What it is

18 Nov

When the late October cold front swept across our four corners and brought with it high wind advisories; I welcomed the change in weather. Any weather in Phoenix, Arizona is exciting news. Any weather other than the 100+ degree days forecast we just barely left behind earlier in the month, that is.

I expected the crisp chill through my thin sweater and the wind that whipped my red hair into flaming wisps and tangled it prettily around my face. I expected the dust and the soft violence of air mixed with tiny fragments of sand and bone. I accepted that the tree we so tenderly pruned and lifted off the ground last year may not survive despite the presence of the ropes and railroad ties staked in by strong, capable and caring hands.

I have a certain expectation of the wind to begin with. I’m fond of it in the way an adulteress is fond of her lover. It’s a force of nature after all. Not a bad thing, although it can certainly cause serious damage and not a good thing, though without it certain seed would not be spread. It is what it is and that’s all.

When everyone died a few years ago, I felt the wind an ally. I felt a departed friend in its forcefulness and its transitory, ethereal coming and going. I’ve come to expect the wind to bring out certain emotions in me because it reminds me of that day. But this day was different. I didn’t expect this.

There’s a very particular smell associated with sandstorms. Not unlike the patron in smoky juke joints of the past, it clings to your clothes and hair and penetrates every orifice so stealthily that you begin to forget it happened but it’s there. They say smell is the most powerful of senses linked to memory. I cannot disagree.

In the summer of after eighth-grade graduation, I met a man I would fall so deeply and permanently in love with no one else would ever stand a chance. In fact, I cheated on every boyfriend I ever had – with him. Funny thing is, I never felt like I was cheating on anyone but him. When I met him, he was holding a baby. It was the first time I ever saw a man put a child above all other things, including himself. He couldn’t have known it then, but he groomed me to be his perfect companion. The books and music he gave to me were more like sustenance than any food I had yet tasted. More significantly – he gave me my first journal and many others to follow.  We had little physical contact. Long conversations on the telephone and short infrequent visits always in the company of others were treasured moments. I identified with the blank pages of the journals he presented to me as if they were holy scripture. It was there we shared our most initmate moments. As I wrote down my secrets and desires, I felt him filling me up.

I saw many women come and go from his life. My friend Lissa included. She was four years my senior and beautiful, and experienced. She had a car. An old Dodge Charger, mustard yellow with olive green interior. I knew that they had slept with each other before I ever knew what that meant. Lissa told me the stories as she dressed in her daintiest bra and panties. She let me try on her old lace corsets and garters. We twirled in front of her floor length mirror, admiring our taut, glowing skin under the costumes we invented from scarves tied around our chests. We wound the silky fabric tight around our bodies before I ever knew such thing could be called fetish. Or bondage. Or that men would like the way I looked as much as she did.

I told her that I loved him. She laughed and then realizing the seriousness in my voice, tenderly stroked my hair and told me how it was between them. Her face flushed as she retold their last encounter. She breathed more heavily. She seemed alive with an energy that I had never seen in her before. I could not even imagine the things she told me then. Even now it seems more like a mysterious, magical interchange rather than what I know to be a sexual encounter. It sounded like just the thing for me.

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I met Lissa and her little friend, Jade at my house near Berkeley. I was 21, recently divorced with an infant son in my care most weekends. His mother left me for a better life. A life she didn’t think I was capable of providing. She was right. I want nothing to do with the life she leads now. But she was my first love. High school sweethearts and the whole deal. I would have died for her. Looking back on it, I guess I did.

Lissa was a huge slut and had already slept with two of my three roommates before she decided I was what she really wanted. It wasn’t until after she brought Jade over for the first time that she started in on the flirting, suggestive conversations and the mini-skirts. My god, I still remember those skirts. I liked her immediately because I didn’t have to wonder what was on her mind. Frankly, the attention did my damaged ego good. I assumed that Jade was her little sister at first because Lissa always dressed her like a miniature version of herself. Especially after the first time we met.

Lissa fucked enthusiastically if not skillfully. She gave blow jobs more than willingly and it always seemed to me that she was extracting secrets from me even though I don’t believe in that shit. I usually felt a little empty, a little drained after an encounter with her. She couldn’t have known it then, but she was unwittingly working recon for Jade.  I saw the way the little one looked at me and it made me feel like I better look away before some trouble came of it. She was 15. Nothing was ever going to happen there. And Lissa made a fine surrogate vessel for the urges I inevitably experienced during their visits.

