If I Fell


Huck.

I remember the burns along the inside of his arms from working in a kitchen, so many burns, I wondered if some were self-inflicted.

I remember how blonde his hair was, and how sweet it smelled. He was warm, and it was easy to hide underneath the sheets, hoping the day wouldn’t find us.

I remember when he curiously asked to hear reactions to his writing, any criticism would first be met with a rough, “Fuck You” before he could take it in. I liked that, because it was honest.

I remember holding onto his shoulders when we made love. His back was broad and easy to wrap my arms through, so I could hold on to him, like it was keeping me afloat, and keeping me from falling each time I came while he was inside of me.

It was our second morning together, and my care free one-night stand with unexpectedly perfect chemistry began to put me a bit on edge. In my mind, I told myself I could let him go. My cold nose brushed against the back of his neck, and I inhaled all of him and us, and I brought him in closer, we had one more day.

When we woke up, we spoke of the future. He put his arm around me and delicately smoothed my wild morning hair, “You could move to Milwaukee …” I gasped and then expelled all the hot air back out on him in disgust, almost like I spit the suggestion out on the sidewalk. “You know, your feelings towards Milwaukee are really unattractive,” he said. “Well, the fact that you live in Milwaukee is unattractive,” I tossed back. He brought me in closer again, “Don’t you like the idea of moving in, starting a literary journal.” He looked serious. “I have three dogs,” I repeated- that usually shuts these things down enough.

“We will have a yard at the new house I am moving into,” he shrugged. Huck was different than the other boys, he noticed things others hadn’t noticed, and zeroed in on me somehow. He also was the first to act as though accepting the dogs was perfectly fine as long as it came with me, and that made me feel loved. Those couple years with Abe, I adored him and was willing to compromise almost everything to move forward but my dogs, and to him, that
was too much. When you are in love, nothing is too much. You make room.  Huck made it look effortless, and that made me feel like a Princess.


We got up, he threw that button up flannel over those broad shoulders and I leaned in from behind, pressing my bare breasts against him, “We could move to France. You would love it there. We could rent a little place and write together.” He stood still then said, “That sounds nice, actually.”

“You know, people have married out of the program before,” he said. “I don’t think I would ever get married again,” I grumbled. That morning, I resisted the fantasy. France opened up a world where I could do anything, and be anyone- which was the exact opposite of what my marriage felt like. Every change you make, every decision you make, every passing flirtation and new friendship deeply affects another person. I am not sure I would want that responsibility again. That said, I long to have a family- even if just one person called me home, it would be a home nonetheless.

I made a shitty cup of coffee using the machine in his room, and complained about it, but drank through the watery muck to avoid a caffeine headache. The room was bright when he opened the curtains, and the light spilled through his silhouette making him look small and thin. Ahead of us, through the window, was a freeway, congested traffic, a mall and smog hanging overhead. “Look at this fucking place,” he said.


On our side of the window, the daylight made the wood finish on the hotel furniture shine, the white from the bed sheets beam, and the steam off my weak cup of coffee dance. I laid across the bed waiting for him to walk out of the bathroom, “I could smell you in there,” he said, walking briskly out after slapping on the fan.

I blew the hot off the top of my coffee, “Yeah? Smells like roses, don’t it?” He laughed, “Not exactly.” I dumped mouthwash in the toilet to disguise the odor, take note, that doesn’t work. He crawled up on the bed, hitting a button on his phone. “My Mom called again. And I thought our 45 minute conversation yesterday was enough to cover it all for awhile.” I laughed. When he spoke about her, he never really looked me in the eye. He always looked away and lowered his voice. “She can be needy,” he said, “I am worried about her.” He stood up, kicked an empty beer box and said, “Fucking bitch!” I buckled over laughing.

We checked our email and finalized our paperwork on our computers, once again, as we shared that desk. I played “If I Fell” and sang it with perfectly awful pitch (to be fair, Paul and John alternated vocals because the song is so difficult to harmonize in one voice). Oh, and I am just a horrible singer. It’s tragic really. He swallowed the first part of his laugh and then let the rest of it fly out. “I like your . . . confidence.”

“If I fell in love with you
Would you promise to be true
And help me understand?
‘Cause I’ve been in love before
And I found that love was more
Than just holding hands
If I give my heart to you,
I must be sure
From the very start
That you,
Would love me more than her
If I trust in you oh please,
Don’t run and hide
If I love you too oh please
Don’t hurt my pride like her,
’cause I couldn’t stand the pain . . .”

He stopped laughing and said, “There is no her.”

We spoke about our exes briefly, mostly through our writing. I knew he was still in love with his ex, and that didn’t bother me. It still doesn’t. I am still in love with most of my exes- that is the beauty of a love affair, you experience the best version of a person. Why replace all of that color and life with bitterness? Though it softens the absence, it makes you forget. I don’t want to forget.

