“Turn that down! I can hear it through the headphones!”
My mother’s snarl as she dropped her cigarette in the ashtray that rested upon the small round end table that rested against the end, her end of the couch. The table that held her nighttime company, the ashtray, cigarette case with the interlocking clasp that housed her smokes and Bic lighter, a shaded lamp, her ever sweating glass of suntea with its thick layer of undisolved sugar resting murky and useless at the bottom. Yelling at me from her perch, paperback book sandwiched between her fingers, sleeveless satin nightgown hugging her curvy frame, her wavy locks wildly splashed across her bare shoulders and spilling into her eyes. We had no television at the time, I was too young to really devour books like she did, and I was in my place…my secret garden. Giant pair of adult sized, big puffy earphones strapped precariously to my tiny head, music cranked as loud as I could make it go, you know, so when those way too big for me ear coverings slipped off my head as I swung and bounced about, I could still hear the rhythm and voices. Feeling the first thing that ever pulled at me and ignited my very first stirrings of desire so powerful that I couldn’t ignore them, moving my body in time to music.
I would scurry to the triple decker sound system, hands shaking with panic…just how mad was she? Wait with my tiny hand holding one of the enormous pads away from my face waiting to hear footsteps coming, they didn’t. Lower the volume, find a slow song to sway back and forth to with my back resting against the bookcase, knees pulled tight to my chest until my…and her heavy breathing went back to normal, or she fell asleep. Even then I was a night owl. Wandering around in my socks on the hard floor as to not wake her once she drifted off, never fearful that she might strike or scream at me, but truly terrified of disrupting her when she was at peace. Stevie Wonder, KC and the Sunshine Band, Cat Stevens and Marvin Gaye my nighttime company and caregivers. Doors locked the only light coming from that nightstand which conveniently lit the room in just the right way. My five year old frame a massive shadow on the institutionally bare walls as I measured my steps, lifted the arm on the record player and dropped the needle in the deep groove, the next stroll through my lush and hopeful garden about to begin.
Once moved to Long Beach and living in the home of the monster that fathered my older brother, the big beautiful house full of rage, hate, denial, sexual deviance, sorrow and the kind of sadness that seemed to grow with each lost soul that found themselves seduced through the front door by thick and lavish carpets, velvet couches and the promises of something better. There many things were taken from me but the biggest, at least at the time, I wasn’t allowed to use the glass encased disco quality stereo system. Not ever. My mother and I were living off the kitchen in a strip of “housing” that held the washing machine and small television and a small radio system that I discovered, the hard way, was frowned upon using. Old enough to read now I found some relief in books, stories and words but as moving as gripping as they were, I knew I wasn’t living all the things I was reading. The smells, the yelling, the drunken and drug induced laughter that came roaring through the hollowness of our corridor off the main part of the house a constant reminder that we, that I wasn’t living at all….just making it through.
One night I found myself alone in our tunnel. I had been reading Little Women when I heard the Trans Am pull into the garage that was just beneath my bedroom window. My fingers were shaking turning the pages as I heard deep voices, felt the clunky steps vibrate through the entire house, could tell by the noise level that the monster had been out gathering young men. Plying them with booze, cocaine and stories of what a glorious home, full of many rooms, he had to share with them. I heard cupboards opening and slamming closed in the kitchen, glasses being filled, awkward flirting, chest thumping and with each glass of Rum or Scotch the noise level rising. The beating of my heart so fast that the sound of my breath became, to me anyway, as loud as they were. I dropped my book to the floor with a thud and ran to the light and switched it off. Sat there in the dark, my chest heaving and whole body shaking when I heard, “Oh fuck, you have to see my ex-wives daughter. What a fucking piece of shit!”….no nobs to turn down and wishing I could crank the music up loud enough to reach her, wherever she was and wake her up.
