He had mentioned it casually to her. “In passing,” as she would describe it to a friend later. But she wasn’t the type of person to acknowledge any cold, hard truths presented to her that did not suit her own narrative. Like so many people of the twenty-first century, her brain was formulated to its own sort of algorithm, which meant she had conditioned herself to never see or hear anything that she didn’t want to. And one of the things that she did not want to was that he was breaking away from her. Or, as he tried to put it gently, “I’m going to start seeing other people.”
“What the fuck do you mean?” she snapped back on the phone, knowing full well what he meant, and that there was nothing she could do to prevent him from carrying out what he had just announced. But it was too late to rescind the question, as well as the anger in her tone when she asked it. Several seconds passed before Sam finally answered, “You know what it means.” Another pause. “Look, I’m not breaking up with you, but I think we ought to be realistic about our situation. Long distance was tenable—barely—for six months. But we’re going on a year now. I have the health and well-being of my dick to think about.”
Reina felt as though an anvil had been dropped on her head. She was Wile E. Coyote to his Roadrunner. But she didn’t feel so wily. No, she felt completely and utterly stupid. Even more so for not seeing this coming. For having some kind of blind faith in Sam. That he would be different. That his love for her would transcend the usual cliché “needs” of men.
She had left Portland a year ago after gaining acceptance into Boston University’s Art History program. Once she completed her MFA, she wanted to secure a job at one of the major museums, which likely meant she would remain on the East Coast despite knowing it was her responsibility to return to the West and impart what she had learned to some Californian or New Mexican institution. Portland wasn’t her first choice at all to return to. Only Sam would have been the incentive. And she found it somewhat obvious that he ought to be the one to adapt to her life choices when her career wasn’t something that could be done “just anywhere.” Not like his. Which was growing weed.
They were an unlikely couple from the start. And they came together where so many unlikely couples do: at a party. Reina had showed up on a lark, invited by a mere acquaintance she had fallen out of touch with after they graduated from high school. But the acquaintance reached out that summer when Reina was back home after completing her Bachelor’s at USF. She decided the best thing to do—before she focused on what the next step would be in moving on with her life—would be to get blackout drunk. This, she promised herself, would be her last hurrah with irresponsible behavior. She knew the time had come to “grow up,” as though one could just wave a wand and “make it so.” But, by age standards and societal expectations, she technically was—so she knew it was time to start acting like it. An adult, that is. And yet, at this party, which was at some rich bitch’s house up in Northwest Heights, she knew she was not that. The farthest thing from that, in fact. And, for once, she wanted to act as irresponsible and cavalier as her peers always seemed to. A peer like Sam, who locked eyes with her almost immediately upon entering the space. Someone like Reina, overly groomed and concerned with aesthetics, looked as though she belonged in a house like this, in a neighborhood like this. But Sam was overtly out of place. A little grimy. A little outsider. Yet he was surrounded by people who seemed to be lavishing him with their attention. She would realize only later that it was because he was the one in charge of all the “party favors.”
It took Reina too long to understand the extent of Sam’s involvement in Portland’s drug underworld. By the time she fully fathomed it, she had already fallen in love with him and it was too late to turn back. That night, after he spent what seemed like hours staring at her from afar, he finally approached her when he caught her alone in a corner, drinking from a Solo cup. He sidled up to her and asked, “Wanna go for a swim?”
“Huh?” she replied dumbly.
“The pool here is not to be missed.”
“Oh.” She raised her eyebrow, thought about the offer for a moment and said, “Sure.” Her mind was “lubed up” enough now thanks to the alcohol to agree to something out of the ordinary. And swimming in her bra and underwear was just that. For yes, Sam had talked her out of wearing all her clothes in order to jump in. He liked that she was a bit of a prude. It was endearing to him. He was so accustomed to hanging out with the so-called female dregs of the city—the strippers, the whores and the junkies…so often one and the same. And here was Reina, skittish about being seen in her skivvies.
