“Darla’s great but she hasn’t always been a quiet mild-mannered librarian,” Dawn says as we tool down the highway towards the country on our quest for fireworks.
The windows are open and the stereo is blaring and we’ve been carrying on a great rollicking, often yelled conversation the whole ride out.
So far I’ve kept my road kill count at zero and I intend to keep it that way. Because hey, there’s at least one thing you can be sure of with women. Hitting any animal with the car, whether it’s a cute fuzzy bunny rabbit or an evil hissing possum – it’s going to cast a dark, dark cloud over the rest of the evening. I’ve seen it happen before.
‘Oh my god, we killed it!” my date shrieked. ‘That beautiful raccoon… She was probably on her way home to her raccoon family and now she can never go home again. We should at least get off at the next exit and go back and bury the poor thing.” Now there’s an idea for a memorable date: spending an hour and a half burying a large animal carcass in a shallow grave alongside the Interstate using only an ice scraper and a tire iron as crude shovels.
“Oh yeah?” I say, my mind steering back onto the date at hand. “Do tell. Give me the dirt on your sister.”
“She used to torture me when we were little.”
“Torture you?” I ask. “Wait, you’re the youngest right? Doesn’t that go with the territory?”
“Yeah I suppose so,” she admits. “But Darla was unrelenting about it. She didn’t like toys and luckily my parents figured that out and kept her stocked with books a majority of the time but whenever she didn’t have one – watch out. I was her favorite toy.”
“Like what? What kind of stuff would she do to you?”
“God, I’m sure I’ve repressed a lot of it. The worst thing she used to do was she’d sit on my stomach and sing to me.”
“Wow, now that’s what I call torture…”
“No really, it was,” she frowns. “You know that one ELO song ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’?”
“When we were growing up there was this radio station we both listened to and they were playing that song like once an hour, and one afternoon I made the fatal mistake of letting Darla know I hated it. So from then on she’d sit on my stomach and sing the chorus over and over until I went absolutely crazy. ‘Don’t bring me down, Brruuce! Don’t bring me down, Brruuce! Don’t bring me dowwwn!!” she sings in a shrill voice.
“It was horrible! She’d sing it for hours on end and I couldn’t escape because she was bigger than me. She kept it up for years! I was totally traumatized,” she says. “And it wasn’t until I was in college, I had a roommate who actually owned the CD and of course, I totally forbid her to play it in my presence but one night I was bored and out of morbid curiosity I ended up reading the liner notes. I couldn’t believe it! The chorus actually goes, ‘Don’t bring me down, Grouse!’”
“Yeah, I wasn’t gonna say anything but heh… So did you ever ask her why she did that to you?”
“You’re damn right I did. Just last year at Christmas dinner,” she says.
“And what’d she say?”
“She wasn’t sure why she’d done it, but she remembered it had been a lot of fun and thanked me for reminding her. And you know what? Then she started singing it again! ‘Don’t bring me down, Brruuce! Don’t bring me down, Brruuce!’ Despicable.” She shakes her head. “What about your older brother, did he torture you too?”
I pause to think about it. “Yeah he did, but I took it as it came. Every other kid I knew had an older brother who tortured them so I suppose I just assumed it was a normal part of growing up.”
“What’d he do to you?” she asks.
“He’d grab a long blanket from his bed and roll me up from my neck to my toes as tightly as he could and he’d call me ‘the human burrito.’ Then he’d roll me around his room and into the walls and he’d steamroll me over lines of his army men. And since I couldn’t move my arms to defend myself, sometimes when he was feeling particularly cruel he’d pour Dixie cups of water on my face. And oh man, this one time he used me in what he called ‘an experiment’ and he just rolled me down the basement stairs – in his own words ‘to see how fast I would go.’”
“Oh my God! Did you get hurt?”
“No, but I cried anyway and he got in big trouble. I guess I was lucky I didn’t break anything but then again kids are pretty indestructible at that age. Unless you wanna believe in angels looking out for all children,” I chuckle. “Because there’s definitely something up with that. I took some hard knocks as a kid and I survived just fine.”
“So your brother tied you up in blankets and rolled you down flights of stairs and then he grew up and wanted to become a priest?”
