The Crossbow Guy or How I Learned about Urban Hunting
Every time I've told this story, it's been spun for one of three reasons (occasionally, it's an amalgam of all these reasons). But, the common denominator in each case is, at the end of the day, this story gets a laugh... right after a shudder.
So, a few years back I was living in this squalid little apartment above a cockroach infested pizzeria on Steinway Street in Queens. Every once in awhile when I found myself too tired to schlep into the city, I'd mosey on down to a nearby pub and drown away whatever particular sorrow was plaguing me that day.
it's important for you, dear listener, to know that during this time in my young life, I had quasi-serious emotional issues, problems with codependency, I was dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, the whole bag - I was essentially a walking, talking, barely-functioning hedonistic mess.
That night I took my hedonistic mess down to the local watering hole and shortly thereafter, a female friend had met me up.
We spent hours inside the bar that night… pitcher after pitcher, shot after shot, each ounce of booze let us dig our heels in a little deeper, get just a little more dizzy, a little looser.
Everyone in the joint was gregarious, friendly, funny. This was, after all, no dive, it was a nice little bar in Astoria, it had an immaculate bathroom (usually the key factor in determining a bar’s rank on the Dive scale).
Well, the booze was slipping down my gullet like water; no burn, no aftertaste, just sweet liquid fire, warming my bones, erasing my bad memories, and fueling my sloppy attempts at courage.
I slammed another shooter glass back down unto the bar, and then turned to my right, smiling for no particular reason.
Suddenly, time had slowed and there he sat, lit up in my mind, almost as if a spotlight fell across his place at the bar. He was young, a handsome brunette. He wore a ratty white t-shirt and fitted jeans. He donned a pair of thick-framed black eyeglasses. Oh, the thick-framed black eyeglasses.
I’ve never been very good at playing the coquettish card – so I sidle right up to him and we start to chat.
I’m drunk so I’m catching only bits and pieces of what he’s saying: he’s a writer, he lives nearby, he believes in the importance of print media, he lives nearby, right around the corner actually, and he loves John Irving.
He had me at Garp.
Tumbling down the channels of my own mind, I start to hastily check off his list of qualifications and match them to my own.
I’ve already got myself convinced; boy did I get a lucky break tonight! Look at all these drunken schlubs around here, old, fat, married, a bunch of raging alcoholics.
Not me though. I’m young, able to conquer any and all obstacles. And more than anything else, I am talking to the best looking fella in here, and he’s eyeing me like a tall glass of water perched precariously on a rock smack dab in the middle of the Gobi.
Time moves so fast when you’ve been drinking, so maybe it was a minute, maybe it was ten.
“So, wanna go back to my place?” he says.
Such a simple request. No fancy come-ons, no quirky pick-up lines, no sorry attempts at over-flowery compliments.
To my 19 year-old self, to my 19-year old drunken, poor decision-making self…I like his style.
Never to show weakness, I become cocky and turn on the charm.
Sure, I hear myself say.
I feel the way my tongue touches the roof of my mouth, the way my own breath pushes past my lips, the way the sound of your own voice sometimes sounds so strange and faraway but familiar at the same time, Sssurrre.
In a blur, suddenly, his spotlight is moving. It’s moving right out the door, I’m taking large, clumsy steps behind him to match his gait, to keep up with my Owen Meaney.
Around the corner? I ask.
Yeah, right here.
And then we’re there. He fumbles around in his pockets, locates his keys and drops them before even lifting his hand to the lock.
Oops, he utters through a crooked smile and a foggy gaze.
The door is open. He leads me up one of those quintessential New York hallways. Beige, paint peeling walls, blue rubber-cement like stairs with the big half-dollar size circles that prevent slipping.
His apartment is, thankfully, the very first floor of his building. His door immediately opens to the top of the staircase.
I do hope no one will hear us later, I think.
We’ve now made our way to his bedroom, it is dark. It is warm. It’s his, a brooding writer-man’s bedroom. I am content.
We kiss, it is wet, soft and sloppy. It is pleasant.
And then, he leans back, elbows on the bed, hands at his side, and his ratty white shirt is now offensive to my eyes… I’d rather see his chest.
His neck lolls back and when he lifts his head to meet my gaze again, I am looking at him, hungry for his advances.
“Will you,” he stumbles through his words. His eyes have now grown large and sad, the way a deer looks right after the initial shock of the headlight, the regret of their decision, the sadness impending, oh, I’m about to die, aren’t I?,
And then he said it.
