Girl Scout Epiphanies
On a map of the United States, the drive from San Jose to Hirshfield is a tall stork with excellent posture, its feet planted in the South Bay marshlands, its shoulders arching westward from Ashland, then due north to Corvallis, where it stretches seaward to dip its bill into the Pacific. But the map is not where the traveler takes account of her journey. This happens in the watercolor landscapes, the cognitive blinks of gas stations, rest stops, offramps, restaurants – and the wildfires going off in my brain.
The buzz gripped me early in the morning, an alchemy of acrylic paint, typewriter ribbon, and the varnish scraped from an old guitar. The sun was barely tapping at the windows when I popped from sleep like a piece of toast, and just about ran in place during my shower. Five minutes later, I was descending the driveway, carrying my mosaic wrapped in an old comforter. I heard a step behind me and found my poor sister, bleary-eyed and quizzical, dragging forward for her farewell embrace.
“You’re really… sure about this?” she asked, fighting back yawns.
“Does it seem to you like I have any doubts, little sister?”
She gave me a kiss on the cheek, then turned and sleep-walked to her porch.
It was early enough that I got over 17 without much traffic. After a hurried session of packing at my house, I raced into a tight but flowing Silicon Valley rush hour, settling into the vibration of distance passing beneath my feet (oh that sweet song of mileage). It wasn’t long before I was greeted by my thought-attendant, pushing a silver cart of accusations.
“Today we’ll be driving at a height of three feet,” she said. “May I remind you to please keep your seatbelt fastened at all times. If you look to the right of the cabin, you’ll notice the six-month portion of your non-renewable life that you threw away on computerized illusions and a man who heals his deepest pains with power tools. Should you find yourself unable to proceed directly to the Oregon Coast, a mask will descend from the overhead compartment with a fresh supply of cyanide gas. Have a pleasant flight, and thank you again for flying Rodeo Butt airlines.”
I obviously needed a little distraction. I flipped on the radio, hoping for some station that I couldn’t usually get. At the apex of the Benicia Bridge, over the wide, calm mouth of the Sacramento, I found a jazz station from Modesto, kicking into a session of Rat Pack favorites. Dino, Sammy and Frank provided the exact brand of chutzpah I needed to face down the sins of Hirshfield. They sang me to Redding, where the sky was blueing. I stopped at a too-modern gas station and was greeted by a thick wall of heat. I suppose I had been wussed-up by my air conditioning, but the temporary sauna made my skin go all a-tingle. Once I climbed back in and revved up to the standard mile-per-minute, the temperature shift brought on a whole new bevy of thoughts.
Most of the thoughts centered on a clear-eyed rundown of my own bad behavior. What, in short, could I possibly have been thinking? This brought me back to the Perfection Point Excess Syndrome. Had I, in fact, been hoping that Frosty would fail in his courtship? Was I just a little disappointed when his alarmingly sane parents showed up to nail my heart to his dartboard? Frosty was clearly going nowhere that didn’t have sand or waves, and true love meant giving up my addiction for Silicon Valley’s self-aggrandizing mythologies.
Failing to find a fatal negative in Frosty, then, I had been well-prepared for an alternate positive. Then along came handsome, successful McNeal and his intriguing packages of photocyberadventure. Whoosh! There goes the Silicon Girl, right into the trap of her own making.
That got me through the green spiderlegs of Lake Shasta and around the queen mountain herself, cruising the high plateau to Weed, where the thought occurred to me, Why would you call your town “Weed”? Why not just call it “Shithole” or “Stinkwad”?
Just about then I was coursing through Yreka and heard a radio spot for a bakery. Yreka bakery – my favorite palindrome. Fueled by wordplay, I slanted up the desert-dry Siskiyous and down the green Oregon luge run to Ashland, where I could feel those Panosys-generated Shakespearean theaters off in the foothills. Just beyond Medford, the sun laying its thumb atop the hilltop indent of the freeway, I scanned the dial and picked up a high school baseball game. A high school baseball game! And then I saw a billboard proclaiming that the Pope was the antichrist. And then one team beat the other on a suicide squeeze, and I stopped for gas in Grant’s Pass.
It was getting well into night, but I was determined to let my body go as far as it would take me. This plan lasted as far as the Seven Feathers Indian Casino in Canyonville, where I avenged Custer by extracting three bucks from the nickel slots. Even this, however, could not save me from a growing drowsiness, so I checked into a rest stop at Myrtle Creek. I curled up on a futon in the back of my Mitsubishi and ventured quickly into Dreamland.
