Crazy Love You Chapter One
It was the garbage truck that woke me. Rumbling, beeping down Lispenard Street. It crashed over the metal plate in the road, creating a mind-shatteringly loud concussive boom. And with my sudden, unwanted wakefulness came the waves of nausea, the blinding pain behind the eyes. I emerged jaggedly into the land of the living, rolled out of bed, and stumbled through my loft to the bathroom. Gripping the sink, I peered at myself in the mirror—three days since my last shave, my hair a wild dark tangle, blue shiners of fatigue, my skin pale as the porcelain bowl I’d soon be hugging. Not looking good.
“Oh God,” I said.
But the words barely escaped before the world tilted and I dove for the toilet, where the wretched contents of my belly exited with force, leaving only an acidic burn in my gullet.
I slid down to the ground. On the blessedly cool tile floor, I tried to piece together the events of last night. But there was nothing, just a gaping hole in my memory. I should have been alarmed that I had absolutely no recall of the previous evening. You probably would have been, right? But, sadly, that was the normal state of things. I know what you’re thinking: What a loser.
Loser. Weirdo. Queer. Douchebag. Freak. Shitbag. Fugly. Tool. And my personal favorite: Fatboy. Yes, I have been called all of these things in my life. I have been shunned, beaten, bullied. I have been ignored, tortured, teased, and taunted. My middle school and high school life were the typical misery of the misfit, though mine had an especially sharp edge because I was feared as well as hated. And so my punishments were brutal. I barely survived my adolescence. In fact, I barely survived my early childhood. I might not have survived either if it hadn’t been for Priss.
Of course, it wasn’t just Priss who helped me through. My mother did love me, though it seems odd to say that now. I think that’s truly what saved me, what kept me from turning into a raving lunatic—though some people think I’m just that. My mom was the kind of mother who spent time; she wasn’t just going through the motions of caregiving. All those hours with her reading to me, drawing with me, doing puzzles, looking up the answers to my endless questions in big books in the library—they have stayed with me. They have formed me. She loved stories, and she made up endless tales on the fly—the monster who was afraid of cake, the fairy who couldn’t find her magic, the butterflies that carried children off to dreamland. And she was a painter, a deep and compelling artist.
She gave those things to me, and that’s what I kept after she and my sister were gone. I took solace in those gifts in my bleakest moments. Everyone else forgot those things about her in the wake of her final deeds. But I never did. She only exists for me as she was in those times before my sister was born—when we were all happy and nothing ugly had leaked into our lives. And when I hadn’t yet met Priss, who would change everything for me. For good or bad, it’s impossible to say.
Of course, I wasn’t thinking about any of that as I lifted myself off the floor and stumbled back to bed. The sun was high in the sky, too high for anyone my age to still be buried under the covers. Unpleasantly bright and sunny, the room was spinning and pitching like a carnival ride. I couldn’t have gotten up if I wanted to.
Anyway I wasn’t Fatboy anymore. I shed all that extra weight before I came to New York City on an art scholarship. I started running, and later boxing at a crappy gym on Avenue D. I got a cool haircut and grew a goatee. When I look in the mirror today (okay, not today exactly), the angry, unhappy kid I used to be—he’s nowhere to be found. And the town where I grew up, that sad boy, that shitty life—I shed it like I did my old clothes that no longer fit, that hung off me like an old skin. I stuffed it all into a big plastic bag and shoved it down the trash chute. Good-bye. It was that easy. It really was. At least it was for me.
Now, in some circles, I’m the shiznay. My graphic novel series, Fatboy and Priss, is what they call a cult hit—not a mainstream success, necessarily, but something that every geek and weirdo, every comic book and graphic novel freak in the country knows about. I live in a loft in Tribeca, which is also my studio. (Read: I’m rich, suckas! Okay, well, I rent. I’ll own when the movie deal comes through and my agent says that should be any time now.) I publish a book a year, which I write and illustrate. I’m working on a novel. There’s an option for film. At Comic Con, I’m mobbed. Oh, the geek boys, they love me. They stand in long, snaking lines with their carefully maintained copies of my graphic novels, waiting for my signature.
