The Blue Crab



The end of swim season was the end. There were no digital fibers in the fabric of our lives to keep us connected. Gone was the shock of the early morning water and the honey combed sunlight quivering beneath the surface of the pool. Gone were the Lycra suited lords and ladies of summer cheering from the edge. There would be no more frozen snickers, wafting scents of crinkled French fries frying or coconut scented mothers glistening. And most all, it was the end of congratulatory pats on the rear end from coach Hal with the blonde wavy hair and muscled legs like tree trunks. I was a moonchild born in July. The end of swim season was the end of me.

But after the end, my mother piled brown paper grocery bags filled with a week’s worth of food into the back of our wood paneled station wagon and so we began the four hour trek to Topsail Island on the outer banks of North Carolina. As the landscape flattened out and the green stalks of corn flickered by the window, we hit a bump in the road and my lungs deflated with a hissing sigh.

“What’s wrong with you?” my older brother Chuck asked.

“Shut-up,” I replied. Because how could I explain what was wrong with me, when what was wrong 
with me was so terribly wrong?

When the shoulders of the roads became sandy and the dunes dotted with nodding sea oats came into view, we rolled down the windows and inhaled the warm salty air, each attempting to spot the blue of the ocean first. It was an elixir that brought me back from the brink of death caused by teenage summer crush.

Towards the end of the week, my three brothers and I bolted through the screen door with the rusted spring hinge of the faded blue cottage, whack! Chuck with the fish heads, John with the string, Matt with the Styrofoam cooler and me with the net. We navigated our way across the street and through the reeds, side stepping the fiddler crabs retreating backwards.

We tied a string in a loop through the mouth of a fish head, our faces screwed up as if we had just bitten into a lemon and tossed the head into the shallow water of the sound. Within a minute or two there was a tug on the line and Chuck slowly pulled the string towards us as I dropped the net and scooped up a blue crab. I inverted the net over the cooler and shook it, releasing the clamoring crustacean.

After we deposited about ten crabs, Chuck pulled up another and when I captured it in the net and shook it, I discovered that it was hopelessly tangled.

“Reach in and pull it out,” Chuck commanded, but I could not.

“Come on you fag, just do it.”

I’m certain now that he used the term loosely, more as an insult and less as an accusation, but I felt ensnared in the word. And so I whacked the net against a barnacled wooden pole over and over again, tears streaming down my face as the crab’s body cracked and my brothers looked on with wide eyes and gaping mouths. The sun dipped below the horizon smearing orange streaks in the sky and I was left alone to pick the dismantled pieces of the crab out of the net.

It was the end of the season and it was the end of me.


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By Any Other Name


I was poking my fettuccine with a fork at the Cheesecake Factory on a cold November night while he explained the process for remembering all of his previous boyfriends. “Take the first initial of your last name, for instance mine is ‘B’ and give each of them a nickname that begins with that letter.” I don’t remember how the subject came up, but enumerating our previous love interests on a first date seemed dangerous.

“For example, ‘The Boozer,’” he said. “He was my first.”

I had less of a list of boyfriends and more of a handful of encounters; two or three fingers would have sufficed, really. I had been out of the closet for about six months and during that time I went out on a few dates. One guy even kept in touch with me, if you could accept a single misspelled text message as communication: “sorry, ben busy.” Buy a fucking vowel.

“Then there was the Biscotti,” he said. “He was sweet and I think he truly loved me.”

It wasn’t difficult to see why any person might fall in love with him. With his looks, all he had to do was smile and hearts melted. The middle aged woman at the table next to us was pretending to point out an item on the menu to her friend, but she was in fact, making a sloppy gesture towards my date. I could see her mouthing the phrase, as if she was talking to a deaf person, “Not that one, The-Good-Looking-One. Over There.” Bitch.

“The Bald eagle was next,” he laughed. “He lived in Lexington and put hair product on the twenty or so hairs on his head.”

As he continued to describe the bald eagle, I began to worry that we dated the same guy and then he mentioned him by his actual name. Correction, he had dated the bald eagle. I only had physical relations with him and then he flew out of the door. The guy who spent an hour applying gel to the sparse hairs on his head could not apply that same amount of attention on me. As he continued to describe all of the previous men in his life, I envisioned introducing him to my family and friends. I imagined them looking confused as they glanced over my shoulder while I mouthed the words, “No, The Good Looking One. Right Here.”

“Box-boy sold cardboard boxes for a living and collected washing machines as a hobby.”

My heart sunk. My two or three encounters were his full-fledged relationships. I was the crazy in their universe and they were the throw-aways in his. As he continued to go down his list, I began to wonder how I might be remembered, The Blunder, The Bozo, The Bitch.

