During my sophomore year of college, I fell in love with a girl in my dormitory. Amy, her name was. Sweet Amy, with the Cupid’s-bow lips and the round, porcelain face of a dainty nineteen-twenties postcard beauty. My infatuation for her was utter and complete. I would hang out in her room and have meals with her; her friends were my friends.
But I never told her I was in love with her. It was obvious to everyone else. I’m certain there was eye-rolling whenever I’d show up with infatuation written all over my face. I was Amy’s confidante, her sounding board, her bestie in every activity, but never her boyfriend.
And that would’ve been because she in turn was helplessly in love with a guy in the dorm named Bob. Bob was a bounder, a bad boy, a drunken lout who thought very highly of himself and his looks. He lived two doors down from me, and I would watch him preen and primp and check his muscles in the mirror for long, long minutes while carrying on a monologue about what a lady-killer he was—despite the fact that he was basically a roly-poly chubby boy. But he had confidence, and a certain swagger, and a beard in the remote early nineteen-eighties, when full beards among youth were exotic and rarely seen.
Bob didn’t love Amy; he didn’t want her as a girlfriend. But he liked her mooning after him, so he kept her on the hook by tossing small intimacies her way from time to time. She’d chase after them gratefully, and then confide her infatuation to me, which in turn kept me on Amy’s hook. She didn’t love me, and didn’t want me as a boyfriend, but on a certain level she liked the attention. When isn’t it flattering to have someone who’ll drop everything to be with you, no matter how maddening you may be?
I, at the time, had an economics professor on the hook. He was wildly in love with me and followed me around on campus like a puppy dog. I didn’t love him, and didn’t want him as a boyfriend, but I was flattered that he wanted me so badly. I’d give him my ass every now and again to keep him on the hook, and I’d accept his odd gifts, and then I’d tell him I couldn’t be with him because I was hopelessly in love with Amy.
Pathetic. A chain of people keeping each other on the hook is never a good thing, people.
Amy took a junior year abroad at a university in Scotland with which our college had a reciprocal exchange agreement. Her announcement of it broke my heart. While she was gone, I wrote long and witty letters keeping her up on what was happening at school, letters into which I poured heart and soul. In return, I got short notes asking how was Bob? I was a dumbass, true, but that hook was in me deep. And to be honest, part of me relished the adolescent angst aroused by the love triangle. This was life, adult life, of the sort I’d read about and seen in the movies for years, and there I was, right in the middle of it, hurting, aching, and bleeding.
I should’ve been a Goth.
The upside of an entire year away from Amy was that when she returned for our senior year, my infatuation had faded somewhat. Oh, it was still there. There were times I would talk myself into the notion that it was time to tell her how I felt and get it out in the open . . . and then I’d do absolutely nothing about it. Which was probably for the best. I gained a certain detachment from my romantic woes, though. Amy wasn’t quite as necessary to me as she had been my sophomore year. If I fucked around with guys—which I was doing basically, you know, constantly—I didn’t feel as if I was betraying my porcelain-faced kewpie doll. It was her tough luck for preferring that doughboy Bob instead of me.
During my senior year, Amy came up with the grand idea of our circle of friends spending the holidays at her home in the suburbs of New York City. It was my very first time in New York, and gosh, it was exciting. I got to see the Christmas lights of Rockefeller Center for the first time, and Fifth Avenue all done up in wreathes and greenery. We would take the train in and see the sights; we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company perform. We stayed up late at night and talked and made cookies without a recipe and sang along with Cyndi Lauper on the radio and played endless games of Trivial Pursuit.
Then halfway through the week, Nigel arrived.
Nigel was one of Amy’s odd ducks. He was a student at the Scottish university where Amy had studied abroad. Now it was his junior year and his university had told our college, “Here, take him off our hands for a couple of semesters. It’s your turn.” Amy hadn’t really known him when she was there, but when he’d arrived on U.S. soil at the start of the autumn, their very slight acquaintance prompted her to make some kind of vague offer of American hospitality. He’d not taken her up on it, though, until around nine o’clock on the night of December 29, he simply showed up at Amy’s front door. We had no idea how he’d found her. Amy’s parents didn’t mind another guest, though, and there was a spare twin bed in the room where I was sleeping, so he simply stayed.
Nigel was of a type I think of as the silly-ass Englishman. He was a Londoner who hated Scotland, hated the U.S., and constantly complained in a toffee-nosed accent how no one on this side of the pond knew how to brew a really topping pot of tea. No, really. He carried thick books with incomprehensible titles plainly displayed so that everyone would know how intellectual he was. Yet in a household of girls, he would never close the door to the bathroom when he peed, and he left the shower rod covered with his dirty underwear and sad-looking socks. He spent long minutes staring off into space, doing nothing, humming to himself. He might’ve talked like Hugh Grant, but in demeanor and looks he was pure Russell Brand. Stoned Russell Brand.
Nigel’s one vanity was his mustache—that’s what he called the fuzzy caterpillar that had settled onto his upper lip, anyway. It was little more than very fine and downy peach fuzz that he cultivated very carefully. He had, and I recall it with crystal clarity, a little silver mustache comb for it. Several times a day he would rise from whatever abstraction had been keeping him drooling for the previous few minutes, head to the nearest mirror, and withdraw the silver comb from its leatherette case. Then, carefully, very carefully, he would peer at his reflection and daintily rearrange those imaginary mustache hairs until they suited them. The first few times, our little group would watch with awe.