“Yeah, maybe he felt bad about it or something. Hey, I never thought about it that way… Maybe I should tell him I forgive him or something, you know, to make him feel better.”
“No, no,” she says. “Let him feel guilty about it. He deserves it.”
“Yeah, you’re right, maybe he does.”
“Wow. I think we’ve been talking about our childhood for the last twenty minutes,” she says.
“Yeah, so… What’s wrong with that? Maybe we’re trying to avoid talking about our mostly boring adult lives.” I grin.
“You think adulthood is boring?” she asks.
“Sure. Pretty much. I mean, not now. You’re not boring – this isn’t boring,” I try to recover.
“Oh good. Thanks,” she mutters.
“Heh. That came out all wrong. Gee whiz, I must be nervous or sump’thin. But yeah, I think adulthood is fairly repetitious, even tedious sometimes.”
“That’s because we’re not kids anymore,” she says. “No one is in charge of our entertainment anymore. It’s up to us.”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s a big part of it,” I admit. “But the problem is, God I don’t know. It’s like this one author wrote once. I forget the guy’s name but he said, ‘It seems like we’re all sitting on the edge of an increasingly expensive theater seat waiting for something, anything to happen that would make life interesting for once – for a UFO to land on the White House lawn, or for dinosaurs to be discovered on an uncharted island.’”
“Real live dinosaurs or aliens… yeah, that would shake people up alright,” Dawn says. “Maybe then people would have something other than the presidential scandal to talk about.”
“Hallelujah sister…. Hey, we’re getting close!” I point out a billboard for a fireworks store on the right.
Fireworks World. Open 24 hours. The lowest prices in town! Large Assortment of name brand fireworks. Beer, Liquor, Food, Snacks. 2 Miles, Exit 33. They Blocked Us!
“‘They blocked us?’” Dawn asks.
“Yeah. There’s an interesting story behind that place. That place has attained something close to martyrdom out here because a larger chain came in and built a bigger shop right in front of them and completely blocked their building from view. They’re still in business but you have to search for them now because they literally live in the shadow of the bigger chain.”
“The big chain did it on purpose?”
“Uh huh. They even made sure their building was taller so the other building was completely obscured.”
“Yeah, but it’s the way of the business world.”
“We should stop in there and give ‘em a piece of our minds,” she says.
“You want to?”
“Don’t you think we should stick up for little guy?” she asks.
“Sure, but what are we gonna say to them?”
“Let’s just go in there and tell them they’re mean for blocking the other place. Then we’ll leave and go shop at Fireworks World.”
I laugh. “Alright, you’re on.”
I pull off the highway and hang a right at the top of the ramp. Looming up ahead is a gigantic brightly-lit building. Molly Brown’s Fireworks. Once upon a time Wal-Marts were this size. But now they’re as big as football stadiums and the fireworks stands have taken on their former proportions.
“Oh my god, this is ridiculous…” she says.
Enormous neon signs advertise fireworks specials (Black Cat bottle rockets!) and the availability of beer, wine, ice, bait, and hunting supplies. I navigate the car into a space out front, shut off the engine and we get out.
One of those grocery store-style pressure pads opens two glass doors as we stroll into the fluorescent glow of the fireworks Death Star in our dinner attire. The place is nearly empty. A truck driver is restocking cases of beer in a glass case in the back and a few kids are milling around an endcap of Clustering Bee Rockets. And we’re in luck, an enormous, brutish looking woman is behind the register. If her name isn’t Molly Brown, then I’d be willing to bet it’s “Large Marge.”
“Can I help you find anything this evening?” the woman asks in her twenty-packs-of-cigarettes-a-day smoker’s voice.
Dawn snaps right into action. “As a matter of fact, no you can’t,” she says. “We wanted to have a word with you.”
The woman grabs her reading glasses from a string around her neck and slides them back through her greasy gray-black hair. I can read at least one of her thoughts right off of her face. She’s trying to remember if she sold beer to anyone tonight that might have been underage. She glances out into the parking lot.
“We just wanted to come in here and tell you you’re mean for blocking Fireworks World,” Dawn says, glancing over at me for support.
“Yeah… uh, totally mean!” I scold. “You shouldn’t have done that. It was totally uncalled for.”
The woman stares at us. She’s confused. Her mouth starts to open. “Ok…” she manages to say finally.
