Monday, August 13, 2012

"I Will Hurt You"

The next day in class, I was torn between two lectures I could voluntarily attend and, on a whim, went to the one about the genre of horror.  Sitting down, I pulled out my notebook and pen, then looked up to see Huck walk in. I remember smiling so much, my cheek bones ached.

He looked up, smiled and sat right next to me in those Huckleberry Finn shorts. He wasn’t traditionally attractive. This particular morning, without his hoodie, I noticed he had prominent ears that bent out and away from his head so much you could see the pink flesh holding them on like a tin horn affixed on a sound box.



Just as Huck spoke without fear or reservation, I do too. Some people think that I ask such blunt questions because I can be obnoxious and am greedy as a writer, I would just like to think that I could care less for small talk. Of course I wanted to command his attention but also test his waters and read if he was someone I could trust. “You are controversial. Last night, at the bar, your friend said she had a love-hate relationship with you,” I said.

He looked up, hurt, “She did? Fucking bitch.”

His face felt large, maybe because he leaned in whenever he said something to me. When we exchanged something casual about the lecture or the night before, his skin burned red. I noticed a french horn tattooed on his left knee. Nothing was particularly artistic about the tattoo, it looked more like clip art.

After the lecture, as everyone was collecting their things and hurrying off to the next, I quickly put in a, “So tell me about the tattoo.”

He said, “Well, what is it?”



I misfired and said, “A bugle?”

He said, “What type of instrument is a bugle?”

“Horn?” I responded.

“Bring the two together . . .,” he said.

“Knee horn?”, I said.

“Reverse it.” He was smiling.

I said, “Horn knee.”

He nodded and slapped his notebook shut, “There ya go.”

I picked up my bag, “Always a pleasure.”

On the way back down the hallway, he said he had to go to the bathroom. “I do, too” I said, “We have so much in common.” Even on cruise control, I still flirt. It's almost supernatural.

Later, I retold the “Tattoo” conversation to my new friends in the Student Lounge and my friend George said, “Oh my God, Horny? That is douchey. If he got that tattoo after the age of 21, he is a dick, I’m sorry.”

At this point, in my experience with Huck, I was not in love. He fascinated me. He was fascinating because he provoked such strong reactions. Also, only once before in my life have I ever felt drawn to someone by first sight. I am reluctant to use “love at first sight.” I didn’t love him, but I was captivated by him and wanted to understand, how with just a look in a busy bar one night, he stole a piece of me.



The first time I felt equally, if not more, enchanted at first sight was while I was married. I was 26 and working at a pet food store to help pay off credit cards. One day, I was introduced to our new manager, a tall man with a boy’s face, a little older than me named Eric. He had freckles, this genuine smile you don’t see often in Los Angeles and was the best looking man I had ever seen in my life. The introduction fueled a fascination which turned to an obsession and, later, turned into an affair that drove me to leave my husband in a matter of months.

We tried for a long time to have a relationship, but he was an alcoholic who struggled with delusions of divine grandeur and a cyclical cocaine addiction. It was a five year nightmare of violent tempers, apparitions, headaches, vomiting and bloody noses broken up a few weeks at a time with passionate sex, confessions and an underlying friendship that continued to grow in spite of a toxic love affair. Together, we found jobs and lost jobs, made friends and lost them and tried our best, between us, to have enough money for Taco Bell and a few beers.

Eric carried a toothbrush with him because he was so used to throwing up at work. When sober, he was the kindest person I ever met. When drunk, he was the most unpredictably violent. In between both those worlds, he was mine.

That last year we lived together I call “The Year of Cancer”. The relationship suffered a slow, painful death. He grew paranoid that I was cheating on him. I wasn’t. He locked himself in our bathroom for six hours to summon demons. He broke every dish in the kitchen. He hit me once, then twice- and made me so sick with anxiety, depression and tension, that eventually I dragged my feet away from our Hollywood apartment with a restraining order in hand.



When I wonder what about Huck attracted him to me so immediately, initially, I thought it was because I recognized Eric again in his eyes, though the two look nothing alike. Eric was dark haired, a mix of Irish and Native American blood with a fine scar along the left side of his nose.

Huck was fair, a mix of Scandinavian and German with only three freckles on the left side of his nose.

