has gotten himself into some kind of trouble involving money and the law, and
for the first time I can remember, I have a role in his life, that of confidant. We spend large chunks of the nighttime hours riding around town while he formulates his plans:
compromise, counterattack — all depending on the fluctuations of his mood, which are
extreme, from tears to rage and back again. I listen and egg him on toward the more
fantastical choices — because at sixteen I’m not aware that they are fantastical, and because
they give me the chance to go on more car rides.
I am especially pleased when he decides
that we are going to skip the country together. “Fuck ’em,” he says, his face a pale green
in the light from the dashboard. “We’ll drive up to Canada, then fly to Israel. No
extradition, immediate citizenship under the Law of Return.”
When?” I ask.
But the next day he doesn’t show up. I talk to his answering machine, stare into
his darkened windows, bang on the door. My valise feels like a ton of rocks in my hand,
but I carry it all the way up the Avenue, to Violet’s house. Violet is the girl I have been —
not dating — no, circling is the better word. I am, in general, a circler.
Violet and I sit on the couch in her basement, talking, but I can’t really listen
because my brain is full of my father’s darkened windows — that blackness.
“Running away?” she asks, looking over at the valise in the corner.
“Moving in. Your parents won’t mind. Will they?”
“Funny,” she says, and I am caught off guard as she leans toward me. I see her
face approaching mine, growing larger and larger till it fills my vision, and I smell the
sweet scent of her, then I feel her lips against mine, a very light pressure, hardly more than
a tingling in the skin. I almost draw back, not because I don’t want this but because it’s
too much, too much and yet not enough.
“How’s that?” she whispers. I’m not sure if I actually hear her or am merely
feeling her breath on my face, the shape of her words on my skin.
“Wow,” I say, a little drunk with the sensation.
She moves back to look at me and her eyes are huge with interest, a childlike
curiosity at the effect of her experiment. She looks like a kid who’s just built something
amazing with blocks that may tumble at any moment. “One more time,” she says.
We kiss again, her body against mine, her arms around my back. It is a strangely
anchored feeling, like climbing a tree and coming to a fork in the branches, the kind that
allows you to wedge yourself in and dangle your legs, suspended in air with no danger of
falling. And yet it feels like falling too — falling without the pain of landing. My lips move
but no words come out; I can hear the click of our mouths, the rhythmic huff of our
breathing. “Umh,” she says, “mhrr,” and I know exactly what she means: bird, sky,
branch, lips. I can feel her hand reaching under my shirt, palm against the skin of my
back. Everywhere she touches tingles.
So this is getting laid. I am falling and I am in the tree, watching myself fall. My
father is in Buffalo, carrying a tote bag full of money and a passport with a new name on
it. He is eating room service with the TV on. He is in his big white Caddy, driving toward
the Canadian border, Niagara Falls a silent roar beyond his window. The world is neither
good nor bad but huge and a father can get lost in it.
“Stop,” she gasps, sitting upright. “Take this off.” She begins to work at the
buttons of my shirt, fumbling. She looks a little cross-eyed, dazed, like someone coming
out of a movie theater into daylight. The buttons come slowly, one after another, and then
she is sitting with the shirt balled up in her hands, looking at me with that same expression
“Now you,” I say, and begin lifting the T-shirt over her head — to stop the
staring, really. I see the white of her stomach, the black lace of a bra, the curve of her
throat. And then her face again, smiling through a mess of hair.
“Scared yet?” she asks, brushing the hair from her eyes. It is my first indication
that we’re playing chicken. She sits with her back straight and shoulders squared, clearly
aware that of our mutual toplessness hers is the more powerful.
“No,” I lie.
“Well, then.” She lifts her hands to the black band of cloth between the lace cups
of her bra, undoes the little hook that holds them together. “How about now?” she asks.
“Maybe.” I stare for a while trying to make the connection between all the pictures
I’ve seen and these real things, Violet’s breasts. They are instantly familiar yet completely
new too, and I feel as if I’ve been waiting for them a long, long time. I lean forward to
touch a nipple with my lips. I can feel her hands in my hair. Her body sways and my
mouth fills. My father is flying, eating packet after packet of peanuts, the tote bag
sandwiched between his legs. He looks out the window and sees clouds reflecting pink
and gold. He tells the woman next to him that he is a salesman, a sex therapist, a
professional wrestler. The world is huge and anyone can get lost; it’s hard to fasten on.
