By Ben Leib
“It’s for you.” Elaine said.
I was midway through my Thursday swing shift at the Nickelodeon Theater, and wasn’t sure who’d be calling me at work. .
I took the phone. “Hello.”
“Hi.” It was a woman.
I didn’t recognize the voice.
“Uh, hey Eliza, how’s it going?” I said.
“Great,” Eliza said. “So, I really enjoyed getting to talk to you at the Red Room on Tuesday night.”
After a moment’s hesitation, I said, “Yeah, I had a great time too.”
“Totally, I’m just wishing I’d given you my phone number.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Eliza said. “But you did tell me where you worked. We talked for like two hours, and then you gave me a kiss on the cheek when you left.”
I was beginning to piece things together. I remembered enough about the past Tuesday to know that I’d been with a group of friends. I’d been drunk but clearly I’d still been charming enough to impress someone. She lingered on me. That happened to me occasionally – I enamored a woman. I found it inexplicable.
The kiss on the cheek didn’t sound too impressive though, and I didn’t like missed opportunities – particularly since they seemed so fleeting.
“I was hoping I’d run into you again.” I said.
“Me too,” Eliza said.
“Well,” I said, “what are you up to tomorrow?”
And so it was decided. I was going on a date with Eliza.
“Ooh, you’ve got a date!” Elaine announced after I hung up the phone. She’d been sitting beside me during the entire conversation. “Who’s the lucky lady?”
“I don’t know.”
I’d dated one or two unstable women and I didn’t want Eliza knowing where I lived before I’d had the chance to get a sense of her, so I had her meet me at the theater.
I watched from inside, hoping for a sign to tell me it was her when she arrived. When a car pulled into the red zone in front of the theater, I ran out to see, though I left my backpack inside. I strolled up to the passenger window and knelt down.
“Hi,” a woman smiled at me from behind the wheel.
“Thanks for picking me up,” I said.
Good boy, I thought to myself as I leaned into the window. I don’t know how, but you done good boy.
I was attracted to Eliza right off – her black hair flowing from her scalp in ringlets, her light complexion and pale freckles, her slight overbite. She was beautiful, and she was, assuredly, a woman. Even crouching at the open car window I could smell the pheromonal softness, the odd, barely detectable aura of femininity.
“Ready to go?” she asked.
“One sec,” I told her. “I’ve just got to grab my backpack.”
The Saturn Café had brightly colored murals covering the walls and menageries of junk built into the plexi-glass tabletops. It was a vegetarian diner, oozing an affectation of hipness.
“I eat like a pig.” Eliza warned me.
“That’s all right,” I told her, “I’m used to it.”
The last girl I’d dated managed to make a mess of any plate of food with such daintiness that you’d barely know it was happening until about two thirds of the way through the meal, at which point her supper had come to resemble something gelatinous.
Eliza was also a messy eater, but in a different way. She deconstructed her veggie burger with her fingers, eating it ingredient by ingredient. First she ate the tomato, then the lettuce, then a bit of bun, then some of the patty. The meal went on like this until she’d cleared her plate. My own plate was long empty by that time.
We ordered a pitcher of dark beer, and then ordered another before we’d finished eating.
I’d already made the good first impression, done so without recollection. I’d jumped that first hurdle, but I still felt pressure. I told Eliza about being a literature major. It was the one thing about myself that I considered somewhat sexy.
“So what made you choose books?” she asked. “I mean, what drew you to that rather than, I don’t know, math, or business?”
There’s something compelling about the study of literature, something so purely intellectual, so impractical, that it holds a gravity of passion.
“Fiction was always something that I’ve been able to lose myself in,” I told her. “Even when I was young, I remember my dad reading to me in bed. Some of those books were tough, too – Robert Louis Stevenson, Farley Mowat. Even when it got late I never wanted him to stop.”
“It sounds like you have a good dad,” Eliza said, “like he’s supportive.”
“He is good,” I said. “But there were other things, too. There were times when I was getting in trouble – I dropped out of college for a year, for example – and even in the moments when I was struggling I found that books were always something I could turn to. Fiction’s just been a constant for me. And by the time I was ready to buckle down and commit myself to the university everyone was going to support me no matter what I was studying. They were just glad that I made it back.”
“Do you have a type of literature that’s your favorite?” Eliza asked.
“Well, my favorites are crime novels. But in academics I’ve been drawn to the British high modernists. And it’s not like this stuff comes naturally to me. I have to work hard at it. Reading is work. Writing is work. But it’s the only thing that’s made me feel like I’m doing something in life.”
These things were true, but there were also some misleading implications. I implied that I had made my way through darkness, and was now proceeding along in the light. I implied that I was good as a student, and that I was perhaps even wise. I implied that my passions were what drove me. And I was spurred to continue implying as Eliza leaned further and further over the table.
“…So it’s my own business,” she explained. “I started it up before I really knew what I was doing. Then, when I realized that I was in over my head, I went to Cabrillo and took some business classes to figure out what I had to do next – the licenses I had to apply for, that type of thing.”
Eliza was twenty six, more than five years my senior. By my estimation that made her a woman – which marked me as a child still.
“What made you decide on babysitting?”
Eliza laughed, and I had to admit that the question could have come across as condescending, though it wasn’t meant that way.
“Well, it’s what I was doing. You know, I babysat kids when I was in high school, and the money was pretty good back then, but I realized as I got older that folks will pay very good money for a reliable babysitter. I went AWOL for a bit, disappeared to Hawaii for a couple of years. When I came back to California, I needed to work fast. I had a few families that I’d worked with locally, some very well off folks, and they were happy to have me back.
“These families loved me – I still look after their kids, by the way – and they started recommending me to their friends. Before I knew it, I had more offers for work than I knew what to do with. I’d come across a few teenage girls who I trusted, and I referred them to the families. Things kind of just snowballed from there. I realized, Hey, I’m providing a service here. People get paid for this. So that’s when I started developing the business.”
“So how were you able to capitalize on it?”
Eliza took a French fry from her plate, ripped it in two, and shoved one of the pieces into her mouth. She set the other French fry half back on her plate and began tearing away a piece of her bun.
“Well,” she said, “I make most of my money through finder’s fees. I tend to have seven or eight girls working for me at a time. They give me their schedules and their availability. They switch on call days in case a family needs a sitter at the last minute, but otherwise they get a three day warning when I’m scheduling them. Anything less than a three day warning, and the fees increase – both my commission, and the girls’ hourly fee.”
“Ah, so you make a commission each time you place a sitter.”
“Exactly,” Eliza said. “And then I keep sitting for my two favorite families, and I charge quite a bit these days, so with the commissions and my own hourly fee, I do pretty well.”
“That’s amazing that you were able to get that off the ground yourself.”
“It just kind of came together.” Eliza downplayed it, but I could tell she was proud. “Really, the most difficult thing about it is finding good, reliable girls. It sucks when they flake and I have to pick up the slack, which does happen sometimes. Either that, or sometimes they get poached, too. But the families are also pretty good about word of mouth referrals, so it all seems to stay pretty steady. And I’ve had some luck finding new sitters right when I need them, so I’ve managed to stay consistent.”
“I’m impressed,” I told her.
It was the good stuff, the things we were proud to divulge about ourselves, the identities by which we would like to be known to the world – me, an intellectual, a bit of an artist – Eliza, an adult, an entrepreneur, a businesswoman. And it was each of these personas that we first offered up for judgment and appraisal. There must have been nuances that night, things that might have revealed our respective weaknesses, our lunacies and incompatibilities. And those shades of gray may have represented more than just frailty. It might have been our humanity that we were suppressing.