He mentioned his ex-girlfriend’s roommate and how she told him that his Tumblr website, where he publishes his poetry, would show up on her most recently visited sites off Google. I could tell by the curve of his mouth, this gave him pleasure that our two-day fling just couldn’t. Again, I was ok with that, but there was indeed a “her”.

When we left the hotel room, the door closed behind us and I wondered if I would ever be back. He turned to look at me in the hallway, smiled and then galloped away after a “Ha!”. I skipped behind him, laughing. We were like kids- smart, sexy, goofy kids.

We walked to school together, and he grew paranoid about who would see us. It hurt my feelings a little but we agreed to be discrete when we arrived to campus. So we climbed the wavy roads behind Fox Hills mall, trail blazing through the strip malls and office parks. We walked by an empty office building, “I used to work here, a long time ago,” I said.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, I was a different person then. I wasn’t even married yet. I quit and we sailed on a small boat from Nicaragua to Hawaii.”

“Are you serious?” he asked again.

“Yeah, that’s where I got this dolphin tattoo.” I lifted the back of my right foot. When my husband (at the time) and I finished a three week voyage up the Sea of Cortez and across the Pacific to Waikiki, I wanted a tattoo to commemorate the dolphins who escorted us there. Hundreds of dolphins in various pods, each with a trademark trick they would perform for us, followed the boat for several miles at a time as we sailed adrift on an empty ocean. It was the only life we saw, with the exception of a seagull we named “Hans” who spent one night on our bough.

I worked with a tattoo artist in Hawaii who made a tribal dolphin for me, and my ex-husband got a larger version of it on his back. I wonder if he regrets that, or if he thinks of me whenever he passes a mirror or explains it to a new lover.

“You have really lived, maybe its time to settle down,” he said, bouncing on his toes as he walked. He kept reintroducing the domestic fantasy to me, and I had worked so hard to rub it out after Abe, so I kept quiet.

“I walk on this side of the street, because you see that tree over there, next to the fire station?” he asked. I nodded. “There is a hornet’s nest over there. I have been meaning to tell the firefighters about it,” he said. Later, I would avoid that side of the street because of his advice and realized that little mention was meant to protect me. He was being a gentleman. Oddly, that is still one of the first memories I keep of him.

We got to school, and hung out in the courtyard as everyone collected. It was a busy day, we were finalizing our groups for the semester, our paperwork for residency and finishing workshops, so everyone was there at the same time. Huck lay on his back along the concrete bench and played songs off his phone, “Will I see you . . . in September . . . or lose you . . . to a summer love.”

I jumped in on vocals, “I’ll be alone each and every night . . . While you’re away, don’t forget to write . . . ” He joined me in poor harmony, and together we sang as all the depressed and fatigued writers collected around us. The classmate who lent me Huck’s story a few days before, walked up and said, “What a surprise to see you two together.” We ignored him and continued to sing in duet, he just stood there with his mouth open.

“Have a good time but remember . . . There is danger in the summer moon above . . . Will I see you in September . . .Or lose you to a summer love . . . ”

Kate, the nicer version of my assigned class buddy, briefly approached us, then double backed, “You two are too happy to be around right now.”

“Will I see you, in September-” we sang, then, out of time we corrected, “in December . . .” (December is our next residency)

“Or lose you . . .” I quickly fit in an awkward, “To a Milwaukee love.” Huck laughed. So much for discretion.

***

We parted ways for our mentor groups. The program incorporates “mentor groups” which include 5-6 students who share one mentor (a faculty member), a reading list and facilitate discussions on those selected readings once a month. My group was (and still is) all women. It was easy talking to my mentor after spending most of the week over-analyzing eye contact and fishing for validation from the other faculty. Something about my mentor reminded me about the film industry, and I was in better form when speaking with her. The other students gathered in a circle, eating sandwiches and wraps from one of the two over-priced delis in the office park, and we all presented our mentor with a personalized academic agenda. Mine was written wrong, of course.

As we wrapped up our paperwork and paper wrappers, caught the napkins that flew away and clumsily stuffed our papers back in our book bag, I found myself in a unique, blunt conversation with two other students- one was molested by a family member, and the other came home from school as a child and witnessed her father’s suicide. All three of us were so light with our confessions, there was no reluctance. In fact, we even laughed a little bit about the trauma, which might sound weird, but as one student said, “What else can you do? There is no proper reaction. Sometimes all you can do is laugh.” I realized artists, not just writers, started as little children who learned the day was determined by sensing the tone of the room, the subtle behavior of our fathers, details other children didn’t need to worry about. We learned how to survive by studying everyone around us- and that can make you a bit mad but it provides you with the skills set to see people.

Artists are children who studied to survive and were silenced in some method, by trauma, by abuse, by life somehow, and grew up without the ability to use their voice. In this case, we learned to write instead. What made me the most proud of our sacred circle at school was how unashamed we all were. Shame keeps us from identifying and understanding each other, and now we were children in grown-up bodies who cheated the system and found a way to make all the ugliness absolutely magnificent.

