Sandy hated water, hated the ocean, and he looked like a bad day at the beach. He lived with my roommate’s boyfriend and for about three months I was smitten with him. He had slightly-too-long dirty blonde
hair and gray, listless eyes and he sang to himself constantly, under his breath, almost harmonizing with himself.
We didn’t know he hated the beach until we got him there. My roommate, Rachel, and her boyfriend, Brian, had quickly become the kind of couple that everyone hates and hates all the more because they want to pair everyone else off into equally loathsome couples. So I pretty much tied my own noose when I said Sandy was cute one night; the next morning the four of us piled into Rachel’s Volvo wagon and drove to the beach. It was an hour on an especially nauseating road and worse with the lovebirds chirping in the front seat.
At 19 I had long been aware of the phenomenon that otherwise decent girls become completely hideous people in the presence of their boyfriends, but Rachel was the first person this happened to that I actually liked, so it was less an irritating social syndrome and more of a personal betrayal.
She, for instance, started listening to Jewel, though as it happened, she’d moved in with me to get away from her own Jewel-enamored roommate. I couldn’t imagine, though, that Brian’s interest in everyone’s favorite adult contemporary Alaskan expatriate wasn’t equally feigned, and I sort of enjoyed that aspect of their relationship. I just really, really didn’t want to hear “Who Will Save Your Soul?” rounding curves at 45 miles an hour on a Saturday morning.
Anyway I’m rather nervous about staring but I felt authorized to check Sandy out, so I did and it actually took the edge off the migraine I was working on. I gave him a good sanctioned look-see. He was playing with this sort of ratty hemp bracelet on his left hand and his mouth was moving, but he was inaudible over Mister and Missus Meant For Me in the front seat.
“Sandy,” I said. We’d been in the car 45 minutes and he hadn’t said a word. I’m not sure anyone had explained the whole blind date concept to him. Not that I was doing much better. I tapped his shoulder.
“Sandy,” I said again. Now that I had his attention, he was looking like a half-feral cat, thin and just begging for a saucer of warm milk. “I’m not — don’t — take this as a comment on your looks, but … ” His eyebrows twisted up. Terrific. I shouted on. “Do you, like, want a haircut? Because I have, like, scissors in my bag. I cut everybody’s hair.”
Sandy returned his attention to the hemp bracelet briefly, then looked up at me again and smiled.
“I was thinking, on the beach, we don’t have to sweep the floor.”
He nodded, and quickly ran his right hand through his hair.
“Yeah, yeah,” he agreed. “I really, like, I really need a haircut.”
I had hoped he would be that easy.
When we parked, Sandy and I stayed in the lot, albeit in view of the surf and Brian and Rachel wandered toward the shore. During their walk I made the observation that Rachel’s roots were growing in. Blonde ones. She’d dyed her hair brown after
Brian. It was madness.
Anyway, Sandy and I sat crosslegged on the hood of the car and I piled his hair on top of his head in a clip, then combed it down piece by piece. I’d become the de facto stylist on Rachel’s and my floor, because nobody had any money and most people didn’t have the presence of mind to make hair appointments anyway. I hadn’t ever cut a boy’s hair before, but I figured how different could it be.
I always worked slowly and carefully. And because it was Sandy, and because I’d had my eye on Sandy ever since his loser roommate and my loser roommate got tangled up at a frat party, I didn’t mind letting my pinky graze his ear, or the back of his neck, for longer than they ought to. Make no mistake. I knew what I was doing.
The haircuts actually became a regular thing between Sandy and me. He started to sort of expect and demand them every couple of weeks, complete with the head massage after. Which was sort of weird. But I didn’t really say anything. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On the beach, I figured it would be easy to make conversation with Sandy now that tweedle dum and his wife were out of the way. I noticed he was actually humming the theramin part to “Good Vibrations,” which was good. My dad was sort of a Beach Boys lunatic and drummed in a Beach Boys cover band for a while so I had this whole arsenal of interesting Beach Boys things to say.
“You know, that song was recorded like a movie,” I said. “He got like a million takes, hours of them, and pieced the magnetic tape together so it would be perfect.”
“What song?” Sandy said. I loved it, because he really had no clue he’d been singing. So I sang to him a little bit, but I always fuck up on Beach Boys songs because I can’t parse the harmony stuff. Sandy then told me he actually sang in three choirs and came out here on a music scholarship. And that he also played the trombone, and grew up in one of those big blonde families — seven of them, he said, all boys — wherein everybody sings and plays something and gets super grades, and everybody is terrific at sports.
“Except me,” Sandy said. “I have two left club feet.” He laughed softly, which is the only time I ever heard him do that.
I leaned forward and rested my head against his for a second. His hair smelled really good. Also, was cold on the beach that day and he was wearing this really gorgeous cable knit sweater. Really, everything about him said he should be out at sea, but he wasn’t, evidently, going to get any closer to the water than we already were. I wrapped my arms around his chest and kissed the nape of his neck, then started walking my lips in kisses around to his cheeks.
He relaxed into all this for a moment or two, and then he stiffened.
“When I say so,” he said. “But anyway, go ahead and keep cutting my hair and stuff.”
