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Even at the freshman freak table, Neva was a scrawny, greasy-haired, turtle-y glasses oddball. When a sophomore stole a frog’s tongue from Dissection and stuck it in Neva’s sandwich, she merely plucked the foreign object from her mouth with long, chipped fingernails, tucked it in her napkin, and ate the rest as if nothing happened. That’s when I studied her. I mean, she didn’t even check her sandwich for more frog.
When I went out for shot put and long distance track, Neva followed. Too bad she threw like a noodle – seriously, her personal best? Four feet.
After practice, while we waited for our rides, I theorized about infinite branches of possibility, and how much better our lives probably were in an alternate universe. She injected questions and such a heady intimacy formed that a few days later, in front of the school, I told her, “My grandfather raped me when I was ten.”
He’d died and, up to now, the secret was all mine.
Her catlike attention turned on me. “So did he take your virginity?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, did it hurt?”
“I don’t know. It was like I was in the wallpaper.” I told her of the trains on my brother’s wall, the nightlight’s yellow glow…
“Why didn’t you tell me—months ago—when I told you about my dad?” She’d said he made passes at her.
I gave a half-hearted smile and shrugged. This was our bond: the stifling darkness of incest and puberty. She hugged me. Neva had this way of hugging with her whole being, and I wanted so badly to be wrapped within the human envelope.
There are things you hold on to.
Like riding in her Volkswagen, feeling her up as she drove. Her dark hair hung to her shoulders, reddening in the summer sun. She was sunburnt and that warmth was so pleasant I kept my hand tucked in her shirt collar. I’d never burned, so I never thought till years later how odd that she smiled instead of wincing. Her baby powder perfume filled the car. We frenched, my head a-tilt so she had a clear view over my left ear as we hurtled past cornfields.
We were lovers in our junior year. Problem was, the first time we did it, unbeknownst to me, she was going steady with my good friend, Duke. When I apologized, he said, “I don’t blame you, Slipstick. It’s her – all her.”
For this and other betrayals, we froze her out. She changed schools.
My freshman year at U of I, she called from Illinois State. I’d been lonely and her voice was bright. Hey, we’d matured a bit; things’d be better. I hopped a bus to Normal, anxious for her baby powdered hugs, heart-swapping conversations, and, well, sex.
Within an hour of my arrival, she dragged me to Mitch Morrisetti’s. He was an old fuck buddy, she said, just friends now; anyway her roommate couldn’t walk in on us there.
His dorm room was a long dark cave, lit by a stereo’s orange glow and the mercuric streetlights of the campus below. Mitch sat on the floor.Nevaand I took his bed. All drinking. Buzzed.
I pulled Nev close, kissed her hard. Electricity ran through my hands and in the hollows behind my knees and made my pussy swallow—all the currents meeting where, if you’re a toy clown, and someone pulls the master cord, your legs fly open and your arms toss over your head, and if you’re flesh, fleshpoints pucker and your mind flees into that tiny refuge at the top of your spinal cord, withdrawing from its large gray-matter home.
I untucked Neva’s shirt, opened her front clasp bra, the warmth of her small breasts evoking the exhilaration of that sunburned drive years ago.
The boy left for the john. In retrospect, she must’ve signaled, because after, she said, “You don’t mind if he watches, do you, hon?”
Instinct said if I refused, she’d close all I’d opened, so I said, “He can watch, but I don’t want to be touched.”
We resumed kissing. He returned. I was vaguely aware of him shifting around by the stereo. I threw off the shirt that made Neva’s shoulders look bony, peeled off her acid-washed jeans. She unbuttoned my shirt, reclining so I was on top, finding her with my hands, grinding. At some point, my jeans and underwear left me. We were naked, making out while Mitch watched. I erased him from our periphery — but then time slipped, like a myoclonic twitch, and suddenly, he was fucking her. I froze, watching from a high corner outside myself.
She must’ve sensed me casting far into the night sky beyond the windows, because she wrapped an arm round me, pulling me close, then I was on my back; I felt that rubbery poking from somewhere down by the door and turned my cold eyes away from it. The music was gone. I went deaf, save for her breath in my ear, “Are you OK with this?”
I didn’t understand the language, as he loomed upright on his knees, pulling a thick pair of hips toward him as he jigged-jagged his ridiculous equipment between those thighs. She held me from behind, leaning forward so that her dark hair made a curtain over everything.
“Deb, are you OK?”
I couldn’t pick up my inner phone to answer that long distance call, in that old train station, with the nightlight’s cast over my brother’s bedroom wall, eyes moving from train to train down the sloping roof above the bed to the blank spot of my incestuous grandfather, upright on his knees — the only thing I couldn’t see; I could see the baby doll pajamas, the powder-blue gingham sheet, but I couldn’t see him, only the way the floor dropped without warning into a dark, abysmal, curving stairwell to the parlor downstairs. Usually the falling terror’s abrupt—brief—but after a stint in the train station, the menace elongates, it increases with gravity, with the darkness of the black hole. And my black hole registered only motion and moisture. The master cord lay slack, the clown’s face fixed in an unreadable expression.