Both, however, were from the midwest, both had fathers that left them as children and both are alcoholics, though I didn’t know that at the moment of first sight. My father also grew up in the midwest, lost his father at a young age and, though wasn’t an alcoholic, struggled against his own demons- sometimes quietly, sometimes not so quietly.

That afternoon, I was so hungover, I waded through the last lecture of the day with a pounding headache and growing nausea. I kept writing notes to George to keep my head alert. Each note said, “Sex. Must think about sex.” George mentioned before that fantasy and sex are two key elements that still live in and ignite the imagination. It was true, to keep my writing world alive and fertile, I had to fall in love or take on a lover. Maybe I didn’t have to, but it was easier that way.



The girl from the Tattle Tale Room drove me home, and as she dropped me off, I said, “Thank you again, and I am so glad I didn’t throw up in your car.”

***

The next day, I woke up in Jeph’s condo. He had given me his entire bedroom while sleeping on a futon out on the living room floor. The other bedroom was occupied by his roommate, a bi-polar, unemployed barista.

It was a very posh community; the buildings were modern, built on glass and metal. Everyone walked their purebred dogs in designer yoga pants and Ray-Ban sunglasses every morning. One night, when my friend’s roommate bummed a cigarette off of me around midnight, I said, “This is a rich area. It almost makes me uncomfortable.”

She said, “It is uncomfortable.”

Jeph, who owns that condo unit works as a “retail associate” at a Vitamin store. He is an odd fellow in his late-twenties.  He sports a goatee, small spectacles and often a Hawaiian shirt. I usually describe him as an Atheist Ned Flanders. Most people don’t know what to make of him. He came into an inheritance from a great Aunt and was able to buy a condo kitty corner to the marina. It is bizarre that he rooted himself there, surrounded by people who appear to be his complete opposite.



He will say its because it made sense financially, as an investment, but how does he avoid feeling the tension between “us” and “them”?

When I woke up, he immediately got up too, despite the fact that I stumbled through late in the evenings drunk and woke up ridiculously early. He dutifully made me vegan pancakes and kindly asked I lower my Rolling Stones so early in the morning.

“I almost threw up in your toilet, Jeph.” I mumbled over rich pancakes and bitter coffee.

“You can throw up in my toilet, anytime,” he said. He has a child’s honesty.

After catching the bus and taking a 20 minute ride up a hill, I attended another lecture and thought for a moment where to sit, then decided next to Huck. It was early in the morning and I was still collecting my thoughts on him. David, from the Tattle Tale Room, sat across the room and eyeballed us.

I said, “I like your shorts.”

He said, “Thanks.”

I continued, “I noticed them yesterday.”

“Fuck you” he said, then recoiled, “I only brought two pairs of pants and these shorts.”

“This is the last pair of pants I haven’t worn to school. But I’ve been sleeping in them- so its a cheat,” I tried to save it.

Huck said, “Pants don’t need to be washed. That’s the secret.”

I giggled in that way girls do, then asked, “What do you do, outside of this?”

He said, “I manage a kitchen, at an Irish pub. I make $13 an hour. I know . . .”

I said, “That’s more than I have made in the last couple years.”

He smiled.

A school administrator interrupted the seminar to advise all the students sitting in back to move forward, as there was a problem with the back partisan. All of us scattered and reordered ourselves, and Huck moved his chair directly in front of mine, leaving me with a view of the back of his neck and ears.

I studied his baby soft skin, still untouched by sun, hard work and substance abuse. I wanted badly to touch the back of those ears. His shoulders were broad, which looked unusual for someone with the face of a bookworm.



Accidentally, I kicked his feet under his chair and apologized. He turned around and shouted under his breath, “WATCH IT!” For some reason, this struck me as hilarious, and I cackled as the classroom fell silent.  He was unpredictable, bold and sarcastic. In general, I found him compelling, but the humor is what kicks open the door and makes that final push so I fall in love.

During the bathroom break, he stood up to leave while still carrying his notebook, suddenly he doubled back and threw everything in his hands at his seat before turning back around and leaving the room. The woman sitting immediately next to him jumped up, startled. The dark-haired woman sitting on the other side of her turned and whispered, “Welcome to our core group. AND he’s a misogynist.” The controversy just continues.

He came back and I stared at his ears. I stared hard. Why couldn’t I stop looking at them?

Suddenly, he pulled out a sock hat and slid it over his head, tucking them away. I took a breath, finally I could concentrate.