So, I kept cutting his hair and stuff.
For weeks, actually. Rachel and I would stop by Brian and Sandy’s and Sandy would sort of demand it. Don’t get me wrong, I did still sort of like Sandy. But that just sort of kept happening for a long time, where the four of us would hang out and then he and I would hang out and get pretty goddamn cozy and then he’d start acting weird again. Sandy. I don’t know.
So one night right before spring break Marlene, this girl down the hall, asked if I could cut her hair for her and I couldn’t find any scissors, anywhere. So I thought I must have left them over at what Rachel and I now referred to as The Boys’ Room, which was in the dorm across the street. I put on a sweater and went over there.
I could see from the hall the lights were out, but I heard Sandy singing, so I knocked. Sure enough, he was in there in the dark, with the blinds drawn. Mind you, no judgment here. I talk to myself — as in I hold long, animated conversations — when I’m driving in my car and I’m creepily superstitious about cracks in sidewalks and numbers and stuff and I also have a lot of preferences that don’t make sense. So who am I to judge? But when he answered the door, he looked weird. Sort of pale and sallow, and then he put me through this whole routine where he barely let me get in the door to get my scissors and then when I finally did get in he almost didn’t let me leave.
“You doing anything fun for spring break?” he said, sort of standing in the doorway. “Going to go to the beach somewhere and get all ‘Girls Gone Wild’ or anything?”
So that was the other thing about Sandy. Every once in a while he’d say some really weird sexual thing that would create pin-drop silence in a crowded, noisy room. Like one time he and Brian were in our room and Rachel made the mistake of mentioning the vibrator I got her for her birthday, as a joke. Suddenly Sandy, meek little Sandy, was obsessed with her vibrator and asked her five times to see it until Brian gave up the cool, key-party college boyfriend act and went back to his regular jealous asshole boyfriend act and told Sandy to cut it out.
He did, but he’d already kind of fucked up our whole little night.
This was already a lot like that, and worse, I could tell.
“I’m visiting my sister in California,” I said dryly. “Sandy, at least turn the light on.”
“Your sister, huh? Your sister as nice looking as you, princess? Maybe she’s a lezzie? Maybe she’d give me a head job, a, uh, a haircut… ”
“Sandy,” I said. “This is really stupid.”
I turned the light on and he looked like he hadn’t slept in two weeks. Which would make a hell of a lot of sense — finals and all — and would account for how weird he was, but anyway. I just looked at him for a couple of minutes and I think he must have been able to tell how sorry I was for him and how stupid I thought this was and how I’d figured him smarter and more sensitive than that. Listen, I know he was weird, but I really had. He sounded like all the Beach Boys all by himself. His own little wall of sound. His shoulders sort of fell and he stepped aside so I could pass through the door.
Once I was out in the hall, I turned around and said, “Sandy. Get some sleep.”
His expression — or lack thereof hadn’t changed much but I think he meant it when he said, “Charlie, I’m sorry.”
The story is after spring break I just stopped going over there and Brian said Sandy got weirder and weirder and then one night Brian called us up and told us both to come over and quick. Sandy’d taken up with this little Japanese
exchange student one night at a party and plunged his dick into her every orifice and created a couple of others with a pocketknife. She was OK, Brian said, insofar as she was alive and being treated. Her roommate saved the day by stupidly locking her keys in their room; Sandy stopped, finally, when she came upstairs knocking.
Brian was packing some of Sandy’s stuff up for him when he told us this story. He had white blonde, buzz cut hair and a colorless stare and I had always disliked him for reasons beyond turning my roommate into a dimwitted chipmunk. But he was better at this sort of thing than Rachel and me, clearly. It was like he knew what to do, where to put his foot down. Sandy, he said, had already been suspended from school and sent home. He was packing up Sandy’s shit per his parents’ request, and they were going to come pick up the bags and pieces.
Rachel and I just sort of sat on the bed shivering. She didn’t know the half of it, though. I said something about how you know how you go on a vacation someplace, or you eat at a restaurant, and a week later someone comes in and shoots it up, or there’s like a big earthquake there? It was kind of like that.
Brian sealed the last box and said, “Let’s go to the beach.”
Brian sat in the back seat so Rachel and I could talk, even though I barely felt like talking. I was thinking it might not be so bad to be half of a nauseating twosome if your other nauseating half was cool enough to let your shellshocked, sobbing, miserable roommate
sit in the front seat and to even know that what she needs is a day at the beach. It also wouldn’t be bad if he sent you off to the store for beer and saltwater taffy
and sat out on the blanket with her for a little bit.
“I wonder why he hated the ocean so much,” I said. “I wonder why he even came out here with us that day.”
Brian shrugged, like, Charlie, why bother, and I thought, He’s got a point there.
“Charlie,” he said. “You’re going to be a real menace to somebody someday, a real heartbreaker. I just know it. I mean that as a compliment.”
I smiled. The sky was especially dark that day and I was pretty sure it was going to rain the night.
“A menace, huh?” I said. Rachel came back with a 12-pack of beer — she had an ID — and two pounds of saltwater taffy. And Brian made a campfire and we all three of us sat quiet for a long time, watching the sky turn dark.