The VIP Room- removed

I decided to remove the page and posts- erotica isn’t right for this blog. Maybe I’ll release it somewhere else- or, maybe I’ve decided I’m done with that novel. I wrote it only to prove to myself that I could write a complete novel, and I did, though I will never be happy with the quality. Sorry to anyone who may have been following it.

-Alanna

Roads on Her Face #8: The DTs

I was reading, as usual, lost somewhere in stories of dragons and princesses who were cared for by handsome princes, whose lives were filled with mystery and drama and excitement. Our camp was set up in one of the busier parts of the Quartzsite desert, out behind the Main Event swapmeet where the less anti-social desert rats parked so they could walk in to trade and bullshit with the vendors. We were anti-social, but Mom needed to walk to work.

This time we were in a station wagon, our last trailer disappearing in some trade because Dad needed cash. I was 8, an age I remember clearly because it was the year I had my first job where someone gave me money and not promises. I’d had the unpaid job of helping  mom with the other kids from the time each was born, though they’d argue that if you asked them. Babies don’t remember who changed their diapers, or dressed them, or spent their time preventing them from swallowing crayons. And they are never grateful.

My job consisted of shoveling horse crap behind the stagecoach that tourists paid to ride around the swapmeet, like in the real Old West. The driver, Ron, was a drunk, with a big red nose and a dirty black cowboy hat. He only tolerated me at first, but gradually grew to trust me and even let me drive the horses sometimes when they weren’t acting up. They got tired of standing all day in the sun, sometimes, and once the stagecoach ran away with customers inside and me sitting on the top clutching the railing and praying that the top-heavy thing didn’t pitch over and kill us all. I liked working for Ron, being close to the horses I’d always loved from the stories I read, like Black Beauty. I liked settling the pale tourists inside and closing the latch on the door after them, then hopping up on top of the coach and watching the dusty town from a vantage point above all the cheap Chinese toys and ugly southwestern potteries, above the tables creaking with the weight of rocks and the rusted tools that were still worth money because they were Snap-Ons. I liked wearing cowboy boots and the leather hair cuff with a horseshoe nail through the center that the leather vendor gave me, that he said was free as long as I told everyone where they could get them. Lots of vendors knew me, as they watched us circle lazily all day around the packed dirt roads, clop, clop, clop. Mom worked scooping ice cream at the general store, her right forearm and bicep bulging after long days scooping the frozen-hard 10 flavors for fat kids and fatter grannies. She would proudly flex her arm, saying “Look at how buff I am!” to make us laugh. Jesse, an old Indian man who wore turquoise and a long grey braid down his back, worked at the store as a cashier. He gave me things, too, usually when Mom wasn’t around. I would come home with pockets full of candy, necklaces and rings and small toy soldiers. He gave me anything I looked at in the store, even things I didn’t want. I became more selective, only picking up the things I really wanted so I could hear him say “Hey, take that why don’t you. That’s for you, you can have it.” He always watched me, solemnly, out of dark shiny eyes.

One day he told me that he thought things, about kissing, and not to tell anyone. Confused by that, I asked Mom later. She didn’t say anything, but I wasn’t allowed in the store without her anymore. I never thought about why that might be, or connected it to Jesse, but I wonder what happened behind the scenes. If Dad had known, it would have been ugly.

As I turned the pages, lost in my fantasy world, I heard a strange choked cry that brought me directly back to the reality of how life really was, the life that was ours, that still held drama but very little romance. All of us froze, staring at the station wagon where Dad had been taking a nap. His beard had grown long and grey, and he hadn’t cut his hair in months so it was nearly long enough to wear in a ponytail. He wore his Army fatigues, and a dingy old T-shirt. His eyes were staring and glazed, and he looked out at the sky.

“Get down!” he shrieked. “Get the fuck down!” His head disappeared behind the back door of the car. None of us moved, looking at each other and wondering if we should run away or stay put. Gurgling and agonized cries came from his hiding spot, and that spurred mom into action. She ran to his side, holding him while he tossed and moaned about helicopters and commanded that she get his gun.

