So, I’m at 40,098 words and I’m taking a little pause because this next part is really hard. Really, really hard. Coming of age. How do we do that?
I don’t know. It’s this series of things that happen and then you look back, like wow, how did I survive, or how did my friends survive something? And then you realize you did. I wrote a character yesterday who I knew when I was 22. The quintessential SoCal boy at 25, budding rockstar – they were so many of them, then.
He passed away maybe 15 years ago? Maybe a bit more. By writing him? He’s alive. I don’t know but I came onto this total secret yesterday because I read a passage of Hemingway’s on page six of “A Moveable Feast.” He’s talking about this girl he sees in a Parisian cafe and her hair, and then that he’s writing and he looks up and she’s gone. But he says:
I see you beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and pencil.
Then I went back to writing and I entered far into the story and was lost in it. I was writing it now and it was not writing itself…
That’s how it was yesterday as I wrote a remembrance of Jeff.
Exactly how it was.
So, here he is, all curls and groupied out, just like he was.
This part of the book is the resolution or the denouement of a structure, in the three act drama Aristotle speaks of in the Poetics. I have 10,000 words to bring that to this story, and in a sense it is a very tragic story, but I want to leave that open-ended — because I want the reader to be left thinking about all these characters and especially Natasha Evergreen.
The subject I am handling is a delicate one. It’s that love that let you down at 22, and you have to grow up from there. It’s also a moral story, and the hardest story I have ever written.
Chapter 13 — lostgirl
John Sandman was waiting outside her apartment on Red Rose Way when Natasha Evergreen got home from school. She held back her tears when she saw him.
“I have to go to work tonight.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes I do. I have to be there at 5:00.”
“You can call in.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Yes you can. Do you think I drove all the way up here to see you for nothing?”
“Aren’t you going to let me in?”
“Come in,” she said, turning the key in the lock.
“Our tree,” he said. It took him only one minute to start unbuttoning her clothes and then he pushed her down underneath it again.
She looked up into eyes trying to read them for anything, anything, but they were blank orbs staring into hers. They were like icebergs as he proceeded to make love to her if that’s what you could call it. It was more like he felt it was his right after that long, long drive all the way from Los Angeles.
“Well?” he said, “What do you plan to do about this problem?”
All of a sudden the gulf that really existed between them was as apparent as the sort of chasms one finds in the Grand Canyon. It was that big.
What could she say?
Natasha Evergreen said nothing. In her heart he had already given his answer, and the gulf of his betrayal was a chasm she wished to throw herself into. Dying seemed the only way out. That is how much Natasha Evergreen loved John Sandman.
There was another side to all of this too. What Tim had said, and what the counselor had said. She seemed to have two choices, if she thought about it that way.
“I’ve got to go to work,” she said. “I’ve got to get ready.”
“I’m heading back then,” he said.
“This ought to take care of it.”
He dropped a big handful of bills on the table. “This is $500, Natasha.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said.
Natasha carried the money into her room and put it in the closet, high on a shelf. Even then, Natasha Evergreen was still hoping he would change his mind. But he hadn’t. He didn’t even care. And this was the hardest thing she would ever realize in her life. She thought he was in love with her, and that he had meant every word he had said. But he didn’t. The pain was like a hundred thousand daggers in her heart.
After work that night, she sat with Becca on the living room floor and tried to tell her how she felt, but the words wouldn’t even come out. She’d seen the counselor too, just before she had seen John. The counselor was harsh, going over and over the same question, like she wanted to make Tasha understand.
“What are your plans, then, Tasha?”
“I guess I’m going to have to…”
“That is the best plan for you, Natasha. This is your first Quarter here and you have many, many more until you get your BA. Have you told your parents?”
“I tried to tell my mom.”
“She’s so angry at me.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“It’s hard not to think of it that way.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“There is this boy who wants to marry me.”
“Who is that?”
“My friend Tim.”
“Do you think that is a good idea?”
“No, because we are just friends.”
“What are you going to say to him?”
“I’ll have to tell him no.”
“That’s good. You have clarity.”
It didn’t feel good though, when Natasha left the office once again. The counselor had told her she would see her two more times, after she had made the appointment with a doctor.
“Student Health only offers you four appointments for this kind of thing,” she said. “There are so many girls in your situation on campus.”
“In my situation?”
It didn’t make Natasha Evergreen feel any better to hear that. It just made it worse.