“Will you kill me?”
I’m still smiling, certain of what I’ve heard, but uncertain of what he means?
Is this some sort of strange… kink? Is this a game? Worse yet, is Owen Meaney serious?
I play it cool. I always play it cool.
“What’d you say?” I’m smiling with my eyes now too, my nerves are creeping towards ‘on-edge’ and he hasn’t broke into a ribbing sort of laughter yet.
He slows his speech down, approaching condescending, but still sad-eyed.
This is a man affected by a deep hurt, I think. Right away I tell myself, breathe easy, honey, You’ve found yourself in stranger situations.
“Will you kill me?” he asks again. “I’ve got, I’ve got a crossbow right there, in my closet,” he says, nodding toward the opposite side of the room, behind my back.
My inner voice is now anxious. My inner voice is rarely anxious. Usually it is my inner voice that controls my mouth, that calms my nerves, that says, don’t worry, kiddo, you’ve got this one, too.
But now, my drunken haze is rapidly lifting, my mind is racing, and all of this is happening in a matter of nano-seconds. In a single breath, I turn from facing him, to facing… a crossbow.
A large crossbow. Leaning up against his open closet door, it is locked, it is loaded. All it needs is a quick trigger finger and a target.
I have never even been in the same room as a crossbow before, and now here I am, facing what looks like will be an evening of horrific proportions, not to mention this is all getting just a tad too medieval for me.
Who the f*ck owns a crossbow in Queens, anyway? My inner voice begs.
And just as quickly as I had agreed to come upstairs, just as quickly as I threw back all those pints, I am totally sobered.
Some other primitive part of my brain takes over, drunken 19-year old me has taken a backseat and survival-mode 19-year old me slides into position.
I stand up slow, my bend at the knees graceful as I sit up from his bed. I run my hands through my hair and smile seductively.
As a child, when frightened, I had a plan. Perchance a monster might find me one day, I wouldn’t give chase.
Quite the contrary. I would run right up to him, wrap my arms around him, press my cheek against his big furry belly, and squeeze. I would love him so, adore him so, need him so, that even his monster brain would think, Oh, well, you can’t eat a sweet little girl like this and my freedom would be guaranteed.
I look at Owen Meaney with the same adoration I might shower upon a long-time lover.
He should know, I am turned on by him. He should know I want him. He needs to know, I am, in no way, whatsoever, afraid of him.
My extremely slight, extremely selective Southern twang seeps out as I begin to speak, I speak with countenance, cooing to him.
“Listen, this has really been, just, so… so, great. But, I had better behave myself tonight and get out of here… best of luck to you, doll.”
I lean down, his knee is touching mine. My whole body is within his grasp now, and as I close my eyes for just a moment, as I grow closer to his face, I cannot get the mental image of my own lifeless, crossbow pierced body, sprawled on the filth of his bedroom floor.
This is the moment our lips meet. He is beyond drunk, he is a wreck. He’s crying now, I taste the salt on my lips.
He is the hunter and I am the bear. Just inches away from the big, metal jaws about to snap shut on me. I feel a chill.
I pull away, smile warmly, genuinely. I’m so close. I’m so close to getting out of here. This is a game that must be played with the utmost caution.
Any wrong word, any criticizing eye I place on him, and quite possibly, what he’s asking to me to do, will be something he wants to do to me.
I head toward the door, wink once, blow a kiss and fly down the stairs. My knees are lifting high, my feet are moving fast, my heels are barely touching the ground.
I have my arm extended before the landing; even, my palm flat, ready to push the lobby door open and away. The cool night air rushes and hits me in the face, I am fully alert. My blood is coursing through my veins like a horse out of the gate, the air is filling my lungs, I am, alive. I am alive.
I run back into the bar around the corner, skid in on my heels and call out to my friend, who magically, sits untouched, crowded by throngs of the imbibed, unawares of the world I just moved in and out of in a moment’s notice.
“Kelly!,” I cry out, “Crossbow… crossbow,” I’m stumbling indoors, I tell her what has just happened, and she laughs and laughs and laughs.
I couldn’t manage to eek out a giggle. Nor a guffaw. My face feels paralyzed, I feel outside of myself. Outside of the experience.
But now, now I laugh. Usually this is followed by a sincere, “Whew.”
So much for a snap judgment.