George Motchan Detention Center
15-15 Hazen Street
East Elmhurst, NY 11370
Here is what we’ve been reduced to, my words on this piece of paper. I’m awful without you. The softness of my body is gone. I’m just sharp angles, elbows and knees, joints coming together reluctantly, forcing me to move from place to place. Behind my eyes are aching canyons where there used to be tears. I keep scraping around for emotions and I come up empty time and time again.
The only thing that feels real anymore are my lucid memories of you. I can feel your touch as you first ran a hesitant fingertip down the cradle of my arm. A tracing that left a line of phosphorescent light on me that still pulsates dimly when I retrace the same movement with my own fingertip. I can ground myself in the memory of your full body weight on top of me, every ounce of you desirable, every gram calculable in pleasure. I hear your breath in my ear measured and careful and it helps me to put one foot in front of the other.
It’s the vast expanse of unrealized potential that kills me the most. Never knowing what the stolen possibilities are or what they could have been – the moments we never got to have.
My only salvation is that I’m able to carry you inside of me. It’s something that cannot be taken away. You soothe me in moments of uncertainty. It’s a memory of you but also a distilled essence, a hidden drop that I carry in the palm of my hand and in the center of my heart; a secret that only you and I understand.
I evoke both the warmth and the gentle pressure of your hand against my hip. I can conjure the feeling of my temple resting lightly against your arm. The pulse-beat of your heart is there; it’s now the metronome of my time passing. Time that passes heavily out here and without a doubt passes burdensome and unbearable for you on the inside. Your love never leaves me, Jaylee. I’m never without it. I’m never without you.
My five year-old daughter is trailing behind making us late. She’s staring through the fence into the playground where all the rough kids hang out. The one I call the thug-ground. I scoop her up with one arm and throw her over my hip.
“Mom!” she screams.
“We’re late!” I say through clenched teeth trying not to attract any attention.
My shirt rides up over my stomach and side but I quickly dismiss the thought of modesty in favor of practicality.
I swear I can feel the comment before I hear it. I’m sick of these men that ruthlessly objectify every single woman that walks by. Soon enough it will be my daughters who are subjected to unsolicited catcalls. It’s enough to make me turn around without giving any consideration whatsoever to what I might say. There is a group of young men gathered at the entrance to the basketball court. I now have all of their attention and I search their faces, the blood rising in my mine, to see who said it. I will know who it is when I see him and I’ll think of a brilliant comeback.
Then I see him, and just like I thought, I know it’s him immediately. Our eyes meet and hold. His are that intriguing yellow-brown and his skin is dark, making his eyes seem even lighter. He is remarkably beautiful, his body, his eyes, even his energy. The anger falls away completely and I just stare. He holds my gaze, unfaltering.
“Mom!” grunts my older daughter, tugging at my sleeve. “Let’s go.”
“Sure, Sweetie. Let’s go.”
I take two steps backwards before I turn around and catch my breath.
I manage to get the girls into their leotards and tights making sure that little Ada pees first. Ballet class means an hour to myself, which I usually spend catching up on emails on my phone. Today I welcome the chair in the parent’s lounge because I feel shaken and unbalanced. I send a few emails pretending that everything is perfectly normal and I ignore my rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath.
Oh for fucks sake! What is wrong with me? I look at some kid on the playground and I get, what, turned on? Am I turned on? Is that what’s going on? I don’t even remember what that feels like. Why am I so shaken? He just caught me off guard, I guess. Usually takes more than eye contact, for crying out loud. Some asshole – he’s probably an asshole – kid makes eye contact with me and I’m an incapacitated mess. I’ve got to call my shrink. I quit seeing my shrink almost seven years ago. This confirms it, I need serious help.
Ada and Pearl demand juice and crackers after class and it helps me to recover from the five-second encounter. I take off their tights and pull the elastics out of their hair.
“Do you guys want to have mac and cheese or should we try putting something on the grill in the yard?”
“Grill!” they yell and Ada starts jumping around.
“Mommy, I want to grill corn,” Ada says
“Okay, baby we’ll get some corn and Carmen can help us get everything ready.” Carmen is my cook, housekeeper and general everyday superhero. Without her, I’d never be able to pull off the façade of the stess-free, well-adjusted stay-at-home mom.
