Tag Archives: tenderness

Fine by Me.

(Continued from March 4th, 2012.)

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.

“Childhood Living — Is Easy to Do.”

Judging from what little profile I can see peaking out from behind her long hair, she could be quite lovely.  The lips — puffy and full — are enviable:  She’s got that Jolie-esque fold in her lower lip that promises that the size of it — is real.  The tiniest tip of her nose right above reminds me of that one exotic berry that starts with an “L”.

Carla Gugino for Esquire Magazine

Yes, she could be quite lovely; but ever since I’ve walked into this tiny joint, the woman, sitting at the corner table, hasn’t stopped speaking.  She’s got her iPhone, plugged into the wall, resting on the table next to two empty coffee cups.  Another device — a spinoff of the iPhone — is heavily protected with two plastic cases and a belt clip.  She takes turns dialing numbers on both things, and texting on whichever device is not being held up to her ear.

Her language — is foreign, heavily nasal; which makes her voice quite high.  And that pitch could be quite lovely if she didn’t sound like she was whining.  Whenever she switches to the iPhone, she returns to English; and I wonder if the list of her griefs, in that other nasal language, is similar:

“That guy is an asshole.”

And:  “I’ve got no fucking money!”

Oh, I get it, sweetheart:  Life’s unfair and hard.  But it’s 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and most of us haven’t even finished our coffee yet.  You — have had two.

From where I study the menu written on an overhead blackboard, I shoot her a glance.  Her hair is frizzy, unevenly straightened.  She is wearing jeans with a puffy vest.  On her feet, I see those thick-soled, oddly shaped shoes meant to shape a woman’s behind by replacing exercise.

She picks up her iPhone again:  The topic of the asshole guy is recycled.  Her volume could be quite normal; but the joint is tiny and she attracts attention of every human, still barely awake; including the mustached line cook who, upon my entry, asked me to try a sliver of bacon sizzling in his metal tongs.

“Breakfast, beauty?” he says and I imagine his previous life as a Navy chef.

I smile but then realize half of my face is buried in my heavy knit scarf.  So, I lift my chin and smile again.

This morning could be lovely, still.

A pretty hippie couple is lingering at the register:  He is beach-blond, she is petite and an exotic mix of something gorgeous.  Whenever he speaks to her, he lifts up his arms and folds his hands behind his head:  He is shy — she thrills him.  His white terrycloth shirt rides up every time, and in the slender torso of this beautiful young man I can see the little boy stretching in his highchair, while waking slowly.  Gently.

The sound of some old song comes on over the radio.  It makes me think of a Christmas-themed lullaby and of slow mornings that are always lovely that time of year.

And this morning could be lovely — if only we could keep quiet and still for a while.

The radio switches to some dissonant jazz tune and the could-be-lovely girl, juggling her devices at the corner table, picks up her iPhone again and switches languages:

“That guy is such an asshole,” the petite creature ahead of me quotes discreetly.

I chuckle.  I get the couple’s attention; but then realize half of my face is buried in my heavy knit scarf.  So, I lift my chin and chuckle again.

“Are we playing Cowboys and Indians this morning?” the man at the register says to me when it’s my turn to order.  I look up:  He’s wrapped a cloth napkin around the bottom half of his face and smiles at me, with only his eyes.

I smile; then, realize that half of my face is invisible.  So, I lift my chin — and smile.

“Where is your bathroom — or don’t you have one?!” the could-be-lovely creature interjects quite loudly, and with a single gesture of tongs from the mustached Navy chef, she storms off in that direction.  We wait for the passing of her busy noises and the departure of her griefs through the front door.

And when she does depart, her table is taken over by an older couple with a beautiful blue-eyed boy under their care.  He can’t be older than five, is barely awake and clutching a robot of military green.  The robot is wrapped in a baby blanket.

They could easily be the boys’ grandparents, but they don’t dote or baby-talk.  Instead, they are acutely aware, and they answer to his needs quietly.

At first, I brace myself:  The boy could be quite lovely.  But he could also be a complete riot:  His physical beauty could fully justify his bratty habits.  But he slides into the chair near mine, stretches the corner of his baby blanket on the edge of the table and rests his blond curls on it.  The older woman sits next to him and buries her gentle hand in his hair.