Of course, it’s not me that they care about it, or even Fatboy. It’s Priss. She is every boy’s wet dream—with her wild hair and huge breasts, her impossibly narrow waist and her long, shapely legs. How my hands love drawing her, how I love putting the blue in her eyes, sketching the valentine curve of her ass. Priss loves Fatboy in spite of his many flaws. And she kicks ass, while Fatboy is a wuss, sensitive and artistic but weak. Priss is a powerhouse—she fears nothing and her wrath is a force to be reckoned with. No one messes with Fatboy, or they answer to her. It’s Fatboy and Priss against the world.
Is she real? Is there a real Priss? they want to know.
Of course, I tell them.
Where is she, dude?
It’s a secret, I say. And they don’t know if I’m messing with them or not, but they laugh, give me a knowing wink. Even though they know nothing. Priss is a mystery. Even I can’t quite figure her out.
On that day, the day I met Megan, I hadn’t seen Priss in a while. Priss and I had been slowly drifting apart—spending less time together, getting into less trouble. You know how it is with your childhood friends. You reach an awkward point in your relationship where you’ve gone in different directions or are starting to. You start to judge each other maybe, agree less, and bicker more. Priss still wanted to raise hell, get drunk or high, get wild. But I had responsibilities, deadlines, meetings.
Still, I looked at her face every day on my drawing table. It was an intimate relationship, my hands always on her, my mind always on her—but that was just on paper, the version of her that lived and breathed within the panels of my books. For Fatboy, she was lover, avenger, and friend. Once upon a time she was all those things for me as well. Somehow, somewhere along the line, for me the real Priss and the one on the page had kind of morphed into one.
The truth was that the more I had of her in ink, the less I wanted or needed her in life. I was okay with that, because my relationship with Priss has always been complicated— really complicated—and not always pretty. Like everything in life, she was easier to deal with on the page.
“You don’t own me,” she said during one of our last conversation-slash-arguments. “Just because you put me in these neat little boxes, have me saying and doing what you want, you think you do. But that’s not me.”
“I know that,” I told her.
• • •
I think what I liked about Megan, the first of many things I liked, was that she was nothing at all like Priss. And I mean nothing—not physically, not energetically. Megan was the good girl, the nice one, the one you took home to your parents. Well, not my parents. My father is dead, and my mother, Miriam, is, shall we say, indisposed. But one’s parents. She was the woman who would take care of your children, take care of you. There aren’t many of them, these types of girls. When you see one, you better be smart enough to recognize her. Lucky for me, I was.
By four o’clock, my blinding, take-me-to-the-emergency-room hangover was starting to abate. In the sundry bargains I’d made with God that day, I’d sworn off booze, pot, blowing deadlines, and being mean to people who didn’t deserve it. I’d done penance on the marble floor of my extraordinary bathroom, clinging to its cool, white surfaces, moaning. I’d made Technicolor offerings to my low-flow toilet. And a wobbly redemption was mine. The pain, the nausea, the misery had faded, and my body was looking for nourishment of the greasiest kind.
The late afternoon light was still impossibly bright, the traffic noise deafening, as I went uptown for the only thing that could save me: a burger, fries, and malt from the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. I waited on the eternal line, bleary and tilting, and finally made my way to the park bench near the playground to eat.
I liked watching them, those children of privilege, those New York City angels who see their high-powered parents for approximately three hours a day. They are coiffed and impeccably dressed, already wearing the blank expression of entitlement and neglect. They are tended to by nannies of various shapes and colors who always seem mindful that the children are, at once, their charges and their employers. An odd line to walk, I always thought. How terrible for all of them. Children don’t want power; they can’t handle it. And while I watched this frightful dynamic play out on little stages throughout the park—a tantrum on the jungle gym, a struggle over swings, a child weeping on the slide while her nanny chatted with another nanny, back turned, oblivious—I saw Megan.
She was not the kind of girl I’d usually notice. Typical of the Fatboy turned fairly-decent-looking-moderately-successful guy, my tastes ran to the cheap and flashy. I liked a blonde, one who wasn’t afraid to show a little skin, wear leather and denim, sport heels high and spiky, painted nails, glossy lips. You know, strippers. Other than Priss, I’d never really had a woman in my life, not a relationship per se. And Priss didn’t really count, for all sorts of reasons.