But I was happy to take first impressions at face value. I did not consciously analyze them, nor did I want to. We were lovable and passionate in our own ways. I was attracted to Eliza and I detected that yearning, a premonition of love, reflected in her eyes. And I was redeemed by a confirmation of my own desirability, for it was also a confirmation of the person that I wanted myself to be.
Eliza gave me a ride home that night. I was living with this dude Ed and his girlfriend, Pam. Ed had a wandering eye that made him look insane. It was the result of a merciless childhood beating from his father, a fact that I found horrifying when I was told about the incident. Ed smoked debilitating amounts of weed and he screamed at Pam when he drank. Pam was friendly but so soft spoken as to become nearly transparent.
My roommates creeped me out. They weren’t friends of mine but they tolerated some pretty habitual alcohol abuse and the rent was cheap. I liked my real friends. I wanted to keep them so I chose not to live with them. Ed and Pam’s house was located in the Santa Cruz beach flats. It fronted Riverside Avenue and behind it stood a series of ramshackle apartments that shared a common driveway. My room was at the back, and I came and went through the back door, avoiding Ed and Pam as much as possible.
“This is the place, right here,” I said.
“This one?” Eliza slowed the car, then stopped.
“Yeah. Sooo, would you like to come in for the grand tour?” I said. “You’re welcome to pull into the driveway if you’d like.”
I led her around to the back of the house. The back door opened onto a strange addition, a half bathroom and a walk-in closet. To the left was the kitchen and at the left of the kitchen was my bedroom door. The tour was over before it started. My room was a twelve by twelve foot square. What floor space not taken up by my futon, was reserved for a tiny computer desk and a set of shelves for my stereo. The shelves were wooden planks stacked on top of cinder blocks. There was also a small coffee table that I’d found at the side of the road and carried home one night.
“So, this is your place,” Eliza said.
“This is the palace.”
“I like it. It’s definitely a college boy’s room.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” I said, sitting on my futon. Eliza sat next to me. We turned to look at each other as we spoke. “So, I had a really good time tonight.” I told her, “I’m glad you called me.”
“So am I. I was nervous to call. But I’d also been looking forward to meeting you again, and so I knew that I’d have to take some initiative.” She paused. “I know you don’t remember meeting me.”
“I remember the night. I remember sitting in a group, talking. I was drunk.”
“I know. I mean, I was drunk too, but I knew that you’d been drinking a lot. You like to drink, don’t you?”
“I do.” The admission, for me, encapsulated all that I was guilty of. “I was glad when I saw you in your car tonight.”
“Oh yeah, why?”
“Because you’re a good looking woman.”
“Even for such an old lady?”
“Yeah.” I grinned. “Even though you’re old.”
I kissed her. It was long and tender, my kind of kiss. She was starry eyed when I pulled away. I was smitten myself. She grabbed my head and pulled our faces back together with force. Her tongue shot into my mouth. I was momentarily dazed before I could respond in kind. Hands explored bodies. I was proud, happy that it seemed I’d done something right.
“I have to go.” The announcement was sudden.
“Why, what’s up?” I was having fun.
“This is just a little too intense at the moment.” It had been pretty intense, but I wasn’t a fan of deferred gratification. I didn’t understand why anyone would wait to have sex.
“You know, you could stay here tonight if you wanted.”
“I do. I mean, I would want to. I’ve got to work for one of my families tomorrow at eight. I need to get some sleep tonight.”
I tried a bit more to convince her to stay. Then I reluctantly agreed to walk her back out to her car. I kissed her for a long time while she leaned on the passenger side door. “I had a really good time,” I told her.
“We should do this again soon.” And with that, Eliza climbed into the car and started the engine.
After Eliza left, I went to the bar. It was a Friday night after all.
Eliza and I spent the film lip-locked. Her hands worked their way over my chest, down my abdomen, across my lap. I pawed at her chest through her blouse – she was wearing something colorful that day, something maybe with flowers on it – my hands made their way beneath the light fabric. Her bra felt sturdy, held generous curves firmly in place. I explored the texture of the undergarment. The weight of her breasts filled its lace. I groped at what of the flesh I could access and I tried to imagine her naked. I tried to envision those details…
We went back to the Saturn Café for dinner. We talked through the meal, but the conversation was interspersed with long silences which were not uncomfortable but full of a lust that clouded all perceptions and drove thought in a very specific direction. I know for my part that I could not help but think about getting that woman undressed, getting her onto my bed. I wanted to ravage her. My breathing deepened. I ate quickly. So did Eliza. The flames ignited in the dark of the movie theater burned, yet to be extinguished.
I ordered a beer with dinner, and was baffled when Eliza refrained.
“…It was during my year off of school – I only came back to Santa Cruz less than a year ago, now that I think about it – but I ended up taking this road trip.”
“Oh, so you went on an adventure,” Eliza said.
“Exactly. I mean, living in San Francisco had been an adventure of its own.” I realized it as I was forming the words, but there were details I was emphasizing and details I was omitting. I had, for example, spent nine months in an urban inpatient treatment facility when I’d moved to San Francisco. I wasn’t so forthcoming about those details. “But,” I went on, “I was working in this terrible office job in the city. I’d worked several different temp jobs while I was there – the Department of Elections had been cool, for example, but that ended after the presidential election – but the last one was a receptionist gig in this engineering firm. I detested it.”
“We haven’t known each other long,” Eliza said, “but I could see you struggling in an office.”
“That was definitely the case. At the end I guess I just panicked. I quit my job over the phone, gave up the apartment I’d just moved into, and I hit the road. My parents were out of town at the time, and I literally just left them notes saying that I was leaving.”
“Where’d you go?”
“First, I got a ride with my buddy Colin to San Diego via Santa Cruz. I lived with him for a couple of weeks and then I caught a Greyhound over to Austin, Texas. I spent a little over two weeks there, too. Then another bus, and nearly a month in New Orleans. By the time I was done with my New Orleans trip, I’d gotten myself into enough trouble, had enough of an adventure, and I headed back home. The return bus ride was over seventy hours – three days straight sitting on Greyhounds and trying not to lose it. I’d have to clean up in Greyhound bathrooms – sink showers is what I called them.”
“That does sound like an adventure.”
I thought back on it somewhat self-satisfied, but still wondering how much to divulge. Would it be romantic, for example, or would it be a red flag if I told the story about going to jail in New Orleans? What about the Tijuana story, where I got arrested at the border?
“It was an amazing experience,” I said.
“I had my version of that, too, my throwing-it-to-the-wind experience.”
“Yeah. That’s what Hawaii was all about. It was just something that I never expected to be able to do. I literally went there with nothing. I had nights where I had to camp on the beach. But over time things worked out. I found a job, I got my own place, I made friends… And after a while it had become my home. I still miss it there.”
“Oh man,” I said, “I’d love to do that.”
“It actually all started because of a boy. I thought I was in love at the time, and it really took him to get me out of my comfort zone, to get myself moving. And I’ll always appreciate him for that. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to do it for myself…”
I didn’t want to think about Eliza with other men yet, and I imagined that, at that point, I remained idealized in her mind as well.
