As Trent and I made our way through the collapsed thousands on the grass of Coachella’s fairgrounds, we found ourselves stopping to stare at the kids eating food. We were so goddamn tired of peanuts and energy bars. The price of food and drink at Coachella was far outside our budget.
One of them looked up at us. “We were just admiring your fries,” Trent said.
“Oh good. I was about to dump them,” he said, handing them to us.
We gorged ourselves on cold, soggy French fries like Moses himself just handed us both milk and honey.
Then we took more shrooms.
There was something called a “Silent Dance Party”, where everyone gathered under a large dome of balloons, gently quivering to the desert breeze. Just before entry, we were handed headphones, each headphone was synched to music, and we were shuffled by a few security guards under the dome. It was strange. I don’t understand the concept. We were all together, unable to speak to each other without peeling off these black headphones, standing around, rattling to music like a carton of eggs on top of a grocery pile in a car, each in our individual foam dimples. Side by side but huddled together.
The music wasn’t that great either. We swayed a little bit. It was harder to establish a connection with the people around us. Some were facing other directions and most were restlessly marching in the dome and back out. If I caught a glance from a stranger, it was usually a drunk boy thirsty for casual sex.
The temptation to fornicate on a dirty camp ground with a group of rowdy man-children wasn’t appealing on any level. There was physical beauty, but if you go deep inside of me, you do require some depth in general. That is not to say there wasn’t a passing flirtation with one of the young men who bicycled people from one end of the campgrounds to the other in a seated cart attached to the back wheel. A great luxury indeed for the cost of $20. He was exceptionally handsome and sat on his bike, casually ignoring potential customers who slowed to stare at him before walking by. He wanted to chat with us as we decided what to do next.
I was sunburned, I hadn’t bathed in 48 hours, and I didn’t feel like there was anything I had to offer in the company of exotic, costumed barbies, as they swung their hips, head high, parading themselves with perfect pedicures and brand new flip flops. The young man seemed interested in me, though. He had sandy blond hair that captured the moonlight, he was tall and lazily slouched over in a generic, white polo shirt. Trent wanted to talk to him for obvious reasons, but I found his company a little nerve-wracking. I was self-conscious and sexually unavailable. In an effort to conceal my mood, I performed my porn-star orgasm impression which includes a duck face framing clenched large teeth, and an angry, forced moan that burns into a hiss. He laughed. I shrugged, hung my head and stepped back a little.
“So what are you guys doing later?” the boy asked.
“Going to some parties,” Trent asked.
“Yeah, can I give you my number? I am off in a couple hours and maybe we could hook up,” he said.
“Totally,” Trent answered. “My phone is dead though so you will have to get hers.”
He and I exchanged phone numbers. He leaned back and smiled that farm boy smile. The kind of boy who walks around topless on summer days, chews on straw and calls forth the sweat to tickle around your underwire bra.
After we exchanged numbers, he folded up his business and said, “Cool, ok. I gotta try to pick up some customers.” He gave me one last bad boy wink before a couple slid into his backseat. They had been waiting for the ride.
After he rode off, Trent said, “He liked you,” in that sweet, sing-song way. His voice sounded like it was bouncing happily on a hotel mattress. I shrugged. “Not that I can do anything about it.”
Michael, my boyfriend, knows me but doesn’t trust me. He got to know my writing before he really understood me. A few months later, he was folding my laundry (part of our domestic contract) and said, “Here I am folding up your onesie, thinking I should leave it out because I know you will wear it soon and everyone else is reading your sexy adventures. They have no idea.”
I have been reading Truman Capote lately, and came across a quote from Marilyn Monroe in his essay Elizabeth Taylor. I related to it, being a sexual woman who falls in love easily. Men make very easy connections between the two, but I find love and sexuality far more complicated.
“I don’t believe in casual sex. Right or wrong, if I go for a guy, I feel I ought to marry him. I don’t know why. Stupid, maybe. But that’s just the way I feel. Or if not that, then I should have meaning. Other than something physical. Funny, when you think of the reputation I have. And maybe deserve. Only I don’t think so. Deserve it, I mean. People just don’t understand what can happen to you. Without your real consent at all. Inside consent.” –Marilyn Monroe
Trent’s approach to sex I can also relate to. There was a time when if I was angry or disappointed, I would fuck. Not because it was a comfort. Not because it was a distraction. Just because I wanted to punish myself. I don’t know that Trent would agree with me, but when he texts me from a cheap motel on one of his drug/wine/casual sex binges, I remember what that felt like: wanting to be used.
We released ourselves into the general population of the campground. There were small parties everywhere. Trent had to piss every few minutes because his bladder is the size of a coin purse. We were in the company of Houston and Benny, the two young fellows who were separated from their group but searching for them in a dizzying maze of tents, parked cars and music blasting from cell phones. Houston carried around wine in a bag, some kind of current young people fad. “Smack the bag!” We each crouched below him so he could fill our necks and mouth full of cheap wine until we couldn’t breathe anymore and were then supposed to smack the bag. Not especially enjoyable but necessary to keep a walking buzz when far away from Black Betty and her trunk of warm beer.
Trent would approach strangers, he was friendly at first. Pointing to their shirt, he would ask, “What’s this?” Or “Merry Christmas!” “Happy New Year!” Just strange nonsense to start a conversation or exchange. We were in the company of young people who had trouble enough conducting a basic conversation, I don’t know what he expected. There were a few hostile boys who thought he was making fun of them, but most walked by us in a zombie daze, oblivious to any strange faces or inviting words.
One young woman with a hefty build and square face walked by: “Happy Halloween … “ he said just before she threw him a nasty glance. “Oh. Too close to home?” he said. I laughed so hard I stopped walking and slowly collapsed on the ground.
