--MAY YOU ALWAYS DO FOR OTHERS WHAT OTHERS DO FOR YOU
He taught me how to steal—what is was like for the other party involved.
His kiss was quick, not stealth but sudden, a frog’s tongue slapping a moth dead and swallowing it blink-fast. I thought that would be it. He promised me just one, just this once.
I turned away when the others came, sloppy and sour, his fingers prying me apart like starving shrews. I saw red and black attack each other behind the garage doors, behind my eyelids.
His breath smelled of earthen things—peanuts, hops, barley.
He tried to provide a decoy. He said, “You’re beautiful.”
He said, “You feel so good.”
He said, “Breathe and it won’t hurt so much.”
He took one thing but it was more than that. The article he stole had attachments, compartments and cupboards, tentacles, all of it adding up to this virgin I used to be.
And now my daughter’s grown and when I come to her room I make her put the phone away and turn the computer monitor off. I grab her chin too roughly, but I need her to see my eyes, discover what’s missing and cannot be returned.
She throws up a bridge. She says, “It’s not like that.”
She says, “You don’t understand.”
“Mom,” she says, “this is totally different.”
She explains that she loves him.
And maybe she does, but those bruises I keep seeing are each a warning and a stain, a rupture where dignity’s bled out. It might be different and it might not.
When I pull her close, my baby girl struggles, and that’s fine, I think, let her fight. But what I say when I press my mouth into her hair is, “I’m not letting go,” and I mean it this time.
“You can’t be a girl,” I told my brother, “it’s not scary.”
“You ever try walking in high heels?”
He had a point. Besides, it didn’t make sense to use our lawn job money to buy costumes. Halloween came once a year and we weren’t dumb or rich enough to be wasteful.
At the first houses I was embarrassed. My brother’s lipstick and mascara were perfectly applied, but too colorful. He’d made himself a macaw, a Madame.
I got used to it, even though Mrs. Fitzgerald slammed the door on us and Bobby Graham’s mom called my brother a freak.
“You’re not getting as much candy as me,” I said.
And it was true.
But at home he got even. Still wearing a dress and nylons, he pinned my wrists to the ground and gave me Chinese torture until I cried. Years later it was he who cried as he told me his plans. I put my arms around him. I held him strong. “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Then I’ll just love you like a sister.”
I drove to LA to find my baby girl. A few times I thought I saw her on the 405 sporting new hair color and different clothes, adjusting the lay of her bangs in the rearview. But when I finally found her she was naked except for a pair of stilettos and a g string.
I should have looked away from the stage. I tried, I did, but some kind of rigor mortis set in.
She slid across the spot lit floor. Her eyes were sharp and focused, and in them I saw murder and vengeance, ambition and renewal. I saw myself and every single sin.
She arched her back like an acrobat, her spine as pliant as rubber. She wanted me to see the bills stuck inside her waistband, none under twenty, two or three Franklins.
When she flipped forward I expected—I don’t know what I expected actually—but I didn’t anticipate her looking so much like her mother all those years ago, a virgin then, us unwed and me unraveled. I didn’t expect that, nor did I didn’t expect my baby girl to grab my neck tie, twist it and say, “What now, old man?”
Buttoning your shirt, your shoulders palsied, your fingers shaking as if from fright or Parkinson’s, you remember an afternoon in August, the sun scalding, berry picking done for the day, Uncle Jack handing you a bottle as he swayed like some dark shadow on the surface of the sea, saying, “Go on, take a swig. Sixteen’s a man in most countries.” The elixir tasted like flames, like sticking your mouth down a dragon’s throat, but it was also stunning and clever the way it wormed and warmed your thin blood, making you a new boy, one that was rich and popular and funny. You danced what might have been a jig, filled your guts and brain until that bottle and the other was drained. Some people wait their whole life for a sign, a shift to kick-start or reverse things, but that day in the field found you ready and ripe.
In college it had the same effectiveness. You drank from a glass, a mug, a tub, a vat, a funnel while you stood on your head, and you were a hit, weren’t you? You ordered doubles and saw doubles, but so did the others.
On your Honeymoon you threw up in the bathroom, slipped on the slimy hotel tiles, and Emily helped you to the bed but you made it up to her, and now, look, your kids are loud-mouthed teenagers. Billy, the oldest resembles you before the accident that carved a Frankenstein scar across your forehead and neck.
This morning you watch your fingers in the mirror as if they’re someone else’s; as if it’s a pathetic demonstration you’ve been paid to witness. You straighten your tie but can’t get the dimple to take because the silk is too thin and then there’s blank space, white space filled black, but you come to and for some reason your inability with the necktie becomes a message you’re supposed to decode and maybe apply to your life. So what you do next is you open the medicine cabinet. Behind the aspirin is the flask you’ve stashed for hard mornings like this when confusion and loneliness abound, weighty thugs with too much time on their hands.
You hold the container, listen to it slosh against your ear. Medicine, but nobody’s cure.
Blue trundles in, as dark as the weather, his coat musty-smelling, his hind quarters still raw but healing. I keep warning him not to wander far yet he’s a stubborn old coot.
We watch “I Love Lucy” reruns late at night. She looks a lot like you, Lucy does, what with that preposterous red hair and those dimples, those astonished expressions. They say dogs can’t see the images on television, but if that’s so, why does Blue always leave right when Ricky starts to raise his voice—leaves looking for another coyote to kill?