* * *
When Natasha went to work that night, right before she went into the cage with the metal scrollwork bars where she had to answer the phone for the next four hours, she asked her boss Rosie if she could have a minute of her time. She was going to need three days off of work, and she was going to have to make sure there was a replacement girl. It was a newspaper after all. Even though she had just a small job, she was part of the place, even after a few months. Rosie was huge, and Hispanic and welcoming. She had dark eyes like secrets and her boyfriend worked there too. Well, some people wondered if he was her boyfriend because he seemed so gay, but, everybody loved the two of them in the office.
“Come in Natasha,” she said. “Sit down.”
Rosie could tell by the look on Tasha’s face that something was very wrong.
“Sweetie, what is it?”
“Rosie, I have to…”
“I have to take a few days off and I know I haven’t accrued any vacation days yet, but, I have to because I have to see a doctor about something.”
Natasha felt her twenty two year old self burst into tears, all over again that night with her supervisor. It was bad enough that she had had to hold them in around John Sandman. Rosie handed her some tissues from the box on her desk.
“It sounds pretty bad, honey.”
“We can arrange to get you the time off, no problem.”
“It’s okay, Tasha. Maybe you should tell me what it is?”
“I’m pregnant. I just missed my period.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Honey, I was in that position once too.”
Natasha just looked into her big dark brown eyes and they were full of tears.
“He was an executive here at the paper. He’s not here anymore.”
“I had to have an abortion.”
“He was married.”
Tasha sucked in her breath. It felt like she couldn’t even breathe at all. Did Rosie know about her and John Sandman? It didn’t even seem possible.
“It was a long time ago, honey. I was your age.”
“When you were twenty two?”
“I was twenty one.”
“I was so in love with him.”
“He wasn’t going to leave his wife for little Rosie, though. He was the publisher here.”
“Yes, he was. The biggest man in the building.”
“What did you…”
“I had to take care of it. It almost killed me.”
Natasha didn’t say anything. She just looked and looked at Rosie for the longest time, while tears poured down her face. She used up all the tissues in the box.
“He was long before I met David, sweetie.”
“I feel like I wish I could die, Rosie”
“Don’t say that, Natasha.”
“Honey, this isn’t your fault. And it’s not your fault if you fell in love with someone who was wrong for you.”
“He told me he loved me.”
“Yes, the publisher told me that too.”
“But he doesn’t.”
“I’m so sorry Natasha. Life is so full of lessons sometimes it seems like we will never learn all of them. You can have as many days as you need to, off.”
“Thank you Rosie.”
“You let me know and I’ll take care of it.”
“Did you ever have kids?”
“No honey I didn’t. He hurt me too much to ever trust another man. Even David, but it’s not something I would ever tell him. That’s just between you and me, okay?”
Natasha shook her head “yes.” She would never breathe a word of it to anyone.
* * *
Becca was out in the living room alone that night after work, mulling over all Tasha had told her, when there was banging on the front door. *Who could that be?* she wondered. *At this hour.*
It was Tim and he was with Jeff. The two of them looked like they were drunk out of their minds.
“Umm,” she said, as she opened the door, “What can I do for you?”
“Is Tasha home?”
“She’s in her room.”
“I need to see her.”
“Hang on for a second and I’ll go get her.”
“Tasha, your friends are here.”
“Who is it?”
“Tim and another guy.”
“Tell them I’ll be right there.”
Tim was smashed and so was Jeff. “Let me in!” Tim reeled standing in the doorway.
“Tim what are you doing?”
“Jeffie and I came to see you.”
“But what are you doing?”
“We need some sandwiches”
“Tim I have to get up early for class.”
“All the stuff to make them is here.”
“Okay,” she said. “Come in.”
Jeff’s curls were all matted down and he looked like a shaggy wet sheepdog. He’d brought his guitar and he slumped near the Christmas tree and started to strum a tune.
“Gimme six sandwiches, Tim. I’m starved,” he sang.
Tim laid out twelve slices of bread on the counter and he was slathering them with mayonnaise. On these he laid out all the cold cuts, and then he got the chips and the cokes he’d brought the other day. “We’re hungry,” he smiled. “Starved.”
“Okay,” Tasha said. “Becca and I have to work tomorrow, so?”
Tim grabbed her by the belt around her long purple kimono. “C’mere,” he slurred. “You are going to be my wife. I’m picking out the rings next week.”
He pulled her down on top of him while Jeff laughed and strummed.
“Timmy’s never been so happy Tasha,” he twanged, plucking the chords.
“Tim, let me up,” she said.
“Tim please, I have to go to school and work both tomorrow.”
