Tuesday, November 27, 2007

At 10


I’m dreaming of girls. Young and old. Freckled and sunburnt. Fat and thin. Images of bare body parts flash through my brain like a quickly-shuffled deck of naughty playing cards. I’ve only recently seen my first pair of non-National Geographic breasts, on late-night pay cable. Mom ordered cable last month, and a whole new late-night world has opened up for me. After midnight, hand down my pants, under a blanket on the living room floor, I've watched 1001 Erotic Nights, Laura’s Toys, and more Emanuelle movies than I can count, my small television screen filled with copious amounts of female flesh. I’m ten years old, and I think I now officially like girls, though I certainly won’t admit it to my brothers or my sister, because they will tease me unmercifully. When my mother is not working, she’s sleeping, so I can watch whatever the hell I want, as long as I can stay up later than the rest of my family. And I can. I will stay up for days, weeks, forever, if I know that eventually I will get to see some skin.

I’ve also started masturbating. I like it. A lot. I’ve heard from older kids at school that stuff is supposed to come out when a guy finishes jerking off. Nothing comes out of me. Still, I get a tingle, a funny feeling, a warmth. If I were the last man on earth, I’d play with myself all day long. Jerking off is the best thing ever. Jerking off is better than Star Wars, and I’m not even kidding.

Lately, I can’t sleep without the sex dreams, and tonight is no exception.

In my slumber, I’m imagining what those girls from the dirty movies would feel like if pressed against me. Smell like. Taste like. In some of the movies I’ve seen, the girls appear to enjoy rubbing against each other, or touching each other’s boobs, and based on the weird sensation I get down below when two girls kiss, I seem to enjoy it as well. I guess that’s as good a way as any for me to find out that I’m not homophobic.

The dream takes a sudden turn. It’s no longer just images of random body parts. I’m now involved. Taking part in something I know nothing about. I’m on my back and the girl is on top. She’s in charge. I’m an innocent victim. A blushing pre-pubescent boy serving as a toy to many fully-formed, shape-shifting ladies. I can do nothing but take it. Sex in my dreams is a lot like wrestling. I’m pinned to the ground by the girl of my dreams, and that girl is a shape-shifter, is in constant flux. She’s the Bionic Woman and I’m her Bionic Boy. She’s tomboyish Kristy McNichol from "Family." She’s Shelley Duvall from The Shining—so pale, so sad, so beautiful, so on top of me right now. She’s Marcia Brady with a bruised, swollen nose, trying to kiss me but her huge honker is in the way. She’s sweet, innocent Linda Blair, then she’s possessed, nasty Linda Blair, and for a second the sweet dream becomes a nightmare. She’s busty Pam Grier, as Foxy Brown, naked atop me and holding a big-ass gun between her boobs. She’s Wonder Woman tying me up with her golden lasso. She’s that underdressed woman I saw at the supermarket whose unwieldy boobs kept falling out of her top and into the stack of bananas. She’s Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, the lovely, vacant, glowing, snapping-pussy-having blonde who sang and fucked her heart out as the lead in the musical porno version of Cinderella. I love all the girls. And they are on top of me. All of them. At once. They can’t get enough of me. They sit on me and wiggle, because I don’t know what sex entails, but wiggling is definitely somehow a part of it. I know my penis is involved, but I’m not exactly sure what to do with it. I used to think that my penis was supposed to go inside a girl’s bellybutton, and until recently it probably would have fit. All I know about sex is that the boy and girl are supposed to get naked and move around a lot. And make weird noises. And silly faces.

I’m ten years old and on my way to Pervert Town. I’ve already watched the sexy, nudie, funny version of Cinderella five times, and I can’t get the jaunty, nasty songs out of my head (Do it, do it, do it to me!). I could dream about sex forever and not care. Like a superhero given his greatest desire by a villain, placed into an eternal slumber with no need to ever awaken. Lex Luthor running wild while Superman dreams of a Krypton that never exploded. My dreams offer naked, smiling beauties. The real world offers cockroaches, head lice, hand-me-downs, and government cheese. I don’t want to wake up. But someone is whispering my name. I want the dream to continue.


"Hey, Ervin, wake up!"

"Nnnn. No. Don’t wanna."

I open my eyes and see Dave staring down at me. He’s smiling. It’s not an evil Joker smile. It’s an easy, trustworthy smile. And what’s not to trust? He’s my brother. My blood. One of us. Dave is cool, and when I get older I want to be just like him.

"What’s going on?" I ask. "What happened?"

He sits down next to me on the bed, careful not to crush little William, who’s sleeping soundly next to me.

"I need you to come outside and see what I got. It’s like Christmas."

I sit up. "Like Christmas, with presents you mean?"

"Oh yeah. But it’s a secret. Our secret. And it’s better than Christmas ‘cause it’s right now. Who needs Santa Claus when you got me?"

I’m happy Dave thinks he can share his secrets with me. I’ll never tell. I like having a brother like Dave who always has secrets. Always tells you stuff you’re not supposed to tell anyone about. He’s mysterious and fun, and he’s my brother. I think When I’m older, I want to be just like Dave, cool like Dave, awesome like Dave.

I climb out of bed and follow my older brother. I don’t know him very well. He’s my brother and I should trust him. That much I do know. He’s been gone most of my life. Dave is almost a stranger to me. I’ve heard a lot of stories about him. Fights he’s gotten into. Teachers he’s cursed out. Furniture he’s tossed. Jokes he’s told. But only now am I getting to know him. He spent time in juvenile detention, and then went to live with a foster family. My mother believed they could give Dave a better life. A husband and wife who couldn’t have kids of their own. Who had lots of love to give. They promised Mom that Dave would have everything he’d always wished for. Promised Mom her second child would be happy. They made many promises. Mom agreed and reluctantly let Dave go, and he went to live in a big house in a nice neighborhood. It was like he’d won the lottery. But Dave’s new family quickly tired of him and sent him back home as if he were defective. They could have no children of their own but decided nothing was a better option than Dave. So he was returned to us like a defective watch. The only statement Dave ever made about his foster family was, "They were boring." All I know about Dave is that he smokes cigarettes and likes to make people smell his fingers after he’s had sex with a girl, although I’m not sure why. His fingers smell awful when he forces them in front of my nose. It’s funny, though. We both laugh. He tells me that I’ll understand when I’m older. After I’ve gotten myself some pussy. After I’ve popped my cherry, whatever that means.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time hiding in the closet. Hiding while Ron and Dave beat the hell out of each other. Chased each other with baseball bats. Smashed electronic equipment. Punched each other in the face until they were both a mess of blood and bruises. My two older brothers, just a year apart, were constantly fighting. I hid and covered my ears. Blocked out the screaming. The cries of my mother. It was safe in there. Dark and private. I stayed far away from the shouting. I covered my ears. I hid. But a kid can’t hide forever. I used to think Dave was scary, but he’s not so bad. Dave’s nice to me, and he’s always smiling and giving me things, but sometimes when he talks louder than he should, I want to run and hide in the closet. Sometimes I want to close the door behind me and disappear.

"Get up," he whispers. "C’mon. You won’t regret it."

I trust him. I follow.

"You’re gonna love this," he says. "Hope you’re hungry. You like candy, right? Chocolate bunnies and shit?"

"Yes," I say. "I could eat chocolate forever. Until my belly explodes."

Dave smiles and pats my head. "Good. Then you’re just the man for the job."

"What job?"

He flashes a devious, charming, gigantic smile. "You’ll see." He’s wearing jeans and a damp T-shirt. Sneakers but no socks. His hair is a mess. He smells like fish, because yesterday he took his fishing rod out to a dirty lake and caught a big, hideous catfish, then cooked it in the kitchen and stunk up the house. Now, everything smells like catfish, especially Dave.

Dave leads me out into the backyard shed, and there it is. His bounty. Boxes and boxes and boxes of candy. Mostly chocolate. Chocolate animals. Chocolate bars. Chocolate eggs. Jelly beans. Candy canes. Enough sugar to get me high for weeks. We sit on the floor of the small wooden shed, which before the Great Chocolate Windfall was used mainly by Dave and Ron as a place to bring loose women so they could smoke the pot and drink the beer and have the sex. Dave has exited this shed with smelly fingers on numerous occasions. Once, I heard a girl ask Dave if she could come into the house just after they’d finished makin’ it in the shed, and he shook his head and said, "No, you’re only allowed in the shed. Only girls I really like are allowed in the house. So, sorry." She then ran off crying, but Dave didn’t seem to care. He simply sniffed his fingers, grinned, then came inside and ate a large bowl of Frankenberry cereal.

"Where’d you get all this candy?" I’m amazed. I’ve never seen this much candy outside of a candy store. It’s right there in front of me. I’m practically drooling.

"You know, it’s crazy. I went to the candy store and they were just giving it away? I guess they had, like, too much or something."

I may be ten years old, but I’m not an idiot. I don’t believe him.

"Come on, Dave, really?" I say.

He laughs.

"You ask too many questions. Who are you, Sherlock Holmes? Sometimes it’s better not to ask questions. Questions just get people in trouble."

We sit down together and I watch Dave tear open a box with a brown bunny inside and he quickly starts munching, biting off the milk chocolate ears. He asks me what I’m waiting for. I shrug, then dig in. We tear and eat. Tear and eat. It’s sweet, intoxicating, wonderful, and free.

"We’re not gonna get in trouble for this, are we?"

"No way," he says, with cocky assurance. "There ain’t no laws against eating candy, are there? This is America, right?"

I think about it for a second. "I guess you’re right."

He stares at me, as if we’ve only just met, like he doesn’t know me at all. "Hey, Erv, are you gay?" he asks. "You look a fairy sometimes. It’s okay if you are, just tell me. I’ll hook you up with some slut if you want to test yourself out to make sure you like girls."

"I like girls!" I say, embarrassed.

"Okay, big guy. Relax. Just asking. You want me to find you a nice piece of ass? You don’t mind sloppy seconds, right? Heh." He smacks my back so hard that I fall off of my chair.

"I don’t need any pieces of ass," I say.

I’m sick to my stomach within minutes. Sick in a good way. My stomach tells me that I should run to the bathroom, but my mouth tells me to shove in more sweets until my teeth rot and die from candy poisoning.

We eat enough candy to fill the bellies of a whole classroom full of children, but we hardly make a dent in the stash. I tell Dave I can’t eat any more and he calls me a pussy. He shrugs, licks his fingers, then declares that he is also full. We leave the shed and Dave locks the small door with a padlock.

"Look, Erv, we gotta eat this candy really fast. We can’t have the evidence sitting around in the shed for too long."