Once again at my house. Once again shut away in my bedroom. We kissed savagely. We rolled all over one another. I shifted and mounted between her legs, the denim of my pants grinding against her own tight fitting jeans. She rolled me over, straddled me from above. My hands worked their way up the back of her shirt.
“You won’t get it back there.” She said.
“I’m a pro at this.”
“It clasps in the front.”
She threw off her blouse, exposing sexy black lace. She’d put thought into this outfit. She’d anticipated what view I’d be getting. Her bra defied gravity and was sheer enough to reveal the discoloration of her nipples beneath the fabric. She took my hands in hers, guided them up to the front of her bra, to the space between her breasts. I got it free. She pulled it away from her naked torso, launching it across the room.
My hands covered every inch of bare flesh, devouring its tactile details. And despite my hunger, I dwelt on her nudity, on the idiosyncrasies of her naked form. She had a little tummy. Her breasts were large and shaped nicely, but not without their own uniqueness, drooping a bit on either side. She had thick nipples which pointed as they came to life, deeply colored against the whiteness of her natural pallor. I lingered and lingered on that wonderful body. I could see the hunger in her eyes, could taste it when she pressed her lips to mine. She kissed with such a deep urgency it seemed that each might be the last. Each announced a mournful and long-coming departure, as if, were death to take her in that state of ecstasy, she would if nothing else be leaving the world with that last kiss on her lips.
I reached to her waist and began fumbling with her belt.
She pulled away. “We can’t.” she announced.
“What are you talking about?”
“We can’t go any further tonight.” She looked at me with an expression that I interpreted as apologetic. “I can’t go any further tonight.”
“Oh,” I said, understanding. “You know, I could overlook that. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal.” I was starving.
“No, I don’t want the first time to be like that. Besides, I already think this is going too fast. I mean, I really, really like you. I really want this, too much maybe. So it’s good that we can’t tonight.”
I didn’t argue. Eliza didn’t give me a chance to argue. She jumped off of me. “I need to take a shower before I go home. Do you have a clean towel?”
“Yeah.” I grabbed it for her, baffled.
I wasn’t pushy, possibly to a fault. I didn’t demand or in any way attempt to persuade Eliza to extinguish the fire she had so efficiently ignited. This wasn’t because I was a gentleman. It was because I was too afraid, at that time in my life, to articulate my needs aloud, to state them and ask they be attended to.
I lay on my bed, pining, confused, as Eliza showered. She emerged from the bathroom fully dressed. She jumped on top of me once again, gave me one more hard kiss.
“You don’t need to walk me out in your condition.”
She patted my crotch, then she patted my chest, then she stood and left.
Eliza and I rolled around my unmade bed fully clothed, clawing and kneading each other. As things reached a climactic point, as clothes began to come off, Eliza stopped.
“I need to take a shower,” she said.
“I’m going to take a shower and then I’m going to go.”
I had not yet done laundry and she grabbed the same towel she’d used the last time.
“You know, we can keep going,” I said.
“I just think we’re taking things a little fast. I’m gonna clean up and then I’m gonna go.”
I heard the bath running. When the water was the right temperature, Eliza turned on the shower. I’d been laying on the bed, my shirt off, my belt unbuckled, my hand down the front of my pants, when I heard the water stop. The bathroom was dark behind her when Eliza swung the door open. Only the desk lamp was on in my room. Eliza was wrapped in a wet towel. Steam rose from her flesh. The ends of her hair were damp. She let the towel fall to the floor, stood naked for one frozen moment, and then she climbed on top of me.
What made Eliza’s body perfection were its imperfections. Her glistening pubic hair, which had not been recently manicured, wound in chaotic tangles. She really hadn’t planned on sleeping with me tonight, I thought to myself. Her hips had an extra little bump. She had a gravity defying ass, but it creased and dimpled just a bit where it met her thighs. Her ankles were only slightly too small for the rest of her figure.
She used soft kisses to chart a cartographic memory of my face, my chest. Her body was warm against mine, skin still silky from her shower. As she raised and lowered herself against my chest, I felt her breasts sway against me, her nipples grazing my bare skin and then pressing firmly. She lay on top of me thoughtlessly, allowing the weight of her body to hold me in place, trusting that I could sustain that weight indefinitely.
She raised herself to her knees, straddling my legs, and I got another opportunity to dwell on her body, to allow the realization of my luck to set in fully. She reached down to my waist and began fumbling with the button on my pants, then with the zipper. I didn’t help her. I let her take her time, teasing her a bit.
“You’ll get it,” I said. “Just focus, keep trying.”
As soon as my jeans were undone, her hand reached into the vent of my boxer shorts and grabbed onto my cock. She lowered herself onto her side so that she was laying beside me. Her head on my chest, she stared down as she pulled my cock into view.
“Oh thank God,” she whispered.
“Mmm?” it was both a moan and a question.
“I knew you’d have a big dick.”
Nothing could have turned me on more. She liked the way I looked. She was imagining the way I would feel inside her.
My hand had worked its way to her thighs. She parted her legs a bit to allow me access. She was bursting. I let my fingers explore through the tangles of black hair. I moistened them with her own fluids and ran them smoothly over the external hills and ridges while she squirmed, breathed heavily, closed her eyes, and ran a hand over my face. I kissed her chest, alternately taking her nipples in my mouth, trying to raise them to even sharper heights.
I pushed myself to my feet, stood up on the foot of the mattress, and took off my pants. I grabbed a condom from a box on my shelves and rolled it into place. The elastic squeezed uncomfortably. I climbed on top of her. She spread her legs for me and I lowered myself between them, her hips angled against the mattress.
Eliza groaned cutely. She had a high pitched and sustained expression of pleasure that ranged in volume from a whisper to a near scream. I aimed to evoke those screams. I wanted the neighbors to complain. She grasped onto my back, controlled the momentum of my thrusts. She climaxed several minutes before I did, losing control of her muscles momentarily, but never quite pushing me away.
“Don’t stop. Don’t stop,” she said. “It still feels so good. Don’t stop.”
I was sweating as I reached completion.
“You’re all slimy,” she told me when I collapsed onto her.
She kissed me over and over again, pulling my face away each time to stare into my eyes. She held my face in her hands, and when I saw her staring at me I glimpsed the passion and the devotion that was just then burgeoning behind that gaze. My heart pounded under the weight of it. It made me want to convey something dire.
“I could fall in love with you,” Eliza said.
It scared me.
“I want to take another shower,” Eliza said.
I lay on the bed beside her.
“Do you want to stay over tonight?”
“No, I can’t. I have to get up early for a job tomorrow.”
I arose and stood by the bed so that I could look at her.
“Do you mind if I take a shower with you?”
“Oh my God,” she announced as she sat up in bed. “Don’t look down.”
I looked at her lap. There was a small streak of blood on her inner thigh.
“I told you not to look!”
I stood at the back of the shower, allowed Eliza to engulf herself in it. Hands wandered. She lathered herself. She lathered me. We embraced. She cleaned me.
“I didn’t hurt you tonight, did I?” I asked.
“No, no, not at all.”
“Because you could always tell me to stop or to slow down.”
“No, you don’t understand. It felt amazing. It’s just been a long time. And you are pretty big – bigger than my ex. But mostly things have just tightened up down there a bit. I told you not to look. I didn’t want you to get worried. You did everything just right.”
“Tightened up, huh?”
“Yeah, good news for you big boy.” She patted my cheek with a soapy hand.
