A Death in Dallas

There are still parts of Dallas that are seedy, and when I find them, I’m overjoyed. Really, they’re strange pockets of that uniquely suburban seediness: blocks and streets that are a little less manicured, a little darker, where the people who don’t have a steady job and 2.5 kids at home go to congregate. It’s not like New York, where all different types of people churn around in the bulk of the city at any given moment and then scuttle home to their respective neighborhoods. The seedy parts of suburbia are populated exclusively by the down and out and the tourists who are coming by to snap a few mental pictures and get their rocks off before they head back to the picket fence.

I don’t know which I am. I grew up here, in University Park, the whitest of the white, with rich parents and a prep school education. I had been living in Brooklyn for all of two months before my mother called and said I needed to be on the next flight back home. My grandmother had been living with cancer for the better part of the year, and once I left she passed firmly into dying of cancer. My trips back to Texas are usually punctuated with old friends and lots of drinking, and this week was no different, but everything seemed necessary rather than celebratory. The conversations with high school buddies over beers were somber and dark, the descents into drunkenness desperate and aggressive. Each day I spent at Nana’s side waiting for the inevitable and not knowing what to say in our last hours together took a physical and mental toll on me. I left that giant house each day feeling like I had been washed out and emptied on the sidewalk, and I filled it with booze, food, and any sort of connection I could find.

Tracy was a girl I had known for some time, but we’d always been in different places. After not seeing each other for years she tried, while drunk, to get me to cheat on my-then girlfriend, unsuccessfully. Later, when I was single, she declined, but then decided to go out with me for fancy cocktails when she was in New York, with a blowjob nightcap. We met up again when I was back in Dallas, hungry for any sort of release that would distract me from the overriding pressures of family and mortality, and had more conversation than I thought would be necessary to get our wants and desires out in the open. For two or three nights in a row we would get a drink, talk vaguely about life and loss, and then go back to her tidy, sterile girl’s room where we’d lay on clean white sheets and go down on each other until it got late. It all seemed fine until her friend Karen met us at the bar one night, and I in my grief-bender confidence decided that I could engage her attentions as well without it blowing up in my face.

Karen and I went for lunch at Jimmy’s Italian Grocery, and after flirting over sloppy and delicious sandwiches, she invited me to a bachelorette party, assuring me that it was the co-ed portion of the evening, and that I was welcome to bounce with the other male attendees before they headed to the strip club. I did in fact attend the shitty comedy club, but while standing around out front, the bride-to-be, Sarah, asked if I was coming to the strip club. It only took a moment for me to think about it, realize I had never been to a male (gay?) strip club, and that this was too weird an evening to pass up.

The club lay on a stretch of that seedy suburbia, located improbably (or predictably) just behind a huge chunk of walled-in 1%-ers. It was one of three clubs built to service women or gay men on that block alone, and I vaguely remembered a scandal in high school when some guy saw our choir teacher in the parking lot of one such establishment with another gentleman. In any event, that night was a weekday, and the club was completely dead. The only other people I saw besides our party were two guys leaving the club as we walked in, who oohed and aahed over Sarah’s tiara and bachelorette sash. Despite the sparse attendance, once we had thrown back a round of shots and sat down outside, there was nary a dancer to be found. Sarah loudly announced that she was disappointed she wasn’t getting a lap dance, and I jokingly said that I would provide one, as the only man in attendance. “OK!” she yelled, thrusting a crumpled dollar in my direction. Well, when the going gets weird, the weird get weirder, I thought, and I mounted her to the cackles and catcalls of the other women in the party. Sarah immediately reached up and ripped open the buttons of my shirt, raking her nails up and down my chest as she mumbled things about this being too tempting, that I was supposed to be gay, that she wanted to fuck me. Things I was not prepared to hear from a woman I had just met several hours ago. The rest of the evening followed suit, and as Sarah and I got drunker we got bolder, switching off giving each other dances, rubbing each other’s crotches over clothing, delighting in the semi-approved infidelity of it all.

“If you weren’t getting married, I’d take you home right now and fuck you until you couldn’t talk,” I slurred into her ear at one point.

“I know you would,” she purred back.

As the evening turned into early morning the spell wound down, the bartenders amused glances turned into bored impatience, and the group dispersed. I drove home, feeling more aroused and simultaneously empty than I had ever been in my life. It was close to 3AM by the time I crawled under the sheets of the guest room. Sometime around 5AM, my dad came into the room, and gently woke me, saying we had to go to Nana’s house. It was time. As my parents got ready downstairs, my mom got a call from the night nurse again. We were too late. She had just passed on. Sick relief and self-loathing washed over me as my mother crumpled at the table. I finally had somebody else to pour my feelings into, someone to support and hold up and be strong for, instead of turning all of my blind, directionless rage inwards. The entire family was gathered at her bed by the time we got there, my grandfather holding her lifeless body in his hands, all six feet and four inches of his 93-year-old frame doubled over as he wept like I’ve never seen a grown man weep before. We sat and talked with him and waited for the minister to come, followed soon after by the medical school she had donated her body to. I was so mentally and physically exhausted that I passed out in a spare bedroom before the people from the school carried her down the stairs. Apparently they weren’t very good at it, and my mother later said she considered coming to wake me up so I could help them. I’m glad she didn’t.

The next few days were a blur. The funeral, the memorial service, the obituary I wrote, all of it blurred into one continuous splotch of dreary and shuffling humanity that made me swell with pride and shrink for fear of what my own passing might be like. Would it pack the Church of the Incarnation to the rafters, as hers did? Would it be full of lifelong friends and even family of friends laughing and telling stories about me well into the early evening? Or would I only be whispered of gravely over beers in a dive bar somewhere, once old acquaintances had long since moved on and caught wind of my passing from the myriad social networks we use as replacements for friendship? Would the sum total of my life’s remembrance be,  “Oh that guy? Yeah, he was a good dude. Pretty crazy, but nice once you got to know him”?

Months later, when I was back in New York, Tracy popped up on one of my many chat services. “I don’t want to be friends anymore,” she said. It hung in my window, heavy and ominous.

“OK. Why?” I typed back.

She began to tell me all about how terrible I was to her, how I had tricked her into fooling around with me, how once Karen had come into the picture I had stopped calling or getting in touch with her while I was still in Dallas, and how she generally thought I was just an awful person.

“I just don’t want friends like you,” she finished. The last two words bored into my skull, stinging like a glowing match-head jammed under the skin of my eyelid. All the anger that I had turned inward roiled out, and I only wished that I could have been there in person to see her pathetic selfishness crumple. Did she know that the reason I was unavailable was because my grandmother had died and I was consoling a grieving mother, along with her sisters? Did she remember that we had been very upfront with what we were both OK with, and that I had respected those parameters? Did she ever stop to think for a second that maybe people had priorities in their life outside of making her feel like a beautiful and special snowflake princess?

“Whatever John” she typed back.

“Fuck you,” I replied, before closing the laptop lid. I never spoke to her again.

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