"Evidence of what?"

He smacks the back of my head. "Don’t act stupid. Remember, it’s our secret, right?"

"Sure it is," I say.

I’m tired and listless. Eating pounds of candy sure takes a lot out of a kid. I might not even have the energy to jerk off later. The candy gave me an initial jolt of energy, but now it’s wearing off quickly.

"Who’s your favorite brother?" he asks.

"You are," I say, as my stomach begins to make strange noises.

When I wake the next morning, I hear unfamiliar voices. I look through my window and see two tall, indistinguishable, well-dressed men standing out front, talking to Mom. I run downstairs to see what’s going on. I open the door and walk up next to Mom.

"Go back inside, Ervin," she says.

"Wait a second, son," one of the men says.

"How’s the candy?" the other man asks.

"What candy?" I say, playing dumb.

They’re dressed in dark suits, and I’ve seen enough cop shows to know that they’re detectives. The fuzz.

"Look, we know Dave stole the candy. This is the second time he’s robbed the same candy store. He didn’t find any money this time, so he loaded up his van with candy. We know all about it. There’s no reason not to tell the truth. Where’s the candy? I mean, besides the chocolate that’s all over your chin? Did you know the candy was stolen? Were you an accomplice?"

"No!" I blurt out, not wanting to get arrested and sent to the slammer. I wipe my chin. No chocolate. Bastard fooled me.

Mom begins to cry.

I had hoped that this time I’d get to know Dave. That we’d have some good brotherly-bonding time. But that’s not going to happen because he’s going to get arrested. Maybe in a few years we will get to know each other. When Dave is free again. Maybe someday I’ll actually get to know my own brother. Dave is cool and fun, but I’m beginning to think that he’s not all that smart. Who robs the same candy store more than once? Who robs a candy store at all? Who takes candy instead of money? My brother Dave does. My brother who’s going to have to go away for a couple of years. It won’t be all bad. More road trips out to the prison to visit Dave. I like road trips, and hanging out in prison makes me feel like a real badass. None of my friends ever get to go to prison to visit their brother. I guess I’m just lucky that way.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

At 21, Part 5


Elisa smiles. That’s all it takes. Those full, upturned lips. Be strong, Ervin. Don’t give in. It’s after midnight and the store is closed and locked. No more pizzas to make tonight. The store lights are out. The parking lot is brightened only by one dim street light. We’re in our uniforms and we surely stink of grease and sweat, but we hardly notice the smell. Bits of processed meats, vegetables, sauce, and spices are stuck to my clothes, jammed under my nails. We’re alone. It’s cool but not cold, a gentle breeze against my skin. Elisa is smoking, blowing perfect, fragile rings as she stares into my eyes. She winks, sends her silent Siren’s Song my way. It’s the flirtatious Elisa. The horny Elisa. The Elisa who unbuttoned her shirt a few extra buttons just before we sat our asses down on the dirty cement. The Elisa who knows I’ll look at her exposed bra. At the flesh, the cleavage.

We haven’t been with each other in nearly a month. I haven’t eased my moist tongue slowly down her firm stomach. Haven’t wet the fine trail of hairs on her belly. Haven’t slipped that tongue beneath the cotton of her panties. Haven’t made her moan and arch her back as I dampened her dark pubic hair. Haven’t made her gasp and whisper, "Oh, God, don’t tease me like that..."

I’ve been avoiding her. Well, avoiding her as much as a person you work with four or five nights a week can possibly be avoided. I’ve tried not to be alone with her, because I am weak. I haven’t returned her calls. I’ve turned my head when she’s attempted to kiss me. I’ve stood limp as she wrapped her arms around me. I’ve made her angry. I’ve made her cry. But here we are. Just the two of us. And damn it, why won’t she stop smiling at me? I’ve spent a month pretending as if I don’t care for her. Pretending I couldn’t care less. Sending a message. It’s either him or me. I will not be with her until she breaks off her engagement. She’s written me angry notes. Left bitter phone messages. Begged me to speak to her. But I’ve shown no sympathy. No emotion.

Here we are. Alone. And she won’t quit it with that fucking grin.

"So, what, you don’t like me anymore?" she asks.

"No, I like you plenty. I just can’t be with you. It hurts too much. I’m done sharing you. I want you all to myself, and if I can’t have that, I’ll find someone else to love." I make it sound so simple. I’ll just find someone else. Right. There is no one else for me. It’s Elisa I want. Only Elisa.

"I’m sorry I put you through all this, but I can’t lose you."

"I think we should just be friends," I say, in a cold, emotionless tone. With every word, it’s a struggle to keep my voice from cracking.

She wrinkles her nose. "No, I don’t think I like that arrangement."

"You’re engaged to another man."

"I have the perfect solution," she says. Elisa sucks on her cigarette, then blows a cloud of smoke into my face. She giggles. "Pretend I’m not."

I shrug. "Can’t."

"You have no imagination, Ervin."

She rubs my knee. Moves closer. Shoulder to shoulder. She feels good pressed against me. It’s a feeling I’ve missed. Soft, warm, a bit of a tingle. I want this feeling all the time. Every second of every day. Her against me. Her heat charging me like I’m a dead battery needing new life. Fight it. Be a man.

"I miss you, Ervin. I miss spending time with you. Like, just hanging out and watching bad movies together. I miss lying on your floor with a blanket underneath us, your arms around me as we watch television. I sat through Frankenhooker with you. That has to count for something. And the fucking Toxic Avenger! I just want to see you, Ervin."

"We spend eight or nine hours a day together at work. Isn’t that enough?" I want to fool her into believing that I can take her or leave her. I want our lack of physical contact to hurt her. I want her to ache just thinking of me. Not being with her has hit me like withdraw. Shaking. Chills. Sleeplessness. I want her to hurt like I’ve been hurting.

"That doesn’t count. We don’t spend time alone anymore. I miss...being with you." A sudden moistness covers her eyes. "Be with me again. Tonight. I’ll give you anything you want. Anything. Just ask. I won’t turn down any request."

I shake my head. "I won’t share you. We’ve had this discussion already. It’s getting old. I’m tired of it."

She flicks her cigarette. Takes a deep breath. Holds my left hand, lifts it to her mouth, kisses the scar. She goes to light another cigarette and I tell her to light two. We smoke together in silence. We stare at the nighttime sky. Bright and full-up with little stars. The universe looks like a video game, like Space Invaders. Tonight, the moon overwhelms the stars. I see the face on the moon. It’s always looked to me like the moon is screaming. A never-ending scream.

A tear rolls down her cheek. Then, in an exasperated voice, Elisa: "Okay, Fine."

"Okay, what?" I ask.

"You win. I’ll do it. You can stop torturing me now."

I smile. "How am I torturing you?"

I wipe away her tears with my thumb. Then I taste them. Salty, warm, delicious. Like sweetened rain. I want to remember this moment, our stink, our words, her taste, all of it. I like swallowing her tears. Her fluids. Like having her inside me. The liquid form of her. In my belly. In my blood.

She says, her voice cracking, "I want to be with you. I’ll do whatever it takes."

"You’ll break-up with your fiancĂ©? You’ll make me your new boyfriend? We’ll be together, just the two of us? No leaving me every weekend to fuck some asshole. We’ll be a real couple?"

She nods. Moves her lips close to mine. "I haven’t even been with him in weeks. I've had some bleeding issues lately, and my doctor took me off the Pill. So I just haven't had sex this month. And I won’t. Not with him. I don’t even want to touch Dirk anymore. I want you."

More tears. This time, I don’t use my thumb. I lick her tears away.

Her hand slides between my legs. I’m instantly hard. I push her hand away.

"What?" she asks. "I said I would do what you want."

"This is for real, right? You’re not just saying all this so we’ll have sex tonight, right? You’re offering me a true commitment?"

Elisa says, "Yes, I am. I want you to be my boyfriend, Ervin. I love you. You’re sweet and kind, and you make me happy. I miss the smile that’s on my face whenever I wake up next to you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. You know that, right?" She kisses me. Her tongue fills my mouth, her saliva hot and sugary. She pulls away, bites her bottom lip. "Can I get a little lovin’ on credit? I promise you I’ll end it with him tomorrow. But tonight we should go back to my place, have some wine, then screw our fucking brains out. I wanna fuck you so hard, you don’t even know."

I stand up, pull her up with me. Adjust my erection so it’s less obvious. I squeeze her as tight as I can without hurting her. "I’m down with that."

In the dimly-lit parking lot, we embrace. We kiss deeply, passionately, almost suck out each other’s tongues. We’re sloppy. Tears and saliva dripping off of us. Some jerk in a car speeding past yells, "Get a room!"

"Let’s go to my house," she says. "No one’s home, and if I don’t get your mouth between my legs soon I’m gonna burst."

Minutes later, we arrive at her dirty house. Her parents are gone for the night. We have the place to ourselves. We drink some wine. We drink some beer. She lights candles. Dances seductively in front of me. Removes her clothes. Gives me a prolonged, slow lap-dance as Sade’s "Sweetest Taboo" hums from the stereo. The song ends and she undresses me. She leads me into the shower. We scrub each other clean. We touch ourselves. I pull her close. Her back against the wall. Lift her leg. Slip it in. Just for a moment. Three quick thrusts. Take it out. Hear her beg.

"Let’s take this to my bed."

"Let’s go," I say.

She chugs some whiskey. She’s drunk and I’m almost drunk. We’re clean and naked and fresh and new, and we can’t keep our hands off each other. She feels right. This feels right.

"Since I’m so very clean, will you lick me anywhere?" she asks coyly.

"Of course," I say. I would lick her clean even if she was filthy. Especially if she was filthy.

"I want you to mark your territory."

She turns off the small lamp. The room goes dark. She lights a candle and a stick of blue lotus incense. Our skin looks orange in the candlelight.

"You ready for this, boyfriend?"

I lick the back of her ear. Bite her neck. Hope to leave a mark.

"For what?"

"You know what. Get to lickin’, motherfucker," she says, with more sweetness than those words deserve. "I want your tongue everywhere. Don’t miss a spot, or I’ll be mad."

She’s on all-fours in front of me. Her fingers waving me on.

I start at her shoulders. Work my way down. I lick. I bite. I suck. I nibble. I rub. I press. I fill. I kiss.

She tells me what to do, where to stick my tongue. She’s freer than I’ve ever seen her. Demanding. Savage. Reckless. And so am I. There’s nothing we won’t do tonight. I’ve got two fingers inside of her, in separate places. She tells me she wants me right now. I give her everything she wants. Anywhere she wants it. In positions that can't possibly work but somehow do. But I can’t hold back. It’s too much. I’m on top of her, unmoving. Another thrust and it’ll all be over.

