Meet the Boys II

So, the next evening started as a scene of domestic tranquility, until it got weird and sexualized.  It was actually so normal that it struck me as bizarre, because readers will know that normal is not my thing and it was not exactly typical in my childhood homes.

Dad was in the kitchen making dinner–a pork loin–and he’d baked bread, too, so the house already smelled good.  I was in the big room playing chess with the young one. I was losing, as usual, because I’m the world’s worst chess player (I’m not so bad at the logic part, but the game involves spatial reasoning, and I can’t reason my way spatially out of a wet paper bag), but we were enjoying ourselves.

After he mopped me up with ease in about a dozen moves, I asked him if he wanted to play again.

“Yes!” he said.  “It is fun!  When I play with Father, I always lose.  Everyone always loses with him.”

Oh, believe me, I know, I thought, but of course I did not say that.

Then, I suggested that we switch colors because maybe I would get his good luck if I played black.

He said that he always played black, and so I did the next reasonable thing and challenged him to a thumb war.

It was the first time I ever touched the boy, other than when I shook his hand when I met him.  As I said in my last blog post, I’d been trying very hard to avoid even the slightest suggestion of impropriety.

Well, for whatever reason, we both found it hilarious and started laughing.  He was making these kung-fu noises before he smashed my thumb down.  We were both laughing really hard and telling each other not to cheat.

Then I said we should arm wrestle, and that was even funnier because it was even more ridiculous.  He is only 14, but he is still bigger than me and I have skinny little bird arms that have gotten even skinnier because I haven’t been able to lift weights since the grease fire (couldn’t risk opening the wounds), so the “competition” was a joke and we were both laughing our heads off like it was the funniest thing in the world.  You know how sometimes something is so funny that you can’t stop laughing…?  It was like that.  The tears were coming out and I was probably running my makeup.  I don’t know why it was so funny.

Then he suddenly stood up from the table, ran over to me, and picked me up.  He started spinning me around, making helicopter noises, until I had vertigo.  I was screaming and laughing, but I didn’t seriously tell him to put me down, so I guess it’s my fault…?

He ran with me into the kitchen to show his Dad.

“Look!  See what I’ve got!” he said.

Dad looked up from the oven, with a big smile on his face: “I see you take after me!”

The kid started laughing again and reversed himself, making car motor noises, and started to run off down the hallway.

“Hupp!  Don’t run too far with my prize, boy!” His father shouted after us, laughing.

He carried me into the reading room just off the hallway, which is essentially a minor library.  It has windows in it, and the orange sunset light was coming in, but it was a bit dark.  New York doesn’t have the amazing, world-renowned sunsets of my homeland, but sometimes the colors still come through.

Then the elder son came in.  The one who’d looked at me in my bath the night before.

I don’t think that I can convey the change of atmosphere in the room.  We both stopped laughing immediately.  You could have heard a pin drop.  It was as if the temperature dropped 20 degrees.

He strode right up to us and extended his arms…and then said, incredibly:  “It’s my turn.  Give her to me.”

What THE FUCK?!  I thought.

The young one gripped me tighter and started to back away.

“Put me down, please,” I said.  My voice was calm, not breathless or screetchy. I was suddenly scared and I wanted to re-exert control. I also noticed that in all the roughhousing, my skirt had ridden up.  I was wearing bike boyshorts underneath for modesty, so nobody was getting a show, but, when your skirt goes up, well, it’s a thing.

He did not put me down!  WHAT?

I started to try to help myself out of his arms.  I wasn’t making a huge fuss because I didn’t want to be dramatic, but I wasn’t going to just sit there and take it.  The situation had suddenly gotten weird. Also, even though I’m skinnier now, I’m not a small woman–I’m quite tall and I’m not going to let some teenager hold me after I told him to put me down.

THEN it occurred to me that he did not put me down because he was scared of his brother.  I don’t think he was ignoring me; I think he was off in his head.

Something is going on here that I don’t understand, I thought to myself. I felt I was looking at two boys that had a secret together.

The older one approached again, still holding out his arms.  Like I was a book or an inanimate object.

“Put me down NOW!” I repeated, and rolled out of his arms and onto my feet.

Then came the voice from behind us, in the doorway.  It was in his language, so I couldn’t tell what he said, but it sounded a lot like What is this?

It was Dad.  The Calvary had arrived.

He extended his hand to me and I immediately ran over to him.  I know that made me look weak, but I was scared. At the same time, I didn’t want to get the young one in trouble, because he hadn’t done anything wrong.

“(Young one) and I were just horsing around,” I said.

Dad stood there, appraising the situation.  I understood, instinctively, that the boys were afraid of him.  There was a lot of tension in the room.