“Penny, come here,” she waved at me, frantic. “Listen to me. You know where Jan works. I need you to go to her, as fast as you can, and ask her to call the ambulance, ok? Dad needs to see a doctor.” Jan worked across the highway at a gas station. We saw her and Bear whenever we came to Quartzsite. They were one of our regular stops, the way we had stops all over the country with people who offered us a place to park for the night, and let us use their showers, and gave us gifts at Christmas or hid Easter eggs for us if we were there in springtime.

I felt like the most important person in the world, higher even than when I rode around over people’s heads on the stagecoach. I took off directly, running and not stopping even when the pain in my side threatened to double me over. Those afternoons that I spent tearing around makeshift tracks, packed down by my feet around sagebrush and creosote that marked the circle, paid off. Dad always said I was born to be a runner. Adrenaline carried me most of the way, but it felt endless. I didn’t see anyone else, but they may have seen me tearing across the highway as I gasped and thought about what I would say to Jan. She would know what to do.

Her face froze as I burst into her store, and it took only seconds for me to spit out “Hospital” and “Dad.” I stayed with her as she made the phone call and drove me back to where we were camped. We were there in time to see him loaded into the back of an ambulance, thrashing and being held down by some big EMTs. He wasn’t gone very long, but we left Quartzsite soon after. Something about that event made it time to hit the road.

Mom had been proud of him, not drinking for months. He had bought her a silver bracelet with hearts, but she was mad at him at the time and he gave it to me instead. I thought her cold-hearted, and gave him a hug because he seemed so sad. I still have the bracelet. It always reminds me of the DTs.

Pussy On Fire

D’Avina was feeing Doritos to the kitten. The kitten looked at her like she was batshit, but she daintily picked them up and crunch, crunch, crunch. The kitten’s face was orange but she was supposed to be grey.

“I always just feed her chips, ya know, like, cuz she like likes them,” D’Avina was twirling her greasy blonde hair vacuously round and round her hot pink manicure. She popped her gum like a champ. I was 9 years old and I knew this one would always be one shat short of a full pantsload. She must have been about 20, which seemed pretty old to me to be feeding chips to cats. I mean, I’d never had a cat but I was pretty sure I’d seen cat food at the store and it wasn’t in the same aisle as the chips.
Kitty Kitty finished her dinner and came to sit in my lap. She was a pretty smart kitty. I petted her and she purred and went to sleep. She had a tiny perfect face like a stuffed cat I’d had a few years back. That was before my brother had used it in the reenactment of a fiery car crash he’d seen on Dukes of Hazzard. (Not the General Lee, it never burned).

“You like Kitty don’t you sweetie? Well maybe when you’re big like me and you have a big strong man like Darrel he might buy you one for your birthday like Darrel did me. He’s just so sweet.” D’Avina popped her gum and got that faraway look in her eye. Wait, that was already there. Never mind.

Darrel was a big, ugly thug of a truck driver. He wore a belt buckle the size of Texas and had hair like a black fir tree. He wore a plaid shirt most of the time, and he had a mean look in his eye that made me avoid him the way I did my aunt that smelled like throw-up, but only when she was drinking sherry. Her name was Sherry.

“Uh huh,” I said because I’d been taught not to backtalk grown-ups unless I wanted a swift kick. Who wants one of those? All I knew was I hoped I never had a Darrel.

“Oh, there he is now!” D’Avina smiled her sticky lipgloss smile and showed her missing tooth. I always wondered what happened to it. Maybe a cavity.

I took Darrel’s big roaring truck noise outside as my cue to skedaddle. I’d be back that night to see if I could coax Kitty Kitty into coming outside to play with me. I had a ball of hair she might be interested in. My brother wasn’t anymore after I’d tied it to his shoe and told him to run because a spider was chasing him. I had about 3 good days of belly laughs out of that particular game. I still giggle every now and then when I remember the sheer terror in his round bulging eyes as that hair spider stayed exactly 5 inches away from him no matter how fast he ran. Man, I guess I was an asshole at 9.

