1. Bad boys are always the best kissers.
“This is the kind of kiss that leads to something else,” he said. I knew what he meant. The covers were still on the bed and my bathing suit was on under my jeans. There was sand in my braces. Just because I was fourteen didn’t mean that I was a virgin.
His mother came down the hall and I got into his closet. She opened the door without knocking and I tried not to imagine that she had his clean laundry for him. M. was still lying on the bed, maybe he had decided to pretend to be asleep. It was a summer house and the closet was shallow. It wasn’t really supposed to hold very much. I didn’t know if the kind of mother who walked in without knocking was the kind of mother who hung up his shirts in the closet. I was much too young for him.
There were other boys around. Boys that me and my best friend, Allie, met every night at the beach after we said goodnight to her parents and walked out the door from her bedroom that led straight to the driveway. We drank beers with those boys and then rode our bikes back to her boyfriend Jared’s house, where there was only his step-brother keeping an eye. We smoked joints on the basement stairs and listened to the same albums again and again without getting bored. There was one boy who had been born with one leg shorter than the other. He was the smartest one there and he used to look at me all the time but I didn’t let him kiss me. We liked to talk about the lyrics. I knew some of those boys thought I was just fine, but I always slid away after Allie and Jared disappeared into the bedroom.
“I’m going home,” I’d say and jump on my bike. Or, nothing, just nothing. I would walk out the door and get on my bike without saying good night. It always made Allie mad, but she was the only one who knew about M.
M. was a friend of her older brother’s. He would kill us both.
One time, we did it in a cornfield. It was hard to fit in between the rows of corn and it hurt to put him inside me. I still liked all the other stuff better. Sometimes I still do. He said that I was a funny girl, so I pretended to like it more than I really did. I liked the way he was when he came. He acted as if he loved me. He couldn’t believe I wasn’t a virgin but I proved it to him. I couldn’t tell if he was disappointed or relieved. It’s just the way things were.
I saw him again after I was married and he was married. It was a brunch at Allie’s parents house, and Allie’s brother was there too. I got so nervous when I saw M. that my husband had to introduce himself.
2. This one could play and sing.
A. was being interviewed for television once and I dressed up in a girl scout’s uniform. In the middle of the interview I ran in, jumped on his lap and started kissing him. He said to the camera that he was so glad the state allowed him to be a foster parent. It was the kind of thing we thought was funny. They cut that part out of the interview when they aired it. He was ten years older, and I looked younger than eighteen. The roof of the house he lived in was mostly hidden by blackberry bushes and instead of washing the pots he threw them away after dinner. Which was breakfast because we didn’t get up until it was almost dark out. I usually picked blackberries from the side of the house and we would have pancakes. We liked drinking coffee on his front steps at sunset. A. drove a car named “Deathmobile” and taught me how to drive. I used to drive him home after gigs because he was too drunk and high. This was in Seattle, and I learned how to drive really well without wipers in the rain. You also had to stick your foot under the brake pedal and pull it up again after you had pressed it to the floor. Downshifting was the best way to slow down when the roads were wet. His ex-girlfriend, who fronted the band with him, refused to ride in the car but I thought she was just being mean. They sang together better than they sang apart. All the songs he wrote for her, and then there were some new ones for me. We got along really well, me and the Ex. She was with the bass player now, and since I showed up she didn’t have to take care of A. so much. I got him to the gigs and he was a lot more fun to be around when he was in love. I just couldn’t help her out by the third set. Nobody could help out by the third set. Sometimes he was better than ever, sometimes he was just a drunk, but he could always sing and play. I still drove him home most nights and we always got back there alive. I was such a good driver by then.
