Archive for the ‘The Crossroads of Consequence’ Category

crossroads

 

“We’ll go wherever—you just pick the spot.”

It was Kaiser on the phone, trying to solidify plans for the double-date he’d been trying to set up for weeks. I hated being put in this position; made to decide how we were to entertain ourselves for the evening. This was not because I was at a loss for interesting things to do. I’d been living on Capitol Hill long enough to feed my need for new and exciting experiences and I wanted my expertise to show for tonight’s date. Hell—my apartment was downtown, smack in the center of Denver nightlife. My real reason for not wanting to be the decider of what-to-do was more out of a growing difference of interests between the Kaiser and I.

Over the years, I was learning that my suggestions, hip as they might’ve been, had become less-than-appealing to him. His idea of a good time usually involved standing around yuppie LoDo bars, trying to pick-up seemingly unattainable young vixens by what he called “staring into their souls.” This favorite pastime of his was nothing more than a cheap parlor trick, a way to fuel his ego. I had seen this technique work for him on more than one occasion and had been wowed by his bravado. But, the veil of Kaiser’s mystique, the more I had gotten to know him, was gradually being lifted to reveal a superficiality I had mistaken for depth. And if I left the monumental decision of planning the night’s events up to him, I would likely spend the evening immersed in regretful yawns. No, I didn’t like being the appointed party responsible for the success of us all having fun, nor did I trust Kaiser’s judgment, especially when it came to having a genuine good time.    

“How ‘bout we go for some karaoke–like we used to?” I suggested. “I know this great little dive downtown.” This was a neutral suggestion; my way of trying to bridge the divide that had been growing between us. Instead of focusing on the ways we were different, this was—at least by my reckoning—a simple solution that would put us on common ground.

“I don’t know, man. Karaoke—really?”

“Yeah, why not? We used to sing it all the time. I figured this could be a good date.”

“Alright…” His response was that petulant standard that I had gotten used to, his version of a compromise. “We can at least start there and see how it goes.”

“Yeah, ok,” I agreed.

“I guess that’ll work. Start there and then go to the Rolling Rock Brewery or something. I know there’ll be some hot chicks there.”

These sort of remarks were typical of Kaiser. His own long-time girlfriend, Sheri, was a real knockout; smart, refined, and loyal as hell to Kaiser. But he was the type of guy who always had his sights set on the horizon, a near-mythic creature who was part poet, part devil, part grinning peacock. For him, a simple life would never do. And that meant being on the perilous knife’s edge of temptation, always pushing boundaries and often exceeding them. This was apparent in his fashion choices—he wore expensive leather pants, displayed an array of facial jewelry—a different nose-ring for each day of the month. And his women—well, they were as varied as his hairstyles. Yes, Kaiser was living the good life, but in his opinion, the good life could always be made better by tossing in a bit of sweet complication.

“This girl I’m supposed to meet—the one you’re setting me up with. What’s her name again?”

“Kelli. She works with Sheri at the veterinary office, remember?”

“What time do you want to meet up?”

“Let’s say about—don’t wanna show up too early—seven or eight.”

“Make it seven so we can get on the karaoke list. The line fills up fast.”

“Sure, we’ll try. Oh—and we’re gonna meet at your place.”

“Not the bar?”

“It’ll be easier. Plus I want Kelli to see your place.”

“Oh, great.” This wasn’t the way I normally operated, especially upon meeting a girl for the first time. But, I supposed that my apartment was an ideal launching pad for the evening. “At least we can get a few drinks in before we leave.”

“Exactly. Are you excited?” This was something I had wondered myself. With all of the strange events that 2008 had brought so far, I was eager to move on from the scum and residue that was clinging onto me. As painful as it was, Angela Schroeder was still the standard by which I evaluated every new potential love interest. But I had already committed to the long, hard work of erasing her imprint on me, and a new girl might just be the right catalyst for change. Plus Kaiser’s hasty matchmaking attempts had left me little room to ponder these things enough to back out now.

“I can tell you’re excited,” was the answer I gave, trying not to sound ungrateful. What if, for once, Kaiser’s radar was dead on this time? After all, he was one of my oldest friends. Maybe he knew something I didn’t. Maybe this new girl, Kelli, would rise above all of my cynical expectations and turn out to be this amazing woman; someone so great, I couldn’t have imagined her myself. I thought I should at least give her and this double date a fair chance, if only as a show of waning loyalty to Kaiser.