I freeze when we get to the door. Everything stops. On the other side of the glass, leaning against the signpost on the sidewalk stands the boy with the golden eyes, hands shoved in his pockets, one leg casually crossed over the other. He appears to be waiting for us.
“Fuck,” I whisper.
My instinct is to run, to find another exit, but I know that this is the only way out of the building and the rational part of me understands that I’m overreacting. Maybe he has a sister who takes class here.
Then he looks up and a smile breaks across his face when he sees me. He briskly struts over and pulls open the door.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hi,” I manage, guiding my girls in front of me by the shoulders.
He shoves his hands in his pockets and walks a few steps with us without saying anything. His eyes are cast down but when he looks up our eyes lock again. He smiles. The smile undoes me. I feel almost sick. His eyes are intoxicating. Everything about him spells trouble. He’s too casual, too confident, too handsome, too charming and way. too. young. I glance over to the basketball courts and scan for the group of boys he was with but they seem to have since broken apart and moved on. I’ve got a sinking feeling that someone is playing a trick on me, that I’m about to get jumped or taken advantage of in some way.
“Sorry I was an ass,” he says.
“No. I didn’t. . . I’ve gotten a lot worse.”
That was a stupid thing to say. Now I feel like an ass.
“Mommy, can we swing at the park before we grill?” asks Ada.
“Yes, baby. Let’s go swing.” I say
My kids save me. They do it all the time without knowing. Usually I hate this park and I’d say no, but not today. Today I’ll take any excuse to just get away from this boy.
He walks beside us all the way to the swings. He doesn’t say anything so I’m desperately searching for something – anything to say. I’m blank and I keep holding my breath. I pick up Ada and set her into the swing. Golden Eyes grabs Pearl under the armpits and plops her on the big kid swing in a way that looks completely natural and once again, makes me go numb. Pearl is nine, she can get into the swing perfectly well by herself. She throws me a concerned look. The mother in me feels like she should be angry but some other part of me, something locked further inside, loves that he took charge and did that – loves that he thinks he can.
“You deserve better. I’m just saying,” he says out of nowhere, shrugs and trails off, then he begins to walk away.
His walk is affected and cocky, a highly stylized saunter; it’s almost a limp.
“Who was that, Mom?” Pearl asks.
“I don’t know, Pearl. Some guy,” I say.
“I like him!” Ada yells and it makes me smile. Ada likes everybody.
When I look up he’s all the way across the playground. He yells out a nickname and waves at one of the guys on the basketball court then he turns back and looks right at me. I flush, because I’m embarrassed to be caught watching him but also because his gaze causes an extreme reaction in me. I’m exhilarated and I don’t want it to stop. It feels dangerous and exciting. I register his energy right in my gut. He holds my gaze for a few more seconds and his face breaks into another smile. He waves with two fingers – almost a salute – and walks away down the block.
We grill that night and Carmen helps the girls to shuck the sweet corn. It’s the first of the season and it turns out buttery sweet and plump. After dinner, Ada and Pearl slurp on homemade grape popsicles on their swing set and Carmen brushes down the grill.
I deserve better? This is as good as it gets, isn’t it? I’m. perfectly. happy. thank you. In fact, tonight with the balmy air and blooming trees, sitting here watching my girls, it really doesn’t get any better than this. The only glitch is that I can’t stop replaying his every movement, every word, and, most of all, his gaze.
“You seem different tonight, Kate.” Carmen’s comment jerks me out of my reverie and I blush like I’ve done something wrong.
“What do you mean, Carmen?” I quickly ask to mask how awkward I feel.
“I’m not sure, but definitely different. Like you’re lit up inside. Estás prendida.” Carmen and I regularly switch in and out of Spanish.
“Maybe it’s the weather. It’s finally starting to get warm. You know how I feel about winter,” I answer.
Carmen shrugs and looks unconvinced, but she’s soon distracted by Ada’s demands for an underdog push.
Carmen’s comments only confirm to me that I’m lying to myself. I’m not really angry with that boy. What I really feel is grateful. I’m not sure of how he did it or what it means, but I can feel that my life has somehow changed since I looked into his eyes.
Carmen agrees to put Ada and Pearl to bed, a task which I rarely ask of her. After kissing them goodnight I grab a grape popsicle from the freezer and head back out into our yard in my bare feet. I sit on the swing and watch Pearl’s window until the light goes out.
