At first, she said, sure: The lake would be “fine”. She went there a lot anyway, especially in the summer, with her books, only to fall asleep under their inky tents pitched over her face. The strangers, if they were to walk by, could probably tell what she was surviving, based on the titles under which she napped, giving up on her consciousness all to readily. From Goodbye, Mr. Chips to Goodbye, Columbus. (She must’ve had a hunch about all the departures she was about to endure). Then, at twelve years old, only two quarters after she got her period, she slept with The Woman Who Gave Birth to Her Mother. That shit was written like fiction and she felt the anger swelling, beyond control for the first time since her mother had ran off: anger — at all of those fuckers who managed to wedge their lives into an arc of a neat story, with lame metaphors and cute closures. All so fucking neat, with a ribbon on top!
Her life was not like that at all. But then, Forgive but Never Forget was even worse; while Zen and the Art of Love had her stoned on the dullness of someone’s clinical explanation of the pure chaos she had always thought human emotions to be. (But maybe she was just different.) The Power of Now — who wrote that shit?! — made her ravenous with envy at those whose nows were tolerable enough to want to be IN them. But still, she could always have books. It was the only thing on which she had learned to rely, the only journey she could actually choose for herself; and she would secretly crave, upon every first sentence of every newly picked-up tome, that it would speak to her in her own language; just so that she could nod and slap its pages: I know EXACTLY what that feels like!
By the time this kid came along — lanky and greenish-white, like one of those strange tropical insects that trembled at the slightest breeze, along with the stems against which it camouflaged itself — she had entertained a sliver of amusement: What in the world was he planning to do with her? It wasn’t even about the matter of her substance — but all about THE matter. Her matter. Her body. If you have a body — you must matter. Well, ain’t that a crack o’ shit?
She knew she wasn’t a stunner. Not by any means. But with what was given to her — she knew what to do quite well. It had to have come from her mother, this awareness of her appeal, the sweet ‘n’ sour smell of her own sex. Her shit wasn’t abrasive like that heavy decor she had seen her contemporaries wear, whenever they stopped by the diner after a night of clubbing. She would be working a graveyard shift, serving mostly the exhausted truck drivers who, having ran off and driven away from their troubles, now couldn’t stop running; and they watched her with their sad golden retriever eyes, as she poured them refills of bitter coffee and seconds of tenderness. When the uptight cops accompanied by their boisterous rookies, horny on their illusions of power, came in, a difficult silence would cover the whole place like a dome. Even if just for a minute, everyone got quiet, which made her think that in life, no one was really innocent. No one — was clean. (But still, shouldn’t her mother have given up on the idea of being entitled to happiness?)
Right around three in the morning, the young came in, with their tipsy laughter and entitled cravings. This is where the boys usually closed their deals, taking their prey home. Or not. Somehow, all that trying made her nose itch with the reek of despair. Her own thing was made of simplicity; and in simplicity, one never had to find herself embarrassed: for doing too much, for going out on the limb way-way too far. For the despair, for the loneliness; for the need — to matter. Besides:
Sex was easy. Staying — was hard.
But, she said, sure. The lake would be “fine”. (It would be a downgrade from finding herself alone there, she suspected immediately after agreeing. But still, it would be “fine”. For now.)
The kid gulped. “Cool… Um, yeah…” He scanned her face, nearly shivering from surprise: Was she just fuckin’ fucking with him?
She push-pinned her pupils into his: Sure you can hack this, buddy? His eyes seemed incapable of sitting still in their orbits. She just noticed that. Bad vibe. A red flag. Intuition activated.
But fuck it! “The lake would be fine.”
“Well, cool. Yeah. Um, tell you what: I’ll call yah on Saturday, yeah?” (Stumbling over his words, he’d won himself some time to get his cool back. He was grooving now.) “We’ll set something into motion.” (Sorta.)
It had to be hard: to see this much, to understand so much. But she wouldn’t know any different. She seemed to have been born with no skin in between her and the rest of it all. Even as a kid, she remembered feeling people even before they opened their mouths and convoluted her intuition with their noise. So, she went into her books: Was there — or had there ever been — anyone else like this? But after she woke up to her father, weeping on the doormat, one morning — a man broken, the consequences of his goodness discarded — and after she joined him there and cradled his graying head in the dusty footprints of her departed mother, she assumed that the two of them were just born different from the rest. But they had each other. And she would always have her books.
She scanned her inners for that same sensation: The heavy warmth of maternity she had previously felt toward some of her lovers. Nope. None. The kid left her cold. Outside the phases of having to work, work, work — then to recuperate — she felt nothing. And as she watched him limp away, with not even a look in a departing cliche over his shoulder, “It is all way too easy,” she thought. So, when did it turn so hard?
Shit. Well, that’s cool… I guess. She said, “Yeah.”
(Fuck! I was totally wrong! This chick’s got lower self-esteem than I thought.)
Swelling. This is good.
But what’s good for me — is not so good for the bitches. I build myself up on the parts I borrow. I take. They call it “love”, them silly broads; I call it rehab. I’m just taking back what was taken from me. (Thanks, mom.)
I take my power back. That way, if a broad ever leaves me, she won’t have much to go around after. She won’t move on undamaged into the arms of the next guy. Fuck THAT shit! ‘Cause I leave a mark, man. I make myself indispensable. So, it’s a win-win for me: I feel better — she feels like shit. That’s the only way I know.
True that: Sometimes, I wish I could just disappear. Make a shit load of money and go away. I could just live on my couch then, with my TV, and my health food and internet porn. Eat well, sleep forever, get other suckers to serve me. I could then buy myself pussy whenever I wanted, then kick it to the curb. I wouldn’t have to work for it any more.
(I mean it actually would’ve been better, as Ashley said in her last text, if I weren’t born at all. But it’s not like I had a choice in the matter, hon. So, instead, I get myself what I want, at whatever price. I weave the lies, tell ‘em what they wanna hear. I can even make my shrink’s eyes bulge out with my stories. I can say anything to a broad to get her, and she can keep coming around until I start picking up on the hints of her attachment. Then, it’s over, man. Like, A-SAP! No one gets hurt. Well. Maybe, she gets hurt, but how’s that my problem? I’m just taking what’s mine. I’m taking what was never given to me. And I get my revenge.)
(Except. Ashley. Ash. How could she erase me like that? As if I weren’t born at all?)
But this one said, “Yeah.” “Fine,” she said.