¤

Knock! Knock! Knock!

I had decided to start my own pre-drinking earlier in the afternoon and was glad for it. It helped pass the time during my hasty attempts at apartment cleaning. It also effectively took off most of my nervous edge while waiting for my visitors. My head was in that ideal zone, somewhere between cool reserve and swimmy geniality. I bit my lip and answered the door.

“Hey guys! Welcome to my humble commode.” I held the door wide-open as the threesome shuffled in. Kaiser was in the lead, dressed in his finest 80’s rocker leather pants, followed by the two ladies who were immersed in bubbly conversation. I closed the door behind them, trying to eye-up my dedicated match for the evening.

“You must be Kelli,” I said, introducing myself. She was short, brunette, and attractive in a cutesy sort of way. My first impression in a word: young. Since my dating years had begun, I had somehow managed to attract girls who were younger than me. Most guys I knew were thrilled and flattered if they could land a younger girl. But my experiences had proved to me that age differences only highlighted the inevitable acts of immaturity that the younger girls often displayed.

“Hi.” Her voice was soft, but carried a sultry edge that indicated we might be off to a good start.

Kaiser was beaming. His silver nose-ring twinkled in the candlelit living room of my apartment. No one was saying anything, which made this unusual encounter even more awkward. I decided to break the ice.

“Come on in. I’ve got some beers if you guys want to drink before we head out.”

“We brought something better,” Sheri said slyly.

Kelli reached into her purse and, like a rabbit being pulled from a magician’s hat, out came a big bottle of top-shelf tequila.

“All right then,” I said, grinning at the prospect of what this night may portend.

After we took our shots, we called a cab and left my apartment. As we made our way to the taxi, the ladies resumed their girl-talk, and I used the opportunity to mumble a question to Kaiser.

“How old is Kelli?”

His grin faltered a bit. “Well—she is young.”

“How young?”

“I’m not sure. Old enough to drink is old enough, right?” Now he turned solemn. “But I’ve learned not to judge a person by their age. I look at a person’s soul and Kelli’s an old soul. Plus Sheri says that Kelli’s pretty mature for her age.” Kaiser’s shit-eating grin returned. “I can tell she likes you.” He gave me a fleeting wink as we climbed into the cab.

¤

“—you from, originally?”

WHAT?”

I SAID—WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY?”

Kelli murmured something that sounded like, “Seattle.”

Oh, OK,” I returned, still not quite sure what she had said. Most of our conversation had gone on like this once we arrived at the karaoke joint. The deafening music had ensured that very little useful information would be exchanged between us, so I decided to be agreeable by default. After barely getting one song in, we migrated to a slightly swankier nightclub in LoDo, where the assault on my eardrums continued.

The change in locales didn’t do much to improve on the conversation; neither did the assembly line of strong drinks. The fact is, I didn’t know much more about Kelli than when she first showed up at my apartment. I knew she was young. I knew she was cute. It was enough to have an enjoyable evening for the time being, but I couldn’t ignore the persistent signs of inconsistency that came through: Awkward body language, strange cultural references that illustrated the generational gap between us, shifty encouragements, both of us wanting—­­but not quite reaching a true connection.

I tried to get to know her a little better. What was the latest book she had read? What? She didn’t read for enjoyment? Music? She named bands I had never heard of. When I mentioned my favorite bands, judging by the glazed-over look on her face, Kelli didn’t know of them or wasn’t listening. She probably couldn’t hear me over the ear-bleeding club music. It seemed that there was an over-arching disparity—or lack of interest—towards the finer points of compatibility. These discouraging tidbits however, weren’t enough to crush my beer-fueled optimism. Soon, I found myself kissing her and the rest of the night was awash with loud music, dancing, and alcohol.

¤

I woke up the next morning, hung over, Kelli under the covers with me. My first horrified thought was: Did we have sex last night? I wracked my brain for memories of the night, but the harder I tried to remember, the more my head hurt. I couldn’t remember getting home. Obviously something had to have happened—the way we were cozied up under the covers. But waking up to a strange woman in my place after just meeting her—wasn’t my style. Maybe I should pretend to go back to sleep.

“Morning,” she said stirring.

“Uh—morning.”

“What time is it?”

I got up to look at the clock in my kitchenette, taking the opportunity to snag my pants back on.

“It’s afternoon,” I said, hoping that I didn’t sound as disappointed as I felt. “Do you want some water?”

