I kept a pet-name for Kendall Falling in my mind; The Wide-Eyed Girl. Eyes that glistened and bounced around like bold, brown pinballs. Those eyes searched over the cityscape and all therein; the passing motor cars and trucks, the glass and mortar towers, the walks and don’t walks, the hosed-over early morning sidewalks, the bodies of humans and pigeons hustling around for crumbs and the ones at rest taking it all in for a bit. Eyes determining. Making judgments. I couldn’t get enough of them. I thought they operated apart from her mind, like guide ships for her decisions. Proceeding with her own walk, don’t walk movements.
A minute in her eyes could propel poets to fill chapbooks full of lovelorn and desperate verse. Painters to obliterate canvases with ambitious portraits and nudes. Singers to strain vocal chords with lyrics of dumb, fleeting love. I lost myself in her. Something I was not apt to do. Looking back, it was a wonderful feeling. Losing oneself in the thoughts of another.
Kendall’s hair was dense and curly and autumn-streaked. Each strand seemed to tell a different story about her. In a similar way as a felled tree’s trunk rings show the seasons past. Her hair, this season, this summer, was a little different, a little more humidity ravaged, a little more experienced. A little more free.
I met her on the elevator of Rubin Hall during a summer semester. She was an undergrad at Beloit or Brown or Butler. I could never remember. Her hair was up in a bun, while a few strands framed her sun-burnt cheeks. She wore a simple spaghetti strap top with a red bra and a long white linen skirt with hemp sandals.
I said to her; “Would you like to go for a walk with me?”
She said, “You seem like you’re up to something.”
We shook hands, introduced ourselves and walked to Washington Square Park.
I wanted to see her naked there at Washington Square. Skinny dipping in the fountain or tonguing with the bust of Holley. It was a blistering hot day. I considered it a reasonable action to de-clothe. She could tell anyone around that gave a damn that is was simply performance art.
“I’ve never been here before,” she said.
“Washington Square Park?”
“New York City.”
“You’re not missing much,” I said.
She was involved in a summer intensive study at the Stella Adler academy. But she was unsure if she ever wanted to act. She felt that out of some inner need for attention and expression she chose to major in Theatre at Beloit or Brown or Butler. After her sophomore year, she began questioning her passion and ability.
“I can’t sing.” She said. “Everyone in my major can sing.”
“You don’t need to sing to act,” I said.
“Yes you do. It helps your career. It expands your likelihood of getting jobs.”
“You’re not going to get a job with a theater degree anyways.”
She didn’t react. I had hoped for a chuckle.
“I’ve never been to Gettysburg.” I said.
I paused as I let her eyes search over me.
“I’m majoring in American Studies.” A lie.
She laughed, kind of.
She grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, the only child of professional parents.
“What are professional parents?” I asked.
“My dad is a dermatologist and my mother is research analyst for a biotech firm.”
“Professional indeed.” I said.
“What do your parents do?” She asked. It was a question often asked in the college years. The easiest way for the determination of status and class. In a way, it was a forecasting for the arc of the relationship. What can be gained or lost while knowing the person? Will this person benefit or hurt my own life? In addition, what the parents did often determined the kind of money one may have available to them. It was snap assumption that was a fairly easy one. A split second personal credit rating.
“My father is a troubadour jazz saxophonist and my mother is a nurse.” Lies.
Kendall’s wide-eyes searched me again.
We left the park and walked. We had no destination.
“Let’s just walk,” I said. “See where the city takes us.”
“You’ve done this before?” She asked. Her eyes pried me open.
“Not with you, but before, yes. Often is closer to it. By myself most times.”
“You just wander around?”
“I like to think of it as experiencing a metaphor to life. A little wander around the city. The walk is life. The destination, of course, is known. Eventually we will arrive home. Death. It’s the time before that’s unknown. There may be a plan, a map and a guide or walkway, but you just never know what you’re going to see and do. What lies beyond the next stop. Or 2nd avenue.”
Those wide-eyes squinted just a little as she cringed out a smile.
“Ok,” she said. “I will follow you. Don’t get me home earlier than expected.”
“Don’t worry brown eyes,” I said. “Manhattan is no longer a dangerous place. Think of it has a giant mall and the only thing you’re in a danger of is not looking chic enough. Or choosing the wrong kind of noodle bowl.”