"Should I take it out?" I ask.

"No. No fucking way."

Then it’s over. It takes several minutes for our panting to subside. We fall asleep. We spoon. We smile.

We don’t care that we were stupid. That we took chances.

I wake in the middle of the night feeling strange. Melancholy? Numb? Not sure. Maybe because I’ve never had a better night in twenty-plus years of living and I know there’s no way I’ll ever be this content again. I know it’s all downhill from here. Like a great high that’s beginning to wear off and you already miss its peak. I’ve wanted Elisa to be mine and only mine for months. She says I now have her all to myself. She says she’s mine. Now what do I do with her? Sometimes the anticipation is all the fun. Now that I’ve gotten what I wanted, is it really what I wanted? I don’t know. Also I wonder, If Elisa was willing to cheat with me, will she hesitate to cheat on me? Maybe I was just in it for the challenge. To see if I could steal her away from her boyfriend. No way. This is true love. Isn’t it?

I flick on the television and watch a "Happy Days" marathon until the sun the comes up, while Elisa snores beside me, a large circle of drool on her pillow.

I sigh.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

At 25, Part 4


I come home from work and see Dave sitting at the kitchen table. My night is already ruined just from having to look at him. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t stand the sight of him. I open the refrigerator, grab a can of soda, and I’m mid-guzzle when I do a double-take. I turn back to Dave. He can’t be doing what I think he’s doing. No way. My eyes are surely playing tricks. Oh, he’s doing it, all right.

Dave, my nightmare of an older brother, is smoking crack. Casually. In the kitchen. As if it’s no big deal. As if he’s just reading the fucking newspaper. He’s sucking in the drug through a small crack pipe. The pipe looks like a clear piece of plastic, burnt at one end, shaped like a cigarette. Knowing Dave, I’m sure it’s a half-assed crack pipe. It’s probably not even what you’re supposed to use to smoke crack. But I wouldn’t know. I haven’t done any hard drugs in about seven years, since that last bit of cocaine went up my nose during those crazy nights with Manny and Vito and the rest of the gang at Pizza Tent. Part of the reason I stopped doing drugs is sitting right in front of me. I didn’t want to turn out like Dave.

He’s coated with a thick layer of perspiration. His armpits are wet, the T-shirt stained, sweat droplets falling from his stubbly chin. His wavy brown hair is dirty; I can see bits of grass and leaves on his Brillo-like mane. He’s been running from someone, maybe hiding. I’m standing in the kitchen, in shock, trying to process all of this. My brother is smoking crack at the kitchen table while my mother is at work. My little brother is nearby, watching cartoons in the living room, feigning obliviousness; maybe he feels like it’s not really happening as long as he doesn’t look.

"What the hell is going on here, Dave?" I ask. I’m already shaking. Tensions have been building. I know the violence is coming. If not today, soon. Someday, there will be blood. Will be pain. When all of this comes to a head, it’s going to be me or him. The house isn’t big enough for the both of us. But I don’t want to bleed today. I also don’t want to live in a crack house. He’s disrespecting my mother. Mom’s done nothing but try to help him, and Dave’s done nothing but shit all over her.

"What I’m doing ain’t of no concern to you, nerd."

His sweat is thick. Looks gooey and kind of green under the light. Like he’s recently been swallowed and spit back out. Like snails have been crawling all over him. Like he’s been slimed.

"You’re doing drugs in Mom’s house. That makes it my business. I live here, too."

"This is my house now," he says arrogantly. "I’m the boss. Fuck you. Fuck Mom. Fuck all y’all."

He takes a hit, smiles, forgets that I’m even in the room. His rigid body loosens. He moans softly. The drug fills him with ecstacy. He’s gone. Somewhere else. Drifting away. Head back. Eyes closed. Visibly Euphoric. I wonder where he’s gone. I wonder where the smoke takes him. His mouth falls open. A thin line of drool leaks out. He wipes away his dripping saliva without opening his eyes.

I walk into the living and tell my little brother to go upstairs. He nods, glances at Dave, sighs with disgust, then runs up the steps. William is a good kid. He’s seven years younger than me. Mom’s baby. No matter how old he gets, William will always be Mom’s baby boy. I wouldn’t want to be anyone’s baby. I’m glad I was the fourth of five. William reads philosophy books and likes to think that he’s smarter than the rest of us. I don’t have the heart to tell him he’s wrong. We’re all the same here, under this roof; we’re all just white trash children; we’re just brothers who grew up poor and had to have our heads scraped with a metal comb to remove the head lice every so often, brothers who’ve killed our fair share of cockroaches, who’ve had to suffer the embarrassment of flashing our Free Lunch Cards in front of our friends. Someday, William may indeed make something of his life; I might do the same; but at this moment we’re all just prisoners in Dave’s makeshift crack house. Our home is a drug den. Our brother is no longer our brother. He’s something else entirely. I don’t know what. But it sure isn’t pretty.

I walk back to the kitchen. The room stinks like barbecued dirty socks. Like burnt hair. Like melted plastic. With every hit off the pipe, Dave’s shirt grows more damp. If he keeps this up, he’s going to drown. His eyes roll up in his head when he inhales the drug. The crack cocaine is his best friend. I am not his friend. I think right now Dave hardly even recognizes me. I’m just a guy trying to kill his buzz. He has three little girls, and his girlfriend is about to give birth to a fourth. His lady is ready to burst. She’s a big girl naturally, but with-child she’s positively enormous. Last time I saw her, she looked like she was about to explode like something out of a Monty Python film. He should be buying his girls clothes and toys, should be giving them a wonderful life; instead, all of his money is spent chasing that high.

Dave rises from the chair, walks to the kitchen, pulls out a small, sharp knife, then sits back down at the table with the knife now resting by the crack pipe. He takes another hit, the last, I’d gather, since the product seems to have run out.

"What are you planning on doing with that knife?" I ask. My heart beats against my chest with rapid fury. My hands are shaking. I want to be a superhero. I want to save the day. I want to throw Dave’s ass out onto the street and show him who’s boss. I want to prove my manhood. It would be a lot easier to do that if I didn’t feel like such a scared little boy. If I didn’t want so badly to run and hide in the closet.

"Say another fucking word to me and I’ll show you what I’m gonna do with the knife."

"So now you’re going to stab me with a knife?"

His hand creeps toward the knife. Caresses the wooden handle. He smiles. Dave is treating the knife like some beloved pet.

There’s a knock at the door. Loud, urgent.

Dave grabs his drug supplies and shoves everything into his pockets. Pipe, baggy, lighter, tin foil, paper clip, all of it. "Shit," he says. "Tell ‘em to go away, Erv." He gets a solid grip on the knife, as if ready to strike, in case he needs to stab a motherfucker, I guess.

I walk to the door and open it. Dave’s girlfriend is standing before me, both hands against her enormous belly. Her eyes are nothing but blank, gray sadness. This is her lot in life. That’s her man with the crack pipe in his pocket. Her three children are flanked behind her, holding tightly to her thick legs. She’s all they have.

I feel very sorry for them, for the little girls, because their father is my brother. And my brother is the worst person I know.

"Is Dave in there?" Pregnant Mommy asks. "We gotta get to the hospital. I’m gonna have the baby now. I know he’s in there."

I look past her and see a waiting taxi.

I am not a man without fear, quite the contrary, but I do what must be done. When I take the knife from Dave, I’m trembling. He wouldn’t stab me, right? He’s my brother. Brothers don’t stab brothers, right? He gives it up easily enough, and I put the knife back in the drawer. I knew I had to take the knife from him, knew he wasn’t going to cut me. Someday, maybe, but not today. Still, I shake. I know I’ll be shaking for hours to come.

"She’s having her baby now, Dave. You’ve got to get her to the hospital."

"Eat shit and die, faggot," Dave says, shoving me aside.

He walks outside, slams the kitchen door shut behind him. Through the door, I can hear screaming. A minute later, Dave walks back inside.

"Can I borrow forty bucks?" he asks. "I need to pay the taxi driver and get her to the hospital."

I give him the money. Then I grab a can of air freshener and go about the task of turning this crack house back into a home.

"Sorry about all that," Dave says, his hand on the doorknob. "You knew I wasn’t going to hurt you, right? I’m your brother. I’m sorry, man. I was an asshole. Come on, brother, say something."

I refuse to look at him.

"You’re not even my real brother," I say. "You’re only my half-brother."

"Oh, so that’s how it is now, huh?"

"Yup, that’s how it is."

A second later, I hear the door slam. I look out the window and watch the taxi pull away. I’m hoping Dave never comes back. I don’t think I want him to die—I just want to make it so he never existed in the first place. Have him zapped out of existence. But that’s rather difficult to achieve, especially since I don’t know any wizards, mad scientists, genies, or megalomaniacal comic book super-villains.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

At 21, Part 4


Something odd is going on. I’ve got that chilling kind of feeling, that sense of quiet panic, like when I’m home alone in the middle of the night and I suddenly feel as if I’m being watched. That’s what I’ve got. That ghost-in-the-room feeling. Like I’m empty inside. Like I’m a hollow shell and someone is banging on me with my stolen bones. No one here wants to look me in the eye. A secret has been revealed and I’m the only one who doesn’t know it. How does that saying go? If you’re not sure who the asshole in the room is, it’s probably you. Well, I’m definitely the asshole.

I’ve been at work for an hour and Elisa has been avoiding me the entire time. Usually, when she returns home from a weekend with her boyfriend, she’s thrilled to see me; usually, she showers me with kisses in the walk-in freezer and tells me how much she missed me; usually, the tips of our tongues meet and a small jolt of electricity is shared. After days apart, she always tells me how much she would have rather spent the weekend with me. How wonderful and understanding I am. How one day soon she’ll dump the boyfriend and we can finally become a couple. But something has changed. I was not showered with kisses by Elisa when I arrived at work today. I wasn’t even trickled with kisses. She’s ashamed. I can see it in those big chestnut eyes of hers. Those eyes that won’t make contact with mine. Those wet, red-streaked eyes. The store is busy so I don’t have a chance to speak to her. All I get are quick glances. I drop a pizza in the oven and notice Elisa looking back, but she quickly averts her eyes as soon as she notices that I’m staring. Whatever is going on, I know it’s not good.