When he walked me to my car, I thought about asking him what my nickname would be, but it was time to manage the crazy. Maybe I would come up with a way to remember him. If I were to choose the first initial of my last name, “D,” there would be plenty of options, Dazzling, Dreamy. Dammit, I was already hooked.  This was Dangerous.

I asked Paul once when he decided to stop collecting nick names and settled on me. Maybe it was because he finally found someone who could only be described with glowing B words: Beautiful, Beguiling, Bewitching.

“Was it because you finally found someone whose name begins with B?” I asked.

“Who are you?” he smiled.

Douchebag.


  



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First Person Possessive


On Wednesday nights, Dad would pull up the driveway in his Carolina blue Mercedes and honk the horn, cigarette perched in the corner of his mouth, hairy forearm hanging from the car window. My brothers and I would run down the front steps shouting, “Shotgun!” tugging at each other’s collars, attempting to hold the other one back. 

He would take us to the Village Inn Pizza Parlor on Battleground Road, where they played silent films on a canvas in a dimly lit, wood paneled dining room. By the flickering light of some bygone silver screen stars, we’d devour a large cheese pizza and drink pitchers of Coca-Cola with crushed ice and talk about nothing in particular and everything in general.

“All these youngins yours, sugar?” the waitress would ask, surveying me and my three brothers like we were a certain sign of his virility.

They sure are, honey,” Dad would reply.

That was the year language changed. “Our home” became “The house.” Possessive adjectives were too hefty to place into a sentence. Dad left Mom for a woman who was all of the things that she was not, blonde, young and childless. But, Wednesday nights and alternating weekends were ours, possessive. If he wanted to flirt, he could do it on his time, singular.

“I look just like my mother,” I said to the waitress.

The midweek meals and weekend sleepovers dwindled when my older brother went off to college. The last time we participated in a Wednesday night dinner, a Formica table divided the space between us at a McDonalds, while Dad drew down a cigarette. We spoke of nothing at all until he asked, “You about done?” and I replied “No, but we can go now.”

When Dad became ill, there was a sense deep down in my marrow that I needed to say something to him. The old, if you need to say anything, you better say it now, feeling. We’d be sitting in the afternoon sun on the brick patio, just the two of us and I’d rack my brain trying to fish up something worthy to say. Some timeless version of I love you, or I forgive you. I’d look over at his chemo withered frame and hairless head, but the words I was trying to push out would be sucked back in by a tide of embarrassment too strong to ford.

Funny, the things you remember when someone up and leaves; a cluster of red and yellow petals swirling in the sunlight on the front porch, the stench of stale breath and sweat soaked linens, a pair of skinny, pale legs twitching a death jig in a rental hospital bed and a smoke colored moon drifting through an inky black sky.

The last time I said anything to Dad was moments before he left. I sat in the coveted spot by his head and my brothers at his feet, as we counted the seconds between his final breaths.

“It’s OK, Dad, you can go now.”

That’s all I said.

Because the most important words I could think of to say were the ones my father was waiting to hear.

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Dancing For The Stars


When Paul installed a security camera in our cottage in Maine, I felt a celebutante’s dread that I would become the victim of a leaked sex tape. When I expressed this concern, he brushed it aside with a wave of his hand and said “It only records when we put it in ‘away’ mode.” In theory, this is true, but in practice it is false. The camera never records, because we never put it in away mode. But it is always on, a watchful eye streaming to an app on our iPhones with a five second delay. It is on demand déjà vu.

“Show me something,” Paul says as I walk into the kitchen.

I face the camera and give it a Kardashian caught without make-up look.

“No, I mean something good,” he says holding his iPhone up in front of his face while sitting on the sofa in the sun room and flicking his index finger and thumb, zooming in. He then offers some directorial advice “Do a sexy little dance.”

I perform my best Magic Mike moves.

“That was mechanical,” Paul sighs.

The life of a reality star is difficult and if being under constant surveillance were not enough, there is a microphone on the camera that is controlled by the iPhone app.

“Oh yeah, slice those limes,” a gravelly porn star voice, aka Paul, emanates from the speaker on the camera. “Now squeeze them, baby. Squeeze them real good.”

Correction, it is on demand porno vu.

When we are not home, Paul will occasionally say “I wonder what’s going on in the cottage,” which is my cue to open the app. I’m not certain what I expect, but every time I am chilled to see a creepy stillness, a kitchen table and four empty chairs in the shifting light of the late autumn New England sun, shadows in the shuttered sun room, the glint of sunlight on hardwood floors where the click of our footsteps have long since vanished. Perhaps even more eerie is the sound of our absence, white noise.