“Thanks,” she said after taking a drink. She held the covers above her bare breasts with her other arm.

“Did we—?” I began awkwardly.

“What, have sex?” She smiled, lips shiny with water. “I don’t think so. We came close, but you were too drunk, I think.”

“Oh.” I felt relieved for some reason. In the warm afternoon light she looked even younger than before. “Sorry.”

“Where’s your bathroom?”

I pointed in the direction of my studio. She left the bed, finding her bra on the way to the bathroom. I hated these uncomfortable morning-after sessions. I found it nearly impossible to muster the requisite charm needed to get rid of the person gracefully. There was usually some small-talk over breakfast—or better yet—a hasty, wordless departure because of prior obligations. I found it difficult to outright kick a girl out of my place; I was too much of a gentleman for that. But sometimes the morning-after could linger on ad nauseam. This is why one-night stands didn’t suit me. They usually amounted to two strangers sharing the most intimate of acts, only to realize that they didn’t like each other that much, or didn’t have the glue needed to hold something more substantial together.

The toilet flushed. I was grateful for the extra time to compose myself. Kelli emerged from my studio, fully dressed, which was a good sign towards making a departure.

“So—did you drive here?” I asked, trying to sound more conversational than urgent. Driving logistics made the morning after situations even more complicated because I didn’t have a car and therefore couldn’t neatly part ways by dropping the girl off somewhere. Kelli gave me a puzzled look, still smiling. She sat down on the couch next to me.

“No. Kaiser drove us down here last night.”

“Oh. So how—?”

“Kaiser said you’d help me call a cab in the morning. I can take it back to my work where I’m parked. You really don’t remember any of this, do you? What we talked about last night?” I blurted a single, humorless laugh while rubbing my head.

“I remember some things, but—wow! I don’t remember coming back here.”

“Kaiser and Sheri took off. He assured me I’d be in good hands, and…” She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “He was right.”

Oh boy, I thought, mentally sighing. This was just like Kaiser to dump a strange girl in my lap and leave me to handle her the morning after. I’m guessing that I probably hadn’t protested too much the night before in my drunken state; my place did pose as a somewhat ideal crash pad for the woefully inebriated. But Kaiser had a habit of leaving me in these precarious situations.

Mercifully, Kelli conducted this morning-after interlude with maturity. I felt a little silly and self-conscious about the whole thing, chalking it up to being caught off-guard. I drank way-too-much, and the missing time gaps had been a result. I resolved to lay off of the sauce for a while, so I could at least remember having forgettable sex with a stranger.

We made plans to go on another date—sometime. I could tell that she was more eager than I was. Before she climbed into the cab, we hugged and my body felt stand-offish, my laughter sounded a bit too haughty. I watched her go, glad to be alone again.

I was definitely at a point in my life where I was looking for someone more substantial than a strange bedfellow. It wasn’t fair to Kelli to presume that she wasn’t worthy of my time or attention. This first encounter with her showed me that there was an attraction, but was there more to this girl than met the eye?

I was at the Crossroads, standing before the entrance of this uncertain path. Should I start down this winding road, or remain in the center of potentiality? Was this girl it, or were there greater, yet unknown experiences to be had? So much of this initial encounter with Kelli felt like familiar ground, so much felt like I knew how it would end, and it would probably end badly. Was this premonition a reminder of how history tended to repeat itself? Was it wishful thinking? Or did the crossroads have more in store for me than I could have ever imagined?

End of p.2

To be continued…

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crossroads02

It was a time of great consequence, many paths converging, melding, virtually crashing into one another. It was a crossroads of sorts, a metaphysical location in time where the potential for other possibilities, different potentialities, alternate timelines was imminent, acute, uncanny.

Even more uncanny was my awareness of how tumultuous these converging and diverging paths were, like the absolute certainty of when one loses their balance, teetering beyond rational control. These were times of great change and upheaval in my life, and I was swept away by the overwhelming current of it.

It was around the time of early spring 2008. I was still not quite yet 30 years old, and I was fresh into a crescendo of good times, in relationships, matters of work, and in my Capitol Hill lifestyle. I had started the New Year ringing and singing with my fellows from the Longview Pub. This had always been a favorite karaoke haunt of mine, and during that night, after all the regulars were scuttled out at closing time, the barmaid and her man threw an after-party in their loft above the bar. It was almost surreal to be sitting in a living room above the Longview Pub, drinking, passing around from couple-to-couple while we all sang that old Beatle favorite, ‘Let It Be,’ wondering and hoping what the next year might entail. It was like stepping into a time machine for an instant, and I finally understood how some music really could unite people. There are just some songs that are timeless, and I could remember thinking that this was one of those moments that would stand out, and even then I felt the tremors of upcoming change, peeking over the horizon like a wink of sunrise.

