Memoir

Madonna of the Brassiere

brasDo it! Do it!

The mandate hissed in my head like air escaping from a deflating tire. The truth of the matter was: I didn’t want to Do it! The idea of it terrified me. They terrified me. Yet, here I was goaded on by a couple of horny teenage boys.

Robin was in my English class. She walked into the classroom dressed in an outfit meant to elicit controversy. It was really a poorly executed attempt at mimicry. We were highly influenced by the images of the barely five-year-old MTV network. Like the visionary artists of that time, the attempts at high art were very hit and miss. She was no exception. Her entrance was always greeted by astonished silence and an occasional gasp of awe. Her previous outfits included looks from Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benetar, Aimee Mann of ‘Til Tuesday, and even Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons. Today she was dressed with purpose.

Our assignment, “Our Hero” would be presented to the rest of the class. Today was her turn. She made her way to her desk dressed in a short black dress with dayglo green tights. She wore a lace bodice top that revealed some of her bra. She accessorized with rosaries and crucifixes worn around the neck and as bracelets around her wrists. She tied a big, black, floppy lace bow on the top of her head to complete the look.

In spite of her carefully crafted outfits, it was her breasts that were the topic of conversation. They started to develop in the fourth grade and so did the teasing and it looked like it would culminate here, in class. Doug, the leader of these goof-offs, came up to me and dared me to snap the back of Robin’s bra. I was an easy target, as I sat directly behind her. He manipulated me with his world-class smile and good looks. He dressed somewhere between Sonny Crockett and Simon Le Bon. When you really get down to it, I agreed readily because I really wanted him to like me.

“Just pinch it back and let it go,” he said.

So there I was halfway into our first period. I was looking at Robin at the front of the class discussing the making of Madonna’s video, “Like a Virgin.” She looked uncomfortable as she tried (unsuccessfully) to adjust her bra. She rolled her shoulders one way, then another to no avail. She read from her prepared script.

“Madonna had problems with the lion in the video because she was having her period at the time and lions are attracted to the blood so this lion kept trying to lick her crotch.”

There was a burst of laughter from the back row.

“Thank you, Robin. We get the picture. Sit down.” Mr. Gonzalez rolled his eyes and called up the next student. Robin made her way back to her desk and gave me a quick, nervous smile. With her back to me, I had a clear view of her bra strap. I looked back at Doug and his goof-offs. They looked on like hungry lions waiting for me to pounce on the prey. I turned around and just did it. I heard the sound of the elastic snap on flesh and then the hook snapped off.

She never spoke to me or even acknowledged me after that incident that sent her running from class in tears. I didn’t gain a friend in Doug, either. And it wouldn’t be the last time I would do something as stupid as this.

 

Story Dam
Memoir

Borderline

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Embedded essay. Word count: 1,350. The bullet-riddled walls of our house were a reminder that our rented property lay on the boundary between two rival gangs, embattled in a property war, each claiming this territory as their own. These walls were also a reminder that our beds were a luxury best enjoyed in the middle of the afternoon, when gang warfare was unlikely. I suppose that cholos had day jobs just like everyone else.

Memoir

A New Year’s Kiss

New Year's KissA kiss can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Marilyn Monroe sang about a kiss on the hand being quite continental. Julia Roberts’ hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold in Pretty Woman refused to even kiss her Johns on the lips. In Chekhov’s short story “The Kiss,” it led the protagonist to question its significance and its meaninglessness. For me, it happened almost like it did in Chekhov’s story (except I wasn’t kissed by a woman.) Unlike the protagonist, Ryabovitch, I had a clear view of the guy that pressed his lips against my own. And then I never saw him again.

The last day of the century held a lot of uncertainty, you know… Y2K, the end of the world… But the most pressing matter for me was where my friends and I would ring in the New Year. We were broke and the only wheels belonged to my best friend’s little brother who was restoring a 1952 Chevy Bel Air. It was a real fixer-upper complete with a rusty body and no upholstery. Still, we climbed in, threw a blanket over the bare springs that once contained leather seats and we were on our way to the local gay bar.