My husband Robert and I had wanted a yard so badly when we’d fallen in love with the shell of this brownstone almost ten years ago. We moved much farther north in Manhattan than any of our friends were willing to go. It was the only way we could afford to buy it with our own money. That was before Robert made partner at the firm and while we were both still swamped with student loans. A yard, an upstairs and a downstairs had been so much more important to us than a zip code – we both wanted to raise our children in a house rather than a city apartment. My parents thought we were nuts and offered to all but buy us a condo on the Upper East Side. They’ve yet to come visit us still to this day. It’s only been ten years but it feels like a lifetime ago now.
Soon after Pearl was born, Robert made partner. He’d promised that the long hours and late nights would stop, but they didn’t. They probably never will. On days when I allow myself to wallow in self-pity I feel like a financially-kept single mother. It’s a stretch, and pretty unfair because I have Carmen, but it’s lonely. I’m lonely. I consider waiting up for Robert but I’m tired. I wonder where the golden-eyed stranger is and what he’s doing right now. I break the popsicle stick with my molars and rub my teeth with the splintered edge.
The kid shows up in my dream. His eyes are an even brighter gold, his lips full, his smile so carefree and confident. He’s near enough that I can smell him and feel the warmth radiating off of his body. He doesn’t touch me but I can feel the electricity between us, a kinetic hum in the air.
Robert slips into bed silently hours later. I’m half asleep, dreaming and awake, fanaticizing, and yearning. I want Robert to touch me but I know he won’t so I grab his flaccid penis and give it a light squeeze. He turns to me and I am on him like wildfire. I can’t stop myself and my desire feels insatiable.
In the morning Robert lays in bed with his hands folded behind his head watching me move around the bedroom.
“You’re up early,” he says.
“What?” I respond, annoyed. A smile creeps across his face.
“Who are you and what have you done with my wife?” He says and his smile widens playfully. I hop back onto the bed and kiss him long and urgently.
“Seriously, Kate. You seem so happy. Something good happen?”
“I think I just had one of those first day of the rest of your life things yesterday. I feel different. I don’t know, it sounds dumb, but I feel more alive.”
Wednesday afternoons in the summer, Carmen takes the girls to their art class on the Upper West Side. Ada decides she wants to wear green tights and empties all of her drawers looking for them while I’m distracted dressing Pearl. I realize I should make her help me refold and put everything back but I’m dying to call Sarah and tell her about the golden-eyed young man from the playground. Sarah and I have been best friends since elementary school. We both went to Spence and later did our undergraduate degrees at Columbia. She now lives in Santa Barbara with her four boys and her husband Teddy, who’s a professional surfer, of all things. They also run a local surf shop. Sarah has never been one to mince words, especially with me. She’s brutally honest and insightful. She‘s always the first person I turn to, for any advice or for sharing news. As soon as Carmen shuts the front door I run to the kitchen, pour myself a huge mug of coffee and reach for the phone. Sarah answers on the first ring.
“Kate the Great! What’s going on? How’s the princess and her princesses?”
Kate thinks I lead a charmed life. She also thinks I spoil my girls and that my husband spoils me. I can’t help but smile.
“Hell, Sarah, probably not as good as the sea slut.” This is my name for her ever since she confessed to me that all of her boys were conceived on public beaches.
“Listen, Kate, it’s almost lunch and I’ve ordered pizzas for the gorillas so I’m gonna have to jet when they come if I want to get a slice, otherwise I might starve. I promise I won’t hang up on you, but talk fast, you’ve got 30 minutes.”
“I don’t know if I can do it in 30, Sar, this is big.”
“Okay. I’ll eat the slice on the phone and lock myself in the bathroom. I have to be a ninja about food or I risk never eating. First though, really quick, can I tell you that I gained 5 more pounds in less than a month? Not cute. Remember the army green bathing suit I wore to swim-camp for both seventh and eighth grade?”
“Okay. Remember the pictures of us that Aunt Fannie took where I look all fat and pasty and have like a thousand red welts from mosquito bites all over my thighs?”
“Move those up to my arms. That’s what my arms look like now.”
“Covered with welts?”
“No, dumbass, white and fat and pasty,” Sarah says. “Not pretty. I should have a fucking salad. That’s why I’m locking myself in the bathroom after one slice.”
“Oh, I thought that was to stay away from the gorillas.”
