We adopted a new point of emphasis that summer, which was the shopping mall. Someone had clued us in – females hung out there. So we’d roam around this place. I seem to recall violently tongue-kissing a girl in front of a mattress display. Later on I heard horrible rumors and the worst of my fears would come true – she was blind!
Anyway. It’s what we did that summer, which – I can’t even go in one of these places anymore without throwing up in my own mouth. I’m telling you. I get physically ill. And I’m not one of these people with a weak stomach or anything. I just can’t handle it anymore. But back then we were all about drenching ourselves in Obsession, Polo, Drakkar Noir. We often visually, even orally, assaulted these young women as they went about their shopping. Hey, we would say, hey you – je suis enchante de faire votre connaissance.
I’m just kidding about that French part.
One day this clump of girls leaned over the mezzanine and waved down at us. Who knew then what problems they’d eventually cause. They were going to be our classmates that fall. One of them, I want to explain, was drop dead, the bomb, and so forth. I could tell already she would be the belle of many a ball. She had very sharp ankles. And even then I knew that if all I did for the rest of my days was stare at her for long, uncomfortable stretches I would probably be happy.
That night or the next, while attending one of these wild social affairs we used to call a pool party, we were introduced. She wore a hula skirt, a bikini top. I don’t want to sexualize her. She had deep brown eyes and a look about her as if she needed something. What, she kept asking, do you keep looking at?
Her name was Amelia Reed and I wish someone had pulled me aside and said, listen, this is her, she’s it, and twenty years from now when you wake up, tired and dreamless and so on, your last three-monther having just ended, the latest piece of strange having just left, a throbbing headache, jaw clenched from grinding your teeth, this is who you’ll think of. Of course, I don’t know what good knowing would have done. I have a tendency toward total annihilation of self.
In Georgia the big deal of autumn is the homecoming dance and boy I wanted to ask Amelia, but there have been lots of things in my life I have wanted and never chased and asked my one big-chested friend instead and she said yes, but then one night I had a wet dream starring none other than this big-chested friend’s mother. No one could blame me. This old gal was like something on the hood of a Jaguar in a White Snake video. I was often beating off to her in those days. Everyone was, really. Our coaches, fathers, den masters, preachers, teachers, neighbors. If I had a dollar for every boner that old woman gave me I could probably buy a new TV or something. I won’t even begin to explain how painful these erections used to get.
But wait! It gets better. We were over at someone’s house building a homecoming float and who should I run into but all my future regrets. She wasn’t wearing a hula skirt this time, or a bikini, but she looked every bit as impossible.
Who are you going to this dance with? I asked.
What do you say, I said. Want to come with me?
I thought you were going with your one big-chested friend.
That’s not true, I told her. Who comes up with this kind of thing?
A lot of people have said.
My big-chested friend was hovering nearby and so I made it official. Listen, I told her, hit the bricks, young thing. I’m fixing to take this other squaw to the roll.
I was feeling pretty big about myself in those days.
I’m not going to lie. Night of the dance we ended up at the Bennigan’s, enjoyed a dinner of Chicken Alfredo, garlic bread, some Death by Chocolate for dessert. It was all very comely, very delicious. But Amelia had no use for me. A few songs into the dance she pulled the same stunt I’d pulled on old big uns. Goodbye. So long. See you around. Maybe.
It was not a good time. My cat died. I failed so many classes I was ineligible for basketball, and then baseball, and was going to have to attend summer school. I did not get laid. And none of this is how I thought high school was going to be. I had even bought a few condoms and, as most young bucks will do, carried them around with me.
I knew I had to do something to repair my self-esteem and began telling everyone the blind girl was going to be my girlfriend now. I left long, unwieldy messages on her family’s answering machine. Helloooooooooooooo, if you are there, please pick up the phooooooooooooooooooooone.
Her brother had to get involved. He was not a happy teenager.
Amelia must have felt sorry for me. I don’t know though. I’ve never asked. At some point she began calling the house. Lord knows what we talked about. I reconstruct our conversations as going something like this – So… Yeah… So…?
I guess I grew on her.
In the summer we started making out.
Then came the days of gold. Rumor had it she wanted to do it with me. Word is, my friend Jerome reported.
Wow, I said, because I was excited, but not just because I was going to finally have sex and lose my virginity, which was highly coveted, but because it was with someone who I wanted to have sex with, which was important then, and I wanted her to know how perfect I thought she was and here was a way I could show that. Which is quite different from how sex is now. Now it doesn’t matter who it’s with. Now it’s not about any kind of expression. Now it’s all by rote, or out of boredom, something I do, like anything else, to take the pain away.