3. This one he had gone to bed with before I did.
She was the girl everybody wanted and that made it so easy for her. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, but that was when nobody could. She took the whole band for granted, the whole club for granted, and there was so much sex when she was singing R & B that she could drive that song as long as she wanted. She was from Puerto Rico and Texas and Oklahoma and everybody I knew had known her for longer than I had. There was never any real question of my saying no to her. She had three different names, depending on where you knew her from. I called her by the most recent one. She would buy me drinks between sets and ignore all the people who came up to give her whatever she might think about wanting or needing. She was telling me that she knew my boyfriend, who was in the band, would get jealous. But I was underage and as soon as she got close to me I felt drunk. I told her I didn’t care. She said we could always go into the girls bathroom. That night my boyfriend made sure to tell me he had been with her before and I asked him how much he had liked it. I could tell from what he said that she hadn’t liked him as much as I liked him. He was acting like he’d seen it all before, so I made sure to change his mind about that before he went to sleep.
She was living in an Airstream out behind somebody’s house and she wanted me to come over. She made squid rice and we drank good wine and ate on plates made of green glass. She was working harder than she needed to, but I was scared by all that beauty in such a small space, so maybe she was right. She wasn’t the first girl for me, but she was twenty-eight and knew exactly what it was. I wanted to stay there all night but she made us get up and drove me back to my boyfriend’s house. She kissed me for a long time right there in the front seat, and I didn’t go inside until after the sky had finished turning on the light behind the buildings and the mountains.
He couldn’t say much about it, under the circumstances.
She acted as if everything was up to me, but I had no choice about any of it.
4. This one was never around.
He said he wanted to marry me right away but I didn’t believe him. We were on the tour bus, going through Idaho, and it wasn’t exactly a proposal; it was just that he was telling me what he was going to do and I didn’t believe him. One of the unofficial wives, who had been with the group for a long time, told me that she thought I was awfully nice and that I should watch it with him. His first wife never said a bad word about him though I heard the songs she wrote. All she ever said to me was, “you won’t mind if he goes fishing, will you?”
He liked to fly fish.
I wasn’t so young but I still thought it was different with me. When there’s that much going right, things can get very bright. More than you can bear and still more to come.
There was a ring from Minnesota and when I looked up there was a deer watching us gravely from the shore. There was a big wedding because he wanted it to be different from the last time, when he ran off with her after only ten days. The first wife gave us a toast with her heart full in the cup. Everybody had a good time at that party: seven circles under the huppah, ripping open the bread and klezmer rock and roll. There weren’t any binding charms left when we were done. Then there was a baby girl and it didn’t get better than that. Though sometimes it was lonely walking her back and forth in the green room. He was there for when they cut the second baby out of me, but he had to go down to the gig right away. I understood how it was.
It was harder to understand why he kept going away when there wasn’t really a gig. Harder to understand why he would want to bring those other girls around so much, when he could have so easily kept them on the road. The sex was always, always good and that fooled me for a long time. It would have been different for me. I’m a good actor but a lousy liar. I tried to explain to him that actors tell the truth under imaginary circumstances. He told me I was being too intellectual. He was right.
I keep thinking about those turkeys who open their mouths in the rain until they drown themselves. They say it’s because the brains have been bred out of them, now that they are raised for slaughter. But I still wonder.
My doctor says it will take a while to heal. The bandages came off too fast and it’s hard for me to differentiate between objects and people. The outlines are still blurry but I am learning to see.
[Refer: This story put the editors in mind of the essay “Phony Boys and A Moment of Truth” by Adriana Paramo.]
Image by Allen Forrest (see below)
Rebecca Chace is the author of Leaving Rock Harbor (novel), New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and finalist for the 2010 New England Book Award; Chautauqua Summer (memoir), New York Times Book Review “Notable Book” and “Editor’s Choice”; Capture the Flag, a novel adaptation for the screen with director Lisanne Skyler which won the Showtime Tony Cox Screenwriting Award (Short Film), and the Nantucket Film Festival, 2010. She has written for the New York Times Magazine, New York Times Sunday Book Review, the Huffington Post, NPR’s All Things Considered, and other publications. She is director of creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and also teaches in their MFA Creative Writing Program. She is a 2014 recipient of a Grace Paley Fiction Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center and a current writing fellow of the Wertheim Study at the New York Public Library.
Illustration by Allen Forrest, “seattle_union_st_bellevue_and_minor_ave_oil_on_canvas_panel_22x28_2011.” Graphic artist and painter Allen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas. His website is http://allen-forrest.fineartamerica.com/.