Maybe I should just remain blissfully ignorant forever. Maybe I should grab hold of Elisa’s shoulders and pull her into the bathroom. Maybe I should say, "I don’t care what’s going on. I don’t want to know. I just want to be with you. I really don’t care. Don’t tell me. Please, don’t tell. Nothing will ever be the same once you tell. Whatever it is you’re holding inside will be the death of us. Never speak of it." But I won’t do that. I need to know. Need to know how much of an asshole I truly am. Am I asshole for falling in love with a girl who’s already taken? An asshole for believing her when she says she’s going to dump him? It’s been months, and the situation has not changed. Elisa spends the week with me, the weekends with her boyfriend. She has sex with both of us. Call me crazy, I’d like her to stop having sex with the other guy. But now that something has changed, I’m scared to death.

So I think, What’s the worst news she could possibly tell me? She’s pregnant? Maybe, but unlikely. She’s on the pill, and very strict about taking it, as far as I know. I’m fairly certain that a girl who’s sleeping with two different men is going to do everything she can not to get pregnant. I also remember her mentioning something about an ovarian cyst, about her maybe not being able to ever bear children. What else? She doesn’t want to be with me anymore? Could be, but doubtful. When we left each other last, as she was leaving for her weekend away with the jerky boyfriend, she admitted to being madly in love with me. "I’ve never felt like this about anyone," she said, tears in her eyes. Truth in her eyes. Maybe she acquired an STD and is too embarrassed to tell me. I make a mental note to check my genitals for discolorations, bumps, and strange little creatures as soon as possible. I would take the STD (a curable one, anyway), as long as I didn’t have to lose Elisa; that’s how much I fucking love her.

I’m at the make-table with Manny, my best friend. He’s dark-skinned and handsome, a real charmer. We’ve been best friends for awhile now, since I drifted apart from Vito, my former best friend. Manny has a big smile and a sinister laugh. A smile like The Joker from the Batman comics. Manny has smooth, dark, perfect El Salvadorian skin. He always smells nice, always has a powerful, manly scent, despite working with grease and onions and filth on a daily basis. Manny tells me that I smell like sour milk, but, then again, he says, "All white people smell like sour milk." He says that all the time, just to piss me off, just to watch me sniff myself. We were both nerds in high school, but now we’re exceedingly cool. Or so we like to think. He had an epiphany a few summers back, after watching Sid & Nancy, and returned to school in the fall with a leather jacket, a Sex Pistols button, and a near-permanent sneer.

"What’s going on with Elisa?" I ask, staring at a string of white order slips hanging in front of me. I’m saucing and cheesing the pizzas, then handing them off to Manny, who adds the toppings and seasonings. We have a system. We’re a good team. We make perfect pizzas. Except for the occasional pizza that Manny spits in if he spots someone he doesn’t like sitting in the dining room. But that hardly ever happens. Almost never. Rarely. Somewhat infrequently. Definitely not every day.

"Look, Erv, it’s none of my business, so I’m not saying anything."

"But you know something, right?"

He smiles. Big. All teeth. Perfectly-straight, white teeth. "I always know something, my friend. Who do you think you’re talking to here?"

"I need you to tell me what’s going on. Why is Elisa acting so strange today? You’ve been here all day. What have you heard?"

At Pizza Tent, secrets rise like heat. Everyone is in everyone else’s business. All up in it. My relationship with Elisa is common knowledge, though I’ve spoken about it to no one except Manny. Although we may have been spotted making out in my car after closing, because we make out after closing in my car every night. We are not careful, because the only person who can’t find out about our relationship is her boyfriend, and he lives across the bridge in Philly. He’s not even in the same state, so it’s hardly like Elisa is even cheating on him. We go through the motions at work, pretending that we’re not fucking every night. But everyone knows that we are. We’re fucking every night that she’s not fucking the other guy. My relationship with Elisa is an open secret. Everyone knows, but at least they have the courtesy to whisper when they gossip about it.

Manny shakes his head while sliding a large hand-tossed pepperoni pie onto the oven. We’re the only two people currently in the back of the store, and even though we’re not too far away from the cashiers and managers in the front of the store, the oven’s loud hum grants us our privacy. Waitresses occasionally walk back to drop off dirty dishes, but they’re too busy to pay us much mind.

"You don’t want to hear this," he says. "You’ll cry like a bitch."

I stare into his eyes, squeeze his shoulder. "I do," I say. "I need to know what’s up. Look, Manny, I’m in love with her. I’ve never been in love before, not like this. She makes me crazy. She makes my skin burn. She also makes me really fucking happy. You gotta talk to me, man. I’m losing it."

He glances from side to side, searching for eavesdroppers. "She’s not the one for you."

"I think she is."

"You think wrong."

"Screw you."

He squeezes my shoulder and says, "You’re too nice for Elisa. You’re delicate and fragile. Dainty."

"I am not fucking dainty!" I snap.

He sighs, then leans in close and whispers into my ear. "That guy she’s got in Philly. He asked her to marry him."

I feel a sharp jab in my stomach, like I’ve just been gutted with a jagged knife.

"They’re engaged, Erv. That’s why she can’t look at you. Elisa and her boyfriend are going to get married. He asked her and she said ‘yes.’ That’s the deal."

I turn my head and catch Elisa staring at me. Her face is pink, with sweat dripping from her chin. From my expression, I’m sure she knows what Manny just told me. The orange light from the oven reflects from her wet eyes. She looks away. I check out her hands. No ring.

"You gotta forget about that slut. I’m serious. She’s gonna cause you nothing but heartache. Trust me, I know about this shit. She’s wrong for you. I’ll bet she’s gonna keep right on fucking you, too, if you let it go on, right up until the wedding, maybe even after. But getting your dick wet ain’t worth all the pain that’s gonna come your way in return. If it were me, I’d keep fucking her, but I don’t have that problem you got of being pussy-whipped, you see."

"You’re right," I say. "I’ve got to be a man about this."

He smacks me hard on the back. "That’s my boy."

The order tickets begin to pile up. We’re swamped. The dinner rush is hectic, but we’re good enough to handle it. We’re the best. I don’t want it to slow down. I want the rush to last forever. As long as I’m busy, life stands still. Nothing can change. No one can hurt me while I’m making pizzas.

The orders stop coming. Customers are leaving. The dinner rush is coming to a close. I don’t want to stop working, stop moving, because that’s when real life takes over. I’m staring at my cheese-covered fingers when Manny nudges me. I look up and see Elisa. She motions toward the walk-in freezer, mouths Follow me.

I follow, as if Elisa had bitten my neck once during sex and put her vampire obedience curse on me. She beckons, I follow.

"Let me explain," she says, her breath clouding in front of her.

"Sure," I say, the loud hum of the freezer’s cooling system nearly drowning out my words. We’re alone in a small, cold box, surrounded by meats and cheeses.

"I don’t love him."

"Then why are you going to marry him?"

"It’s complicated."

I take her hand in mine, lift it to eye level. "Where’s the ring?"

"I’m not going to wear it to work. I might ruin it."

She leans in and kisses me. Her lips are frigid.

"I thought you were going to dump him."

"I am," she says.

"You have a funny way of breaking up with a guy."

"You wouldn't understand."

"I guess you won’t be coming over tonight." I try to smile, but I can’t hold it. It breaks down. Collapses. My mouth refuses to cooperate.

"I want to come over," she says, running her fingers across my cheek. "I want to see you. Let me come over. I still want to be with you. Pretend I’m not engaged. Let’s just keep on doing what we’ve been doing. I’m not going to marry him. I promise you. I’m going to give him the ring back. It’s you I love. Can I come over tonight? Can I spend the night? We'll work this out. I know we will. Tell me I can come over and be with you."

No, no, no. Do not let this madness continue I think. I have to stop this relationship once and for all before this girl tramples on my heart even more. I stare into her eyes and say, "Yes, come over."

We’re both shivering when we kiss, and a small piece of skin from my bottom lip breaks off and sticks to her mouth. Every time I see her, this girl takes a small piece of me and never gives any of the pieces back. She swallows them.

Monday, November 19, 2007

At 25, Part 3


MJ honks her car horn. I run out of my house and hop into her ride. It’s a reunion of sorts, and I’ve been nervous all day. I kiss her on the cheek, slightly on the lips. She looks great, smells even better, like cream over peaches. The insecure high school girl I once knew has blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Wow. We’ve recently become friends again after years of not speaking. It’s been all catch-up phone conversations to this point, with a bit of expectant flirting tossed in for fun. We even had one night of dirty talk. The past is forgotten, or at least not mentioned.

MJ’s tall, cute, funny, a former high school cheerleader. Brown hair, big eyes, great calves. Sturdy cheerleader calves. I worked with MJ at Pizza Tent. She was heavier then, hadn’t outgrown her baby fat yet. Now she’s into fitness and martial arts, kick boxing, self-defense, and stuff like that there. MJ can totally kick my ass, which might not be saying much since I’m a bit of a pussy. I did her wrong back then. MJ was just a kid and I toyed with her emotions. I cheated on Elisa with MJ; well, maybe that’s not necessarily true: I broke up with Elisa for a month so I could have sex with MJ without feeling guilty, then I broke up with MJ and got back with Elisa. We all worked together and it was a mess. Very "Days of Our Lives." It’s hard to keep more than one lie going at once. My body just didn’t fit with MJ’s like it did with Elisa's. So, even though Elisa was, well, a coke whore, I went back to her because we fit, and I feared I’d never fit with another girl like I did with her. MJ was sweet and kind, loving and true, but our naughty parts didn’t connect the way I thought they should. The first time I had sex with MJ I remember thinking, "Uh oh, this doesn’t feel right." It felt good, certainly—it is sex we’re talking about here—but our bodies didn’t snap into place like two bodies should when it’s meant to be. Hearts were broken. Elisa smacked my face and left a red mark in the shape of her fingers. I made mistakes. I lost them both. Now I’m older. Smarter?

MJ doesn’t hate me anymore. Maybe she never did. But she sure should have. Within moments of seeing her, I know we’re cool, all’s forgiven. We smile and touch and exchange the kind of witty banter that’s probably not as witty as we think it is. We’re going to the movies to see a Stanley Kubrick film called Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. After the film, we’ll go and have dinner somewhere nice but not too nice, then we’ll come back to my house and mess around. I know this because every phone conversation we’ve had of late has been sexier, naughtier, more intimate than the last. We haven’t had sex with each other in years, but from the first few moments in the car, from our mutual, excited glances, I know she’s as attracted to me as I am to her. I want to touch her new grown-up, well-muscled body. Her breasts are smaller now, because she’s lost weight, but her newly-formed muscles are kind of sexy. I want to make up for the shitty way I treated her. For using her and dumping her. For making her cry. She never had a chance in those days, when she was simply a naive seventeen-year-old cheerleader, because I was blinded by my irrational love for Elisa. Now we’re older, and I wonder if her new body will fit me better than her old one did. My body hasn’t changed. My penis certainly hasn’t gotten any bigger.