The beautiful blue-eyed boy stretches, while slowly waking.

The couple grabs a newspaper from the counter:  She reads the news, he skims through the Calendar section.  They speak to each other, quietly; while the boy drifts in and out of sleep.  When the food arrives, he shifts.  The mother (she IS his mother after all, I figure out) begins helping him with his utensils.

The boy whimpers:  He wants to do it himself.  With a single gesture, the woman calms him — “Hush-hush, my gentle little man…” — and the family returns to their quiet morning routine.

Ah.  This morning could be lovely, still.  And it could be quiet. And I wonder for how long I can keep holding on, today, to this gentle start of it — and to this gentle pace.

“All You Got To Do — Is Try… Try A Little Tenderness.”

And you know what I’m doing today?

Nothing.

That’s right.  I’m doing nothing, in a Kundera sorta way.

Yes, I’m doing nothing:

Nothing, as in:  I wake up late due to the afternoon sun blazing through my window.  (The shades are helpless against this blazing.)  I wake up to sunlight, and not to the monotonous tune of my alarm clock.  I wake up to another day.  (I’m helpless against waking.)

And when I do wake up, I stay in bed, despite the habitual bounce of my thoughts about the stuff that needs to get done.  It’ll get done.  Eventually.  So, I stay in bed, reading.

The more fragmented my schedule, the lesser are the chances of my reading a book, these days.  A whole book:  Not a book of vignettes by a Parisian melancholic, or of poetry by an angry American alcoholic.  A book, a long novel, or an epic story hasn’t rested in my palms in a long time.  I still read though — but of course! — in between the fragments of my day.  But I never read in bed.

But today:  I do.  Because I’m doing — nothing.

Yes, I’m doing nothing:

Nothing, as in:  I take a scorching hot shower with a bar of handmade soap with tea tree oil and oats.  It smells like the pine tree bathhouses that my people would heat up for each other, late at night — before a generous dinner but after the hard work — and they would come out with red and calm faces of innocence, long ago traded in for survival.

I take the first sip of my black coffee:  I’m feeling peckish, I must say.  I haven’t eaten the first meal of the day, and I’m about to skip the second.  But there is no way I’m cooking today:  Because I’m doing — nothing. 

Nothing, as in:  I walk to the farmers’ market.  I do not drive.  Instead, I accompany my kind man who tells me the fables from his previous day.  His long stories.  As we walk, we study the neighborhood:  The homes that sit at an architectural intersection of San Francisco and Venice Beach.  Homes with abandoned toys in their play pins and enviable tree houses decorated with Chinese lanterns.  Homes with old vintage cars in their gravel covered driveways and disarrayed trash bins at the curb.  Homes I’ve promised to build for my people — my kind people — and my child.

I watch an older couple approaching us:  I wonder what I would look like, when I’m older.  And I shall be older, certainly.  The romantic notion that I would die young has expired with forgiveness.

And now:  I want to live, in perseverance and stubborn generosity; and every day, I want to start with a clean slate on the board of my compassion.

What time is it?  I have no clue.  I do not own a watch and my cellphone has been off since the very early hours of this morning, when I was just getting to be bed after a night of seeing old friends and playing cards until we began to feel drunk from exhaustion.

I think of them — my friends, my kind people, my kind man — as I walk, and I can see the white tents the hippies and the hopefuls have pitched behind a plastic barricade.  They’re all so specific, I get inspired to see them in a book:  A long novel about perseverance and stubborn generosity; an epic story in which its heroine travels toward her forgiveness.

“When you forgive — you love.”

Someone else has written that in a romantic story about dying young.  I don’t want to do that:  I want to live.

Yes, I want to live.

We purchase things that only speak to our taste buds:  Black grapes and persimmons.  Sun-dried tomato pesto and horseradish hummus.  Sweet white corn and purple peppers.  I watch a tiny curly creature with my baby-fat face and a unibrow dancing around her mother’s bicycle, in a pink tutu and leopard uggs.  I look away when she tickles my eyes with tears only to find a brown face, even tinier, resting over a sari-draped shoulder of her East Indian mother.  Live, my darling child.  I want you — to live.

