As the long August day at the Film Academy wound down, I cornered Gillian in the cavernous hallway outside of the projection room and asked her how I should approach the whole Jake Thing. We were meeting under the pretense that I needed help figuring out how to operate the light meter, perhaps the simplest piece of film equipment ever invented, but it had numbers on it and required basic math skills, and I actually had no idea how to use it. But should I actually pretend to be all interested in the light meter? Should I flirt?
My read on him told me that coy glances wouldn’t work with Jake. I didn’t know a whole lot about him, but I’d compiled my own little dossier on him in the last few weeks using the investigative prowess I’d learned from watching Charlie’s Angels avidly when I was seven. The information I’d acquired:
1. I found out from Alex that he was originally from Pennsylvania but had lived on his own, legally emancipated, since he was seventeen.
2. He’d traveled and settled for a time in Seattle.
3. He’d headed to Manhattan on a whim and had taken the film course and then had gotten a job at the Film Academy, and that’s where I came into his life.
He seemed to strike me as someone who’d lived, someone brave, and I hoped that some of that courage would literally rub off on me, perhaps later that evening.
Gillian told me I should play it calm and cool and tell him we should go get a drink at Heartland across the park and just hang out there and get comfortable and wait to see what would happen. She reminded me that my new Jake-obsession had nothing to do with Jake. It was about me trying to move beyond my Tim-obsession, whether I wanted to admit to it or not. She was so smart sometimes. That amazing ease of hers probably came as a package deal with her gorgeous face, but I couldn’t deny she’d given me sound advice.
I checked my makeup again and fluffed my hair up. Gillian fixed my bra to make better cleavage, and I went to the equipment room and rubbed my damp palms on my little denim skirt, leaving marks that only I could see. Jake was just putting the last camera away and smiled when he saw me. I opened my mouth, practiced-bravery abounding, and said, “Why don’t we go get a drink at the place across the park? We can talk about all of the technical stuff there.” And those two sentences had taken so much energy out of me that I almost had to sit down for a second, but he just shrugged and said, “Why not?”
Heartland was a long, narrow bar with a large red sign outside. Inside it was nothing special, but its location facing Union Square made it worthwhile. Jake and I got a small table and sat facing each other on high bar stools. When the waitress came over, he ordered a beer. I got a glass of wine, and I’m pretty sure I saw him smirk. The moment hung; it actually felt heavy. I kind of drifted beyond myself and looked down at this strange scene and just knew he was looking at me and seeing a long-haired, wine-drinking, dimpled-faced suburban girl. I didn’t know how to show him I was more, and I didn’t know if I found it necessary to have to show him anything.
I couldn’t figure out if I liked him as a person. We seemed to have nothing in common. And he made me nervous. He had the ability to look at me and not feel the urge to look away, while my eyes were flitting wildly around the bar if they settled on his face too long. Every time I stared directly at him, he seemed to develop a new physical feature.
Were his eyes this green all summer?
Had his stubble grown since my last sip of wine?
The moment felt so existential and unreal that all I wanted was to make it through a half hour or so, thank him for his equipment help, and book across the park and up to the editing suite in the Academy, where I could put my third film together with Gillian by my side and decompress in the comforting darkness of the editing room. I had told Gillian I’d probably see her there later, so convinced I’d been that this non-date would just feel unrelentingly awkward.
I was thinking of how to word my exit, of how to get away before he tried to get away, when Jake touched my fingers lightly and asked what I thought of the program that summer and why I’d taken it in the first place. That led into a natural discussion of college and my classes and graduation and my uncertain future, and he told me of his strange past, of his beyond-liberal upbringing, of his desire to make documentaries. I told him that I loved Trainspotting, which he had recommended I see the week before. He told me he had thought I was cute all summer, that he’d noticed me immediately. I asked him what his favorite books were and somehow in his answer about literature, I found out he was a vegetarian. He asked if I had really been president of a sorority because the thought terrified him. And four glasses of Pinot later, when he got up to go to the bathroom for the fifth time, I looked at my watch and realized through my buzz that I was not going to be meeting Gillian anytime that evening.
One of the hundreds of things we’d spoken about over what felt like hundreds of drinks was his final film. As we left the bar and I was thinking, okay, what now, Jake asked if I felt like coming back to his place. He said we could just hang and watch his film. And, you know -- whatever.
In the cab on our way farther downtown than I’d ever been, we were quiet and sitting close together on the large backseat. It wasn’t a crushing silence like it had been earlier, just quiet. I took the time to caution myself against feeling too much. I repeated my it’s all about adventure mantra to myself, psyching myself for the rest of the night and whatever would happen. I told myself that yes, we’d had compulsive, deep conversations all night, and no, I hadn’t felt that open with anyone since that first mystical night with Tim, but this was a totally different situation, and I should remember that the reason I even got myself into this in the first place was to get over one relationship, not completely wrap myself in another.
