I wanted to write a memoir but the connective tissue of the memoir didn’t interest me. I wanted to render memories that would pop up like mushrooms and quickly vanish. I owe much to where I was raised, in a black neighborhood where people talked to each other and spent time on the porch and on the corner, as did my brothers and their friends as they smoked weed, drank Mickey Big Mouths and Heinekens, and talked all the time about the insanity of Vietnam, nuclear war, and H.P. Lovecraft, and from there they’d segue into the adventures of the many memorable characters in the neighborhood. I tried to do that here. A new installment will appear here every Saturday this and next month.
I admit that I was a boy and Martha was a woman. Truly, I never made love to a woman; it was all just foreplay, intense endless foreplay with my high school girlfriend, but we never had full on sex. I think Martha understood because one night I knocked on her door and she stood there, tall and majestically beautiful wearing a teddy.
I was terrified and it was the teddy’s fault.
Anxiety struck me stupid. The passion I felt for her flitted away to be replaced with, what, incapacitating fear? I felt unnerved looking at her in that ridiculous teddy. When in shorts and a t-shirt, she was the sexiest woman I had ever come close to.
I needed time to acclimate to her women-ness and my obvious panic didn’t help as she tried to change my trajectory, an obvious crash landing.
“Come in,” she said handing me a glass of wine and led me to the couch next to the molten lava lamp, happily and enthusiastically bubbling.
“Are you comfortable?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, and she cozied next to me.
Something about the lava lamp and the teddy had my heart racing… and I began to panic.
“I’m thinking that I should go.”
“What?” she asked, looking very confused.
“I’m supposed to be… you know, meeting my roommate to get pizza.”
She played it behind the beat and didn’t seem at all pissed and that jump started the panic and suddenly I was out the door heading into a college town to hang out with dudes I didn’t even like that much and who I couldn’t even find. The walk calmed me and I returned to her apartment feeling as though I could do it, that I could make love to a woman I wanted so much but who scared the hell out of me.
I knocked on her door feeling stupid and desperate, hoping with all my heart she’d open it.
Finally, the door swung open and Martha stood there smiling to see me, no longer in the teddy but in a short robe.
“You’re back,” she said with an inviting smile. I realized then that she knew I was terrified, and would walk me back from the edge. I relaxed and sat down on the couch and she slid next to me. Even the lava lamp didn’t bother me. I thought it possible that I was calm enough to make love to her.
So soon we were in bed, her beautiful naked body mesmerizing me as I tried to be chill lying next to her. Then we were kissing and I wanted her more than I was afraid of making a fool of myself. She opened her legs for me and I got on top and pushed inside and it was like nothing I had felt and it got better with each stroke. I felt myself starting to lose control and then… she told me to stop.
I couldn’t. I just wanted to keep at it, keep going deeper inside of her.
“Stop!” she said again, but the screaming in my head drowned out her words.
“Stop!” she said, again, louder.
I stopped and pulled out.
Trembling and breathless, I could barely form a sentence… but after a moment I could manage to say, “What?”
Even in the dim light I could see she looked astonished.
“Why did you pull out!”
For a long moment I tried to respond.
“You said stop.”
“I didn’t mean for you to stop.”
“Then why you asked me to?”
She was quiet.
“You didn’t need to stop.”
“Ok,” I said.
We kissed, but I was done. Nothing stirred, and I thought about the poem “The Imperfect Enjoyment.”
I couldn’t get it up and we both fell asleep.
The morning she made me a breakfast of cactus and eggs while wearing a short slip and again I felt like the luckiest man in the world, while also feeling like the worst lover ever born.
We slept together often, and it was great, but I was now totally impotent with her. I didn’t really try, and she didn’t seem to mind, maybe because she decided to transfer to another school.
The last night we spent together I had no problem with nerves. I hit it as though I knew I would really miss her, and I would be angry with my dick letting me down for so long. In the morning we walked to the lagoon next my dorm and held hands.
Then I watched her ride away on her cruiser, her long curly hair trailing down her back into the damp grayish morning.
Years later I found some letters from her where we were planning to try to reconnect, but we didn’t. I wonder what kind of life we would have had.
A Latina who couldn’t speak Spanish and me, a guy who thought of himself as black but who most Latinos spoke to in Spanish.
We probably would have to move to New Orleans or Hawaii to cut down on awkward pauses. Life sometimes is a series of awkward pauses.
Jervey Tervalon was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, and got his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine. He is the author of six books, including Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club’s New Voices Award. Currently he is the Executive Director of “Literature for Life,” an educational advocacy organization, and Creative Director of The Pasadena LitFest. His latest novel is Monster’s Chef.