I moved in with Missy about halfway through my first year of law school.  Since my original roommate had baled on me just weeks before the spring semester started, I was desperate for a place to live.  Desperate enough to move into a house with someone I hadn’t spoken too much since third grade.  However, because her mom still talked to another lady that knew my mom, it was a neighborhood set up of sorts.  As it turned out, Missy had recently decided to move to Lubbock for medical school, and her parents felt she needed a roommate.  To be honest, it’s the doctor myth that did it.  It had me completely fooled.  I was stuck under the false assumption that if Missy had made it past the screening process to become a physician, she must not be that bad.

Rather than focusing on her academic resume, what I should have noticed was right in front of me, staring back, and blinking, bald.  Back when she’d switched schools from grade school to junior high, something about the change had caused Missy to systematically pick out all of her eyelashes.  Another similar change must have taken place sometime between high school and college, because now her eyebrows were missing too. 

Sometimes when we’d study together, I’d notice her picking at the few stray hairs attempting to grow back.  I never said anything about it.  Really, what could you say?  Missy isn’t Beast who I can command with, “No chews.”  Though, in many ways, I can see similarities.

My dog, Beast, developed a nervous habit of chewing her paws, while awaiting adoption at the pound.  At first I thought she might have something strange, like mites, allergies, or fleas, something that needed treatment; but, the animal behaviorist at the shelter explained that her paw chewing was only a psychological response to her previous confinement.  Harmless, much like nail biting, or eyelash picking, my dog’s paw chewing was just a nervous habit.  Now that I’ve had her a couple years, time has passed and so has her paw chewing.  Occasionally if it begins, she now understands the command, “No Chews.”  While she tends to huff after each reprimand, at least Beast is better.  Missy, however, is not.  I always wondered if it had something to do with where we grew up.  Amidst the suburbs of Northwest Austin, the majority of nature is represented by the potted plant. 

During the depression when farmers’ kids moved to the cities, forced to trade in their plows for factory jobs, many developed similar neuroses.  Quite a few were recorded as breaking down in the center of an assembly line; they were simply unable to adjust to their new, artificial surroundings.  Doing the same task, over and over, these farmers kids were forced to transform themselves, away from natural time, into the ticking of their mechanized environment.  As it turns out, Missy’s relatives on her mother’s side are still farmers; they live in Oklahoma, knee deep in red dirt, and wading through cotton.  Down in Austin there’s no cotton, except in the clothing stores, already processed.

So if some neurotic behaviors can be triggered by an artificial environment, it’s worth nothing that both Missy and Beast grew up amongst concrete and happy meals.  I’m not too sure there’s much natural in a happy meal, but at least it comes with a toy. 

They always provide zoo animals with brightly colored ones, large toys to make up for what’s really missing.  Tigers, for instance, pace back and forth, circling the perimeter of their cage in the San Antonio Zoo, wholly disinterested in the red balls meant for them to bat around the pen; however, they seemed quite pleased to bat around some drunken guy that fell over the fence a couple years back. 

Once, when I was at the Berlin Zoo, the chimps began spitting and throwing feces at the passing tourists.  Hurling it through their cages, the bars served as little resistance against their form of attack.  Rather than running away and ending their picture taking like the others, there still remained a small group of Japanese tourists; they were trapped between the souvenirs and the hot dog stand, stooped down, trying to avoiding the flying shit, while snapping shots of the action. 

On our refrigerator there were a series of photographs.  There was one of me and Missy from grade school, one she insisted on keeping up; we were dressed in our white frocked button downs, adorned with the Catholic insignia of St. Mary’s on the starched white pocket.  Another was from that first fall semester after exams, you could see the tequila near empty on the table, its contents now displayed in our eyes. Beneath these pictures, there was a chart; it contained the recorded length and width of all Missy’s past and present men.  She labeled each with an initial.  For instance, Michael would be represented by the letter “M.”  She was what my friend Jason referred to as, a “size queen.”  I’d never really heard of the term before, but apparently that’s what she was, a size queen.  Perhaps there’s really no nice way to explain what a size queen is, because the very nature of a size queen isn’t very nice.  A size queen then, is a woman who discriminates against men, or rather against men who don’t quite measure up.