About 10 pm when it was dark I snuck out of our Airstream trailer and slid through the dark like a ninja in pajamas. Darrel and D’Avina had a fire outside, and before I even got close enough to see them I heard Darrel yelling. He always sounded like a bullhorn, especially after he’d pounded enough Schlitz.
“You fuckin’ lil bitch!” He said, and tossed a beer can into the dark almost on my head. It was close enough to smell the piss-smell of the cheap brew. D’Avina wasn’t smiling now. She was turned mostly away from him and was staring out into the night. She did a lot of staring with those big blue cow-eyes. Kitty Kitty wasn’t into the yelling, I could tell. She cowered under D’Avina’s camp chair. She glared at Darrel like she wanted to kill him. I got to know her well over the next 18 years so I can safely say if she’d had a knife she’d have slit him dickhair to armpit in a second. If that cat had thumbs she would have ruled the world.”You listen to me you little CUNT!” Darrel spit, stumbling toward D’Avina. I didn’t move a muscle. I was good at ninja-ing and the nighttime never scared me. As long as it was dark I was safe.

Kitty Kitty hissed from under the chair, and D’Avina just cowered into a little ball like she knew what was coming. I don’t think she did this time, though, and Darrel snatched Kitty Kitty from under the chair and just chucked her right into the fire. I was already frozen but my breath stopped as she shrieked. She jumped so high she might have been a bird flying off into the night. D’Avina started sobbing and ran into their trailer, slamming the screen door after her, and Darrel took off after her like a drunk raging bull.Kitty Kitty found me in the dark, because cats can see better even than me. She had a couple of burns and no whiskers, but she was mostly ok. She was pissed off, though, and she growled her little growl the whole time as I cradled her in my arms and took her home with me. She slept with me that night, and next day Darrel and D’Avina were goners. They’d packed up and taken off in the night, and nothing could have made me happier. Me and Kitty Kitty always growled at dudes like that, from that point on.

Fifty Shades of Grey- if you read those books, read this

Excellent commentary by writer Roxanne Gay on the big “Twilight for adults” kink erotica  Fifty Shades of Grey series- THIS is why I didn’t like them, THIS is the problem with these control-centered heroes of “romantic fantasy” genre books:

http://therumpus.net/2012/05/the-trouble-with-prince-charming-or-he-who-trespassed-against-us/comment-page-1/#comment-323477

Have you read any of the three books in this series? What did you think of the way BDSM was portrayed? How did you feel about the male lead, Christian Grey? What does this say about our current views on sexuality, if anything?

Roads on Her Face #5: The Cah, 800, and Whut?

We were living in a station wagon again, all six of us. I must have been around 9 or ten. We’d rolled into Quartzsite, Arizona late the night before after a few weeks out in the desert. Quartzsite is like a yard sale on crack, crammed with what seems like miles of old snowbirds selling shit, and tables creaking under the weight of rocks. They sell a lot of rocks out there, also whirly-gig wind-catchers, plastic Chinese toys, and badly-painted southwestern ceramics. People with 1/18 Navajo blood from an ancestor in the 1800s who raped an Indian sell jewelry as “authentic Native American” for ten times what it’s worth. The place has a pall over it, a dust-colored veil that smells of desperation. Casual visitors can’t see it, instead seeing a place full of great deals and gems, but we were hardly casual visitors. It was a winter deal-making place for Dad, a place to rest and make some money selling guns, working for a month for someone, or wheeling and dealing the way he did. He wasn’t particularly outgoing, but he had a quiet powerful way of making people do what he wanted them to do. It wasn’t the smooth salesman gig, something darker like maybe he’d rough you up if you didn’t pay him what he wanted. We went to school in Quartzsite, once. The school had just opened and was full of desert rats like us, and maybe some of the grandkids of snowbirds. We weren’t the only ones getting the free lunch, this time, or the only ones with worn clothing and messy hair. They fed us that vile peanut butter pre-mixed with grape jam on limp white bread every day, until we finally couldn’t choke it down any longer and just went hungry at lunchtime.