“Sam, get your ugly ass in here!” my body buried beneath the comforters on the bed my mother and I shared, my hands pressed over my ears as if not hearing it coming was going to make it go away, it didn’t. Drug into the kitchen in my nightgown at nine years old, bright lights and wreaking smell of cologne and alcohol burning my not used to the light eyes which mixed with my fear brought tears. “Smile for them Sam.” My whole body shaking as I backed up against the countertop and shook my head. “Isn’t she the ugliest girl you’ve ever seen? I mean, who would love that face, that body? No wonder her mom isn’t here” each word slashing into my flesh, ripping me apart and as the somewhat uncomfortable laughs began to fill the kitchen I became very aware of how powerful words could be, and exactly what naked and exposed truly felt like. Have no idea how long the ordeal lasted, felt like months but it was probably more like 20 minutes that I stood there, the man that held the cards on if my mother and I had a place to live sticking his frail fingers in my mouth, pulling at my hair, tugging at my nightgown and eventually dumping his sack of post bar Taco Bell munchies on the counter only to unwrap them and shove the horrifically smelling slop in my face, telling me to “eat it like the pig you are”.
It was that night, the night, my nightgown crusty with beans and my soul damaged in a way that would ready me for things to come, that I found my first bits of courage. I was too afraid to get in the bath or shower, still alone and not sure where the crowd has wandered off to, I snuck through the side door in the kitchen and slithered, covered in dried beans, tears and absolute humiliation to the big kidney shaped pool…the one with the bright light in the deep end and far away from the rest of the house. Instinctively I knew those people were too stoned and tweaked, wound up with each other to even consider taking a swim at 11:00 PM so I crossed the thick grass in the backyard, sliced the bottom of my foot climbing over the artfully displayed rock garden and while holding my breath stuck my arm in the “Pool room” and flipped the switch, not on the outside lights, just in the pool. First just sunk my feet in but before I knew it I was all in. My whole body in the water, first lapping from one end to the next, maybe hoping the water would wash me clean but eventually finding indescribable pleasure and overwhelming peace in having my head under water. No music, no laughter, no humiliation…just quiet. Just still. My legs crossed and hooked to the cement, my back arched as I plunged…my hair floating and then pressed against my skull, whole body flat against the side of the still pool as I watched the ripples settle and heard nothing. Peace. My secret garden, a place to go and feel safe, less ugly, less alone…the water. The remainder of my time in that house was made just a bit more bearable every second I was in the water or passed that bloody footprint that stained the concrete beside the sliding door off the pool room.
Spent many years seeking the kind of silence and peace that came from puffy headphones, hard floors, suntea and poolside blood stains. Made millions of mistakes and lost more of myself than I can even begin to explain. Longed for the girl that would wait until her mother drifted off to sleep to feed her passion, the one that in the face of who knows what found the fight to take a moonlit swim. Let all the “isn’t she ugly?” and “turn that down!” determine and dictate what I would and would not do and put their fingers in my back, pushing me to let rage and fear control me. Wasn’t until I met you that I felt the slip of my socks across the tiled floor and the sensual embrace of the deep end that I found myself…the me that feels like a massive shadow on a blank wall. My curves, my snarl, my wet hair and saturated flesh, my moist mouth, willing and open throat….you, the secret garden I had been planting and waiting for my whole life. It’s You.
One late afternoon, after a many long days of tasting and not quite getting it, it was your raw, pure, intoxicating sensuality that filled my mouth and shook loose the me that was clinging and holding on desperately to the reasons why I would never be or matter much. Your earthy, smoky, roasted and sweetly erotic pull flipped my pool room switch and your stain, it lives next to my heart and feels like your rough hands are digging into my skin by the fistfuls. I’m yours and you make me this woman. Comfortable in my sensuality, playful in my sexuality, willing and needing to toss these silly words out on the wind.
No more fear, my headphones fit, I’ve come to terms with my ugly…you taught me that there is something beautiful and sexy about me, it’s you and what you do to me. How I can share this with others, for that, for the woman I am because of you, the way I kick my legs hard, feel wet and alive when I’m standing in the shop or here at my laptop, there are no words to express and yet, I keep trying .You scrape those beans from my face, always sound like Marvin in my ear and have given me the freedom to stretch my limbs, live out loud and love more completely than I ever have before. I know you, how to share you, how to love you in a way that inspires and I would take everything it took me to get here a thousand times over again for that one second when I feel you spill across my tongue, grab my neck, demand I notice you, love you and you nibble at my side until I tell someone how fucking sexy you are.
You are my not so secret garden
I will build you a fire from the bones of who I used to be before you washed the weary away
Before you came here for me…
My life with wine and Dave Matthews, (Google alert, you suck) sums it up, perfectly.