Friday, January 12, 2007

Crossing The Lake of Fire and Sailing The Rivers of No Return

SOMEWHERE ON THE CENTRAL COAST, Calif. (ZP) -- Passion. The lust for life, that wondrous thing upon which dreams are built and shattered, that destroyer of cold logic and harbinger of ambivalent moral crosshairs, that true maestro behind every great work of art, war, and everything in between.

It is as warm and welcoming as a hot potbellied stove on a cold night - and just as potentially dangerous and ravaging, once the door is set loose and the hot coals begin enveloping everything left susceptible to flame.

* * * *

I was half-daydreaming when "Tonya" knocked.

She had the room key; not sure why, exactly, she didn't just let herself in. Probably for the same reason I was only half daydreaming - she probably wasn't sure if I'd still be there, in the room, still ready to, well...

I was almost certain that I'd be hitchhiking back to my car.

When I opened the door, I immediately remembered why we'd gotten a room to begin with. It was the forbidden, the lost nights, the forgotten night on the boat, the broken friendship, the avoidance, the missing, unfulfilled past.

"Tonya" just stood at the door, plastic bag in hand.

I felt like an awkward sixth-grader peaking into some girl's locker room after gym class. I'm pretty sure I said something - not sure if it was coherent or not. The only thing I remember is admiring the scenery, the way "Tonya" stood there, leaning back on one foot, right hip cocked slightly, glancing at that tiny sliver of skin poking out from where her shirt and her jeans met...

My eyes wandered to her face, her lips, and down to her chest. It was cold on the Central Coast, and "Tonya" happens to be one of those women who refuses to wear a bra.

As soon as "Tonya" realized I was "checking out" her chest, she covered herself, for some reason embarrassed.

Don't make fun of me. I have hella monkey boobs, dude.

Chica, you have perfect boobs.

Yeah, but I breastfed. I gots monkey boobs now.

Look, chica. Take a fucking compliment. Perfect. Boobs.

She laughed. She didn't believe me.

"Tonya" looked exactly like she did years ago, save for a few highlights in her hair and the lip ring. Her eyes still pierced through human flesh. She still dressed the same way, talked the same way - she was still a tomboyish girl, looking naked and fragile without a skateboard or an oversized belt covered in cheap tin skulls.

She started to rattle off just about every damned imperfection she had - her c-section scar, the pimple on her shoulder, her unwashed hair, the fact that the hadn't shaved her legs (or anything else) in a week...

At that point, I guess I'd had all I could take. I guess I just figured that, well, if she started rattling off her imperfections, I'd start rattling off mine. We'd use up our window holding a pity party instead of...

Instead of committing adultery.

I remember how the Big A-Word clung to the back of my mind like the cheap striped wallpaper clung to the room. For me, there was no point in not calling a spade a spade, for hiding from responsibility, for hiding behind euphemism and bullshit.

I grabbed Tonya by her Le Tigre tee shirt, pulled her close, kissed her as if the world was to end in the next few hours, before our personal deadlines drove us back into the real world.

Sorry, Kathleen Hanna, but I ruined one of your band's shirts. Came right off in my hand, tore right in half. Last I saw of it, the ruined garment was floating down towards a parking lot, headed for the roof of somebody's SUV.

I can't even remember the last time I ripped a perfectly good shirt off a woman's body without even thinking, without worrying about appropriateness, without fretting over going too fast or too slow, without even thinking about thinking about anything.

And I was right, by the way. I found no monkey boobs beneath that shirt...

* * * *

With "Tonya," (for those in Oxford who felt the need to contact me to say they know a Tonya here, well, wrong part of the country and, well, the quotation marks indicate an alias) I knew where things were leading the moment we sat down at the bar. She ordered two shots of Irish whiskey with slices of lime - just the way I used to drink that kind of whiskey, just the way she remembered me drinking that night on the boat.

She put down her first shot quickly and moved to her second before I'd finished my chaser. With every laugh or sigh or hand movement, she scooted her barstool closer, she leaned in a bit more, her eyes aglow as she told me about her adventures, her body language less than subtle as she asked about mine.