This was how my year started out; I was finally willing and ready to wash off the residue from 2007, that year having been mostly concerned with affairs of Angela Schroder, of love and of loss. I started Synfonica at about that time, carrying my notebook with me to late-night hamburger joints, and just about everywhere I went, using it as a placemat during one of my many karaoke sessions at the Longview Pub, me and my fellows crammed into our favorite booth mafia style. It was a time of beginnings, alliances being formed, ideas being forged, tossed around the magic circle like untempered fireworks, almost too hot to handle.

So my notebook was always with me, and I carried it like a kind of shield. This was to protect me from seeping too far into the past and all the hurt that it held for me. The doomed relationship with Angela had left me feeling alone and bewildered, and now was the time of re-awakening from that slump. Writing Synfonica was my way of dealing with the past, by paving my way forward into the future, much of the book a clandestine autobiographical account of my feelings regarding her, and of things magical. I was using my painful experiences to create something beautiful and transcendent.

The beginning of 2008 also marked the glory days of our little band of wayward troubadours at the Pub. This was back when our relationships were free and a little flirty. We all came to revel in each others’ company and bear each others’ misery. This was before the nasty falling out between the Wilsons and I, when there was more black-and-white defining the contours of my ideas relationships, and less gray. This was when I still held on to naïve notions of fidelity, always believing that the institution of marriage, or my friends that embarked upon that road, were somehow above the trials and temptations presented by the world. They too fell under the enchantment of the Crossroads, and none of us were safe from its allure.

¤

The momentum from that New Years’ night carried me for several weeks until that cataclysmic confrontation with Eve Wilson, the de facto ringleader of our little band. She was my good buddy Eddie’s wife of a couple of years. I was at their wedding, and was pleasantly surprised to develop a friendship with Eve, over the years, while also re-kindling my friendship with Eddie. We had been in a band together with Kaiser Morningstar before I moved out of state for a while, and hadn’t really kept in touch, and now that I was back, I hadn’t realized how much I had missed Eddie’s friendship.

It’s clear why Eve and me were such easy friends. She was easy to talk to, intellectual, funny, and seemingly down-to-Earth. We tip-toed around each other at first, respecting each others’ role in the object of our mutual interest, Eddie. As we came to know each other better, we would hang out independently of Eddie, talking for long periods into the night, and I was happy to have her as a friend. But there is a good reason as to why a man should not become friends with his buddy’s wife. No matter how innocent your intentions might be, the door is open for things to go wrong, and they could go wrong and often do.

I remember there being a bit of quiet intrigue amongst our group concerning the fabled book I wrote for Angela, Somewhere In Time. When I presented it to Eve for her inspection before I was to give it to Angela, I remember her acting a little weird, almost like she was jealous over Angela. I had dismissed it at the time, but then Eve started murmuring darkly about troubles in her marriage with Eddie. In fact, she brought these disclosures to our group at the Pub, to add to the stew of dysfunctional relationship woes on the table. I was caught in a dilemma between my loyalty to Eddie, and wanting to be a sounding board for Eve.

She talked about how badly she wanted children, about how Eddie had become increasingly distant and disengaged from their life, and that he would hold his true feelings inside. I was often caught off guard at each revelation that there was trouble in Wilsonville. Eddie and Eve had seemed like they were perfect for each other, both having a great fetish towards anything Science Fiction related, both were heavily into music, and were from each others’ era. In fact, they had built their own music studio/karaoke hangout in their basement that we had affectionately called “Club Wilson.” They both found each other at a time in their lives when a relationship seemed out of reach, Eddie having sworn them off completely.

When I had first met him, he would preach all of the virtues of bachelorhood to Kaiser and myself, admonishing us to remain single and true. That was right around the time when I moved out to Ohio. Eddie’s one-night exploits had been legendary, and that’s how I remembered him. When I was away, however, I heard distant rumors that some lady had caught him in her snares. After I moved back to Denver, I was anxious to meet the woman who had knocked Eddie off of his single trip, and when I met her, I honestly didn’t think much of Eve. It is easy to underestimate her, and that is part of her guile, as I later found out. They seemed like a match made in heaven, but the storybook facade of what I thought was a great marriage between them began to melt away like wax figures caught in a house of fire.

