Why you should care

Because you learn something from every relationship.

Micah Perks is the author of We Are Gathered Here and Pagan Time. She co-directs the creative writing program at UC Santa Cruz.

In my 20s, I loved wild boys with no respect for the rules.

My boyfriend in college was lithe, sinewy, dark-haired and pale-eyed, a little like a handsome weasel. One night we grew tired of playing naked badminton in his bedroom and decided to crash a party we’d heard about nearby. This was during senior week, and we were restless and a little giddy, perhaps because we were to graduate in four days, with no career plans. The party turned out to be a small, boring gathering of grad students sipping wine, so we locked ourselves in the only bathroom and had sex in the tub. Someone knocked on the door, first tentatively, then persistently, rap-rap, but my boyfriend growled them away. I’ll never forget that growl.

In the mornings, he would belt a towel around his buck-naked butt to make a loincloth and slip through the woods, stalking deer.

After graduation, my boyfriend returned to his parents while I moved to Vermont. I had hoped he would visit me, but he phoned and said he couldn’t leave the state of Illinois until his trial. On a bender, he’d broken into a Dairy Queen. The police found him making giant soft serve twists for himself.

Then I met a new guy in Vermont, where I was waitressing in a pretentious “bistro.” My new boyfriend knew I found the job dreary, so he would try to entertain me during my long night shifts. He used the bistro’s plate-glass window as a stage. He would do backflips down the street, his money spraying out of his pockets and rolling away. He would swing around the lamppost in front and hang himself out horizontally, defying gravity. Then he’d come in, order a coffee, tip his imaginary fedora and leave me a $50 tip. He came from old money.

He claimed to be living off the land. Land he’d purchased abutted a state forest. In the mornings, he would belt a towel around his buck-naked butt to make a loincloth and slip through the woods, stalking deer. He’d often come back dragging some roadkill he planned to skin to make a drum. He’d fling the flattened raccoon to the side, unbelt the towel and we’d go wild. Then one night I woke up to him lifting the curtain with a bowie knife. He thought he heard something. He took to creeping around the trailer with that huge knife, claiming someone was stalking us.

We flew through the quiet streets, radio soaring above the storm. We laughed like we were high — until he drove up an exit ramp onto I-89.

Then one morning he got in a screaming fight on the phone with his mother, something about money. The next morning he flew to New York to work it out. He returned in a thunderstorm in his mother’s Jaguar. He said we should move to Hawaii, but first, how about a Sunday evening drive? We flew through the quiet streets, radio soaring above the storm, cold rain streaming through the open sunroof. We laughed and laughed like we were high — until he drove up an exit ramp onto I-89.

“Wrong way,” I said, not laughing.

“Different way,” he corrected me. He began to hurtle along the shoulder, oncoming cars swerving and slamming their horns at us. He admitted to me that he’d stolen the car from his mom, and that she had alerted the police.

“Pull over,” I said.

He grinned his Peter Pan grin. (Did I mention he looked like Peter Pan, even had pointy ears?) Finally he let me off on the side of the highway, without an umbrella or coat, and continued speeding along his different way.

He soon moved out west and became an avalanche forecaster. A few years later he died in an avalanche. By then I was 26. I decided to swear off tricksters and misrule. I began to date a chemist who was extremely tidy, who liked to cook comfort food, pasta, roast chicken, beef stew. I stayed with the chemist for almost a decade, always well fed, but there were signs of the end from the beginning. A few weeks into our relationship, we went shopping together. I picked up a small package of hot wax treatment for dry damaged hair, though my hair is fine and oily. I slipped it in the pocket of his windbreaker, watched him pay for the groceries and didn’t tell.

Someone had to play the outlaw.

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