I woke to the chatter of children, from the camper next-door. My eyes fuzzed into focus on the sycamore leaves parasoling my window, turning a pleasant yellow-brown with the early autumn.
After splashing my face in the ladies’ room and applying talc and deodorant to strategic locales, I dove back into the freeway, but was soon distracted by a little town just off the road. On my way out of a log-cabin general store, I spotted a smoke shop and ventured in, retrieving a pack of cigarettes with a Native American theme: no additives, grown under the philosophies of one-ness, approved by the Great Spirit. Cruel people, these Indians, pretending to be killed off by the white man only to instigate the greatest self-inflicted genocide of all time. I laughed at my little joke, lit one up and watched the white effluent as it scuttled across my windshield. Onward.
The next chain of thought struck me on the west end of Corvallis, as I loaded my chambers for the final run over the coastal mountains. It was about my childhood, a subject that doesn’t come up much because it was, well, unremarkably pleasant.
We all run inventories on our personal skills and traits, and many of us can say that we are a Mom’s child or a Dad’s child. Not me. I am an absolute dichotomy, a woman sectioned off by two equal streams.
My mom was a born-and-bred bleeding heart with an irrepressibly creative mind and a life-long love affair with color and spark. She was always writing little rhyming poems for us, leading our Girl Scout troops through one ingenious crafts project after another, doodling whimsical creatures while she talked on the phone. I was rifling through her files one time, looking for an old National Geographic, when I discovered a novel she had started: first chapter, last chapter, nothing in between. Her sewing room was piled with baskets of buttons, zippers, thread, patterns, stacks of magazines full of never-accomplished projects. She also loved buying kitschy two-dollar shoes at the thrift store and then bragging about them – pride being nothing compared to good bargain-hunting.
Her capacity for empathy was so great that I feared it would kill her off. She would sit and watch the evenings news, and every time they reported the standard accident, killing, or house-fire, she would wince and cry “Oh my!” like each one had happened to a dear friend.
”Mom!” I complained. “You can’t take that much responsibility for the whole world!”
She also translated that empathy into action. She had a deep compassion for adolescents, and once Meg and I hit college, she took a job at a center for troubled teens. Former gang-bangers, children of wife-beaters, crack addicts, and even murderers. One of the counselors was killed by a kid with a kitchen knife, but even then, she wouldn’t think of leaving. She kept working there, and she kept crocheting blankets for all her friends, and she kept adding baubles to a gypsy dress that she wore to work every Halloween.
Dad, on the other hand, was discipline personified, a former Air Force mechanic. He would fix your bike for you, but not unless you stayed there with him and observed each slow, careful step. That way, the next time, maybe you could fix it yourself. Sitting in one place for such a long time was sheer hell, but over the years we began to notice that the things Dad fixed, stayed fixed.
Dad also had a thing about instruction books. He considered the use of a newly purchased appliance not a right but a privilege, one that you earned only by reading the instructions front to back. Dad didn’t want simply to open cans with his new can opener, he wanted to understand how the can opener opened cans, why it opened cans. He wanted to be the Zen master of can openers.
He assembled sentences in the same manner, pausing between subject and predicate like a pedestrian stopping at the island of an intersection, in order to attach the most precise ending possible. To hyper teenage children, waiting for Dad to finish a sentence was the cruelest form of torture. And it was always a bad idea to try and supply the ending yourself, lest you catch the wrong end of that dark military stare. One day, when he was doing it every other sentence, I started counting off the pauses in my head: one Mississippi, two Mississippi... Seven seconds. If you don’t think that’s a long time, try it out on your friends and see if they don’t interrupt you.
This caution also came through in his politics. Dad was one of those irritating Republicans who insisted on backing up his opinions with logic and reason. He had a great sense of humor about it, too. One day, he spotted my mother and me outside the polling place and declared, “Well! That cancels out my vote.”
One last thing. My mom’s handwriting was the most beautiful cursive you have ever seen; if you planted it in your garden, it would sprout graceful little violets the color of ink. My dad’s cursive was indecipherable, so he wrote instead in sharply drawn block letters. You could use their edges to shave your legs.
