Levi was already in bed, having taken that night’s varied medications prescribed to “control the crazy” as he was sardonically calling it, when his phone lit up with Barry’s text message.
“You could have added the ‘Y’ and the ‘O’ to the ‘U’ to spell ‘You’. ‘U’ didn’t really save much time there.”, he typed back. He loathed text messages. Sometimes, he loathed Barry. Actually, that wasn’t true, he thought, crossing himself just as his moods crossed each other, one an undertow, the other the surface waves. He liked Barry a lot. Thought him sexy and handsome. And yes, he was nice. Extremely nice. Particularly for an LAPD officer. But he was so dull. And self-centered. He talked and talked and talked and never about anything Levi found the least bit interesting. And it wasn’t that Barry was obsessed with himself; Levi often wondered if maybe Barry had Aspberger’s or Autism or whatever that condition was that caused someone to focus so much on little tiny things. Because that’s what Barry would talk about: little tiny details. And he’d dance around them, with them, observe them from different angles like an art critic. And Levi found it all so dull and boring but Barry was so nice and such a good kisser and in or out of uniform, he was easily the best looking man Levi had ever been with. Not even the ex—he who Levi refused to name, as if renaming him “ex” or “X” rendered the hurt he still represented any lesspainful—was better looking.
They weren’t dating but they were hardly the shallow, callous“fuck buddies” others might have misperceived them as. They did go out on dates—occasionally. They weren’t great dates by Levi’s accounting; a cheap indulgence on a couple of Fatburgers on Santa Monica followed by a penance-via-workout at 24 Hour Fitness, followed by. . .
Levi always thought it adorable in an almost paternal sense the way Barry, who towered over him by half a foot and whose arms were as thick as Levi’s legs—legs well-toned from long afternoons racing up and down the Beachwood Canyon steps rather than on the stairmasters under the lights at the gym—would call him for a cuddle session. Not sex. Not a night of hot passionate unmentionables. But cuddles. The idea of his thick fingers even texting the word made Levi grin.
“Already in bed,” Levi typed back.
“Then we r halfway there.”
Levi took a while to reply. He wasn’t feeling all that great; he was still blue over the pills. Green over the nauseous feeling their unfamiliar contents gave his stomach. Yellow over the ding his checkbook was going to be taking on the costly refills. A nice chartreuse over—
Every now and again, Barry would ask that. As if he was testing him. They had no commitment; had never even talked about it. They’d sometimes go a week or more without even so much as an emoji passing between them. (Barry favored a waving hand, Levi the poop with eyes.) Not one to play games,seeing the hesitant question, he immediately typed back, “Come over”.
Then, partly to ensure he made Barry feel light-hearted, made that high, ebony face brighten, maybe even blush under the brown, he added, “I need your cuddles.”
Barry’s reply was the smiley face emoji.
Levi hoped text messaging would soon die. He wanted a real relationship. With words. And questions. Not modern-age hieroglyphics representing a giant step backwards in the art of communication.
Until then. . .cuddles and the poop emoji would have to suffice.
“. . .and what’s interesting about that is. . .”, Barry’s voice intoned, droning on and on about something. Levi instinctively answered with sleepy, “Uh-huhs”and “Really?”s , as if he was paying attention. It was always like this. Tonight, something about Barry’s doctor appointment—nothing serious; regular physical—and how long he had to wait and there being no pen at the counter. Levi had checked out sometime around, “I mean, look. Why wasn’t the pen attached to the clipboard, anyway? Wouldn’t that have been more efficient than the staff having to look for a pen? Why wasn’t it just, you know, attached? No one can sign in if they can’t. . .sign. Am I right?”
As they lay there– Barry sitting upright against a stack of the too-many pillows which usually occupied Levi’s bed in the daytime and the chair in the corner at night, Levi’s head against Barry’s chest, his frame held in place by Barry’s arm which drowsily made soft, curving circles, like an iceskater around a rink, against his back—Levi wanted to say, “Stop. You’ve been talking for an hour and you’re still at checking in for your physical. You have made it from your car to the elevator to the check-in desk. I need to be at work at nine a.m. Move it along, toots.”
It wasn’t even the laborious details Barry shared. It was that all that time he consumed was water they could have both drank. What went on in his head that he thought Levi was only there to listen? Okay—they did more than have one-sided conversations. They cuddled. They also did, yes, have sex. But whether they were in Levi’s apartment, at Fatburger, the Arclight, meeting for lunch near Levi’s store at Hollywood &Highland, or in what Levi called “after-the-nasty-glow”. . .Barry talked. He talked. . .too . . .much.
“I joined a cult today!”
He knew it was rude, interrupting Barry just as the woman behind the counter at his doctor’s office began the epic journey to look for a pen in the barren wasteland of his doctor’s office, but Levi felt he couldn’t take it anymore. He, too, had news. And his freshly-obtained, self-bestowed title of, “Cult Member” was, he felt, more interesting than a search for a pen.