“That’s it!” Dawn says cheerily. She grabs my hand and we head out the exit.
Outside in the parking lot, Dawn throws her arms around me. “I think we managed to puzzle her,” she says. “But I get the feeling the full extent of our message was lost on her.”
Then she glances down. I glance down… as if up to that moment both of us had completely missed the fact that we’re standing here with our arms locked around each other. And really, it’s one of those moments you can’t put into words without the risk of things deteriorating into a Danielle Steele novel.
A strong breeze picks up a plastic ice bag and carries it across the parking lot and it comes to rest against the front tire of my car. The smell of wood-burning stoves permeates the air. The group of kids come out of the store in a flurry of conversation and pick their bikes up off of the blacktop where they discarded them. The streetlights hum and reflect off of the shiny blue material of her dress. A trucker flashes his lights on the highway to let another truck know it’s safe to get over. And we stand there.
“Do you think we could qualify as Patron Saints of Fireworks Equity?” I ask.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Hey, I guess we don’t really need to drive over to Firework’s World. We’ll just use old Molly’s parking lot while we shop at her competitor. C’mon…” Her arm stays around me as we turn to head down the sidewalk and I keep one around her as well. I have this strange suspicion that the date just turned the corner somehow, but how or why? Call me the clueless guy please. Thanks.
In stark contrast to the fireworks Death Star, Fireworks World reminds me of the larger stands my parents used to take me to when I was a kid. I grab a handle basket and before long we’ve filled it with Ground Bloom Flowers, Jumping Jacks, 2-Color Space Ships, Happy Birds, roman candles, LadyFingers, bottle rockets and Thunder Bombs.
“Can we get a Flying Dragon? No wait! We need some of these Whistling Moon Travelers.”
“Sure, why not,” I say, holding the basket open for her.
“What about some punks?! You said we needed punks.”
“Now settle down,” I kid her. “They’ll have those up at the front counter.”
On our way up to the front of the store, other fireworks find their way into our basket – two Parachute Rockets, a 62-shot Beehive, and a Wild Geese Rocket.
“Wild Geese Rocket? What’s it supposed to do?” I ask her.
“I don’t know,” she says, rolling the rocket in her hand to read the directions. “Maybe it’s a firework that’s appealing to geese.”
“Maybe you’re supposed to fire them at geese.”
“Somehow I don’t think so,” she says. “Hey, speaking of firing these off. Where are we gonna go?”
“I know of a few places… In fact, I know the perfect place! We’re not far from Gray Summit and the Seven Hills area. Some friends of my parents have some land out there on the lake. I mean, these things are pretty safe.” I motion to our basket. “But it never hurts to have a lot of water around.”
The Taurus is no longer green. It’s dust-covered and mostly brown after driving down miles and miles of dark, almost identical-looking dirt roads. I didn’t want to say anything to Dawn, but for awhile I was pretty certain we were lost. That’s a pretty easy thing to do, to get lost in Seven Hills. Heck, it’s pretty easy to get lost just trying to describe the place.
Seven Hills is the middle of nowhere. It’s desolation with a name. It’s a bunch of dirt roads and wooden signs that read “LOT 4A EAST,” “LOT 37B WEST” and “No Trespassing.” People own land out here.
“You said your family used to come out here when you were a kid. How long ago was that?” Dawn asks.
“Oh, I guess it was about twenty years ago. Jesus Christ! Twenty years.”
Twenty years ago my family followed the Kreb’s out here, pulling our small camper behind our Volkswagen bus. Twenty years ago, we drove down these same dirt roads while my older brother bugged the hell out of me in the back seat. Twenty years ago. My life is so much different now but this place looks exactly the same.
“You mean this subdivision has been under development for that long?” she asks.
“I wouldn’t call it a subdivision. I wouldn’t even say it’s under development. People own land out here. Now what they do with that land, I have no idea. My parents friend’s use theirs as a summer getaway – to fish and camp.”
“This is beautiful,” she says, looking out her window at the forest. “I can’t believe no one’s moved out here yet. Can you imagine how quiet it would be living out here?”
“I think the pilgrim factor has kept most people away. No one wants to be the first. And I can sort of understand that,” I say. “I guess one of the big dangers of being the only person on your block is there’s no one to borrow a cup of sugar or flour from.”