The movie is long but good. Sexy, gorgeous, interesting. We hold hands for a few minutes. She pulls away and I wonder if it’s because my hand is sweaty. I wonder if she’s digging me. I wonder if the movie is turning her on. As I watch the movie, I think back to the few times we had sex. Her scent. I remember her scent. It fills my nose. I want the real thing.

"What did you think of the movie?" MJ asks, as soon as we’re back in her car.

"I liked it, I think. If I were making a movie, and I knew that the script was somewhat lacking, I’d make sure I had many, many pairs of boobies. Big boobies, little boobies, lopsided boobies, famous boobies, unknown boobies. So I give Kubrick points for that."

"Nice, Erv, real nice," she says, smiling. "Boobies? You’re some kind of deep thinker, let me tell you. "

"Thanks. I try."

We look into each other’s eyes, sweetly. Our fingers touch, tangle. I want to get her alone. She lives a good distance away, so it’s either my place or no place. I pray that Dave isn’t home. If he’s already left for his nightly mission, he probably won’t be back until morning. I want to get MJ in my bed. I want to lock the door and kiss her all over. I want to touch her and give her all of me, finally, after all these years. Because of Elisa, she never got more than half of me, half of my attention. It was never all about MJ; someone else was always on my mind. But now, I’m in my mid-twenties and free of Elisa’s grasp. I can spend the night with MJ while actually thinking about MJ and no one else. Unless I fall asleep. Or unless my drug-addled, nuisance of an older brother ruins everything. Dave is a well-known ruiner of things.

MJ parks in front of my house and instantly it feels as if I’ve been kicked in the stomach. I’ve got the burning. The ache. A fire inside. The good news is, Dave is not home. The bad news is, he’s stolen my car. The second I see that my car is not parked in front of the house, I know Dave has taken it to Camden. My car will be involved in a drug deal tonight, maybe several.
Soon, I’m sitting in the living room, MJ by my side, my head in my hands. Mom is sitting across from us, crying. MJ offers a sympathetic smile as she squeezes my shoulder. She’s wearing her glasses and looks adorably adult. She never used to wear her glasses as a teenager, but now, as a women, she’s more confident in her appearance, and cares less about what people think. I like a girl in glasses. I almost don’t even recognize the girl sitting next to me. It’s MJ all right, but a slightly different MJ from the one I used to know, as if the old MJ was replaced my a new MJ from an alternate earth, an earth where all the girls wear glasses and smell like cream over peaches.

"Should I call the police?" I wonder aloud.

"Please, Ervin, don’t call the police. I don’t want him arrested. He’s my son."

"Mom, he stole my fucking car! He went into my room and looked through all my stuff until he found my keys. This isn’t right. I’m your son, too. It’s not fair to me."

"I’m sure he’ll bring the car back tonight. Just...give him a chance. Please. He’s your brother. Don’t hurt him like that."

"Me hurt him? That’s a joke, right? Tell me that’s a big fucking joke!"

"Stop yelling. I’m going to have a nervous breakdown, I swear! This is killing me. I can’t take it anymore." Mom is trembling, and I suddenly feel more sorry for her than I do myself.

I shake my head and sigh. "Fine. I’ll give him a bit longer. But if he’s not back soon, I’m pressing charges. How long do I have to sit here and take his abuse? Fuck it." I grab MJ’s hand, wrap my chubby fingers around her slender digits, and say, "Come on." I lead her into the bedroom and lock the door. She does not protest. MJ seems keen on comforting me.

We sit down together on the bed and she rubs my back, tells me everything will be just fine. I turn and stare, tell her that she’s beautiful. She kisses me, climbs on top of me, grinds into me, bites my neck, licks my lips.

She says, "Why don’t you just forget about the car for awhile. Let me help you do that. Do you have any condoms?"

I nod. "I have condoms. Eleven condoms."

"Do you want to sleep with me?"

"Does it feel like I want to sleep with you?"

She reaches down and squeezes. "Oh, yeah."

I reach for the remote control, switch to MTV, turn the volume up all the way.
We giggle as we undress each another. We’re clumsy and sloppy, but it’s all in fun. I have trouble with the condom, fumble a bit, and lose some of my hard-on as I unroll it over my modest erection. I ease myself inside her. Not a perfect fit. My rhythm is off. I’m zigging when I should be zagging, coming when I should be not coming. MJ wants more but I’m all out. I really wanted to give her my best effort, but I haven’t had sex in months and was ready to burst from the get-go. I was so backed up that I worried I might break the rubber with the sheer force and volume of my orgasm. I haven’t even jerked-off in about a week. MJ kindly allowed me a glorious release. A discharge of pent-up frustration in fluid form. Luckily, the condom held up to my major explosion.

As soon as we’re done, I know we’re not meant for each other. I know our bodies don’t connect like they need to, still. I had hoped otherwise. Our puzzle pieces are mismatched, ever so slightly. We’re not going to be a couple; we’re not destined for each other. We’re just two old friends having sex. I needed it for various reasons, and I’m sure she had reasons of her own. This will not be a great love affair, but maybe, if I’m lucky, it’ll be the start of a great friendship. MJ and I will be great buddies, who sometimes "do it." I’m sure I could get her to go for it. A few years ago, she was obsessed with me. Now, who knows? I’m almost certain she fucked me just to cheer to me up, to make me forget that my car had been stolen. A pity-fuck, I’m guessing.

MJ falls asleep soon after we finish with the sex. She’s in my bed, wearing panties and a tight T-shirt, sleeping peacefully. I stare at her tan, long legs and arms, at her slightly-open mouth, her perfectly-outlined breasts. Her thin fingers. I take her in, breathe in her scent—her strawberry shampoo, her sweet cream/peaches perfume, her almost odorless sweat, her fragrant sex. There’s something about having a nearly naked, slightly sweaty, unconscious girl in your bed that makes a guy feel important. MJ is in my bed and she wants to be in my bed. Maybe she just had sex with me out of kindness, or maybe she truly wanted me. Maybe it was just for old time’s sake. Doesn’t matter. She’s here now, softly snoring, and soon my skin will touch hers and we’ll squeeze each other tight. We’ll spoon and I’ll drift off. It’ll be perfect.

Then Dave will come home and ruin everything.

But he doesn’t come home.

I make her breakfast in the morning. Nothing fancy, a bagel with jelly. We sit together on the bed as she eats and we have a pleasant conversation. There’s none of that morning-after awkwardness that sometimes happens when you wake up next to someone you usually don’t wake up next to. We’re cool. She gets dressed and sneaks out without my mother seeing her. My car is still missing, out having a wacky adventure without me. Sadly, I care more about the safety of my car than I do about Dave’s well-being. I want to call the cops. But I won’t. Because Dave is family. Because my mommy doesn’t want me to.

I walk with MJ out to her car and hug her goodbye. It’s a nice, long hug, and more than that, it’s a challenge. The person who lets go first has all the power, because that’s the person who has better things to do. Places to be. Other hugs to dole out. The person who holds on too long immediately becomes "needy."

She lets go first. Back in the day, she never wanted to let go.

"Thank you," I say.

"For what?"

"For keeping me company. You turned a potentially horrible night into a night I’ll always cherish."

"So," she begins, "about what we did."

"Don’t worry. I know."

She kisses my cheek. "We should probably just be friends."


"I’m not saying we won’t ever have sex again. But I think we should give just being friends a shot. We’ve never tried that."

I scratch my chin thoughtfully.

"Is it because I only lasted, like, 60 seconds? Or because my penis is kind of small?"

She laughs, says, "Don’t be silly," and I’m not sure which question she’s answering. She regroups, transforms into a serious young lady. "You broke my heart when I was seventeen. You really did. I loved you and you hurt me bad. We can have fun, we can be friends, but you will never get the chance to break my heart again. Times have changed."

"I’m so sorry. I just didn’t know what I wanted."

"You should’ve picked me."

"Yes, I should have. I fucked up."

She pats my cheek condescendingly. "Oh, yeah, you so did. Elisa was such a whore. She cheated on you all the time, and everyone knew she was doing it. She was out doing coke and fucking random guys all the time while you were dating her. But you kept getting back with her."

I shrug, simply say, "I loved her."

She nods, as if to say I understand.

She leaves me. I wave as she pulls away, then I take a seat on the front step. I look at the empty spot in the driveway where my car should be. When Dave finally comes back, I’ll need to find a better hiding spot for my car keys. If he’s not back by tonight, I’m calling the cops. I swear. Well, maybe not tonight. Definitely tomorrow, for sure. Unless he calls and apologizes. Then maybe I’ll give him a few extra days.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

At 21, Part 3


I’m driving to Elisa’s house and thinking about high school. Us in high school. The person I used to be, she used to be. We went to the same high school in South Jersey, but didn’t know each other. We knew of each other. She was a junior, I was a senior. We probably passed each other in the hallways hundreds of times, not knowing that in the near-future we’d be madly in love. Fucking like bunnies. Carrying on a secret affair behind the backs of our friends and families. I’ve been out of high school for less than four years, and, honestly, I haven’t changed much. The only real change between the seventeen-year-old Ervin and the twenty-one-year-old Ervin is that the older me knows what it’s like to truly be in love; and I also snort a hell of a lot less cocaine.

I was shy in high school, went under the radar, and most of my classmates have probably already forgotten me. I was not the memorable sort; I was the sit-in-the-back-of-the-class-and-try-not-to-get-noticed sort. At least I didn’t get beaten up. Didn’t get hassled much at all. I wasn’t particularly cool, wasn’t particularly uncool. Just was, but not in a cool Zen kind of way. I didn’t get laid for the first time until the summer before senior year, with a girl several years older than myself. I never scored with high school girls, not while I was actually in high school, anyway. Elisa wasn’t popular in high school, either. The main difference between uncool high school girls and uncool high school boys is that uncool high school girls can get laid, even if they are somewhat...less than appealing. Elisa wouldn’t have dated me in high school. She might have had sex with me, since she’s never been too choosy, but she never would’ve been my girlfriend. I was aware of her presence back then because I worked with her older brother at Pizza Tent.