“That Braunstein Center thing?”
“Yeah. The rabbi came by the store—”
“How did they know where you work?”
“It was on the information form you had to fill out. I thought they’d send an e-mail but—”
“The rabbi? Like, a real rabbi or—”
“Oh, I don’t know. Rabbi. He called himself one so I assume he is one. I mean, Chelsea Handler calls herself a comic and, well. . . Anyway, he comes by—”
“Is that illegal? Impersonating a rabbi?”
“I have no idea. You’re the cop. Anyway, the rabbi comes by to talk to me and tells me all this stuff about the center and the classes available and—”
“Why are you doing this? Is this your whole Madonna fascination thing again?”
“Liza Minneli!” Levi cried with offense. “Madonna goes to the Kabbalah Center! Totally different thing.”
“Liza doesn’t go to either. But that’s not important. So—”
“But isn’t the Braunstein thing kabbalah?”
“Yeah. Sort of. See, they don’t have any new classes until next month so I went by their bookstore this evening after work and bought a book—Living Life the Braunstein Way–and registered for my first class, Discovering the Braunstein Way. And, oh, can I tell you? These people are fucking crazy!”
For a moment, the villagers who lived in his head all cried,“That’s why you’re doing this!” Maybe it felt good, on a day when he had to start taking medication because his doctor had decided he was a mental case of sorts, to look down on someone else for what their brains did or didn’t do. In his eye, Levi saw the students at theBraunstein Center, particularly after reading the first few chapters of their bible, Living Life the Braunstein Way,with contempt. His own brain might be unable to hold a mood for a day or two, but at least he didn’t believe in some interstellar candle that lit the galaxy and created worlds and people with its figurative wax droppings.
Not that any religion he had ever been exposed to was very far from the craziness of that story. . .
As he recounted what he had read so far, he felt something odd in his throat and suddenly stopped speaking. When Barry asked him something, Levi stretched out his arms as if he were playing airplane and about to fly off, a desperate signal to not speak or move and yet to get as far away from him as possible.
“What’s wrong?” Barry asked, seeing something like panic in Levi’s face.
He could not speak. He was holding something awful back in his throat. “Don’t move,” he told himself. “Don’t move. Hold your breath. Don’t breathe.”
Somehow he slowly rose from the bed and, holding his face up to the ceiling, made his way through the bedroom and down the little hall tohis bathroom. And there, he vomited into the toilet what felt like everything he had ever eaten.
And, he assumed, the pills he had started taking that morning and taken according to their schedule at lunch, dinner, and before he had gone to the bedroom to sleep.
Those fucking pills. Everyone of them had warnings about nausea and vomiting. Was this what his life was going to become? He’d finally have a stable moodset but vomit every day? Bulimia by prescription? What a fucking trade off.
“I fucking hate you,” he whispered to his psychiatrist. “I fucking hate you.”
He told Barry to go back to bed, that he’d be back after he brushed his teeth. He closed thebathroom door and, wondering if he had ever been as bad as he had been told, wondering if this cure-that-wasn’t-really-a-cure was worth it, he sat against the wall and softly cried for the second time that day.
After he cleaned the bathroom, he brushed his teeth, drew a breath, and reluctantly went to the kitchen. There, on the counter, between the microwave and the wall, stood the little bottles of psychiatric armies.
He lifted each bottle to his eyes, re-read their dosage, and pulled out the exact amount he was required to take. Assuming the previous dose was vomited out of his system, he took a mouthful of the little mood tamers, ate a few crackers,and returned to bed. Barry was already asleep, likely dreaming about pens missing from clipboards—a story he’d no doubt continue in the morning or, as was his tendency, randomly several weeks from now.
When he slipped back into the bed and Barry, stirring, pulled Levi to him and enveloped him–cuddling him–and kissed him drowsily on his head and called him, “Baby”, he wondered if this was why he was doing it. To maybe be so consistent with his moods that somebody would one day love him and that each night would be like this, where a handsome, lovable man drifts off to sleep holding you because you’re funny and smart and you don’t have rages and a sadness so huge it dominates a house, permeating its furniture and staining its walls. Isn’t that what his ex had said? “You have these moods and. . .and I have to have your mood. For dinner. Breakfast! Lunch! It’s too much! Whatever you feel, it’s like it fucking gets inside me! I’m so sick of this! You’re fucking sick! If you’re happy, I’m allowed to be happy! But if you’re angry—watch out, world! I might as well not come home because you’ll be pissed off about something and it’s probably my fault! And if you’re sad, I can’t get you to talk or do anything. Seriously, Lee. . .you need to see a doctor because you are fucking crazy!”
God. If only these pills would make him sleep. He’d be happy to take them, if only they’d let him sleep. Sleep. And stop hearing those words. X’s words. Echoing eternally, and always loudest at night.