All of this makes me feel as if I am somehow cheating. Unless we have jumped off of a bridge on a snowy winter night and been pulled out of the abyss by a bumbling guardian angel, we’re not meant to see the world without us. But I do, and for all of the changes it has made to me, I am surprised to find it unaltered. The air does not quiver, as Isak Dinesen ruminated, with a color I have had on.

If our nearest possible alien neighbors were to poke their telescopes through the cloth of space, it would take at least twelve years for any images from Earth to reach them. This is the nearest “habitable zone” of planets, scientists say. The image of my sexy dance in a pair of boxers while slicing limes would echo through the cosmos, bumping into a passing comet and drifting over stars for more than a decade before reaching the blinking eyes of some extra-terrestrials.  

I imagine two alien lovers discovering my ethereal sex tape and looking at each other in that knowing way, touched by the absurdity of the universe and this gives me comfort. They would glance at each other and exchange thoughts without speaking, as Paul and I often do, then smile, turn on the microphone and whisper a gravelly message across the void.

“Get out.” 






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Public Displays


We are strolling along the Charles as Paul’s hand falls behind my back and taps me on the rear end. I swat at the air as if an angry swarm of bees has descended upon us.

“See that? Ninja like reflexes,” he says and performs a karate chop.  “Nobody would have seen me touch you if you hadn't made such a public display.”

He begins to sing. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when you act gay.” He then slides his sunglasses down his nose with one finger, glances sideways at me while raising an eyebrow and says “You need modesty panels beneath that shirt. I can see your breasteses.” The thumb and index finger of his right hand come towards my chest like a snapping turtle, which I block with the back of my hand, hi-yah!   

Taking a walk with Paul is no walk in the park. My discomfort with performing public displays of affection is, perhaps, rivaled only by his delight in delivering them. The more I squirm, the more he fondles.

“You’re adorable,” he’ll say, while my hands dart to shield parts of my body as if my clothes have evaporated.

It is this reaction that fuels his glee.  You think I would learn.

When Paul is driving and I am sitting in the passenger seat, the slightest anomaly startles me, a car changing lanes, a bus suddenly stopping or the shadow cast by a passing bird.  All of these things will cause me to shout “Look out!” and stomp on the imaginary brake.

“Sweetie, look at me. What if I were to pass out right now,” Paul will say, his neck becoming slack and his hands flopping to his side.  The car will veer slightly towards the shoulder. “We would end up sinking to our watery death in the marsh,” Paul will say and my hands will fly up as if I’m swatting away bees again.

“Don’t do that!”

I can’t remember the exact moment I became so fearful, though I know it is entwined with when I became fearless. When you make the decision to become courageous and get what you want, you become afraid of losing it. We have never crashed through the guard rail.  No one has ever threatened us over a kiss, still I am like the dog getting his back scratched; too concerned that it will end to completely enjoy it.

But today it is a warm September afternoon and summer is flirting with fall. The leaves are glowing yellow. Rowers skim the river’s glossy surface like water bugs. Crickets are chirping love songs to one another and if gravity failed, we could sail forever together through the endless blue sky. I make the decision to enjoy the moment and then like a driverless car my thoughts veer towards the dark water.

“What are you thinking about, right now?” Paul asks, while pointing a finger at me.

“That I am afraid the literary magazine will not publish my piece, or worse, that they will. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent anything out.”

Paul screws up his face and says “They’re going to hate it. You will probably never write again.”

I throw up my hands to block the insult.

You think I would learn.




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Spinning Bottles


The first time I kissed a girl, I was twelve years old, which was also the first time I sampled my first taste of alcohol.  The two were, rather surprisingly, unrelated.  The former involved a gaggle of eighth graders in Carolyn Clancy’s backyard, spinning an empty green bottle and the latter a bubbling champagne fountain at my step-grandmother’s second or third wedding in Danville, Virginia.  Both of them left me feeling slightly nauseated.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why my father thought it was A-OK to let his twelve year old son drink four glasses of champagne.  Perhaps, he thought it might put some hair on my chest or maybe he found it charming the way, when loosened up, I performed my Cary Grant impersonation for the crowd.

“Judy, Judy, Judy.”

My step-grandmother wore a smart, ivory, lace jacket and skirt suit, smiled widely and her lilting southern accent curled up at the ends like her Mary Tyler Moore hair-doo. She wore bright red lipstick and from a distance she could have been a beauty queen, but when you got up close you could see how the lipstick bled into the tiny cracks around her mouth from years of smoking Virginia Slim cigarettes. The effect was slightly horrifying.