“I think I could deal with that,” she says.
“It’s not just that though. After awhile, they say the isolation gives way to weird compulsions and before long you’re writing “manifestos” and building tricky little bombs and mailing them to complete strangers.”
“So it’s beautiful but don’t be deceived. Is that it?” She snickers. “Because it’s nothing more than a large crib for baby Unabombers?”
“Exactly. ‘Dear stranger, you don’t know me but please find deadly bomb attached. Boom!’ That kind of thing.”
“Oh, that’s really a shame. If I owned land out here it wouldn’t be vacant very long,” she says. “I’d have to take the risk of isolation.”
“You would, but I think for a lot of these people it’s just an investment or even a status symbol to throw around at parties.” We pulled down a long driveway skirting the edge of medium-sized lake.
“Shit, I just thought of something,” I say, pulling the car to a stop on a bluff. “Do you have a lighter or some matches?”
“No, didn’t the guy put some in our bag?”
“Well no, that’s kind of dangerous. Remember, I was telling you about punks…”
“You light the punks and then you light the fireworks with the punks,” she repeats back in schoolbook monotone. “They’re like incense sticks for lighting fireworks. I remember. Weren’t you a Boy Scout? You’re a guy. Can’t you rub two sticks together and produce flame?”
“No, for some reason I never got into the Boy Scouts. I was an Indian Guide instead. That was the YMCA’s answer to Boy Scouts.”
“And Indian Guides couldn’t make fire?” she asks. “C’mon…”
“No, we used Bic lighters the white man had given us. We didn’t bother with that rubbing sticks together business. That was way too much work.”
“Sheeesh… that’s pathetic,” she says shaking her head.
“Wait, I know what we can use.” I pull the ashtray out on the dash and push the round cigarette lighter in so it can heat up.
“Will that work?” she asks.
“I hope so, or it’s going to be sticks.”
I fish a flashlight and an empty soda can out from underneath my seat, and we set up the arsenal of fireworks on a picnic table near the shore of the lake. And as it turns out, the car cigarette lighter works just fine. I hold a punk against the glowing red coil of the lighter and it flares.
“What was it like growing up out here in the country?” Dawn asks, shining the flashlight out on the center of the water.
“What was it like? I don’t know Dawn… I never grew up anywhere else so I don’t know how it might have differed from growing up in the suburbs. It was great being able to ride horses and to have all these woods to run through and build treehouses and stuff. Most of our parties in high school were in deserted places like this, dead end roads and river banks. We drank Busch beer and guys spit tobacco juice into spit cups and played LL Cool J really loud from mounted speakers in the back of their pickup trucks.”
“Did you have a girlfriend who wore red cowboy boots and played chicken with freight trains. And like, dancing was outlawed in your county so you had to fight the evil Southern Baptist minister?”
I laugh. “I think I’m going to have to take offense to that one. No, it wasn’t anything like Footloose if that’s what you’re implying. I didn’t have a girlfriend named Arial and I didn’t wear skinny leather ties or try to teach the country kids to dance eighties-style,” I say browsing through our arsenal of fireworks on the picnic table. “Which one should we start our display off with?”
“This one!” she says, shining the flashlight on one of the rockets.
“The Wild Geese Rocket? Oh man, I dunno Dawn. That one should almost be the finale, but alright. Stay here though, I’m gonna put some distance in between it and us since we don’t know what it’s going to do.” I grab the soda can and the rocket and head down to the shore.
“Alright you geese, look out!” I yell, my voice echoing across the lake. I lean down and touch the punk to the wick. It sparks and I run back up the hill to the picnic table. But after thirty seconds or so nothing happens.
“It must be…” Dawn is starting to say when the thing takes off. It startles us both, a golden arrow of a whistling rocket that hits the sky and then soars off horizontally until it disappears.
“That was cool,” I say. “I’m not sure what it had to do with wild geese, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.”
“I was beginning to think it was a dud. It took forever for it to go up,” she says.
“Your fireworks education continues.” I grin. “Rule number one, it’s almost never a dud and if it is, kick it in the lake first just to make sure.”
“Can I light the next one?” she asks, trading me the flashlight for my punk. She blows on the end and the tip glows briefly in the darkness.