Eliza was spread eagle on my bed. I still had my shorts on as I moved between her legs. Her hips pumped against the thin fabric of my underwear. My lips left hers. I kissed her ears, her neck. I pressed my fingers into her as I continued my downward journey. I dwelt on her breasts, coercing those dark nipples. I worked down her abdomen, across her belly.
She moaned with anticipation.
“Are you going to eat my pussy?” she asked.
I looked up at her and smiled.
“What a lucky girl I am,” she said. “I was getting nervous that maybe you didn’t do that.”
Eliza’s pubic hair was a thing of the past. I positioned myself between her legs, a thigh resting on each shoulder. I lapped at her in broad strokes, using all of the wide surface of my tongue, covering her anatomy. She flinched with each pass.
She began to open for me. The tip of my tongue explored her labial folds, worked its way through each detail of her nakedness. I took hold of her thighs. She shifted against me. I tasted the salt of her flesh, of the moisture that I was cultivating. As her excitement mounted, the natural resistances of her body relented. She opened more and more. I plunged into her, burying myself, getting lost in her body, in the flood of saliva and secretions. I lingered rhythmically, drawing her closer and closer. She shifted and pivoted her hips, grinding against my face without inhibition. I held myself firmly in place, braced myself as she thrust against me, determined not to yield, determined to hold my ground.
She screamed and then came in a torrent, her whole body writhing senseless. She had grabbed onto my hands and her nails gnashed into my palms.
I continued to lap at her softly and she shuddered, still unable to speak. Then I laid my head on her belly. My damp face was chilled once I pulled it from the heat of her body. She stroked my hair.
In the darkness of the movie theater, Eliza’s hand never left my lap. It was as if she were on a mission to keep me perpetually aroused. It was the most pleasurable form of being controlled. She was saying to me, always, during every moment we spent together, I’m the one who’s going to make you feel good. I will always be here to scratch this little itch of yours, and you will be the one to bring me my own pleasure.
And so much of it had been the mutual giving and receiving of pleasure. Eliza was ready and eager to test the boundaries of stamina, of endurance.
She worked her hand back and forth over my cock, which felt at that point like it might burst out of its own skin. But as I reached between her legs, she closed them like a vice. She was teaching me – these public gifts were for me alone.
She leaned over the arm rest and whispered in my ear, “I’m gonna fuck the shit out of you tonight.”
Eliza, though an intelligent woman, was not computer savvy. I wasn’t much better, but I knew that basic, publically consumed software was bound to be relatively user friendly. And even if not, at least it didn’t intimidate me in the same way it did Eliza.
“I don’t know what I’m doing.” She complained. “I don’t understand this shit. You’ve gotta teach me, baby.”
I spent hours at Eliza’s place with a little library spread across the living room floor around me. I lay on my stomach, staring at her laptop, reading course handouts, user manuals, and online help sites, attempting to synthesize the various and sometimes disparate solutions to hypothetical problems.
Eliza waited patiently. Once I’d found the solution, I could explain it to her in the simplest way possible. I was very professorial, requiring that Eliza actually perform the tasks at her laptop as I described them.
She sat on her couch behind me while I worked. Sometimes, I narrated the progress I was making while I read endless tutorials and frequently asked questions. I assumed that she was listening to me. I figured, somewhat narcissistically, that I was helping. Yeah, it was boring. But I was amazed by her patience as I lay there, prattling on about spreadsheets or compatibility or operating systems.
I was carrying on like this when I heard a quiet little noise from behind me. It was a kind of wetness, a kind of sexy noise. I turned toward the couch where Eliza sat watching me. She was wearing a deep blue sun dress that day, patterned with tiny white daisies. It was hiked up to her hips. Her panties were pulled to the side, and she was touching herself. She paused as I looked up, and just sat motionless, not continuing but not covering herself up either. Then she smiled a kind of naughty, what-are-you-gonna-do-about-it? smile.
I smiled back.
“You bad, bad girl,” I said. “I’m trying to teach you over here, doing all of your work for you, and you’re not listening to a word I’m saying.”
“Oh, I’m listening.” She said. She still had not moved.
“Do I need to teach you a lesson?” I rose from the floor and approached her.
“No,” she said, “you don’t.” She allowed me one kiss. “You need to get back to work.”
I did as I was told. I got back down on the living room floor. It was difficult to sustain the lesson but I was able, after a moment, to actually focus on her homework problems, and put it out of my mind that she was sitting on the couch behind me.
When I finally turned back to check on her, her skirt was lying flat across her lap. She was staring at me, smiling nicely, her hands crossed.
“Are you ready to learn how to do this?” I asked her.
“Are you ready to teach me?”
When Eliza picked me up, I had a rose that I’d bought for her birthday.
“That’s so sweet,” she said as I handed the flower through the passenger side window.
I climbed into the car. “Happy birthday, beautiful.”
When we arrived at Eliza’s house I produced the rest of my gift to her – a bottle of massage oil and a bottle of massage oil. But by plying her with physical affection, I figured I might make up for the fact that I had no money to buy her a real gift. I didn’t know much about being a gentleman at the time and I missed an opportunity to make her feel special.
I fucked Eliza on her living room floor that night. We’d laid a blanket that we’d spread out. I took all of her clothes off and rubbed every inch of her body while she lay there, docile, wanting to submit. Having relaxed her into a trance-like state, I dwelt on her ass, kneading, working my palms down her thighs. She parted her legs. I stood quietly, not wanting to break her spell, undressed, and lowered myself down on top of her.
Eliza was always reticent to have sex in her own bed. I figured it was because she didn’t want to do the laundry, but also she seemed to like the idea of exploring under-utilized regions of the apartment.
She came hard beneath me. I loved looking down at her, facing her when she orgasmed. I felt powerful when I saw how absolutely she lost control, the way her eyes dilated, opening wide at first and then clenching shut tight; the way her muscles all tensed to rigidity and then totally failed.
She reached behind and held me close, flinching every time I moved inside of her and grasping to keep me still. When she recovered, she pulled out from under me and enacted a ritual that had by then become familiar.
“I want to sit on the couch,” she said.
She leaned one of the cushions in just the right way to accommodate her and set herself down, reclining against it, her hips pivoted upward.
“Okay, I’m ready,” she said.
I leaned over her, placed my hands on the back of the couch behind her, and eased in.
“Slow,” she said. “Now get as deep as you can.”
I pushed into her with long slow thrusts. Each time I thought I couldn’t get any deeper, I pushed just a little further. Each time I pushed those extra millimeters, Eliza groaned loudly. It was something like an exercise for her.
“I’m getting better at taking it,” she said.
“Am I getting deep?”
“Oh fuck, it hurts me. My pussy just aches wanting you inside of me. I fucking feel it all through me.”
“How deep?” I said. “Tell me how deep I’m getting.”
“It’s up to here,” Eliza said, marking a point on her abdomen. “You know how to fill every inch of me.”
I started pushing harder. I watched her breasts shaking each time I slammed against her. Moans turned to screams.
“Oh, oh,” she said, and then she stopped me. “Okay, okay. Stop, stop. It’s too much for me.”
“Back onto the floor?”
“I want you to bend me over the counter,” she said.
Eliza was throwing a barbeque for her twenty seventh birthday. Her apartment occupied the second story of a split level up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She rented the place from the folks living below her, Dave and Maria, a couple in their early thirties with a mortgage on the property. There was a large deck that extended from Eliza’s front door, and she and her landlords shared that space, often spending time out there together, barbequing, eating dinners on warm nights.