He told the younger one to keep an eye on the pork loin in the oven, and then took me by the hand and pulled me down the hallway to his bedroom, where he fucked me, quickly and violently, on the carpet.  The competition–if that’s what it was–had apparently excited him.  I tried hard not to make noise, but, you know, it had to have been obvious to the boys what was happening.

Then we all ate dinner at the table.  I guess you can imagine the ambiance for that one. Dad was the only one with any appetite, but we all ate, all right.  The wit here, on the scenic Western slope, is: If he’s treatin, you best be eatin.

Secrets run in families like streams of water, down through generations.

Welcome home.

Meet the Boys

I’ll probably have to take this one down quickly.

He had two teenage sons, and I was nervous about meeting them.  I don’t have much experience with young people aside from my years teaching undergrads, and my students were, technically, adults.

I rehearsed it beforehand: be friendly and unobtrusive.  Convey the impression that you’re not trying to move in on the family unit in any way.  Nonthreatening.  Avoid PDAs with Dad.  Let the boys decide how much (or how little) interaction they want to have with you.

One thing that I was worried about was the age difference.  I’m not remotely attracted to younger men, and even if I was, I’d never so much as flirt with the children of a man who allowed me into his household.  That’s unspeakably disrespectful.

However, I’m in a weird Twilight-Zone age bracket right now: I’ve lost weight again and gotten really skinny, and I get gray hairs and botox on my forehead, but (I think) look younger than I am…?  My point being that I was concerned that the boys could be sexually attracted to me.  I didn’t want to send them that message.

I picked out the dress I was going to wear when I met them.  It was conservative, navy blue, and had a high neck and a collar.  It was an attractive dress, but it wasn’t sexy.  It was a dress that I could teach in, or that I could wear to a formal corporate office.

He went through my closet and picked out my favorite yellow sundress, and said, “Here, wear this.”

This is a beautiful dress, but it’s revealing.  It shows my back because it has spaghetti straps and it’s a little bit low-cut in front.  I couldn’t call it SEXY–it’s not something I would wear to a bar or nightclub–but it’s not conservative.  You can see a lot of skin.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Of course I am sure,” he said.  He’s always sure.

I met them and could see them taking glances of me during dinner.  I had to ask myself: what was the point of putting me in that dress?  Was he being competitive with his own children?  Was he showing off?

For my part, I was as demure as possible and mostly just looked at the table.

The next day, he told me to take out the younger one because he needed some “time alone to talk” with the elder one.

I took out the younger one and I am happy to report that it was a success!  I had a successful interaction with an adolescent!  I wish I could write a lot more about it, but I have to respect his privacy.  We spent all day together!  He really liked me!  We played chess and lots of stuff.  I like him a lot.  He is a good kid; still sweet.

We came back to the apartment and I saw something that did not auger well: I saw the elder brother walking out of my room.

There was no reason for him to be in my room.

He didn’t see me, so I just hid and pretended like it didn’t happen.  Then I rushed in there and checked my stuff and my drawers.  Nothing looked rifled through.  But, he was in there.

Then, later, Dad had to go back to his office for a little while–this was after dinner.  I followed the schedule and went to take my nightly bath.

I did not close the door all the way.  I guess, for that, I have only myself to blame.  But it wasn’t very open.  The crack in the door was 2 inches at most.  And I would like to say that there was no reason for the kid to be in that hallway.  His bedroom is on the opposite side of the apartment!

So, I was laying in the water, and then I looked up into the mirror, and saw him looking at me through the crack in the door.

I was startled, of course, but I didn’t freak out.  I mean, I’m an adult, and it’s not like I don’t understand male sexuality. Furthermore: when you live with people, sometimes awkward things happen. I had platonic male roommates in grad school.  I saw them getting dressed once or twice and one of them told me he heard me having phone sex with the Surgeon. So–the awkwardness, it can happen…?!

But this kid (I guess he’s not a kid, he’s in his late teens) just hovered outside the door.  The correct, appropriate response if you spy someone bathing is to retreat and pretend like it never happened. He wasn’t doing that.

I thought, maybe he doesn’t know that I know he’s there. 

I carefully, slowly reversed my body in the tub so that I could look him in the eyes.  Now, there was no question.

He didn’t move.  I couldn’t see his entire face, because the crack in the door was so small, so I couldn’t read his expression.  He didn’t seem to be jerking off–I couldn’t see any movement.  But who knows.  He was definitely looking.

Well, I’m in this hugely vulnerable situation.  I know most of my readers are guys and probably won’t appreciate it.  I am naked in a bathtub and there is a boy who is spying on me and KNOWS that I know it and he’s not getting lost, which is VERY scary and hostile.

I wanted to stand up and walk over and slam the door in his face!  But I couldn’t, because if I got up from the water, then he would see me naked!