I was involved with someone for the entirety of my senior year. An older woman. Katherine. She also worked at Pizza Tent. Cashier and pizza cutter. We almost got married. Bought her a ring. Asked her to marry me. The engagement was her idea. I went along with it so she wouldn’t stop having sex with me. I liked the sex. Right before graduation, I broke her heart. Because I wanted to try the sex with other girls. Lots of other girls. Black girls. Asian girls. Tall girls. Chubby girls. Goth girls. Tiny girls. Funny girls. Sad girls. Booby girls. The idea of having sex with Katherine, and only Katherine, for the rest of my life, scared the connoisseur in me. I wanted to be able to sample all of the delicacies, not just one.

I’m glad Elisa didn’t know that Ervin, the Ervin who snorted coke because he thought people would like him more if he joined in on the partying, the Ervin who told lies to Katherine so she wouldn't stop taking off her clothes for him. I wasn’t in love with Katherine, and even as I was down on my knee asking her to marry me, I knew that the marriage would never happen. Now, at twenty-one, with Elisa, I’ve found the love of my life; I know this because when the sex ends, I don’t want to get up and leave.

I’m also thinking about the future. I want to make something of my life. Something other than pizza. I want to rise above the low expectations. The white trash upbringing. The lack of money. The history of alcoholism and drug abuse in my family. The whispers of incest from generations back. No one in my family has ever really amounted to much. I want to be the first. I’m just not sure how I’m going to achieve that just yet. What I am sure of, though, is that I really want Elisa to stop fucking that other guy. That would be a good start to my new, exciting, non-white trash life.

It’s just before noon and I arrive in front of Elisa’s house. Usually, she’s waiting for me outside, brightening as soon as she sees me, but today she’s still inside. I walk up to the door and knock. In the backyard sits a stripped car Elisa’s father has been working on for about a decade. The patchy grass looks like is hasn’t been cut in years. The white paint on the front door is dirty and cracked. It’s a cloudy day, and the surrounding gray haze gives Elisa’s already bleak house an added layer of grimness.

I’m wearing my finest pair of brown polyester work pants, tight-fitting, of course, to show off my excellent ass. My dirty blond hair is parted in the middle and feathered to perfection, a little long in the back. My pretty (yet manly) blue eyes are bloodshot today, after staying up until dawn with Elisa. We had sex, cuddled, then watched the sun come up. Most nights we don’t even say much to each other. We don’t have to. Last night, we held each other tight and cried a little, not out of sadness, but because we were both utterly content. I don’t feel tired today. I’m exhilarated. I feel like I’ve crossed the threshold with Elisa. I feel like she’s mine. That I’ve won her over. That we’re beyond the point of just messing around. Beyond just a casual fling. It’s real. My want for her overwhelms me. I am powerless against it. She owns me. I wish she didn’t, but the girl fucking rules my existence. I’ve joined her cult. There’s only one other member. Him. That jerk of a boyfriend she won’t dump.

I knock on the door. Wait. Hear strange footsteps. Elisa’s boyfriend answers. He’s staring at me as if I’m a six-foot-tall fungus. He’s short and compact, handsome in a reform school kind of way. "Who the hell are you?"

"Um, I’m here to see if Elisa needs a ride to work, because, um, we work together. At Pizza Tent. We’re friends. Me and Elisa. I’m kind of her boss, actually. I just got promoted to Assistant Manager. It’s pretty cool. Anyway, sometimes I give Elisa a ride. Sometimes she rides me. We take turns."

I should shut up now, so I do.

"Is that so?" he asks, without the slightest hint of the smirk that this situation clearly calls for.

"Yeah. We work at the same time today, so—"

"Whatever," he says, unimpressed.

Elisa comes up behind her boyfriend, looks at me and mouths I’m sorry. She smiles weakly.

"Hey, Ervin," she says, trying to sound composed. She’s flushed and talking fast. "I don’t need a ride today. I’m okay. Dirk is going to drive me. I mentioned Dirk, right? My boyfriend? Anyway, I’ll see you at work. Bye now."

Dirk. Fucking Dirk.

When she left my house early this morning, my scent was all over her. I’d been inside her, on top of her, under her. All of my fluids mingled with hers. We didn’t use a condom. We were messy. Crazy. Maybe broke a few rules of nature. Put things in places they didn’t belong. I let go when she told me it was time to let go. Filled her up. Several times. We stunk of sloppy sex. My scent is now gone. Elisa smells like Dirk. I feel like I’m going to vomit.

"Okay, Elisa. I’ll see you at work. Long day ahead of us. Nice to meet you, Dirk."

Dirk shrugs and says, "Yeah, nice to meet you, Erwin."

"Ervin. My name is Ervin."

"Same difference. Like it even matters, dude."

Nice guy I think.

I nod and wave, then walk away. I turn back, hoping to see a glint of sadness in Elisa’s eyes as I depart, but the door is already closed. I was not expecting that. I feel like a rejected encyclopedia salesman.


Something has to change, and quick. I can’t go on having sex with her, loving her, if she won’t even break up with that asshole. What is she waiting for? I keep saying it. That I can’t go on like this. I have to mean it. I have to be strong. If I’m not strong, Dirk will always be there to snuff out my scent.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

At 21, Part 2


We’re alone in Elisa’s shitty house. No one who lives here seems too keen on cleanliness. If I’m disgusted by the state of Elisa’s house, after spending my childhood in one cockroach-infested apartment complex after the next, then there is definitely a problem. The room smells strongly of five-day-old trash and dirty feet. Elisa’s dirty feet tickle my own, much cleaner feet, as I stare across the room at the overflowing trash can that hasn’t been emptied in five days. I feel sad for this house. It was probably a perfectly quaint home a few years earlier, before Elisa and her family moved in. My family never had a nice home to mess up; the apartments we lived in were already disgusting by the time we arrived, and the one house we occupied during my childhood was a fixer-upper, but we never got around to the fixing or the upping.

Elisa’s family has gone out for the evening, bowling, I think. They love to bowl. Each family member has their own bowling ball. It’s nice to have some time alone with Elisa, where we can hold hands and kiss and pretend we don’t smell whatever awful thing it is that we’re smelling. When her parents are around, it’s torture, because they think that I am just their daughter’s nice friend from work. They know her actual boyfriend—they don’t like him but they know him. We have to keep up the "friend" act in public, pretend to be just good buddies until Elisa breaks up with her jerky boyfriend, who just happens to be a drug dealer in Philadelphia. Small time, for sure. A punk.

"I don’t understand why you can’t just break up with him," I say, more whiny than intended.

"It’s not that easy," she says. "You wouldn’t understand. You’ve never been in love with two people at the same time."

"Sure I have. Right now, I’m torn. I’m in love with you, obviously, but I’m also in love with Molly Ringwald from The Breakfast Club. If Molly ever calls, we’re through. I left some messages with her assistant and I’m waiting for a call-back." I try not to smile, but I can’t help it. I find myself hilarious. My hilarity is rarely contagious.

"You’re a fucking idiot," she says, with appropriate affection. "I’m trying to be serious here, and you’re acting like a clown."

"Oh, there was also that time a few years back when I was equally in love with Kimberly from ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ and Joanie from ‘Happy Days.’ So, you see, I know exactly what you’re going through." I pause. "Should I even mention how I was once torn between Samantha Fox and Stacey Q?"

"You suck." She punches my shoulder.

"Ouch," I say. "That hurt." Elisa is strong for a girl. Also, I’m weak for a boy.

We’re sitting on the living room floor, our backs against the couch, our legs tangled. The television is on but we’re not really paying attention to it as music videos play. We’re watching the MTV, because kids sure do love the MTV. I catch a glimpse of Jane’s Addiction, a minute of The Beastie Boys, a second of Madonna’s torpedo tits. I’m wearing black sweatpants and a white T-shirt. Elisa is wearing tight cut-off jean shorts and a pink half-shirt barely long enough to cover her breasts. Her bare bellybutton is beginning to cause me some mild internal combustion. I’m getting an erection, and my sweatpants are powerless against it. Elisa smiles smugly when she sees the modest rise in my pants.

"You’re hard, Ervin," she says, mock-scolding me as she fights a smile. "Bad Ervin."

"I’m not hard. You’re seeing things."

"Well, if you’re not hard than you’ve got some sort of small reptile in your pants."

"Okay, I’m hard. It’s your bellybutton. I made the mistake of looking at it."

"Do you want to fuck my bellybutton? That’s new. Well, I guess we could give it try. Might fit."

I shake my head, as if offended. "So you’re saying my dick is so small that it would fit in your bellybutton? Nice, real nice. And don’t think I missed your small reptile comment."

"Ervin, how many times do I have to tell you? Your penis is not small. It’s basically just the right size. It’s fine."

When she says my penis is "fine," I want to gouge out my own eyeballs with a butter knife so I never have to look at my disappointing fucking member ever again.

Elisa playfully fingers her bellybutton, and I’m amazed by how much of her pinkie she fits into that small crevice. She licks her lips, moans in an exaggerated fashion, sticks out her tongue. She has the sexiest, naughtiest, most devious smile I’ve ever seen. I could stare at her mouth for weeks.

"Can we just get off my penis?" I say, my dimples in full force. I realize how silly I sound before I even finish the sentence.

"Ahem! As I was saying, before your cock so rudely interrupted me. I can’t break up with him yet. He needs me. I’m all he’s got."

I place both my hands on my lap, covering my distracting erection. "What about his drugs?"

"I’m all he’s got besides his drugs. He’s unstable. If I dump him, he might hurt himself. He’s very violent."

"I’m not going to keep having sex with you while you’re screwing some other guy. It’s gross. It makes you seem like a slut."

"You calling me a slut?"

"Of course not."

Slut. Princess. Slut. Angel. Slut. Goddess.

"Go fuck yourself, Ervin."

It’s about a hundred degrees in Elisa’s house. There’s a fan blowing hot air on us. Elisa’s face is beaded with sweat. A touch of pink fights to show itself through the olive skin of her face. Dampness suits her. She wipes sweat off her forehead with the bottom of her shirt, briefly exposing her small, dark, firm breasts. Breasts the size of tennis balls. Her nipples are brown and hard. She never takes her eyes off of me as she wipes away the moisture. She looks like a character in a Tennessee Williams stageplay, damp, seductive, a bit crazy, wild in the eyes. Elisa is a clever girl. She always distracts me with sex. Whenever I’m mad at her, whenever I question our relationship, whenever I seem on the verge of ending it, she "accidentally" shows me her tits. Clearly, Elisa is a genius. Some people at work think she’s dumb, but I know better. She’s a girl who always gets what she wants.

"Well," she begins, sighing, "if you’re not going to fuck me any more, I guess we’d better have one last night of wild passion to remember each other by."

"Sounds reasonable," I say. I cannot classify any suggested act involving myself having sex as anything but reasonable. I know this will not be the last time we have sex. In the end, Elisa will choose me. She must. She will. No other outcome is acceptable. I’ll do whatever it takes to win her heart.