Houston was trying to lead us to a party hosted by his people. He was on the cell phone, strutting proudly and announcing he had two cool people he wanted to bring to the alleged party. It was hard to find and Trent was turning.
Having been in love with an alcoholic for a number of years, I feel like I can speak with some authority on the subject. People, including my roommate, will try to label a person like me as an alcoholic because I need a few beers to wind down at the end of a busy day or I will drink flat champagne first thing in the morning. A real alcoholic is one whose personality will flip on you. Their face will change, their voice lower, and you will realize that they are on the attack. I don’t understand how the chemistry works from the inside out. I knew Trent had trouble with alcohol. I knew he could change and get nasty for no other reason than the alcohol engorging his stick thin frame. And having some experience managing an alcoholic of my own, I knew how to put up invisible hand rails in conversation, to keep them from spilling over into unsuspecting friends, acquaintances or strangers. Soften the insult with a compliment. Distract. Promise something great at the end of the line like a sandwich or another drink. Keep them from falling on to someone else.
Trent had already pissed himself, so I knew we were in the danger zone before he got short with the boys. They were nice boys and they didn’t know what kind of monster was waking beneath the coco skin of my unpredictable but charming friend.
Trent was frustrated people wouldn’t talk to him. Trent was frustrated we couldn’t find the party.
I would softly flag him with a “Trent …” or “No, no.”
“I know, I know,” he would say.
“Don’t worry, you are adorable,” I said.
“Shut up!” Trent barked. My back stiffened and my eyes rolled over to Houston and Benny.
“Trent …” I said pleadingly, gently flipping up my hand rails.
“Shut up! Just shut up!” he said, throwing his arm down and storming ahead of us.
“Don’t talk that way … to me,” I said.
“Because I love you and it hurts my feelings.”
We found the party. I cautiously followed Houston under a large car camping tent, like a collapsible carport. Actually it was a few strung together for one covered area. Instead of grass, there were rugs rolled out together, bean bags and chairs pinning them to the ground.
“I get it alright? I GET IT!” he said, walking into a rather dull assembly of young adults, each on their cell phone.
“That’s all I needed to hear,” I said.
We sat in the corner and observed the new group. Houston left to go gather more people, but I could tell already this was too uncomfortable for us. “You can move closer to us,” a girl suggested while staring at her cell phone.
“That’s ok” I said, keeping my ass and eyes tight to the corners of the tent for an exit.
We sat in silence for a few minutes, waited for the right moment then took off. I think we ran out of there to keep from feeling bad. Then we made our way back to Black Betty and the warm beer. The night was getting colder and we wrapped ourselves in blankets and sat outside with D and Benny, chatting. The conversation was pleasant enough, but Trent was complaining. Usually he tries to make his company feel ignorant, uneducated or dull when he is drunk and restless. There are times I don’t mind, but it just so happened, this particular time, we were with two men who were anything but. Above all, they were kind.
They ignored him, for the most part, or laughed off the insult. This bruised Trent a bit, but he turned on me. He accused me of losing some of the mushrooms, of not being very intelligent, for ruining the party. I stared at him in the night, and we locked eyes. The shrooms made his face ripple into a woman’s. This happens on psychedelics, I see Trent transform into an exotic woman, somewhere between a gypsy over a small circus campfire to an African woman off the pages of an old magazine. Eyes large like stones and a wide jaw wrapped around ivory teeth. I watch his face and wonder what it means.
Then his face broke into a large smile: the real Trent surfacing for a moment. It was like a cinder block was kicked off my shoulder. It was only a moment though. I was falling asleep on Benny’s delicious shoulder wondering if the boy on the bicycle texted me. My phone since died. When I revived it the next day I found several messages asking where we were with various misspellings that made him easy to dismiss.
Benny was a bit of a temptation, himself. I knew Trent was attracted to him. Of course. He was attractive, tall, young, white and straight. He fit the gay fantasy flip profile. The difference between Benny and all the other boys that easily fit Trent’s fantasy was that Benny was exceptional. He was intelligent and gracefully carried conversation, contributing just enough to make him a curiosity while asking just the right amount of questions to keep you engaged. His eyes shaped like almonds but with the color of wonder. I leaned against him underneath the sleeping bag we shared and felt his strength, my eyes lazily closed to the calm of his voice, the vibration from his neck and chest to his shoulders. I thought how sweet summer camp romances were when I was too young to let them go, even when autumn arrived and school started.
“Well, I am going to hit the sack,” D said.
“What?!” Trent squealed.
“Yeah, it’s getting pretty late,” Benny said, twisting the wilting petals of his mouth away from my hair.
“God! I am stuck with you people when there are parties out there. Unbelievable! Fine. Go! I don’t care. You don’t say anything interesting anyway.”
D kind of chuckled as he repositioned his feet in his sandals, ready to make the 10 foot climb to his tent.
I grabbed a beer. “Fuck it! I’ll stay up. I will fucking stay up all night. Let’s go fucking crazy!” I cheered, as I opened up a can of beer and downed a third of it in one sloppy swallow.
“That’s right! See, that’s why I love her! That’s why I love you,” Trent said, assuaged if just for another few minutes.
D got up with polite apologies and disappeared behind a car or two before he was safe in a sleeping bag. Benny excused himself as well, slipping into the back seat of his truck. It wasn’t long before I convinced Trent to fall asleep too. Knowing it would be a huge imposition on Benny, I escorted Trent into the back cab with him and tucked him in under a blanket. I sat up next to both their still bodies, wide awake with a fizzling beer, as they both slipped off into the first splash of morning light. I wouldn’t sleep but at least there was peace.