Maybe it’s me.
It’s always been part of me, ever since I was old enough to notice girls. My wife pointed it out before she married me, and my friends used to tease me about it mercilessly. I seemed to be helpless not to do it.
See, I’m drawn to women with identity issues. It was practically the caption under my photo in the high school yearbook: Most Likely To Have a Personality-Free Prom Date. I didn’t do it consciously, or at least I don’t think I did, but it seemed like every girl I ever dated was this milquetoast little thing, a limp blonde or mouse-brunette (God forbid, never a redhead.) I never got my hands on the brains or the jocks or the funky stripy-haired smokers, never anyone who knew by herself who she was. Every time, I picked someone who would like all the same things I liked, who would smile and smile and tell me that my interests in music (pop) and literature (Choose Your Own Adventure) were cool, really cool, and who would spend her money demonstrating that she really, really meant it.
Another way those girls demonstrated that they liked me, that they were ready to follow the leader, was against the lockers or in the back of my car. First base, second base, hands under the bra, sliding up under the elastic of their panties, wet hot skin, their hands on my cock. I even got a semi-blow-job once. Knowing how to pick the girl was the entire secret to getting some in high school. You just had to choose one who needed to be liked.
Invariably, however, we broke up in the end, the girls looking oddly disappointed, and me feeling weird and standoffish. Back then, neither those girls nor I knew what they really needed, so obviously I couldn’t supply it. I always thought I’d do better the next time, with the next girl, and I never did.
In college it was worse, because these women had been this way for longer, and had had more practice following the leader. The relationships were stranger, emptier, the sex was hotter and weirder, and the breakups were rockier. I had girlfriends who threatened to commit suicide for reasons I knew had little to do with me: they had simply imprinted on me, like a baby duck on its mother, and removing me — which they always did, eventually — left them temporarily lost.
I always got replaced soon enough. One ex-girlfriend joined a Christian group on campus, and I saw her around sometimes, looking as vague and peaceful as she had with me. She was a peach. I sort of missed her, but there were plenty more like her. College is full of women like her, women looking for something — anything — to hook onto.
My friend Chris started dating another of my ex-girlfriends, one of the less stable ones. He called once in the middle of the night, a thin thread of panic in his voice.
“This girl’s fuckin weird, man,” he said down the telephone. “Was she this weird when she was with you?”
“Calm down,” I said.
“Calm down? Calm fuckin down? I go out of town for a week to visit my parents, man, and when I come back Karen’s been hanging out with this Goth crowd, and they’re all into fuckin vampires and shit.” He drew in a shivery breath. “And I don’t mean like nice vampires, either. I reached into the nightstand drawer for a rubber, and I cut my fuckin hand. She had a wooden stake - and that thing was fuckin sharp, too - and a head of garlic in there, man.”
“It’s not funny,” he insisted, but he was starting to relax.
“Karen’ll follow anyone,” I said. “Either you break up with her or...”
“Or what?” he asked, but he knew what I was going to say.
“Or you don’t go out of town, buddy.”
“I don’t need this shit,” he said, suddenly sounding tired. “I can’t date a fuckin borderline personality, it takes too much energy. Whyn’t you tell me why you broke up with her, man?”
“Chris, you know...” I was about to finish, the kind of girl I date, but suddenly my mouth dried up and I couldn’t say it. And besides, I hadn’t broken up with her. She’d broken up with me.
“Yeah, yeah,” he was saying. “You always date the Screw-Lucys, don’t you? Okay, I’ll take care of it. Sorry to wake you up. Go back to bed. See you later.”
But I didn’t go back to bed. I couldn’t have slept. What was wrong with me? Why did I need to date the empties? I didn’t like the idea of looking in the mirror, like one of Karen’s vampires, and having nothing at all look back.
For the rest of junior year and half of senior year, I avoided dating. I saw lots of girls I’d have liked to ask out, but it was like having a vaccination: that whole side of my body was sore and tender. Why did I want to ask her out? Was it because she had that soft, vulnerable look I’d learned to pick out of a crowd? Was it because I was a predator at heart? Was it so I could turn her into a version of me with tits? I stayed in the library and studied most of the time, feeling safer there.