In high school, I possessed a great degree of playfulness. I sang in the chorus, performed in a couple of musicals, and hung around after school with the ceramics teacher, Mrs. Koepcke, who taught me how to make calm-looking, strangely anthropomorphic birds. Mrs. Koepcke said that I was genuinely talented, that I should consider art school – but I was also good in science, math and English. Once I hit college, my father’s river grew strong in the rain of impending adulthood, leading me to my MBA at Wharton.
I have been happy and successful in my father’s river; navigating its currents has made me a strong and sharp-minded woman. But sometimes I long for my teenage self, sculptor of wise-looking bluebirds. Now, given the chance to stand on a sandbar and gaze leftward toward my heart, I was astonished to find my mother’s river still there, fed by tributaries of fancy and whim, awaiting my return.
One primary attraction to motherhood is the chance to revisit our own childhoods, to rediscover the joys and adventure of play. We tell ourselves that we are doing this only to cultivate our children’s minds, but isn’t it nice to play again? Isn’t it nice to have fun? I think of that silly game of follow-the-leader with Maisey and Tanner. I felt my mother’s artfulness just then, pumping through my limbs, lessening the pull of gravity.
Sailing through the little green towns of Highway 20 – Burnt Woods, Eddyville, Chitwood – following the straight-edge walls of evergreen sheared away by loggers, I realized that part of my decision had already been made. Whether or not I shared my life with a man named Frosty, his bottle-shards had worked their way under my skin, leading me to a couple of hearty resolutions. First, to swim in my mother’s river, and second, to stop waiting for the appearance of children before I allowed myself to play. I rounded a bend in the road to find Archer Memorial Bridge, hunching its concrete shoulders over the rivermouth. I held my breath and drove on. I wanted this man so much it made my muscles ache.
Driving up the waterfront to 101, I contemplated the various strategies running through my head and realized I couldn’t have any. Showing up at the campsite after six months was bad enough; showing up with a prepared speech would be obnoxious. I deserved only to present myself and take whatever abuse I had coming.
I descended Third Street in the mandarin-orange twilight of a surprisingly clear day. If I was looking for signs, that was pleasant enough. No way I wanted any notice from the folks at the Bel Canto (I had forgone postcards to Hessie, as well), so I parked my Mitsubishi at the farthest corner of the Knickerbocker Beach parking lot. I took a back-alley route along the mom-and-pop motels, and then descended a cobblestone path to the state park’s southernmost trail. This climbed back to the wide grass field along the path to Frosty’s.
The failing afterglow lit up the well-worn path like a sidewalk, but once I crossed the footbridge, the lush forest was pitch dark. I stumbled into a clump of ferns, and realized I had to slow down and feel for the packed dirt beneath my soles.
The evening wind coursed in from the ocean, rustling the leaves above me, and I found my head rumbling with thoughts. I tried to recall the last time the force of sheer anxiety had made my heart beat so fast. I had to go all the way back to fourth grade, when I read a piece of scripture at my church. The problem was, Pastor Price booked my reading right after the sermon, and that sermon went on forever! He had this way of fading off into what sounded like conclusions, then taking great Old Testament pauses (much like my dad’s) before launching yet another tangent. About the fifth time he did this, I was ready to proclaim myself an atheist.
But all this pain did teach me something. Every time the pastor headed into a windup, I could feel my heart accelerate, my mouth dry, and my breathing become shallow. The more familiar these sensations became, the more I could control them, and lessen their effect.
This served me well in my career. I eventually became the best speaker in the company, and was often called on for crucial presentations. I drew on this power as I neared the campsite, and saw firelight seeping through the trees. I measured the quickening of my pulse, the twitching in my limbs, the fireworks in my nerve endings, and gave myself an important final command: you don’t want to surprise a grizzly bear in the wild, so you’d best enter talking. I swung around the madrone tree at the end of the path, proclaiming as I went.
“Wonderful weather you’re having. I’d always heard Oregon was more of a rainy…”
What I saw by the dull orange light was a fleshy spider atop the picnic table, eight limbs, two faces. The one facing me, marked by a small, vee-shaped goatee, was Frosty’s. The other, turning in surprise from a pedestal of two cheeks and a long, curving question mark of spine, was Carlotta’s.
The shock reduced me to animal instincts – fight or flight – and I flew. I squeaked out a few random vowels and sprinted back down the trail. The foliage rushed by on either side, lashing me with sharp fingers. I heard the thump of my shoes on the footbridge, then dashed into the field without stopping to find the trail. This cost me soon enough, as I struck a log and went sprawling, landing on my right knee. The pain only served to spur me on; I bounced up, found the path to the clifftop, then scampered down the stone walkway to the beach.