One night, after a few intentionally weak vodka and cranberries the little one asked to try the bong. Lissa was ecstatic. My roommates and I had grown somewhat protective of her but decided the potential for entertainment far outweighed our concern for her safety or her 10 o’clock curfew. The thing was almost as tall as she was and much more intimidating, inanimate though it was. I didn’t know then that she was a first-chair flautist or an honor student or that her father was an alcoholic with a temper. When she cleared the four-footer on her first try and held it in as long as we told her too without coughing, I saw the trust in her clear, green eyes and I knew the night would not end well.

Lissa passed out. Jade was on the verge, her eyelids opening and closing involuntarily. Me and my buddies led her out to our car and told her to take a little nap. Guiding her into the backseat, I realized I didn’t even know where she lived. God, she was so beautiful and helpless at that moment. Pure and clean as far as I knew. What the fuck? Where did that come from? We got an address out of her and prepared a formal apology for her parents some where along the half-hour drive from our off-campus bungalow near the university to her middle class suburban home. It was agreed that the youngest looking of us would take her to the door. That was Jorge.

I didn’t know until much later how she suffered after her father met us at the curb 15 minutes past curfew and dragged her from the backseat where she sat alone. None of us dared to be that near her malleable frame, her angelic face or her perpetually wet, pink lips that seemed to smile even as she slept.

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It was the early eighties when my father broke his leg on a worksite. Our family suffered, but not to our knowledge, at least not then. The construction trade was booming and we always had what we needed plus a goodly portion of all that we ever wanted as well. Dad could never be described as the doting father-type but he did make absolutely certain that we girls never wanted for a thing he could buy. He bought our love easily and when that faded, he consistently bought it back again.

I was grounded for two weeks after that night which was just enough time for the bruises to heal. Lissa took the fall for being the irresponsible one. She told my parents she let me drink and they thought it was adorable I was such a light-weight. Practically passing out after two drinks! I wasn’t allowed to spend the night with her anymore. We were granted one last night together however to “say goodbye”. That night, Lissa dressed me up again and spun me around in front of her mirror as she held me in her arms and told me that when I was ready, this is what I would wear when I went to him. We kissed and giggled playfully over the thought. She put make-up on me to complete the transformation and I knew one day soon, I would be a woman.

Jorge, who had pretended to be overly concerned about my welfare and my age and my friend’s complete lack of respect for my parents that night on the lawn, made quite an impression and I was allowed to see him again on the condition that he come over and  introduce himself properly in the presence of my father’s .44. He was 21. My parents believed he was 17.

Lissa and Jorge had been together for a year or so before she started going into Paolo’s bedroom instead. I’m sure I thought she loved him, though I had no idea what that meant. He thought so too. He confessed his jealousy on each and every car ride from my house to the bungalow as if I was his best friend. I never said more than two words to him. I’m sorry and thank you. I guess he really did feel responsible for me or at the very least responsible to my parents who allowed him to take me one night every weekend as long as I was home by 10. No exceptions. They called Lissa a little whore when they thought I wasn’t listening. That sounded mean but I couldn’t tell you what I thought it meant. Maybe it meant that she liked sleeping with men or that she was just plain bad or both.

That summer, in Jorge’s big green car, I got my second kiss. My first had been only months before at the last dance of the school year. I still remember that boy’s name, but that’s all. “Happy Birthday, sweetheart,” Jorge said and pulled away before I realized what happened. It was almost uncomfortable, awkward – like I had noticed my father had recently begun to do and it disturbed me though I knew not why. What possible reason could a father have to stop kissing his daughter?

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Alright, alright. I kissed her already. What do you want me to say? I kissed her and she smiled and it made my friggin’ day okay? I don’t see anything wrong with that. That bitch Lissa broke my goddamn heart when she left me for Paolo. He’s got a goddamn kid over half the time and she picks him over me? Whatever. I’m over it.

I just don’t see how a chick like that – perfectly nice and all – gets up from the couch one night, looks up at me with this look of absolute pity in her eyes and then walks right into another man’s room. What the fuck is that?