That’s where I met my wife. Judith was nothing like any girl I’d ever thought of asking out. She was a psychology major, a librarian’s assistant on work-study, tall and green-eyed with a swimmer’s broad shoulders. She would laugh and chat with me as she checked out my books or helped me with an Interlibrary Loan request, and I learned that she was acutely observant, informed, and intelligent, and had a wit that could slice through ordinary bullshit like the well-honed librarian’s scissors she held.
I was terrified of her. I tried to avoid her whenever I could.
She asked me for a date near Christmas vacation. She was blushing when she asked it, or the red Christmas lights made it look as if she was, and I suppose that’s why I said yes. I was still scared shitless of her, but I took her to dinner, and then we walked through campus in a light, unexpected snowfall.
Judith shivered. “Colder than I thought,” she said.
“’Tis the season,” I said.
“I notice,” she said thoughtfully, without looking at me, “that you usually seem to go out with girls who don’t have a whole lot going on upstairs. You dated a girl on my hall last year. Kelly Chernowest? And I think she’s the biggest idiot I’ve ever personally met and not just seen on TV. There’s just no there there, if you know what I mean. No fruit on the bottom. So I’m aware I’m not really your type.” She brushed at a fluffy fall of snow with her glove-tip.
“Ah,” I said.
She continued to examine the snow on her glove for a moment, and then she looked up at me. I was only about two inches taller than she was, and her dark eyes were lovely. “But if you’d like to try a new type, just for a change, you know, diesel instead of unleaded, we could give it a shot.”
“Um,” I said.
“What?” she asked, sharply, blushing again.
“Why? I mean, why give me the chance?”
“God knows,” she said.
It was either kiss her or run. So, of course, I kissed her, feeling her cold face against mine.
We married six months after graduation. Judith had already started her graduate program in psychology, and we fell into an easy routine: she went to school, I went to work, we both came home tired, we took turns cooking, we chatted while we ate, she studied while I read or watched TV, we went to bed. Sometimes we made love, sometimes we didn’t. It was friendly and kind. We had friends over fairly often, and I was proud of Judith’s looks and brains. We had a cat, Sam, who slept with us. For three years it was a good life.
And then I met Laura.
I was due to meet Chris in the Happy Slap, our favorite club, and I was running late. I squeezed into a parking space, cursing the idiot who thought his Camaro was important enough to warrant two spaces (God, I sound middle-aged, I thought, and I’m only twenty-five), and hurried over to the booth where I could see Chris talking with some girl.
She turned as I arrived, big blue eyes meeting mine, one hand going to one leather-clad hip, a spill of soft blonde hair moving over her shoulder, and every instinct I’d spent the last four years beating down raised its shaggy head and howled. This was a follower, this was a baby duck, oh yes. You could bet on it. You could take those luscious tits, those long legs, and most of all those please-let-me-please-you lakes of blue right to the bank. Didn’t matter whether you liked yourself in the morning, or even whether you had a self in the morning. This girl was yours. It had been so long since I’d met one of these.
Chris was saying something. “Didn’t catch your name, honey. This is my friend Matt. Matt, this is, um...”
“Laura Springer,” said the girl, and her voice sent a tingle from my scalp directly to my cock. “Hi.” The music was loud, pumping a beat into my ears.
“Hi,” I said. “Let’s dance.”
“Anything you want,” she said, or did she? Maybe not then, maybe not so soon. But it was what she meant as she came out onto the dance floor with me. She wore a halter-top and those leather pants and a silver amulet around her neck, and she molded her body to mine as we moved. I could feel the warmth of her skin through the fabric of her top. She wasn’t wearing a bra. I was hard as an iron bar, wanting to fuck this pliant girl, see what there was to see.
The song ended, and we went back to the booth. Chris looked at me sardonically.
“Mate much?” he asked.
I went home that night and jacked off furiously, coming all over my hand and making an embarrassing mess on the bathroom wall. But before I did, I called Laura, keeping my voice down so Judith wouldn’t hear, and asked if she wanted to meet me somewhere to get to know each other, get to be friends.
