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Eventually there comes a night when Jasmina comes to my bed. Mostly because my room is small, and we have nowhere else to sit. We watch television, my back to the wall, Jasmina using me as her personal armchair. She continues to inch backward until her rear-end is doing a number on my crotch. My intentions might be as pure as driven snow, but my body’s intentions are abundantly clear. So I give in. I shift her hair to the side and kiss the back of her neck. This is, apparently, an ignition button. The following minutes are a maelstrom of fingers and lips and clothing.
She pushes off on my chest and tumbles to the floor. She sits on her knees, her blouse halfway off, her breath coming in chuffs.
“I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t want to. God. I really want to. It’s just that you need to know some things. It wouldn’t be fair.”
I rub my chest; if I looked, I would probably find a pair of handprints. “Okay.”
She shakes her head, trying to regain her senses, then closes her blouse and settles back on her haunches. A car drives past, sending a square of light across the room. She gives me a long look.
I lost my parents at six. They were killed in a bombing, in Sarajevo. I saw the whole thing.
They sent me to New Jersey to live with my bachelor uncle. He seemed very nice, very affectionate, but the hugs and kisses turned sexual. By the time I was twelve, he had advanced to intercourse. Somewhere along the line I put the pieces together and I ran away. I picked Minneapolis, just because I liked the name.
I was lucky. I hung around the bus depot for so long that somebody called social services. I was eventually matched up with a foster family, the Gaylords. They seemed nice, but I had learned not to trust nice. They weren’t doing anything illegal, but they were definitely working the system. It’s really difficult to place teenagers, so the Gaylords knew they could pile up the checks by taking nothing but teenagers. They had ten of us crammed into a three-bedroom house. A lot of the boys had criminal records; I spent a lot of my time trying to keep them out of my pants.
I managed to find a guardian: Sass, a big black girl who was 17 and basically using the Gaylords’ as a way station until she came of age. She told the boys that anyone who messed with me would face the prospect of a late-night castration. Sass also seemed to have money, and clothes. When I asked her about this, she took me downtown to a large Victorian house. The owner was Georgina Salazar, a rough-looking Puerto Rican lady who gave me the sales pitch. She provided regular checkups and birth control pills. The men were required to use condoms at all times. Any incident of abuse was met with immediate blacklisting. The girls could make use of the Victorian’s many bedrooms, and were asked not to meet clients elsewhere unless the man had established a long-term relationship.
Thanks to Uncle Laszlo, I was acquainted with the equipment. Thanks to my parents, I had good genes – and thanks to Sass’s reassurances, I knew that I was good-looking. I became very popular, and I even had some celebrity clients: a congressman and a televangelist. When Sass turned 18, the two of us moved into an apartment.
I walked into Georgina’s office one evening. She was chain-smoking, and crying. I asked her what was wrong. I remember thinking that she sounded like a leaking tire.
“Sss… Sss…” She slammed her fist on the desk. “Sass. Sass is dead.”
It was one of her regulars, one of her best clients. He was an entertainment promoter; he handled all the big touring acts that came through town. Rock stars, circuses, Broadway musicals. But his company went under. When his wife found out, she left him in the middle of the night. I thought about that later. Finding out that your wife only wanted you if you were rich. That’s got to bring up a lot of anger.
But his wife wasn’t around, so he took it out on Sass. He beat her with a fireplace poker, and he kept on beating her. Georgina said she almost couldn’t identify her. She said she looked like a piece of roadkill.
That was my wake-up call. I went home, packed a couple suitcases – God it was hard, Sass’s stuff was everywhere. I caught a bus to San Francisco.
The downside of someone as stoic as Paul is that he’s awfully hard to read. All during my story, he has remained at the head of the bed. He has said nothing, and made no gesture. It’s like talking to a statue. I know that my story has room for sympathy – the orphan, the molested child – but still I feel filthy, and his silence is not helping. It goes on forever – thirty, forty seconds. He smacks his lips and shifts to a sitting position.
“I don’t think I’ve known anyone who’s had a life like that. It’s pretty… incredible.”
“I wanted to tell you before we… I’m healthy, Paul. I don’t have any diseases or anything. But I know that some men might not want to be involved with someone who did those kind of things.”
I wish it wasn’t so dark. I wish I could see his eyes.
“It doesn’t seem like… you had much choice. But it’s… You’ll have to give me a little time. This is really… different. But I mean… it came out okay, right? Not for Sass, - Jesus, I mean, horrible. But you got out okay, it kind of scared you out of the business, right?”
Oh, God. My silence hangs in the air until Paul gets his answer. He stands, picks up his shoes and stands in the doorway.
He’s gone. I hear his steps as he pads down the stairs, and then the front door. I sit there for a long time, staring into the darkness.
I stop at a bench to put on my shoes. The moon is disappearing. Miles later, it’s gone, and I remember what they said on the news. When it comes back to full, I find myself approaching Sausalito, a row of houseboats, the reborn moon painting a white line across the water. A small boat cruises across the inlet like a ghost.
What we call morals are not limited to the religious, and in this case are probably beside the point. I know men who are genetically wired to sleep with as many women as they can – and who tacitly accept that those women are sleeping with others. I am not one of those men.
I turn around and raise my hands over my head. In the distance, I see the hills of Mill Valley, slipping under a blanket of fog. I drop my hands and start to walk.
Photo by MJV