Neva flipped her hair back and sighed. “Maybe you better stop.”
Something stopped. All touch withdrew. Morrisetti lunged for the john.
“Get your clothes on,”Nevaordered, “We’re going.”
As I slipped into my jeans and slightly damp socks, there was, from over by the stereo, a click. Finding the stereo’s cassette deck, Neva swore.
I looked up from buttoning my shirt.
“That fucker! Recording us!” she said, having rewound and played a bit of the tape. She pocketed the cassette and replaced it with Violent Femmes, volume screwed high. We left before the asshole could finish his wank.
I was mystified as to why she’d be upset about a stupid recording.
She called her “real boyfriend” said, “My friend, Deb, is visiting and we got trashed hanging out with Morrisetti and he RAPED me!”
She hung up, laughing. “Timmy’s pissed! His guys’ll beat the crap out of that fucker. Now let’s go over to the Gamma Phi party and get wasted. You’ll feel better. I know I will.”
“A frat?” I couldn’t imagine Nevamaking any Greek cut.
“Well, it’s more like a circus.”
It was there in a beer haze, after her drunken ball-walking, that I lost track of Neva, surrounded by blitzed acrobats and stoned jugglers. Plummeting again, I had to escape these sunshine-y strangers and smiley-faced creeps. So I left—in a blackout.
Next thing, I came to, pitching and whirling on a bed in the dark. My shoes were off. My tongue tasted like stale Pabst. Whispers swarmed me.
Neva was macking with Tim over on his bed.
Squirming against the weight of darkness, I couldn’t lift myself from the pillow, but grasped at the dark without a handhold.
Sudden quiet. The dark curving in on me.
“Shhh,” she whispered, “I’m right here! Go to sleep.”
“NEV? I can’t feel you.”
“Go to sleep!”
The world tipped away; I am sure they went on fucking.
The next day, the sun reflected from their naked shoulders to stab my eyes.Nevaasked, “How’s your head?”
“Smashing,” I said, wondering if this weekend was typical or if she had arranged it all special on my account, and how many dudes was she fucking, and why was I here?
I caught the bus home and didn’t speak to her for four years. But I did speak to her again. And that is the mystery.
Because finally you’re self-absorbed, happy in solitude. Neva comes along swinging her hips, undoing your buttons, the tango ensues. She keeps you distracted every waking moment so you spend your time with her; whatever you used to do (writing, art, brain surgery) rots on the vine. Once any real intimacy takes root, she uses you as a scratching post. The laughter and connection of sex diminishes until you’re rowing toward orgasm in separate boats. You waste away in the dark, unable to recall a time you wanted your own thing, and you’re more cut off and touch-starved than ever. You settle, inert, until, sick of you, she leaves you flat on the tiles of the kitchen floor, contemplating the gas jets of the oven.
I put myself through this six times, each one a different sickening flavor.
After a four-year stint among bar dykes, at age 26, I found Chicago’s SM community and realized I could meet my need to suffer a little more sanely. Neva realized she was losing me to Darla, a leggy smart-ass I’d played with a few times. The lukewarm memory of Nev’s sunburn didn’t heat me like Darla’s floggings and raucous laughter. So Neva dressed in a short plaid skirt and turned Darla’s head.
Darla called. “Me and Neva are at my place. Wanna come over?”
I was nauseous. If Neva’s game followed me into the dark and kinky, it’d destroy me on levels I was just discerning.
In Darla’s steam-radiated apartment, I said, “If you’re running with Neva, I’ve got to bow out.” This killed me.
I turned on Neva, told her I’d consigned her to the dead. “I’m done. Don’t speak to me. Don’t touch me. You brush me with a fingertip — it’s an act of war — I’ll break your hands.”
Neva accused me of being paranoid, but her heart wasn’t in it.
Dar intervened quietly — hoping, I think, for a life of three-way scenes. “Deb, I know y’all have issues, but it’s in the past. I personally like to live with an open hand. If you go, you’re gone. Hand’s still open if you come back. I don’t see why you can’t quit hating her.”
“Christ kept an open hand, and they drove a nail through it,” I said. I advised her against getting in too deep, explaining, “When I’m with her, it turns into a recurring nightmare, and I let it unfold. It’s not about hatred, but survival. It won’t change, because of who we are to each other – because, every time, I let it unfold.”
Huddled in my biker jacket for the walk home, I left them, blue with grief.
In the end, Neva burned her, too, as she does everyone.
What You Don't See: Stories of Illumination and Impulse
April 7 - 9, 2017
The Teal Room at Pub 626
1406 W Morse