"Oh no ma'am. Its too late for all that yelling."
She steps aside so I can come into her hotel suite, closing the heavy white door behind her.
"Thank you for coming even though it's so late."
"You coulda told me your flight was delayed Mariella."
"Ooh you're mad at me. You used my whole name."
"Not mad. Just disappointed."
"You're such a school teacher."
"Hey I'm single. I can do that now."
She laughs at her own joke and I try to muster a giggle but it's 4am and I'm sleepy. We settle into the plush furniture and banter back and forth awhile, trading insults as is our way, filling each other in on our respective lives. She spends about 30 minutes running down what seems to be a roster of at least 6 people she's been dating. I laugh at her stories of the trials and errors and adventures of dating in her 30s. I laugh, not because it's particularly funny, but because she needs someone to laugh with.
"So wait, lemme get this straight," I ask, barely believing what she's just told me, "this dude just straight up flipped out in the middle of Park?"
"YES! That's what I'm trying to tell you! He just lost it. He's all, 'I can't believe you're seeing other people. What's wrong with me?!' Like, he's damn near hysterical. I was waiting for him to burst into tears."
"Oh my god you have GOT to be kidding me."
"I am NOT. What is up with these men out here? I mean I know its been awhile since I dated a man but seriously. We've been on like 3 dates! That automatically means his and her sinks?!?"
We laugh more as I listen to her stories; the Brazilian chick who threw a brick through her car window, the brooding young film student, the construction worker from Harlem who's short on convo but long on...well, other things.
"Yo La he picked. me. up. and fucked me against the wall like this is the shit he does for a living. Like it was nothing!"
"I cannot even remember the last time somebody fucked me like that. I was sore for like 3 days."
We giggle conspiratory giggles as she tells me far too much information.
"I seriously thought we were gonna break the bed."
"Thought you were gonna break it don't count," I tell her just to rain on her parade.
"Oh just cuz you breaking beds all over the US."
"3 and counting nigga!"
"Oh shut the hell up."
"So why, if he's notsomuch with the smart, are you putting up with him?"
"Did you not just hear me tell you he fucked me like he was doing community service?"
"Yes but if it's not going anywhere then what's the point?"
"Maybe I don't want it to go anywhere."
We let the implications sizzling under that statement linger for a bit as she lights a clove. She curls up on the massive bed, back to the headboard, indian style, curly hair pulled up in a messy bun, pulling down the boys horts slowly riding up her thighs, grinding her teeth and chain smoking, because before a little while ago, she was never allowed to smoke in bed.
"You ever had sex with him any other way?" I ask her gently so she doesn't feel like I'm judging.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean does he ever Boys II Men you or hell even Jaheim you? Or is he just straight up Tupac-ing your ass everytime yall get up?"
"I'll take that to mean he is constantly and consistently Amerika's Most Wanted-ing that ass."
"Sometimes you need that shit."
"Yeah but what other needs is it filling in for?"
She's silent because she knows what I'm getting at. I can hear the gears turning in her head, trying to figure out how to circumvent my arrival at my point before I can get to it because she knows the destination. Just like she knows I'm not gonna tell her what she wants to hear.
"Alright La. What is it you think I need?"
She says it like a joke, a challenge, and I can hear where a cold edge has seeped into her voice. She's on guard. I don't answer her question directly. Instead I say...
"Have you heard from Ella?"
She inhales sharply. Even though she knew it was coming, she still sounds like the wind has been knocked out of her.
"No I haven't. She sent S'rai an email on her birthday and S'rai told me. I'm convinced she did it just to fuck with me."
"Which one is S'rai?"
"She's the dancer that El was cool with that tried to fuck her in the bathroom at that new years party a few back."
"Oh the dark skinned one with the pretty hair?"
"So why you think she did it to fuck with you?"
"Cuz she hates me."
"She doesn't hate you Mari."
"Then why'd she leave?"
I can't answer that question any more than she can and she knows that. But the only person who can answer is in Jamaica right now. And my friend is hurting. So I listen.
"I met Yoga Chick."
"I met her. Tracked down her studio. I put this program on my computer that can retrieve things that have been deleted. You know Ella didn't have her own computer. I found all the emails they had been sending back and forth. Figured out her name and what she did, did a little snooping, found the studio. Waited at her car after her last class one night."
"How on EARTH did you know which car was hers?"
"Get your own computer before you move in with Bob."
"Noted. Now how did you know?"
"They mentioned it in an email," she says to me all faux casual and I know there's more to it than that.
"Look, don't judge me. I NEEDED to know."
"I'm not judging. What happened?"
"She knew who I was. She recognized my pictures from fucking Facebook."
"Damn stalker's paradise on that hoe."
"Yeah. Now I know why El never wanted me to be her friend so I could see who all her friends were."
"I'm sure it wasn't like that."
"It's been going on longer than just when we moved."
"WHAT?!?! El told me-"
"What in the hell is going on?"
"Yoga Chick is a friend of a friend. Guess which friend?"
"Fuckin S'rai. Jesus."
"Yep. Yoga Chick saw a picture of El somewhere at S'rai's crib and was asking all sorts of questions. She told her that El was taken so she let it go. But remember last year when El flew up there for a show and crashed with S'rai? Well they had a little get together one night and S'rai made sure Yoga Chick was there."