“Oh,” says Violet, a sound of surprise. I take my mouth from her breast; the
nipple glistens with saliva. I follow the space between her breasts to the top of her
stomach, kissing, kissing to the rivulet of hairs down toward her belly button, the waist of
her jeans. “Hey, that tickles.” She squirms free, gets up from the couch, stands over me,
her hair in her eyes. I reach for the button of her pants, unzip her zipper, start pulling
them down. Her body sways with my tugging. She watches with a distanced curiosity as
her pants clear her hips, her thighs, bunch at her ankles. She is not wearing any
underwear. “I’ll fall,” she says.
“I’ll catch you.”
I am down on my knees now, my hands on her hips, steadying her. I am face-to-face with the architecture of her pelvis, the tuft of hair that I have dreamt of and wondered
about. Of course, of course, I tell myself, this is how it would have to be, this is how
women are made. I look up at her face and see that her eyes are squeezed shut, as if it’s
the scary part of a movie. I kiss the sharp edge of her hipbone, the shallow plane of her
pelvis, the shaggy patch of hair. I follow the curve downward between her legs.
“No, don’t,” she says. “I’m serious, I’ll fall. Oh.”
The smell is rich and shocking, like the breath of a cave. I feel her sway over me
like tall grass, her warm thighs pressed to my ears.
Once abandoned, you will always be a thrown-away thing. You will never be able
to possess or hold, will never understand the rituals by which people bind themselves to
others. Everything is as fluid as air or water; names are to be changed, money to be
hidden. Doors give you an irresistible urge to leave, just for the feeling of leaving. And
you watch for this same urge in others: the thinking ahead, the absent laugh, the counting
of money. You know people have thoughts they don’t tell.
She sits down on the edge of the couch, a sticky look on her face as if she’s just
woken up from a long sleep. She lifts her feet and I remove the bunched up pants from
her ankles. “Your turn,” she says. “Stand.” I stand up and she unzips my zipper, begins
to peel both pants and underwear down my legs. I am careful to pry off my shoes as she
works, to step out of the pants when they reach my ankles — I am suddenly worried about
looking ridiculous. But there is no helping it: I glance down at my sickly white legs, how
they end in brown socks. It’s hard to imagine that they’re really mine, these limbs, that I
stand on them. Is this getting laid, this nakedness? It’s like losing your body.
She holds me at the back of my thighs, then takes my penis in her mouth, so
quickly that I’m barely aware of it happening. It’s not the sensation I expected, not
explosive but gentle, like the pull of the water at the beach when it tugs the sand from
between your toes. You want to follow, and you want to stay. “Not too much,” I hear
myself mumble. “I want to take off my socks.”
“Leave them on,” she says. “They’re sexy.”
She laughs, lying down on the couch. It is an invitation and I follow, spreading
myself on top of her, careful for the sharp points of elbows and knees. “I’ve never done
this before,” I say.
“I know. You look like you’re in shock.”
“I just thought I should tell you.” The truth is that I am vaguely worried about
hurting her somehow — or hurting myself.
“Don’t worry,” she says. And I try not to as she slips me inside herself with a single easy motion. But it’s a
startling moment: suddenly my penis is gone and we are attached. I hesitate, rest my
weight on her hips, then begin to move. I have to tell myself to move, actually; there’s
nothing natural or automatic about it. It is awkward, awkward, like trying to write lefthanded, but I find a rhythm of sorts, a careful bumpy rhythm, and things seem to be going
okay. It’s a precarious, perched feeling, moving over Violet. “I’m fucking,” I tell myself,
as if the word could sum up the mystery of this thing and of how I got here, naked on the
couch with Violet. “I’m fucking!”
I must have said it outloud, because Violet laughs. “You are,” she says. “We
are.” She has a look on her face as if she were standing at the prow of a ship, watching
the sea come forward. Her hands are on my back and she rocks in time with my motion,
lifting her knees in the air, breathing deeply. “Oh, yes. There. There. There.”
Where? I want to ask. We are moving somewhere separately together and I want
to know. My father is in Tel Aviv, sitting on a bench overlooking the sea, shocked by the
Middle Eastern sun. This strange place is the Homeland, and these are Jews, carrying
guns, shouting at each other in a language, both soft and guttural, he can’t understand.
His tote bag is almost empty now. Citizenship is automatic under the Law of Return, and
it is this same law that brings him to the bench every day to watch the light burn on the
water. He takes out his passport, just to check his name, his picture. It’s easy to mix up
who you are and who you’re trying to be. One slip and the mistake is made.
“That’s good,” says Violet. “Yes, there. Keep going.”
But I’ve gone too far already, past the stopping point, and when it is over I lie very
still, my eyes closed, listening to her breathing — to the fact of her. I do not move because
I can’t bring myself to uncouple.
All photographs from Francesca Sorrenti’s Nerve gallery, Eye of the Beholder.