“Anything you want,” she said. That time she said it. I remember for sure.
If you’ve ever been on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the fair, and can imagine adding crushing guilt and the best sex of your life, you’ll know exactly what the next six months were like for me. Laura was like a dream. Of course there was nothing I enjoyed that she didn’t like, too, from old horror movies to bad puns to Cheezits. She shared my taste in books, and had read almost everything I had. Anything she hadn’t read yet, she promised to read immediately so we could discuss it — and she followed through, unlike most people. We liked the same movies, too, and we had the same opinions about actors and actresses, even obscure ones. I loved who I was with Laura — smart, a wiseass, a guiding light.
But the best part was that whenever I saw her, she was in the right mood for me. I don’t mean to say that she was always cheerful, either, because sometimes that’s grating. It was as if she’d take a moment, just a blink of an eye, as soon as we met at her apartment or out somewhere, and she’d slide subtly into Pensive Laura or Playful Laura or Sassy Laura, whatever would tickle my fancy best. In someone else, it would have seemed whimsical or fey, unstable even. Laura was the perfect chameleon. She simply became whatever I needed.
And oh Jesus was she sensational in bed. It didn’t take long to get her there — “Anything you want,” she murmured — and she made me feel like a powerhouse. With her lithe sweet body in my hands, I could (and did) do anything I wanted. If I felt like making her come for half an hour, sliding my tongue over that ripe-persimmon cunt of hers till her hands ached from gripping the sheets and her throat was sore from crying out, that’s what I did. If I felt like wrapping her hands around the headboard and sliding into her from behind, holding her glorious round tits and pulling that blonde hair with my teeth, that’s what I did. If I wanted my cock in her mouth while I put one finger in her ass, three in her pussy, and a thumb on her clit, by God that is what we did until we came and came and came. I tied her up. I used ice, I used blindfolds, I used vibrators and nipple clamps. She never said no.
Once, exhausted, in the dark, I asked her what she wanted to try next. The room was as silent as if it had been empty. I fell asleep before she answered.
Ever night, I came home late, reeking of cigarette smoke from bars, reeking of Laura’s pussy. I headed straight for the shower. Judith looked at me with those green eyes and never said a word about all the time I was spending elsewhere. I tried not to think about it in her presence, as if she could read my mind. When I couldn’t help thinking about it, I felt sick.
One evening, I was supposed to meet Laura at the Happy Slap and I was early. I walked into the club and blinked, my eyes adjusting to the darkness. I saw Laura right away; she was hard to miss with that blonde hair gleaming. She was with a group of people I’d never seen before, and she was laughing, derisive laughter, her eyes narrowed and her teeth bared. She had a cigarette in her hand. As far as I knew, she didn’t smoke.
As I watched, she leaned over to the woman seated next to her, tilted her head to one side, and kissed her. It was a long kiss, and when Laura was finished I could see her smeared lip-gloss on the other woman’s mouth. I turned to go, and my movement caught Laura’s eye.
Her face changed. I don’t mean literally, like in a science fiction movie, but it might have been that basic, might have been bone structure or flesh or the muscles beneath the skin. As I watched her come toward me, she had already regained that soft, vulnerable look I had seen six months ago, the look that even now could turn my knees to water, make me feel like a predator and a power-player. Laura was more than a chameleon, more than someone with protective coloration. She was a palimpsest, a completely new person in every fresh situation. Game Over. Try Again?
Where’s her cigarette? I thought stupidly.
“Matt?” she said, but I was already turning to go.
“Matt!” she said, an edge in her voice. “Why are you leaving?” I swung around.
“Can’t date a smoker, sweetie,” I said. And I left.
It’s been four months since I’ve seen Laura. I stay at home in the evenings again now, and I help Judith study. She hasn’t said a word about any of it, and I think we’re both a little relieved.
But at night, I sometimes see Laura’s lip-gloss again, smeared all over Judith’s mouth, Judith’s hand twined in Laura’s hair in the dim light of the bar that night, and I wonder.
This was my submission in a three hour timed duel with Desdmona in the Write Club.
Comments welcomed and responded to at selenajardine at yahoo.com.