I leapt to the sand, just missing an outgoing roller, then sped past Mocha Rock in search of refuge. In the faint light I spotted what looked like a hovering seagull - then it morphed into a flag, tied to a pole atop a high mound. On closer inspection, the flag became a ragged T-shirt, knotted to a piece of driftwood. Behind the mound lay a deep trench – probably dug out by some kids.
That was good enough for me. I jumped in, landing with the side of my face against the cool, damp sand. It was a soothing sensation, but I knew it wouldn’t last. I rolled sideways to rest my back against the slope and found my old friend Ursa Major poking his snout into a bank of low clouds. I ducked my little-girl head, waiting for the sermon to end, but it was just me and the Pacific, out there rumbling around, and that really was what I had seen up there, Frosty and Carlotta, naked on a tabletop. My grief and shock were too bundled up in my own stupidity to allow me to cry about it. What gave me the right to make plans, anyway, to read palms, to plot my horoscopes – to assume that the outside world gave one half of a shit about my Girl Scout epiphanies?
My self-loathing demanded physical expression, so I flung myself against the sand. I discovered it’s very difficult to hurt yourself on sand, so I settled for hard language, cussing blue streaks as I threw my fists against the bottom of the trench.
“Fuck you, you fucking MORON, Sandy! You fucking IDIOT! What were you thinking, you stupid piece of shit? You drop in after six months without so much as a postcard and everyone’s supposed to kneel in your path and lay down fucking gardenias? God DAMN you, Sandy! God DAMN you…”
In flinging my limbs about, I began to notice the damage I had incurred during my flight, scratches on my face and hands, a big gash on my right knee, maybe even a broken toe where I had tripped over the log. I delighted in my wounds, I wanted more of them, more pain to bite at me and let me know I was still alive.
But maybe that was the problem. I was alive. The ocean called to me, ready to wear away the rough spots, make me smooth and beautiful, wash me into the path of some kindly beachcomber. I crept to the top of the bunker to gauge the ocean’s intentions, and found half of Whalespout Rock missing.
“No!” I cried. “No!” to the Big Bear, crooking his head around the fog bank. Can’t I have just one fucking thing? Can’t one fucking thing stay the same?”
“Would you like to hear a story?” said the Bear. I slumped into the trench to find Frosty looking down at me. I might have crawled out and sprinted down the beach, but my limbs were useless now. Real or mythological, Frosted Glass Man was here, and I would just have to listen.
He settled on the back of the trench, dangling his feet over the edge, rubbing his goatee.
“A thousand generations after Sandrina Fingertip gave birth to the human race, there remained only one who remembered her story. This one man wandered the beach every day, hoping to reassemble the pieces of Frosted Glass Woman and bring back the glassling race. One day, he was returning from his harvest when he saw a beautiful glass statue of a woman perched on Mocha Rock. As he came closer, however, he realized it was a woman with ordinary skin and flesh – but one who bore the same features as the image of Frosted Glass Woman he had kept in his mind.
“The woman saw divinity in him, as well. She joined him in his daily journeys, and at the end of the day they would sit on Mocha Rock and tell each other stories. Now, as anyone can tell you, all things that pass from one lover to another leave a residue in the air. So, every evening when the man and woman talked, the grains of their words drifted out from Mocha Rock and settled at a spot a hundred yards out to sea. After many months, the lovers found that their words had risen from the sea in the form of two great rocks. The ocean would rumble between these rocks and shoot out silvered breaths, much like the spout of a whale.
“One day, the woman left to see her family. She promised the man that, while she was gone, she would send her words to him, and he could read them to the ocean, and that way their beautiful rocks would continue to grow. But the woman did not send her words. After a time, her story rock began to weaken and crumble, until one day a storm came and swept the rock completely away.
“The sight of his rock standing alone in the ocean brought the man great pain, and his tears fell into the ocean. They drifted to an island just past the horizon where the spirit of Frosted Glass Woman resides, in the form of a brightly colored tropical bird. Frosted Glass Woman recognized them as the tears of her only remaining follower, and she breathed her spirit into them, changing them into spheres of glass. She dipped her feathers into the ocean and used them to paint the spheres in extraordinary colors, then placed them back in the water and returned them to their source.