My kind comrade and I walk over to the handmade soap store:  I want more smells of home.  We both notice her:  She is African and tall — PROUD — with dreadlocks and a pair of bohemian overalls.  How could you not notice her:  Her face belongs to a heroine traveling toward her own forgiveness.

“Are you doing okay?” a very gentle gentleman asks us from behind the counter.

I smile into the jar of eucalyptus body butter and nod:  Zen.

“How could they not be okay, here?” the heroine making a rest stop on her journey toward forgiveness says.

We laugh.  All four faces in this store are calm.  They are calm with innocence long traded-in for survival.  But then again, maybe it’s just compassion.  (And I’m helpless — against it.)

“I was riding my motorcycle this morning,” my proud heroine starts telling us a fable from her previous day.  Her long story.

At the end of it, we would laugh.  Not wanting anything from each other, but having so much to give back, we laugh with lightness.

We laugh — with nothingness, in a Kundera sorta way.

I think:  We are no longer innocent.  But that’s quite alright, I think.

Because with enough forgiveness, compassion often takes its place.  Compassion takes the place of innocence.  And that’s quite alright, I think.  And I want to live — a life of that.

Yes.

I want to live.

“Life Is a Beach — I’m Just Playin’ in the Sand”

Ah, kittens.  I have been watching you, playing in twos, every time I get myself out to the beach.

There is something very honest about humanity out here.  It’s dialed down, calm.  Quiet.  Everyone is hushed down by the magnificent tongue of the Ocean; and you better be painfully exhibitionist — uncomfortable, in skin and silence — to be louder than the waves.  (But I had seen those types before as well:  They make me move my towel, as if switching subway cars to avoid the destructively insane and the painfully lonely.)

I have been running away, out here, to fall asleep on the sand until the magnificent tongues of the Ocean lick my feet with the aftertastes of the opposite shore where, several decades ago, I was born.  Out here, I have been running to get a better glimpse of humanity, a more complimentary view of it.  Out here, I have been running away from the dusty hills and the heated asphalt of my neighborhood, just so I can sit on my ass and pick the shrapnel out of my last battle wounds.

But it’s fine!  It’s fine where I’m living.  It’s perfectly fine.

Here, between the mountains on one side and the downtown skyline on the other — and the apocalyptic clouds of smog all around, as pink as cotton-candy-flavored ice — I cannot see the bloody horizon.  And that’s fine too:  because it keeps me bolted down to my chair, in the midst of work, to which there is no end in sight — to which there is no horizon.  But it’s fine!  It’s perfectly fine, where I’m living.  For now.

But when it chokes, when it moves in and looms above — this lack of knowing as to what it’s all for; when I cannot defeat the despair with mere discipline, I run away.  I cannot run far, for there is indeed a limit to this city — an actual edge.  And I cannot run away from the work, to which there is no end in sight:  no bloody horizon.  But just for a day, I can run away and I can watch them kittens play in twos, in the sand; and I can let the giant dog of the Ocean tickle my feet with its magnificent tongue.

Yesterday, he was brown and very manly; athletic but in that stocky wrestler sort of way.  Even when he stood above the body of his lovely, he seemed to be hanging close to the ground, hovering.  And she:  She stretched and purred underneath him — a caramel-colored kitten, in a two-piece bathing suit of mismatching colors.  Her head was wrapped with a scarf, and its edges coming undone tangled up in the loose hair at the top of her neck.

The two of them had pitched their burgundy cotton sheet just a few meters south of my ass, and like me, they immediately got quiet.  He stretched out on his stomach, she — on her back; and although they spoke little — hushed down by the magnificent tongue of the Ocean — their every gesture was filled with tenderness and certain intimacy that only lovers well-acquainted with each other’s bodies can have.  Without looking over for her target, she would throw her perfectly carved leg over him; and he would reach and caress it with the tips of his fingernails.  (Sometimes, poetry is written on the inside of a woman’s thigh.)

At one point, in between my nap sessions, I pitched myself up on my elbows and saw that she had climbed on top of him, her stomach perfectly contouring his lower back; and there seemed to be no grander bliss that he could be subjected to.  And when she unleashed her wet curls from underneath the head scarf and covered his head, absentmindedly, habitually, he reached up and buried his giant hand in them:  He knew her, so well.  And oh, how well, he loved her!