I had thrown my last boyfriend out of the house a year before and I was starting to believe that I would never meet anyone again. We arrived, got our drinks, and mingled with the crowd. As midnight approached, I realized I didn’t have anyone to kiss at the strike of midnight. The list was pretty short to non-existent and kissing my best friend and his brother (who aren’t even gay) was not an option, thankfully.

We were on the stage looking down at the rest of the party-goers. The DJ started the countdown and as he reached the end, I saw someone coming right at me. It happened so fast. I felt his arm around my waist and he pivoted me so that I was turned to face him. I recognized him as the guy I saw earlier that evening. I hadn’t thought much of him earlier-just a handsome, friendly guy with a friendly smile across the dance floor. He was dressed in a sailor uniform. But now, I was in his arms. The hand that was wrapped around me tightened its grip and he moved in for a tight kiss right at midnight.

I was reeling from the unexpected kiss. Had he planned this all night? But before I could finish that thought, his angry boyfriend dragged him out of the club.

That kiss, as brief as it was, stayed with me for a few days after the new year. I questioned it: was he someone who fell in love with me on first sight? Was I so irresistible that men lost all inhibition? In reality, I didn’t believe any of that. It was just a random kiss on a night where it is expected. It definitely wasn’t love, but it was a kiss that gave me hope. I wouldn’t be single forever. For that night, I could believe that the new century would bring me lots of love and success.

It reminded me of a quote from Steve Martin in L.A. Story: “A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true.”

Memoir

A Guide to Masturbation

Enter with the mob of people. Tonight, you’re dedicated to the tiring thrill of the hunt. It’s Friday night and the club fills to capacity. Those lithe bodies stuffed into tight-fitting shirts hold many possibilities. Linger in the shadows of the corners of the darkest part of the club. Scan the place for the familiar scent of weakness. Know it well—it is the same scent that seeps through your sweaty skin. It’s the scent of desperation and tonight it glows a lurid blue under the deceiving coolness of the black light. Your eyes adjust to the darkness slowly revealing the silhouettes of undulating bodies pressed against the wall, against a pole. Attempts at conversation with people are rendered pointless by the constant boom of the bass of the music in the room. It is so loud it almost knocks the wind out of you. It doesn’t matter what you say. Before you can exchange names, you are dragged to the dance floor by a sweaty hand. You grind your pelvis into your partner to the rhythm of the music. Lips locked together mixing sweat, mints, and beer. You’re elated at the prospect of physical contact with someone other than yourself, but in the end, you find yourself dancing alone. The drunken frenzy gives way to recognition as you look down at your hands and you’re holding two bottles of Corona, one in each hand. Your unnamed partner is nowhere in sight. And you try to remember how it is that you ended up with your hands full.

Plan tomorrow’s conquest. It’s closing time now and everyone heads for the doors. Go home alone. Don’t be ashamed. No. Not you. You have a cat and she awaits your return. Sometimes that’s more than you can handle, anyway.

Avoid your parents today. Even though you told them that you’d stop for a short visit. You haven’t seen them since December and now it has been two weeks since New Year’s (Chinese New Year’s).

It’s your mother you want to avoid.

The weeks between visits are exhausting. By day you connect with one friend and another—desperate to rekindle neglected bonds brought on by a self-imposed exile.

“Where have you been?”

“Busy.”

“For a whole year?”

You nod your head and look at your feet and make a mental note to buy new shoes. When they ask what you’ve been doing, you consciously leave out your collection of empty beer bottles lining your window ledges. But it’s not a problem, you tell yourself; it’s only Zima, cheap malt liquor. And sometimes Miller Genuine Draft. Especially MGD on those days when the kids at the school have been excessively challenging. Instead, tell your friends about the excellent manner in which you can divide your time between Art History, Biology, and English at community college and still fit in a part-time job at the school district because it’s the only place that will let you work between classes and they still pay generously over minimum wage. Thank God you’re bilingual. But don’t look Him in the eye when you do so.

Answer your phone on the first ring.

“Are you still coming?”

“Si, mamá. Ahora vengo.”

Remind yourself to screen calls. Get into your Nissan—the one your father helped you buy when you were sixteen; almost a completely different lifetime ago. Drive the two and a half miles to your parent’s house. Stop at the bank and withdraw three twenty-dollar bills. Fold them over once and place them in your front pocket, not your wallet. You don’t have time to do any shopping, so make a mental note to pick up some cat litter after dinner.

