Friday, February 25, 2011

A Month of Love--Story #4

A Prince of a Guy

Some gal wrote a book that says every girl wants to be swept off her feet.  Rescued.  A bride.  I never did.  There's a picture of me when I was little.  In a dress-up wedding gown.  At a toy ironing board.  My mom must have made me do it.  Probably tickled me at the last minute to get me to smile like that.  That was never my dream.  I was like the dentist elf in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.  I wanted to be in-de-pen-dent.  I didn't need anybody.  Least, that's what I used to think.

Martin Luther King introduced me to you.  See, his birthday was on a Monday.  That meant an extra night to get dolled up, belly up to the bar, and shake a leg.

I always told my girlfriends, "You'll never meet Mr. Right in a bar."  Like I knew.  Heck, I could practically count the dates I'd been on with five fingers.  For some reason, guys seemed scared of me.  Maybe 'cause I could hit hard and burp loud.  That's what happens when you grow up with three older brothers.

But I wasn't with my girlfriends that night.  I was with my buddy, Dave.  We were both on the prowl for guys to dance with.  He and I spotted you at the same time, through a Kool and Camel haze, through the Purple Rain.  

You had a puffy half smile.  Lips like Angelina Jolie before anyone knew who she was.  And a pencil-thin moustache.  Your eyes were the color of Kraft caramels, but I couldn't tell 'til we slow danced.  Your hair was almost ebony and looked like it had been curled around a popsicle.  You were dressed up.  Had a skinny leather tie on and everything.  Dave and I thought that was neat.  Way better than a t-shirt and Levi's.

Per your request, I wrote my phone number on a cocktail napkin with an aqua Maybelline eyeliner.  Tuesday day and night came and went.  Then Wednesday day.  I was looking up your number in the phone book when you called.  My heart forgot to beat, then remembered.

We went out a couple times and I decided you were some kinda fairy tale prince.  You opened and closed doors for me.  You always smelled nice when you reached across to buckle my seatbelt.  I liked the citrusy freshness of Drakkar Noir as it came off your warm golden neck in waves.  

You picked McDonald's cups off the sidewalk and put 'em in garbage cans.  Helped little dowager-humped ladies cross Walnut Street.   You did what you said you were gonna.

But then you didn't kiss me on the first date.  Or the second.  I got to thinkin' maybe you weren't a fairy tale prince.  Maybe you were just a  . . .   And then you did kiss me, and once again, my heart forgot to beat, then remembered.  

It was cold in the hallway of my third floor, over Rite-Aid on High Street, apartment.  I was leaning against a door frame and you were saying maybe we should see--  Then the warmth of you pressed against the warmth of me and it was so very nice I thought my knees would give out, right then and there.  It was just like the ketchup commercial said.  You know, anticipation.  

You coulda asked me anything and I woulda said yes.  But you didn't.  'Cause you're a gentleman.  That's what happens when you grow up with four older sisters.

You wanted to marry me even though I wanted to leave West Virginia and never come back.  Even though I didn't want kids.  Even though I didn't need you.

We closed our eyes and stabbed a map and that's where we moved.  In Cincinnati, I worked downtown.  Your office was out in the 'burbs. 

One day I said, "Well, I reckon I can have one baby.  For you."  

A couple years later you made me cry when you said, "I wanna move back to West Virginia."  

I said, "Don't you remember me saying I'm a big city girl?" 

You held my face in your hands and said, "If you hate it after a year, we'll go someplace else."  

I knew you always kept your promises, so I said okay.  

Not long after that, I decided the first baby needed company.  Then a few years later, I got the notion you should have a son.  Funny thing.  The way having kids can stir up things inside you.  When my childhood caught up with me, you held the sharp shards of my broken littleness in your hands.  You didn't flinch.  Your eyes didn't bug out. 

You said, "There, there.  Everything'll be all right."  And it was.  

And then one day, when I was all alone in our hundred year old house, I held my thumb and pointer finger in front of my eyes.  They were almost touching.  I whispered, "This much.  I might just need you this much.”


Friday, February 18, 2011

A Month of Love--Story #3

French Kiss

Back then, I hadn’t mastered the art of finding a flaw.  Hadn’t even thought of it yet.  Of protecting myself from little crushes with a prayer.  Show me, God.  Reveal something undesirable about this guy—halitosis, a lousy work ethic, a collection of Skipper dolls—that’ll make this constant thought of ‘what if’ go away. 

