Freddy and I rode the Honda 750 from Oregon to Texas to meet Frances May and Daddy Bob, his parents. In less than fifteen minutes, Frances May had me dressed in polka-dotted polyester. There is a shot of me wearing a black-and-white flowered dress with red dots. I am standing between Freddy and his father, and you can hardly tell I’m nine years older than Freddy.
I dated other men closer to my age, but I wanted Freddy, 19 and slim as a post, with an elegant long face and almost black hair. I wanted his Texas courtesies, extravagant sexuality, and grace.
Or I could say Freddy had straggly black hair, a long lean face with a big nose, a tall skinny body, and erratic gestures, all the characteristics of a chronic dope smoker.
It’s about being in love or out of love, what I see.
The day Freddy and I were to leave Galveston, Frances May and Daddy Bob told us they had a surprise. They emerged with their own Honda tour bike. We’ll ride with you to the Hill Country, they said. They led us up into the mountains to a chapel made of stone. Daddy Bob joined our hands and proclaimed us engaged.
I met Freddy in an artist’s colony near an Indian reservation. I lived in a shack owned by Megan Stein, the well-known sculptor and fabric artist. She made pieces studded with Mahjong tiles. She asked me if I could help out with a friend of hers. He had problems with alcohol, women, and drugs. I already knew about the women, because every pretty girl in town seemed to have slept with him. When we’d go dancing at the local bar, Freddy would lock eyes with one of these impossibly beautiful and very young women, then make a little gesture around his cock, flowing his fingers toward her as if the air was filled with his sperm, and all of us were swimming in it.
Just to give you an idea of the sexual norms on the artist’s colony, I’ll talk about the performance artist, Joe, and the famous writer, Donald Ames. Joe kept his sex schedule with various women written in a spiral notebook. For a while, I was one of them, and I was proud that I got two nights whereas the other women only got one. My job was to cook dinner for him at my house and carry it over to his house, but I was not supposed to talk. Then we climbed up into his loft and had sex. Sometimes he made me walk home afterwards, and sometimes I stayed the night.
When I had sex with another man, and Joe found out about it, he said now I’d like to break every bone in your body, ending with your chin.
He knew my chin was the part of my body I felt most vulnerable about.
My friend Deena, Donald Ames’ wife, lived in a separate house from her husband. Ames arrived for dinner, which she served. She too was not allowed to talk. Once when Deena and I were at his house in his hot tub, he called her inside to have sex with him. When she emerged, she said, Now he wants you.
No thank you, I said.
You’re refusing sex with the famous Donald Ames?
My psychiatrist, later, said I slept with Joe because I was trying to tame the rapist. I had been assaulted in college, and I’d sometimes have flashbacks to the tattoo of a panther on the man’s arm. Joe had an identical tattoo.
After he told me he wanted to break every bone in my body, Joe said I had to be with him and only with him. I walked out of his house and down the street to Freddy’s. We spent the night on a houseboat moored near the shore, and my golden retriever, Zoe, swam in circles all night.
So we took a fucking motorcycle ride across America. Tina didn’t want me to smoke dope or screw around. I got laid the first time at 14. Before that, I used to sleep in the bed with my aunt, and I wanted to fuck her. Maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t. Lust. That’s what my father would call it. So we rode the Honda across the desert, and we faded like flowers in the heat. And as soon as we got there, Daddy took Tina into one room, and Mom took me into another. Why are you with her? She’s pretty, but. I don’t know what the but was. Still, they let us sleep together. Tina would smoke cigarettes out the window of the bathroom. She took long walks. I tried to tell her nobody takes walks in Texas. You go from the house into the garage and into the car, so you’re never away from air conditioning. She could not understand why black people lived on one side of town, across the railroad tracks, and whites in another. She had never seen that. It wasn’t like that in Oregon. And she was naïve enough to bring it up at dinner.
After I got together with Tina, I did stop drinking and smoking weed for a while. In Texas, when we couldn’t stand being around my parents any more, we went to a porno flick in their car, and then fucked in the car parked down a deserted road. We went to Texas A&M where I’d been kicked out after a year. I wanted Tina to meet my old friends. I wanted my old friends to see I could be with a college professor. My friends ignored Tina. They called me a wuss because I wouldn’t drink.
I was glad to bring home pharmaceuticals for Tina. She liked drugs that calmed her down, but she could tell herself it wasn’t like a street drug because it came through a pharmacy. Tina liked to lie to herself that way, and I was fine with that. I liked Tina better when she calmed down too. I’d do gigs with my band, and this pharmacist chick always asked what I wanted, at least until she got caught and lost her license. Right after we married, Tina started drinking again, and for a while, about a week or two, she seemed as calm as when I brought home the pills. But she got nasty when she was drinking, and she ran off to rehab. Then I had the house, and I got to screw whoever I wanted. I grew weed inside the house and in the meadow.
