Ricardo smoked Mavericks. He bought them online for 27 dollars a carton, with alarming regularity. If he could smoke he would smoke: outside, in his apartment, in certain bars— he knew all the ones. I always said he looked like this guy from archival footage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. A man involved in a tussle on the convention floor, the cigarette not leaving his lips. 1968 personified.
Predictably, Ricardo’s apartment was littered with empty Maverick packs. But he always had an air of clutter about him. His bed a pile of clothes and books and liquor bottles while unfinished food sat among the flies and ants of his kitchen. He even had old issues of the New York Times laying around “just in case” though he never explained in case of what. When we first started dating I wore his jacket one night. It was summer, but late enough, dark enough, cold enough. More importantly in that moment I wanted it. To wear some part of him, I guess. I put it on and began emptying the pockets, tossing each object on the bed. A moleskine notebook, a mini reporter’s pad, three broken pens, three broken lighters, a working lighter, an empty pack of Mavericks, a full pack of Mavericks, a half broken Maverick, a bowl, a grinder, some complicated device that looked like something rich Victorians snorted cocaine out of, a small hand mirror, a crocodile skin wallet, someone else’s keys, a photo of Lenny Bruce and a 1970s baseball card of a “Howie Fox”.
“You really shouldn’t have all this on you.”
“What? I like Lenny Bruce.”
“No, I mean- I’ll get to that- but what if the cops stop you, man?”
“I don’t have any actual drugs on me, I’ll just say I’m really passionate about tobacco.”
He was impossible.
I wasn’t sure what he did all day exactly. I didn’t ask about his job and he didn’t ask about mine. He vaguely hinted at some “work from home” scheme. “It’s nice, I can get drunk all day in my apartment.” but I just pictured him at the dining room table that was covered in trash and ants, his feet propped up on a 24 case of PBR and it didn’t seem like anyone’s “nice”.
Nights though, I knew nights. I had been stagnating in this town the past few years, sick of the same people and the same mistakes and the same well trod places. All anxiety and saying too much and feeling the churning of whiskey under your chin or next day heaviness of beer in your stomach and everything sticky and embarrassing. Cultivating a reputation of being drunk, depressed and always on your phone so you can brush off awkward or unwanted encounters by pretending to be one of the three. But nights with Ricardo felt like a parallel universe version of everything I thought I knew. The angles were different, new people ubiquitous for the first time. Nights with him stretched out well past last call, hopping from friend to party to someone’s late night crisis. Vomiting while the sun rose but smiling at the dizzy beauty of it all. If this was how he lived his life then I was inclined to think he just slept all day. And that it couldn’t last much longer.
He would disappear for days at a time. Not that he wasn’t often in a state of absence. We only communicated by knocking on the others’ door. Usually it was a daily thing. When I knocked and there was no answer, I felt an unexplainable emptiness.
But ours was a relationship with an expiration date. I knew the exact moment I would be in a new city and our lives would fit together less than they did already. Still we adopted a kind of exclusivity. “Because no one else can stand to be around me.” and he paused, “and really kinda the same for you.” He was right.
He visited me a few months after I left. Most of my stuff was either still packed up or back at my parents house so when he lay in my twin bed on the sterile sheets he gave the whole room more character. He didn’t want to go all the way to the first floor to go outside and smoke so he fiddled with the window. It opened just a crack— as if an elegant way to prevent suicide, unlike the spikes on balcony railings or the desperate blue emergency hotline sign on the Golden Gate Bridge. He angled his face and head and mouth and body so the smoke floated out the window and I saw his shoulders relax.
“Move up here with me.” I blurted as if I hadn’t spent months and months thinking and rethinking. Blurted knowing with his head turned away from me I would only hear and feel, not see, the lengthy pause.
And then the laugh.
The laugh was Abbie Hoffman at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Carefree, young, beautiful and watching everything burn down around him, caring but not really caring, not as much as he should. A carelessness that was self destructive. A laugh of drugs and street fighting and nominating pigs. A “don’t trust anyone over 30” a “tune in and drop out.” 1968 personified.
“It’s almost like you said you love me.”
He was facing me now. Sitting crosslegged on the bed. He put his cigarette to his lips and I wanted to say something about the smell of cigarette smoke seeping into the wallpaper, the carpet, the bedsheets, my clothes, my hair. A constant presence. A lingering memory.
Brett Bennett currently lives in Athens, GA where she is inspired by her friends, her scorned lovers and most importantly herself. All of her published works can be found at brettbennett.wordpress.com.