“How many people are you expecting?” I asked her as I looked through the groceries she’d purchased for the party.
“Not too many,” she told me. “Dave and Maria are coming up, and they’ve invited Dave’s brother and sister in law. They’re bringing their kids with them, who are five and three. Of course Katrina is coming…”
Katrina was Eliza’s best friend. She was dating a recently single man with a new born baby, and didn’t make it out much.
“Is her man coming?”
“No, he’s working – thank God. My friend Sarah’s coming, too, and she’s bringing her boyfriend. You haven’t met them yet because they living in the city, but her boyfriend’s this Irish guy. He’s okay – you’ll probably like him – but he drinks too much. Way too much. They’ve got some serious problems, but I love her and so I’ve gotta put up with him, too. My sister will be there. Let’s see…my parent’s will be getting in about two o’clock or so…”
“Wait, what?” I said. “Your parents are coming?”
“Yeah. I mean, it is my birthday.”
“Still, you could have given me some kind of warning.”
“They’re easy,” Eliza said. “It’s no pressure. You’re just another one of my friends attending.”
I did a bit of mental calculation and came up with my own conclusions. Eliza didn’t have an extensive guest list. It was going to be pretty obvious to everyone there what integer I represented in the equation.
Her father wore a beard and wire rimmed glasses that I interpreted as an attempt to make him look sophisticated and maybe a bit rugged. They did not have their intended effect. Upon shaking the man’s hand, I got a distinct sense from him, something that I interpreted as more lecherous than manly, something not so sophisticated at all.
He arrived as I was bringing a bowl of marinating chicken over to the grill. “So,” he said to me, “you seem to be right at home here.”
I didn’t really know what he meant by it, but he said the words as if there was some deeper meaning that only he and I understood. I knew from what Eliza had told me that she and her father were not close. I wasn’t sure if I imagined it, but there seemed to be a constant and mindful acknowledgement that I was fucking his daughter, a kind of wink-wink mentality that made me squirm.
“My little baby is all grown up,” he said, leering at me.
“I don’t know what you’ve done to that girl,” he observed, “but she’s walking on clouds.”
Eliza sat beside me and placed a hand on my thigh. Her father stared at me from across the porch and produced a grin out of the side of his mouth that wasn’t really a grin at all.
Because it was my way, the method by which I dealt with discomfort, I was sociable. I drank too many beers, told stories, ate copious barbeque, played with the kids, and did my utmost not to judge the situation too harshly.
It was dusk by the time everyone left, and Eliza and I were cleaning things up. I stood over the sink, scrubbing dishes while she packed away the leftovers.
“Hey,” I said, “do me a favor. Tell me next time I’m going to meet your parents, or any other new members of your family for that matter.”
“Okay, baby,” she said. “Thank you for being so good with them.”
“It’s no problem. I just wish you would have told me. Just give me some warning next time, okay?”
I turned to Eliza in time to see a bit of that evil on her face.
“It’s not like it’s some big deal,” she said. “We weren’t announcing an engagement or anything. It was just a little barbeque, and, yeah, my parents were invited. But that’s it. So don’t try to make something out of it that it’s not, okay?”
The sun shone through my bedroom curtains. That old house was barely insulated, and I wondered if the neighbors could hear Eliza screaming.
“Shit, I’m so fucking close,” I said.
“Do it, baby. Keep fucking me.”
“I’m right there. I gonna come.”
“I want you to come on my tits,” Eliza said. “I want you to pull it out and come all over me.”
I pulled free, and straddled her torso, as she squirmed to move her body down the bed beneath me. I grabbed onto my cock. I looked down at Eliza as she grabbed her breasts in her hands and pushed them together on her chest.
“Oh fuck, yes, baby,” Eliza moaned. “Fucking come all over me. Fucking cover me in it.”
She moaned and I almost thought that she was also climaxing. Before I’d even finished, Eliza was rubbing my come into her breasts, across her nipples, all down her torso, so that her body glimmered with the moisture of it. I made sure not to miss a drop.
I collapsed beside her. Eliza rolled toward me, pressed her lips against mine, and our bodies met as I turned to return the kiss.
“Did you like that, baby? Do you like coming all over me like that?”
“That was fucking hot.”
“God, I just want to fucking drown in you.”
“We don’t always have to eat out,” I told her.
“I like taking care of you, baby,” Eliza said.
“I like being taken care of,” I said. “But I’m just saying.”
The proprietor of the Thai House approached our table. She was a broad, matronly woman with a round cheeked smile and a thick accent.
“Hey Tama,” Eliza said.
“How you, girl?” Tama said.
“I’m doing really good,” Eliza said. “This is my…friend…”
Tama took my hand in both of hers. “Oooh,” she said. “You such a lucky man.” Then she turned to Eliza. “He handsome.” She winked.
“I first met Tama in Hawaii,” Eliza explained. “She had a restaurant over there, too.”
“You was always the best, sweetheart. Always my favorite customer.”
“How are your kids doing?” Eliza asked.
And the formalities went on like that for a couple of minutes while the ladies got caught up with each other.
Eliza ordered a bottle of wine for us. The waitress arrived at the table a few minutes later with the wine and a couple of glasses. She poured just a splash for each of us. I waited while Eliza swirled, while she sniffed and then tasted.
“Very good,” she said.
The waitress filled our glasses. She set the half empty bottle on the table, pulled out a pad and a pen, and asked for our orders. I smiled up at her and listed off the courses that Eliza and I had agreed on beforehand. Eliza was beaming at me from across the table.
Dinners with Eliza were always easy. I never felt like I was straining for conversation like I did with some women. We were just able to chat and drink our wine and eat our food, and that was pretty good.
As we finished up the meal, Eliza slid her credit card across the table at me. This had become protocol. Maybe Eliza liked for people to believe that her man was taking her out, and that was probably the case to a degree. But she also had my feelings in mind. At every turn she guarded my manhood, as if its fragility was something plainly evident.
Eliza wanted to preserve my dignity, wanted to cultivate it for her own reaping.
Tama brought the check to the table personally. I took the check from her, glanced at it quickly, tucked the card into the tray, and handed it back to her.
Eliza let herself in the back door. I knew that she’d be coming over when she finished with the kids, but I wasn’t sure when she’d be arriving. I was lying on my bed when she knocked on my bedroom door.
“Come in,” I said.
“Hey babe,” she said from the doorway.
“Could you come out here and help me put these groceries away?”
“Wait, what? You got groceries?”
“Just a few things.”
“Aw, you didn’t need to do that,” I said. “I mean, seriously, I can feed myself. Besides, you know I don’t really cook much.”
“Oh, I’ve seen what you eat,” Eliza said. “And this stuff is super easy to make, just the essentials really – eggs, milk, butter, cheese, some fruit, salad ingredients, some dressing… Besides, this is mostly for me, really – for the nights that I’m over.”
“All right,” I said. “But I really don’t want you to feel like you have to do this.”
Eliza smiled at me. “I don’t think I have to do anything.”
I grinned at her. “I can think of a few things I’m gonna make you do.”
“Are you gonna force me?”
I didn’t know what time it was when I opened my eyes. The first thing I saw was Eliza standing over me. She’d let herself into the house at some point and I hadn’t expected to see her. She was wearing an ankle length trench coat.
“Eliza,” I said.