This juxtaposition of their physique, the intimate tangling of their bodies filled me with something so serene, I nearly forgot that I had ran away out here, to pick the shrapnel out of my last battle wounds.

A few more meters down from our congregation, there rested an older couple.  She belonged to the type of a handsome woman that had managed to defeat her age with sport and boyish haircuts.  When she strutted toward the hissing, foaming, teasing waves, her back astonished me with its tautness and form.  He was watching her as well.  Between the two of them, he seemed to have done all the aging on their behalf.  Balding and under the influence of gravity, he sat on their towel and he worshiped her.  Every time she granted him an over-the-shoulder glance — he waved at her, boyishly.  And although, like me, and like the two brown people south of my ass, the two older lovers were quiet:  Oh, how he loved her, he seemed to say, with silence.  It spoke volumes:  How he loved her!

I would check out again, drifting into dreamless sleep that would leave me thirsty and teary-eyed.  And when I jolted myself awake, I heard the hollow heartbeat of a ping-pong ball:  Above my head, a couple of young lovers were sending each other running — across the sand and across distances that seemed to be unaffected by mutual fear (for, surely, neither has been hit with shrapnel yet).

Besides her occasional giggles, they would remain completely quiet.  Every time, she couldn’t strike back on time, she would run toward the ball, giggling; and he would play with the strings of his swimming trunks — and he would watch her, in silence.  There were beginnings of manhood in that gaze:  the self-esteem of someone with a beautiful physique and a gentle heart, who would never have to work hard for a girl’s love.  And there would be other girls — certainly! — for any life is treasured more once hit with shrapnel.  But in that moment, in that particular silence, he seemed to speak volumes of his love — for her.

Oh, how he liked her!  And how he loved!

“Paging: Doctor Love to Emergency!”

“I have a 2 o’clock,” I said in the tiny waiting room in which I had never done any waiting before, even though this dental office and I were this close:  //.

No more than six meters in length, that thing was large enough to fit in just a couple of chairs, and a tall fan that was now rotating on its axis next to my thigh, like a head of a kind giant gently blowing at a field full of dandelion heads.  A white cheesecloth pouch was suspended from a pink ribbon from the top of it, with what looked like slices of dehydrated papaya inside.

“Must be for the smell,” I thought and suddenly became aware that there was indeed an inexplicable aroma in the room.  It reminded me…  What did it remind me of?  Nothing that I had encountered before, that’s for sure.

“Yes!  You do!” the receptionist greeted me with so much glee I had to quickly scan my memory for her name.  “You do have a 2 o’clock!”

She was Vietnamese, just like the two doctors and the three nurses on staff, all of whose names I did know.  But this creature — I hadn’t met her yet.  She had to be new, but all too well cast for this place.  By now, she was smiling at me, full force.  No, not smiling:  grinning.  Dr. Josephine and nurse Lisa where now standing in the back of her, grinning at me as well, as if I were here to take their office Christmas card photo.

Had I been standing in a typical American doctor’s office, I would immediately feel weirded out or somehow guilty.

“Shit!  Had I missed a payment, or something?” I would find myself tripping out.  It’s a Soviet thing still swimming in my blood, amidst the platelets, like a strange disease.  Only a few of us possess it, but I can always recognize the symptoms of it, in others:  This immediate access to one’s guilty conscience and the consequential fear of punishment.  I hate it!

But I wasn’t in a typical office.  The tiny women kept grinning at me, and once I was buzzed in, all three followed me to the dental chair, with my name on it. Well, okay:  It didn’t really bear my name, but considering this joint and I were this // close, it might as well have had.  Because again, it’s a Soviet thing, with me:  My mouth is an exhibition of horrific dental work from the old country that took me nearly a decade to correct.  Yep:  My shit’s all fucked up.  I hate it!

And now, it takes a continuous upkeep, which I had done at half a dozen of dental offices all over the country; often leaving behind lengthy records and baffled dentists.  And it always makes me think that if ever my body had to be identified by my teeth, my docs would be able to do so over the phone:

“Oh yeah!  Her shit’s all fucked up,” they would tell my mortician.