“I am not afraid of Manhattan,” she said. “I am afraid of you.”
As we walked, at times, I’d be behind her. She walked a faster pace. In those times, I imagined pulling on the frayed linen string of her skirt; pulling her into a pirouette as her skirt unfurls around her, pulling her toward me and into my arms as we kiss heavily. Other times, I’d be next to her, looking down along the sweat-glistened skin of her upper chest. I wanted to miniaturize and cliff dive from the tip of her muted-Grecian nose into the chasm between her breasts, climb on to them like a babe Alpinist, latching on to the nipple for safety and a meal. Her bare shallow shoulders fought with the straps of her bra and top. She constantly replaced the straps to her shoulders creating an idiosyncrasy I laughed over in my mind. I wanted to save her shoulders, crisping in the sun, from the burden of the straps with my lips and tongue. “It’s ok, dears,” I’d tell them. “You are free now.”
She caught me staring, once, as I was imagining my life with her shoulders.
“What are you looking at?” She said.
“Your shoulders,” I said. “They seem determined to keep your straps down.”
She laughed. “Oh. Yeah. I should just be gone with them, uh?”
“Freedom!” I exclaimed for all along the bit of sidewalk to hear. No one cared. “I wonder if in the days of the colonies that if a person were to exclaim the word ‘freedom’ like I just did, if it were met by another return scream of ‘Aye, aye.’”
“You’ve never come across the answer with your American studies major?”
“No. Unfortunately, I’ve only come across a study of dreams crushed and of dreams realized.”
“That’s the study of America. It’s dreams within dreams. Dreams actualized and dreams deteriorated.”
“What’s your dream, then?”
“I don’t have any at the moment. I feel like the absence of dreams protects me from a future of misery. Dreams get crushed every day, if I don’t have any, then I have nothing to worry about.”
“That’s ridiculous. How can you live your life without dreams? Without goals?”
“I didn’t say I don’t have goals. Goals are the speculative ideas of future achievements. I have many of those. You for instance. You’re a goal. Getting to know you and the like.”
“Ha. You are up to something. I should never had said hi to you in that elevator. Now I’m walking the streets with a boy, who has no dreams, who just told me I am his goal. Reassuring.”
“A dream, brown eyes, is the imagination of a life desired. While a goal is a singular achievement or action, a dream encompasses much more than that. It’s the house, the car, location of the house and car, the nights the weekends, the pools you’re jumping into, the name of your first son, Maclin James–”
“I’d never name a kid Maclin.”
“–and the breed of dog, Boxer-Beagle, you’re petting in the quiet hours in front of the television waiting for a vegetable casserole to finish inside of an oven you’ve purchased as part of an appliance set from the local big box hardware store. It’s about what you believe, what you will do for your friends and family, the baby shower games, the wedding and birthday gifts, the state of mind you want to be in through it all. How you’ll feel when you walk into a room full of old classmates or neighborhood meetings or chain-restaurant host stands.”
She stopped walking. Her eyes stared long past the block and away from me. The corner of mouth turned up. I could not discern if she was intrigued or upset.
“Dreams are not the result of actions or purchases, silly boy. The house, the kids, the dog and the stove. Things are not dreams. Dreams are the propeller. They move you in directions you want to go. They do not have to become reality. Dreams are hope for a future. Dreams are a respite for a present. Without dreams, we just wander.”
“I want to live a life of wandering.”
We stood at the corner of Minetta and 6th.
“Ok,” she said. Her eyes looking around the triangle, then back to me. I wore plain khaki shorts with a white linen button up. My feet were scorched inside worn leather boat shoes.
“You don’t look like a wanderer. You look like a typical silly boy. With typical silly boy dreams. I am hot and you are sweating through that shirt. Wander us somewhere to cool down.”
Kendall pulled the straps from her shoulders, letting the bit of clothing hang recklessly beneath her arms as her gait took a more upright demeanor. I wanted her badly. A little over an hour into it, and I couldn’t resist her.
“I am not adequately prepared for the beach.” She said on the train.
“Don’t worry. It’s not necessarily a beach you want to bathe. I think of it as a long sandy couch where drunks go to sleep it off.”
She cringed slightly. The miniature rivulets of crow’s feet appeared as her eyes rolled up and away from me.