This crisis came to a critical junction right around Valentine’s Day, 2008. Eve and her best friend Viola wound up running the karaoke gig at the Longview Pub. I had noticed that Eve had been wearing more and more provocative outfits to the Pub, and that she would often creep out to the parking lot with strange guys for periods of time. I would go out there with her sometimes, and we would sit and talk and smoke. I could tell that there was an attraction there. I was certainly attracted to her, but in a mostly cerebral way; you can’t spend so much time investing in a friendship and not be somewhat attracted to the other person.

On the night of Valentine’s 2008, I was handed a bright pink envelope by Eve in the parking lot of the Pub. I immediately felt a drop in my gut, and as I opened it, reading the handmade valentine, I was caught by a strange urge to flee from the spot. Maybe that’s what I should have done, but what’s done is done. The Crossroads offer the vantage point of seeing many different possible paths to take, but once one has been chosen, the reality of that choice crystallizes, and for good or ill, one must live with that choice.

I shifted my eyes from side to side, feeling uneasy. The card felt dirty hanging in my limp hand. I gave her a perfunctory thanks and hustled back inside, hoping to lose the feeling of weirdness amongst the laughter and joviality of our group. There was a woman in our group, Janine, a doll that I frequently flirted with, and whom I had hoped would take me home that night. Eve came in a short while later saying, “We need to talk,” as if we were a bickering couple. And then the real bickering and arguing took place as we yelled at each other out in the parking lot, and for the first time, I got to see the real Eve; and her fury, the emotion most likely reserved for Eddie when they fought behind the scenes. So this is what it must be like for him, I thought. I was suddenly enraged with the revelation that she was treating me like a cheating husband, like I somehow owed her something. And all of the memories came flooding in, all of the many times that we had hung out, talked, all the gestures that I had taken as genuine friendship, and all of the ways I had genuinely demonstrated the same, all coming clear in the real context, in her real agenda. One husband to pick on and yell at wasn’t enough for her; she wanted more than just one.

“I saw you flirting with Janine. Is she going to take you home tonight?” This was a coded term for having sex. I wasn’t driving then, and I would take a bus to the Pub and usually someone would offer me a ride home, after the busses stopped running. If I was lucky, the ride home might turn into more. Eve had been giving me rides home as of late, and now I understood why.

“You need to work out your problems with Eddie,” I grumbled, hoping to shift her attention onto the real issue.

“You want me out of the way so you can fuck Janine, is that it?”

“It’s none of your business!” I retorted, getting more pissed off. “Anyways, what’s wrong with Janine? I thought you liked Janine!”

“I’m just looking out for her. So you don’t fuck her and leave her like you do all the rest.”

I could feel my face filling with molten rock. “That’s not how I am,” I grit, straining to keep my voice calm. This whole conversation was absurd and getting nowhere. “You know what? I don’t answer to you. I’m not married. You are. You took that plunge, remember? I didn’t.”

“I know how you really are; I know because I’ve watched you go from woman to woman, and I know that you’re going to treat Janine just like the rest of them.“ Then she went on to say, “I can’t have you coming here anymore, ruining my reputation. I’m trying to run a karaoke show. Your presence is too disruptive.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I reply, turning to go back inside.

“You’re a coward…” she hissed after me, barely audible from the raucous sounds of the bar, as I swirled back inside.

The rest of the night, Eve spent away from our group, giving me disdainful looks melodramatically across the room from the bar, to which I ignored. My friends at the table were wondering what the hell Eve’s problem was, and apparently, they had had previous experience with her aggressive mood swings. This was all new to me, never before having to bear the brunt of her malice.

“She’s fucking married,” I reasoned with them, and they agreed, nodding their heads sympathetically. This episode, I came to learn later, was just another checkpoint along Eve’s roadmap towards a complete breakdown.

Sick of the drama, sick of being treated like the husband-that-never-was, sick of the smell and feel of the Pub, the unholy pull of the place, and the dark avenues it provided, I got up and started walking home, all warm thoughts of sexcapades with Janine forgotten. This encounter, and in fact the Pub itself, leaving a sour taste in my mouth, a bitterness that overshadowed my initial great start to the year.