I could smell hot bacon grease.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was thinking about you,” she said. “And I brought you two presents this morning.”
My head was throbbing from a night of excess. I had so little time to myself. I seemed driven to reckless irresponsibility on the nights that I didn’t spend with Eliza, and I was paying for it that morning.
“Presents?” I said.
“Do you want to know what they are?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes I do.”
“Well, first…” Eliza disappeared into the kitchen. “Sit up in bed,” she hollered. I did as I was told. Eliza returned with a plate in her hand.
“What’s this?” I said as she set the meal in my lap.
“I cooked you breakfast,” Eliza said.
There was bacon, eggs and cheese, toast, even a halved grapefruit.
“Oh my God. What the hell is this? You’re spoiling me.”
Eliza handed me a fork and a folded paper towel.
She was smiling. “I made you coffee, too.”
“You should join me,” I said. “Do you have a plate for yourself in there?”
“I ate while I was cooking,” she said. She took a seat in my desk chair and gazed at me as I began piling eggs onto my toast. “Do you want to know what your other present is?”
“What?” I said, my mouth now full. “There’s another gift?”
“I told you there was two.”
“Lay it on me.”
Eliza stood up.
“I wore this over here just for you,” she said as she let the trench coat fall to the floor. “Do you want to unwrap your second gift?”
I set my plate aside.
I disappeared for a moment as we walked through the grocery store. When I found Eliza again, I was toting along a fifth of bourbon. I dropped it into the basket.
“What do you need that for?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll pay for it.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about.”
“You don’t keep any booze in your house. I want to be able to have a drink while I’m over.”
“Is a night without one so unimaginable?”
Eliza was worried, but she was also jealous. She had a mistress to compete with. Maybe it was becoming clear that she would have to share my love, that she wouldn’t be my only source of comfort.
“I just like to have it around.”
I wouldn’t be able to consume the bourbon with the abandon that I so desired, but at least a drink or two would help.
I lay there with my eyes open. Eliza was sleeping turned mostly on her belly, her head resting in the nook of my shoulder, my arm thrown around her, her breasts pressed against my chest, her legs straddling my thigh. She sunk her hips into me as she slept. I could feel the stubble of recently shaved hair. I lay there pondering the great heat generated by that particular region of her anatomy. I lay there feeling the moisture of post coital perspiration, smelling those post coital smells, feeling as if the sheets were sticking to me and not quite comfortable or tired enough to sleep.
I was mostly sober, too. That didn’t help things.
Eliza was out like a light. She had no problem sleeping naked on top of me like that.
It’d been about a week since I’d purchased the bottle of sleeping pills. I was already familiar with these sleep-aids. During my series of long, cross country bus rides, I’d survived off of them. They staved off the delirium of sleep deprivation when there was no other way to doze off. I knew they were effective and I purchased them for my nights with Eliza. They were over the counter medication and they didn’t get me high, so I figured that there was nothing to be ashamed of.
I could see my pants lying on the floor just beside the bed. My sleeping pills were in my pocket, and I was wondering if I’d be able to sneak out of bed without waking Eliza.
I hadn’t told her about the sleeping pills. I didn’t want to admit that I found it difficult sleeping so close to her. I didn’t want to seem as if I had some revulsion to intimacy that prevented me from passing a night normally, like any other couple, so I kept my mouth shut and let the pills put me to sleep.
It was an impossible secret to keep. My pants had been lying on the floor for ages by the time we were ready for bed. There was no clandestine way to reach into my pocket, grab a bottle of pills, and disappear into the bathroom. It was my mistake. For the past week, I’d been strategically leaving my pants in the bathroom, by the bathroom door, anywhere outside of the bedroom, so that when I arose from bed I could access the pills without revealing my intent.
As innocuously as I could, I pulled my arm from beneath Eliza’s head. She groaned and set her head onto the pillow, but she did not open her eyes. I set my feet on the floor, tiptoed over to where my pants lay, picked them off the ground, and headed towards the door.
“What’s in your pants that you always need them for?” Eliza asked.
“Uh,” I said. I thought about lying. Nothing came to me. “Sometimes,” I said, “I have to take sleeping pills to fall asleep. It’s nothing crazy or anything. I bought them at the drug store. It’s just that sometimes I get insomnia, and, well…”
“That’s messed up, baby. Why do you think it is that you can’t fall asleep?”
“It’s just insomnia. Lots of people have it. Nothing’s wrong.”
“I want you to be able to fall asleep with me.”
Eliza eyed me suspiciously. I think she saw through me.
There was a group of us all sitting around the dirty living room. Eliza sat on the couch beside me, a hand on my thigh. She was quieter than usual. When Eliza and I were alone together, it could be difficult to get a word into the conversation. But there, in my buddies’ apartment, she was more taciturn that I’d ever seen her.
All those guys lived together in an apartment above Café Pergolesi, downtown Santa Cruz. It was the perfect spot for a bunch of twenty year old college scenesters. Eliza didn’t really fit in. My buddies were loud and opinionated. They bethought themselves edgy and hip. I think they intimidated Eliza but she was doing a good job of being patient there. She was on her best behavior.
When I went downstairs for a smoke, Eliza followed me. It was evening, just before eleven – still early by my standards. The guys would be heading out to some house party or another before too long, and they wouldn’t likely be getting back before three. I’d already given Eliza a head’s up, but she’d been quite insistent that she wasn’t so old, that she could still enjoy drinking beer out of plastic cups, and hollering over a too-loud home stereo system.
We descended the steps from the guys’ place, down to Pergolesi’s side patio. They’d just closed up and the porch was deserted, but I could still see the lights on inside where the baristas were cleaning things up while they drank after hours drafts.
“What’s over here?” Eliza asked, leading me to the back of the café patio, through the latching gate to the employees-only porch. It was empty. “Let’s sit here,” she announced, lowering herself onto the bench.
I sat next to her, pulled out my smokes, and lit one up.
“You doing okay so far?” I asked her.
“You’re friends are intense,” she said.
“I know they can be.”
“But I’m doing good. I like them. But I’m also glad to have a minute alone with you.”
She turned toward me and started kissing my neck. Her lips found my left ear. She knew I loved that. She’d discovered every one of my sensitivities, my weaknesses. And she exploited them.
I dragged my cigarette.
Eliza kept kissing.
Her hand slid across my lap.
“What have we got here?” She teased. “What is this?”
She unzipped my fly and stuck her hand into my pants. She toyed with me down there, then pulled my cock out. She was still kissing my ear.
“I love rubbing this big dick of yours,” she whispered.
I closed my eyes.
Her lips left my ear, and I felt the heat of her breath as she lowered her head to my lap. She spent just enough time down there to get everything lubricated, and then she returned to kissing my ear, returned her hand to my lap.
“Does that feel good, baby?”
“You know it does.”
“Do you want to go back home?” she whispered.
We’d been fucking on the rug on her bedroom floor for an hour. I was already drunk when Eliza had picked me up that night, and I couldn’t finish.
“What’s the matter, baby?” Eliza cried. “Am I doing everything right?”
“Yeah, it’s amazing. Everything feels great. I don’t know what’s going on. I keep getting close, but then it just doesn’t happen.”
Eliza climbed off of me. Her hair was matted with sweat. She was pouting. “I don’t know how much longer I can go for.” She smiled a pouty smile. “You already got me off more times than I can count.” She stood and looked down at me where I still lay naked on the rug.