The faculty heading the seminar asked us to draw up character notes, off the top of our head, based on a name he put on the board. He wrote “Thelma Dudley”.

When he asked for volunteers to read their character description out loud, Huck was the first. With precision and confidence, he relayed the following description:

“Thelma Dudley. Born in 1939, Dubuque, Iowa. Father in Army, died in France, World War II. Mother raised her alone for early life. Moved to Iowa City in 1947. Teased because of name.

Good Student, hard worker, helped her mother with chores.  Mother remarried in 1950.  Stepfather, Mark and mother Cherlyne had Erin.  Thelma helped raise Erin. Mark  & Cheryln made up for lost fun by going out often. Thelma lost virginity at age 14 to William Sellers after school on a Wednesday when Mark & Cheryln were at a church gathering.”

The faculty asked, “Where did she lose her virginity?”

Huck promptly responded, “In her parents’ bed.”



It isn’t the most creative character description, most students forced typical poor-white trash afflictions on Thelma, and plopped her in a trailer park in the South- that was cliche. However, there was great attention to the detail of her parents, for example, losing her father at a young age and then later abandoned by her mother when she finds a new husband. When he read those words, there was a mechanical detachment that made me want to reach out and touch him.

The black-haired girl who held him in such low opinion grumbled, “Sounds autobiographical.”

I reviewed my handwritten notes, too shy to speak up.

Southern, disheveled, in love, poor, works in retail, wears dirty keds, carries a big purse, wears a t-shirt dress with flowers on it, drinks soda, smokes Parliaments, her skin blotches, especially when she is embarrassed. She should wear glasses but doesn’t so she can feel sexy. Too close to her mother. Sleeps in her bra. Doesn’t drive but always wanted to. Wears hair clips. Eats off paper plates so she doesn’t have to do dishes.”

My description is no more ground-breaking, but Thelma became a person we shared, her left foot in his imagination and her right in mine. You could say every writer in the room shared Thelma, but Huck, the back of his seat almost tapping my knee caps, knowing my eyes were on him, knowing I was gauging his talent and imagination, became my lover. Though we had not physically made love, we were in each other’s minds, dancing and teasing in conversation, in imagination and, now, in class.

At lunch, I walked off campus with a couple of my peers, and was able to get a hold of a sample of Huck’s writing to see if he was talented. If he wasn’t, I might lose interest. Over an avocado tomato wrap, I slipped into the story, looking for pieces of him in the text. His words were rich, heavy in atmosphere but his characters were projections of his ideals and it clouded his narrative voice.

George was sitting next to me and said, “Do not get involved with him. He has issues.”

I put down the pages and said, “I should not sleep with him.” The darkness wasn’t just in his eyes, it was in his protagonist, who resembled Huck too much. In the minor similarities of his main character, mannerisms and habits, there would be major similarities like tension with his parents, heartbreak, self-destructive behavior and bravado.



George, “Don’t do it . . . (sigh) You are going to anyway.”

I wiped my hands off with a paper napkin and said, thoughtfully, “Huh.”

When we came back to class for the next seminar, I sat next to the guy I thought should be the one to fall for, Miguel. He was warm to everyone and especially attentive to a female friend, married and pregnant at the time. In my mind, I decided that he was the better choice for me.

Just as I settled in, pulled out my pen and notebook, laughed at a few small, flirtatious jokes, Huck walked in and immediately sat behind me. We had swapped positions in a matter of hours. He was complaining that he was grouchy and shouldn’t have gone back to his hotel room for a drink in the middle of the day.

I am familiar with the mood swings of a day-drinking alcoholic, and it is, of course worrisome. The last person you want to spend the rest of your life with is a moody drunk, but it's familiar and it has a kind of honesty the sober students don’t bother with. Or maybe its just because I miss Eric. I remembered what his character from his story drank and said, “Was it Guinness or Miller Lite?” to test and see if he could pick up that I read his story. He didn’t.

Huck said, “Neither. Something terrible like Buck . . . something or other.”



I said, “From the great breweries of Indiana.”

He said, “Something like that” looking down and smiling. I could tell he was having a hard time staying pleasant. “I actually had a shot of vodka. That was a bad idea.”

As I turned back around, I said, “It's the sugar in the alcohol affecting your mood.”

He muttered, “Probably something like that.”

The faculty heading the seminar was struggling to work an overhead projector, causing delay. Huck broke out of his seat, complaining as he escaped to the bathroom.