"I want you right now," she whispers, her lips tickling my ear.

She stands up and removes her shorts, but leaves on the shirt, pulling it up above her breasts. I pull down my sweatpants. Elisa stands above me, touching herself. She slowly lowers herself onto me, then leans forward and wraps her arms around my neck. My hands grab tight hold of her hips, and I pull her back and forth, creating great friction. I squeeze her ass tightly, gripping it with both hands. Our lips connect. When her tongue enters my mouth, I bite down and hold on, as if I never intend to let go. I make her bleed, just a little. A love bite. Her blood trickles down my throat. When I release her tongue, she’s grateful, as if I’ve just given her a present. She tells me she’s about to come. I hold her still. All movement ceases. She tries to move her hips but I won’t let her. I refuse her what she wants most. She wants only to grind against my stomach for a few more seconds. Elisa wants only sweet relief.

"Please, let me come," she says. "I’m so fucking close. I’m right there. Why are you torturing me?" Her eyes are closed. She’s panting. Sweating all over me. Begging. Her sweat drips into my eyes. Sweet burning. Drips into my eyes and runs down into my mouth. Tastes like salted lemon water. Tastes good. I swallow.

I want to believe that I am some kind of sexual master, that Elisa has never been pleasured so intensely, but I know that’s not the truth. Elisa is just a sex maniac who comes easily and I just happen to be the cock of the moment. Still, I want to believe there’s more between us than just sex. I know we belong together. I know we will someday marry and start a family. I know we will never tire of each other, and we’ll fuck like bunnies until we’re old enough for my pecker to give out. The only matter left to settle is her maddening "boyfriend" problem. The problem being that she doesn’t see it as much of a problem at all. She gets to have sex with one guy on the weekends, and another during the week.

"Break up with him," I say. I’m holding her so tightly that she can’t move even an inch. She’s trying to squirm, to get just one good jolt of orgasm-releasing friction, but I won’t allow it. I’m cruel. Cruel to myself as well. She’s not the only one who’s close. I’m right there with her.

"Fine, whatever. I’ll do it. Just please let me finish. Fuck! Please!"

I smile and give her want she wants. I let go.

She grinds against me so hard it’s painful. I burn. I throb. An invisible fire. Her nails dig into my neck.

It’s done. Now we’re both sweating. Both panting. We’re still. I hold her tight. Never want to let go. Just have to hold on forever. Not let her go.

"So you’ll break up with him tomorrow?" I question, as we share a smoke in the afterglow.

I stare at the television and watch Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam sing "All Cried Out." It’s the saddest song I’ve ever heard. I start to cry. When Lisa Lisa sings Inside I’m slowly dying, but the rain will hide my crying, crying, cry-ahi-ahi-ing, I know exactly how she feels.

"Sure. Tomorrow."

"You promise?"

"Soon. I promise."

"I just can’t stand the thought of sharing you for another minute. I can’t do it. Not like this. Not anymore. Every day you’re still with him, it hurts me a little more. The situation has got to change. Now."

She caresses my burning cheeks. Looks into my eyes. Sweet smile. Maybe sympathetic. Wet eyes. Says, "I know."

Friday, November 16, 2007

At 25, Part 2


I’m dreaming of Elisa when I’m shaken. I’m slow to wake up, because I don’t want the dream to end. In dreams, we’re still together, still happy. I’ve forgiven her, and she’s forgiven me. But it’s not the same Elisa. This is a better version. Her smile is sincere. Her eyes don’t lie. I smell a freshness about her that lets me know she’s no longer a slut. Elisa in my dreams is the Elisa I want her to be. The dream Elisa is perfect: caring, honest, and almost always naked. The real Elisa ended up disappointing me. The dream version of her is perfection. During the normal course of my day I almost never think about her, but I dream about her often. The dream part of me wants her back; the waking part knows better. In my dream, Elisa is on her hands and knees, her ass just inches from my mouth. She turns her head in my direction and slyly says, "What are you waiting for? Aren’t you hungry?" In the dream, I am very hungry. Famished. I eat.

"Ervin, wake up, man!"

I don’t want to lose this fantasy. Dreams of a naked girl. A girl I loved more than any other. A pleasant dream. About to be ruined. I’m fighting consciousness with all I have. Fighting to keep this lovely dream going. This dreamworld where I’m ravishing the girl I love. She’s moaning as I lick, bite and suck. I know it’s not really happening, but it feels and tastes and smells so very real. When I wake up, I will no longer be ravishing her. When I wake up, she’ll be long out of my life. I fight, but it’s a losing battle. Some motherfucker wants me awake.

"Can you hear me?"

Eyes still closed, dream eroding, fighting to keep that moving picture of Elisa in my head. I hear her moan one last time, hear her say, "You’re gonna make me come. Don’t go away. Don’t wake up." Her pretty smile erodes. Dissolves. I’m awake.

"Come on, Erv, you gotta wake up," Dave says. There’s an urgency in his voice. "We got a problem."

"Didn’t I lock my door?" I wonder aloud.

"It’s William. He needs our help."

My eyes spring open and I pop up like an automaton. Dave slowly comes into focus. A thick head of wavy light brown hair. Bloodshot eyes. Tanned skin covered in a layer of moisture. Dave is handsome in a rugged, action star kind of way. I’m known to be handsome in a nerdy, boy-next-door kind of way.

"What’s wrong?"

"He just called. He was hanging out with some friends of his and they ditched him in Camden. We gotta go get him before he gets jacked."

I hop out of bed and throw on sweatpants and a Batman T-shirt.

William is always getting himself into trouble. He’s the youngest, the baby in the family, and even though he’s nearly twenty years old, I still see him as a child who forever needs my help. I was in charge of him for years, because I was the only one of her children Mom thought responsible enough to babysit. My main qualification as Head Babysitter: I hadn’t ever been arrested. Staying out of prison has always been a major accomplishment in my family. I still consider William my responsibility, even though I’ve long since stopped babysitting him.
Camden is no place for him to be. It is not a safe city for white folks to be wandering the streets in the middle of the night. It is not a safe place for anyone. Camden has one of the highest murder rates in the country. The only reason suburban white kids go to Camden in the middle of the night is to score drugs or hookers. I know from experience. The good/bad old days. I haven’t been to Camden in a few years, since I gave up snorting coke. I think most white people are happy that Camden exists. Keep all the drug traffic there. Isolated. Let Camden fall apart. At least it’s not my town. All the upper-class whites can turn a blind eye to Camden, because their neighborhoods, while only a few miles away, are lily-white and clean. Meanwhile, the children of Mr. And Mrs. Lily White are copping an 8-ball every weekend in the ‘hood. I know because I did it. Made runs to Camden. Scored. Brought the coke back to our Pizza Tent smack-dab in suburbia. But I never, not once, looked down at the drug dealers. Never thought I was better than them. I knew better. Knew where I came from. My family. My roots. My past. My potential future.

It’s a forty-five minute journey to Camden, round trip. My brain is still fuzzy. Blurred images of Elisa still dancing about. I’m not sure where I’m even going. I ask Dave for more information.
"Is there some crack house I’m supposed to be looking for?"

"I’ll know it when I see it," Dave says. "Left up here on the corner, then a right."

"I can’t believe William got himself stuck in Camden. What did he say on the phone?"

Dave shrugs. "Not much. Just said to come get him. He sounded scared. I told him I’d come and save him." He then says the "N" Word, or some variation of it, about fifteen times, then laughs as if he’s just told a funny joke.

"Great. Why don’t you roll down the window and shout that racist shit out loud?" I ask. I’m not a big fan of Dave’s racism. I love everyone, unless they do me harm. I dated a black girl named Lovely for about a year, but I never brought her home. I told myself I did it to protect her, to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Really, though, I didn’t bring her home to meet my mother and my siblings because I was a pussy. I should’ve stood up proudly and told the world that Lovely was my girlfriend. But I didn’t. And I regret it. Maybe I just dated her to prove that I wasn’t a racist. Maybe I just wanted to feel better about myself. Or maybe I just thought she was hot and didn’t give a shit what color she happened to be. I thought her dark brown flesh pressed against my bone white flesh was damned sexy. Aesthetically, I love the visual of black skin on white. It’s hot.

Dave takes a deep drag off his Marlboro Light, exhales, flicks his ashes, then smiles. "Sorry. I forgot how sensitive you are. My bad. Still, man, you need to toughen up. The world ain’t pretty. I seen some things that would make your head explode. It’s okay. You’re still young yet, Erv, but someday you’ll see that you can’t trust black people. I’ve been buying drugs off these people for years. They’re always trying to rip me off. Hookers, drug dealers, they’ll fuck you over every time. I know from personal experience."

"I don’t think they’re ripping you off because they’re black. I think they’re ripping you off because they’re drug dealers."

"Whatever. Same thing," he says, with a dismissive wave. "Still can’t trust ‘em." Dave once sold a bag of flour to some morons in the neighborhood and said it was cocaine, quickly and effectively ending his career as a drug dealer. Dave’s always been a very poor scam artist. He’s always makes the fatal mistake of being a complete fucking idiot.

The only person I know I can’t trust is Dave, my own brother, and I’m starting to get a little suspicious of our trip. I’m getting the feeling that I’ve been had. I should’ve known better.

"Up head," he begins, "there’ll be an Elephant Man-looking guy dressed like Run DMC. Short guy, stands kind of crooked. When you see him, we’re almost there."

"Almost where?"

"Where we need to be."

I turn the corner and see the hookers, all shapes and colors, all nearly nude. Most of the hookers are happy and smiling, waving cheerfully, and the ones who aren’t smiling are catatonic, standing frozen like statues of the recently dead. I see the kids selling drugs on the corner. I see the lookouts and the runners. I see a decaying city ravaged by poverty. I see boarded-up, burned, condemned buildings. I see the city where I almost lost my hand when I was five. The city where my father lived with his new girlfriend after he ditched my mom shortly after I was born. (Dad lived around the corner from Mom, and would hide when Mom came knocking. I see where he was coming from. I mean, how dare my mother ask for five or ten dollars so I could eat and have fresh diapers? The nerve of that woman!) I see children who have long since stopped being kids. What I don’t see is my little brother. This is wrong, all wrong, and it I should’ve known better. I should be smarter than this. Should be. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

"He’s not here, is he?" I say, disgusted. "You fucking lied to me, didn’t you?" When I speak to Dave like this, I tremble a little, because I’m no tough guy. I’m scared, but still I speak. I cannot hold back my anger.

