little interrogations, I often feel like a bit of an exhibitionist. Emotional nudist, even. Sometimes I wonder how it came to be that our roles got reversed in such a fashion, for me to become a psychologist, and him a screwed up twenty-something man-child with a penchant for psychedelic music and way too many F’s in his medical chart to count.
„I should have seen it coming. Not sure I did, though.“
„You did. You just chose to play dumb, as you usually do when you try to imagine your life as a fairytale.“
Maybe the real reason for Joey’s neuroses lies behind the fact that he just can’t lie. If I try to picture anyone always being as honest with themselves as he is, I guess I can see why they’d lose their mind eventually. It’s true. You can have too much of a good thing.
„So tell me. Why do it then? As much as I love you, I can’t for the life of me understand these situations you get involved in. And I consider you a smart person, missus. You know that. I think you’re smart, and I love you, but sometimes I get this nagging urge to punch you in the nose for what you’re doing to yourself.“
„It would probably hurt less than letting me make these mistakes time and again. Perhaps I should give you carte blanche to do just that.“
As I’m saying it, I realize I even mean it to some extent. It would be so much easier to let someone else decide for me, and Joey is the only person in the world I think would always have my best interests at heart. He’d do right by me, absolving me from freedom and bad choices like some 21st century urban prophet who read too many pages of Nietzsche as an adolescent. I’d be the first member of his Heaven’s Gate. On the other hand, Joey would never love me again if I asked it of him. Above all else, he has always valued my independence. This is why my latest road-trip into relationship-land irked him as much. It’s why it irked me as well, to be honest. Somewhere along the highway toward eternal happiness and the much-longed-for ever after, I ceased being myself. I lost part of my independence and Joey was the first one to notice, sooner than me even.
„If you know it’s a mistake, why do you insist on making these over-the-top changes every time? Why do you always seem so happy to give up what makes you you?“
This is the one question that’s not new. I’ve asked myself the same thing a thousand times already, and the only logical answer would be that I don’t like myself, but we both know it’s not true.
„I thought that he could make me better. That I was a better person with him. A part of me hoped that a deeper kind of understanding stood behind his silence. That maybe by only showing him the good parts, he’d love me more, and I’d become this imaginary person he saw.“
„Do you still think that could happen? Because it’s a fucking stupid thing to want in the first place, and I won’t even get into the probability of it coming true.“
„I wouldn’t be here talking to you if I did now, would I? You’re not exactly the best person to bring out my generous, more benevolent side.“
He rolls his eyes and takes a sip from the coffee cup.
„That’s because your benevolent side is boring. Also, disingenuous.“
I can see one of his trademark monologues coming on and brace myself on the chair. My body grows rigid as if preparing to weather a tsunami.
„You’re an over-achiever not down to your bone, but to the very marrow. You’re as judgmental as anyone I’ve met, and also, you can be quite crude. You’re a petty, intellectual snob. You often dislike people merely on the basis of one grammar mistake. It could even be a typo, and you wouldn’t care. Your jokes often verge on the brink of indigo and black-hole-dark. At the same time, you’re also the best friend I’ve ever had and you sort of wear your tears on your sleeve like a four year old who wipes his face and nose after a long cry. There’s a lot of snot on your sleeves, and I love that more than anything about you.“
Being compared to a whiny infant is not the best compliment I’ve ever gotten, neither is the fact that someone likes me because I’m so openly miserable. I think of Joey and me ten years from now in all-Gothic, all-black attire, with tears tattooed on our cheeks along with little broken hearts, haunting the local rock bars as if we were still in high school, quarreling about the best Smiths album or putting Jesus and Mary Chain on repeat while getting high in my room. It’s a scary thought, but at the same time it makes me giggle.
„Disregarding that you just said you like me best when I’m depressed, I see where you’re coming from. I came to a similar conclusion myself. I was talking to a girl a few days ago – no, nobody you know – and she told me I was a horrible person. She did it with a smile, though, and it broke my heart. Not because it was an unfair thing to say, or because I wanted her to think I was particularly nice. It’s that she seemed to understand me so much better than him; it’s that I’d allowed her to see me in ways that I never let him in. That I didn’t trust him as much as I trusted a stranger to show him myself was what hurt the most.“
Joey lazily grins and exhales, as if under duress.
„I’m glad I’m not the only person you have to tell you the truth. It’s definitely not a one-man job.“
„Well, you’re not the easiest person to be around with. I need my other friends to keep things in a more cheerful perspective and keep me from becoming a hopeless curmudgeon like you.“
„Hey miss, don’t diss! You know that’s what you love about me the most.“
Despite the fact I raise my eyebrows in a feeble attempt at sarcasm, I know it’s partially true. His bluntness and crabbiness, along with the comical disdain he has for others’ weaknesses is what first brought us together. He’s still the funniest person I call a friend, but that’s not why we organize these little private impromptu celebrations. After all, I was there when he was in the pits, quiet, disinterestedly staring at the cracked ceiling for days on end. I was there when he allowed himself to cry because a battalion of shrinks had decided to medicate him. I was there when he was blank, catatonic, buried deep beneath chemicals and people who told him he should be less himself if he wanted to get better. You don’t stick around for these things only to hear a newly coined insult directed at a person you share a mutual dislike for. You don’t bring fresh fruit day in, day out, to someone who doesn’t even acknowledge your presence because of a relationship based solely on negativity.
Joey and me, despite our innate skepticism and the black finish on our hearts, love each other. Out of a kind of loyalty only misfits can share, out of understanding, out of all the times we lay here where everything started, in my small flat, and laughed about nothing in particular. Perhaps we fell in love at first because we needed to prove to ourselves someone could love us in return, and the only way to do this was to love the person most similar to who we thought we were. I know it’s not the healthiest trade of all, and maybe it will turn out to be the worst bet I’ve ever made, the biggest act of narcissism I’m guilty of. I’ll give us a little while longer to find out, though. Neither of us is going anywhere just yet, and I’d hate for words – the very art we’ve perfected together – to be the end of us because spoken too soon. I give into his game.
„As always, you’re right. That’s definitely what I love most about you.“