***

After class and meeting with George, Cat, and my other classmates, I headed back to Huck’s hotel. He told me the day before that he needed to be alone the night before his flight. I didn’t intend to spend the rest of the night with him, but I couldn’t help it.

I walked into the hotel room, to find him laying across the bed with a book in hand.

When he peeled himself off the bed, I remember the afternoon light turning his hair to gold, and he said, “I told my friends back home I may have met someone who is a keeper.” My same old joke, “Oh yeah? Who?” He recounted the conversation for me, describing me to his friends. I remember thinking to myself yet again, “Don’t fuck this up!” but how don’t you fuck something like this up? I love Huck, I do. He is beautiful and talented and made me feel like I belonged with someone, or at least somewhere. He and I were magic in the same room together, but it was an intoxicating combination of vulnerable, proud, content, weary- so much was there I wanted to keep and protect, but at the same time it left me feeling completely powerless and uncomfortable. I would have to let him go the next morning. The distance and time would dirty and confuse the bond, maybe even break it.

I couldn’t run to his doorstep on a bad day, and get stoned watching Seinfeld with him on the couch. He couldn’t stop by for conjugal visits when he was drunk and horny. We couldn’t sit, eat and talk about our day, face to face, or rely on the other person being there, in the flesh. Develop a routine. See the other person’s face when asking them something, confessing something, venting about something. Those are staples to any relationship.

We both held each other as the afternoon light dimmed. “I don’t want the sun to set,” he said, his head buried in me like a child. “I know, me either, but . . . the Sun Also Rises,” I said slowly to really nail that punchline.

“Oh God,” he laughed.

The skyline blackened, with chalky clouds of pollution drifting out to the ocean. I held him and waited for my phone to deliver directions for the night’s festivities. My friends were planning on going to a lesbian bar. Huck wasn’t thrilled about that plan and hadn’t committed, but it was unspoken that we would spend the night together anyway. Our bodies were done with sex, they wouldn’t work, despite our starts and our stops, our oral acts interrupted by random conversation points or laughter.

“My safe word is ‘hugs’, by the way,” he said, on top of me. I stopped what I was doing and said, “How can I say a safe word with your big cock stuffed down my throat?”

I was sore and we decided we wouldn’t have sex again, to save our bodies and hearts the pain.

His classmates called and asked us to join them in Venice. We paid for a taxi and rode in silence. I was smoking more than usual. He held my fingers and said, “I could break your little finger in this position.”

“You can’t scare me with your insanity,” I said, turning to look out the window. He was testing me, and it did scare me a little.

When we arrived, we were grouchy from fatigue and famished. We stopped at Cairo Cowboy, a mediterranean restaurant right next to the beach. Conversation was strained a bit, mostly, I believe, because our brains were in overdrive, not just with each other, but school and going back home. It was hard taking my eyes off of him, it was delightful just studying his mannerisms, how he tightened his jaw after saying something he wanted me to take seriously, how he didn’t like to move his drink when sipping out of it, how simple and almost short he was with our waitress- who was stunningly beautiful. I took pictures of him, and he asked, “Can I do no wrong?”


I actually got the sense that taking pictures made him nervous, as it does with most people. Its a shame because I just really love the pictures I take of people. He rattled off some excuse why he didn’t take pictures of me, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to remember him this way, just in case, I never saw him again. Or worse yet, if I saw him again and nothing was the same.

Outside, a homeless man sang Led Zeppelin in acapella for us. “You can’t pay for this kind of entertainment,” I said.

His friends cancelled, everyone was tired. I was insecure it was because of me, but Huck and I analyzed and refuted the theory before paying for a taxi to take us all the way back to Culver City again.

We crawled back into our lair, and slipped back onto the bed with beer. “Do you like to be strangled during sex?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he shrugged.

I adoringly pet him, as he lay on top of me, gently stroking his hair. “Do you like to be hit?” I asked.

“I like to fight,” he admitted.

“I don’t hit.”

“Its not the only thing I like,” he said.

“The girls that you have sex with, do they battle with you?”

“One of the last girls I had sex with, it got kind of ugly. I accidentally ripped out her earring during sex, so there was blood coming down over her, and I kept fucking her and slapping her. She liked it, but . . . it was just fucked up.”

I was quiet. Stroking.

“Are you taking notes to use this?,” he charged, “Are you going to write about everything I say, is that why you are asking me these questions?”

“I am always taking notes,” I said, “But I won’t write about you unless you give me permission.”

“No, you can,” he said after a few seconds, “but I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

I reached for my beer and tried to drink from it without lifting my head off the pillow. It spilled. “Why can’t I ever figure out the secret to drinking while lying down?” I said. “Its called using a straw,” he said, smiling.

I would struggle to fall asleep that night, and I struggle to end this blog. I would do almost anything to slip right back in under his arm and feel everything he was all over again. It was the last time I was truly content.

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