And then I bet, they’d call each other up and have a conference.

(What?  Too morbid?  Well, it’s a Soviet thing.)

By now I had climbed into the chair with my name on it and stared up at nurse Lisa — a tiny brunette with permanently smiling eyes — who was getting me hooked up with some mouthwash and a bib.  Dr. Josephine was pulling up a chair on the other side of me.

“What happened?” she said.

“Oh, you know,” I shrugged.  “I lost another crown.”

With her tiny fingers better suitable for a child’s hand, Dr. Josephine was already examining the Crown of the Hour.  I had yanked that thing out of my mouth while sitting in traffic on 3rd Street the other night, after completing an hour of my weekly weight training.  By then, it had been bugging me for a couple of weeks, coming loose and irritating my gums; and performing food storage stints under it, better suitable for the old country.  That night, feeling all mighty and pumped up on testosterone, I finally lost my patience; grabbed a metallic nail file out of my purse, and flipped that thing up and out.

“You could break your windshield that way,” Dr. Josephine said.

She’s a quick one.  They all are:  These tiny creatures that always surprise me with their gentleness and quiet footsteps, but also with their ability to mutter dry jokes while shooting me with anesthesia.  Oh, yes.  There had been plenty of spit takes committed by me in this chair, with my name on it; all quite embarrassing due to my mouth’s temporary paralyses.  But it’s okay. I am certain my tales of drooling laughter and intoxicated whimpers are quite safe around here.

Dr. Josephine began to work her magic:  testing the crown against the gap between my molars, filing it down, then testing it again.  She would do about nearly ten repetitions of that, patiently and so gently that had it not been for the dental mirror with which she moved my lips, I would never know her hands were in my mouth.  But when the crown finally snapped into it place, I swung my feet to one side and said:

“Okay, all done, good to see you, thank you very much, bye!”

She and nurse Lisa began to laugh, again in that quiet fashion of the joint, and I remembered how readily they always responded to my humor.

“Oh.  That’s why they were grinning upon my arrival,” I thought, and wiggled myself back into the chair:  They had adored me.  For years, by now.

While waiting for the cement to dry, I listened to Dr. Josephine’s recollection about her colleague’s experience with some of my fellow ex-patriots.  With my mouth full of cotton and a sour flavor I had learned to know so well, I had to put my comedic routine to rest; shut up and listen.

Back in the decade of my birth year, she had gone to a conference; and at a lecture by her mentor she heard a story of other Soviet immigrants he had worked on.  In waves, these fragile old ladies with a mouth full of crowns would arrive throughout the 70s.

“Was their shit all fucked up?” I mumbled through my teeth.  I couldn’t help it.

“No,” Dr. Josephine said chuckling simultaneously with nurse Lisa who by now reached over to my chin and wiped off some drool.  (Lovely!)  “Perfect mouths.  But what he would find under those crowns…” she lingered.

Yep.  Some fucked up shit, eh?

“Diamonds,” Dr. Josephine said.

Despite her clear instruction to bite down, my jaw dropped.  Nurse Lisa’s gloved hand gently redirected it to its place.

“Yeah,” Dr. Josephine continued.  “Tiny diamonds.  I guess that was the only way to smuggle them out of the old country.”

“Done!” I muttered through my teeth again.  “We’re taking all of my shit out — NOW!”

The tiny women chuckled again — my angels, my godsends.  And it wouldn’t be the first time I would remember the adoration with which they had always treated me.  But then, I would forget it again.

Because it must be a Soviet thing:  This poor memory of someone who’s had her shit all fucked up; but who was recovering — slowly but stubbornly! — with her dry sense of humor and her unfailing kindness in tow.

“You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog!”

I love men.  And I love dogs.  And I love men that love dogs.

And I’ve never had a dog, but I’ve had enough men to know that no other animal in the world is better suited — for a good man.

It just looks right when you see it:  One of those sporty baby-tall boys, tired from a day of conquering the world in the name of his girl, slowly walking behind a leashed creature early in the morning.  They both would be barely awake, yawning their sleepy faces into something so fucking adorable — into something that would jumpstart my ovaries into wanting to give life — and they would rapidly blink their kind eyes at the world that they couldn’t wait to get into:  A man and his dog — the creatures of such strength and goodness, and of such unconditional devotion, so very different from my own feline predisposition.