Sometimes though what seems good on paper, really is just that alone – only good on paper.  My guess is that Missy might disagree.  You know, after living with Missy, she should have dispelled any of my prior notions idealizing the American doctor.  But then, this wasn’t just any old doctor, he was also a pediatrician, saving dying kids, stuff like that.  So, I guess I’m a sucker for kids and animals, which makes me a bit more stereotypically feminine than I’d like to admit, but it’s still true nonetheless.  Unfortunately though, this stereotype of doctors remained false, Missy seeming to be the rule, rather than the exception.

So then there was another doctor I used to know, Dr. John; he seemed nice enough and probably remains just that – nice enough .  Older and established, set in his ways, though he seemed a little too set maybe.  I think it’s something that happens to older men, those who live alone for too long – this length of time, manifesting in them a loneliness that seems to impress a certain level of selfish need.  I think maybe this need grows exponentially within the time it takes for him to loose his mom and find another, which if done in short only manages to create a longing, and longing in small doses can be useful.  However, when the same men are left alone for too long, this time instead of creating longing that spins itself into an abyss, an empty pit of desperation which occurs inevitably from having been away from home too long. 

Home.  Home then is a feeling that comes from being able to swim up into a warm pair of arms of the one who promises to hold you forever.  And then to awake again to the embrace of pancakes in the morning, the smell of Blue Mountain coffee, distinct and familiar, because isn’t that what you’ve had since you began sharing this roof.

I lived with a man once for six months.  His name was Brian.  The place we lived in was definitely an apartment, certainly not a home.  What I learned from this experience was that no matter how many pictures you hang, or pillows you buy, or dinners you set out on a freshly made table, nothing ever makes the place a home if it’s still lacking a family.  Not that a family consists of any particular element, only an essence that remains grounded in forever.

Missy always took forever to get ready, but only if we were going to the local dive to shoot pool.  That’s where she liked to find herself, as well as her men.  Missy owned special low cut shirts, v-necks to the extreme, bought, saved, and worn on Two Dogs nights.  Two Dogs was the name of the fruity wine coolers she drank, holding one in each hand, she’d take a drink from each, keeping it equal, one for her and one for the girls.  That’s how she referred to her double DD’s anyway.

My mom asked me once if I wanted some of those, a pair of boobs for Christmas.  By that point though they’d sort of lost their appeal, so I said no thanks, but I would like new toaster.  The one I had was the sort that burned one side, while leaving the other cold.

I used to be frigid with him; Brian always left me cold.   I think it was because he didn’t care.  Or it wasn’t that he didn’t care, but rather I don’t think he considered anyone other than himself.  I’d come to that early on, recognizing his general indifference.  It was embarrassing, so to save myself I’d reverted back to an old high school trick to avoid hitting home, no reason to even undress.  Not that what we did, really did anything for me anyway, but then that was the point.  He didn’t do anything for me, and therefore wasn’t allowed to try, as the subject of me to conveniently faded away, disappearing sometimes altogether.  But so long as Brian was getting what he wanted in some at least one form, the method really didn’t seem to matter– still stuck in high school, I guess.

So, I’ve learned then that if you have to guess or aren’t really sure, that uncertainty is just your instinct telling you there’s something more you haven’t found.  That’s how it was sometimes with Brian, I kept looking for something more.  Sometimes during brunch, I’d pause between the orange juice, waiting, expecting a better joke, a kinder smile, a broader laugh, pausing too long.  These silences, intentional, should have relayed my disappointment, but I think I’m the only one who really knew what they meant.  I think they were injected to create discomfort, the same discomfort I felt while trying to scoot to the distant end of the bed, unable to get far enough away to sleep soundly.

One day I awoke to a note that said “Today is Naked Day, that means no clothes . . .”  It was scratched out on the back of an envelope and propped up beside my pillow. I could smell the coffee brewing, but rather than grabbing the robe from the chair beside my bed, I paused.  Crawling down towards the foot of the bed, then peering out the bedroom door, I looked to see where he’d gone.  Jason returned, a bare butt, carrying the breakfast tray and smiling. 

