There’s a square room in the center of the main law school building called the “student lounge.” It’s cluttered with old, uncomfortable, wood furniture and is a good place to find tired friends between classes and leftover cold pizza at 4p.m. or a half-eaten box of almost stale donuts.
It was my favorite place to study. Just enough buzz and distraction to keep me focused. Always the hopeful possibility of getting caught up in an unintentional thirty-minute break.
Eight or so weeks into our first semester, Nick and I had settled into a casual routine of semi-close friendship. We more or less knew each other’s schedules and had developed a pattern of running into one another other before we both left campus for the day.
It’s a Friday evening and I can tell that summer is over because it’s nearly dark outside but not quite 6pm. I always feel a subtle sense of heartbreak when summer ends. The loss of warm nights and long days and the carefree, unstructured hours of unfettered possibility.
It’s a likely side effect of having been a student for 90 percent of my life.
Nick appears from the upstairs locker room and sets his stuff down near my feet. He slides next to me on the lopsided couch. He looks law student tired: Pale skinned with slumped down shoulders. Like he didn’t eat quite enough to sustain the energy required to show up and look engaged during hours long lectures about parts of the law he’ll never remember, nor need to know about at any time during his career.
I could tell he wasn’t up for playful banter or even prolonged lingering on the couches where we’re vulnerable to an imminent gathering of peers that would demand his attention and exertion.
“Let’s go get food.” I told him.
Ten minutes later, we’re crossing Hilgard avenue to the guest house where he lives. He drops his heavy backpack on the ergonomic office chair in his bedroom and quickly pivots back towards the door.
The backpack drop lightened the aura around him but his urgency to leave again reminds me that he likely hasn’t eaten since well before noon. I hold back a smile thinking to myself, “and it was probably just a salad.”
Eighteen minutes later we’re waiting for dinner at the Literati cafe. I first took Nick there to study two weeks ago and we’ve been back four times already. It’s one of my old haunts from undergrad. One of the first, hip places my college boyfriend took me. The site of many a teary-eyed mixed greens salad and post make-up sex french toast.
I’d avoided the place completely in the whole year I lived in L.A. after undergrad. I was finally brave enough to go back, four years later, when I had this new, promising male friendship to distract me from the memories of that old, dysfunctional one.
Nick perks up almost immediately after three bites of sandwich. Half-way through the meal we’ve both been restored to the fullness of easy conversation and intermittent hysterical laughter.
Nick pushes his empty plate away from him, leans back in his chair and lifts his arm to check his watch. He fights back a yawn.
“Jesus. It’s only 7 o’clock.”
Nick and I have discovered many, shared characteristics. It is one of the biggest reasons we’ve so quickly become such close friends. One of our only so far discovered differences is our relationship to social: propriety, pressure and obligation.
While I have no problem calling it a night before 8p.m on a Friday, the mere suggestion of it threatens Nick’s well-crafted self-image as cutting edge and cool.
There’s no way we’re going home.
We (he, mostly) make(s) the decision to drive to the beach and stir up trouble in the dark.
Parking near third street is easy, another sad sign that summer is over. The night is warm for early October but too cold for the average Los Angeleno to be out and about after sundown without a heavy jacket. I’m wearing the same thing I went to campus in at 10a.m. so I’m noticeably chilly as we make our way toward the sand. I yank my hood up over my ears and pull the zipper tighter around my neck.
The closer we get to the ocean, the more it feels like we’re the only two humans for miles. It’s a rare, special moment when you live in L.A. Silence. Complete dark. And the feeling of being peacefully, finally alone. It’s one of those sensations you don’t realized you were missing until you experience it.
I peel off my converse and ankle socks and put one roll in my jeans. I tip-toe towards the incoming tide, surprising myself that I’m willing to touch the freezing water with my feet. Being with Nick makes me feel light and playful. Adventurous.
The temperature is dropping and my toes are going numb. We seek refuge from the clear skies and light breeze by climbing up on to a lifeguard tower, maybe 600 yards from where we parked. We lean up against the front of the splintery, rickety building and sit peacefully in the quiet.
I have flashes of all of the nineties era movies and TV shows where a scene like this would be unequivocally romantic. The shy female protagonist nervously bites her lip and wrings her hands as she patiently waits for her handsome male love interest to make a move on her. It’s the type of repetitive media image that gives all young women unrealistic expectations of our male peer group and sets up a lifetime of bizarre and confusing gender dynamics. It’s the type of repetitive media image that made young women like me feel anxious and insecure about being outspoken, loud and opinionated.
Even in my late twenties I’m aware of the ways I lack the feminine allure of being mysterious and demure.
Nick breaks the silence asking if ever came to the beach at night during college. I remind him that between my very demanding extra-curricular activity schedule and frequent blow-outs with my boyfriend, I didn’t have much time for leisure.
“We used to bring the mentorship kids here during the day.” I say it softly, half talking to him, half narrating myself through reflection and nostalgia. I feel warmer as the memory washes over me. It’s the type of private, personal observation I don’t typically share with someone I’m newly acquainted with. That I even say it out loud surprises me. It tells me there’s something unusual about my closeness with Nick. I make note of the feelings: Vulnerability. Openness. I observe that I’m less uncomfortable than I think I should be.
Nick tells me he’s surprised by the quiet. I share a story from a few years ago when I spent a weekend at my then-boyfriend’s family home in Lake Tahoe. It was midway through my fifth year living in L.A. and I was alone for six hours, reading in natural light and pure silence. I told him how you get accustomed to the background noise and the not quite dark enough city darkness. I advise him to cherish the kind of experience we’re having right now.
“The longer you live here the harder it is to remember the things you miss about your former life.”
My poetic wisdom is cut short by the appearance of bright lights over the horizon to our right. I exhale dramatically.
Nick leaps up from his seat and grabs me by the hood of my sweatshirt.
“We gotta go.”
I’m a little light-headed from the whiplash and confused about the swift and inexplicable mood change.
“We gotta get out of here. They’ll fine us or arrest us or something.”
I’m wondering why my seemingly normal new friend has morphed into a shifty conspiracy theorist and I’m suddenly aware of being completely alone with him, on the beach in the dark.
“Cops hate white kids. We should run.”
I burst into laughter but before I have time for some entertaining and witty banter about it, Nick has jumped off the side of the lifeguard tower and is running at full speed towards the car.
Once again, I am my typically cautious self so I lower my body down gently, butt first, then struggle to match Nick’s pace in the sand. I get to the car with just enough breath to squeak out the question, “what the hell was that?” I’m still laughing, halfway thinking the entire episode was a hilarious and dramatic gesture by him designed to make me laugh and create a mutual, fond memory.
We’re half-way back to Westwood before I realized he was completely serious. The whole time.
The best, most well rested version of myself would take the opportunity to impress Nick with my progressive intellectualism. Cite something smart from bell hooks, maybe drop a little Dr. Cornel West. We’d have a rich discussion about race and justice and the disparate impact of unconstitutional policing.
But it’s getting late and it’s been a long week and all I can muster is, “do you really think cops hate white kids? Are you out of your mind?”
Nick tells me a couple of ridiculous stories from his not-rebellious adolescence running the mean streets of the upper middle class white suburb where he grew up, adjacent to the upper middle class suburb where I grew up. Two or three non threatening encounters with bored Sheriff officers chasing him and his friends out of the neighborhood park after midnight. Real, gritty, stuff.
We decide to table the intense social justice conversation for another time.