“You’re no fun.”
“Yes I am, but?”
“Fine, we’ll just go to Cece’s. At least she’s a fun girl.”
“Well it’s true.”
“C’mon Jeff,” he slurred.
Natasha and Becca watched them collect themselves, grab all the sandwiches, and head for the door.
“Some fun girl you turned out to be Tasha,” Jeff said, as they went out the door.
“Yeah,” Tim said.
When they were gone, Tasha looked at Becca, and then she went into her room and cried her eyes out. It was one of those moments when you feel like you are all alone in a world full of strangers who can never understand. The only thing she hoped for in that moment was if John Sandman would call her, as if he had changed his mind. But she knew he wasn’t going to.
* * *
Thirty six is a photography teacher in Los Angeles who has spent a year lying to his student so that he can get sex. He’s a common liar, and he knows he is never going to get caught in that lie because she is going to keep her mouth shut. He knows that she can’t go anywhere. He doesn’t care if he made a baby. He just wants to be rid of a problem, and he thinks that shoving $500 at her is going to absolve him forever. He has no idea how much he has hurt Natasha Evergreen. She will never be able to have children, because of what he has done. He raped her soul, and he tore her heart to pieces in one gesture, because he lied to her. He had said it on the first day of class, hadn’t he? He had told her he was going to seduce her because in reality he had no life. In reality he was nothing. He was a piece of meaninglessness swallowed by the city of Los Angeles. He wasn’t even a human being. He had told her he wanted to plant his seed inside of her every time they had sex. But he didn’t mean it. It never occurs to Natasha Evergreen at twenty two, that she will wield the knife that cuts out his heart until many years later.
John Sandman isn’t thinking anything as he speeds back down to Los Angeles except that he has a problem that he has resolved. There is a party to go to, with Cathleen, and he’s going to be late because he has one hundred miles to go until he’s back and he’s going to have to listen to her voice grilling him again about why he’s alway’s late whenever she made plans, and it’s Christmas, and there are chances to sell some work, and he’s got a new show coming up and the last thing he is thinking about is the girl lying in a heap that he just used and what she might be going through.
It doesn’t even matter.
He adjusts the knob on the stereo in the car and suddenly the music is booming and he presses the pedal down so he can go ninety in the flat stretches and maybe he can make it back a little earlier.
*I’ve got this Santa Barbara – Los Angeles problem I have to solve soon,* he thinks.
“I couldn’t help it.”
“You knew I had plans.”
“I was out shooting.”
“I don’t care, you’re late.”
“Don’t start in on me, Cathleen.”
He heads upstairs past all the violets, past all the circular doilies, past the plate of things she has created to leave an impression, past the stacked boxes of wine that they buy by the dozen so they get it cheaper at some outlet store in Los Angeles, and he climbs the rungs to his darkroom and drops off his camera.
*I didn’t get any work done today,* he thinks.
“Are you coming down?”
“In a minute.”
“I made dinner.”
“I’ll be down in a minute.”
She’s laid out a meal in melamine casserole dishes for him. As usual, and there is so little grace he doesn’t want to see. She shovels out a few portions of things that all look grey, as grey as his life is in the moment, and suddenly he catches the faint scent of Natasha Evergreen wafting upwards like a dream from his shirt. He hadn’t even bothered to get all the way undressed that afternoon. All he had done was unbutton her clothes, and unzip himself, and he’d pushed her under the tree before she could say a word.
“Like this casserole?” Cathleen smiled. “I got the recipe from the potluck at work last week. Everybody said they loved it.”
He nods, still chewing and hands his plate to her so she can refill it with the gelatinous mass. It’s not that he’s really going to say anything.
“So, what time are we going?”
“As soon as you’re finished.”
“Who is going to be there?”
“The usual crowd.”
“How was work?”
“The reports are coming back on the city sectors that we need to fund, for all those low income women having kids. The commissioner is going to try and get them welfare increases.”
He nods, and tells her that sounds good, and that he doesn’t understand why there are so many women having babies that they can’t afford in the first place, and she tells him that she just won another award at work in the form of a trophy for best “Employee of the Month.”
Cathleen makes small talk. Because large talk across the gulf might be too painful. She’s caught a whiff of scent from him. There is a long brown hair clinging to his shirt. She’s seen them before, in the laundry, but she’s said nothing. Only reached for him harder at night, and twice she had gotten him to turn toward her in the frozen landscape that was their marital bed.
“I got our tickets today.”
He nodded, still shoveling the gelatinous grey casserole into his mouth.