“When the man began to find his transformed tears along the shoreline, they brought him much comfort. He vowed that, should he find fifty of these small planets, he would release his memory of the woman and send his grief drifting into the ocean, never to return. Two months later, when he did, indeed, discover the fiftieth orb – an eye-shaped spot of indigo surrounded by rings of green and white – he kept his vow.”
At the end of Frosty’s story, the ache in my muscles drifted out to sea, as well, and I took my first full breath in days. I wiped my hands down the sides of my face and found him there, a clear-eyed statue of glass, gazing at the remaining half of Whalespout Rock.
“So that strange vibration we heard…”
“Yes,” he said. “The old rock was giving way all the time. Would you like to come to the campsite and warm up? You look a little roughed up. We’d better clean up those scratches.”
I wasn’t sure how to phrase the next question, so I reduced it to a word. “Carlotta?”
Frosty let out a little burst of laughter. “That’s… a very interesting story. I’ll tell you later, but don’t worry – she’s not up there. Here…”
He extended his hand to help me out of the ditch. I allowed myself a minute of shelter in the hollow of his shoulder, and then we started slowly up the cliff.
After dabbing my wounds with disinfectant and bandaging my knee, Frosty stoked the fire and heated up some mulled wine. He handed me a mug and wrapped me in a blanket, the combination of which had me feeling immensely warm and better. Frosty fell unbidden into the story of him and Carlotta.
“Do you recall your tale of the moon’s creation?” he asked. “When Earth and Orpheus collided?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“The same theory holds that, before the collision, this proto-Earth was covered completely in water, populated solely by aquatic creatures. One of the consequences of the meeting with Orpheus was the creation of land masses, which enabled the Earth to foster the growth of reptiles, mammals, plants, birds and humans.”
He perched on the picnic table and placed his feet on the bench.
“You, Sandy, are my Orpheus, the catalyst for my evolution. Before you arrived – let’s face it – there was a reason I was consorting solely with tourist ladies. They all had imminent expiration dates.”
“That was pretty obvious,” I said.
“I thought it might be. Until you came along. For the first time in years, I was faced with the idea of working on something deeper. It was scary – but good. I guess what I’m getting at is that, even though you broke my heart, you left me with new Orphean terra firma to work with. Even, maybe, with a local girl, someone who wasn’t going anywhere.
“The details were all your fault, too. Week after week, I would hike to the Bel Canto for that elusive California postcard. The third time it failed to arrive, I decided to console myself with a hearty breakfast at Gilda’s. I knew Carlotta from before, of course – that big bonfire when my folks were here. Over my weekly therapy breakfasts we began to talk, and flirt. Later, once I found net float number fifty, we began to date. Despite her anxieties regarding the ghost of Sandy Lowiltry – the messiah who would rise again – she and I have traveled to great ocean depths.”
“Oh God,” I said. “Meaning tonight’s interruption was Carlotta’s worst nightmare.”
“Sorry to say – yeah,” said Frosty. “But it shouldn’t matter. It’s awfully frustrating when a woman refuses to trust your affections. I told her many times that it wouldn’t matter if you came back. So here you are, and it still doesn’t matter.”
I studied the spices floating in my wine, feeling a little stabbed in the heart. “You love her a lot, don’t you?”
Frosty gave me a purposeful look. “Yes. I do.”
“Well, that’s too bad,” I said, then shot back a look of my own. “I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
“That’s all right.” He hopped down to poke at the fire and refill my wine. “So. How’d you like to tell me your story?”
I didn’t relish confessing my sins of self-delusion, but I think it was good for Frosty to hear the list of remarkable events it took to keep me away. It was a long story, and in the course of telling it we drank two small pots of mulled wine. After that, Frosty pulled out some wicked homemade plum brandy. Apparently, neither one of us wanted to be sober anytime soon. Lord knows, we had our justifications. Mine was a punishment more harsh and sudden than even I deserved. As for Frosty, my reappearance had caused a flaming row between him and Carlotta, leaving him feeling generally persecuted by the fickle psyches of the female gender.
“What I am being punished for,” he said, flouncing one of my Chippewa cigarettes like a gay actor, “is my innate desirability – or rather, my innate repellent-ness, depending on how you look at it. Now, Sandra Lowiltry – SHE finds me so fucking irresistible that she pitches boyfriend, family and fancy-shmancy job on the off-chance that I might take her back.”