“You can just use your hands,” I told her. “Massage me. You know I love it when you touch me.”
“But why can’t I get you off in other ways.” She was talking with a sulky, childish intonation. She flopped, belly down, over the edge of her bed so that her ass stuck up in the air and she turned her head to stare at me. She was frowning.
Because I was unwilling to recourse to excuses of drunkenness, I had no way to explain my diminished capacity for sensation. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
She kicked her feet a bit while she lay on the bed, still staring at me. Her behind jiggled. “I want you to come inside me, baby.” She lay there, bent over the bed, breasts flattened against the mattress. Her poutiness had taken on a kind of sexy affectation. “I would do anything you wanted,” she said slowly, “to get you to come inside me.”
The first time Eliza scratched me, the first time that she dug those sharp claws across my shoulder blades, sunk them into my flank, I loved it. It thrilled me. She screamed and moaned as I pumped harder. I gritted my teeth, squinted. My muscles flexed and tensed in response to the pain. The wounds stung in the cold air.
“I’m coming, oh, oh, baby, I’m coming so hard!” She was screaming. I wanted her to announce those delights. “Oooh baby, you’re getting it just right!”
Her vaginal walls quivered and then clenched at me as if her whole body was working in unconscious ways to bring me off. She tore the flesh from my back as I sank deeper, cried out and released.
“Did I hurt you, baby?” She asked.
“No, I liked it.”
“Good. I liked it too. I didn’t even mean to. You were just making me feel so good. But I wouldn’t want to hurt you.”
Droplets of my blood stained the sheets that night. Upon waking the next day, I took stock of those little stains, the marks of something terribly passionate, maybe forbidden. I was proud. I was proud that I’d been man enough to let Eliza have her way with my body, that I’d withstood. But more than that, I was proud that I’d enjoyed it.
I went into the bathroom and examined my wounds, a series of parallel scratch marks shone bright red, some of them scabbing here and there. My love handles were patterned with deep crescent lesions, each ringed with an emerging bruise. The hot water of the shower stung, reviving memories of the previous evening.
Eliza’s delight in pain endured, prevailed. I had already been initiated into the relatively innocuous world of playful domination. A bit of spanking, a bit of hair pulling, that was all fine and well, but Eliza wanted something a bit more.
I set my teeth onto her erect nipples.
“Harder,” she roared. “Fucking bite me.”
I’d put my hands around her throat and she’d actually set her own hands over mine, squeezing them firmer.
She wanted me to pull her arms behind her back, pin her to the mattress.
She told me to fuck her harder that I thought any woman could really take.
And then, when she got a hold of me, she lashed out, scratching, clawing, biting.
I typically let her down in those situations. She’d scream and beg for a little bit of agony, and I couldn’t deliver. I didn’t have it in me. I was scared. And where was that line? Because I didn’t mind throwing her around the bed a bit. I didn’t think that I was an overly-cautious lover. And yet, I did view her body as something more delicate than it must have been. I was scared of hurting her when she wanted to be hurt in a controlled and loving way.
And it’s not like her desires were unhealthy. She never requested anything unreasonable, and I was thrilled when I had the will to acquiesce. I wanted to satisfy her. But even my own pleasure was something worrisome to me. The scratching became common place. My back was a roadmap of wounds at various stages of recovery. Because the pain, even if negligent, was constant, because I was always made aware of those wounds by a pat on the back, by the insignificant weight of my undershirt, Eliza haunted the margins of my consciousness during every waking moment.
It was the first night I’d been out with the boys for over a week. Eliza nearly broke down.
“Don’t get drunk and fuck anyone,” she commanded.
“Nobody wants to fuck me,” I said.
“Don’t play dumb with me. Don’t forget where I met you. I know what a fucking flirt you are when you’ve been drinking.”
“Eliza, don’t give me this shit. The only reason I’m going out is so I can spend some time with my friends.”
“I still don’t understand why I can’t come,” she said.
“I told you, it’s just the guys tonight. Besides, you know that I can’t keep my hands off you when were together. I’d end up spending all my time with you.”
She responded well to flattery. Her voice brightened as she said, “So? What’s wrong with that?”
“I just miss my friends and want to spend some time with them.”
“Maybe I’ll just go anyway.” She was getting sassy. “There’s no law that says I can’t go to the bar to get a drink.”
It wouldn’t have been the first time Eliza showed up unexpectedly while I was out with friends. Previously, I’d interpreted it as almost cute. It’d been early enough in our friendship that it almost seemed accidental. I also had been happy to see her in that event.
“That would be a big mistake,” I told her. “Just let me have my night, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’m scared you’re gonna be flirting with other girls.”
“No flirting, I promise.”
The guys were sitting on the back patio of The Avenue when I arrived, and they gave me a hard time about my absenteeism when they saw me coming.
“Hey, you can’t blame me if I’d rather be getting pussy than hanging out with a bunch of assholes,” I declared. Inspiration hit. “Check this out,” I said as I turned my back to the table and pulled my shirt over my head, revealing the crosshatched scars, the fingernail crescents in my sides.
“Holy shit, dude.”
“Doesn’t that hurt?”
“She’s beating you, isn’t she?”
I got drunker that night than I’d been in weeks. I stumbled home after last call. I heard the phone ringing as I pushed open the back door. She knew better than to call at night. The landline woke up Ed and Pam.
I fell onto my bed and pulled the phone from the receiver. “Eliza, is that you?”
“Baby? You’re home?”
“Yeah, I just got here.”
“Did any girls try to take you home tonight?”
“So you’re alone.”
“Can I come over?”
I paused for a moment.
“I’ll leave the back door unlocked.”
Eliza rocked my shoulder, roused me from sleep. “Hey, your roommates are fighting.”
I woke slowly. “What the? I’ve never heard them fight like this before.”
Ed was screaming at Pam.
She was crying, begging really.
“Get the fuck outta here,” he said. “Get the fuck out of this fucking house you stupid cunt.” He took his time enunciating each syllable, really dragging it out. “I don’t ever want to see your disgusting fucking face again.”
Pam screamed. We heard the front door open. I could only imagine that Ed was flinging her from the house. It was a terrible thing to hear. I knew, somehow, deep down, that I should do something – call the police, intervene physically even – Ed wouldn’t be a match for me. He was a coward and I knew it. But I did nothing. It made me feel useless. I was not a man.
“What the fuck should I do?” I asked Eliza.
“There’s nothing you can do, baby.” It was comforting to hear, although I doubted her sincerity.
“This is fucked up. I can’t live with these fucking guys. They’re crazy.”
“Do you think Pam will come back?”
“Yeah, she’ll be back tomorrow.”
“So what is there to do?” Eliza said.
I still felt like something less than a man.
“You know, baby…” Eliza talked softly, still consoling me. “…I used to be in a relationship like that. It was the guy I went to Hawaii with. I loved him so much that I’d let him get away with it. Things would get bad and I’d end up running out of the apartment in the middle of the night. I’d sleep on the beach and typically things would be better when I went back the next morning. It was an ugly relationship. I had to learn that I didn’t need him though. When I left him, I didn’t have any place to go. I was working a little bit over there, but I didn’t have a place to stay. But I got through it, you know? I was determined. I left him, but I didn’t run away.”
