LOS ANGELES - “Man, you’re my lucky fare.” Jimmy had just rolled up in a black Hyundai Sonata with spit-shined wheels and tinted windows, and he seemed pretty happy to see me. “If you hadn’t Uber-ed me, I’d gotten stuck in that Santa Monica pier traffic.”
I was overnighting in L.A. for work on a Thursday and using Uber to get place to place.
“Well, I’m glad it worked out,” I said before giving in to the scroll of a new batch of emails on my smartphone. Jimmy’s radio was tuned to a Pop station, and a girl was hitching through some love song about summer or some summer song about love.
I was only partly paying attention.
Jimmy clicked the volume down a few levels. I could sense him spot-glancing me in his rearview mirror before he finally said, “So, it’s kinda been a tough afternoon.”
Every Wednesday night Jimmy’s best friend DJs at a hookah bar in Venice Beach, and every Wednesday night Jimmy and his other friends show up, hang out, scope the girls and have some beers. They don’t smoke, but they like the scene and their DJ buddy can sometimes swing free drinks. Last night, the girl he’s been seeing, Alexis, was acting weird. Even though they haven’t been going out long, it’s been intimate, and they knew each other in high school, so there was a history. But at the bar, she wasn’t really talking to him. She was just texting people and sticking close to her girlfriends.
So then today, Thursday—like an hour before he picked me up; like, out of nowhere—she sends him this text message that says she thinks they should take a break. That she doesn’t want to be in a committed relationship. And it rocked Jimmy around. Slapped him down. He was heartsick.
“I mean, I kinda said something bad to her in high school, but I thought we had gotten through that,” said Jimmy. “I mean, I thought everything was going good.”
Jimmy didn’t always have muscles. When he was a high school freshman and sophomore, he was really skinny and shorter than he is now. He knew Alexis then, and they went out and made out and messed around. But then he started getting interested in another girl, and he came clean with Alexis about it. She wanted to know why he was breaking up with her and what he thought was wrong with her. She could take the truth. She promised she could. She hated the thought of being dumped for no reason. Jimmy hemmed and hawed and kept saying, “I don’t know, man. I don’t know.” But Alexis pressed him. She was insistent. She said the least he could do was to be honest her. Was to be a man. And Jimmy knew it was a bad idea to tell her the truth, but she wouldn’t let up, and he felt trapped, and he just wanted to stop talking about the whole thing.
“What’s up, my nigga!”
Jimmy’s cell phone was synced through the car’s Bluetooth system, so when his friend called and yelled his greeting, it came blaring through the speakers. Jimmy quickly reached to turn it down, but I just started laughing. And then Jimmy started laughing. It was real and raw. I was this late-30s white guy in a jacket and collared shirt in the back seat. Jimmy was this early-20s black guy in a t-shirt in the front seat. But we were bonding over heartbreak.
Jimmy’s friend asked who was in the car, and Jimmy told him, and his friend sheepishly apologized to both of us. He then asked if Jimmy would still be meeting him later at the gas station.
“Yeah, man, I’ll be there,” Jimmy said before hanging up.
“So, like I said, you got to understand that I used to be really skinny.”
When Jimmy first mentioned saying something bad to Alexis in high school, I let it hang there. I figured he’d tell me what he said if he really wanted to. But we were getting close to the end of the ride, and he hadn’t spilled it, so I just had to be direct.
“Alright, so she’s asking me why I want to break up, and I finally just looked at her and said, ‘Because you’re too big for me.’”
“Nah, man!” Jimmy jumped in with the porous defense he had first presented to Alexis and then a hundred times after that to everybody he’s ever told this story to and who’s had the same reaction I did. “I had this little body,” he said. “And she was just bigger than me, and it didn’t feel right, and…”
Dude. “Say anything else,” I said. That you’re an asshole. That you’re not good enough for her. That you’re trying to figure it out and you think she’s a great person, but it’s just not working, and it’s all you and your hang-ups and problems, and did you mention she was a great person?, and that someone great like her deserves someone else great. Deserves someone better than you.
But you can’t call a girl fat and believe that she’ll ever forget it. Or that she’ll ever forgive you for it. Ever.
“So I’m thinking about texting her and telling her how much I like her, so she’ll know exactly how I feel.”
We were idling at the curb in front of my destination, and he had angled himself to look me in the eye.
Nope. “Not one word,” I said. Not tonight. Give it a break. She made herself clear, and the last thing you should do right now is come off weak and wanting. You’ll regret that text, and it probably won’t get you anywhere. As long as you know her, she’ll probably hold what you said over your head. You just gotta show her you can keep moving, too. What you need is somebody in your ear the rest of the night. Somebody to keep you accountable. What about your boy over at the gas station?
“Aw, man,” said Jimmy. “I can’t tell him about this. He’ll never understand. Besides, we aren’t that close. We’ve only known each other about three years.”