Lucite Cinderella Light-Up Shoes
Ezra was reclusive in the right ways and the songs he wrote could break my girlfriend Caroline’s heart. I was eighteen then, maybe nineteen. I lived with my parents. I was taking three classes at the community college, and working a job at a secondhand clothing store. Caroline and I went to concerts or dances most nights, and other nights we went to parties. We ate ecstasy and speed and looked for halls to faint in, or quiet places to feel each other up.
Caroline’s dad thought I was a bad influence on his daughter, but I always had a lot to say about him, so maybe he’s right and I was a bad influence. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter really.
—Your old man’s a greedy piece of shit, Caroline, I’d say to her. All he cares about is the grease under the engine of his big black Mercedes. All he cares about is how much of a profit he could make tomorrow morning if he sold his estate in Turin.
—Well at least he cares about tomorrow morning, she’d sometimes snap, and that always hurt.
It always hurt when she told me I was a loser, even if I knew she didn’t really believe it. It always hurt when she told me to get my hands away from her, even if I knew she’d be back in my arms in another minute. I didn’t know how to make her know better that there was not much I cared more about than waking up tomorrow morning and seeing her. But I don’t like to talk like Peter Gabriel songs, and I don’t like to talk like Brian Wilson songs.
We lost our virginity with each other when we were both fifteen. It was in my bedroom, and we were trying to be quiet about it, maybe because we were shy, or maybe we were embarrassed, but it doesn’t matter. Or I don’t know, maybe it does.
—Caroline, I would say, they don’t put people in jail just for feeling nervous. You’ve seen ambulances, Caroline, you’ve seen the hole in New York. You’ve seen the sun rise from an airplane, Caroline, you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower.
She said if she had a daughter, she’d dress her in Lucite Cinderella light-up shoes. She said she’d name her Dolly and treat her like a princess until she ran out of money or goodwill.
—Caroline, I’d say. Caroline, you’ll never run out of money. You’ll never run out of options, Caroline. You’re a golden girl, Caroline, you’ll get everything you want.
Things went wrong when I took her to the Jonestown concert. They started going wrong when I started talking to the drummer, Thaddeus. Pretty soon, we were invited to go back to what they called their digs, which was actually just a room in someone’s house where they were crashing on the floor for the night. I was expecting a party, I think, but there were only six of us in the room, and it didn’t take long before I noticed the singer, Ezra, putting his hand on Caroline’s thigh. I started to say something, or tried to start to say something, but I was as fucked up as can be, and I was all the way across the room, and everyone was laughing with cigarettes between their teeth, the air was so thick, and the room was dim, but I could see everyone’s faces, and all five of them were laughing and smoking, having a blast. And Caroline, she looked so delighted as Ezra put his hand on her, she looked so charmed, she looked so much like a spoiled little girl.
—Caroline, let’s go, I called across the room.
She didn’t hear.
—Caroline, I said again.
Somebody put his hand on my shoulder.
—Hey, man, a person was saying. We havin’ a party, right.
The grip on my shoulder went firm, but not in a menacing way, or at least I don’t think in a menacing way.
Someone passed me a joint. Someone passed me a jug of wine. Someone turned up the music. It might have been Sun Ra, but it might have been Ravi Coltrane.
—Caroline, I shouted, Caroline, these people always end up murdered. These people always end up facedown in their fucking brains, Caroline.
I don’t think anyone turned off the music or said a word. I took a look at their faces. Nothing surprising, nothing you wouldn’t expect.
I left the room.
I left the house.
I didn’t go back.
Javier always acted crazy. I know he took some medicine, but maybe not enough, or maybe not the right kind. I don’t know. He never talked about his doctor’s appointments, or his meetings with the school nurse. We knew each other since we were in fourth grade, but we never really became friends until later. He came to our school the year after I started there, he had moved from Hartford, Connecticut. He was always talking about horses, or he was always telling some story about a desperado, or he was making a big long joke at everyone’s expense, I’m not sure. He was good at baseball, the other boys liked him a lot. Our teacher seemed to be sort afraid of him, which is strange, because our teacher wasn’t really afraid of anyone. Our teacher was often annoyed with him, when he would raise his hand in class to start telling cowboy stories. The only subject for school he was really interested in was geography, and he managed to memorize more of the countries and capitols of Africa than anyone else, except a girl named Kimberly who wore dirty glasses and had a cleft palate.