Third Street and Avenue A. We got out on the corner and walked a few feet to Jake’s place. He unlocked the three locks, and when we walked in the door, I began to feel really uncentered. The front door opened into a bedroom, and from the pictures taped up, I saw it was Jake’s bedroom, and I was scared because who was he? Where was I? What was I doing? Was experimentation like this what it meant to be a grown-up? Or did my experimenting just further prove I was a stupid child?
Shake, shake, and put the thoughts out.
I’d gotten good at that; I was like an Etch a Sketch.
I walked around his room, checking stuff out, working on looking nonchalant, trying to stand up straight through the alcohol haze that was so strong, I felt I could actually see it surrounding me. It’s a weird thing to walk around someone else’s most personal space, especially when you really haven’t earned the right to be there and own his secrets. But I found out a few things by his room. He didn’t make his bed, but the rest of the room was clean—no dirty dishes or ashtrays or cobwebs around. He was obviously fond of music clubs because he had promo postcards on the dresser. He had a small sticker of Ernie from Sesame Street on his mirror—I liked that. And there were lots of pictures of this grungy brown-haired girl who looked young. She was always in the pictures alone, just a shadow of whomever took the photo across the ground, and I wondered who she was and what she’d meant to Jake, but I didn’t ask him, just paused in front of them for a while and then moved on. I did realize by looking at her that if that girl was his type, he must have been feeling as experimental by being with me as I was by being with him.
We watched his movie. A sexy girl and a thin guy moved around to P.J. Harvey, and it looked cool, really shadowy and dangerous. Then we went into the tiny kitchen, where he had some Fruity Pebbles and I had some water. Then we went back into his room, and I was nervous because I could tell he couldn’t completely figure me out, and he didn’t really know what to do with me—kiss me, send me home, throw me on the bed, talk more. He was stuck, and I felt stuck too, but the videotape of Ben Harper appealed to him, and we lay down and watched the guy sing and perform. As we watched, my eyes started to close, and he started stroking my hair, doing it off and on in a kind of strange rhythm that I couldn’t quite predict. I whispered that I was exhausted and I should probably get going, but he told me I should crash there. And the tape was still playing and both of us started to sleep and we were turning toward each other, but I couldn’t get comfortable, and I kept fidgeting, and I moved the pillow again, and that’s when he grabbed me. He just rolled on top of me and held my hair all tight in his hands and pulled me close and kissed me so hard that I felt momentarily suffocated. Then he untied my tank and unzipped my skirt and took off my underpants and pushed up my bra and did all of this so quickly, I couldn’t even pull the blankets around me for cover. And he was kissing me everywhere and flipping me over and back again, and I felt grip marks being formed on my wrists and thighs, and he was still completely dressed, and I wasn’t wearing so much as an earring, and I started to freak out because this no longer felt fun, it just felt aggressive, and it surprised me because he had seemed so gentle, but then I guess I really didn’t know him well enough to know what he was.
I finally gained control of Jake when I rolled on top of him, locked his hands to his sides with my knees, and leisurely took his clothing off. He was skinny, hairless, and his skin was so smooth, almost like flattened velvet, and he was so into hooking up. His primal instincts took over, and he lost all inhibitions. Sometimes it got a little rough and lots of times he got a little loud, but I kind of liked it, and I figured out that holding him tightly for a few seconds, like hugging him, calmed him down so his aggression stayed in check.
He was completely present in what was happening, and I was not. I was sort of watching it as it happened. I was recording in my head the sequence of events: how frequent his moans were, what my hips were doing, how the balls of my feet dug into his mattress, where on the bed we were at any given moment. After an hour or so of being on the bed, against the bed, of throwing each other all over the bed, facing the opposite direction we had started in, he got back on top of me and started to push himself in. And I wanted him to. I felt it would complete something, but then something changed, and I just didn’t want to anymore. The desire literally passed in a flash. I felt kind of over it for some reason, and over him too, and for the life of me, I couldn’t explain why my emotions changed so suddenly. I just know that I came to my scattered senses and shook my head faintly. He slowly stopped pushing against me and kissed me on my forehead and breathed the word, “okay,” and his breath blew across my cheeks.
We slept with our arms around each other and my thigh was stuck to his, and I kept waking up, looking at his mouth, his nose, and my skirt and bra in a crumpled pile on the floor. It had been an interesting night. I’d wanted and gotten this guy—and it had been beyond simple. I grew more mature and confident as I lay beside a stranger and the sun broke through the city sky.
But when I said good-bye just past dawn, pulling last night’s clothing back onto my naked body, I lost a bit of the pride I’d felt a few short hours before. Something about the early-morning light bouncing off the concrete made me see things, see myself, admit how childish my motives for last night had been. As the cab shuttled me up to Sixty-First Street, I stared straight out the window at the city rolling by, focusing on everything and anything but myself.
Excerpt from Student, written by Nell Kalter.