[A snippet from a writing project in gestation that will probably make more sense if you read the preceding snippets.]
If you’re reading this ten, twenty, thirty years from now, then the technological landscape must be beyond what I can imagine at present. Certainly I was not able to anticipate how quickly this landscape would change during the time period that I’m writing about. When I started blogging about my experiences in Mexico I was the only person I knew who blogged. Most people I knew probably had never heard the word “blog” uttered by a human being. It still strikes me as a ridiculous word, one that rolls off the tongue like a mouthful of cheeseburger. Some of us can remember that time when the internet still had that fresh “new car smell.” (Note to future: cars were vehicles we used to “drive” around in, back in the day.) I remember first hearing about the social networking website Facebook (circa 2007), but I didn’t join right away because I was already a member of MySpace, which seemed to serve pretty much the same function. In just the few months that had elapsed between leaving for Mexico and returning with the knee injury, it seemed that everyone had dumped their MySpace profiles in favor of Facebook. Reluctantly, I created an account. I had never used my real name on the internet before — not in my blog, not as an email address, not for anything. I enjoyed the freedom of expression afforded to me by anonymity. Only the handpicked few knew about my blog and my MySpace page. I could create without fear of judgment or unsolicited criticism. However, the whole point of Facebook, aside from paving the way for corporate America to infiltrate every waking second of everyone’s life, was to allow old friends and acquaintances to find and connect with you, and so using my trusty pseudonym would defeat the purpose. And so I whipped up a quick profile and gave it a trial run. It would prove to be a fateful decision.
Within a few weeks I was saying “Hey” to an entire universe of ghosts from my past. Several of my buddies from high school were alerted to my presence in Troy, and before I could fully think through the pros and cons, I found myself sitting at the bar of Downtown Dan’s with Tim Steele, Jacky J., and crazy Henry Beckett.
Tim and Jacky looked like slightly fatter and older versions of their former selves, as one might expect given the passage of almost twenty years, but otherwise they seemed utterly unchanged as personalities. It was comforting, on one level, to discover that a piece of my past had been preserved in amber, that Tim and Jacky were still carrying on as in days of yore. The only hitch was that I felt out of place and fake, pretending as I did that I too was the same ol’ Bobby, only with a beard and few lines around the eyes. Then there was Henry. Clean cut. Clean and sober. Clean up and down, inside and out. No longer Crazy Henry, but now Mr. Henry Beckett. Father. Pillar of the community. Upstanding citizen. Sane as rain. “Change” is too week a term to describe what seemed to have happened to Henry. It was a complete transformation. I scanned his forehead for the lobotomy scar but saw only the little mark above his eyebrow, barely noticeable now, from when he crashed through Jacky’s front door in drunken stupor that night we experimented with the vodka and Tang.
It only took about two minutes post-handshakes for the homophobic banter to commence.
“I heard you turned queer out there in San Francisco. How’s the boyfriend?” Jacky said.
“Great Jack. Thanks for asking. I never would have guessed cock tasted so good. You should try it sometime. It might even feel good shoved up your twat.”
I didn’t resist even a wee little bit. Even though I had made several gay friends in San Francisco and worked hard for years on eliminating gratuitous homophobia from my language habits, it just seemed pointless to play any role with these guys other than the one they expected.
Of course I got far drunker than I had intended and was more than ready to sleep it off by the time Henry pulled in front of my parents’ house to drop me off.
“Listen, Bob”, he said. “I heard you’ve been working as a shrink or a counselor or whatever. Well, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind having a chat with my son, Henry Jr. He’s 14 already, right around the age I started acting up and whatnot. Well, he’s into some really dark shit, has some pretty self-destructive tendencies and stuff, but he won’t talk to me or Lisa. I mean, I know you’re busy dealing with your knee and stuff, but I was thinking maybe you could at least meet him and let me know what you think.”
Shit. I was hoping this type of thing wouldn’t come up with friends or family members. Thinking quickly on my feet, I explained to Henry that of course I would be happy to help him and his family out, but meeting with his son for an actual counseling session was out of the question, as I would be practicing in a state where I wasn’t licensed. I suggested that Henry (Sr.) and I meet up some time soon to discuss his son’s situation in detail, and then I could share my perspective and recommendations, as a friend and not a professional. Henry seemed to understand, and we left it at that.
When I got up to bed I threw myself back and stared at the ceiling for a good long while. I imagined the bed was the corner of an enormous spider web in which I was helplessly stuck. I could feel the vibrations as they traveled up my spine and realized it would be only a matter of time before I was fanged and sucked dry. Fucking Facebook. How did I get myself into this predicament? One minute I’m in a foreign land reinventing myself, and the next I’m back in the womb-tomb reliving a past hardly worth remembering.
The next morning I dragged myself through the dull routine of my rehab exercises before flipping open the laptop to see if any other ghosts had slipped through the ether during the night. Another “Friend Request.” Ann-Marie McCarthy. Ann, no e, hyphen, Marie. The thee. The first. We dated throughout our junior and senior years of college before she decided to cut bait and disappear back into the mean streets of Brooklyn, leaving me sniveling on my shirtsleeves for the next two years or so. Fast-forward seventeen years later, and through the black magic of the internet I was but one click from opening a door I had assumed was closed, nailed shut, and burnt to ashes for eternity. Crazy Henry Beckett and now this? I needed time to think this one through.