Greet your mother with a hug. She finds you at the front door, wipes her hands on her apron and extends her arms. For the first time since you left home, you notice her small frame. You see her as she is and not as you remember her:  a giant force constant in your childhood. Today, she looks like the old women you see at the grocery store, alone, thumping melons for ripeness in the fruit aisle. They’re the ones that stall the checkout line looking for exact change in their small hand purses, their movements always slow and calculated. That’s not my mother, you think.

Find your place within her embrace and fall back into its comfort. The weight of it begs you to say all the things that you cannot say. But you know better than to disturb what is already understood. She is happy to see you. Feel the stabbing pain of guilt with every squeeze she gives. Tell yourself that you will visit once a week… No.  Every other week… No. At least once a month.

Note the changes as you make your way through the familiar spaces of the house. The living room is still pink, but the maroon carpet is gone—replaced with tile. A French-style door fills the frame between the living room and the dining room now. The kitchen still looks the same, but the drab yellow curtains that reminded you of decaying newspaper has been replaced by cheery white ones. Find your way past the laundry room, your old bedroom, and the sewing room.

Look for your father passing time away in the back shed always sifting through the artifacts of Craftsman tools: dusty jigsaws, grinders, drills, and bandsaws. Say hello. He looks at you first then he smiles a small crack that melts away the lines on his face. Take out the three bills folded in your pocket and hand them to him with a thank you. He looks at the bills and with a gesture of dismissal with his hand, he tells you to keep it. That’s what a father is for anyway, isn’t it? Promise yourself that when you earn enough money to support yourself comfortably, you’ll pay back all the money you’ve borrowed. Turn to idle talk until dinner.

Sitting at the dining room table, fidget in your chair through dinner. You’re like a pre-teenager who’s just discovered the secrets of puberty in the darkness of the bedroom under the covers after everyone’s gone to sleep. Think of the guy in Art History class. Tall, thin with the crystal blue eyes and the crooked smile. The one you watch when you think he isn’t looking. Your obsession of the month. Do as your mother says and pass the loaf of bread. Smile as you think of him sitting next to you in class. Pass the butter, too. Watch your father come in, tired, old. He passes you and places his big calloused hand on the back of your head as he takes his place at the head of the table—a father’s show of affection to his only son. Lie to him when he asks, “any cute girls in class?” Avoid eye contact with your mother when you do. She cuts through the lie and you look away. This is a subject neither of you wishes to discuss. The parade of boys you entertain in your one-bedroom apartment is not the polite conversation to have when your mother has set meatloaf on the table. Lie again when you tell them you will visit in a couple of days.

Rush home. Byrdie jumps on you to greet you. Damn it. You forget to buy the litter! Remind yourself to buy it in the morning, but she looks at you with her big hazel eyes and you know that if cats could talk, this one would say, “meow, meow.” And that could only mean, don’t make me out to be a dirty, dirty cat.

Drive to the grocery store. It will still be open for another hour. Casually glance at the checkout guy. Notice him looking at you, too. The glances are all too obvious, you tell yourself. At the expense of a cliché, you have found it. True love at the supermarket, at last.

“You want me, don’t you?” his eyes say.

“Paper,” you reply to his question.

In the checkout counter next to yours, an old man whispers something to his wife. His hands shake as he places one hand on her shoulder. Her head automatically moves in closer to his. She looks at him in surprise and giggles. Indeed, there is love at the supermarket after all and you wonder if you’ll ever find someone to surprise and giggle with at that age when you stand at the checkout counter and fish in your coin purse for exact change.

Back at home, quickly clean out the litter box. Byrdie meows in that deep sustained moan that can only mean she’s in heat again, and you wonder if it’s time to make an appointment at the vet so that the both of you can finally be put out of your misery.

Now you proceed with your plan, content knowing every errand that cannot wait until tomorrow has been done. Your mind races through the grocery list on your refrigerator door:  dried instant noodles, canned soup, a six pack of MGD—a bachelor’s dinner. Cast the thought of lists aside. There is a more important task at hand. Remember to take the beer with you into the bathroom.