It was an otherwise confusing year. I’d started drinking by then and was getting housed as often and as quickly as possible. There was no such thing as taking it easy. I was the jerk – if you know this guy – who used to play beer-pong with whiskey. I blacked out a lot.
My family put a for sale sign up in the yard.
Are you moving, some of the guys asked.
Yeah, I said, I guess.
There was nothing really to say. Jerome and I showed up at this girl’s house one night because he liked her and Amelia was over. They had gotten their hands on five or six bottles of sparkling wine.
Let’s play ping-pong, I told Amelia. It was getting pretty late.
Why don’t you come here instead. She beckoned me toward one of the bedrooms.
I was so scared.
She turned out all the lights and pulled me on top of her onto the bed. Do you have something? she asked.
Yes, I said. Hold on. I went and got a couple bottles of bubbly.
Are you serious? she said.
I was dead serious.
But how can I tell you how I felt. I have never touched a woman – and I have touched a lot of women now – the way her and I touched each other that night, so pure and earnest and probing. We pressed into each other, hard and furious and loving, but our clothes stayed on and eventually, before anything groundbreaking happened, I drank to the point of passing out.
I called her many times after that but she never picked up or responded. The summer wore on toward that dreaded California. Reports surfaced of many things regarding Amelia’s whereabouts, but I never could confirm any of them. Eventually I ran into my big-chested friend at the summer school. It had not been a good year for either of us.
She’s been grounded, my big-chested friend reported. She was so solid and forgiving. But, she said, she wants to see you before you go.
Yes, yes, I wanted to see her too. Desperately.
It rained that morning. Our house was empty, our belongings packed into a truck and that truck had gone already. My mom had one last errand to run and then we were going to catch a late morning flight to San Francisco. Amelia had gotten word out somehow that she was going to be at the high school and I should meet her there before I left. It was very cloak and dagger. Drop me off at the high school, I told my mom. Why, she said, what for. Oh, god, I said, please. I wonder what she thought of this request. I imagine she probably thought I was going to vandalize it, or something. I’m guessing she had no idea my heart was breaking, and was going to stay broken forever if I didn’t do this one thing before I left.
When I got to the school Amelia instructed me furtively. I have one hour, she explained, so I can’t be wasting any part of it.
The rain had let up some but was still coming down and she took me by the hand and led me away from the school house and into these woods.
What do you want to do? I asked.
Shh, she said, pulling me toward her. She was a real pro.
But I couldn’t get it! I was so dumb!
She had written me this letter and, after nothing else worked, handed it over to me. I’m not sure what it said. It probably explained everything.
Later on would come the bad feelings, though I never felt them toward her. They were always toward someone else and then, as I have grown inured to this, they are always someone else’s bad feelings toward me, which can happen sometimes when you have wrapped yourself in the memory of someone else. Of course, I got kicked out of high school, and then dropped out, and then moved in with a woman, and then moved out, and then moved in with another woman, but that woman overdosed and died, and there was going to come lots of women, some of whom I’d get in a car with, and drive places. I moved around a lot. Here, there. I won’t go into the list of all these places. They were almost always far-flung, bustling metropolises or nowheresville, USA. At some point we accept it, or just keep pretending. My coital relations have become mostly the late night what have you. I bang them and go, or they bang me and go, and then we are all gone from each other. It doesn’t matter where we met. Deloris, the clerk at my local Conoco, texts me photos of her pom-pom. She always labels the texts ‘for Tom only’ but who am I going to show these things to? The girl I dog over the couch every second Thursday? She wouldn’t be impressed. Neither would the woman who humps me reverse cowgirl against the steering column of her RAV4 parked on the side of the road, a block or two from the local middle school, while she waits for the three o’clock bell and her kids to be let loose. I have become that old adage which states we are always wiping our dicks on her pillow before we go, that the only difference between love and apathy is which side of the pillow we smear our semen on. I am filled by sadness, regret, and wake up wondering where my creativity has gone, my imagination, and find myself wandering down to the Conoco where I lean over the counter and scratch instant-winners, while talking dirty to Deloris. How old are you, she wants to know, but then just shakes her head. There is much grey in my beard and at this hour her weave has come loose. Too old for this, she says, answering herself.
I have never gone home to Georgia.