The kicker, the big - fucking - red - flag here, was how every element of our conversation seemed to move towards sex, no matter what the topic (at one point, a conversation about the myth of Old Saint Nick sliding down the chimney turned into an X-rated discussion about masturbation), how way too eager she seemed to be to volunteer certain personal information that most women - under platonic circumstances - usually don't volunteer without some ulterior motive.

C' many women sporting a pair of rings on their hand would ever openly discuss certain sex acts with someone other than their spouse, especially if the other party in that discussion just happened to be a guy they once tried to seduce in the cabin of a fucking boat?

At one point, while I was explaining why I'd sworn off women for a while, the events that led up to Halloween Night, the Jack Nicholson thing, and just about every fucked-up element of life in Oxford Fucking Ohio, she put her hands on my shoulders, ran them up to my cheeks.

I stopped mid-sentence and asked her what she was doing.

She shot right up and said she had to go to the bathroom. When she returned, she seemed to scan the near-empty bar, as if she were verifying that she indeed did not know anybody there - other than me, of course.

I'd already been doing that myself for a half an hour. I'd started doing that about thirty seconds after I realized that I'd started to notice how she had this tendency to play with her earrings when I talked, how she chewed on her lip, how I was starting to get the smell of her perfume in my nose.

Not good.

Oh, fuck, so not good.

* * * *

"Tonya" started to tell me, too, about how she remembered me doing and saying things that I didn't remember. Little things, those common everyday events that most people forget even before they happen.

Like that night on the boat, when the tide started to head towards the beach and the sea air pushed something foul up her nose, I apparently offered my shirt sleeve for use as a snot rag. And I'd let her doodle on my arm that night while I talked with the skipper about the difficulty of quitting hard drugs.

She'd taken her first-ever shot of Irish whiskey that night and I'd coached her through it - the breathing, the expectation of burning, the lime's tartness as a counterbalance to the whiskey's robust sting. She also remembered that I'd wiped the excess booze off her chin, the first time I ever touched her face. She'd assumed that that meant, back then, that I was attracted to her, based solely on the fact that I used my fingers instead of the back of my hand or palm.

That was the only reason she'd decided to lure me below deck to, well...

Fuck, this ain't good. Not good at all.

* * * *

Her own trip down amnesia lane was interrupted by the sounds of Gnarls Barkley pouring from her purse. She reached in, looked at the caller I.D., and excused herself to step outside to take the call and smoke one of my cigarettes.

When she returned, I noticed instantly how her mood had changed, her demeanor serious and rigid, her face stuck halfway between regret and responsibility.

I knew what was coming. She didn't have to say anything, really.

I shouldn't be here with you...I need to go right now.

One of the nasty little side effects of being the perpetual Ex-Other Man is the fact that one tends to hear this same line repeated by many different women over the course of many years. It's never a pleasant thing to hear.

Nobody likes to be the one to drop the other shoe, no matter how much they enjoy the pairing.

* * * *

She went on to explain, in detail, just about every damned reason she shouldn't be there, in the bar with me, shouldn't be talking to me, even near me.

Her husband had just called from SoCal to tell her what a great time he was having with his friends and to apologize for choosing not to spend the holidays with her family. She was happy, really, honestly, seriously, and was in a stable place, financially secure for the first time in her life.

She owned a car, yes, a car that wasn't older than she was. In two years of marriage, he'd never once hit her - a first in her life. He liked how she folded his laundry and never asked her to explain anything. And, unlike previous beaus, he was trying to at least learn how to be a father to a kid that wasn't even his, her beautiful little girl.

And if he never said that he loved her, if he didn't like her touching him, if they hadn't slept together since he'd cheated on her with their old neighbor, well, so be it.

Tonya put her hand over her face, again informed me that she had to go, wished me a good life, and made a beeline for the door.

* * * *

I dropped some cash on the bar and followed Tonya outside. As much as I knew I should just let her go, for some reason, I just couldn't keep from following.

I hadn't thought about Tonya in any sort of real romantic way, any sort of sexual way, while we were talking in the bookstore or while we were chatting over coffee. Sure, my mind would wander a bit in the middle of conversation. I was still attracted to her. Very cute girl, naturally cute, that makeup - would - just -ruin - God's - creation kinda cute.

