The Best Date

It was the best date I’d ever had, the best date I could ever imagine having. I’d met him in the dark of downtown Tucson, surrounded by ghouls and demons and massive paper machè  heads with unblinking eyes. The Day of the Dead celebration had stopped in a vacant lot to burn this huge ball of everyone’s dreams and demons from the year, and people milled about everywhere, faces glowing in the half-light, skulls peeking from behind hoods and children’s heads and T-shirts. I found the highest point, as I usually do, watching the lights of the city behind this pagan ancient celebration, being celebrated by soccer moms and random white people, but feeling the authenticity of it, the real, something bigger than the participants. The pulse of it, behind my eyes and pounding in my chest, and I welcomed all the passed souls back to earth. Off to my right, then, I felt him. Standing there, looking out over the crowd from the dirt dike, maybe 20 feet away. He looked out from the brim of his ball cap, shoulders hunched over, grey sweatshirt. His friend was more my usual type, brawny and Hispanic, but I barely saw him. He felt me look at him, and turned, his head ducking in embarrassment as he caught me catching him. His friend elbowed him, stating the obvious.

I didn’t wait long, I put my camera back in its bag and strolled up to him, while he pretended he didn’t see me coming. The brawny Hispanic guy grinned at me over his head. Up close, I could see I was almost taller than he was. In heels I would loom. “Hi,” I said.

He smiled, and my heart caught. Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous smile. Blue eyes, short-cropped hair, the neck of a boxer. His shoulders swelled under the sweatshirt, and I could see he was built like a smaller version of his friend. Older than I’d thought from a distance, with his ball-cap and college-dude clothes. “I’m Zac,” he said. Zac, I said in my mind. Zac. It sounded perfect.

He was perfect. He picked me up that Saturday in his big shiny black Ford, his hands full of roses and his cologne the perfect scent, clean and manly. So that’s what swooning felt like. I couldn’t say I’d ever swooned before. Butterflies trapped in my chest beat their wings, my head felt light. I smoothed my little black dress down, I touched my hair, I practically purred. He took me to dinner at the nicest Mexican place in town, the one with four-course meals pre-planned by the chef, the one with walls hung in modern art and tables inlayed with mosaics by some talented white guy. He held my hand, he met my eyes. The conversation was easy. Because I was there to be easy. I forget what the food was like, but I imagine it was perfect. He told me about his work. He owned a boxing gym, of course he did! He trained daily. He was 12 years older than me. I told him about my single life, about the heavy bag hanging behind my apartment and my love of martial arts, hoping I didn’t sound full of shit. I did love to spar, I loved the classes, I loved the power I could feel growing in my body with training. The smell of sweat, the movements like a dance. Telling this guy, though, it sounded like I was trying to be what he wanted and I hated that. Though I wanted to be anything he wanted. I wanted to take anything he could give me.

Looking out the window, he told me about a guy he’d punched in the face outside this very restaurant, some night a while back. How he hurried away before the cops showed up, how it had been to protect some girl whose boyfriend was being rough with her. I relaxed then, he was trying to impress me too. It was silly and juvenile, what he did, and how I felt about it. If I’d had a dick it would have been hard as a rock right then.

“We’d better hurry, we’re going to a show,” he said, grinning that perfect white grin and pulling me close to him. I’d let him plan it all, I hadn’t asked a single question. He complimented my dress, he told me I was beautiful. Coming from him it sounded so special, so unlike the myriad empty compliments the myriad empty guys before had given. I knew that this was a fantasy I was playing out, that somehow it wasn’t all real, but I needed it at this point in my life and so I let myself fall hard into the playing of this game.

In his truck, smelling of leather and cologne and roses, the margaritas I’d had with dinner made his touch on my hand light my nerves. I could feel where our skin merged, I felt the pulse of some fate-like pull between us. I kissed him in the parking lot, and it was perfect. The perfect length, the smell of him making my desire grow, his lips soft and inviting. He hadn’t bought tickets to the show, but as we floated up in this pretend glowing aura of new love (because that’s what it was, it had been love at first sight and I let it take me) someone had a pair of tickets for us, extra tickets no problem! Couples behind and before us in line looked at us enviously as we wrapped our arms around each other and gazed at each other with stupid cow grins. Old couples nodded knowingly and squeezed their partners’ hands. This, this was obviously real new love. How could it not be?

The seats were right up in front, because of course they were. I’d never felt so high without assistance. I shut my mind away in an iron box and let my body and soul free. John Legend came on stage and sang just to me as I loved the man beside me without knowing him at all. We swayed to the music of the endless night, our bodies merged at hip and chest. I closed my eyes and smiled so hard I thought my face would break.

A week later, after I’d called his empty home a bachelor pad and he angrily said it wasn’t, as he had been married,  he lit candles anyway to lead me to his bedroom. After, he turned over and pretended I wasn’t there. A text message the next day let me know he was done with me. My little dream came falling from the sky, slowly like snow, white as ash from the burning. I brushed it off my upturned face, because I still loved him, and instead of turning that emotion to hate I carried that little perfect imaginary world with me in my pocket. It was ok. I didn’t have to understand why. I took what he gave me, and I forgave what he took.

