Boundaries, by Mahalia Solages
I am outside with the boys, grounded for a moment by the last vodka shot. There’s Stephen, who usually doesn’t come to my hang out places, and then there’s Frank, Margaret’s boyfriend. We are watching Margaret and Annabelle as they dance in front of the band, moving their bodies in a way their sober selves would certainly not approve of. Margaret is doing the windshield wiper thing with her hair and shoulder juggle. Annabelle is dipping low and crouching with her arms extended over her head, swishing from side to side like an Egyptian caricature. It’s not pretty, but they’re having a good time at my farewell party. They’re casting me off to the other side of the world for a teaching position at an English immersion camp for three months!
My friendship with Margaret is only five years young but it’s the most condensed. Both of us have endured and supported each other through breakups, miscarriages, and bankruptcy. We’ve been each other’s hairdressers, one of the luxuries temporarily furloughed as the result of joblessness. We’ve laughed over glasses of Chardonnay and, later, bent over the kitchen sink to rinse the creamy crack, we’ve promised never to tell of our six-week addiction.
Margaret is genuine, and she was ecstatic to meet Frank, who has been an effortless pillar throughout their three-year relationship. They compliment and wrap around each other’s actions like a braid. They’re the type of couple you just enjoy observing and being around.
I’m watching Stephen sip his vodka from his rocks glass. Today is a good day for him. Stephen is scanning the room for possible eye contact, which he always makes regardless of where we are—which is scary.
“I got myself a husband,” he’d say. “No really, he’s really is a husband and he’s got two kids—five and two. Mmm, his poor wife. Nevertheless, honey, those types are the best: curious enough to try what I want but quickly gone. No need to worry about being stalked. I’ll lose his number in a few hours, thank you! He will call me an M&M later, cause I will melt in his mouth and not in his hands! Aah, did I say that?” Stephen would daintily put three fingers up to his mouth while casting his eyes to the upper corners of his lids.
It’s so nice to have him around to constantly offer visual snapshots and witty comments. A few years ago, he treated me to a weekend in Recife, because Alone was suffocating my time, and also because he was traveling with his soccer team for a tournament. I sat with him in a hotel room, holding his hand, after someone slipped him a date rape drug and the locals who invited him to the party ran a train on him. We were left with two choices: find a Brazilian hospital or wait until he returned to the States to be sewn up and treated.
“Babe, could you deal with a sitz bath?” I offered as I held his trembling hand.
“Honey, if you could put that together, and pop three Advil’s in the other end, I would really appreciate that.” His weak smile briefly halted the path of the tears rounding over his cheekbones.
I was able to catch a rare moment of his true self.
The escalating volume and the feel of a hand brushing my arm bring me back to present day. Frank is lightly touching my arm.
“What’s up?” I ask over the music, leaning my ear in his direction.
Frank’s hand slides up my arm to pull me closer to him. “What am I going to do while you’re gone?”
I laugh. “Aww. That’s nice.” I look at him scrunching my face.
He wraps his hand behind my head, pulling me towards him, his lips brushing my cheek. “I mean it. Why Thailand? You can’t leave me for a whole summer. You know how much I look forward to seeing you every week when we all get together! I’ve always wanted you.” He looks into my eyes.
I stop smiling. “You’re drunk, dude.” I shoot him an incredulous look. What in the world is he doing? Margaret is still on the dance floor. I wonder if she’s watching.
“No. I’m not drunk.” He says deadpan. “I know you know there’s something between us.” He slides his fingers through mine, and then adjust his posture, straightening up.
“Now that you put that out there, what am I supposed to do, Frank?”
I turn to face the crowd, my ears uncomfortably hot. He’s just created a wedge among my social entourage. He’s unraveled my blanket of friends. Now what? Tell? Pretend, ignore, or avoid? I catch Stephen staring at us; his eyes run the length of my body and then he backs up.
“Honey, m’pap vann ou, I won’t sell you out, but you’ve got to handle that situation.” Stephen later says, after I’ve brushed off Margaret’s boyfriend. He collapses his shoulders, pulls his lips into a small circle, and takes a long swallow of his drink. I purse my lips and shake my head ever so slightly. Did Frank catch an invitation in my eyes? Have I sequestered myself with Alone for too long?
The last time something like this happened—I mean, the time I care to acknowledge—was when I was in college. My best friend Annabelle had a boyfriend who was attracted to me. Instead of just telling her it wasn’t working out, he used me as an excuse—he lied and told her we’d kissed and had been having an affair. She believed him and broke up with both of us. Annabelle and I had known each other since grade school; we did everything together. We were like sisters! Only after the break up did I realize how brittle our relationship had really been and how depressing
Alone could be.
It wasn’t until eight years later that Annabelle extended an olive branch, for the sake of the great times of years past and the glimmer of forward movement. Unfortunately, the relationship has not been the same. She rarely brings her dates around us or fades away from them if I am too excited about her happiness. Annabelle usually comes out solo, only for a few hours, and only if everyone else is invited.
Long work hours, stark walls, and a week’s worth of single dishes before eventually running the washer is enough motivation to want to be in the company of my motley crew, however superficial. Being single is only acceptable because I have their company. In regards to friendship, can I be involved yet not absorbed without eventually dropping off? They say the things you enjoy and dislike about people are often mirrors of your own personality, so by me enjoying being the ‘fixer,’ could this be a reflection of my issues?
Thank goodness for this summer, where I have an excuse to curl up and cry, not answer phone calls and knowingly be a temporary friend to the acquaintances I will meet. I can see myself taking meditation and yoga classes in a serene room whose painted walls look like the inside of a banana peel—I am sitting in lotus pose on silk Thai mat, reaching awareness, understanding a different kind of alone. I can see myself serenely sipping ginger tea on a hammock, skimming the sand, and watching anglers in triangular hats, neck deep in the ocean.
Before my return, I will need to see myself detaching or indulging, for the boundaries of these friendships are as thin as the crust of torched sugar. Is there something bittersweet about the proposal, should I make it worth it.
Miami, Florida, September 15, 2010
Mahalia Solages’s fiction has been published by Kalyani Magazine, Momaya Press, and Almond Press; it's also appeared in a trilingual anthology So Spoke The Earth and at Writing Raw. Also a playwright, her play, A Tale Of Two Mommies was featured in Miami at the Centro Cultural de Espana. She is the author of two children’s picture books. She lives in Fort Lauderdale. Follow her on Twitter. She blogs at https://www.show-up-differently.com/.