“That too. Start talking, Kate.”
I remind myself that I can tell Sarah anything. That I have shared my worst thoughts with her and she’s never faltered.
“I had a bizarre encounter with a man yesterday that I just can’t get out of my head, Sarah. I mean it wasn’t even really an encounter and he isn’t really even a man . . . yet.”
“This sounds like I should lock myself in the bathroom now. Fuck it. I’m making an Ovaltine for lunch. Go on.”
I hear her yelling to Josh, her eldest to get the money for the pizza out of her wallet. At least she had Josh early so he’s old enough to help her out with the younger boys.
“Shoot” she says.
“I was taking the girls to dance class and he was standing on the thug-ground with a group of guys and he made a comment about the tattoo on my hip. Pretty innocuous, but you know how the guys in this neighborhood are. I turned around because I thought I was going to tell him off or at least shoot him a look, but when I looked into his eyes I felt . . . it felt like the world stopped and I completely, I mean completely lost myself in his gaze.”
“Shit. What did you do?”
“Nothing, Sarah. I took the girls to class and spent the whole hour trying to gather myself, trying to recover from the way he looked at me. It’s hard to explain, but it was kind of like he wanted to do me and kill me at the same time. His eyes were that golden brown color and I don’t know – it took my breath away. Then when we went out after class, he was waiting for us.”
“And the crazy thing is, he didn’t even really say anything. He walked us to the swings and then he just grabbed Pearl and put her on the swing.”
“I agree. But the thing is, it seemed totally natural, like we’d done it before or at least like he maybe has kids of his own. More than that too, like we’d all done it before. Then he told me that ‘I deserved better’ and he sauntered off. So incredibly sexy. And he looked at me again. Twice.”
“Is that it?”
“Yes and no. I mean, I fucked Robert like a teenager last night and I couldn’t stop thinking about him, the kid, not even for a second. I feel sort of crazy because I’m turned on by the whole thing, but I’m also really pissed that he would judge me like that, just by looking at me. I mean he has absolutely no idea who I am. He has no idea what my life is like. See I’m getting pissed now just thinking about it.”
“Oh, Kate, you’re so stupid.”
“No, I mean you completely misunderstood what he meant.”
“What do you mean? How do you know what he meant?”
“Because it’s totally fucking obvious. Kate, when you share a look like that, an exchange like that, it’s almost always mutual. The air doesn’t start crackling between one person and what they wish the other person was feeling. Know what I mean?”
“No,” I say.
“Simple. He felt it too. That’s why he followed you and waited for you to come out. It’s also why he thought he could hold your daughter, because you’d already exchanged a mutual intimacy, even if it only lasted a second.”
“Then how did I misunderstand the exchange?”
“Simple. He . . . What’s his name?”
“I have no idea.”
“Okay, golden-eyed man-child from the thug-ground wasn’t referring to you, Princess.”
“I’m still lost, Sarah.”
“Take Joshua. He’s fifteen now and he drives me fucking nuts because already he can’t escape the realm of himself. Teenagers, and even young adults only know how to talk about themselves. Everything they say is me, me, my facebook, my twitter, four thousand photos of myself. You really don’t start realizing other people exist and have feelings until you’re at least twenty-five these days. Golden-eyes was talking about himself.”
“I think you’re going to have to spell it out for me,” I say.
“To that cocky, young boy there already existed something between the two of you. It was a warning, Kate. ‘You deserve better.’ He meant, ‘You deserve better than me.’”
My blood runs cold and I have to lean over into my lap to keep from passing out. My breathing is shallow and coming faster than I can manage. I love my brilliant best friend. I am reeling from the idea that this affliction could be mutual. That he might be somewhere right now thinking about me. I feel an urgent and ridiculous need to find him, to see him again.
“I think I need to go,” I say.
“Oh, no fucking way, Kate. Don’t you dare! I know you and you need to squelch this shit, toute suite. Don’t you even think about fucking with what you have. Should I remind you? Beautiful, rich, sweet, lawyer husband who loves you. Two gorgeous, perfect princess girls who adore you AND their father. A stunning fucking house – a charmed life. Don’t even consider pursuing it. All he is, Kate, is maybe, and just a maybe here, an amazing fuck but, believe me, a lifelong headache. Probably heartache too. Walk away from it now. Walk away while you still can.“