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In Honor of Vagina Day…

You wore me like a glove, kid-skin to be exact
Hard tight mouth clenched in a thin straight line
Heart pounding in the space beneath your ribs and my ear
I looked beyond the moment to the whisper of tomorrow
And saw my heart bleeding on the sidewalk,
Just run down by the speeding car of your casual slight.

You ran your fingers across my burning, flaming skin
Traced the lines of the fire inked in scars across my back
You made me come, and come, and I kept coming until
I couldn’t, until the giving left me empty as a shell
You grinned your smug little rainbow grin, laughed
Your sexy I-don’t-care laugh, so I fucked you sideways.
And the water streamed down my thighs into your hands.

Roads on Her Face #2 Paper Dolls

The places all run together, mostly, the roads and buildings and signs all merging in my dreams into one patchwork quilt of place. Not the people, though, the faces and voices stand out in my memory like my own personal signposts. I don’t know the name of the town where we picked my dad up from jail in the morning, after some kindly local cop had thrown him in the drunk tank to sober up. I don’t remember where we were when I first went to public school. I remember my friend Jacci, the first real friend I ever had and who I wrote to most of my childhood, from wherever we had roamed. I remember vividly the old woman who lived in a camper out in the desert, not far from our own spot where our trailer was parked and where people mostly didn’t bother us. The woman cut pictures from magazines, mostly those disturbing porcelain dolls that a certain type of woman tends to collect – the type of woman who never had children or who never got over that emptiness when her children left her to begin their own lives. Mom would make me go visit her, and her husband would give me chocolate-covered cherries while she showed me the doll pictures she’d collected that day, and told me in exhaustive detail why she’d chosen each one, and how pretty they were, and if she had a house where it would go. I ate the sickeningly sweet candy and tried not to fidget. Her trailer was dark, fetid, the yellowed curtains pulled tight to block out the glaring Arizona sun. Her husband was scruffy, unwashed but kindly with sharp blue eyes. I don’t remember their faces, just their voices and mainly the pictures of the dolls. I don’t remember their names. They must have been in their 60s or 70s, because I thought they were ancient. I think now she must have thought of me as one of those dolls, with my long braided hair and pink cheeks. Then, I tried my best to escape the visits but the husband would show up knocking with candy for the other kids and Mom would nod at me, and give me the look that meant I should go with him.

He must not have known what to do with her. What do you do with a woman so lost? Do you find her a doll to play with? Do you let her fill your camper with strange images of dolls that she might could have if she didn’t live in the desert, with no one else to see them and no room to display them? Pictures of dolls which are images of children…like looking through two different windows stacked one on top of the other, in front of the thing she really wanted. Was she too afraid to want the real thing? Was it just that it was too late and it hurt too much to think about? I wonder if the two of them were sad. I can’t imagine that they were happy. Did they have children of their own, somewhere, who either didn’t know where they were or didn’t care? Were they running from something, that same unknown something that always seemed to be right behind us, too? I never saw them again, when we left the place we were camped that time. I do remember the place, since we lived there more than once. The desert outside of Vidal Junction, California had miles of Sonoran Desert that were mostly unpatrolled by the Bureau of Land Management. It was free to live there for 14 days, if you got a permit, but we never had a permit. The rangers would find us, eventually, and then we had two more weeks to live in the spot we were parked. Sometimes when that was up, we just drove further out into the desert where we might not be found for months.
I remember the inspection station, where they asked if you were bringing fruit into California if you were coming from the Arizona side. We would have to eat it quickly before we got there.

“Those bastards are going to take our fruit, kids. Eat it or hide it,” Ed would say. I remember the aching feeling I got when we turned off into the desert, knowing we would be in isolation for a long time. Knowing that I would become intimate with the rocks, the creosotes, the secret hidden places I could discover to be away from the rest of my family. A place for some quiet, where I could read. Reading was the only escape. Dolls had never been my thing.

Update: He called himself the Colonel, and he called his wife Bubba.

Rejection letters

Damn. Another one. Now, email rejection letters bring you to new lows twice as fast! You’re told to build a thick skin, as a writer, and you do. You submit to edits and re-edits and you drink lots of coffee and sometimes you cry. But you get up, again, and you write some more words down. Sometimes they make sense and sometimes more of them come. Other times you throw away that napkin you wrote on, or your iPad crashes and they’re gone forever. What matters is that you’re doing it, they say.

But sometimes, all you want to hear is a “yes” or someone who knows what they’re talking about say you’re worth reading. Sometimes it’s too hard to do anything after one more “no.” You drink yourself into a stupor, again, and that helps a little.

It doesn’t get any better when you do get a “yes.” You’re still just as insecure, you’re still not sure you’re doing the right thing. Maybe it’s all a waste of time, and you’ll look back at your life and sadly shake your head. You don’t want to think the words FAILED WRITER but you do, all the time. Does anyone want to read this mumbo jumbo? You look back at something you wrote last year and you cringe at how awful it is. Did you really send that shit to someone? Then you write something better, and you send it out into the world again with a held breath and the lingering stale scent of beer.