Well, I was still FURIOUS and I’m not going to be pushed around by a damn teenager! Sorry, guy, you don’t get to jump the social hierarchy!  I didn’t want to say “Wait till your father gets home!” because that would make me sound weak.

“Hey! John (not his real name)!  I see you!”  I made a gesture at my eyeballs and pointed at him.  “FUCK OFF!”

He retreated.

I didn’t tell on him because I didn’t want to provoke him.  Live and let live, and you know teenagers are impulsive anyway…

But then there was the following night…

Abe’s Night Terrors

Every now and again my parrot, Abe, gets a night terror.  This is why I am confident that he must dream of things.  I’m not sure what he dreams of–probably that something is coming to eat him.  He is a prey animal, after all.  Dogs dream (presumably) of chasing squirrels.  The parrot must dream of being snatched by a raptor.

He falls off his perch, to the bottom of the cage, and shrieks at the top of his lungs.  He wakes me up and I run to him in the night, terrified that he’s hurt himself somehow.

I pull him out of the cage to inspect his body.  Sometimes he’s wet because he fell into his shallow birdbath.  When he’s wet in the middle of the night like that, it scares me because he doesn’t carry his wings right when his feathers are saturated, and I worry that I need to take him to the hospital.

I hold him on the sofa until he is sleepy again.  I sing to him and keep the lamp on.

I worry about what he has nightmares about.  He’s not stupid.  He’s smart, just in a different way from mammals.  He’s curious and he can figure out puzzles. In his eyes, you see something, it’s not mammalian but it’s there. I love him so much.  I also feel badly that he has to live indoors with me, many thousands of miles from where nature intended him to be.

This Autumn, he will finish going through puberty. I will need to buy a girlfriend for him because it is unnatural for him to live all alone, the only one of his kind.  He will not love me as much when he has a female of his species, and that makes me sad…but I tell myself that what is important is what is important for ABE.

He has been such a joy to my life that I am happy to have another parrot in the house.  It will take a while to find the right one, because Meyer’s parrots are rare.  I am going to name her ABIGAIL (get it? Abe and Abigail?) or SWEETLING.  I won’t let them have babies or give them a nesting box…but you can prevent parrots (at least the ones I have experience with) from having babies if you prevent them from nesting.

I’m just going to go cry now.

Chromebook of Doom II

I managed to calm down before he got home…at least somewhat.  I took Abe out of his cage and put him on my shoulder, because his birdie warmth is always a comfort to me.

I kept reminding myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong and that, if anything, I ought to be angry that he’d violated my privacy, but the truth was that I felt anxious and defensive (which was his intention, I’m sure: leaving the Chromebook out like that, instead of asking me about it immediately in a gentle and non-confrontational way, was his way of maximizing the suspense.  He knew he wouldn’t have to torture me while he was working all afternoon–he set it up so that I’d do it to myself).

How was I going to behave when he walked in the door?  What did I do?  He hadn’t given me anything to work with, so I had no idea what he was feeling.  I jumped out of my skin every time my phone beeped, but he wasn’t sending me any text messages.  I was just twisting in the wind.

Well, I’m not proud to admit it, readers, but, since I was afraid and, irrationally, felt guilty, I folded like a cheap card table before he even got home and decided the safest thing to do would be to acknowledge my supposed “crime,” explain myself–if he was interested in hearing it–and offer to do whatever I needed to do to diffuse the situation.  I surrendered at the first whiff of gunpowder.

It’s embarrassing, really.  Other people in my life would be taken aback by this passivity.

When he returned, I’d dutifully returned Abe to his cage and taken off my clothes and was working on one of these watercolor paint-by-numbers books he bought for me last time we went to the Met.  My “paintings” all turn out horrible because I can’t paint for shit, but he finds them charming and sometimes hangs them on the fridge like I was a little kid or something.

The elevator stopped at his door and my stomach flipped over.  I asked myself which was better: to look like a guilty Golden Retriever who’d scattered the trash all over the house, or to try to look “normal.”

I heard his shoes rapping on the wooden floor as he walked into the room, a little past the doorway.

“Welcome back.  Can I get you anything?  I put a bottle of wine in the fridge to chill,” I said.  Sometimes he likes to have a beer or a glass of wine when he comes home from work.

He stared at me, expressionless, and then turned and walked out without a word.

I heard him walk down the long hall to his bedroom.  Then, the sound of running water.  He was taking a shower–it was a hot, sticky day outside.

I suddenly felt exposed, alone in that big room without any clothes, and I put my painting away and retired to my doorless bedroom.  He’d come and get me when he felt like it.  I lay down on the bed, curled up on my side, and stared guiltily at the big book that held the chromebook.