Then, as we realized that Nigel was a big lump who was simply following us around and expecting us to buy his meals and theater tickets, we weren’t quite as charmed.
New Year’s Eve came. We spent the day listening to Dick Clark’s Top 100 on the radio, baking brownies without a recipe, and preparing for our venture into the city. Because yes, we had decided it’d be a big lark to head to Times Square to see the ball drop. It was the one and only time in my life I will ever attempt such a thing. It was cold—not just cold, but fucking cold. It was crowded. Obnoxiously crowded. We were deep enough in the crowd that escape was impossible, but not so far in that we could actually see anything. We only could tell that the ball had dropped by the sound of millions cheering.
By the time the crowd had dispersed enough that we could consider heading back to the train, we’d lost Nigel. He’d simply disappeared. We wasted another hour walking around Times Square and environs on the useless blocks of ice that were our feet, trying to find him. And then we figured, eh. He found Amy’s house once. He’d find it again. Probably.
In my memory we didn’t get home to Amy’s until about three in the morning. It must have been five-thirty or six when Nigel finally stumbled in. We must have left the door unlocked or something, because I don’t recall anyone letting him in, and I seemed to be the only person in the house who was awake when he stumbled into the bedroom. He’d been drinking somewhere. I could smell it on his breath and clothing. “Where were you?” I asked him. “We looked and looked for you.”
Nigel shrugged. He wasn’t in much of a condition to form a coherent sentences under the best of circumstances, much less after a night awake and drinking. He started peeling off his sweater and shirt. The complexity of it made him unsteady.
I noticed when he turned around that his wallet was sticking three-quarters out of his back pocket. Manhattan’s Times Square back then was not quite the Disneyland it is now; walking around a city then known for its muggings with his wallet on prominent display seemed like quite the silly-ass Englishman thing for Nigel to do. “Nigel,” I said in exasperation, as I watched him strip down to his underwear. “You need to be more careful. It’s dangerous to. . . .”
My rant was cut short as Nigel lifted the covers and slid into the twin bed. Not his bed. My bed. He was wearing his floppy tank top, or vest as he called it, and a baggy pair of underwear. I was so astonished that I didn’t quite know what to do. I’d made the lightning-fast decision that it probably would be best to get out of my bed and finish out my sleep in his, but the thought of sleeping in his sheets was giving my fastidious self a bit of a pause. That’s when Nigel put his arms around me and very drunkenly began to nuzzle the back of my neck.
Now, I have to say that I wasn’t attracted to Nigel. He was just odd enough to repulse me a little, and that caterpillar on his lip gave me the creeps. But it seemed pretty obvious that as a graduate of a couple of the U.K.’s finer public schools that Nigel knew something about the fine art of buggery. His hands tugged down the elastic of my shorts. Once they were bare, he rammed against my butt cheeks with the very hard rod tenting in his own underpants. And I weakened.
I know, I know. It’s not a moment of which I’m proud. But I’d spent a sexless week in Amy’s house as her only male friend. I hadn’t even dared to use my own hand at night during the time I’d been alone, and with Nigel snoring across the room I’d lost all chance at relief. I was fucking horny, and there was Nigel pawing at me. He was graceless and smelled slightly of body odor. But he was there. So I relaxed, and huddled in the cold under the covers with him, and helped him down with his pants.
It was dark, so I couldn’t see anything. He would have rammed in dry if I’d let him, so I used my own spit to slick his uncut cock. He drove it home without mercy. Nigel was barely awake for what followed. He hugged me as if he were afraid I’d get away, yet fucked me like he hated me. Five, six, seven savage jabs that were for his pleasure alone, and definitely not mine. Eight, nine. On the tenth thrust, he came, squeezing my chest so tightly I imagined ribs cracking. “Oh Amy,” he moaned softly as he flooded my ass. “Oh Amy, Amy.”
I’m not sure if the sound of a needle scratching off the record was quite the meme then that it is now, but it would’ve been an appropriate sound at that point. I sat up as best I could as he slipped out of me. “What?” I asked in a normal voice. Nigel had a crush on Amy?
Beneath the silly mustache, Nigel’s face wore a smile. “Thank you, Amy,” he murmured, as he tried to snuggle closer to me. “I love you.”
I waited a moment, horrified, until he fell asleep for good. Then I pulled myself out of the bed, cleaned up in the bathroom, grabbed an extra blanket, and then went downstairs to the family room sofa.
I was curled up there when Amy padded down early. “Nigel’s in your bed,” she said, amazed. I said that yes, I knew, and that’s why I was down there. Amy came and joined me on the sofa, and pulled part of the blanket over her feet. “Honestly, I don’t know why he showed up here,” she complained. “I barely know him.”
I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it. Nigel had let me know exactly why he’d shown up at Amy’s house, even if he wouldn’t remember or admit it when he finally woke up later.
“What?” Amy wanted to know.
I shook my head, and then looked at Amy with affection, and for the first time, it seemed with clarity. She was dear to me, then—and still is, though after college she continued to moon after Bob for years until finally she married a man who looked exactly like him. But on that New Year’s morning of 1985, as we cuddled together on her parents’ sofa, I knew with certainty that Nigel had once and for all cured me of being in love with Amy.