Sunday, February 24, 2008

At 13


It’s summertime and I’ve taken a minimum-wage job at Cherry Hill High School West, as a maintenance man, or in my case, maintenance boy. I’m still too young to have any kind of real job, but because my family is poor, I qualified for the Summer Youth Program. If you’re at least twelve years old and come from a low-income household, you can sign up and be placed in a job for the summer. I did enjoy my years as a paper boy, but the ten or fifteen dollars a week that I earned didn’t get me much other than some comic books and a few hours at the local arcade. I now make about three dollars an hour, and I’m happy to earn that much. Soon, I’ll be rolling in cash.

The school employs five kids from the program, and the regular maintenance men are thrilled, because we do all of their work for them. Most of the maintenance men are older black men, and during the school year they work their asses off, so when summer rolls around and the kids show up, life is good for them. We paint and sweep and mop and carry and mow; we are worked hard, while the old maintenance men laugh and sip tea while "supervising" us kids. It’s hard work, but I like the job. I like working. I feel grown up. The old guys are nice to me. They say I’m a decent worker and not half bad for a white boy. They call me Skinny White Boy. As in, "Hey, Skinny White Boy, we gonna need you to paint the bathrooms today, and if you see any shit that missed the toilet, well, we figure you should go about cleaning that up, too."

The maintenance men can’t believe that I was born in Camden, that I actually lived there for the first five years of my life. "You must’ve been the last white boy left in all of Camden," they say. "Nah," I say, "my older brothers are white, too, and I think there was one other white kid, or maybe he was Asian. I forget." The maintenance men laugh at my stories, and most of the time I can’t figure out why they’re laughing. I think they see me as their mascot. Doesn’t matter to me. As long as I’m getting paid, all is well.

It’s near the end of summer, and I’ve painted almost the entire school. The job is coming to an end, and that makes me sad. But soon I’ll be old enough to have a real job, not just the seasonal kind they give to poor people because the government feels sorry for them. Some of the kids who work with me have to give most of their money to their moms or dads, because they’re so poor they can barely afford food. Mom lets me keep all of my money, which is nice. I guess we’re only mildly poor.

We’re living in a rented house; well, a rented part of a house. It’s sort of like a garage that’s been turned into a miniature home for very small people or full-size people with very small bank accounts. Our new sliver of a house is infested with cockroaches, of course. We’ve had bugs for so long now that I almost feel like they’re a part of family. Our pets. Our really, really fucking disgusting, diseased pets.

I’m riding my bike home from work, sweating under the hot August sun. I turn the corner and notice that my mother is sitting on the porch with a man. A stranger. They’re both smiling and laughing, but in an uncomfortable sort of way, as if laughing is the only thing they could think to do to break the tension. Mom has that unstable kind of smile that people get when they’re trying not to cry. I hop off of my bicycle and walk it slowly up to the house. My stomach begins to hurt, as if someone stuck a long needle into my bellybutton when I wasn’t looking. The man looks like me. An older, less cute version of me. Blue eyes. Thinning, wavy blonde hair. Pale skin. Even though I haven’t seen him in years, since I was a small child, I know who this man is. He’s my father. Big Erv. The man I was named after. The man who owes my mother thousands of dollars in back child support. I haven’t thought about him in years. No reason to. Nothing about him is worth the time or energy it would take to think.

Mom points to him and says, "Look, Ervin, it’s your father," as if he were a major prize that I had just won.

They’re sipping iced tea and smoking cigarettes, seated around a small white plastic table. Mom smells like hamburgers. Dad smells like grease.

I decide quickly that I’d rather not speak to him, so I carry my bike up the steps and walk into the house without saying anything to my dear old dad. I decide to hide in my room until he’s gone. I turn the stereo’s volume up loud, pop in a cassette tape, push ‘play,’ then spread out on my bed as the sounds of Prince’s Purple Rain fill the room.

A half-hour later, Mom knocks on the door and shouts, "Ervin, that was very rude. Why didn’t you say anything to your father? He wanted to see you. Ah, well, He said he’ll come back soon. If he does come back, please talk to him. He is your father, whether you want him to be or not. He’s not a bad person. He’s just...I don’t know."

I know that he will never come back. I know I’ll never see my father again, and all I can think is Good.