Draw a hot bath. But not too hot. And while the tub fills, go to the bathroom shelf and decide between chamomile or green apple bath scents. Go with patchouli instead. Light all the candles in the bathroom. Think, I’ve got way too many candles in my bathroom. Decide on your musical selection for the evening. Decide on vinyl and not CD. That medium is too digital—cold and impersonal for your purposes tonight. Draw out your old record player, the boxy one from grammar school, the one that breaks apart into a turntable and speakers. Hook it up then sift through the hundreds of LPs on the top shelf of the closet—relics from your New Wave years. Find Black Celebration and place it on the turntable. Run to the refrigerator and pull out the last three remaining bottles of beer.

Place the needle on the vinyl record to the first song on side A. The pops and scratches on the vinyl take you back to your high school days. Your parents went away for the weekend and you snuck a boy into your bedroom. In the cool darkness of the black light, both your bodies undulated to the rhythm of the record. Sometimes it was Depeche Mode, sometimes REM, but that summer, when your parents were away for a whole month (a whole month!), it was Siouxsie and the Banshees and Concrete Blond that dominated the record player. The passion would be so intense that your guest only ever got to hear the A-side of the record, and once the needle reached the end the irregular sounds of heavy breathing and the softer licking sounds mingled with the constant tha-thump, tha-thump of the needle jumping the groove at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute.

Slip out of your clothes. Test the water with your big toe and declare it perfect! Gather yourself slowly into the tub and let your body adjust to the temperature. Twist off the cap from your beer and take a swig. Feel the stresses of the day evaporate and feel your mind go blank. Now is the time to run your hands up and down your chest.

Stop!

Do that again.

Slowly this time. Don’t rush. Let the mind go where it wants to go. It travels back to the night last month at the club:  the thrashing bodies under the strobe light. You picked out the one you liked. You ended up at his place. No one asked for names. Your mind moves to the boy who kissed you because he wanted to know what it was like to kiss another boy. Think of the sales clerk at the department store, tall and awkward in his baggy dress clothes. You fumbled with his belt and in the end, you got a discount. Then there’s the rainy day in the school parking lot; the windows fogged up from the body heat created by you and the part-time library clerk from periodicals. You gave him your number, but he never called. These images—unsigned postcards from the libido unravel and overlap. Take a second, go under the water, bring yourself back.

The tha-thump, tha-thump of the needle indicates the end of Side A. Get out of the tub and turn the record to side B. Rush back to the tub careful to step on the puddles you left when you first got out. It will make it easier to clean up later. Turn on the hot water. The bath has turned cold.

You’ll find it difficult to get back to your previous state of mind. That’s ok. You’ll get there. Events of the day play back in slow motion. Your mind wanders back and forth. It finally lights on the movie you watched last night. Marilyn at her best—always getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Always a beauty but always lonely and sad. People cannot possibly be that lonely. Pick up your bottle of beer and make a ‘cheers’ gesture to no one in particular.

Sing along to the song from the record player. There is no mother yelling to lower the volume; only a fussy neighbor above. You haven’t met but it’s easy to communicate with just thumps and stomps on your ceiling – her floor. The worst would be to be interrupted at this moment. The rhythm is just right. With little effort, now, block out everything and everyone.

Block out your mother with her open arms and unforgiving eyes. Hope that she will one day understand. Block out your friends and their nagging questions. Block out your cat staring at you at the doorway afraid to come in. Pray that God doesn’t see you. But pray that He will forgive.

Pray that you don’t have to do this alone anymore.

Close your eyes and let yourself go.

*     *     *

It’s almost midnight. Collect the empty bottles from the bathroom floor. Blow out your candles. Don’t bother to cover yourself up. The record is still turning but you let it play to the end. You haven’t felt this great in a long time. The feeling is somewhat foreign, if not completely unforgotten—This is different. And different is exactly what you didn’t know you needed. Make a mental note to try this again some time next week. But buy more beer next time.

Byrdie watches you from the doorway as only cats are bound to watch. Her curiosity turns to playfulness and she is ready to pounce. The fear of the unexpected is gone from her face. She senses your mood has turned for the better and now she’s ready to play.

Pull back the curtain and let the moonlight in. The empty bottles of beer that decorate the ledges of your windows refract the light making the blue carpet glow. Byrdie jumps to catch the light. The music plays on. Sing along. The last song is almost over.