¤

I stayed away from the Pub for a time. This was not because of Eve’s dire warning for me to keep away from what she thought of as her joint, but rather because I needed to clear my head. My mind was whirling with the events of Valentine’s Day, the calamity brought on by Eve’s destruction, the loss of her friendship, or at least the person I thought she was, and the undeniable rift that it would cause between me and Eddie. If Eddie and Eve were still having problems, I wanted to be anywhere but in the middle of it. 2008 had already dumped its share of drama on me, and I was ready to move on. But then the rumors started, as annoying and persistent as a leaky faucet. First I heard it from some of my friends who still went to the Pub.

“What happened between you and Eve?” was the most common query, definitely not alluding to the more innocent interpretation of what had happened between us.

“She gave me a fucking valentine. You saw it,” was my reply, growing less and less patient. They looked at me as if I were deliberately trying to be dense. Obviously they had been under the impression that more had transpired between me and Eve. There had always been a spirit of flirtation amongst the members of our little singing group; it was one element of the escapism we had sought, but this was going too far.

“Why, what did she say?” The looks on their faces was all I needed to know.

Terri spoke up, “We all know she’s a liar anyways. She went off on me too.” This bit of information took me by surprise. “She is deeply troubled. She’s been going off in this direction for some time now. I’ve been putting up with her, but last week when she yelled at me…she thought I was defending you, and when I told her I wasn’t, she said some things that crossed the line for me.”

What I hadn’t told them is that Eve had been trying to reach me through e-mail. She was very persistent, and I knew on some level that any further communication with her would most likely end up in further enmity. My position with Eve was that the stronger she tried to engage me, the further I would withdraw. This tactic seemed to infuriate her, much to my delight.

“I don’t know what her problem is,” I said, shaking my head.

“She’s disturbed. I love her and hope the best for her, but she’s going to have to deal with her problems without turning on her friends,” Terri implored.

“Why don’t you come back to the Pub?” This was Janine. “Don’t let Eve bully you out of here.”

“I’m not letting her tell me where I can and can’t go!” I replied, a little defensively. “I just need a break for a while.” I looked past Janine and the others, thinking of how simple things used to be. How fun going to the Longview Pub had been.

¤

My karaoke buddies weren’t the only source of scandalous mutterings. Kaiser Morningstar had called me up shortly after the “Big Blow-up,” as I was beginning to call it.

“So…what’s been going on?” I could hear caution and eagerness coming from his voice through the earpiece. By this fact alone, I knew that Eve had already gotten to him. Maybe she had even tried to seduce him as well. Here was another close friend of Eddie’s who had spent just as much one-on-one time with his wife, sharing in that all-important rite of information exchange known as intimacy. And as long as I’ve known him, the Kaiser liked to have his own little side affairs, which was another nail in the coffin towards breaking my beliefs in lasting relationships. Here were some of my closest friends, involved in these mutually beneficial relationships, yet they clearly sought succor from outside the relationship. Perhaps the institution of monogamy was inherently the problem.

“Nothin’ much,” was my reply. If my regard of Kaiser had been higher, I might have caved into his projections, but I wasn’t taking the bait.

“I haven’t talked to you in a while. I just wanted to see what was new.” Yeah, sure. My experience with the Kaiser is that he typically only called when he wanted something.

“Just doing my thing; you know, writing some new songs…I’ve been keeping a weblog…I’m getting ready to show some artwork…” And the conversation went on much like this for a while, both of us dodging the obvious topic that was on both of our minds.

“Have you talked to Eddie?” Ah, he was finally getting more to the point. I still played dumb.

“Not recently. I’m waiting to do some more recordings to finish up the album.” This was our collective long-standing music project that we had started before I moved to go to college, called Mandelbrot. It wasn’t fair to call it a band. It was far too lethargic to be a musical act geared towards playing live shows. We were definitely a studio act. It seemed that we were always working or re-working some aspect of this album. Although, through the years, Eddie had accumulated more recording equipment and technical knowledge, we were still no closer to having an actual finished product than in the days before I had moved.

“You haven’t talked to Eve, have you?” That uncharacteristic light tread in his voice, trying too hard to be casual.

“I used to see her when I went singing at the Pub…” I responded innocently, “a bit of a falling out, I’m afraid.”

“I heard some stuff…man, I didn’t say nothin’ ‘cause I was testin’ you. I wanted to see how you responded, to see if you’d tell me yourself. I did it on purpose. I didn’t believe it…no man, ‘cause she’s nasty. I know you wouldn’t touch that.”

