What was that look she gave me, as we lay in the Saturday afternoon sunspot that splashed across her bed? The day had flown by, and as shadows lengthened across my lover’s bedroom, bathing us one last time in the mottled shade of outside trees, I rolled on top of her again and took her face between my hands.
“What’s that look you just gave me?” I asked. Her gaze was distant, yet searching, and she seemed to scan my face for a sign. What sign?
She ran her index finger along the line of my jaw and across my upper lip.
“I can’t help thinking…” she dropped her hand and self-consciously averted her gaze. “The thought keeps coming up — you’re not even old enough to shave.”
“Shave?” I said, shifting my weight to the side. “Why should I shave?”
She was silent.
I pressed, “What do you mean by that?”
She looked away, but I took pulled her face back to look at me again. “What?”
I sat up and pulled a cigarette from the pack that lay perpetually on her bedside table. Lighting it, she squinted through the smoke. “Do you ever get the feeling we’ve met before?”
“At a festival? In a bar? I don’t think so.”
“No, I mean –” she took a long drag, “– in a past life.”
I reached across her and slid a cigarette free of the nearly empty pack. She lit it for me with the tip of her smoke, and I pulled lightly. “I never gave it much thought.”
“Well, I have,” she said, regarding me closely. “I think we were together in another life.”
“Another life…” I tried the idea on for size. It felt full and baggy, as though someone else had stretched it out.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it a lot –” she said in a cowed confessional tone. “I think I was an older woman, and you were a young man, and I seduced you.”
“A young man…”
“I think you were young enough to get me in trouble,” she continued, the words rushing into the empty space above her bed. “A lot of trouble. And there was a scandal or something…” She paused to catch her breath.
“That doesn’t sound so unusual. I could see it happening.”
“I think you killed me.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. Here I lay, beside a woman I cared for deeply — as a woman — and she was i.d.’ing me as a man and accusing me of murdering her in a past life. I shook my head.
“I dunno,” I said. “I can’t see it.”
We sat smoking in her bed for the rest of the afternoon. I watched the t.v. at the foot of her bed, and she stroked the sides of my face, my neck, my shoulders. She wouldn’t make love to me, the several times I turned to her, teasing, joking, cajoling, trying to loosen her up as I usually did. She pushed me away and offered me another cigarette.
I could only smoke so much. “I have to go,” I said, irritated and unsatisfied, feeling cheated on such a beautiful afternoon.
“If you ever feel like killing me, you’ll let me know, right?” she said, as I gathered my things to go back to my own apartment.
“Sure,” I nodded. “You’ll be the first to know.”
Feel like killing her? I thought, on my way home. Had she lost her mind? I was in love with her. I wanted only to be with her. In no way did I wish her harm — certainly not her death! This time, she’d gone a little too far with her past-life fascination.
For months, now, I’d thought she was overly concerned with her karma. She’d had no easy childhood, that was clear. An emotionally distant father with unrealistic expectations… an emotionally abusive mother who’d systematically invalidated all of her most basic instincts… an uncle who’d raped her… a brother who’d molested her… a sister who still seemed to live only to shame and outperform her… But even after the indignities and damage of her childhood, she’d remained open and sensitive, and she’d taken me into her confidence — and then her bed — with an ease I’d never found in another.
In the afternoon sunlight of one summer weekend after another, she’d opened up to me. First with lips and mouth and hands and hips, then with heart and mind. For hours each weekend, we made love — long and languorous, drawing bows across each others’ humming strings, or quick and choppily intense, plucking staccato from our taut desire, delighting in intimate play, wrestling, tussling, romping through the summer.
And in the afterglow of our lovemaking, as shadows lengthened in the waning summer, she’d recounted her life adventures and mishaps, her triumphs and tragedies. She was only five years older than I, but the extremity of her life experiences made the gap seem much wider. I came from a relatively average family with no history of overt, extreme abuse that I could recall. I hadn’t escaped entirely unscathed from my youth, but my injuries paled, compared to hers. My family had simply disapproved of my choices and distanced themselves from me. Hers seemed determined to destroy her.
In the course of her tales, she told me of her encounters with psychics and healers she’d turned to, seeking relief from her ‘blockage’. She’d had her cards read by witches who said her deceased father’s spirit was still around her. She’d had her palm read by gypsies who said her mother had been her first true lover. And she’d experienced past life regression with a renowned psychic, who’d shown her to herself, sitting on a train chugging across an African plain, looking down at a strong African woman’s hands — dark, gnarled hands she’d recognized as her own. Her apartment was full of crystals and amulets, and each room had its own altar. Each psychic need in her life, if not addressed and met, was at least expressed.