It wasn’t my choice to be Jade’s escort. Just because I look young and am polite enough to deal with the parental units doesn’t make me her gd-boyfriend all the sudden. I mean, c’mon. I’m 21. That shit is grounds for statutory rape and I’m not stupid.

To be perfectly honest, I thought she despised me. I had no idea why I kept picking her up every weekend and spilling my guts to her about Lissa except I felt she was the only who really listened. Fuck the guys. I mean, they were my best friends man, but they didn’t care about the chicks they laid– not like me. Jonas fucked Lissa in the laundry room the first night he met her and we all heard it – including Jade. I could count on her to shut the fuck up and listen when I talked. She wasn’t the type of chick to interrupt or interject her opinion every other minute.

She had the kind of face you could call sincerely caring. Her eyes never gave anything away but sincerity. I was certain she new nothing of compassion or empathy. She just didn’t have the proper experience required.

The kiss would have been a non-sequitor had it not been for what happened later. She was excited about her birthday and was being her usual smiling self when she bounded toward my Buick and hopped in for our show hug. The one we put on for her parents’ sake. God, when she smiled, she fucking glowed. It seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do until I felt myself instinctively pull back and saw the first glint of knowing in her innocent eyes. She suddenly seemed much older and I found myself forcing the numerals one-five to remain foremost in my mind.

What the hell was she doing hanging around with a bunch of college guys anyway? Not that any of us minded. She was smart and quiet and held the dual-title of house geisha and madame. She unwittingly inspired the women we occasionally dated and often brought home to return for…shall we say, seconds? The ladies were just as enamored by her as the three of us were protective.

Every Saturday night it was the same story. She read poetry aloud to us from our myriad text books, some older than she was and a lot less relevant. Couples merged from one to many on the floor, the couch. Anywhere we could get horizontal. Her voice melted away any doubt that our women would compete for, if not simply succumb to any and I mean any desire or fantasy we might come up with. The fireplace helped too.

Lissa eventually tired of playing her litte learning game with Paolo but I had not let her back into my room until that night. Jade had just finished reading to the last of the lingering lovers who had not yet retired to their private rooms. She put her head on the nearest pillow as she always did and waited for someone to finish and take her home. I was about to close the door behind me when I saw Paolo come out and sit right down on the couch beside her. They spoke softly, their faces close – too close. Lissa nudged me hard in the ribs and gave me a look some where between she’ll be fine and who gives a shit.

Paolo had been in his own room all evening putting his son to sleep. I trusted him with
Jade, and I did feel somewhat responsible for her well-being after having met with her parents face to face, regardless of the charade. I was so damn excited to be back with Lissa. I didn’t think. I forgot all about the kiss I planted on Jade when I picked her up for her birthday celebration and the new look in her eyes and at the time, I really had no idea she had already fallen for him.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Who did that dude think he was fooling? Everyone knew that Jorge was in love with Jade and that the façade they had put on for her parents was trickling down the gutter to Realityville. I had no idea how Jade felt about Lissa and Jorge getting back together, but I suspected it was not good. It was hard to tell. She had this melancholy happiness about her or a joyful sorrow or some kinda shit that freaked me out and turned me on all at once. Didn’t matter though. She was not 18. Jail bait. And I was a new dad, not about to fuck with someone else’s baby daughter.

I played some songs on the stereo. That seemed safe enough. She said she recognized the sound a band called Mazzy Star made and tried to indentify the producer off the CD jacket in the dark. I was impressed. Riley and I had been listening to her calming voice muffled through the door until he fell asleep, fighting his infant exhaustion all the way down to Pillowtown. She was a lullaby and a living nightmare all rolled into one fabulously luxurious package, laying on the very couch where many much older and experienced had succumbed. Didn’t matter though. Not 18.

That was the first time we talked alone – one on one. She told me she thought the producer was the same guy who made Opal sound so good. I’m almost certain she didn’t know what the hell it was a producer did exactly until that moment. She seemed like a pretty cool chick though. Just young. I was fucking lonely as hell and tired of laying co-eds one after another. Six weeks max was all it ever lasted. I just couldn’t commit after Sheila. Sheila wanted more than I could give and went ahead and found it in another man before she bothered to divorce me. Now I know there are only two ways a relationship like that can go. So why not kill it before it gets too risky? I’d die for one person on this earth and that’s enough. Bought the album though. Good shit.

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