We were all sitting and waiting for Dad, as usual, in the dirt parking lot of some junk salesman. He had a lot of cars parked around a trailer with clapboard wings added on. Us kids cracked the door to the station wagon and tried not to move, sweating and sticking to the seats anyway. The sun beat down already, though it was early in spring. The heat would soon drive the snowbirds north, scattering them toward the coast or back to whatever cool hole they burrowed into up north. I stared up into the pale blue sky, powdered with the heat and the reflection of the barren dirt below. The only escape from the forced closeness of our little nuclear family (nuclear, because we as electrons were always rubbing too close, too close and explosions were so near the surface) was to mentally distance oneself. I almost always put a book between myself and our too-real reality. Thousands of books later, I would sometimes confuse what I had been reading with what had actually occurred at certain times in the past. When we were stranded on the side of the road because our latest rust-heap had broken down, I was actually riding a dragon over some far misty mountain, or was deep in the drama playing out between Nancy Drew and her totally hetero female friend George.

I was daydreaming, projecting far out into the hemisphere as near to cold space as I dared, so I missed the actual final transaction. I saw instead, Dad coming back to the car with a grin beneath his beard and jangling keys in his hand.

“Load up, kids. Let’s get everything out of this piece and put it in our new van,” he said, waving over his shoulder to the stocky bald guy behind him who was sighting down the barrel of a big handgun, one Dad had recently had tucked into his waistband. Behind the guy was a blue and white-striped Dodge van, the kind with the big white fiberglass bubble on top circa maybe 1970. It didn’t look like much, but it looked like it had a hell of a lot more room than the station wagon. And it looked like it could pull a trailer, so we could only hope that the next wheeling-dealing result would be a trailer with a stove, beds, and maybe even room to haul some bikes.

Dad was almost gleeful, coming off his deal high. “You should have heard that fucker,” he was telling Mom. He mimicked the guy’s heavy Boston accent, which we had heard snippets of as the two men had talked. “I offered him the car and 600 bucks for the van, which is worth twice that. He was like, ‘whut, the cah, 800, and whut? You ain’t foolin’ me.’ So I threw in the Smith and Wesson.” He grinned because that had been his plan all along.

As soon as my brothers heard this, they collapsed into giggles, gleeful too as they pulled all of our belongings out of the car and began piling them together. The van was something new, and maybe it meant something good. Plus, none of us had ever heard a Boston accent that we could remember. “The cah, 800, and whut?” Rowdy laughed as he poked Reno, who took up the refrain. “And whut? And whut?” Dad cuffed his boys on the back of their tow-heads. “That’s right, boys, who’s the man huh? Your dad knows what he’s doing.”

Off near the chain-link fence, the Boston guy scratched his head and watched us move. Transferring our belongings took 20 minutes, at the most, because we were good. He stood and watched us as we rolled away, never looking back.

Time Travel

Art, Burning Man 2007
Photo by P. Alanna Roethle

This time-traveling, it tires me. I am never quite sure when I am, or whether I am moving forward or backward. The lines are drawn most darkly when I have lost something or someone that I tried to anchor to, though I was most aware in this process that it was fruitless and had gone about fastening myself temporarily anyway. We are not allowed anchors in this torrent of time. I am saddened when I am in the middle of joy or pleasure, knowing that it will be only the blink of an eye when I am looking back on this joy from somewhere far away. Standing in five-year-old shoes, I can recall quite clearly fast-forwarding in my head to age 30, and thinking – hmm, so this is it. Yes, this is just as I thought it would be. Yes, it is almost as if I have been here before. In my barefoot 30s, I look ahead to 60 and the losses and the pain I will have seen by then. I look backward, from my future self, and wish for these years that today I might call “now.” I am never stable, never living as much in the now as I would like. It is impossible, because I am never sure where I am.

I have been visited recently, by disconcerting dreams, presences, whatever you feel safe calling them. The medical profession calls it sleep paralysis, hallucinations, night terrors. I like to think I know better. I know that I don’t know everything, and that we can’t explain scientifically everything that occurs. I know that I see things, sometimes, and that I feel very specifically about these things without having a rational explanation. I have dreamed of future places, and later visited them. I have watched from afar, from above and from below.

