Mom had left in August, but we treated her leaving like the threshold to winter. We ate out the flesh out of a small watermelon and carved the rind into a Jack o’ Lantern. We cut a candle down to a little stub and its shallow flame and caused the snagged teeth we had carved to gnaw on the gray laminate kitchen table and dark walls–enough light to show the green and white linings of the incisions in the melon–so like exsanguinated fat and flesh– under the thick green skin. Years later after watching the film “Castaway” on cable television, I cried like a baby for the rest of the night. You’ve seen it? The feeling of being left behind – Tom Hank’s character’s soccer-ball god “Wilson” – sent waves though me all the way back to my ragged, shipwreck of a childhood. But there were no tears back then. It was all serious business of survival, that and the serious childhood business of play.
Fire, light, power, control, and, oh yes, the missing link of sex. You were wondering if I’d ever get there? I remember when we got a visit from a social worker after I was found with drawings of a teacher I had passed to another boy in third grade. I had drawn her sexual accoutrements in exaggerated form, a crude anatomical drawing with a long arrow-headed lines pointing to titles. She had intercepted it and was shocked to recognize her own face without a nuance of parody, despite the rest of the body being a caricature of female sexuality. In retrospect, I think that I was in love with her—the only woman I came into contact with regularly in those days. The social worker had explained that she’d dropped in unannounced because there seemed to be no active telephone—there wasn’t—she showed the photo to Cyclops who eyed if for a long moment and said, “I know what to do about this.” The social worker, in my memory, was dressed more like Florence Nightingale than is conceivably possible in those recently post-hippy days. She went on to tell Cyclops about normal development and how she didn’t agree with the principal and Mrs. R., my teacher, that this represented some deep-seated problem. We had all been commanded to come to the kitchen where we listened to every word like the rumblings from the Delphic Oracle. Dad got rid of her quickly and ordered us to bed with no talk of dinner, but at least we’d had peanut butter sandwiches before he had gotten home—something we often did as a kind of insurance against the possibility of night long hunger. Dad was dead tired from a few days of over-the-road driving and my violation was a burden adding to his fatigue and anger. I could hear him walking around the house pulling things out and throwing them against the walls, and I was grateful for being sent to bed.
Around midnight, I found myself being dragged out of bed by my feet. Dad was calling me names like pervert and jack-off and said that I needed to learn a lesson. I stood in the cold living room in my jockey shorts and socks on the dirty worn carpet being questioned about why I had drawn the picture, who had put the idea into my head—had I been touching the girls, other boys, myself—were my sister and brother safe from my lusts and perverted influence? Had my mother ever touched me or shown me things? Had I seen her fucking her lover? Then it was to his bedroom. He tied my feet and hands to the footboard of his huge bed. I realize now that I always thought of that bed as his, not theirs. He grabbed a tee-shirt out of the chest of drawers and tore it lengthwise and I marveled at the strength it took to do this without a moment of strain. He blindfolded me with the white soft cloth, which oddly enough felt soothing in some way. Then a dry moldy smelling rag, a dirty sock, was stuffed in my mouth. While I struggled not to breathe, I felt my legs and chest tingle. I choked on the smell of singed hair. It was like having an out-of-body experience. I can still see it. I was looking down on my blindfolded face, and saw a wastebasket in front of my feet overflowing with black smoke pushed out by flames. I was being roasted like a suckling pig. My jockey shorts were black with soot and my legs and chest quivered with fear and pain. The next morning after he left, back in my body and somehow free to move my arms and legs, I took inventory. The flames had not gotten very high. The fire had damaged only the skin on my shins. The hair of my shinny, shin, shins. My pubic hair, where the paper fire in the wastebasket barely reached, was singed gray white. He must have used the lighter there.
As you can imagine, all of this is what I didn’t tell Myra on our date. I had asked her without much of any preface if she might like to go out after work for a drink or appetizers. She agreed without hesitation saying she was free that night and that there was a tapas place nearby she had been wanting to check out. I was freaked out because I had assumed she’d give excuses and I’d have to wear her down with requests. I didn’t have the comb with me, but realized that bringing it out would have been premature. We walked the few blocks to the place joking about our coworkers, and she joked that they would be surprised that they had gone out together, since everyone thought that I was a loner, too serious and intellectual for the rest of the small group. This was another surprise for me – that any of them had much to say about me at all. The place was small but not very busy. I steered the receptionist away from the front of the restaurant toward more intimate seating. Without hesitation Myra ordered a red wine I had never heard of and I said I’d try the same. I admitted to knowing nothing about tapas and she ordered for us both. There was just a moment of awkward silence before Myra started asking me about my family and telling me all about hers. She also told me about all the guys she had seriously dated in her whole life and that she was definitely on the rebound and not interested in a serious relationship, but just wanting to hang out for a while before deciding which university to move onto after her second year in community college. I made up a family life to tell her about that was pretty much based on “Leave it to Beaver.” I even invented a brother that had sheltered me through high school, and mentioned that this was great because I got lots of hassles because of my skin condition. She took all of this in as if it were the most natural and truest thing in the world. Maybe it was for her. She explained that her family was really pretty traditional second-generation Japanese. Everything was low-key and played by the book at home, and she was expected to hit it off with a Japanese guy, but never did. At the end it was awkward, since I didn’t dare kiss her.
On our second date to the same place, she expressed curiosity about my apartment. I pretended to not notice, but spent the next week trying to bring the place up to the level of order and comfort that would allow me to invite her over. Finally, we had a real date, on a Friday, going to a really nice restaurant, going to one other place for a drink, and I asked her over to see my apartment.
You probably think that I’d tell you that I cut Myra up in pieces and have some of them here in my backpack. That look on your face tells me I am pretty close to home there. No, Myra’s safe and sound. After she freaked out at my place and told my boss about my collection and the next day threw that wonderful tool you are using on my desk and said she never wanted to see me again. Yes, I was in a rage, and thought of all the things I could do to her. I did go to her place a few times to stand under that weeping willow, but the spell had been broken, she was no longer a princess, neither Cinderella nor Rapunzel, all I could see was that anger and rejection in her face.
I do this about twice a month if I can, especially if I find someone as attractive as you. No, they don’t have to be Asian or thin, or tall, none of that. Just kind of innocent and naughty, and great hair. That’s important. But my job taught me that it doesn’t have to be their own. It wouldn’t be fair if I were prejudiced against people that need some augmentation. I helped one girl find just the right one. The scene in the wig shop was embarrassing. I kept thinking that the sales girl and the woman who was either the owner or the manager thought I was her boyfriend or husband and that made me blush like I was telling a bald-faced lie. They must have seen it all, since she couldn’t have been the only working girl who bought stuff there. I know you’re running out of time. I don’t plan on touching you, not that way. Don’t be afraid; just keep combing it out.