I suppose I could say more about Dad, but why bother?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

At 27


I’m spread out on my bed, sweating, wetting the sheets. A layer of moisture covers me as if I’ve just climbed out of a swimming pool. The only air conditioner in the house is downstairs. Up here, I melt. A small fan does nothing to cool me off. Hot air blows against my face. My second-floor window is open, and humid air oozes in like invisible demons. It’s after midnight on a scorching summer night, and I’m lying on my damp bed, wearing tight white underwear and a gray T-shirt. My bedroom door is closed and locked. The cable remote is in my hand, and I’m flicking quickly through the channels, trying to find something scary, or something filthy, or something that’s a little bit of both. I find a channel playing The Return of the Living Dead and leave it on. Because I love zombies. Because I love Linnea Quigley. Because I love when the living dead say, "Brains!" I’m not going anywhere tonight. I’ve decided to stay in and watch movies, maybe masturbate once or twice, depending on how inspired I feel.

The phone rings, and I take my hand out of my underwear and answer it.

"Hello," I say.

"Guess who this is?" a giggling female voice says.

"Elisa! Wow! Hey, what’s up?"

"Am I interrupting anything? You got a girl there? Can you talk?"

"I can talk. Absolutely. I’ve missed you."

"Me too," she says, a drunken slur in her words. "When was the last time we saw each other? Wasn’t it, like, four years ago or something?"

"Yeah, about that," I say. "What are you doing with yourself these days?"

"I’m still waiting tables, making some good money. Mainly, I’m just partying it up, y’know? Having fun. I go out every night. Get drunk. I’m having the time of my life. I don’t want no responsibility. I wanna party while I’m young."

"You’re not really that young anymore, Elisa."

"Fuck you, jerk. What are you doing that’s so great?"

"Nothing, really. I’m working at a liquor store. I’m also doing some writing. I don’t know if I’m any good at it, but I’m giving it a shot. I went to Camden County for awhile, took a lot of photography classes, but then realized I wasn’t all that into taking pictures. I mean, I like it and all, but more as a hobby. I want to be a writer, I think. But I’m still a long way away. I need to get a lot better. But, you know, I’m trying."

She giggles. "You gonna write any stories about me?"

"Yeah," I say, "probably all of them."

"That’s cool. I always wanted to be famous."

"You dating anyone?" I ask.

"Me? No. Not anyone important, anyway. I’m playing the field. I’ve got a few options right now. It’s not like I’m celibate or anything. You?"

"Nah. I’m not with anyone right now. Unless you count my left hand."

She growls sexily. "Really? Are you jerking off right now?"

"Um, no," I say, staring down at the sudden bulge in my underwear.

"I’ll bet I can make you jerk off," she says.

"Try me."

"I know what turns you on, Ervin. You know I’m sitting on my bed in a towel. It could fall off so easily. Oops!"

"You’re a cruel woman," I say, taking off my T-shirt.

I hear her light a cigarette, take a loud swig of something. "So, like a month ago, I was at this club in Cherry Hill, and this older Spanish girl comes up and starts dancing with me. It’s this really fast song and all of a sudden she’s, like, grinding on my leg. Humping me in front of everyone at the club. People are whistling at us. It’s this huge scene. I’m all drunk and she’s really hot, so I go along with it. Then we’re making out and stuff, kissing right there on the dance floor. And I’m all like, ‘Oh my God, this girl has her tongue in my mouth.’ So she’s kissing me and grinding on me, and I’m getting so fucking wet. I never thought I could enjoy hooking up with a girl."

I sit up on the bed and smile. "Ha! I knew it, Elisa! I knew you were a closet lesbian."

"You did not."

I excitedly say, "No, I totally did! Remember that time we went to The Feathernest Inn for a romantic getaway? The place with the hot tub and the big heart-shaped bed? Remember they had all those porn channels? Whenever a girl/girl scene would come on, your breathing would get real heavy and I knew it turned you on. You kept denying it, but I knew. I knew you were into chicks. I remember that I tried to convince you that you should hook up with another girl and let me watch, and you told me that I was gross. Now look at you. Making out with girls at the club. In front of everyone except me. It’s totally not fair. You owe it to me, Elisa. You owe me the chance to watch you tongue kiss another girl."

"Sheesh, let me finish the story, pervert," she says. "So, like I said, she’s older, maybe in her late-thirties, but still sexy as hell. She has big boobs and a big butt, and these long, elaborate, painted fingernails. So it turns out that she’s married and has a kid, but I don’t know this ‘til later when I go home with her. We’re on her couch, still drinking even though we’re both already sloshed, and she’s got her hand up my dress, under my panties, and she’s, like, fingering me and stuff, totally getting me off. Then all of a sudden this guy walks out, and I freak. But she’s all like, ‘Oh, don’t worry, this is just my husband. He likes to watch.’ And I’m all like, ‘Well, watching is all he better be doing!’ So, we go to the bedroom, and me and her get naked and climb on the bed, while her creepy husband sits in a chair and jerks off as me and his wife finger-fuck each other. So she—her name’s Rita—is all begging me to go down on her, saying, ‘Elisa, lick my pussy. Lick my pussy!’ But I don’t wanna lick her pussy, ‘cause I still think it’s kind of gross to do that to another girl. So I let her lick my pussy, while her husband watched. After I came, I got right out of there, let me tell you."