This thing, lately. It is a buzzing presence that calls my name, off  to the right of my vision. I see it in the gap between asleep and awake, the place that I always recognize and that I can use to control my dreams if I so choose. Often in that place I am distracted by things that are not of me, nor of my imagination. There are other THINGS there that I do not recognize. This one, it has called my name. The other afternoon, when I was drifting in that in-between place (though oddly I could still see everything in the room) it began dragging me out of myself, rocking me, and I felt myself start to disconnect and release. I did not feel pain or fear, and was calm. I also knew instantly that this is not what I wanted, and I pulled myself back. I can’t explain or talk to anyone about this. I am too practical, I understand that it is not believable if you have not experienced it yourself. I marvel at these astral projectors, lucid dreamers, OBE seekers – why would you want to leave this body? We leave so quickly anyway. I do not want to test that silver thread that anchors us to reality.

Roads on Her Face #4 Blowtorch

A photo made the email rounds at work today, and in a place where we have weekly safety meetings people laugh, shake their heads. “It was a different time!” they said. Not so long ago, I think, but then again maybe it’s just me. The photo is a grainy one, and it depicts a tiny pigtailed girl perched atop a 100-gallon propane tank. Next to her, her dad leans in with a big grin on his face and a lit cigarette in his mouth.

I thought for a second about why it looked so familiar. Later that night, almost dozing, an image came to me out of the dark of the past. We are living out in the desert somewhere, most likely Arizona because it often was.  It was dark, and Ed was drunk. He’d been tying one on for hours already, and he was at the loud stage accompanied by a slight lack of coordination and a hair trigger. I sat in the dark, watching him, in his chair by the flickering fire. Everyone was quiet, except for him. At his feet was a hunk of twisted metal, rusted by age. He liked to go on walks during the day, accompanied by a handgun of some kind and sometimes one of the kids. The desert we frequented had been used as training grounds for “Old Blood and Guts,” General Patton in the World War II era. We often found rusted spent shells or even live rounds, we found the old milky glass Coke bottles the soldiers had tossed aside, and the tank tracks from their play-wars still scarred the desert. You could see them if you climbed a rise and looked out across the desert. This time, Dad had found a large artillery round of some kind. The kind with fins and a payload, really more a missile than an artillery round.

He crushed the empty beer can and tossed it behind him. He picked the missile up, turning it over in his hands.

“Let’s see if we can light this baby up,” he said. I moved farther back into the darkness, to what I hoped was a safe distance. Mom did her best to ignore him, and the boys huddled close behind Dad’s chair. This was something they wanted front seats for. The pipe-bomb burnt-eyelashes gene runs strong in the male side of the family. In the female side, a little, but mostly our common sense will overrule the need for explosions.

Ed dug around in his crate of tools for a hammer. I must have been 10 or 11, I remember being incredulous but not surprised. I knew my father well. This wouldn’t be the craziest, or stupidest, thing I’d ever seen him do. I wondered if he’d kill himself, and the detached part of me that always seemed to float just above and behind my head tried to find an emotion related to that possibility. Nope, none there. Just a sense of expectancy.

The boys were giggling, shoving each other, eyes big and round and faces shining. Dad being a 10-year-old boy was their favorite kind of dad. This was exactly what they would do with a missile if one ever fell into their grimy little hands.

“Watch out kids, this thing could blow!” Dad tapped the missile lightly below its head. Nothing. A harder swing, and the metal bent. He jumped back, nervous, then shook it off and laughed and smacked it good. The body of the thing detached from its payload, and black powder poured out on the ground.

“All right!” That was what he was hoping for. I let out the breath I hadn’t known I was holding. The boys huddled over the mass. Behind them the flames flickered bright.

“OK boys,” Dad said to his captive audience. “Back up now, I’m going to see if this thing will light.”

His shining eyes matched his sons’. He pulled a burning stick from the fire, dropped it on the powder, and took off like a shot behind the tree. His head and my brothers’ two towheads popped out on opposite sides of the tree, like something from a cartoon. The stick fizzled, and burnt out. “Awwwww!” The men ventured back out to the disappointing missile.