Surprisingly, no one ever came out to join them in taking advantage of this deluxe pool, complete with an adjacent hot tub. It gave plenty of time for Sam to lay on his charm in an intimate setting. Apparently being charming enough to end up fucking her in the hot tub about an hour and a half later. And then it was fade to black. The following morning, Reina woke up in the same house of the person she didn’t know, her fingertips still pruney and puckered from staying in the water so long. Adjusting herself on one of the couches in the living room, she turned her head to see that Sam was in a sleeping bag on the floor next to her. She smiled at this, glad that he hadn’t abandoned her after getting what he wanted. As she started to slowly get up, the voice of Ellen, the acquaintance who had invited her called out, “Reina! We have to get out of here. Derek’s parents are coming back in an hour. I don’t wanna be here for that fallout.”
Ellen looked the kind of disheveled that only comes from getting railed while drunk. Her makeup had the decided “day-old” appearance about it and her hair was hopelessly matted. Reina glanced back at Sam and told Ellen, “I’ll be right there.” She then nudged Sam with her bare foot, gradually bringing her big toe up to his mouth and sticking it right in until he jolted upright. “What the fuck?”
“We all gotta jet. Start making moves.”
He grinned at her. “You into shrimping?”
She rolled her eyes. “Can you give me a ride home?”
Sam looked at her suspiciously, “Where do you live?”
They pulled up to her parents’ modest abode in North Taber about twenty minutes later. Sizing up the joint, Sam asked, “Your parents work for Providence or something?”
“My mom’s a nurse there.”
Intrigued, he asked, “She ever get any opiates?”
“Um, no. Anyway, it was nice to—”
She laughed. “Yeah. Something like that.”
“Well I’d love to do it again sometime, if you want.”
She reached her hand out as though she might go for his groin, then detoured to his pocket to pull out his phone. “What’s your passcode? I’ll put my number in.”
“Damn girl, you’ve got balls to just be asking for my passcode.”
“Don’t worry about it. I have no memory for numbers. Like the rest of my generation.”
So it was that numbers were exchanged and the beginnings of their romance flourished over the course of that summer. It didn’t take long for Reina to forget all about notions of planning “her future” when it seemed to be right here with Sam. The intensity of their relationship escalated so quickly that she found herself moving in with him in his Southeast Portland house. The one she found it odd he could afford to rent all to himself until he showed her the rooms filled with his marijuana plant supply. She started to learn terms she’d never heard of before, like “dabbing” and “mycotoxin.” And it interested her, even if she had no interest in smoking itself—yet another reason why Sam liked her. He knew he wasn’t being used.
In her vague attempt to “contribute” to their home together, Reina decided to get a part-time job at Jackpot Records, where she spent most of her days gazing into an abyss as the largely white male clientele dipped in and out, occasionally buying something. The alms earned from this job mostly went right back into the record store, for she would come home with armfuls of vinyls she had selected with her “discount”—which turned out to be essentially nothing when measured against her already measly paycheck.
Over the course of the next year, their house seemed as filled to the brim with records as it was with pot. It got to the point where Sam finally had to say, “Reina, you need to stop fucking bringing this shit home. You never even listen to half of these.”
In the midst of pouring herself a cup of coffee into an Elvis Presley mug, she replied, “It’s not just about listening. It’s about the pride of possessing. You don’t understand the art of record collecting at all.”
This would signal the first of many ongoing arguments between the two. Arguments that grated on Reina’s nerves so intensely that she believed, in part, it was what spurred her to apply to grad school. To resume her own pursuits and not place so much of her life in Sam’s sweaty hands. BU was her first choice, but she never thought she would get in, applying to more schools on the West Coast than anywhere else. But when the acceptance letter came, she knew that was where she had to go. That opportunities of this variety are strictly once-in-a-lifetime. Yet when she told Sam about it, he was not happy for her, or understanding, or anything she expected him to be. Instead, he flew into a rage and started overturning furniture before then driving away in a scorched-asphalt huff.
He didn’t come back until the next morning. Now calm, cool and collected, he sat across from her at the kitchen table and said, “We’ll make it work. I’m willing to do the long-distance thing.” And with that assurance, Reina genuinely and foolishly did believe they would be okay. They would survive.