I said, flatly, as he cut the air on his exit, “Calm down. Have another drink.”

Later, while taking notes, he was behind me again and I felt his eyes glide over my neck and hair. Thoughts of making love to him clawed at my concentration. There was a specific recurring thought of him tugging on my pony tail in the throes (or throws- wink wink) of passion.

If someone spoke up in the seminar behind me, I would turn just enough so I could see him in my peripheral. I caught his eyes lingering on my hair just before he turned away. A friend from lunch was sitting behind him, staring right at us. I caught his eye and he smiled.

Huck left before the seminar ended and I was disappointed. It is hard watching someone with talent wrestle with his demons and allow them push him out the classroom  He was bothered and aggravated enough to abandon a great lecture, and that worried me. Also, on a more selfish note, I wouldn’t be able to talk to him after class.

At the end of the day, I was on my Jeph’s futon playing on my laptop, as Jeph offered a platonic massage and I noticed Huck sent me a friend request on Facebook. Once I added him, we caught ourselves in a chat later that night.



In the chat box, I would start to type something, then backspace. He waited. In the chat window, it said, “[StarFire] is typing”.

Finally, I wrote, “[StarFire] is typing. [StarFire] is deleting.”

Huck
“[StarFire] is revealing.”

StarFire
“Yeah, I know. Its a personal problem. You are highly observant and I have to watch myself around you.”

Huck
“Yeah, you do.”

StarFire
“See? When you say it, it sounds more sexual.”

Huck
“On the first night we met you said that my drinking problem was making you fall in love with me.”

StarFire
“Oh. Yikes. Well I do remember thinking that. I am funny, huh? Ha ha.

Huck
“You can’t fall in love with me. It isn’t pertinent.”

StarFire
“I keep telling myself that. And you live somewhere I hate.”

Huck was from Milwaukee. Of all the cities in the entire country, he had to be from the one I have a personal problem with.



When I was four years old, my parents packed up and drove us out of the apple trees, rain clouds and snow capped mountains of Seattle to the dry, flat and dull city of Milwaukee. My father grew up there and said he wanted to give us a “tough” upbringing, since the Northwest would keep us “soft”.

My sister and I were promptly enrolled in Catholic school and soccer teams. There I spent the most miserable nine years of my life, left off birthday party invitations, ignored by teachers and teased relentlessly by other children.

Even after switching schools in the fifth grade, I couldn’t seem to hold on to a friend or fit in anywhere but on the soccer field. My mother was going to school and working full time. My father was unapproachable. My sister was five years older than me, just close enough in age to share a house for most of our childhood, but just old enough to have a life totally separate of mine. I felt like a freak, and didn’t know why. So, I grew up completely alone.



When I was thirteen years old, my mother and I pressured my father to move back to Washington state. I only went back to Milwaukee on occasion to visit my sister and grandmother. After my sister moved, and my grandmother died, I vowed never to go back.

Huck
“You can’t fall in love with me. It isn’t pertinent.”

StarFire
“I keep telling myself that. And you live somewhere I hate.”

Huck
“And you have only known me for 2 days.”

StarFire
“Oh  . . . right . . . that means its not really love.”

Huck
“Attraction, yes.”

StarFire
“Of course. I am attracted to you.”

Huck
“I am intrigued by you. You are feeding my ego. Which is dangerous.”

StarFire
“That’s what I am good at. Cue me getting into trouble. Its inevitable. But we still have a week.”

Huck
“You want to fuck me, yeah?”

StarFire
“I would word it differently.”

Huck
“You want me to fuck you.”

StarFire
“You could boil an element of that down to ‘fuck’ I suppose. I am listening. Go on.”

Huck
“Sorry for my vulgarity.”

StarFire
“I am not. I expected it from you, actually.”

Huck
“I am a sexpot of filthy thoughts.”

StarFire
“Can I say here, I am very disappointed in myself.”

Huck
“No.”

StarFire
“:) First emoticon. We really should avoid consummating anything until we are closer to the end of the residency. I think you might be one of those awkward morning-after types.”

Huck
“Nope, just will consummate you again in the morning.”

StarFire
“Unless you fall madly in love with me. I suppose I have to shave my legs, too.”

Huck
“I'd prefer it that way.”

StarFire
“I am joking.”

Huck
“Doubt it. You wore pajamas to school today.”