I could hear the revulsion in his voice. I couldn’t explain that on some level I had been attracted to Eve, whether it was from mere intellectual stimulation or by keeping the company of crooked saints. In the wake of her meltdown, all remaining vestiges of the previous beauty I had seen in her had been obliterated, and the true ugliness of her being had been exposed.

“She doesn’t even want you in their house,” Kaiser went on, sounding amazed. “What happened?” How much should I tell him? I wondered. Kaiser wasn’t exactly the kind of person that could keep secrets, and when he inevitably spilled the beans, the resulting rumor would most likely be so distorted with Kaiser’s own exaggerations, that one was often worse off for telling him. I certainly wasn’t going to tell him about the flirting that went on within our little group, innocent as it had been. That bit of information in the wrong hands could throw fuel on an already volatile situation.

So I told him about the valentine, and how she had blown up at me in the parking lot, and how she had pretty much alienated herself from all of her strongest supporters. Kaiser sounded dubious.

“She told me you were getting’ it on in your apt.” Ah, so finally here it was. The nasty truth of all the rumors that I had heard. Eve’s influence did indeed reach far.

“She gave me rides home a few times…and got pissed when I didn’t want her to give me rides anymore. You’d think she would’ve been happy about that,” I scoffed.

“She said you went up to your apt. and was there ‘til 8 in the morning. Eddie got pissed. She said it almost ruined her marriage. She hasn’t told him…yet. She just wants you to call her.”

This was an example of how pervasive Eve’s influence could be. She had gotten to Kaiser, somehow persuaded him into believing her sob story, probably using him for a shoulder to cry on like she had done me, and then she convinced him to try to get me to call her, all in an attempt for her to control me from a distance.

You see, Eve was a witch. A real witch. I didn’t find out this fact until I had crossed her. Perhaps her trickery wasn’t as readily apparent as what one might consider a conventional witch to be. There were no poisoned apples to eat, nor was there any pointy hat-wearing, broomstick-riding, overtly obvious hazards to avoid. Eve’s way of spell-casting was more subtle and insidious. She liked to create miniature empires and manipulate the players like a chess grandmaster moving a knight, rook, or queen. She had cast her dark magic, stirring up her cauldron of worries, stirring up trouble. Kaiser’s involvement was surely a sign of this, but then again, he always did have a soft spot for the split-tails.

“Ruined her marriage, did I?” I said, my anger building up like bile. As long as Eve was going to spew out her skewed version of events, I was going to expound upon what I thought were the real issues. “What I want to know is: What is a married woman doing out that late without her husband? Or for that matter, what married man lets his wife prance around at all hours of the night, anyway? She gave me a fucking valentine!” I finished, as if this point hadn’t already been made.

“I know. That’s fucked up. Do you still have it?”

“Yeah, and the only reason I kept it is for evidence in case I need it.”

“Damn…you might need it. Eddie’s gonna be pissed if he ever finds out. It’s probably better if you don’t bring it up. Let him bring it up first. And you’re sure nothing happened…I’ll believe you if you tell me. Just tell me…”

I thought of the night that Eve had driven me home. I thought of all the events and circumstances that had led up to that event, and the resulting ripples of chaos that had been created. I was standing at the crossroads, my eyes scanning over the many possible roads before me. It was at these moments that I viewed myself as a traveler, seeking out the ends to these roads, wherever they wound up taking me. “It was nothing,” I said, choosing this route.

“What do you mean?” Kaiser, sounding cautious again.

“You know how it is at the Pub…” I explained, “…how our group is.” Now I was baiting him, and the best part was that he didn’t know it. “You remember that one time you came…when you hooked up with Janine.” This indeed had happened, and on New Years’ night up above the Pub. This was the one time Kaiser had gotten a taste of our clique. He had met Janine, and within a matter of hours, he had charmed and seduced her in that fabulously mysterious way of his, and the two of them had snuck off to some secluded corner of the loft, where they did whatever it was that they had done. “Her hair smelled so good,” he proclaimed, almost apologetically, after he had returned from their act.

“Of course I remember,” he muttered. I could tell that he wasn’t happy with me bringing up his tryst with Janine. It was the perfect distraction to take the focus from me to him. “I would never do that again,” he continued, sounding like the school bully trying to talk his way out of a detention. “I’m in love with Cheri. It’s not like it was before; the love I feel for her…it’s…deeper than what I’ve ever felt. I don’t even need sex anymore. I’ve grown beyond sex.”