But, well, I didn't think it was going anywhere, certainly didn't think it mutual or as dangerous as it apparently was.

I dunno. Guys are stupid sometimes.

Even when we're not thinking with our smaller brains, there's always some other damned thing to trip us up.

* * * *

She hadn't gotten very far. She was leaning against a wall, no more than half a block from the bar. She seemed to be staring at the sidewalk, almost as if she were counting the cracks in the concrete.

She started to walk away the moment she saw me.

I knew I should stop, just let her go, call it good before somebody got really hurt, before I passed the last exit and there would be no turning back.

But I couldn't. And I don't know why.

I hollered at her once, twice...I don't know. No matter what I said, she kept walking.

Chica, hold on a minute.

Hey, stop for a minute.

What the fuck, _____?

In hindsight, the responsible, rational, ethical adult in me - the information professional, the highly educated, logic-driven organizer of knowledge that I'm supposed to be - should've stopped me, should've commanded that other, lustful, coveting-another-man's - wife part to halt.

But it didn't.

* * * *

I kept following Tonya while she kept on a-truckin', ignoring my calls to stop and talk, looking over her shoulder every once and a while, hollering at me to go back to fucking Ohio and to leave her alone.

I felt like a goddamned stalker, a psychopath, a lunatic. Part of me just wanted to apologize, part of me was trying to figure out what I was going to say, and yet another part was trying to rationalize the whole situation, to find some way to achieve some sort of happy ending.

When "Tonya" finally stopped, in one of SLO-Town's parking garages, I realized that we'd managed to cover almost six blocks, and I didn't remember crossing one crosswalk, crossing one street, or seeing one person along the way.

She turned and stared me down.

And she didn't make a sound. Just stared, anger in her eyes and cheeks. For a moment or three, I was afraid she was going to take a swing at me.

I felt like the most rancid pile of dogshit on Earth.

* * * *

What happened next remains a bit hazy in terms of how things went down. Honestly, I'm not sure how much I trust my judgment or my memory. I can close my eyes and recall everything, out of order yet crystal clear.

But for some reason, like that silly talking egg from the old nursery rhyme, that critter that fell from that wall, the one all the king's men couldn't put back together again, none of the pieces seem to fit together nicely. We just stood there in the parking structure, staring at each other, ten feet apart, this strange canyon filling quickly with pent-up emotion.

And then she let me have it, the canyon long past flooding, its polite dams shattered on the rocks.

She called me all sorts of things that cut straight to the bone.

I was a frigid bastard who'd led her on once and had subsequently demonstrated that I was indeed the cold-hearted, manipulating fuck her mom had said I was years before. I was the Devil himself, a crush from her past that had come back to lead her astray from her peaceful - if loveless - marriage.

I'd run away and hid when she'd finally worked up the guts to hit on a guy who wasn't a drug dealer and/or didn't have a criminal record, the first guy she'd ever chosen to have non-stoned, consensual sex with. I was the guy she'd given up trying to get, the guy who was just good enough to be her friend but not brave enough to be her lover.

And now it was too fucking late, the attraction there but poorly timed, the truth still lost inside of lust, lust dragging her in two directions, ripping her apart inside.

Aapparently, my admitting that I'd really wanted to take things farther that night out on the boat, that I really was concerned about, well, the legality of the age difference, didn't help matters. She would've rather heard me say that I only thought of her as some silly kid - easier that way.

She didn't love me, didn't want to know me, hadn't ever wanted to see me again. And when we ran into each other at that bookstore, she'd started questioning all of the pent-up rage...

And she couldn't deal with it.

Just leave or I'll call the cops or something. Stay the fuck away from me.

I turned and started to walk. I was too ashamed to say anything. In almost 30 years on this planet, through countless fucked-up situations involving countless women in my life, I've never once had a woman threaten to call the cops on me.

In all honesty, I wanted to step right out of that parking structure and into traffic. It felt as if a part of me, the last innocent part, died.

I'd lost control of a situation. And it had hurt someone so much that I almost completely lost the will to live in the span of an hour. Worst of all, I crossed boundaries that shouldn't have ever been crossed, naively expected things to be all forgiven and forgotten after only a few fleeting years.