I suppose that’s the way I felt about Karen Enright too.  From an emotional distance, she looked appealing, but when the mouth of the bottle stopped spinning and pointed at her like a gulping fish I scanned the expectant crowd and wondered if they might settle for my Cary Grant impersonation instead.

“Kiss her!” The boys shouted at me.

“Judy”—I muttered.

“Just do it Dameron!”

The crowd wanted a lurid display of sex.  Sister Mary Claire had just that year, attempted to teach a classroom of hormonal boys the facts of life.  The girls were sent to another room to learn about their monthly gift. But, when Alex Brethette asked Sister Mary Claire if a blowjob was considered pre-marital sex, she became red-faced and was replaced by our hunky physical education teacher with the porno-mustache.  I was thrilled, however sorely disappointed that Alex never broached the blowjob question with him.

I finally mustered up the courage, stepped across the divide of the circle, closed my eyes, and planted a kiss squarely on Karen’s nose. My aim was a little off.  She jumped up, holding her hand to her nose and inexplicably, started crying.

“I’ll hate you for the rest of my life!” She bawled.

Her hatred lasted for one week, maybe two. My embarrassment lasted a little longer.

The first time I kissed a boy, I was nineteen years old and unsurprisingly, it involved alcohol, gobs of it. There was no spinning bottle, but the stars above us were twirling and they all seemed to point at a guy I met in a bar on the edge of town, beneath the moonlit shadows of the Colorado Rockies. My aim was much better this time and despite being a little more than tipsy, I don’t remember feeling nauseated in the least, quite the opposite.

I first kissed my husband in the cold Burlington Mall parking lot. There wasn't any alcohol involved, but the effect was no less intoxicating.   If I could go back, I’d tell my twelve year old self a few things. Ignore most of what nuns teach you about sex, alternate glasses of water with the champagne and have faith, it will take forty-four spins of the Earth around the sun to find your own charming Cary Grant. It’s worth the wait.



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Mystery Date


My therapist leaned forward and asked, “What are you looking for, physically, in a man?” I could have said, “Someone who looks like you.” It would have been truthful, though awkward. After forty-three years in the closet, the physical details regarding my ideal man were basic: someone over twenty-one and under fifty. Even then, I was willing to grant some leeway. If I had an angel and a devil on either shoulder, one was a gyrating go-go boy in a red G-string and the other was a gay Pat Boone.

“Tall, maybe six-two, one hundred ninety-ish pounds,” I said narrowing my eyes to visualize him and then continued, “brown tousled hair with highlights, blue, no, green eyes. He works out, but not too much, you know?”

“That’s fairly specific,” Adam remarked.

I was describing a guy I had just seen on the subway.

“Also, a good sense of humor and caring,” I attempted to round it out.  Although these were not technically physical attributes, I hoped this made me seem less superficial.

“You’re a good person, you’ll attract a good man, but it’s important that you understand what you’re looking for,” He replied.

There was a warning of sorts, couched in that compliment, but like most people would, I focused on the compliment and ignored the warning.

After creating an online dating profile I showed it to my friends, Hans and Dennis. Hans had been in the closet for forty-six years and if Dennis ever was in, it was only to color coordinate his clothes. They lived together in a small condo on the top floor of a 1920’s building in Harvard Square. I would visit them often and dream of living in the city with the man I loved. Their home was like a photograph from the pages of House Beautiful. Although in House Beautiful, I doubt there was a charcoal drawing of an ejaculating penis on the refrigerator.  

“Oh my God, so many of these men are the same ones who were on here before I met Hans. These poor men--Not you honey-- you’re fresh meat,” Dennis said patting me on the shoulder.

How long would it be before my meat began to spoil?

“Oh honey, let’s go through them all. I’ll tell you which ones to avoid with a ten foot pole,” Dennis said, then he raised one eyebrow and added “or the ones with a ten inch pole.”

Hans rolled his eyes.

It felt incestuous knowing that I could potentially date some man that Hans or Dennis might have had a relationship with. While I appreciated their insight, I didn’t want to end up with sloppy seconds.

“What does DDF mean?” I asked Hans.

“Disease and drug free,” he said.

“Honey, did I tell you about the time I did LSD with my friend Angie from high school?” Dennis said. “Her mother opened the door to her bedroom and Angie shouted, ‘Shit, it’s my mother!’ I said that’s not your mother, it’s a big crow!  We started screaming and throwing pillows at her, trying to shoo her away.” 

Hans gave me an upside down smile, pushed himself up from the table, walked over to Dennis and kissed him. They put their arms around each other and started swaying back and forth, laughing. I watched them dance to music that only the two of them could hear. They were in madly in love with each other. When I looked at them, I could almost hear the music playing and if I narrowed my eyes just a bit?

I could almost see my future.


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