This proclamation was a lie. This was Kaiser’s way of justifying his continued relationship with Cheri, a woman who was gorgeous, smart, funny, and bizarrely faithful to Kaiser, but not very interested in having sex, at least with him. They had been together for 6 years, and I had been witness to Kaiser vacillating between wanting to marry her and wanting to ditch her. His big reason for staying with Cheri was that he didn’t want to start over, having to get new furniture, etc. So apparently, his relationship of convenience with Cheri enabled him with all sorts of opportunities to continue his peacockishness, including his shopping sprees to buy extravagant leathers and designer jewelry. Of course he would have been a fool to leave her; she was certainly the most supportive of Kaiser’s girlfriends, the most together mentally and financially, the coolest all around, and seemed to not mind the mountains of bullshit Kaiser seemed to generate all around him. All that seemed to be missing was the sex, an issue that he certainly had his way of dealing with.

“Now we won’t talk about that then. It’s like it never happened, o.k.?” This was Kaiser’s version of a Jedi mind trick; the power of suggestion to the weak-minded. I had seen this work on women in the clubs to often miraculous results, but I knew him well enough to see through his tricks.

“O.K. man, no worries.” I replied this way not because I agreed with his methodology or supported his infidelity, but because I considered him a friend. And unlike him, I knew how to keep secrets. And where did he come off judging me, with his sorted history and all? Hell, if you wanted to get technical about it, I was the only legitimately single one in this whole mess. I wasn’t the one who took the vows, like so many of my friends had done.

“But hey…” he said. Now it was his turn to change the subject. “I was gonna tell you ‘bout this girl I know. She works at the clinic with Cheri. I wanted you two to meet. I don’t know man…I’ve got this strange feeling…she feels different somehow…I think you two will get along…,” he ranted in his typical manic fashion. “Here I go playing Mr. Matchmaker again,” he crooned, trying to sound enlightened, but only managing to sound like a cheap salesman.

I had already become used to Kaiser taking credit for milestone occurrences in my life, whether they be relationships that he had a part in introducing, or attaching his name onto an idea that I had come up with, or attaching my name onto one of his ideas in order to give it more credibility. When it came to entitlement, Kaiser wasn’t ever bashful at naming and claiming.

I’ve discovered that this too is a form of sorcery. The human brain is susceptible to all sorts of suggestions, and like the art of the Jedi mind trick, claiming things over people’s lives is a form of inflicting your will upon others. Kaiser was a master at this tactic, but in order for it to work, the victim has to be weak-minded, or easily manipulated, and must consciously/subconsciously agree with the party making suggestions. This was the mysterious gift that he possessed; he had a way with words, and no matter how bi-polar an argument with him became, he had this way of getting the last word in, so that it seemed that all involved parties agreed with him.

If it had been 10 years ago, during the beginnings of our friendship, I would have been taken in by these mind tricks. In those days, I was under Kaiser’s wing, and was his wingman. He came rolling into Colorado like some sort of mythical creature, part saint and part devil. I’m sure that he appears this way to all of his new friends; grandiose and exotic in a larger-than-life sort of way. From the time that I met him, I knew there was something special about him. In the early days he was more humble about his gifts, and that is why he and I had become such fast friends in those days.

But so much had clouded what that friendship had become to signify over the years. I had long since crawled out from his shadow and had come into my own. The problem was that Kaiser seemed to be the only one who hadn’t noticed. I had begun to build a pretty respectable reputation both as an artist and a session musician, and my goals and his goals began to diverge at some crucial point. We had met at the Crossroads, walked along the path together for a while, and enjoyed each other’s company while it lasted, but like so many things in life, friendships can be fleeting and bittersweet.

I should have known not to trust Kaiser’s matchmaking instincts, as his previous attempts had turned out to be massive failures, including the friend of a friend that he had set me up with on a blind date, who I ended up proposing to, and we split up after being together for a mere four months. Perhaps it was the strange mood that had set over the early parts of 2008. Perhaps it was the tinge of spite I felt towards Eve that sent me rocketing in any direction, as long as it was away from her. Maybe it was my self-masochistic way of testing fate. Whatever the case, I abandoned my better judgment to this particular meandering road along the Crossroads, and I had no idea just how consequential that choice would be…

End of pt. 1