I don’t remember the year.  It’s not important.  I can tell you where he worked though.  At the change bank.  Under the Arc de Triomphe.  In the shade of it. 

The guy at the window next to him was tall, very.  He had a wonderful smile, so friendly, but he wasn’t beautiful.  Not like Eric.  Eric’s skin looked like crème brulee.  The custard underneath, not the crispy, bubbled brown top.  His eyes?  They were polar ice water blue.  How do you say that in French?  Je ne sais pas.  His gaze was intense.  I wanted to ask if his eyes were tired ‘cause I never saw him blink.  Ever.  His lips looked like Cabernet, as if he’d recently taken a sip, sans a glass.  Just put his mouth in a vat of it.  Juicy.  What would that taste like?  I felt heat in my cheeks, at the possibility.

I thought about him each day.  In every country.  Switzerland.  Germany.  Italy.  GreeceThe last time I saw him, he’d pressed a business card into my palm.

“Call me.  The minute, no, the second, you return to France.  Oui?”

I tucked a wisp of hair behind my ears and smiled.  “Oui.”

My tummy simmered when I called him from the payphone at Charles de Gaulle two months later.

“Bonjour, Eric.  C’est moi.  Je suis ici, a  Paris.”

“That is so great,” he said.  His voice sounded soft, like a whisper.   “Will you have dinner with me? Ce soir?”

My heart revved.  “Yes.  Oui.”

I barely remember the meal.  Except for the garlicky, buttery, snails.  And the wine, le tres bon vin.  He wanted to order Ile Flottante—that floating island dessert--but I put my hand over my mouth.

“I can’t eat another bite,” I said.  “But I’ll have more wine, s’il vous plait.  It’s amazing.”

He worked at the label, to peel it off for me.  

“It is from Alsace, my favorite wine region,” he said.  “If you like, we can go to Reims and taste its champagne.  I have an uncle there who would—“

I sighed and shook my head.  “I can’t, Eric.  I have to go home, to America.”

He covered his face with his hands.  Pretended to sob.  “I will die.   You will take my heart with you when you go.”

I squeezed my chair seat with both hands and leaned across the table.  “Silly boy.”

He made his eyes big.   Pushed his bottom lip out.  “It is true.  Surely I will perish when you depart.”

I glanced at my watch.  “We should go.  I have to catch an early hovercraft back to England tomorrow.”

We held hands inside his olive green Renault.  Over the gear shift.  The moonlight came through the windshield.  Made his creamy skin luminous.  He made little strokes on each of my fingernails.  Held my knuckles to his mouth.  I wanted his lips on mine, not on my hands.  I had to know. Had to.  If this was as good as that.  If he, French boy, could be more wonderful than him, American guy.  What if my man back home (Je sais.  Je suis terrible!), wasn’t the one after all?

It all depends on the kiss, you know.  If you can’t kiss, if you’re not really good at it, what can you do?  If you can’t melt chocolate with the promise of your lips, make its velvety sweetness drip and ooze so the other person wants to slurp up every drop, can you really love?  Is it possible you can live well?  I don’t think so.  Everything rides on mouth-to-mouth contact.  They should teach it in school. Well, college.

I tried to speak without words.  Narrowed my eyes.    Mouth breathed.  Come closer.  Don’t wait for me.  Be the man.  Kiss me.  And please, let it be wonderful.

He leaned toward me, but his seatbelt stopped him.  I released it.  He fell against me.  I pushed him back, so we were face to face.  I closed my eyes.  Felt his breath on my cheek.  Smelled wine, café au lait.  I smiled.  Softened. 

All of a sudden he was on me.  What I wanted, but not.  Everything was hard, sharp, open.  Wrong.  I pulled inside myself, like a snail.  Felt the coolness of the window through my hair.

“?Qu'est-ce que c'est?”

I looked through the windshield.  “Nothing.”

He took my hands again.  Inspected them.  “I must tell you one thing.”

My inhale sounded hissy.  Disappointed.  Distracted.  “Yes?  Oui?”

Je suis marié.”

I shook my head.  “You’re Mary?” I said.  “What does that mean?”

His mouth pulled to one side.  “Non.  I am not Mary.  I am Eric.  I mean to say, I am married.”

My stomach lurched.  It felt as if the snails inside me had come to life.  They crawled.  Slimed.

“You’re married?  Really?”