“Sure, give it a try. What’s next?”
“I was thinking a Roman Candle. Should I go down by the lake like you did?” she asks, motioning to the shore.
“Uh, no. These things are pretty safe. Dig it down in the sand over there by that tree, or over there,” I point.
She’s full of energy – like a cartoon character, completely animated in the way she marches over and kneels down, lifting her dress slightly to keep it out of the dirt. She digs a few inches of the red, white and blue cylinder into the sand and points it at the sky. Then she lights it and runs back to the table.
The wick burns its way up to the cylinder and then the first ball of red fire rockets up into the sky with a ‘foop!’ Followed by a white ball, and blue ball, and then another red…
“I love these things. They always remind me of Jack Kerouac,” I say, brushing off the bench and sitting down. “He had this incredible line in ‘On the Road’… I can never remember how it goes enough to do it any justice but it’s just unbelievable.”
Red – foop!
“You mean ‘the only people for me are the mad ones?’” she asks.
“Holy shit! Yeah! You actually know the line I’m talking about?!”
Red – foop! White – foop!
“In addition to sitting on my stomach and singing the same ELO song over and over a million times, my sister’s always been great at turning me on to important literature,” she says. “She made me read ‘On the Road’ when I was in college and it’s become one of my all-time favorites. I’ve read it so many times… Like that line you’re talking about -
“‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, delirious of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awwww!’”
Red – foop! Blue – foop!
And I find myself clapping. “That’s the one. It always manages to send a shiver down my spine. If I could have met Kerouac and asked him a single question. Where’d he pull that one from? It’s the most beautiful stream-of-consciousness, run on sentence I’ve ever heard. I mean, was he on a coffee buzz? Was he on drugs? Did he wake up one morning with that in his head and he had to run for pen and paper to get it all down?”
White – foop! Yellow – foop! Red – foop! And then our Roman candle fizzles out.
“What should I send up now?” I ask.
“Let’s take turns!” she says, running around the table to pick her next one.
We pass the punk back and forth for nearly an hour. I light a Whistling Moon Traveler. And Dawn sends a 2-Color Space Ship up into the night sky. I give life to a couple Happy Birds, and she lights a whole brick of LadyFingers.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
“Oh my God! Those were loud! What were they?” she asks.
“Thunder Bombs. Heh. They’re supposed to be loud.”
“What do we have left?” I ask.
“How about some gold sparklers?” she says, handing me a box off of the table.
I pull two wire sparklers out of the box and use the punk to light a piece of red fireworks wrapper, and I light the sparklers with it when it flames.
“Here, take one,” I say, carefully handing her one of the gold spark-drenched sticks backwards.
“These are magical,” she says, swiping her sparkler in circles through the air. “Utterly and totally magical.”
For awhile we’re silent, caught up in drawing strokes of gold through the nighttime air. We spin circles, squares, triangles and occasional lightning-bolt zigzags. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a sparkler in my hand, and it’s amazing the things you forget – the smell of the gunpowder, and how hot the wire gets in your hand as it burns downward toward the end. Then after awhile it sputters, and throws a few more sparks and you wave it furiously trying to keep it going. And it’s done.
“Mine’s gone!” I say in a kidding whiney voice. Her sparkler, however, is one of those ones that just keeps going and going. I sit down on the bench to watch her.
She’s great. She really is. Watching her stroll across the bluff in her blue gown with the sparkler high over her head…
I play with the end of my tie, turning it inside out, and then back again. She’s beautiful. She’s literate. I love Kerouac. But she knows his prose by heart. I’m 29. She’s 29. I’ve never given marriage any serious consideration. She’s divorced, has an alcoholic ex-husband and a 4-year-old little girl. I write silly marketing slogans for a movie rental company. She rehabilitates people from horrible accidents and helps them climb back into their lives again.
“What’s up?” she asks, stepping forward out of the darkness.
“Hey, nothing. Just watching you and your striking newfound fireworks prowess.”
“Am I good?” she asks.
“Yeah, you’re good.”
“Can I ask you a question?” she asks, sitting down next me on the bench.
“Why did you go out with me again tonight after you found out I was celibate?”
“Whoah!” I say, shifting back to look in her in the eye. “You really have a way of getting to the point don’t you?”