"You've got to be kidding me. How do you even know all this?"
"So they met LAST YEAR? Before you even moved?"
"Before we even moved. So once I found out I'm all fucked up over it like, is this why Ella wanted to move so bad? I'm thinking all kinds of shit."
"I had to find out."
"So what she say?"
"She apologized. Reiterated that nothing ever happened between them. Said she hasn't heard from El since she took off for Jamaica."
"You believe her? That she hasn't heard from her?"
"In my house La. They kissed. At our door. I was in Chicago. Working. And she's kicking it with this big head bitch from the Bay."
I literally have no idea what to say. I wanna comfort her but I'm sure any and everything I say will come out the exact opposite of how I mean it.
"What did you say to her?" I ask, almost afraid of knowing the answer, knowing Mariella's temper like I do, knowing how volatile this situation is.
"I told her what I knew. Let her know I knew where she worked and lived. What she drove. That she should never under any circumstances come to my home again. And that unless El was coming back to the city to move into her sad little studio in Chelsea to let her know that she's homeless and her clothes have been donated to Red Cross."
"Damn. That's ruthless. When did all this happen?"
"Awhile ago. Around when it first happened."
"Are you kidding me?! And it took you this long to tell me? Why?"
"Because what? What on earth could justify keeping that from me?"
"Because then I'd have to admit how bad I'm doing."
We are silent for a long time, both our breathing heavy. Mariella sounds like she might be crying but I know she'd never admit it to me. She is not prone to human weakness. Which is why the weight of this moment isn't lost on me in the least.
"So," I start, "how bad are you Mariella?"
She looks at me with hollow eyes, and I notice the things I've overlooked before; the dark circles underneath the day's fading concealer. The dullness punctuated by slight wrinkles that dot her skin. I realize her weight loss isn't from her working out "to relieve stress" as she originally said. She's not eating. She's stressing. She's grieving. Hard.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of."
"Maybe not. But I'm not ready to deal either."
"That's only gonna make it worse. Putting it off I mean."
"I know. But...I...I'm bad." She casts her eyes to the floor and curls up in the fetal position. She looks so small. My heart breaks for her. I curl myself around her and try to keep her from shivering despite it being July in Houston.
"Tell me everything."
"Ok," she says her voice unsteady. "I'm crazy. I'm literally out of my mind. I'm spying on my own computer. I spent a weekend packing up every article of clothing she left, every piece of furniture she picked out and I drove them all to Jersey and donated them. Everything. I took down every picture. Burned our sheets. I even had all her mail routed to Yoga Chick's crib in Chelsea. But she's still...everywhere."
"I can't even imagine."
"I just feel like we invested so much time. And rather than trying to save what we had we just retreated to our little corners. Let all this stuff build in between us til it was too high to get over and too dense to get through."
I cover us up because she is shivering so hard, harder with every word she says. She falls silent for awhile, her foot bouncing anxiously, covering her face with her tiny hand.
"I don't sleep anymore," she announces unceremoniously. "I don't sleep. I clean. I go to 24 Hour and workout. Or I pick an avenue and I run all the way down it, then all the way back up. And I'm smoking. All the time. And cloves too, which are worse. I've cut off all my friends because I can't stand to be around them. And I'm tired all the time. And I'm so fucking angry."
I try to just listen, to keep stroking her hair until she's calmer, to not say or do anything that will make her think she doesn't have my undivided attention.
"So I guess," she says, pained, "I'm bad."
"Yeah babe. I think you're bad. But that's to be expected."
"That was hard to say."
"It always is for strong people."
"So how are you La?"
I hesitate before I answer, much more comfortable with being the interviewer and not the interviewee.
"Just a little bad or bad I should be worried?"
"You should be worried."
"You look like shit."
"So do you."
"Thank you for that," she says without a trace of sarcasm
She curls up tighter in my arms, sniffling quietly like you do when you don't want someone to know you're crying.
"Should I be worried about you?" I ask her.
We are quiet for awhile, each of us laying with our thoughts, trying, no matter how unsuccessfully, to sort them out.
"I got a job offer. With my favorite designer."
"That's wonderful Mari."
That too we allow to sink in and I swallow the lump in my throat.
"You love it there."
"Yes I do."
"Ella hates Italy."
"When will you leave?"
"Running isn't gonna help."
"I'm tired. You should probably go. Are you ok to drive home?"
Just that quick, the vulnerability is gone. She back to being firmly in control of everything in her orbit, and that includes me. She tosses off the covers, burying me, and gets out of bed.
"I need to settle some final stuff on the house in the morning and run some errands but do you still wanna do brunch?"
"Yeah sure. That would be good," I reply as I grab my things from her outstretched arms.
"Ok cool. I'll call you."
I can tell from the timbre of her voice, the way she won't meet my eyes, that she won't be calling me. I give her a lingering hug at the door.
"I hope," I whisper to her hair in the direction I think her ear should be, "that if you need me you'll call me."
"Of course. But I'll be fine. Good night La."
The door is closed in my face before I can reply.
And so it is, that I am cast out in the streets, the friend of the broken hearted that is losing all those she loves.