I met up with Henry the following afternoon at Duncan’s Diner. It didn’t take long for him to glide right past the issue of his son and into the unraveling of his own, delicately knit-together sanity. Turns out Henry had been spending all his expendable income on prostitutes and cocaine. Coke and whores! Now there’s the Henry we all knew and loved. He was on shaky ground with both his wife and his boss. The shit storm was rumbling overhead, and it was just a matter of time before the streets ran brown with chaos and calamity. I didn’t know what else to do aside from lending an ear and extending some compassion. What could I do? Nothing. Whether in a formal counseling session or in an everyday encounter like this, there was never anything to be done, really. If I had learned anything from my years as a mental health professional it was that relationships of all types are subject to the same basic principles. All that was ever required, to be good counselor or friend or whatever, was to pay attention and respond with compassion and genuine concern. Everything else takes care of itself. Or not. And so I patted Henry on the shoulder, picked up the tab for our omelets, and told him to hang in there. Everything would be okay. Or not.
The interaction left me more anxious than ever to get back to Mexico. Social entanglements like this could only hinder my progress along the path to the Promised Land, and I was already in the weeds with this knee injury nonsense. The last thing I wanted was to get sucked back into the past by one ghost or another. And so I resolved to ignore any future friend requests, virtual or actual, and to focus on getting myself in shape for my return journey to the Pueblito. But what about that knock on the door from Ann-Marie, which was technically set in motion before my resolution?
I decided to sleep on it, and sure enough that night my dreams were driven by a torrent of hormones and dark emotions, a brew toxic enough to leave traces of salt on the sheets. Ann-Marie. The way I had worshipped her was fucking disgraceful, looking back on it, but at the time I couldn’t help my virgin self. She was a Goddess, thought I, a Goddess who never even noticed me until I came to class one day with crutches and a braced knee. She was the teaching assistant for my Psychology Statistics class, and I had just had knee surgery for a torn ACL. A torn ACL! Anyway, somehow I found the courage to ask for some “extra help” with the assignments, and before I knew what hit me she was calling me “just to talk,” because she was having a hard time with her boyfriend — the captain of the friggin’ basketball team. I played the only good card I had, the “nice guy card,” and soon she was dropping by the dorm room to say hi. One night, she didn’t feel like going home. I stepped out for a moment, to inform my roommate that he would have to clear out for the night, and when I returned, the Goddess was buttoning herself up in one of my shirts, a makeshift nightgown that meant, above all else, that she was not wearing much, if anything, underneath. I can’t remember what led to what exactly, but at some point she whispered in my ear, “Do you want to feel what it’s like inside?” This was without a doubt the most compelling question put to me in all my years of education. A simple yes or no answer was all that was required, and I didn’t even have to think about it. I could’ve just nodded I suppose, or said “Uh huh,” but no, I gave a clear and resounding “Yes!” as if I were answering on behalf of the entire universe for all time. So began two years of ecstatic adrenaline rushes, jealous rages, drunken arguments, and an underlying sense of insecurity that culminated in an hour-long session of convulsive weeping in the passenger seat of her Mercury Zephyr, as she drove around looking for a suitable place to set me free.
To say Ann-Marie was my “first” is, I think, to place too much emphasis on sex. If, rather, we’re talking about romantic love more generally, then the story could just as easily have begun five years earlier, or ten for that matter. So many points of entry, all leading in to the center, like eating an apple. It was in 5th grade when I finally confessed to David Prescott that I “liked” Hannalore Stanton. That bastard David, he made it seem like telling him was this big bonding thing, like we just became best buds or something, then he goes and tells Hanna the next day, tells her right out in the hallway as we’re all readying to go home. She wheels around, gives me a look of pure meanness and shouts, “Well, I don’t like HIM!” I never forgave David, that little fuck. Years later, when he was desperate for a friend, weeping at boy scout camp over being shunned by the cool kids, I coldly told him that I didn’t like him that way. The scoutmasters feared he was on the verge of suicide, and his parents had to come fetch him from camp.
Each year it was a different Goddess, starting the year before Hanna, in 4th grade, with Pola Russo. Pola, with an “o.” She was quite the looker, and years later she actually got some work as a model. I never said a word to her, just stared all gaga from the next row over, several seats back, a perfect spot to gaze lingeringly and lovingly, undetected. It’s not that I wanted to boink Pola. My prepubescent pee-pee and I didn’t quite know what boinking was. She just made me feel weird. Good weird. After Hanna it was Amelia Lewis, then Michelle Wilson, the latter of whom I most definitely, desperately, did want to boink. Then marched in countless more, a string of unattainable, unapproachable vortexes of feminine energy, projection magnets that sucked out the best and the worst of me, and everything in between, down into the unfathomable unknowableness of their mysterious beings.
Molly was the first woman in all my life — and I was thirty when we got together — whom I related to as a human being, a real person with flaws as well as beautiful attributes, a woman possessing her own soul apart from my needs and projections. And so, in a sense, she was the “first,” the first to know me as an individual secure in my own being, confident, aware and awake, able to respond spontaneously, transparently, and authentically. I can’t help but wonder though, what it would be like, setting aside the rules of space and time, to relate to any one of the Ghostly Goddesses now, from the perspective of my more secure, more mature self.
I suppose I don’t have to wonder. If I really want to know, it would take but a click of the mouse to open the door.