Winter has driven everyone in Portsmouth a little nuts, and Spring hasn’t been much better. I get this text:

Brittany: John just broke up with me

Brittany: And I want to die.

me: Where are you?

Brittany: At my place.

Brittany: I don’t really want to die. I’m just REALLY mad.

Brittany: Like. Psychotic. Mad.

me: You want to meet up?

Brittany: I need to stabilize myself. And then I’m heading out.

Brittany: I never want to see him again.

So I contact my team lead:

me: John broke up with Britt. Are you out?

Charley: I am not.

me: She’s out of her gourd, and off to get sloshed.

Charley: Go rescue

me: I shall.

There’s a group of us that keeps tabs on one another ,  a group that doesn’t care for, or has never tried, or can’t afford a good psychologist. Charley is usually on duty taking care of the other members, including me, but Charley is home and cooking and settled for the evening, so that puts me on duty. So I’m off to find Brittany.

Brittany: Where are you?

me: Going to the Press Room.

Brittany: Please be kind to my sort of dr

Brittany: Drunk

me: I shall.

Brittany: Or you could walk away.

me: So are you coming?

Brittany: Yes.

She shows up ——a whirlwind. She’s drunk, but that doesn’t matter. The alcohol does not affect her personality or her mission. We exchange only a few words before her eyes start to water. I’m staring into them, never having seen anyone look so beautiful when so miserable. There’s no buffer here —our respective pieces of armor stripped. Both are vulnerable: she from a bad breakup, and I from her own vulnerability. Because I’m point blank with a beautiful creature. Because I must handle her while she’s in this weak moment, while simultaneously letting her handle me. When she wants to. When she needs to. Jesus Christ, she’s beautiful when she’s miserable.

The evening concludes when emotion overtakes the scenery. I manage to herd her home into bed. “Herd” may be a misnomer. She took off running barefoot, heels already in hand, immediately when we exited the bar. I trailed her at a brisk stroll, shaking my head and laughing at the situation. Is this what a good friend does? Did I fucking help at all? Whatever. I can’t answer that yet. I’m not even sure what I am to her. Not even sure what she is to me.

I round the corner just in time to catch her profile unlocking the door, and then leaping inside. She’s home safe from the elements, from other people, from herself. The target has been contained. My work here is done. I head home, but send her one last message:

me: Text me when you wake up

Brittany: I will. P

It’s Monday morning. After breakfast, I check up on her.

me: How’s it hanging B-Train?

Brittany: I hate everything.

me: Progress

me: Working today?

Brittany: No.

me: Lunch? 12-ish?

Brittany: I don’t want to eat.

Brittany: The only good thing about breakups is becoming thin again.

me: We can talk about weight loss strategies later. Meet me somewhere for coffee.

Brittany: I don’t drink coffee.

Brittany: And I know how to lose weight.

me: Good god. Water then.

me: Strawberry Bank. It is a glorious day.

Brittany: I look like someone beat me in the face with a bat and took a shit in the holes that were once my eyes.

me: This is an ultimatum. We are going for a walk. If you don’t want food, I’m force feeding you sunshine.

me: Talk to me Goose.

me: I know it sucks, but you gotta let me do my friend duties. It’s what you pay me for.

Brittany: I can’t even motivate myself to take a shower.

me: Shower not needed. What is your location?

Brittany: I’m hiding downtown at my Dad’s

Brittany: I really need to stop looking at my phone.

Brittany: The worst part about yesterday is when you wouldn’t even look at me or give me a hug. It was like you hated me.

Brittany: Oops.

Brittany: See. I’m not allowed to text.

me: Wrong person ☺

Brittany: Yep.

me: Well I’ll harass you tomorrow for a walk.

Brittany: Thank you for trying to cheer me up today. I really appreciate it.

me: :)

Two days later…

Brittany: So I wish I had 3 grand to toss around.

Brittany: There is a gold lot at this auction that is like, easy money, staring me in the face.

Brittany: I bet other people know that though.

Brittany: Probably rich old white dudes with their fancy cars and shitty khaki pants.

me: First we get the jobs, then we get the khakis, and then we get the girls!

me: BaseketBall reference.

me: Weather fucking suuuuuuucks. Otherwise I’d bug you for a run.

Brittany: Yeah it does. You know what also sucks? Not having money. And! Failing job interviews. Fuck it. I’m becoming a stripper.

me: Hahahah. Just work on your stage name.

Brittany: Itty Bitty Titty Committee

me: I was thinking something like “Candy.”

me: You going out tonight?

Brittany: Probably. It has stopped raining.

me: Eating dinner and then out. I’ll text you.

Brittany: Alright.

We show up at a different bar, taking this show on tour. She’s not drunk this time. She’s focused. Talking rapidly. Giving every detail in detail. And those eyes ,  this time without tears, but the result is the same. Armor stripped, again. Point blank, again. She tells me I’m one of the only people she can trust. And the alcohol holds no ground here, at least not at the moment. So, we, the actors, have no props and no masks readily available to hide behind or distract ourselves with. So, we, the two of us, address this intimacy—originally sparked by attraction and sealed with suffering—that has been following us around, and is now at the bar, sitting between us. Patiently. Waiting. Inevitable. She reaches for it first, saying our compatibility is palpable, yet concerned that this attraction might muddle something. I call her bluff and pull my friend card, the one that dictates one should not sleep with a recently broken-up-with distraught woman. “I’m not going to sleep with you, Britt.”

It stops her in her tracks. Before I hear my own words, one of her arms is already inside her coat as she preps for an exit. I called her bluff and failed, and instead called my own. An indignant, defensive voice starts yelling in my head: but I’m being a friend! I’m doing the right thing! I’m concerned about her health, her safety, her happiness, not mine! Mine doesn’t fucking matter! Hers does! So why do I feel like I fucked up!? Why do I feel like I’ve betrayed her, like I just lost her, like the decision of whether or not to sleep with her wasn’t up to me!? Why do I fucking feel like I’ve betrayed her!?

We hug. She tells me she wants to walk home. Alone. And then leaves. But the hug continues and blurs into a question I might never be able to answer. I guess my work here is done. Again. I’m going home. Again. I feel no victory and no conclusion. I walk to my car, holding my head up like a prince among his subjects — naively noble — feeling a disapproving stare upon me coming from my own eyes. And before I take enough pills to put me to sleep, I message her:

me: And you can call me any time any day :)

me: Good night Britt

Brittany: I think your awesome.

me: :)

The next day, I talk to Charley. We’re drinking on the decks at Harpoon Willy’s ;  river, sun, beer, and the humming of local characters. I try to tell him about the Friend Card and the corresponding Friend Duties. He doesn’t flinch. “You fucked up.” He said the words, but he read them from my eyes. He’s right. He’s always fucking right. I text Brittany:

me: Coming to Harpoon?

Brittany: I’m broke and need to find work.

me: On me!

me: :)

me: We all want to see you.

me: Leave your hole!

I get no response after that. The beer and the fear swap seats in my body: the fear now in the gut, and a panicked buzz sloshing in my head. I text her a few more times to no avail. I put my phone in my pocket and stare at the cigarette in my hand. And then I give in, and send her my final & unconditional surrender:

me: And I’m an ass.

me: For saying I wouldn’t sleep with you.

me: You have no idea how much I want you.

me: In every way.

me: Don’t forget that.

She doesn’t text me back. She still hasn’t. She won’t. I’ve missed my chance. I heard she’s already back together with John. There might be a lesson here,  something to take away from it all, but I haven’t seen it. I won’t. Not yet. I’ll have to wait until the next one comes along and takes a little more from me.