He used earth words and planted gardens and liked going down south and road trips to nowhere. He had tattoos of the Devil on his forearm, and looked like God, with big blue open seeing gentle eyes that had a spirit steady and true beyond the simple human spirit. He was a great kisser. Like me. But quiet. And deep. Not deep in a click-your-fingers-at-a-coffeehouse deep; not even the kind of temporary deep you think you see in the face of a student of philosophy. He was deep like rivers that cut through canyons as old as the brachiopod lingula and the horse shoe crab.
I met him when I was young. In a bookstore. Buying war novels for my father. I liked to call him Mr. Smith, but his name was Steve. His hair was long and kinky and I remember I could smell his clean, hippy, 25-year-old smell as he flushed spines in the history section. He said to me: “You see, you have this calming affect on me. I actually want to struggle with you.” And I thought to myself, I want to run my fingers through the algebraic recipe that cooked up the lines of your hair. I was on fire. I perused picture books of the American desert and listened to Navajo tunes. I bought a dress with flowers that came down to my ankles and I wore sandals.
He struggled with me. And then he took off. Restless. One day in May. He rode with some friends in an orange VW bus out to a reservation in New Mexico to study art and history and eat mushrooms and pledge a vow of celibacy to the Great Spirit in hopes that one day he would understand the difference between love and lust.
I waited. But he didn’t come back. The Spring was over. The warm, tired, lovesick days of August too, and eventually the fall and then the winter…
I fell for a waiter. I made love to a Jew who became a Rabbi. I danced meringue with Paul Garcia in a club named Brazil. I kissed Doug, Scot and Eamon and the Twelve Apostles and a Moroccan named Arie. And I sold my soul to a drummer one Leap Year because I lost count on how many times he said: you are so beautiful, baby.
I married a Spaniard who barely spoke English and barely brushed his teeth. He was tall and lanky and had a long face like El Greco and chased me around the bedroom, “Come here, wife. My sex is hard for you.” We lived in a piso on the 4th floor of a rundown building in Vallekas, a gypsy suburb of Madrid. I made tortillas and arroz con leche and sometimes crouched on the terraza under the hot sun and watched stray cats fuck on rooftops. I cried for home. And dreamed of humidity and the green, oxygen pine trees and grass that grows with dew stuck to each blade like a rock climber descending a cliff.
I became a woman. Desired. Pedestaled. Unwoven. Torn. Shredded. Real.
I made two babies. Moved to Jersey. Bought a home. Divorced. Years passed. In the Spring of ’04 I spread my father’s ashes across the jetty down on Nebraska Avenue. Saying goodbye to the man who taught me how to love. Boyfriends came. Boyfriends went. Sons grew up.
I bumped into Mr. Smith at a record store one night in February. He was buying vinyl and I was perusing the Cds. I barely recognized him without his long hair. But he still talked smooth and his tattoos were all black and green. And I thought, if I had my own they wouldn’t be the face of the devil. They’d be words. Words that save me from my self, where God, not man, is the Second Coming and the Third and Fourth. Words when strung together become the only thing in life that’s real—forming a straight line like Time to a Westerner.
We talked about books for a while. The west. He didn’t remember much. And so I shrugged when he asked if I wanted to go for a drink. No, I said. Maybe another time.