Vintage

Alkaline

This post originally appeared on the previous Tequila and Ink Blogspot page on July 12, 2011

It started with a pharmacy book.

It was January of this year and I was working as a library assistant. When he arrived at the front desk we made eye contact and there was a pause in the way he looked at me.

It was a look of curiosity, mixed with fear and relief and topped off with recognition. He didn’t recognize my face, but recognized something in me that was similar to him.

I was instantly smitten. More handsome and charismatic men pass through the library every day, but I could feel the same recognition that the man across the desk was experiencing, and that was more desirable than the never-ending line of chiseled jaws and smart mouths that passed.

Was it because he was a pharmacy graduate student? Maybe I was attracted to his knowledge of pharmaceuticals, the way he was already familiar with my past romances, pills with odd behavior and exotic names. Names like Darvocet and Ritalin and Xanax, they were the kind of names that brought a sharp zest to the tongue when spoken, names like the people I’ve dated in the past. With the likes of Klonopin and Strattera and Vicodin already filed away in his mind, I wouldn’t have to explain how they took me in and the way we mistreated each other. He would already understand.

He had one of those names. I would later learn he grew up in a faraway place where the weather is warm and the people are dark.

When discussing him with friends I began referring to him as my Pharmacy Student Crush, a way to make a joke out of it, an attempt at sucking the tension from the air.

One Sunday morning in spring I found him in the lobby as I waited for my supervisor to unlock the doors to the rest of the library. He struggled with the Coke machine, feebly attempting to get it to accept his tribute. But like the printers and computers and other mechanisms of the library, the machine was temperamental and unwilling to sell. After he gave up, I slid a crisp dollar and fresh quarter into the machine, change from the bars the night before, purchased a Cherry Coke, and handed it to him. He gave me that same look as always, brown eyes filled with recognition and confusion.

“It’s what you wanted, right?” I asked. I couldn’t recall how I knew Cherry Coke was his preferred method of contracting diabetes, it was one of those notes about him I just knew without memory as to how.

He stammered, “Uh yeah. Thanks, I owe you one.”

Weeks later I would accidentally spill an entire cart of books in front of him, a clumsy spectacle that embarrassed me to the core in a way that is rarely experienced past childhood. The various motherly figures I’ve accumulated on Facebook were quick to console me. They have a way of taking the silly and trivial and transforming it into something beautiful:

Months passed and soon it was summer. I was working at the library full-time while looking for work after my recent graduation. My job with a before-and-after school program ended with spring, as well as the writing internship I was participating in. I was at a point where my job search, after several incredibly promising, potentially life-changing leads and interviews, had flatlined.

I was in a morose mood. I shuffled about the stacks on the fourth floor of the library, a pair of the library’s giant, seemingly ancient headphones covering my ears and blasting them with modern bass. I was unshaven, trying to recall if I’d showered that morning and came to the conclusion that I hadn’t. Had I even bothered to brush my teeth? I shelved book after book, a repetitive task that couldn’t keep me from thinking about my impending doom when my college job and lease expired in September.

After I finished putting the books in their proper place, I began my descent down a stairway left dark and dingy by recent construction in the building.

I heard his footsteps coming up as I made my way to the landing of the second floor.

We passed on the second floor. He was there with his dark hair, his olive-brown skin, his plain but functional clothes and his triangular nose.

In a split moment my brain declared war on itself.

The right side, controlled by my mother and fueled by creativity and impulse, whispered “Fuck it. Why not?”

The left side, reigned over by my father and functioning with rationale and logic, screamed “WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU CAN’T JUST MAKE OUT WITH PEOPLE IN STAIRWELLS THIS IS HOW PEOPLE LOSE THEIR JOBS.”

The two sides are usually able to come to a compromise, but in that instant the right side won.

Without provocation, wordless, I took his chin in my hand and kissed him.

There was a slight recoil, the bite one feels when licking a battery, the bitter taste of alkaline. As time passed the initial jolt remained but relaxed itself, like the electric beat pulsing through my ears. My right hand held his chin and my left hand brushed along the hair near his ears.

When it was over he looked at me, that same look of curiosity and recognition, but this time with a wider smile, the kind that releases noise, almost a laugh. I took my headphones off and left them on my neck as they cried for attention.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Uh…” I hummed, rubbing my neck, “I’m not sure I did.”

He gave me his number and told me to text him sometime, but warned me that “this stuff” was a secret for him.

I gave him my number and told him to call me in a few years when he was more comfortable with himself.

It’s been a few days.

He still hasn’t called.

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