"Look, man, I needed a ride. You gotta give me points for creativity, right?" He laughs, as if he’s just pulled a great prank. "Well, now that we’re here, I might as well make the most of it." He points to the corner. "Park right there, next to those dudes who look like the Jackson 5."

A kid who’s probably still in elementary school nods at Dave and Dave nods back. They’ve seen each other before.

"Fucker," I say, softly, spitting the words out. I stop the car and Dave hops out. A chubby Spanish hooker approached the car and shows me her floppy tits, says I can play with them for ten dollars, five dollars per titty. I look away. The hooker calls me a limp-dick faggot. Seconds later, Dave is back in the car.

"Thanks, Erv," he says, checking out the goods, sizing-up his little bit of rock.

"This is it, Dave," I say. "Don’t ever ask me for another thing. If I get pulled over, we’re both going to jail."

"Then drive carefully, motherfucker!"

"Go fuck yourself, Dave," I say. I’m shaking. I hold the steering wheel tightly, bracing myself. My stomach is burning. Lava for blood. I’m dizzy. I can’t believe this is my life. Driving my brother around Camden on a crack run. Fuck me.

"No, fuck you, Erv. Say another word and I punch you in the face and throw you out of the car. I don’t need your shit. I like to get high. Deal with it. I love drugs. I love it! So what? So fucking what?"

"You can get high all you want. Go to the moon. Whatever. Just keep me out of it. This is it. We’re not brothers anymore. We’re nothing."

Dave is technically only my half-brother. We have different fathers. At least Dave knows his dad’s location. Prison.

"Stop crying, baby."

"Don’t ever ask me for a ride again."

"Fine. I’ll just steal your car next time."

There’s no arguing with him. He’s happy. He has his drugs. Mission accomplished.

I drive us home, carefully. In mere minutes, the landscape changes. Burned, boarded-up houses turn into pretty, fenced-in houses. We’re home and Dave hops out of the car. He feels no guilt, no shame. None of that. Dave is proud of himself. Got the better of book-learnin’, school-goin’, jail-stain’-outta Ervin. He disgusts me.

The worst person I know is my very own brother.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

At 21


I open my heavy eyelids and see her staring down at me. She comes slowly into beautiful focus. Elisa. The most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. Or at least the most beautiful girl who’s ever let me put my tongue in her warmest, darkest places. A short, frizzy mess of black hair. Big smile, just the right amount of teeth and gum. An infectious laugh, husky and wonderful, a smoker’s laugh. A body that bulges and dips in all the right places. Tall, olive skinned. An intoxicating scent that ignites me, spicy yet still sweet. She does it for me. I’ve never felt this way about anyone, not even about that girl I almost married when I was seventeen.

When you make love to someone for the first time, you know almost immediately if your bodies fit properly together. We fit. Ervin and Elisa. I slide gently in and find my place. It’s right. Like our bodies are puzzle pieces snapping into place. So fucking right. I’m twenty-one, Elisa is twenty. I’ve only had a few sexual partners (two and a half or three, depending on your definition of "sex") and Elisa’s had many. Before we’d had sex, I worried that my average-sized dick would be too small to satisfy a girl who’s been around. But I needn’t have worried. It’s fate. We’ve only had sex a couple of times, but each time we do it our connection grows stronger. We both realize that we’re perfect for each other. Or maybe she’s realized it at this very moment, while she looks down at me with glossy eyes. She’s staring so intently at my face that I’m suddenly uncomfortable. I don’t like being studied. I’m afraid she’ll find some flaw that she hadn’t previously noticed, something that’ll turn her off to me completely. She stare at my face and think Oh shit, I hadn’t noticed that ugly bump on his nose before. Gross. Guess I can never have sex with him again. Oh, well.

She has a weird, twitchy kind of smirk across her face, and I wonder if maybe she’s drawn a penis on my forehead with a magic marker for laughs. She’s staring, smiling, biting her lip, her dark eyes big and attentive. She’s looking at me as if I’m a puzzle, a mystery that’s she just begun to figure out. I’m on my back on the living room floor. Arms behind my head. A thick blanket beneath me. I’m wearing only my underwear, tight and white, oh yeah, just like the ladies like ‘em; Elisa’s wearing one of my long T-shirts and nothing else. My mother is at work, on the overnight shift at a greasy burger place the size of a backyard shed. William, my younger brother, is upstairs sleeping. David is in jail, which is not uncommon (Dave and his father stole a car together, rather unsuccessfully. Not the best way for a father and son to bond, I suspect). Ron and Sheri are living in Florida. I don’t think my father is coming home tonight either, since he hasn’t been home since 1976. He may have been abducted by aliens, or he might just be a deadbeat douchebag. It’s the middle of the night. Two in the morning. We made love at midnight and then passed out in each other’s arms while watching Frankenhooker. But now I’m awake and she’s still staring. Her fingers gently brush over my cheek. I know it’s not a dream because I can smell the scent of sex on her fingers.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" My face flushes, but it’s dark and she can’t tell. I hate when anyone looks at me for too long. I’m not a fucking painting. Look at something else. But then I feel okay about it. Because it’s Elisa. Because she’s smiling. Because her eyes are damp.
Her fingers graze my lips; I lick the sweet taste of sex off of them.

"You’re so beautiful," she says, in a poetic whisper. "Make love to me."

It’s an amazing moment. To have this goddess of a girl say those sweet words to me. To me. The hair on my arms stands on end. I’m speechless.

Even though I’m still groggy, even though her scent is still on me from the unprotected sex we’d had a little earlier in the evening, I’m instantly aroused, the kind of aroused where the throbbing and stretching threatens to tear right through my clothes. She’s quickly on top of me, pulling off my underwear, easing me in. No foreplay. None needed. Her words were enough. Elisa’s already ready. Drippingly ready. She rides me unrelentingly hard and I finish in what seems like a minute. I let it all out. Everything I have. We wrap our arms around each other and suddenly, for no reason I can even comprehend, we’re both crying. Then I know we’re crying because it’s right. Because it’s perfect. She tells me not to take it out; she hates when I take it out; she hates that feeling of sudden loss. Soon, though, the blood will flow back where it’s supposed to, and it’ll slide out on its own. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep something where you want it. That’s life.

"Keep it in as long as you can," she says. "Please."

I nod, but it’s already almost too late. The blood is making its way elsewhere, back to my brain maybe, which is still illogical with lust.

My small, soft manhood slips out and I hear her resigned sigh. I feel awful for having let her down.

Elisa kisses my scarred left hand, and I tell her how hideous-looking I think it is. She says, "Nonsense. It’s beautiful, like everything else about you." I tell her the story of how my mother freaked out when a doctor suggested that they might have to chop off my hand. Mom drove me to a different hospital, where they said they could save it. All it took was three months in the hospital with my hand elevated, hanging from a metal pole with wheels. But it was worth it. Because I don’t have a hook for a hand. I’m sure Elisa wouldn’t love me if I had a hook. The only good a guy gets out of having a hook for a hand is stalking kids at Lover’s Lane or chasing after Peter Pan.

"That ridiculous," she says. "I’d love you with a hand or without."

I smile. "Are you admitting that you love me?" The "love" word had never come up in conversation, but we’ve clearly been headed in that direction for weeks now.

"Shut up, dork," she says sweetly. "I’m just saying, I’d take you any way I could get you, is all. A hand is just a hand. You’re more than that."

"Would you love me if I didn’t have a dick?"

"Don’t get crazy now, Ervin. I like sex too much to spend my life with a guy with no dick."

She has a boyfriend and she’s cheating on him with me. I’m slowly winning her over and one day soon she’ll be mine. All mine. I already love her more than I’ve ever loved anyone. I fucking love her so much that my stomach burns every time I think of her with that other guy. Still, right now, I’m the other man, and none of this is real. We’re in Fantasy Land. Every Wednesday night she comes over, we watch a movie, passing the time until my kid brother goes to bed. Then we have sex. I never last very long because it feels too good. She feels too good. We’re in a little pocket universe of our own creation. We’re scientists and we’ve created a secret world.

Everyone at work knows what’s going on. The way we look at each other. Flirting, hugging, longing glances. How could they not know? I’m an assistant manager at a large pizza chain that for our purposes we’ll just call Pizza Tent, and she’s a counter girl. I give her special treatment, because I can. Elisa’s boyfriend lives in Philadelphia, and she spends every weekend with him. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I long for Mondays, to see her again. A couple of hours a week. That’s all we have. I want more. I want all of her. If I could just stay hard forever she’d never leave. I get soft and she goes and spends the weekend with him, her real boyfriend. I explode inside because I know she’s fucking him. I wonder who she enjoys more. I wonder if she begs him not to take it out. Last week I asked her if he was bigger than me, and she wouldn’t answer. It’s not that I necessarily mind her having sex with her boyfriend—I just don’t want her to enjoy it. I don’t want him to have a bigger dick than me. Is that too much to ask?

"I don’t want to share you with that guy anymore," I say.

"I’m working on it," she says. She’s standing up, with a towel between her legs, wiping away my mess. "I should go." Her dark pubic hair is neatly-trimmed, shaped like a triangle. Her toenails are a faded, chipped red. She bruises easily. Her breasts are perky. Her ass is round and just about perfect. When I look at her ass, I want to do sinful things to it.

"That’s gross," she says, reading my mind.

I stand up and wrap my arms around her. "Why do you have to have sex with him?"

She laughs. "He’s my boyfriend. Duh! If I don’t have sex with him, he’s going to know something’s up."

"Just dump him. Let me be your boyfriend," I say.

She looks away from me. "I have to go now. I’ll see you at work tomorrow."

I watch as she slides on her panties and bra, her tight jeans. She catches me staring and winks, licks her lips.

"If it helps you any," she begins, "when I’m having sex with him, mostly I’m thinking about you."

"Do you use a rubber when you have sex with him?" I ask.

"You know I’m on the Pill, baby. Don’t you think it’d be a bit suspicious if all of a sudden I asked him to start wearing rubbers after two years of not wearing them?"

"Yeah, I guess. Good point."

She leaves me. Next time, I will tell her I love her. Next time, I will demand that she be my girl and my girl only. I can’t keep going like this. Sharing. I’m losing my mind. When she’s gone, on the weekends, off with him, I don’t shower. For several days I keep her scent on me, until I can get the real thing again. My weekends are spent pacing, worrying, my stomach turning, my skin burning, because on the weekends the woman I love is busy screwing another guy. If this keeps up much longer, I’m going to lose my fucking mind. Every weekend Elisa slips away. You just can’t keep something where you want it forever.