“Really.  But it is not good.”

I huffed, chuckled, and rolled my eyes.  All at the same time.  “Of course it’s not.”

He came at me again.  Confirmed the fact.  The facts.   He’s not better.  He’s not the one.

I held his face in my hands.  To stop him.  To show him.

“Ici.  Pour votre femme.”

He pulled back.  Squinted.  “For my wife?  What?”

“Oui,” I said.  “Pour votre femme.  You must kiss her slow.  And small--petite.  So she wants more--plus.”

I opened my mouth in a silent roar. Traced a circle in front of it with my pointer finger.

 “When your mouth is this big, it’s hard.  To kiss, it should be soft.  Yielding.  Accepting.  Giving.  Comprenez-vous?”

He crossed his arms.  Sagged a little.  “Oui.  I am no good.”

I looked at his lips.  Pressed my pinkie into the center of his bottom one.

“But you can learn,” I said.  “Make her ache, Eric.   And burn.  Pour vous.”

He leaned toward me.  “Like this?”

I cupped my hand over his Cabernet smile.  “Save it,” I whispered. “For her.”

He sat back.  Shut his eyes.  Sighed.  I returned to my side of the car.  Put on my seat belt.  And I’ll save it.  For him.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Month of Love--Story #2

An Artist Loved Me Once

It's wonderful to be loved by an artist.  When they paint you over and over, it makes you feel beautiful.

The painter and I were pen pals before we met.  My roommate was dating a sculptor.  The sculptor was friends with the painter, and voila!  I loved to get his letters.  I ran to the mailbox every day.  Each envelope was a work of art.  Even his signature was aesthetic--a swoop of a first initial, a period, then his last name.  You can fall in love with someone who writes you a lot.  Happens all the time these days.

He sent me a birthday present before he ever saw me.  It arrived snuggled in bubble wrap and brown grocery bag paper.  I snipped the Scotch tape carefully with manicure scissors.  It was a painting, sort of--all aqua paint, real live dead butterflies, pictures of pickles, and torn out pieces of the Sears and Roebuck catalog.  I fell in love, right then, with the idea of being loved by an artist.   

He was older than me and that felt cool.  He'd been a hippie, a druggie, and a lush.  He'd climbed twelve steps, more than once.  He did all the wrong things right.  He wore leather pants and had his right ear pierced.

The painter liked when people told him he looked like Rod Stewart.  Even so, he let me dye his eyebrows and hair the color of a carrot even though it was beautiful just the way it was--the shade and texture of a palomino pony's forelock.  When I introduced him to my folks, my dad took one look and pulled me into the kitchen.  "Is he a homosexual?"

The artist picked me up for our first date in a convertible Cadillac--once upon a time powder blue.  He called it, The Landshark.  It rode so low to the ground it felt like the Flintstone-mobile.  He took me to a jazz club in Charleston.  I don't care much for jazz, but I was willing to give it a try, if it would make me cool, like an artist.

The painter ordered me a shot of Ouzo and a glass of ice.  He demonstrated how to melt drops of water into the licorice-smelling liqueur to make little cloudy jetstreams.  He wanted to smell my Ouzo breath.  "So I can remember."  Me, or the Ouzo?

He called me his little prairie chicken.  He liked that he could pinch an inch over the top of my Levis

"When I hold a woman, I don't want to feel like I'm hugging my brother."

He only had one brother.  He was ten years younger and his face looked like a bowl of Cream of Wheat with raisins for eyes.  He was a certified genius.

The painter's dad was a big man with a done-lopped belly.  He worked at Union Carbide.  The artist's mom was tiny, like Carol Burnett.  She worked at the DMV.  She used to tell me stories about people with weird first names. 

"I think the topper was Placenta," she said.  "This woman told me her mother heard the word when she was in labor and that's how she got her name--Placenta Ann Jones."  I never forgot that.  Or, the twin girls named Christy and Chanda Lear.

My family and friends never did take to the artist.  It wasn't like he tried to isolate me on purpose.   The split--me and him on one side, everybody else on the other--happened naturally, like the parting of the Red Sea.  I didn't mind too much 'cause I was love struck, baby.  I was absolutely certain that love, love would keep us together.

My best friend growing up had a habit of dating all the wrong guys.  The fact that she was the only person I knew who approved of the painter should’ve been a do-not-enter (this relationship) sign, but it wasn't, 'til later.