“That’s alright,” I brush it off.
“I’m guessing you went out with me again because you’re holding out for the chance I’m playing hard to get,” she says.
I shrug. “Fair guess.”
“Is that why?”
“No.” I say. “Why? Are you playing hard to get?”
“Kind of?!” I ask incredulously.
She picks one of the spent Roman candles from the sand at her feet and lifts it to her nose, taking in the smell of the spent gunpowder.
“You never answered my question,” she says.
Suddenly there are two sportscasters in my head sitting in front of a plush studio backdrop looking smug and sipping occasionally from ESPN Super Bowl coffee mugs. “Craig Mitchell, who intercepted seventeen passes the past two seasons, including a league-leading nine in 1996, leads the team with three after his first-half pickoff,” one of the sportscasters says. “But frankly, Jerry, I doubt he can keep up that kind intensity for the rest of the game. He’s fucked now. Realistically, I think we’re going to see him back on the couch, muttering occasional curses and watching A&E and VH1′s ‘Pop-up Video’ by the end of the third quarter.”
“My 1987 season was wrought with the same problems, Dick,” the other sportscaster says. “I can remember feeling… How did you phrase it? Yes, I can definitely remember feeling fucked a few times.”
“Hey,” Dawn claps me on the shoulder. “Where’d you go?”
“You were sitting there scowling,” she says.
“Yeah, you were.”
“Are you sure I wasn’t grinning?” I smile. “I have this other grin. It looks kind of like a scowl.”
“Yeah, whatever.” She smiles.
“So you want to know why I went out with you again?” I ask.
She nods, rocking back on her elbows to lean on the table.
“Well first of all, I think you’re making the mistake of assuming that everything I do has an intelligent, well thought out motive behind it because that’s rarely the case. But anyway, I went out with you again because you’re really cool… wait, I’m probably too old be uttering phrases like ‘you’re really cool.’ So scratch that. I went out with you again because you’re really intriguing – fascinating even, and despite the celibacy thing, I wanted to find out more, ok? I mean, I felt like our first date ended in shambles when I…”
“When you tried to put the moves on me,” she offers.
“Hey! I didn’t try to put the moves on you.”
“Yes you did. You had your hands up my shirt.”
“Well… yeah. But I wasn’t trying to put the moves on you. It just happened… It’s not like I had everything mapped out in advance – anymore than I suspected we’d end up making out in the parking lot of a closed coffee shop.”
“Alright, alright, it’s not a big deal.” She laughs.
“Where the hell is this going anyway?” I ask. “I feel like I’m having a conversation with my seventh grade girlfriend. ‘Craig, I don’t like it when you try to put your hands there’ and that sort of thing. Look Dawn, if you’re celibate, well then, you’re celibate. Yes, I’m curious to know why you chose that, uh… lifestyle. And yes, if you want the truth, more than once tonight I’ve wondered at my own stupidity and why I’m taking out this really beautiful girl that I might have a zero chance of ever having sex with. But that’s me. I’m a nut, and I guess more than anything, in my life lately I’ve been operating under the delusion that I have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
“I was hoping you were out with me again tonight because I’m stunningly beautiful and you couldn’t resist my charms,” she says.
“Well that too,” I grin. “But as a practice I don’t speak from the heart on the first date.” She starts to correct me but I’m well ahead of her. “Or the second one either.”
“Damn,” she brushes her hair back and looks up at the stars. I follow her eyes upwards.
“Pretty incredible, huh?”
“What? The stars?” she asks.
“Yeah, it’s amazing how bright they are when there aren’t any streetlights to screw things up. It almost looks like a planetarium show. Except, well, minus the ‘Pink Floyd laser-light Rock Extravaganza’.”
“Whenever I think of the planetarium, I think of that freeze-dried ‘Astronaut Ice Cream’ they used to sell in the gift shop,” she says. “I was there with my family once when I was about five or so, and I remember crying my eyes out until my mom finally gave in and bought me some.”
“Oh yeah! I remember that stuff. It came in a silver vacuum pack with a space ship on it and it looked really cool. But then you opened it up and the stuff was revolting.”
“Uh huh. My sister and I ate some of it on the ride home and puked all over the back seat. My parents were less than thrilled.” She laughs. “Jeez, there I go driveling on about my childhood again. Let’s talk about something else.”