For the first time in more than a decade, I'd done something so internally insulting that I wanted to crawl inside a bottle of Everclear and never leave.

I thought about getting back to Oxford, digging through boxes of shit from my old apartment in Baton Rouge. Maybe, just maybe, I'd be able to find the number of that European I'd met in New Orleans, the one who thought I had the "attitude" it took to be a hired gun for one of his clients, out in some infernal desert country where they hang their ex-dictators and share it via YouTube.

To say I was crushed would be the understatement of 2006, possibly 2007.

* * * *

It's been, needless to say, many years since I last trashed a motel room.

While the room was paid for in cash, I had to give the clerk my credit card for "security purposes." If I don't have an additional $300-400 charge show up on my statement next month, it'll be a miracle.

After "Tonya's" wardrobe malfunction, it was damned near impossible to remember that these sorts of encounters best occur inside of rented rooms, not on the walkways outside, for all to see.

Tonya didn't seem to notice or care, even though we were a mere ten minutes from her parents' house and her mother could drive by at any moment. After all, she was the one with the most to lose - and the one topless and facing the highway.

The first go-round, I'm almost ashamed to admit, was a bit, err, anticlimactic. I was just too damned excited and, well, a bit rusty. Practice does indeed make perfect, and when a guy forgets things like form, function, and rhythm because there hasn't been a need for such things in a while, well, it can take a few moments to regain one's composure.

I think the fact that I kept staring at the cars whizzing by, kept worrying about the possibility of some kid or vacationing grandmother or tourist walking out of the adjacent rooms, kept trying not to laugh as the lone Mexican housekeeper below pretended not to notice what was going on above her, kept me out of tune with the situation at hand. Sometimes, distractions just ruin perfectly good moments.

The whole emotional rollercoaster had taken a toll that my body just couldn't pay. Embarrassing, yes, but, well, there's something to be said for not being as old as I sometimes feel.

Only about a four-minute recovery time for the second go-round, just long enough to get out of the shearing wind and back into the room - even managed to get my boots off in one kick.

After the third go-round we took a medical break. Both Tonya and I have bum shoulders that occasionally pop out of place. Somehow, we'd managed to both dislocate our shoulders simultaneously.

Wouldn't you, dear reader, like to know.

I will, however, suggest that it is best to remember that beneath the cheap, commercial-grade carpeting in most motel rooms, they rarely waste any money putting padding between any potential falling bodies and the concrete below.

Took power naps after the fourth (broke a lamp somehow), cuddled for a while after five in a pile of pillow foam (pillow fight...long story).

But six...

Six was the unlucky number. Just before we were about to hit that tally, our brains finally caught up with our libidos, logic started creeping back in, the real world intruding.

Both of our phones went off within minutes of each other. My call was from my sister, asking me how I was spending my day and reminding me that the family had a birthday dinner in a few hours.

Tonya didn't have an easy out for her call. As soon as she picked up the phone and looked at the caller I.D., as soon as she jumped up and hurried to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her, I knew who was on the other end.

I've been the Other Man before. But nothing, nothing ever, like this.

* * * *

The A-Word crept back into my thoughts.

Dude, she's not cheating on some boyfriend. That's her husband. Look at the rings on the nightstand. This is adultery, one of the big sins, a Ten Commandments level infraction.

Angry boyfriends take swings at you, get pissed. They talk shit, get drunk, want to fight, and then go cry it off, let their egos heal. But remember M., that woman's fiance down in Louisiana?

He told you, point-blank, that he'd been planning on shooting you when he came to your door.

Think about what you're doing, dude. Something's not right. You cut this kinda danger out of your life years ago. This kinda shit can get you killed.

Stupid fucking conscience.

* * * *

Back in SLO-Town, two hours before, I'd been wandering about in an excruciating haze, trying to find my car. First, I couldn't seem to remember that my own little white Ford Pickup was back in Cincinnati at the airport; I seemed to have forgotten that I'd borrowed my mom's Mustang for the day.

And then, standing on the top deck of SLO's other downtown parking garage, I remembered that the car was parking way atop the other one, the structure I'd just left, near the scene I'd just left.

Well, I remember thinking, at least there'd been some practical reason for me following "Tonya" back there, beyond the confusion.

