You mentioned after I hung up my Clerks poster that you loved Ben Affleck in Mallrats, that maybe we could watch it sometime, but the guy who led freshman orientation had told me that you built real friendships, life-long friendships not by living together but by finding a shared passion, maybe teaming up on something, so I printed Affleck's filmography in the university library and taped it to our dorm room door, said we could watch every one by order of release before the end of the year. You gave me an are you shitting me? and I compromised, said we could skip cameos, uncredited roles like the basketball player in Buffy even though it was him, is him, square head, pointed chin, narrow eyes that either see everything or ignore it all. Maybe both. Maybe that was the allure of him, the ability to be cool but aloof but successful, none of which was me.
We spent our Friday nights that fall in camping chairs from Walmart that we’d stowed under our beds. I stacked two milk crates between us, set bags of snacks on them, chips, popcorn, chocolate covered pretzels. I peppered you with trivia, facts like how Affleck shattered his ankle during Dazed and Confused, and you snorted a “huh,” ripped a fart and called safety. When the movies ended, we folded our chairs, stuffed them under our beds, and rolled onto our mattresses. Turned away from one another. I wanted to ask what you thought of Affleck’s speech in Dogma, where was his infinite fucking patience then, the rumor that he and Damon shared a bank account after Good Will Hunting, but I hadn't learned to make friends, be friends, so the words fell on top of one another before I could get them out. Only when you started snoring did they untangle from one another, slither back down my throat. Only then could I fall asleep.
I went home for Thanksgiving and brought home gallon Ziplocs of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing. I saved the best for last, pulled a dented and plastic-wrapped tin from the bottom, held it up like a doctor showing a parent their newborn. “And a piece of pecan fucking pie!” Reindeer Games. You turned up the volume on the TV, Star Wars. I Tetris'd the leftovers into our minifridge.
We gave up before the year ended. The list I’d printed bore brown splotches from when you threw a half-empty Dr. Pepper toward the trash and missed, sprayed pop across our wall like blood in a horror flick. The paper lacked a corner from when the original tape gave up, dropped it to the ground. You stepped on it on your way out the door, pinched it between the tile and the rubber of your Chuck Taylors and pushed off of it with the ball of your foot so briskly that it crumpled the corner, ripped. I picked it up after the door had fallen shut, ran my thumb over the blue line dashed through 200 Cigarettes, our last watch. Found the accompanying indentation in the wood of the door, lined them up, applied fresh tape.
I transferred schools at the end of the year, one state college to another. I met a girl, took her to movies—Juno, Elizabethtown, Superbad. No Affleck, at least not at first. We watched Chasing Amy the following winter and she called me out for quoting it when I first hit on her, when we played Rock Band and drank Boone’s Farm at a friend of a friend’s frat house. She later told me that she went to high school with you, and I suggested we all go out for a drink sometime. Hollywoodland had come out, the resurgence of Ben’s career post-Daredevil, post-Gigli, post-Bennifer. I pictured a resurgence of the friendship we could have had like Affleck running in Superman tights to up-tempo music, lunging through a fence, nailing the landing. Grinning, waving, resting fists on hips with a sparkle in his eye, puffing out the sort of chest women run their fingertips down.
You walked in the night of our reunion with shoulders hunkered like rotten fruit. Your slump caused your Star Wars button-up to billow at the front, a pack of Marlboro reds dangling from the breast pocket. Wide-eyed Ewoks with wooden spears stood in diamond-like formations across your torso until they reached the seams, fell into one another, and I tried to remember what it was they fought for in Jedi. Or was it Empire? I think it was Empire.
Your right eye twitched, and I shivered.
I stood, waved. You nodded. We'd invited you to meet us at a bar back home and you ordered a water, told me you didn’t drink. I introduced you to my girlfriend and joked that you two knew each other, and you spat that she’d never talked to you in school. I asked if you’d seen Hollywoodland and you laughed, said hell no. Asked me if I was still on that. I was too embarrassed to admit that I'd taken the list with me when I moved out, tucked it into my desk drawer, removed it every once in a while to cross off a film, handwrite a new one at the bottom.
We made small talk until you finished your water, said you needed a smoke. Offered me one, even. I declined and you left, never came back.
I want to say I think of you when I see Affleck, but I don’t. Not always, at least. I think of you other times, though, like when I take my wife to a soccer game and she mentions it’s fun, but I swallow down the impulse to buy season tickets, matching jerseys for her birthday. When my daughter falls in love with Frozen, so I research all the characters, plan a Disney trip, let it go after she’s moved on to something else. I think of you and picture Affleck with his eyes closed, a cigarette dangling between his fingers, his body sagging in the visible groan of fuuuck at the end of a long day. I imagine what he looks like in the next frame, whether his eyes are rolled back in his head or cast down on the ground, whether he rounds his lips to exhale or lets the smoke roll over the bottom one, spill down his chin. Whether, when you finished your water and left that bar back home, you went outside and did the same.
Adam Shaw (he/him) lives with his wife and daughter in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of the novel "The Jackals" and the memoir "Sportsman’s Paradise," and his work can be found in Pithead Chapel, HAD, Rejection Letters, and elsewhere. He can be found online at theshawspot.com.