Their fur would be equally disheveled, either from sleep but most likely from the roughing caresses that woke them, that day.  Before other mortals would summon enough will to get out of their beds, a man and his dog would step out to greet the world firsthand:  both of them aging without ever surrendering their innocence (and neither their strength nor the unconditional devotion).  I would always want to come close to them, and burry my face in their hair, in all that goodness.  If I could, I bet the man’s head would smell like the hand of his girl, ever so lovely; while the dog’s — like his own.  And together, they would smell like a home I have yet to build, somewhere on a hill that would overlook the rest of my life — with forgiveness.

Instead, I am stuck watching them from a distance.  At least, for now.  But willingly, I would smile away at their expense while secretly tearing up from the privilege of being ever so close to all that strength and all that goodness.  My ovaries would get jumpstarted into wanting to give life; but there they would be — a good man and his dog — slowly shifting their athletic limbs in the morning, not yet ready for play.  But give them a good meal and a tender nod, and off they would go:  leaping, running, panting, inventing their games as they went along; yelping contagiously, whimpering for attention; teasing or asking to be teased.  And they would both be finally released from having to tone down their strength and their overwhelming enthusiasm.  And the world would be theirs for conquering — in the name of their girl.

The dog would pull the master’s hand via its leash, as if saying:

“Come!  Be!  Love!  Play!”

“Let’s!” — the good man would follow; because, being so very different from my own feline predisposition, he would never grow out of his habit for a child’s play.  And unlike me, he would never grow up.  Thank goodness!

Then, there are those little dogs, completely domesticated and entirely dependent on a man.  They remind me of plush toys, with their teary eyes and perpetually stumped little faces.  And one would have to be born with a heart of a villain to not want to reach for them, at least; if not sweep them up and stuff them under a coat, next to the heart — as if craving a piece of all that goodness.  They are not really my type of dogs, because the world seems too big for them, and mostly full of danger (and that’s not my type of a world).  So, they shiver and retreat, seeking protection from larger animals.  But then again, in such dependency and trust, I bet I could heal a wound or two on the surface of my perpetually stumped little face.  And perhaps, in this life, I would be able to move on a little bit faster — with a tiny creature stuffed under my coat, next to my heart.

The fancier dogs I treat as pieces of artwork.  They strut with dignity.  They hold their statures with focus and calm.  But unlike cats with pedigree, these purebreds still haven’t forgotten the pleasure of some rough play — a bigger child’s play — or of a rough caress.  To the contrary, because they are best equipped to win, they cannot wait for it.  So, they pull their master’s hand via their leash, as if saying:

“Come!  Be!  Love!”

From one moment to the next, they are ready to topple you over at the door, after you’ve finished your conquering at the world for the day — or to save your life.  And you cannot dare to object to either, because all that strength and goodness — and all that unconditional devotion — dwells in the best of intentions, and sometimes, despite their own.

And that’s just the thing about those sporty good men (good boys) and their dogs:  Once a girl earns their unconditional devotion, their own life is no longer a matter of the biggest relevance.  They may be in the mood for an occasional rough play — or a rough caress.  They may even sometimes be quite child-like in their dire need for a silly toy.  But if a girl can give them a good meal and a tender caress, off they would go:  conquering the world, in her name.

And with all their strength and goodness — with all that unconditional devotion — they have the ability to restore a woman’s heart, into more life and into more love.

“I Wanna Li-Li-Li-Lick You, From Your Head to Your Toes”

“Mmm, LOVE ice-cream,” you said with an audible European accent that you weren’t even trying to hide.

Quite the opposite:  I bet it has worked to your advantage so far, because you don’t throw yourself against your need to control, to plan, to over think, to predict every moment before it happens — over, and over, and over again.  In our company of two, there is already one person who has done that idiotically throughout her youth; and frankly, it’s one person too many.

No, sir!  You are one to live in the moment.  Honestly. 