I wandered around downtown a bit more, giving her enough time to clear out. Didn't feel like finding out if she'd been bluffing about the cops, didn't want to see her ever again, in fact.

After enough time had passed, I made my way back to the parking garage, sulking my way gingerly up the stairwell, taking the long way around to avoid the level where I thought Tonya's car had been parked, where the whole damned scene had taken place.

By the time I finally reached the top deck, I was again calm enough to drive. No desire to drink myself into oblivion, no burning need to find out in they still needed mercenaries in a fucking war zone.

I popped the trunk, dropped in my day's purchases - a pair of shirts that I really didn't want or need, but bought simply out of distraction.

By the time I figured out what was going on, I didn't have enough energy - emotional or otherwise - to spend on anything beyond reflex.

As soon as I realized someone had snuck up behind me, had noticed the faint silhouette of a person approaching fast behind me in the car's shimmering paint, I went straight on instinct. I could make out what looked like a blunt weapon in the right hand.

Whoever the dumbass was, I'd be damned if I were about to be mugged peacefully.

* * * *

My fist stopped about half a foot from a young woman's throat.

If I hadn't controlled myself, hadn't stopped mid-swing to evaluate my own personal threat level, I'm fairly certain I'd be sitting in jail right now, probably for murder.

The last time I was that frazzled, I was in fucking high school, high as a kite and on my 36th hour without sleep.

Tonya flinched and dropped to the ground anyway.

As she got back up, she made some lame joke about deserving that and wishing that I'd actually hit her.

I didn't laugh.

I did, however, snap back with a snide comment about hoping she was going to call the cops, because I was tired of this shit.

She just stared at the ground, shaking and nodding. She had goosebumps all over her arms, her neck, her...

She had taken off her hoodie and had it wrapped around her hand. She was almost catatonic, shivering. When I offered to help her put on her sweater and reached for the damned thing, she pulled back.

I gingerly coaxed the garment from her hand. As I unwrapped it, a set of car keys fell from her fist. The keys were covered in blood, the hoodie covered.

I asked her what had happened. She said she hadn't noticed that she was bleeding until she'd seen me walking back to the parking garage. She'd squeezed the keys so tightly in her fist that she'd broken the skin. I quickly - calmly - examined the wound. Superficial cut, already clotted, but she'd have one nasty bruise.

But still, why?

I couldn't leave.

She started sobbing again. So I took off my button-up shirt and used it as a snot rag.

Talk about deja vu all over again. I guess I do have a tendency to offer women my shirts up as Kleenex.

She leaned in, closer and closer; before I realized what was going on, she'd wrapped her arms around me. And I'd wrapped my arms around her.

I felt her fingernails cut through my tee shirt, dig into my skin. My fingers started wandering up and down her spine, pausing at each vertebrae, pausing at each rib, feeling each pound of flesh. As her grip tightened, so did mine.

I started to say something, something tangible and rational, but instead I simply mumbled into her hair as I leaned down to kiss her forehead. She tilted her head up from my chest, eyes closed, lips open.

The last thing I remember seeing before my eyes closed was my own hand reaching up through the back of that damned Le Tigre tee-shirt.

I gave up trying to contain the hot coals, willfully flung the door of the potbellied stove open and unleashed the fires. One cannot fight two demons, Fate and Lust, simultaneously.

Two people lost control in a parking garage, and the flames consumed the world around them. And there would be no chance to take anything back, nothing left to second-guess.


Anonymous said...

i just finished reading this actualy in your library [i think] this afternoon and i just wanted to say WOW! found the site by accident while i was bored. i can so relate man!

i'm a senior here at miami. over the summer i fell in love with a guy during an internship. the guy turned out to have a wife and family. things got hot once during lunch and we hooked up. i knew he had a wife. worse the guy was 20 years older than me.

you so captured what i was feeling all fall semester..the frustration the guilt and everything. i hope this isnt harsh but its nice to know well that there are ppl whove been through this.

hope you are well and your a very amazing writer.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Thanks.Yeap, not sure if it's something I'd recommend doing or not.

Jess said...




The ZenFo Pro said...

Um...yeah. Married married.

Wow. You may be the only female reader in Ohio I have left :)