I widened the disconnect between sex and love that week and it was as if I’d placed an ad or taken out a billboard that screamed “will fuck for fun”. It was like I’d repented of all my slavish fears about my body and my mother’s morality and what it would mean in the long run.
For about two weeks I alternated between Cara and Anne in what seemed like an infinite loop of lust. Anne made it clear that first night after we came inside that while she was with me then she might just want to be with one of my friends next. Cara would call me on the phone from her job at a group home for troubled teens and arrange a meeting place for after dark. She’d dated one of my casual friends for about a year and was working her way out of a living arrangement with him.
“I’m not looking for a relationship with you,” she’d say on the phone. Our second night together I was supposed to pick her up in a gravel parking lot behind an area where road crews stored materials for patch repair. She didn’t want anyone to see her car at my place just yet. We started in to each other in the pitch black of midnight once we got back inside. By the time the sun came up and soft light filtered across her face, sweat bonded us together. In the shower an hour later we made love again and I understood that momentary bliss would never be exceeded.
More than fifteen years later my mother died suddenly from a stroke. Amidst the wreckage of her final years, in a small trailer where she’d isolated herself as she tried to hide from youthful shame she’d never truly shed, I found a set of pictures stuffed deep in a dented two-drawer filing cabinet.
Because of the suddenness of her death, and the paralysis of grief that gripped my sister and me, we made choices on the fly about what to keep and what to throw away. I wanted pictures and a few other mementos from my childhood - a ceramic Santa Claus she’d made, a framed needlepoint with the words “houses are made of bricks and stones, but homes are made love alone” - and I stuffed these items in the small cardboard box my uncle secured from the liquor store down the road.
Months later as I was sorting through the box after grief turned to guilt, and I needed to bathe in her memory, I was gripped by a set of photos. My mother out west with a half-brother she never knew existed. A dazed vacancy on her face as she looks at the camera. It’s a year after my parent’s divorce. She is forty-five years old.
One of the photos is of an overcast sky, a down quilt of clouds taken from her seat on an airplane. The grayness somewhat blurred by the motion and the mistimed shutter speed. A metaphor of the vagaries tormenting a life spent searching for clarity. I feel the grief that she endured in those days as the certainty of her lineage fell apart the same way her marriage had only recently as well.
I pondered over the gray stillness of the clouds - beautiful but tinged with sadness, as if there to hide the beauty of firmament from those put on this earth to suffer. I could see my mother taking the picture from her window seat on the cross-continental flight but I wondered did she capture the moment on the way to Seattle or as she left to return east?
I flipped the picture over as another tear traced the now double-circled wrinkles of my once youthful eye. On the back in computer print the words “July/August 1993”. A hollow pain emptied my stomach as I thought about how alone she must have felt then. I sat down in my chair and stared at the words and then the picture again and remembered how Dooley had hung himself during that first week of August after Christy asked if she could spend the night with me.
I didn’t even think twice about saying yes to her.