I raised my glass to interject, but was driven back by Frosty’s big Hungarian laugh (it changed nationality by the hour).
“HAH-hah-hah-hah! On the other hand, were she really, truly, even half-assed fond of the boy, perhaps she would not have waited six goddamn months to ditch the yuppie schmuck and get her fine white ass back to Oregon! Why, it must have been one of those – what do you call them? – epiphanies?”
He took on an expression of indigestive reverence and lifted his palms to heaven.
“But, well,” I stammered. “It sort of was, Frosty.”
“Of COURSE it was! Each and every member of the female species is required to have an epiphany regarding his holiness Frosted Glass Man. I didn’t ask for the job, but yes indeedy there it is. If you are a forty-year-old, good-lookin’, spiritually deprived turista lady you are required by the federal tax code to report to Hirshfield with your Technicolor homophonic Freudian slide projector and find that Frosty!”
He was working up a good gospel rant now. He waggled a finger and went right on.
“But epiphanies don’t last, young lady. They are the mayflies of the metaphorical Scala Naturae, present on this earth only long enough to fuck and die – the same fate as my darling lube-job flings. They screw, they talk all night about their feelings, and then they disappear. Touch the magic penis and be healed, I say! And take home some lovely glass souvenirs.”
He wandered over to the fire, and then turned to me.
“I had a neat little convenience-store arrangement. And then you came along. I was like… the best goddamn singles hitter in the world – look for that outside pitch, slap it into left field, steal second, wait for one of the big guys to drive you in. You’re the best, man, because you know what you do well, and by damn, you do it!
“But then, one day, our singles hitter – let’s call him Frosty Gwynn – he’s got two strikes on him, leading off the bottom of the tenth, and he reaches inside just to foul off an inside pitch, but somehow he drops the bat-head on it and that sucker flies over the right-field fence, just inside the foul pole. Lo and behold, what manner of magic is this? The fans roar, the teammates jump around like Rockettes, the sportscasters burst forth in adjectives – and you, Frosty Gwynn, are a big fat fucking hero!
“Or so you think. Because now, the evil drug of hubristamine has entered your system, and you start looking for that inside pitch every time you come to the plate. And the pitchers don’t earn all those millions for nothing, pal. They see what you’re doing, so they slide them sliders off the outside corner – and you take a lot of lonely walks back to the dugout. And hey, guess what? You are no longer the best goddamn singles hitter in the National League, buddy boy, you are… you are…”
He jumped to the top of the picnic table, sending a wineglass smashing to the bench.
“You are the most mediocre power slugger wannabe in God’s creation!”
Frosty jumped back down, fished in his cabinet for a replacement glass and filled it up with brandy. He sat next to me, took a big swig, and let out a happy breath.
“Well, maybe,” I said. “Why are you so fixated on the idea that your relationship with Carlotta is now a failure?”
“Because… because…” Frosty knelt on the ground at my feet, wearing a manic, Shakespearean-jester expression. “Because every time Carlotta and I get naked, she can see a tattoo on my left butt-cheek that says, ‘Property of Sandra Lowiltry.’ She has this completely worthless streak of sisterly devotion.”
He stood and circled the fire, working his way back to a rant.
“I mean, excuse me, Sandy, but as a card-carrying member of the female gender, perhaps you could tell me: don’t I get a little credit for getting my ass dumped by thee? I am definitely the victim here, but Carlotta still sees me as the strong one, the guru. That’s why she told me, that if you ever returned, she and I would be instantly splitsville. Because you, to use the high school phrase, still had ‘dibs’ on me.
“Can you understand the complete untenability of my position? I am simultaneously too desirable AND too undesirable, too faithful and yet somehow too unfaithful, to be considered for a long-term relationship. I am the puppy who is praised for peeing on the carpet, punished for shitting in the back yard, and so here I am, going through life with my teeth bared and my tail wagging. In short, I’VE GOT COGNITIVE DISSONANCE UP THE YIN-YANG!”
Frosty pulled a pratfall and ended up flat on his back, his head next to my feet.
“Could you pass my brandy?” he asked. I did so, and took a solid belt from mine before asking the next question.
“So Frosty. Are you still in love with me?”
Frosty wagged a finger at me.
“Ohno! You cannot rent that video here, young lady. I don’t ping-pong around between romances like you women.”
“Frosty, may I remind you that, at this very moment, your face is in an excellent position for stomping? Seriously, give me a real answer. I promise I’m not going to play games with it. I’m just… trying to figure something out.”