“It’s Coney Island. You haven’t been. It’s good to get the touristy stuff out of your system while you’re here. We’ll ride a couple rides, eat a couple franks–”
“-eat a couple French fries. That sort of thing. You like rides?”
“Only the rides that do more than one thing.” She said to me in a matter-of-fact tone. She seemed to me to be growing weary of my excursion. Like the little trip to Coney Island was a lame attempt at building a memory. I kicked myself over it and had suddenly wished I had picked a free tour of the 96th Y. The Spanish tiled pool beckons memories from past lives. Begs for a quick dip. I could have taken her to McCarren Park where the man in a loin cloth had taken up residence in deep right field for his daily tai-chi and paranoid rants. He was sinewy. Woman found something alluring in that trim body and rabid mind. Naked yoga. That was it. I should have taken her to buy a couple mats and walked to that little studio in West Village. Yoga Bear was it? I guessed she loved punny business names.
Instead, I opted for number three of tourist destinations. Right behind the up-turned necks of the Calcutta-streets like mass of people in Times Square and the millions of posing, bag clutching bozos at the Statue of Liberty. Coney Fucking Island. Boardwalk of your memories. Step right up, the beginning and the end to a billion love stories.
Inside the cage of the Wonder Wheel I put my arm around her. We hadn’t talked since boarding. She stared out to the scantly populated beach as the closing sun cast elongated shadows across it all. The wire trash bins looked like lazy backward L’s. She sat on her hands as her eyes absorbed and catalogued the view. I wanted to tap into her skull with a pick hammer. Wiggle a finger or two around in there and see what I could get. I wanted to feel what she was feeling. When I put my arm around her, she didn’t move. She didn’t acknowledge me.
Her and those eyes just continued to be. Unflinchingly observant. I wished we had picked one of the sliding cars.
As we exited the wheel, she said, “I’m surprised you did that.”
In the Stillwell Avenue station, a scrawny old man with a grey-blonde pony-tail played the song, All I Have to Do is Dream. He wore a threadbare, down-insulated flannel coat that hung over his thin body like a Red Cross blanket on a starved refugee. An overturned and crushed top hat in front of him displayed a couple dollars and some coins.
He strummed in a slow, precise manner. As if the chords were the first and only chords he had ever learned how to play. He had a nasal tonality to his voice, one that resonated through air in a sorrowful echo. I stood near the tracks, by a support beam and closed my eyes and listened to him. I wanted to doze off and let his song take me to my own dream. I was careful not to lean against the beam. Every bit of the city seemed covered in a layer of someone else’s sweat. Kendall sat upright on a bench, she looked at me and smiled as she listened to him playing. She gave a thumb point and a head nod his way.
As the N train arrived, I walked over and dropped a dollar into the tattered black silk of the top hat. He smiled at me. His teeth, in great alignment, were the color of old newspaper. I questioned whether his act were true. Was he truly a societal refugee, strumming the only song he knew or was he something grander, something more storied that no one would ever discover?
He said to me, “Don’t get carried away.”
Back in Rubin Hall, in my tenth floor room, I had the window open and a couple stand up fans blowing around. We laid on the floor and played checkers. I had a bottle of 99 Bananas we mixed with lemon lime soda and Hawaiian punch. I tuned the clock radio to an oldies station, as she made another king.
“That’s another one.” She said in delight. “You’re pretty outnumbered. Again.”
“It’s all strategy,” I said taking a pull from the 99 Bananas bottle. “I see you like to win, so I let you. And then you’re in a good mood.”
“Such a strategist.” She said, as she took a big gulp of her mixed drink. She made a face. “This really isn’t good.”
She stood up and walked to the open window. She let the breeze tangle her hair about her face. She took a deep breath into the early evening air.
“It is New York quintessential for windows to not have screens in them. Maybe I should be an architect instead of an actress.”
I put my hands on her bare shoulders, and kissed one of them as she turned around to me. She placed her arms beside my neck as her wide-eyes looked about my face as if it were a map. As if every inlet, river and peninsula needed verified before proceeding.
“Just what do you think you are doing?” She said.
“Going in for a kiss,” I said.
Just as we began, the clock radio started with All I Have to Do is Dream. It played tinny and loud. She laughed through her nose as our lips stayed connected. I tried not to acknowledge it.