At first, her fixation on things beyond the here-and-now had fascinated me. She knew more about leaving the present, than anyone I knew. I listened to her life story with a mixture of dismay and sorrow, unsure whether to pity her, protect her or applaud her resilience. I tried all three, but she responded best to pity, crying with despair at the emotions that sometimes arose when we made love.
“What emotions?” I asked. “What?!” I pressed anxiously, as her bitter tears soaked her pillow case. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
But she refused to answer, repeatedly pushing me away from her, asking me to fetch her a glass of water, something to eat, or a fresh pack of cigarettes.
I obliged and tried to soothe her, after months of hearing how she’d explored the other side, her fascination was starting to irritate me.
“What about here and now?” I said, wanting to shake her back to the present. But when I’d return to her bed with food, drink or smokes, some story would surface about a hurt she’d endured, and I’d decide once more to not distract her from finding an explanation — any explanation — for the unfairness of life and the damage it did.
Feel like killing her? No. Not yet, anyway.
I tried to put her question from my mind, as best I could. But her gaze was still clouded by suspicion. She was less responsive to my touches, and she quit closing her eyes when we kissed. I couldn’t seem to bring her to the heights that her climaxes had once been. There was no more playfulness in her lovemaking — rather trepidation, almost a hint of obligation. She stopped inviting me to supper each night after work.
I was determined to persevere in showing her I still cared, she still mattered to me, I still wanted her, I still wanted us. No matter what her suspicions were. I brought her flowers, I washed her car, I called each night when we didn’t see each other, and I left lingering messages when she didn’t pick up the phone. I tried to make light of her fears and put them to rest, but my levity only seemed to heighten them.
The more I pressed for some sign of amorous inclination, the more she pulled away. Some nights, I’d stop by her place unexpectedly and she’d be barely civil. On the increasingly rare occasion that we made love, she’d look away from me afterwards, not meet my gaze, and shiver when my latex cock brushed her leg as I got up to wash off. She wouldn’t touch my dick anymore, once the instrument of her pleasure. She asked me to take it off as soon as she came, so she didn’t have to look at or feel it. I obliged her. Whatever she wanted, I’d do. Whatever it took to put her mind at ease. She still reached out to touch my cheek sometimes, but when she realized what she was doing, she’d drop her hand quickly and reach for a cigarette. She still wanted my dick inside her, but she made fun of the look on my face as I fucked her, and pulled at my harness, snapping it against my ass, when I was about to come.
She could not have been farther from me. Her mind was not at ease.
I tried to let each time go, but as the weeks passed and she withdrew, a bitterness began to gnaw at my gut. And I began to wonder if perhaps there wasn’t some truth to what she suspected. I am not an angry woman, for when drive rises in me, I usually find a way to vent it. But when my desires rose in me, lust testing the limits of my flesh’s patience, and she denied or ridiculed my drive, rancor, bitter rancor, rose in my throat.
She was the one I craved, the one I wanted to open, the one who had opened to me, time and again, inviting me, drawing me in, taking me in with a plea and a gasp, gobbling at my fingers, taking my whole hand into herself, between her legs, demanding the full length of my cock up to its hilt within her. She was the one who’d invited, enticed me at summer’s start, who’d delighted in me and returned much pleasure to me, as the season swelled and peaked, who had never said “no”, not even “maybe”. Until now.
Now, her many tales of woe told, her wounds kissed and cleansed with both our tears, her fears and phobias stroked softly into reassurance… Now, she rebuffed my advances, making light of my need, making fun of my wants, making one excuse after another to not open to me as she had all along. My touches elicited only mockery, my boyish lust drew stinging smirks. When I pulled her to me and a moan escaped my lips, she thrust me away with a mimicking sigh. The boy she’d taken so eagerly into her bed, she now denied, pushing my cock away from her, hiding my condoms, even asking if I’d wax (or at least bleach) my mustache I wondered what was happening between us. And with each new rejection, with her deepening distance, a coldness spread within me. The hot fire that had propelled us through the last months, seared me — stopped in its tracks, action thwarted, drive denied. I began to wonder what had happened between us, once upon a time.
I bit back the doubt, reminded myself of my passion and her damage, talked myself again into believing that love conquered all, that all that mattered was my devotion to her. And the uncertainty waned. For a while.
The last time we ever made love, she asked me again. Did I feel like killing her? Would I tell her, if I did?