Frosty tried to take a sideways sip of brandy, with little success.
“Yes,” he replied. “I retain my affections for you. I’m not going to do a damn thing about them, but yet, the feelings are still there.”
“A buzz in the stomach?”
“An over-awareness of one’s own breathing. Yes.”
I gazed at the coals in the firepit, pulsing like the buttons on a rocket-ship.
“In that case,” I said. “I would like to give a rebuttal… to your assumptions… about our assumptions… about you.”
“Hah!” said Frosty. “Good luck!”
I positioned my tennis shoes at either side of Frosty’s head. “It’s time to go for a walk, honey-bunny. And for God’s sake, bring some more booze.”
It was an odd sensation, treading our much-traveled beach, stomping down ridges of sand that we ourselves may have kicked up months before. I felt like I had been tossed into a tumbler, had my skin scraped all over but managed to come out all right, as I sidled along in my loose, nicked-up limbs. The night was cold, a clear sky punctuated by a pie-crust of day-old moon. The walk was warming me up, though, along with Frosty’s fifth of vodka, and the flow of wild honesty that had become our lingua franca. I took a bracing slug of booze as we passed the ruins of Whalespout Rock.
“Pah!” I gasped. “Ooh boy, that hurts good. I always knew that bitch Carlotta had her eyes on you. You can’t trust a woman.”
“Tell me about it,” said Frosty, and I didn’t even care to take it personally. (I think, in fact, that I was turning into a guy.)
“Yeah, those Cyd Charisse legs, cute pixie-bob hair, that wide-ass bedroom smile – lotsa artillery, and she certainly was foisting it on you at the bonfire.”
“Carlotta had her eyes on me long before I met you,” said Frosty. “She used to watch me from the break room upstairs at Gilda’s. Had all kinds of fantasy profiles worked up. The world’s youngest retired America’s Cup yachtsman. A burned-out rock star, recovering from the break-up of his band. A once-famous poet who has renounced academia, declared himself the founder of a new ‘Star Wars’ branch of Zen Buddhism, and retreated to the Oregon coast in order to get more in touch with ‘the force.’”
“That’s just silly!” I declared.
“Not much sillier than goddesses with skins from Coca-Cola bottles.”
“Yeah, okay. So get us back to Carlotta. Was she not flirting with you at the bonfire?”
“She was flirting, but without intention. She was extremely loyal to you.”
“And practical. One does not begin strong relationships by stealing one’s lover away from someone else. There’s always the lurking sensation that the same fate will be returned upon oneself. Very smart girl, Carlotta. And yes, Cyd Charisse legs. Thank you for that painful reminder.”
I responded by handing over the vodka with a coy smile. Frosty took a mighty pull. You could tell he was sincerely torn up about Carlotta. But God, how I still wanted him. I was much less wise than she.
“There’s a certain extremism about Carlotta, though,” said Frosty. His steps were growing sloppier, kicking out sprays of sand as he walked. “You ever pay a compliment to someone only to have them dismiss it? ‘Oh no, it was nothing.’”
“Seems okay, but when you think about it… it’s a bit insulting. Taken to the extreme, that person is basically saying, ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about. I sucked and we both know it!’”
“Bingo!” said Frosty. He flicked the words off his fingertips and over the Bel Canto, which was now looming on our left. “It’s even worse when you tell someone you love them, and they refuse to believe you. After a few dozen occurrences, it gets downright irritating, and then, when the old girlfriend shows up, she goes chickenshit and disappears. You gotta wonder how often that kind of thing is going to happen, how many times life is going to throw you a curve ball. And where will your life partner be just when you need her most? I’m tellin’ ya, it rips me up inside. No matter how much I want her, Carlotta and I may not make it.”
I believed him, because his words were ripping me up inside. I was relieved when we arrived at the Knickerbocker parking lot. Frosty settled with his back to the seawall, the same wall that had held those balancing rock sculptures the week before I left. I unlocked the tailgate of my Mitsubishi and handed Frosty the blue-green net float. He studied it like a gypsy searching a crystal ball.
“Evidently,” I said, “one of your teardrops was heading for Disneyland.”
I sat down beside him, aware by the near-emptiness of our vodka bottle that we both must be very drunk. I smiled with stupid amusement, slapped Frosty on the knee, and started my story.
Photo by MJV