Nearly a minute of silence passes before Elisa finally says, "Ervin, you there?"

"Yeah, I’m here."

I hold the phone against my cheek with my shoulder as I use my T-shirt to wipe up the mess I’ve just made on myself.

She continues, "Well, I’ve gone back a couple of times, but I still won’t let her husband fuck me. I still let her eat my pussy. I mean, head’s head, right? Maybe I’ll eat hers someday. I don’t know. She better be clean, though. I don’t wanna be lickin’ some nasty snatch." She laughs. "You okay, Ervin? You’re quiet."

"Just listening," I say. "That was a good story. Lesbian."

"Shut up! I’m just curious is all. Every girl experiments a little." She laughs, then sighs. "Ervin, what happened to us?"

"We broke up," I say.

"No, I mean, why did we break up?"

I take a moment to think. "Maybe I was too young to handle you. I was always jealous, and I think my jealously led you to want to cheat on me, because I was pissing you off. I loved you too much. I couldn’t be away from you. I drove you away. You cheated on me. I broke up with you so I could be with MJ. I spent a month dating MJ, but then I realized that I missed you. So I broke up with MJ and got back with you, but it was too late. The damage had been done. It was irreparable. We got back together but we were just going through the motions. We couldn’t recapture the magic. So then you got the chance to break up with me. I guess we’re even in that regard. We both got to dump the other person. Not many couples get to do that. We should start dating again so I can dump you and go up two to one."

"After me, you didn’t wait very long to start dating that nice Jewish girl," she adds. "You were so cocky. That girl walked in one day and you were all like, ‘Hey, Elisa, I’m gonna ask out that girl over there.’ I thought you were kidding. And then you did it! And she said yes! I couldn’t believe it."

"Nicole was her name," I add. "Yeah, I started dating her, quit working at Pizza Tent, went to college, and forgot all about you."

"Didn’t forget about me completely," she says, with a chuckle.

"Okay, so I had one moment of weakness."

"One moment, Ervin? More like about six hours of weakness. If I remember correctly, we were sitting my car, and you were talking about Nicole, and how you weren’t sure if it was going to last between you two because she was going away to college, and then the next thing I know we’re kissing."

"It’s not like we had sex that night," I say.

"No, not sex, but we were making out until the sun came up, and we were grinding all over each other. We did everything but have sex. I know you came in your pants, and your fingers and lips smelled like me for days, I’ll bet. Heh. Face it, Erv, you’ll never get over me. No matter who you’re with, you’ll always compare them to me. You know why?"

I wipe my wet eyes. "Why?"

"Because I’m your first love. Sure, you were engaged to that one girl a few years before you met me, but you always said I was your first true love."

"It’s true," I say. "I had no idea what love was until I met you."

"And I was the first girl you ever got nasty with. We had dirty, dirty sex, Ervin. We did stuff to each other I still haven’t tried with other guys. Before you, I hadn’t ever touched myself in front of a guy. We were so open with each. We’d try anything. It was nice. Nice and dirty. So then we break up, and you go from me to these sweet young girls who don’t know nothing about sex. You date the innocent girls, hold hands and play nice, but you fantasize about me. I’ll always rule your fantasies. You think about me when you’re having sex with other girls, don’t you? Still to this day, right?"

"Well, I mean, not really."

All the time. Constantly.

"So you miss me, huh?"

"I do."

"Say it."

"I miss you, Elisa," I say flatly.

She lights a cigarette, inhales loudly, coughs. "You’re my bitch, Ervin." She giggles like a slutty schoolgirl.

"Trust me, Elisa, I am very much over you."

"I doubt it. In fact, I’ll bet I made your cock really hard when I was telling my story. You probably fucking jerked off, you pig!"

"I am over you, but we should hang out and get caught up with each other. What are you doing right now? You should come over."

I suddenly want nothing more than Elisa in my bed. Next to me. Holding me tight. Just one more night with her. To get her out of my system. So my sheets and pillows and skin will gather and hold her strong scent for days.

"Sorry, Ervin, I’m meeting someone in a few minutes. Maybe some other time. I’ll call you one of these days."

"Well, okay."

"See ya, Ervin."

She hangs up.

I don’t think she’ll call me again anytime soon. But I do know that I haven’t heard the last of Elisa. She’ll pop up again, someday, to remind me how much I miss her. To remind me of the way she used to make me feel. The way I haven’t felt since.