StarFire
“I think everyone should. I will make the necessary preparations.”

Huck
“I am a carrier of hpv.”

I leaned back and took a moment. No one was typing. Our chat box was still. I am phobic of sexually transmitted disease but the mention of HPV impressed me. I don’t know very many people who would admit to it. Even myself.

In fact, I was diagnosed with HPV in 2007, and was horrified. A year or two later, the doctors couldn’t detect it and I came up with a theory that it was a misdiagnosis of complications with my miscarriage earlier that year. Even so, I didn’t confess it to Huck.

StarFire
“Well, I am impressed you told me.”

Huck
“I don’t usually, but you’re innocent and I wouldn’t want to kill you.”

StarFire
“I am not innocent, but I fear STDs.”

Huck
“I am actually having a conversation about it with a friend of mine and am feeling quite guilty.”

StarFire
“Because you have unprotected sex with others?”

Huck
“On occasion.”

StarFire
“Me too. Occasionally. But I always have a conversation because I worry. So it would be with a condom.”

Huck
“I brought some.”

StarFire
“Which modifies the fantasy, but still works. Now, I find myself more attracted to you.”

Huck
“I feel like killing myself now.”

StarFire
“Now, I feel even more . . .”

Huck
“You’re crazy, huh?”

StarFire
“Just kidding. Yeah. I can sense something about you. The honesty really turns me on. The damage and the honesty. I mean damage affectionately, of course.”

Huck
“I will hurt you.”

StarFire
“I know. I am not stupid. Just crazy.”

Huck
“Maybe we shouldn’t fuck around.”

StarFire
“Maybe, but I would like to. I will be fine. You live on the other side of the fucking country. How badly could you hurt me?”

Huck
“Immediately.”

StarFire
“Wait, my feelings or something else?”

Huck
“Both.”

StarFire
“Can’t you work on it for a few days. Jesus, just restrain yourself and enjoy the ride.”

Huck
“I can do such a thing, but I can’t promise I won’t try and sleep with someone else.”

StarFire
“Well, even I wouldn’t make THAT promise. Ha . . . ha. Joking. Think about it. I would like to spend the night with you. If you can be discrete.”

Huck
“Probably more than you, smiley face.”

StarFire
“Probably. I will probably write about it. Maybe you will fall for me a little and not hurt my feelings.”

Huck
“Doubtful.”

StarFire
“We can always say we had Culver City.”

Huck
“I have women at home.”

StarFire
“I expected so. I really don’t think you are much more sexually driven than I am.”

Huck
“What’s in a name?”

My name, in 1978 when I was born, was very poetic; the first name means “life” in latin, coupled with the last name it becomes a secret for those smart enough pick up on it, “Lust for Life”. Now, Google has reduced it to a dirty keyword search.



Huck
“What’s in a name?”

StarFire
“Everything. Thelma Dudley.”

Huck
“You said you felt something when I sat next to you.”

StarFire
“I just remember you suddenly appearing in my life and your arm felt like it was almost around me. I came home saying ‘Maybe some other night.’ I am guessing that’s something you said to me.”

Huck
“I said it was nice meeting you . . . cliches. My arm was nearly around you.  I was very crabby this afternoon and then I had seven drinks.”

StarFire
“I know, you were still nice to me.”

Huck
“I was fascinated by the reversal roles of us staring at the back of each other's neck.”

StarFire
“It was erotic in a weird way. I like the back of your ears.”

Huck
“They are so big!”

StarFire
“When you put a hat on I can think more clearly.”

Huck
“I was cold.”

StarFire
“And when you were behind me I had no control. I just felt the occasional frustrated huff on the back of my neck. I will text you tomorrow.”

Huck
“You smile when I am in the same room with you.”

StarFire
“You do. I smile all the same, but when I see you I smile more.”

Huck
“Or even 40 feet away.”

StarFire
“I don’t know why. I am guessing we had some amazing conversation I can’t remember.”

Huck
“Sensory details of the subconscious.”

StarFire
“I only remember your arm almost around me.”

Huck
“Almost”

He was posturing. A lot of girls may have been turned off by the ego and the profanity, but I understood it was a performance.  He wanted me to know he was tough, and I couldn’t hurt him. He wanted to lay out the boundaries of the relationship and be in control.

I gave him control. I believed that France and my return to Los Angeles gave me the confidence and power I needed to be with any man and come out unscathed.

I was wrong.

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