I heard him making a few work calls from inside his office, and that was it: no music, no TV news, no invitation to conversation.  It was silent in the house, and it was making me a nervous wreck, because it wasn’t normal–he wasn’t a noisy guy, he never played anything at a high volume, but he typically kept to a routine: relax after getting home (or work), dinner, bathtime with me (or go back to work), etc.  Even Abe was silent, and usually he sent me the occasional contact call when I was out of sight for too long.

Finally: cooking noises.  If possible, my heart sank a little more.  Dinnertime was usually a delight, part of our quality time, but since the toast, I never trusted it completely again.

He appeared suddenly in my bedroom doorway and I jumped, startled.  This time, I hadn’t heard him come up–he’d taken off his socks and leather-soled shoes and was in his bare feet.

I couldn’t stand it anymore, and blurted: “How long have you known?”

He cocked his head to the side and calmly laid out a trap: “Known what, Margo?”

“About the book!” I pointed at it.

“Oh, Margo,” he said, softly. “I’ve always known.  Do you think I don’t know what goes on in my own house?”

Oh, the horror, the horror.  It reminded me exactly of growing up in my mother’s house, when she would give me no privacy and go through my rucksack and all my stuff even though I wasn’t acting out or disobeying any rules or having any behavioral or academic problems.  It gave me a neurosis about privacy that’s endured all my life, and it made me paranoid as hell.  It’s not fun, being paranoid and unable to trust people.

Well, I couldn’t take it.  I burst into tears.

Now, I don’t know about you, but usually when someone I care about starts crying, I feel compassion and try to comfort them, even if I’m angry with them.  It’s alarming to me, because nobody in my family ever cries and when I see someone else do it, I think they must be dying or something.

So, I don’t know, I was hoping this would be sufficient evidence of contrition and how miserable I was and maybe he would come over to the bed and give me a hug.

Instead, he just said, softly, “Dinner is ready.  Come to the table.”

I shook my head.  “I don’t think I can eat.”

“You will eat.  Come to the table.  We’re having ravioli.”

(In retrospect: telling your sobbing houseguest/girlfriend “We’re having ravioli!” strikes me as distinctly bizarre.)

I nodded, got up from the bed, and said I’d be out as soon as I blew my nose and got myself together in the bathroom.

I did that, smoothed my hair, and walked to the dining table.  The table was set and he was dishing out the pasta.

“Have a seat,” he said, nodding at my chair.

I sat down.  Again.

The pasta was fresh from the Italian deli up the street and so was the marinara sauce and I had no appetite whatsoever.  Quite the contrary: I felt like I was going to throw up.

What is up with this guy’s weird desire to control the food? I thought.

“The cheese filling gets hard as it cools,” he reminded me.

I started to eat, mechanically.

“How do you feel?” he asked, as if it was not obvious.  I sneaked a look up at him from my pasta.  The expression was one part condescending smirk and one part devouring eyes.

“It’s not fair,” I said, slowly chewing and forcing myself to swallow.  It wasn’t easy.

“What’s not fair?”

“It’s just a computer!  You can’t go through my stuff!”

He cocked his head again.  “I can do whatever I want.  The computer is not the issue.  I’d be happy to buy you ten computers.  The issue is that you tried to hide it.”

“You make me paranoid!  The stalker app on my phone!”

He ate another ravioli.  He was enjoying this, I could tell.  Savoring it.

“Is there anything else you want tell me, Margo?  If so, now is the time.”

It was too much pressure.  I started crying again.  At the dinner table.  My mind was swirling with all of these little trivial things that I had no idea whether he knew about or not.

Sometimes, when I get really upset, I throw up.  Involuntarily.  Or at least heave for a minute.  It happens.  I’ve always been that way.

“Can I go to the bathroom?  I’m going to be sick.”

“You can throw up on the floor and clean it up later.  We’re not done here yet.”

I gagged.  My mouth was suddenly full of spit, which is always a good gonna-vomit indicator.  I pulled my chair out a little way and bent over at the waist with my head between my knees.

“Don’t leave the table,” he said.  His voice was firm now.

I nodded and waited for the nausea to pass.  When it did, I sat back up and pulled in my chair.

Yeah, it went on like that for about an hour.  It occurred to me, in retrospect, that I make the same mistake every time with these guys: when they’re legit torturing you, you can make the mistake of thinking that an apology and display of pain will eventually provoke compassion in them, but that doesn’t happen.  The only thing it does is compel them to twist the knife.

Well, dinner ended at last, and I was feeling pretty traumatized, and I thought it was finally over.

I asked him if I should get ready for the nightly bath.

“Bathe yourself tonight,” he said curtly.

Ahhh, rejection.  Although, after the ice-water bath, maybe this wasn’t so bad.

So I went to take a bath, feeling utterly emotionally exhausted.  I just lay there and stared at the ceiling.  The sad this is that I really missed him now, and just wanted him to not be angry with me anymore.

Time for bed.

TO BE CONTINUED