We’d had the flu earlier that week, first Jason and then me.  So we’d taken turns feeling sorry for ourselves and then for each other.  I’d read the day before in a Cosmopolitan that a cure for the flu is sex, something about endorphins, or whatever those healing hormones are.  So we figured that even if the antibiotics we downed couldn’t help us, this was something we could do for one another.  And you know, I think it worked.  Laying around lazy and nude helped to lower the fever, while the heat killed our virus, and all of this together, it gave us a strong sense of accomplishment.  We had enough food stockpiled in the freezer, we figured we could hold out like this forever, never needing doctors again.

Once on my way back from Mexico, I needed one then, a doctor, a pill, something.  I’d even made it home, but couldn’t make it through the door.  Montezuma’s Revenge, powerful enough to drop me down, falling to my knees in the mud, and making a mess of my front porch.  Brian carried me inside to the bathroom, retching.  I managed to get out of my clothes that he stored in a plastic bag, which I later threw in the trash.  And then crawling into the tub, Brian turned the shower on, and brought me a trashcan, a bar of soap and a towel, then went out to buy Gatorade and Campbell’s Soup.  My father stopped by after he’d gone, brought some Pepto and shook his head, “this is exactly why your mother will never get me to go.”  

Leaving, escaping, going down to Mexico can be slightly hazardous, dangerous really, but then that’s what makes it wonderful.  There’s that element of risk ever present, even when you brush your teeth.  It’s got a rejuvenating energy, something white about it, shining ready to burst into flames around you and inside.  So Mexico, it’s the best place I think to take a lover.

I used to love it when he kissed my neck, lingering there, laughter between whispers, I think Jason knew my secret. And then it became a game.  Now, laughter between screams and sighs, and then I’d be pinned, stuck below and arching against him, and then he’d do it again, always asking if he’d won yet, and I’d say never. 

I never told him that though, never said, “I love you, Brian,” mainly because I didn’t.  While I love chocolate, love the heat, love strong arms, and love my dog Beast, I love all of them, but I never loved him.  Because I didn’t love him, it was easy not to say it, so I never understood why lying came so easily for him.  Always saying to me, “I love you,” Brian liked to tell lies. 

Missy was afraid that the rumors she’d heard about her newest man, Mike, would be false.  This worried her. But after a couple Two Dog Nights playing pool, she had confirmed the truth.  The truth made her smile, because Mike measured up.  In fact he measured quite high, topping off her size chart, a new red dot near the top of the fridge.  So after that first night, Missy happily promised him another.  Though, the second time he made a mistake.  Because he’d taken her out after arguing a case, Mike hadn’t stopped to change out of his suit.  Not that there was anything wrong with the jacket and tie, but rather with what lay beneath.  Missy, it seems, had an unnatural aversion to what she called “tightey-whities.”  So it turns out his Hanes your Way, didn’t happen to be hers, because once he’d dropped his pants, she grabbed hers and stormed out the door.  Not even a goodbye.

I said good-bye to Brian.  We’d been living together a couple months when he decided to leave, not that I was sorry to see him go.  We’d been arguing a lot, over clothes on the floor, dirty dishes in the sink.  Those things were easy to fight over.  The real issues didn’t come out until after he’d gone   Brian liked to tell lies.  Turns out that when Brian said he was going to the opera with his father, he was really performing on stage, doing some Chippendales show.   I always wondered why he had some many ones. 

So yeah, Brian left before the spring of my first year of law school, supposedly to go to medical school up in Chicago.  Though I never really checked after he was gone.  He’d asked me to come too, saying we could get married.  After a while, though, he just quit asking and started assuming, calling me his fiancée to whomever would listen.  I figured if he could propose without asking, then I could say no without an answer. So that’s how I’d ended up with Missy.  I should have known better about the whole doctor thing.  At least I said “no thanks” to him, content to wave my reply from the driveway, refusing Chicago, becoming doctor’s wife, and him, as they all disappeared into the dust.