One night, the artist grabbed my arm and squeezed  'til I screamed at the top of my lungs, right there on Campus Drive.  The next morning, I talked to myself as I leaned over the bathroom sink to get closer to the mirror to put on mascara. 

"I'm not gonna be like my best friend.  I'm not gonna keep lovin' Mr. Wrong, over and over."

There was lots of stuff the painter wanted me to do that I didn't.  I reckon that's why he left me for another prairie chicken.  I saw them sittin' in the window of the Boston Beanery in matching, paint-spattered overalls.  I looked away quickly, but not before I noticed she looked like a girl Bugs Bunny.  He must like her 'cause she's an artist.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Month of Love--Story #1

The Man Who Loved Me First

The man who loved me first was as big as Andre the Giant.  You know, the huge guy in "The Princess Bride."  His name was Francis.  It was a family name but I was the only one who knew it.  Everyone else called him Frank.

Frank lost a whole lotta weight one summer.  Afterward, he still weighed three of me.  Well, maybe two and a half, but when you're 6'4," that kind of weight's okay.  I always wondered if he went on that diet for me.

Frank was from the bottom of the state.  His daddy was rich from things that came from the earth but you'd never know it.  Frank wore Wranglers and flannel shirts like the rest of the guys. 

I knew he loved me.  I could see it when I looked in his eyes, even though I'd never been loved before.  His eyes were the color of God's green velvet.  You know, moss.  And when he looked at me, the greeny brown color would darken, like the forest when the sun goes down.

I also knew he loved me 'cause he wouldn't step back from a hug when I did.  When someone that big holds you, you can't help but feel safe.  Like when you play Hide 'n Seek, and you're behind a refrigerator, and you know they'll never find you.  They'll have to yell, "Olly, Olly, in come free."

Frank loved me even though I baby powdered his dorm room one afternoon in October.  I'd been T.G.I.F.'ing in Sunnyside and I felt ornery, like I had a bee in my bonnet or somethin.'

Frank always ran a fan in his room.   Big people seem to be warmer than the rest of us.  I skipped down the hall in my cut-off jean shorts and my I New York t-shirt.  I had an open container of Johnson & Johnson baby powder in my hand.  When I ran by the common room, Stu, the photography major who sounded like a Sleestak when he breathed, said, "Here comes trouble."  He had that right.

Frank left his door unlocked most of the time.  I think he did that in case I stopped by.  And I did, quite often, just to see his moss eyes go dark.  I flung the door open and shrieked, "Boo!"  Quick like a bunny, I shook a ton of baby powder into the fan wind.  Then I ran.

From my room six doors down and 'round the corner, I heard the roar.  It sounded like the Wabash Cannonball.

Frank's hair looked like an old man's at dinner that night.  He heard me fuss that all the Drumsticks were gone out of the ice cream freezer.  He leaned across the table and handed me his. 

"I only took one bite." 

I looked in his brownish green eyes and felt bad.  I shouldn't have baby powdered a guy like him.  A guy who'd give someone like me the last Drumstick in the dining hall.

I'd always wanted to be loved.  All my high school girlfriends had been loved lots of times, but not me.  My daddy had a habit of signing his letters with luv, not love.  I used to wonder if that was the same thing.

Guys didn't seem to know that inside, I was the kind of girl who'd sing, "Stand by Your Man" even though I didn't care much for country music.  Thing is, I had a hunch me and Cyndi Lauper had been separated at birth.  And one time, I almost won a Madonna-Look-Alike contest.  I was in my Granny's black cotton, zip up the front, strapless, whale-boned slip and everything.  I even had on 38 black rubber bracelets between both my arms.  In the end though, a guy won.  He had the frat-boy-crossdressing-is-hilarious factor working for him.

Frank gave me a lift-you-off-the-ground hug after I lost, and he bought me a beer.  He wouldn't let me open it with my teeth like I usually did.  He pulled a Swiss Army knife out of his Wrangler's.  It had a bottle opener on it.  I thought that was pretty cool.

I sniffed.  "Thanks." 

I knew Frank was a good man, even though he wasn't 21 yet.  His face was serious more often than not and I was pretty sure that meant he'd take good care of me.  To me, his arms, his bigness, felt safer than a castle, not that I'd been in one.  But one day, I stopped visiting Frank in his dorm room.  See, in my woman's heart, I knew he'd be a 'til death do us part kinda man.  Just not mine.


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