“It’ll be good to see your parents,” he said.
“Mom keeps asking when I’m going to have that grandchild.”
“Let’s work on it, then.”
“I’m glad you said that. I’ve missed you so much.”
“My sweet Babu, I missed you too.”
“I love it when you call me by my pet name,” she said.
“Come here for a minute,” he said. “Sit in my lap.”
“We’ve got to get going.”
“We’ve got time.”
Cathleen moved to his lap, and put her arms around his neck. He fiddled with the buttons on the front of her dress until it came undone and buried his face against her chest.
“Let’s go to bed,” he said.
“What about the party?”
“We have time.”
It didn’t seem as awkward this time. As if their five years of sexlessness had vanished. As if there was going to be a chance at the thing her mother wanted. As if her still loved her, is what Cathleen was thinking. The sex didn’t last long. Just ten perfunctory strokes and they were ready to dress and head for the door.
* * *
Jeff and Tim were so bombed that they couldn’t even remember how they made it to Cece’s place. Who knew what happened next? Only that in the morning he and Jeff were in Cece’s bed with a blond chick who was snuggled next to Tim.
Tim’s head was hammering, as if it was in a vise being tightened.
“Jeff, what time is it?”
The blond curled one leg over him and pulled him tighter to her. “Jeffie I broke another nail,” Cece smiled.
“I guess you need me to kiss it better, huh Ceece?”
“Oh do it,” she squealed.
“See how much fun you had Tim?”
Jeff shook his curly tangles out with a smiling grin.
“See how much fun the fun girls are?”
“I have to go, “ Tim said. “Now.”
“I want to see if Tasha is okay. Where’s the phone?”
But Cece was just smiling at Jeff, and looking at her friend who was lying in a limp puddle next to her.
“What a long night,” she smiled.
“Tim, where are you going?”
“Out of here.”
He pulled his pants on and slipped into his shoes, barefoot. His head was about to crack open from the pain. Out in the living room on the table he saw the remains of the sandwiches in a heap. It looked like Jeff had taken a bite from each one and shoved it back on the pile.
“I’m going by Tasha’s and then to the beach,” he called.
“See you later then, Tim,” Jeff called back at him.
He snuggled himself back under the covers between the two women and hugged them to his chest.
“Two babes for me.”
It was the last thing he said before Cece’s friend slid under the covers.
Tim’s eyes were blurred in pain as he drove by the ocean back up to Tasha’s place on Red Rose. He banged on the door over and over, not even realizing she had gone to class.
*Fuck, I need a shower,* he thought as he looked at himself in the rear view mirror. *I’m going home to Mom’s.*
Two minutes later he was home. His mother sat on the couch in a floral caftan and she was painting her nails. The whole room smelled of nail polish, which made his head ache even more.
“Where were you last night?” she asked.
“Are you telling me the truth?”
“Of course I am.”
“Why didn’t you come home?”
“Jeff got me a date.”
“Good. I’m glad he’s thinking the same way I am.”
“Lay off me, Mom.”
“Well he doesn’t think Tasha is right for you, either.”
“Knock it off.”
“All Jeff does is party, Mom.”
“He’s such a fun character.”
“Yeah, well, he’s not a serious guy and you know it.”
“Have you changed your mind about what we talked about the other day?”
“I don’t know Mom.”
“You are too young to have to take on so much responsibility, Tim.”
“I love her.”
“I know you do, but there will be lots of girls.”
“I don’t want lots of girls.”
“You are too young to take that on. These are the best years of your life.”
“I wish it felt like that,” he said, as he turned and headed for the bathroom.
“I’m getting cleaned up.”
The water felt fantastic as it coursed over his body and cleaned off the evening he had spent with Jeff. Tim hated it when he could hardly remember with another one of Jeff’s party girls, or Jeff’s groupies. He never even knew their names. They seemed to stretch for miles, that line of girls that just wanted to be a girlfriend. There was nothing else they wanted but to keep some guy happy, all the time. *Why couldn’t Tasha be more like that?,* he thought.
*She’s supposed to keep me happy, like the rest of them do.*
He must have taken a shower for half an hour, because his mother was at the door screaming about not having any hot water to do the dishes. She even barged in, and pulled the curtains back, and stood looking at her grown son.
“Geez, Mom, can you leave a guy alone?”
“Want some lunch?”
“Yeah, I’m starving.”
He shook himself all over and grabbed for the towel she held out.
“I’ll be there after I shave,” he said. “What are we having?”
* * *