And you do it with such swagger — never for the sake of exhibitionism or selfish gratification; never for the sake of better opinions or for the sake of having to impress.  You dwell in consequences of your easy charm.  You watch your life happen and unfold, delivering its opportunities to the the tips of your impeccably polished shoes, like the wet tongue of a tidal wave.

Because where you come from, time moves differently:  It never matters more than one’s sensibility, and it definitely does not dare to contradict one’s pursuit of pleasures.  And so tonight, you took your time:  warming up my curiosity with your easy, manly smiles and just a couple of caresses along my arms with the flat surfaces of your nails.  The entire night, your gender training revealed itself in my open doors, extended hands, offered-up shoulders; and your gentle guidance of my high-heeled footstep over ditches and uneven pavements.  It is your second nature — to be a gentleman.  To be a man — is your first.

“We have a saying about a true — how you say it? — ‘gentleman’,” you told me earlier in the night.  “Don’t say much — and enjoy!  Yes?”

Yes.

Naturally, you would walk me down to my car after midnight; and with you, I wouldn’t even argue.  I wouldn’t feel an urge to defend my independence or flaunt my financial capabilities:  It’s not in your — how you say it? — “gentle” nature to undermine my life choices anyway.  So, I didn’t have to test or forewarn, with you.  That evening, you were my man alright, and it was somehow (finally!) also perfectly alright for me — to be your woman.

So, why — when you began to devour your chocolate ice-cream sandwich, after calling my elevator — did you suddenly resemble a young boy on a summer day spent on a river bank with other sunburnt rascals?  As I watched you, a thought flashed:

“ADORE.”

It was more of a memory, really.  A memory of a young man — utterly adored — who could wrestle my body or mind into submission with his weight or a single flex of his arm muscles; but when the battle was over, I would walk out of his bedroom to find him armed with a fork and a focus, dissecting a sweet I had made for him a few hours prior:

“Mmm, V.  So good!” he would always say with his mouth full and a blue-eyed gaze of someone caught in the midst of his defiant joy.  “Have some!”

I never would.  Instead:  I would adore.  

Yes.

Or the sound of another, who could kindly cradle me to sleep; then slip out into the kitchen and lick spoonfuls of honey and peanut butter, chugging them down with cold milk.  If I heard his commotions in my sleep, I would smile, always — I would adore! — then, toss myself headfirst into heavier dreams.  In the morning, he would be back in his manhood, older than me; and I would wonder if I had dreamt it all up, about someone like our son.

And yet another — tougher, stronger, always in control:  If he ever rested in my bed at an hour when the August heat finally gave it a rest, I would bring him platters of chilled watermelon and frozen berries; and while he lapped-up, and feasted, and moaned — the same way he had done with my body — I would rub his heavy head on my lap.  And, while he slowly landed:  Oh, how I would adore!

Yes…

When the elevator arrived, quicker than it would throughout the day when delayed by other mortals, naturally, you held its door open with one arm, while the other continued to maneuver the quickly melting sandwich around your mouth.  You would bite and nibble, lick the corners of your lips.  I leaned against the cold rail and chuckled, finding myself in the midst of my easily accessible, habitual adoration.  The gaze you shot me was somewhat of a warning:

“Don’t say much — and enjoy!  Yes?”  

By the time there was nothing left in your hand but a wrapper, we had arrived at my destination.  I peeled my behind off the rail and made my way to the doors, anticipating, as always, their opening.

“Where are you going?” you said, with a tease and an effortless control.

Quickly you examined the wrapper in your hand for any last bits, crumpled it up, tossed it into the corner; and before I could manufacture a scold or an excuse, you pressed me back into the rail with the now free hand — while pushing every button on the control panel with the other.  I laughed.  You smiled that easy, manly smile again, moved in on me, looked-up for cameras — and began to maneuver my lips around your mouth.

At first, I kept my eyes open, looking out for an accidental mortal every time the doors slid quietly in their grooves.  But you didn’t bother:  You bit and nibbled, licked the corners of your lips — and of mine.  You dwelled in consequences of your easy charm, now backing them up with skills.  With your eyes on me, you’d push more buttons; and I would laugh — again! — into the collar seams of your impeccably white t-shirt.

And by the third time we arrived to the eighteenth floor, I closed my eyes and pushed your back against the control panel…

You tasted like chocolate.