“You have to admit,” she said, pulling away. “It’s a bit of kismet.” She was delighted in herself. I picked her up and swung her over to the mattress. A single bed, I dropped her on it like I was the cover model of a romance paperback. She bounced and bumped her head on the wall.
She laughed. She was a little drunk. I removed her clothes. I was delighted to find a constellation of moles around her torso. Her nipples soft and pink.
I was thrusting heartily away when I imagined our future. I’d be her tour guide to the city. We romp across it, leaving in our wake empty paper coffee cups, ticket stubs and trim calf muscles from long dusk-time walks. I’d get to create fanciful creatures for the constellation of her moles; I’d name her pale birth mark located on her left thigh the Pacha Galaxy. At summer’s end, she’d pack up and head back to Brown, Beloit or Butler and we’d be left with each other’s number; leaving text messages and voicemails that eventually disappear into the giant servers of communications past. I began to slow down thrusts. Moving in and out of her like a slow dance-rather than a rage. Crossing the boundary between fucking and love-making. She didn’t move. Her legs hung in the air, just above my back. Her arms up and around her head, in a way that looked like she didn’t know what to do with them. She moaned softly, almost achingly. She could have had a migraine or she could have been having sex. For a moment I imagined her as the village virgin, and I the Lord. This sex was a ritual, and she was unimpressed, unmoved, unwilling, and most importantly unaroused. My thrusts became harder then. I was trying to puncture her uterus. Her face finally reacted with grimaces. I buried my face in the mattress next to her neck and shoulder and proceeded to pump speedily away until I reached the end. I came inside her. She stared at the cracked plaster ceiling.
She stood and walked to the dorm suite’s bathroom. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t seem to mind if anyone saw her nude.
I sat up on the mattress. I closed my eyes and let the city’s noises gather in my mind to try and drown out the residual mess of thoughts and feelings post coitus. Men and women play a game. I imagined that game as a carnival ride. Two rows of riders wait unseen from one another until it is their time to hop into the ride together. The game then, the challenge while on the ride, is to see who can hang on the longest or the least. If, as a rider, he or she intends to hang on, then it’s a game of who can put in the most effort into hanging on; who can withstand the thrashes, the dips, the spins, the exhaustion of the ride and still be riding. Whose commitment to the ride is greater. Whether they are cheering for more or screaming for less, they are still riders. If, as a rider, the intention is to exit early, then it’s a game of who can exit the ride before their paired partner without appearing to lose much more than they entered with. Without turning over the contents of one’s stomach, if you will. Kendall had won our ride. I did not like to lose.
I put on a pair of boxers and walked to the suite bathroom. Kendall was taking a shower. I was going to show her what else I had a left. That the ride was not over and that bit of poor sex was just a warm-up. I wanted to take her in the shower. Against the tiled-wall, she’d know she couldn’t leave the ride without a tie. She was masturbating in the tub. She didn’t stop when I entered the bathroom. She just looked up like she was waiting for me to say good night or tell her that I took the trash to the curb. I left the bathroom.
“Could you please shut the door?” She said after me, her voice trembling.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I stared out the window. The following day was Gay Pride day. I had planned out the day with her. It would be a fun day of vodka shots and daytime sex. The only time to put to use flavored dental dam and French ticklers is when they are thrown from a parade float. Now, I wasn’t sure if she would see me again. I had surely lost to her and lost big. I was still on the ride. She was happily off the ride; walking away to pursue other games and other carnival-goers.
I went to her room. I knocked on her door repeatedly with a fist. When she answered, I pulled her from the doorway and kissed her deeply. I picked her up at the hips and pinned her against the hallway wall. We kissed deeply all the while as I carried her back to my room. It was heavy. It was wet. My jaw began to ache. In my room, she ran her hands over my head as her wide-eyes glazed over lust-drunk. She hastily removed her over-sized sleeping shirt as I carried her deeper into the room. I saw her glance toward the bed as if bracing herself this time for the toss. Instead, I carried her to the window, set her down on the ledge, kissed her deeply again and caressed her bare breasts. I could see it in her face now, that look of wanting. That desire had enlivened her and I could really have her. I pulled away and gave her a look up and down like I was about to dig in to her. She bit a finger waiting for me. Her wide-eyes no longer searched me. They looked inviting. I’ve never had an erection as large.
“What are you up to now?” She asked.
I stepped forward and pushed her out the window.
“I win.” I said after her.
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@camitalpone