Megan’s glossy brown hair was struggling free of its stubby ponytail as she wiped the nose of a towheaded boy. She had a scrubbed-clean look to her, not a drop of makeup. Her black ballet flats were scuffed and worn. Her jeans had dirt on the knees. And yet a kind of innocent, peaceful beauty lit up her features.
“Are you okay?” she said to the little boy, who was crying in a soft, not-too-bratty way. And her voice was so gentle, so full of caring that it lifted me out of myself. I don’t think anyone other than my mother had ever talked to me so sweetly. I longed to be that little boy in her care. No, I wanted to tell her. I’m not okay. Can you help me?
“Want to go home and get cozy?” she asked the little boy. “Are you tired?”
“Yeah,” he said, looking up at her with big eyes. Milking it. And I knew just how he felt. It’s so nice—and so very rare—when someone understands how you feel.
“Your mom will be home soon,” she said. “We need to get dinner ready anyway.”
I watched her gather up his little backpack and put him in his stroller. Her face, somehow pale and bright, somehow sweet and smart, somehow kind and strong, was the prettiest face I’d ever seen. But of course there was something else there, too. It wasn’t all light. Wasn’t there also a bit of shadow? A dark dancer moving beneath the surface? Yes, there was just a shade of something sad.
I started thinking about how to draw her, how I’d capture all the things I saw in just those few moments that our lives intersected. Faces are so hard because they are more than lines and shadows. They are about light, but a light that comes from inside and shines out.
So badly did I want to see her face again that—I am embarrassed to say—I followed her up Park Avenue South to a Murray Hill brownstone. I watched from the corner as she took the little boy out of his stroller, folded it up, and carried them both inside. The light was dim by then; it had turned to evening, the wintery afternoon gold fading to milky gray.
The artist wants to capture everything beautiful and make it his own. There is such a hunger for that. I went home and tried to draw her that night. But I couldn’t get her; she eluded me. And so I had to chase.
They went to the park every day. And every day I was there, unbeknownst to them, finding a perch outside the playground that was close enough to watch her and just far away not to arouse any suspicion. Because that’s what people love: a weird-looking single guy with no kids lingering around a park where children are playing.
But on the third day, she saw me. I saw her see me. She looked at the boy—his name was Toby. Then she said something to another young woman, a gorgeous supermodel of a nanny with café au lait skin and dark kinky hair beneath a red kerchief. That other one had a stare like a cattle prod and she turned it on me. Men had writhed in agony beneath that stare; I was certain of it. They’d liked it a little, too, I bet.
Then I was getting up and walking away, trying not to look like a caught stalker running for my life. I heard the clang of the playground gate, and her voice slicing over the traffic noise, the kids yelling, laughing, a siren fading down Broadway:
“Hey,” she called. “Hey! Excuse me!”
I thought about running; I really did. But imagine what a freak, a coward I would have been if I did that. I could never go back. I’d never see her again. And I was still trying to get her face right. All that light, and that subtle shadow, too—was it worry, anxiety, maybe even a tendency toward depression? I still didn’t have her on the page. So I stopped and turned around.
She was scared and mad, her eyebrows arched, her mouth pulled tight. All the other nannies were watching us from the playground fence, moving close together, staring like an angry line of lionesses against the hyena eyeing their adopted cubs.
“Hey,” she said. “Are you following us?”
“Uh,” I said. I looked up at the sky, then down at the silver-green-purple pigeon strutting near my foot. He cooed, mocking me. “No. No. Of course not.”
She did a funny thing with her body. She wasn’t quite squared off with me; she tilted herself away, ready to run if she needed to, back to the safety of the playground. “This is the third day I’ve seen you here.”
I held up the Shake Shack bag, offered a little shrug. I didn’t have to try to look sheepish and embarrassed. I was.
“I eat here on my break,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh,” she said. She deflated a little, drew in a deep breath. “Oh. Okay.”
Woop, Woop, said the police car on Madison, trying to push its way through traffic. Woop.