When I was in sixth grade, my dad bought property on Bainbridge Island, he purchased half of a horse farm. I’d been learning to ride and I thought it would be fun to have Javier come for a weekend, so I asked my dad if that was alright, and he said he’d have to talk to Javier’s parents. He asked me if I’d already invited Javier myself, and I said I hadn’t, so he said to find out first if Javier wanted to go to the farm with us, and if Javier said he wanted to, then he’d talk to his parents. So the next day at school I asked Javier if he wanted to come to the farm and ride the horses, and Javier said okay. I probably wanted him to say something about a desperado, or a sunset, but that was all he said, just, okay. Okay, Javier, I said. My dad will talk to your parents and we’ll go this weekend. Okay, said Javier. Like he thought it sounded like an adequate enough distraction. Like he thought it sounded like something he could probably see himself participating in.
On the ferryboat, Javier and I went to the top deck and stood in the wind and watched the islands. Javier wrapped his arms around himself, like he was cold, even though he was wearing a good coat. When we went back down into the boat, he told me he hadn’t been on a ferry before. He said he’d never been to an island. Not even Rhode Island? I asked. No, he said, no, I haven’t been there either.
When we got to the farm and started riding, it was clear that Javier had never been on a horse. He did his best, but he didn’t want to take lessons, and anyway, there weren’t really any lessons being offered. My dad sighed and tried to show Javier the basics. He helped him get into the saddle, showed him how to hold the reins, told him what to say to stop the horse if he needed to, gave the horse a slap. Javier tried his best, but the fastest he ever got was to a trot, and he looked a bit ridiculous doing it. At least he’s not wearing a cowboy hat, I thought. I’d imagined that when we arrived to pick up Javier, he would get into the car carrying a big cowboy hat, or he’d already have it on his head, something flinty and tan, like something Clint Eastwood would wear. It would have made my whole weekend, but I would have tried not to make fun of Javier for it very much, you know, for being so predictable.
We stayed on the island until Sunday afternoon, and then we went back to the city. I asked Javier to come to the farm a few other times, but he always turned down those invitations, said he’d rather do something in the city. He knew some people who were a bit older than us, some kids in high school, and I started hanging out with them. They went to concerts and dances, and smoked cigarettes and marijuana, and drank liquor. Some of them had tattoos.
Javier’s not crazy, but sometimes he acts crazy. He doesn’t usually scare me. I wouldn’t carry his child, but I would say that I love him. He sometimes makes me cry when I don’t understand what he’s trying to say. I don’t think he’s trying to make me cry, it’s just he just doesn’t say anything right and I end up crying, which I guess must mean I love him, or care about him at least. He goes on and on, and spins so many layers of beautiful bullshit around everything that actually means anything, that by the time he’s done talking it’s like he hasn’t even tried to make sense.
A week later, she put the Jonestown album on in the car. She went to the fourth track, which she said was the one that could break her heart. She turned up the volume, and then she turned it down some. I’ll admit, there was something to the song. Something in the melody, something in the badlands-style cinemascope that the images in the lyrics sounded like they were viewed through. Something like a Ferris wheel spinning round and round for a hundred miles, until then maybe lightning strikes, or the dream of lightning strikes in somebody’s mind. It reminded me of Rumpelstiltskin, or a vague threat that Rumpelstiltskin would make. It sounded better than it had sounded live; maybe just something about the session Ezra recorded it in, or maybe that I wasn’t high or paranoid. It was heartbreaking, certainly, but I can’t say I felt my heart break. When it ended, Caroline started it over. She turned up the volume, or maybe she turned it down some. She found a place to pull over under a streetlight and put the car in park. She reached for my face, for my eyes. I don’t know what she was doing. It felt like she was sealing my eyelids with her fingers, or like she was trying to understand things about me. It was strange. She’d never touched me there before. I kept my eyelids shut and let her feel my eyes, or whatever she felt when she touched my eyes. I wanted her to understand me however she could. I listened to Ezra’s lyrics, and the busted-up melody of his song, and I tried to think about things like what they helped me understand about her. When the song ended a second time, she started it again.
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