“Well I was gonna ask you something before we somehow veered onto talking about Astronaut Ice Cream,” I venture.
“How did you end up… I mean, how did you choose to be celibate?”
“It’s probably less complicated than you’d think,” she says, brushing her hair back again. “After my divorce I was pretty exhausted for about a year. Lindy needed a lot of attention and I was an emotional wreck, but eventually I started dating again. Friends of mine fixed me up with guys. I did the bar thing on Saturday nights and signed up with a couple of dating services, and before long I was power dating. I had more dates than I had time for.
“But a million dates later, and a couple of dozen roses wilted and in the trashcan,” she says. “It turned out to be the same story every single time. I could go out and have a great time with these guys but as soon as it started getting serious – as soon as it started to become more than sex they were gone. For awhile I was absolutely certain there was some guy myth about single mothers, that they all held the same misinformed belief that they were somehow doing me a big favor by sleeping with me and then ditching me a few weeks later. But then I figured it out. The dating was fine. The casual sex was fine. But getting serious with a single mother? No way. That represents marriage, possibly even fatherhood and they ran like hell. So somewhere in-between that realization and my frustration, I just decided to start telling them I was celibate.”
“You still haven’t said one way or the other. Are you?”
“No,” she says.
I laugh, perhaps inappropriately, because she fires a weird look at me. “No offense Dawn, but what do you think you’re accomplishing by telling all of your dates you’re celibate? I mean, what’s the point of even going out on dates if you’re only gonna try to drive them away?”
“Well it started off as ‘I’m angry, I’m gonna get back at all of these assholes’ but that wore off before long,” she says. “Because deep down, I don’t think I’m the men hating type. And after that? I guess I was holding out for some magical guy to show up on the scene who wouldn’t be scared off the celibacy thing, a guy who was interested in more than just casual sex, you know, someone who was interested in me. But that turned out to be a big fairytale. So honestly? As selfish as it might sound, lately I’ve really come to appreciate the simple beauty of the first date.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“That’s really the best part,” she says. “Even the most boring people can manage to be incredibly interesting on the first date. You get to see people’s best act – their best conversation, their best jokes, and manners. Chances are they’ll take you to their favorite restaurant and treat you like royalty. The first date is usually a real treat. It’s the second one where you start wondering what you’re doing with the turd. That’s when you start noticing all of the things you should have noticed on the first date.”
“So you go on first dates and then you scare them off with the celibacy thing. And excuse me, but how long have you been doing this?”
“About six months,” she says.
“Wow, Dawn,” I shake my head in disbelief. “I still can’t say I understand any of this but I guess I can’t really judge you on it.”
“I’m not a woman and I’m not a single divorced mother. And back in the YMCA Indian Guides, the elders – actually they were a bunch of the kid’s fathers wearing chicken feather headdresses and lipstick-drawn war paint. Anyway, the elders had a saying that went, ‘Never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.”
“I don’t own any moccasins.”
“Well I’m not gonna walk a mile in those heels you’re wearing that’s for sure. All night I’ve been waiting for you to topple and start to fall. I don’t know how you do it.”
“You learn,” she says.
“Look, before we stray completely off the topic again, answer me this. With this seemingly unproductive, nutty strategy of yours – of all the guys you told you were celibate how many actually stuck around?”
She holds a single finger up. Then she points it at me and smiles.
“Oh Jesus Christ. I guess that makes me a total freak.” I laugh. “Am I on ‘Candid Camera?’ Do I win a prize or something?”
I’m so busy laughing and admittedly, being a complete jerk, I nearly miss her answer. If kisses had warning signs, sustained eye contact and a blush of the cheeks would probably be at the top of the list. And that’s what is sitting across the bench from me..
We slide across the bench toward one another, colliding in the center in a fairly awkward position. But that happens sometimes, right? Your hands come to rest where they will, you shift your body into whatever position is necessary to get your mouth to hers and after that it really doesn’t matter that it looks like you’re playing a game of Twister without the plastic mat or the spinner.
Through the kiss, I can smell her skin. I can smell her perfume and on top of it all, she smells like gunpowder. But that’s no big deal. In some strange way I actually find it endearing.
It’s… what is it? It’s endearing.
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