God forgive me, I had nothing against her. She was a pretty girl, an artist and professor. Daddy Bob and I wanted our youngest boy to have a family like God’s children are supposed to. But first, we wanted him to have an education. He was meant to be an Aggie, like everyone else. His father. His brothers.
Lord knows we couldn’t control him. Just give him to God, Daddy Bob told me, but I didn’t want Tina to have him in the meantime. She managed to get him into college in Oregon despite his records, and she bought them a house. Girls were always after him, and he had that problem with my sister when he was too young. Then he got kicked out of A&M. I can’t say it. Breaking rules. Breaking my heart. Give him back to God, Daddy Bob says. Forgive. Be grateful. God knows what He is doing.
Just eight months after the wedding, that girl goes off and checks herself into a rehab hospital, so that’s what I did. Gave it to God.
The taste of dust across the desert as I rode with my arms clutched around him. The time he wanted to have sex while I drove. Is that what it’s like being old, he asked when I refused. The taste of cigarettes, only a few a day, a torture of deprivation from my real habit of a pack a day. The taste of Freddy and his marijuana sweat. The taste of Frances May’s meals, fried in fat. The food at Freddy’s and my wedding, none of which I ate. The plastic smell of the wedding dress. The chalk taste of the pills my sister gave me just before the ceremony. Everyone needs one a day, like vitamins, she said. Today, take two.
And so I remembered nothing of the wedding, as if it never happened.
The smell of the orange slice Freddy pushed inside me as I lay on his bed after I walked out of Joe’s. The taste of my tears at the rehab hospital after Freddy told me he didn’t want to be with me anymore. I need to be here too, he said, but I’m not done partying. We made love in my narrow hospital cot while one of my fellow inmates, a monk from New York, guarded the door, but we got busted anyway. He’s my husband, I told the aide. You mean I can’t have sex with my husband? I was so upset I lit a cigarette, forbidden on the ward, and the fire alarm went off.
I ran into the forest, threw myself on the ground like a feral animal and howled. I rolled around in the dirt.
When my 28 days ended, the staff said I was addicted to men. I’m married, I said. You’re married to your dealer, they said. He carried cocaine across the border on your honeymoon. If he had been caught your wedding gift would have been jail.
I figured I probably wasn’t attractive enough, that pathetic way some women do. I did. Maybe men do it too. After you’ve been rejected? I don’t think men do it as much, though. They don’t mix up how they look with who they are. I starved myself into submission and lost thirty pounds in twenty-eight days. Then the staff said I was an alcoholic, addicted to my dealer, and had an eating disorder. A bunch of liars, that’s what they were in my opinion.
What do you do when you make a terrible mistake, and you want to go back and make the same mistake again? You’re not cut out for marriage, the cynical voices said. Freddy and I had our rituals, curling into spoons every night. Who do you love? You. How much? All the way to the moon.
The surge and lust of the first few days, the first weeks and months, I mistook for the stuff that lasts fifty years. Like my parents. Not those you see in restaurants, seated across the table from each other, their fury barely contained as they refuse to look at each other or speak. The food arrives, and they shove forks into their mouths, chew. There may be a grunt or two. That’s it. They carry their kingdom of death, their sphere of sadness, their capsule of rage back into the street.
Marrying Freddy was a good way to start drinking again, an excuse. But after I left Freddy for rehab and then he left me, men’s bodies became the drink, their own surge of excitement and dread.
You could spend years coiled up in a marriage and its failure.
My mother once told me my father was horrible in bed. He would tap her arm, she said, and she was supposed to turn over and have sex.
And no, since you asked, I didn’t report the rape in college to the police. It never even occurred to me. Even if I had reported it, he probably would have gone free. I was a model, naked, for the art class. He was the professor. When I got back to my apartment, I told my roommate Joy what happened. That wasn’t rape, she said. If it was, you somehow wanted it. Then she asked me to move out.
When people asked me why I married Freddy, I laughed. I said because he had perfect pitch. My psychiatrist wasn’t impressed. His face went harsh, and he shook his head as if something was tangled in his short grey hair. Then his features re-composed. He stared off into the distance, to the view of the mountains. It was the day after September 11, the Towers, and the skies were empty. I hadn’t realized how many planes streaked the sky until they were grounded, and the sky was just sky. Marrying a younger man, he said at last. He sighed deeply. Another attempt to tame the rapist.
Driving home in the dusk on September 12, I passed clusters of children. Some of my friends in New York said people didn’t care, but in Oregon that day, children burned candles along the rural roads. I was driving my pick-up truck, and I felt like a tough teenage boy. Instead of pulling out in front of me, other cars got out of my way. I drove carefully as I passed the children with their candles, huddled beneath the silent sky.