My impulse was not original. Rather, it was stereotypically masculine. I saw red. I had visions of a violence of my own. Here was a woman that I was trying, in my weak and futile way, not to hurt, to protect and love even. I began fantasizing about killing a man I’d never seen before. Apart from being Eliza’s abuser, his identity was unknown to me. But I knew abusers, I told myself. I knew bullies. I knew he was weak and that I would be able to capitalize upon that weakness.
“Where does he live?” I asked, as if I might follow through on these impulses.
“Oh, my wonderful man. You want to protect me. He’s still in Hawaii, and he’s finally out of my life, which I’m so happy about. Things haven’t been so good in a long time.”
“Was it hard to get rid of him?”
“He called me every fifteen minutes for months. I’d run into him every once in a while – at a bar or something – and he’d beg me to come back. He’d cry in front of everybody. But when I turned him down, he’d get mad again. Luckily, he knew better than to try anything in public.”
“I’m sorry you had to put up with that.” I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say.
“Just be good to me, baby.”
We lay silently for a little while, unable to fall back asleep.
I went outside for a smoke. When I came back, Eliza was sitting up in bed. “You could move,” she said.
“I was just thinking the same thing. I bet I could get my own place. It wouldn’t be that much more expensive.”
“Then we wouldn’t have to deal with your roommates anymore. It would be more comfortable for me to come over and spend time with you. I could cook for you more. I’d never have to put my clothes on.”
And with visions of Eliza taking care of me, I closed my eyes.
By the following afternoon, I’d put in my thirty day notice.
We were fighting. I was sober. I felt trapped. That was the one thing I hated about spending the night at her place. I felt like a hostage. She lived out in the woods, out in Aptos. Because I didn’t have a car, I relied on Eliza to drive me to her place and back into town. So, once I was out there, alone in that house with her, I was at her mercy.
We hadn’t picked up any booze for me that night: no beer, no whiskey, nothing. Eliza’s house was dry. That was a difficult situation for me, and I was irritable because of it. But I was becoming discontent in general. I’d made up my mind and I didn’t want to fall in love. Eliza’s apparent need for me, her love, her devotion, it was just one more thing that terrified me, just another burden.
And while there was a part of me that considered abandoning myself to the feelings that she managed, as no other woman had, to evoke in me, I was in equal part frustrated by her love. Why couldn’t she reason through her emotional impulses? Why did it so often have to be all or nothing? And why was her all so profoundly bountiful?
Eliza had started to make plans. I always kept my mouth shut and allowed her these fantasies. She planned elaborate vacations. She wanted to backpack South America. More immediately, more realistically, she wanted to go backpacking out in Yosemite, roughing it in the woods, just she and I. She didn’t realize because I didn’t tell her, but there was no way she’d ever have been able to convince me to go camping with her. It was my idea of a living nightmare: the dirt, the food, the physical trial of it…the sobriety. Besides, it was intense enough being isolated with Eliza in civilization.
But I wasn’t honest. I placated her. “That sounds great,” I’d say. “One of these days.”
Talk of the future didn’t end there, either. Such talk terrified me. But I was a weak man, and unable to express my own desires clearly. I placated and learned to resent with a sense of self-righteousness.
So one night we fought. I got mad. I didn’t like fighting and I’d mostly avoided it up until then. There had been underhanded comments. Eliza didn’t want me to drink. I nursed my own resentments. But more than anything else Eliza wanted me to be a man and I still wanted to be a little boy. The fight came to a climax when I demanded that Eliza give me a ride back into Santa Cruz, back to my place.
I had the thirst, and I wanted a drink so badly that it was about all I could think of. If I got a ride back to town, I could still go out and get drunk – all the better now that I had an excuse.
Eliza tried to dissuade me and then relented in a fit of rage. She grabbed my sleeping pills from the medicine cabinet (where I was allowed to keep them, no longer hidden). She threw the bottle at me. “Don’t forget your fucking pills.”
On the ride back to my house, Eliza attempted to smooth things over. “Oh baby, don’t be mad at me,” she said. “I’m sorry if I’ve been a brat. I’m sorry if I haven’t been listening to you. We don’t have to go camping together. We can take a trip you want to take. We need to do something nice together.”
We arrived back at my place.
“I don’t want you to go, baby,” she said. “Don’t just walk out of this car. I want you to invite me in. I want to take real good care of you tonight. I need you to take care of me.”
But I wasn’t having it. I could already taste the drink that was waiting for me. In my mind, it had already been poured.
Eliza called dozens of times over the next week, left several messages a day. It was another example of my weakness. I couldn’t be a man. I couldn’t take responsibility for my decisions, for hurting someone who had been kind enough to love me when I felt so unworthy of love.
One day I was careless. I picked up the phone without letting it go to the machine. It was Eliza.
“I’ve been trying to call you,” she said as if I might not have known.
“I know. I’m sorry I haven’t called back.”
“What’s the matter, baby? What’s going on?”
“I think we need to talk.”
“Okay.” She was crying.
“Do you want to meet me for coffee tomorrow?”
She was crying. “I should’ve never let you go home alone that night. I should’ve convinced you to stay with me. I should’ve come into your house with you. I would have made everything better.”
“There’s nothing you could’ve done.”
“You can’t do this. You can’t do this to me. I won’t let you.”
“I’m sorry. You don’t have a choice about this.”
“That isn’t fair. Why don’t I have a say? There’s two of us. We should have a discussion and come to a conclusion together.”
“So there’s nothing I can say to you, is there? You know that I’d do anything to keep you, baby. I want to keep you.”
“I’m so sorry, Eliza. I know I’m not being fair.”
“You’re not being fair at all.” Eliza jumped from her seat, stood in front of me, grief becoming rage, her fists balled. I stayed in my seat. She grabbed me by the collar and yanked me forward. “I want to hit you so hard in the face right now. Do you hear me? I’m gonna hit you in the face!”
I looked around, nervous about the scene we were making. “I’d understand if you had to.”
She let her hands fall back to her side and abandoned herself to sobbing. I was relieved, but also a little disappointed. I wanted her to hit me. I wanted some self-justification, for as it stood what was I throwing away and why?
I left the café and made a b-line for the liquor store. I knew how I’d be spending the rest of my evening.
I wondered if I’d be able to turn my experience with Eliza into a story. I would go to my friends’ house and I would try to entertain them with details of my private life. It wasn’t a kiss and tell story – none of the mindless pornography that men tend to share with each other in the spirit of big dick contests. I would spin a yarn that might encapsulate my prevailing un-sureness. Maybe, through that re-creation, I’d be able to rectify the ambivalences, be able to come to some satisfying conclusion about my experiences with Eliza.
As I walked down the street, I thought about what I would tell my friends. They’d be happy to have me back, I knew, but would they understand the decision I’d made to leave a woman who exhibited so many qualities, a woman who was eager to gratify me, a woman whose rapture, though arguably unhealthy in some ways, had the potential to grant immeasurable satisfaction? Maybe they would understand all too well.
Eliza was following me as I walked down the street. I didn’t think it was healthy but I let her have her way. I didn’t want to provoke another confrontation.
I picked up a pint of whiskey from Bonecio’s, and headed over to the café. It was dark out. When I arrived at Pergolesi, I climbed the steps at the side of the building and entered the apartment. The boys were sitting around the living room.
“Well, it’s over guys,” I said.
I uncapped the Jim Beam and I began to talk. At some point, I turned to look out the front window of the apartment. I was looking for Eliza and there she was, sitting on the front steps of the café with her head cradled in her arms.