Was she going to apologize? I wondered. If I were writing her, what would I have her do? I’d like to get that little wiggle in her eyebrows, that tightness of uncertainty around her eyes, the just-barely-there embarrassed smile. It’s all those little muscles under the skin; they dance in response to limbic impulses we can’t control. It’s their subtle shifting and moving that make expression.
“It’s just something you have to look out for, you know?” she said. She looked back at the playground and gave a little wave. The tension dissipated, the line blurring, the nannies began talking among themselves. “When you watch kids at the playground. Especially here in the city.”
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “I get it. No worries.”
Nope. She wasn’t going to say she was sorry. Because she didn’t believe me. She knew I wasn’t there on my break. But she also knew I wasn’t stalking the kids. She started moving back toward the playground. I saw Toby looking at her through the fence.
“Meggie,” he called. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m okay, Toby,” she said. “Go play. I’m watching you.”
She started moving away, going back to him. I didn’t want her to.
“I saw you a couple of days ago,” I admitted. It just kind of came out.
She turned back, and I came a step closer. She didn’t back up. I looked up at the sky again, the bare branches, the little brown birds watching us. “I think you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. I’ve been looking for a chance to talk to you.”
I’ve never been much good at anything but total honesty. Sometimes it works for you. Then I saw it: a brief, reluctant smile. And I knew I wasn’t sunk—yet. I tried to remember that I wasn’t the loser kid on the school playground. I wasn’t Fatboy anymore. I was okay to look at; I had money. She could like me. Why not?
“Really,” she said flatly. She looked down at her outfit, another winner—faded jeans, a stained white button-down, a puffy parka with a fur-lined hood, scuffed Ugg boots. She gave me a half-amused, half-flattered look.
“Really,” I said.
I could see her scanning through a list of replies. Finally: “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
I was sure that wasn’t true. She looked like the kind of girl to whom people said nice things all the time.
“There’s more where that came from,” I said. I went for a kind of faux-smarmy thing. And this time she smiled for real.
“Meeegaaaan,” called Toby, whiny, annoyed.
She backed away again toward the playground, blushing in a really sweet way.
“Want to get a coffee?” I asked.
“Uh,” she said. “I don’t know. This is weird.”
I waited, still thinking to myself: I’m okay. Chicks dig me. I get laid with some frequency. I don’t always pay for it. I’m not a stalker.
“When?” she asked, still moving backward.
“Tonight,” I said. “What time do you get off?”
I couldn’t let her go without making her agree to see me again. I knew what would happen if she had too much time to think about it. Because I could already tell what kind of girl she was.
She came from money; she had nice, concerned parents probably living somewhere close by. How did I know this? There’s a way a woman carries herself, a shine, an inner cleanliness, when she comes from love and privilege. It takes a certain amount of confidence to walk around Manhattan looking like a bit of a mess. She was pretty, probably smoking hot underneath those baggy clothes. She could have shown it off like every other beautiful girl in the city. But she didn’t need to; she didn’t care who was looking. And you don’t feel that way, not ever, unless your parents told you and showed you how special you are. That’s how I knew.
If she had too much time to think about me, about our encounter, if she told her best friend, her employer, or God forbid her mom, they’d talk her out of seeing me again. Maybe tomorrow she’d decide it was better to go to another park for a while.
“Seven,” she said. “I get off at seven.”
“Meet me here at seven, then. Seven fifteen.”
“Maybe,” she said. She moved an errant strand of hair away from her eyes. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know,” she said again. And that time it sounded more like a no.
She was gone then, disappeared behind the playground gate. And I turned around, leaving quickly. I knew as I walked downtown that if she didn’t come back at seven that night, I might not see her again.
• • •
“Why did you come back?” I would ask her much later.
“Because I felt sorry for you,” she said. She gave me a kind of sympathetic smile, a light touch to the face. “You looked like a person who needed something.”
“I was needy? That’s why you came back—not because I was hot or charming or magnetic? Not because you wanted me?”
“No. Sorry.” Then that laugh, a little-girl giggle that always made me laugh, too.
“I did need something,” I said. I ran my hand along the swell of her naked hip. “I needed you. I needed this life.”
“Aw,” she said. “And I came back because you were sweet. I could see that you were really, really sweet.”
But I didn’t make it back to the park that night at seven. Guess why.