But now came this conversation. The one where Sam announced, without so much as any indication of wanting to “consult” or “discuss” the matter, that he would now be a classic Portland denizen by choosing to engage in something like polyamory. Like polyamory in that Sam would never get Reina’s consent for him to dabble in other “relations.” So really, it was just him backing her into a corner to the point where she would have to say they might as well break up then.
However, one glaring issue she didn’t foresee was that a breakup would mean he would want to get rid of all the stuff he was storing for her—specifically, all the records—tout de suite. As it happened, she was in a bit of a monetary bind this semester, with some of her financial aid being reneged on due to such-and-such bullshit federal legislation. Which is why, when Sam broached the subject of whether or not he could maybe get rid of some of her things, she consented to letting him sell a portion of her robust record collection.
Three days after that gut-punching call, she heard from him again. It was the first time they had ever gone more than a day without talking to one another. Yet to him, it was as though no momentous and seismic shift in their dynamic had occurred as a result. She spent all three days vowing to herself that she would not be the first to text or call him. And it took all her strength to stay true to her word. When he finally reached out, she also promised herself she wouldn’t make “a thing” out of his unexplained “drop-off” from her life for seventy-two hours. Until he rained down the bomb of information that he had sold all of her records and would like to extract a percentage of the profits as part of his “seller’s fee.”
She felt like the ground was bottoming out beneath her. Not only because those records meant the world to her, but because of his about-face in attitude toward her. Why was he acting so differently from just a week ago? When it was all still talk of making plans and meeting up. What had changed? That’s when it her: he must already be seeing someone. And he likely wanted “a percentage” of the hefty amount he had just made so that he could take said girl out on the town (reserving his hard-won “drug funds” for actual necessities). In a right proper way that he had never done for Reina because they had moved in together too quickly. They were always “chillin’ at home” with little reason to pepper in romantic outings on the town when everything felt so comfortable as it was. And now, Sam was blowing it all up for the benefit of some fresh, local snatch. He didn’t have the stamina to further endure the complications of long distance. Unfortunately, that meant Reina’s record collection had to suffer the consequences. Ironically, it was the only thing she had “to show” for those years she evidently wasted with Sam, and now there was nothing. While it would have been the furthest thought from her mind to try pursuing another—especially since they had both agreed they were still together—it was obviously the foremost thought in Sam’s mind.
Maybe it was for the best, she told herself. Part of Destiny’s “grand design” to get her to stop taking Sam into account as a factor in her decision-making process for where she would go next with her MFA in tow. Yet even without considering him, she still ended up back on the West Coast, securing a position at the SF MoMA.
It was one weekend while perusing through the Amoeba Records on Haight Street that she spotted what she knew to be one of her records. Because, like Winston in 1984, she was careful to demarcate a telltale sign. This one indicating whether a record was hers by the small writing of her initials in the bottom right corner of the sleeve’s insert. Being that this was a copy of Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish, she decided to check—since it was formerly a prized album in her collection. And there, lo and behold, were her initials. Somehow, pieces of her sold inventory had ended up here all the way from Portland, years later. Unless, of course, Sam had actually made the trip down for some kind of “business endeavor” related to his weed back when he first sold them. It didn’t really matter how it had gotten here. The point was that it had. Giving her the idea to seek out other titles in her catalogue that she might re-purchase so that she could execute a certain “project” in honor of her and Sam’s failed relationship.
Back in her apartment on Sutter Street, Reina went through her haul. She had bought a total of eighteen records, all which previously belonged to her. At present, she was setting up her camera for un petit photoshoot. One that would allow Sam to really understand what he had lost when he had sold the collection (and taken most of the profit for himself). Although he might not immediately get that she had recouped some of her records, as she had laid out such a vast pile from her newly acquired series as well, the message would still be loud and clear: he couldn’t stop or condemn her audiophile tendencies now that they weren’t together. Now that he had made it perfectly clear she was more secure in the grooves of the vinyls that surrounded her as she took snapshots of herself in the buff. Ones she would promptly send to his undeserving ass back in Portland—where hopefully one of his new girlfriends would open the mail before he did.