“I know,” Dad said. “Watch this.”

“Ed, be careful.” Mom finally made an appearance. She twisted her hands in front of her, her mouth tight as she looked at her boys. She didn’t dare say too much, not when he had made up his mind already.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m an expert. Don’t worry about it,” he said. He gave her a kiss in passing, and came back from a box under the trailer with a blowtorch. “This is how it’s gonna work.” He directed the boys to pour a line of black powder a little out from the tree, then to pile the rest of it at the end of the powder “fuse.” Eagerly they scooped the powder up in their hands, setting the explosion up exactly as dictated.

I huddled closer to the trailer, hoping its metal shell would protect me from shrapnel if the shit hit the fan. The next thing I saw was the unearthly green of the palo verde tree lit from below by a bright flash of light. There was a brief shhhing sound like tearing fabric or a bottle rocket just before it launched. I saw my dad dancing, dancing near the fire as he swatted the flames from his clothing, maybe from his hair, did I smell the acrid smell of burnt beard? Then, laughter.

*

Roads on Her Face #3 – The Unwriteable Dad Part #1

I wouldn’t call him a bad guy. He’d describe himself as mysterious, the cocky little bastard. He’s that kind of guy. Black Ray-Bans, rockstar hair. Too cool to care. It would make him happy if you said, “Now that Ed, he’s an enigma. Can’t figure him out.” But it doesn’t take that long to figure him out, though his motives might never be clear. He loves Clint Eastwood, DeNiro, all the paragons of cool. He likes big guns, and loud trucks, and women. He’s smooth, like the rest of his brothers. When a bunch of Roethles get together, the panties drop. Panties just can’t withstand the onslaught of so much testosterone in those little rooster-like men, the swaggering, hard-partying German/Irish with a taste for action and those sharp cheekbones and thick dark wavy hair. They’re all either criminals or cops. Grandpa had 15 kids with his tiny Irish bride, one after the other falling out like clowns from a two-seater car. Grandpa taught his boys well, with his quick temper and hard-line rules. I never saw him then, only knew him as a benevolent patriarch who would preside at family gatherings with a glass of vodka and the propensity to pop out his teeth in an attempt to scare little me. It didn’t work, teeth don’t scare me even if they’re not in their proper mouth.

I heard stories of the brothers terrorizing the nuns in Catholic school, something about peanut butter pressed into organ keys, and imagine those boys running roughshod over old ladies armed only with rulers and sharp tongues. From what I understand they had it tough at home, poor enough to consider bread and gravy dinner and never to be quite warm enough in the Minnesota winters. I’ve seen a few old sepia-toned photos of the family then; tall, handsome, angular Grandpa next to his tiny wife, the twinkle in his eyes reflected in the mischief shining from three little boys’ faces, their mother’s look of calm detachment mirrored by one sister. Behind them you can make out a small farmhouse, and then the background fades. The boys all wear hats with fuzzy flaps, my aunt who was the lone girl in the photo noting that they all had terrible earaches when they were young. Hmm, me too.

I wish I knew more about all of them. Most of what I’ve gleaned has been second-hand, through stories circulated among relatives, passed to me in the few instances I’ve gotten to spend time with my extended family. When you grow up place-less you’re always looking for roots, I think. It’s hard to know where you come from when you’ve never seen it. Neither of my parents know much about their own families, beyond two generations. Something in both of them seemed to want to detach, to start fresh on their own. You can’t ever escape family, though, whether it be the earaches passed down through blood or the specter of alcoholism.

I avoided the alcoholism, so far. Lucky, I guess. I vaguely remember my dad before he was drinking, straight white teeth and the little prickly hairs on his chest where I would take naps, the sweat melding my cheek with his skin.  I don’t remember him yelling, or angry, though the earliest dream I remember featured a soft feminine face with soothing words, on a black background, over me as if I was in a crib, then suddenly a howling evil man face would appear. It is the most terrifying dream I’ve ever had. I wonder if there was more strife than I remember consciously.

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.

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.