She’d lost her job earlier in the week, and she’d started having violent flashbacks from her childhood. She was tortured and anxious, and she questioned me with such curiosity, I had to wonder — was it her deepest fear, or was it her fondest wish? Now that I thought about it, I’d never known her to be truly happy. She often called herself “damaged goods” and took great delight in acts of self-denial and humiliation. She loved to be looked down upon by straight people she knew, she enjoyed the embarrassment of being told she looked like a straight girl who was hunting for a husband. She basked in the stray moments when I made laughing fun of her and dwelled for hours on the precise nature of my teasing, sharpening the point of my accidental coarseness. When she asked me, this time, if I wanted to do her harm, she had an almost expectant look on her face.
I said “No” emphatically, and she looked almost downcast.
“Why do you ask me this?” I said. “What good will it do? Why should I want to kill you?”
“Well, considering what happened…”
“What happened? What really happened?” I exclaimed, exasperated. “We don’t know what happened. You don’t know, I don’t know. Who knows if we ever knew each other before, and who knows if we’ve even lived before? How do you know?” I jumped up from the bed and began to dress.
“It’s important…” she said quietly. “Knowing what happened…”
“Important to you,” I said. “I don’t need to know.” And I left.
I didn’t see her again for weeks. I didn’t even call. Nor did she. She was paranoid, and I was pissed off. How could she pull away from me with such a lame, transparent excuse? What did she take me for — an idiot? — that she thought she could play out this pathetic ploy to get me out of the way so she could be alone with her shame, her self-loathing, or avoid developing any kind of genuine intimacy with me? What kind of fool did she take me for, anyway, asking if I wanted to kill her? Couldn’t she see I loved her?
But weeks passed, and fierce rancor built in my belly, bleeding into the purity of my love. My lust, my passion, unvented and unreturned, churned in my gut, doubling back on itself, turning inside-out, aching and driving and coming up against walls at every turn. Seeing less of her, exhausted from the test she’d become, I slept almost as much as I was awake. Dreams came to me, casting me as a young man — barely more than a boy — who fell in love on different nights with different elder women… one night with a teacher, the next with a neighbor’s wife, the next with a stranger whose expensive car I ran into on my skateboard. The dreams didn’t come every night, but they came often enough.
The images slowly solidified… and after several months, when the dream came to me, it was uniformly the same —
I, a boy of 15, fell in love with my social studies teacher, become romantically attached, then carnally involved. I spent countless afternoons and weekends making exuberant, acrobatic love to her in her bed, on her sofa, on her living room floor, learning the ways of pleasuring a woman. I longed for her, lusted after her, lived only for the sound of her cries, the feel of her body on mine, the heat of her breath on my ear, our passion thrashing us in whirlpools of delight, our affair plunging us into illicit shadow. But the affair came to light in the small town where we lived and our lives were crushed like bugs on a speeding truck’s grille.
Her career was ruined, and she was forced into seclusion in her one-story ranch house in a well-off section of town. I was forbidden to ever see her again. My parents were disgraced and kept close watch over my every move. But sometimes I stole away and lurked in her cul-de-sac at dusk, watching her house, just watching… Straddling my bicycle, unable to comfort myself with the pressure of the seat on my balls, watching the drawn curtains in her front picture window for any sign of movement, bitter rage tore at my gut, and bile welled up in my throat. I knew only hatred for the parents who’d forbidden me to see her. I felt only hatred for her, who’d betrayed me, who’d given in to everyone so easily, without a struggle. Did I mean so little to her, after all?
She never showed herself at her curtained windows or her covered carport, when I stood watch over her house. And after months of vicious, desperate longing, I broke into her home. In the living room where we’d so often made love, I confronted her about our affair, about us. She didn’t deny that she’d cared for me, but said it had been a passing thing, and it was best if we parted ways. I insisted on seeing her. She refused. A struggle ensued, and in a blind rage I struck her dead in that room, amid the sofas and easy chairs, her blood seeping into the deep pile carpet, behind the closed curtains.
The trial was swift and precise. I was put away for life in prison, with no hope of parole or the early release of the gas chamber. In my dream, I spent the rest of my life in jail, unrepentant, refusing visits from my traitorous parents, reliving the shared moments with my lover, night after restless night.
Every time I awoke, I was surprised at how slowly a lifetime passed in my dreams.
We’d not seen each other all summer, when my ex-lover and I ran into each other at the women’s bookstore down the street from my place. We were both browsing the self-help shelves. She had a copy of a codependency recovery book tucked under her arm, and I held books on dreams, the subconscious and past lives. She wouldn’t meet my gaze, and I kept my distance. The same bile I’d felt in my dreams welled up in my throat, and the urge to reach out and strike her pressed against my willed polite aloofness. We didn’t say a word and left the store quickly, through different doors.
Considering what happened, that was probably best.