I grew up thinking I had to sleep on the side of the bed farthest from the door. Every night I woke up at an hour that felt late enough to safely crawl in between my parents. My dad slept on the side closest to the door and this felt right. It taught me to seek out comfort when I was scared in my youth of the things that could get to me if I were any closer.
I am attracted to the men who are broken. The ones I share cheap beers with after their time in rehab. The ones who don’t apologize for the drugs they taste like. The ones I hide from the people I tell everything to. This has become a pattern and a joke. I act like I am better off than they are, saying it is they who influence me. It is they who put the keys under my nose. Our first times are never sober. They teach me to chase Jameson with Bud Light and make me feel at home in a dive bar. We mix cheap wine with cheap love and they do not admit why they are the way they are. That is for me to piece together as I fall for them without care.
I notice the way he pours liquor into the shaker as he makes the drinks for my tables. I see the way his hands shake and spill along the well, putting shots aside for later. The other servers warn me about his reputation because I am the new girl. He is probably drunk at work more times than sober, yet we still tease and flirt and I begin to wait for the days he will put those shots aside for me.
A server tells me he’s been eighty-sixed from a few bars in Los Angeles. He rolls his eyes while they tease and I ignore. He takes me out later that night and he is kind. He buys the drinks and kisses me. He asks me not to listen to what others say about him. I smile and say, “Don’t worry, I like being kicked out of places.” I am in control, yet I see the way he looks at me and locks me in before he is even inside of me.
On our second date he takes me to a dive bar and he blends in with the rest. We find comfort immediately. We end up in bathrooms and I can’t remember which ones we fuck in and which ones we snort in. Our nights become routine as we get off work and head to that dive bar on Wednesdays where he loses games of pool and I pretend I’m not flirting with the bartender.
There come nights we stay up talking. The stories we share that let a part of me think I must mean something if he, too, can be vulnerable. Those are the nights I am honest about, but I leave out the bags of questionable cocaine we pass back and forth until we are stuck in bed wishing we had more.
He forgets my birthday and I learn to pretend I am okay. He flirts with other women sitting at the bar as I polish glassware. I learn he is not so different from the rest. They have done the same things. They have even kissed other women in front of me. I learn how we fight, how it ends in sex in place of forgiving or forgetting. I say I’m not hurt when I find a condom in the corner of his room one night. I’m not hurt when he lies; I know it’s not from us. I say I’m okay, I say yes, because what can I do if I don’t pretend?
There are days when I cannot fall asleep without alcohol running through my blood and I realize I am not much different from them. I finish bottles of wine alone in my apartment. I go to the dive bar on my own, attracting the eyes of more broken men. I cut and snort lines by myself and hear a voice in my head saying you’re just as fucked up as I am. I might be fragile, dipping my toes in the pool of torturous fun, but am I broken?
It’s been months and he wants more out of this. He tells me he is serious about me and it is gross if I still consider this a fling. I look at where the condom was, almost hoping to find another one, knowing I am stuck. This is when it is time to let go, to say it has run its course, but not out loud because I cannot let go. I’ve been here before, on top when they say they love me. Yet I don’t think they do, I think it is just the pheromones. He says he’ll be better off with me than without me. This is what I crave when I find the broken. I crave their attention, their love until I swear I am too scared for more. Maybe I don’t know how to love myself and be okay with not having someone to want me. I’m not sure how to stop wishing I had what others have, what I once had, what I pretend to have. So I keep them around when they don’t matter. I pretend we have what I want and I am happy. I have someone to come home to and feel close to. To kiss without question in another bed I have made my own. I figure this can go on until I find someone I genuinely want it with. I can pretend I have something until it becomes real, can’t I?
I buy time when I say I don’t know what I want. We decide we mean nothing to each other, but I stick around. The dive bar is still our spot only now I’m turned on when the bartender says he can’t stand the man I’m with. Wednesday nights become nights he fucks me relentlessly and half hard. We drink too much and the cocaine is still bad. I lie on my side because it is only done like this now and each time the sun is barely rising. This is hours and this goes nowhere as I cry, thinking about how to end it when I’ve had some sleep. He stops, rolls over, we give up. I walk to the bathroom and cry harder, still thinking of that condom, trying to remember the last time I was tested.
I think I was once scared of the dreams that felt too real; the ones that rushed me to that spot in between my parents. When I started sleeping in beds with boys I would make my way over even if I fell asleep on the wrong side. And now when I fall asleep in the crevice between a man’s ribs and his armpit I don’t know what I am scared of, but I know why I turn to what feels comfortable.
In the New Year he gets fired. I hold his hand and discuss his options. He says he needs something fresh in his life. Maybe he’ll move towards the beach, maybe to Vegas. I wonder how much of this will be based off convenience as opposed to the connection he claims we have. He’s drunk and rambles on and I look down and hide my tears. This is what they do. This is what I do. I fall for the men who are broken without care, until they are gone.
When they fall and hit rock bottom I still care when I say I never will. It is never me who ends it. We don’t stay friends. I don’t want to be friends with the men who are broken; I want them to love me because maybe being with someone who is broken is better than being alone. I wait for them to fall for me, to feel desired and loved again. I want that more than anything, but I want it with someone who doesn’t love that I’ll take care of them. Someone who loves me and doesn’t love the pheromones.
One day I am home and find my parents have switched the sides that they sleep on. Another day he is gone, on a plane to Hawaii without saying goodbye. Things change as they always do and I can’t stop it. They move. They go to rehab. They leave.
I go to the dive bar one night with a friend and the bartender tells me he has been eighty-sixed here too. I am relieved, yet I know I will still miss the way people thought I complimented him even when they spoke poorly. I wonder how long the feelings of anger will last before I want the comfort again. The bartender flirts with me and I give my friend cash to buy the same shitty drugs I’ve had too much of in the last few months. I think about the things that matter. Close friends, love for myself and I swear I’ll try and be better as my friend puts the bag in my hand. I wonder if all that I have is enough if I still think I need someone to sleep on the side closest to the door.
I close the bar with the bartender that night and we go back to his place. He doesn’t look broken, but none of them ever do. I want the coke I have and for the first time I question if a man will judge me for that. I offer it to him and he tells me he is good without it. I don’t know if I’m disappointed. I don’t know if I’ll wish they were not all gone when the anger wears off because Los Angeles is the worst place to feel lonely in. For now, I put the coke away and lie down in his lap. It gets closer to three in the morning and as he runs his fingers through my hair I try not to think about pretending.