It was the summer of the black caterpillars when she was still young, but thought herself old, years before the Green River Killer was caught, and before she knew she'd take greater risks in her life than going to the home of a convicted rapist to hide from her mother. Thousands of the fuzzy-bodied worms hung from the trees and dropped by the dozens from the huge cedars and pines, getting tangled in her hair.
By this time she had already been pleasurably fondled as a young teenager in the glaring light of the playground and stolen change from the bottom of her mom's purse to buy cigarettes and coffee at the all-night donut shop. She hadn't yet come out and been pity-fucked by her good friend or hidden her identity to get a job that paid $16,800 a year in a building across the street from the San Francisco Gun Exchange. Nor had two rags spontaneously combusted and caused a minor fire in that same building.
In a quiet moment she had already asked her friend Greta if she was mulatto, a word she found beautiful and rich, like cream in your coffee. That's what people called her biracial friends in the 70s in her barefoot food stamp summer world where there was always the scent of patchouli, weed and stale beer in the air. God, she loved that mixture. It reminded her of her mom, an emotionally elusive woman, someone whose attention she could never hold, not for long enough to have a real conversation.
The truth was hidden, although she occasionally found a small piece of it under the crushed body of a caterpillar, or the sharp shrapnel that lived just under the skin on the back of an anonymous man she met at the donut shop.
In the moments when she could get away with it, she studied other bodies, trying to understand whether they were what they purported themselves to be, or more like luggage, some smooth and soft, some worn and overstuffed.
She didn’t figure anything out soon enough to avoid the eight awful months of liquid protein. She lost 100 pounds while working first at Burger King then a Danish bakery, then in her version of a living nightmare, gained it all back. But not before she felt her stomach balloon into a hard protruding melon, like the images of starving children Sally Struthers shamelessly paraded across the air waves of late night TV.
She knew failure. And because it was her body, everyone else knew it too.
Although humiliated by her lack of that most revered trait, self-control, she tried to act as if she believed. She walked across campus with forced confidence, which made it awkward when she found herself striding towards a woman much older and much fatter than herself. She couldn’t figure out whether to smile or look away. She feared becoming that woman, and she feared the woman could hear her thoughts. This made the black caterpillars on the hard cement sidewalk a welcome distraction, giving her a valid excuse for looking down as she tried to avoid crushing them with her elephantine legs.
Still, she imagined she could escape that fate. She didn’t realize nor imagine her body would later become diseased, and that the disease would publicly reiterate what they all thought anyway, that she was a lazy glutton who could never really love herself, no matter how far up and out she trained her gaze.
In the summer of black caterpillars she was young and hopeful. She was new and fresh. Although they were overwhelmingly grotesque, there was something magical about the creatures draped like tatted lace from the high branches of the evergreens and the low branches of the ornamental cherries.
When they finally disappeared, it was as if they had never been. But she knew at least that small truth – the feeling of a small furry body being crushed under a heavy foot.
I come from long grass and huge trees
Dirt and worms
The smell of hay in an open field
Pulled into bales by a worn yellow tractor
I come from Oregon and California
From days that were too hot
Storm soaked nights
I come from a butcher knife
And bottle of Mad Dog
I come from Sloe Gin in the back room
Of a Circle K
I come from motherhood, and loss
Blood and something they might have called love
The need to both make fun of and emulate my mother
I come from an overactive imagination
I come from rabbis with long beards and black hats
Like the baby Moses in that movie with Charlton Heston
I come from the Mayflower
OCD induced rules
I come from the sea salt flats of San Francisco
A hospital on Geary Street
My claim to fame
I come from need
Aching between my legs
I come from “she’s never satisfied”
And I remain there
Week after week
I come from life and death, existing in my body at once
Two babies, and an older brother
An empty heartbeat
I come from elaborate birthdays
With makeshift pirates
And two-dollar treasure
I come from pink, glitter and high heels
7 shades of lipstick
Blue eyes and brown hair
I come from people
Who come from monkeys
Who come from spaceships
I come from you
And if you look back far enough
You come from me
We are bonded
Through the ethers
Past and between the sounds
A universe becoming, imploding
Time is an illusion
You are really me
And I you
You serve me shit on a shingle
I call it chipped beef on toast
Neither of us is old enough to have been in the army
Both of us are delighted by gravy
Anything to get away from the flies in the orchard
In which our parents toil during the day
So they can party at night
And take care of the brood
We are corn growing high
Wheat and rice
We are fruit before it has ripenedAnd the sound of The Eagles on an old 45
I won’t give it up
This time I'm not doing it, I swore to myself, even though Mousie was telling me to throw the rock through the window and all the guys were watching.
I guess I was still a little drunk. We had been up all night walking around the lake and the empty streets of the East Side. Then we went to the end of the street two of us lived on and climbed down a steep tiny dirt path to the encampment. Why did I always find myself in these predicaments? I couldn't deal with their pressure but living with the feeling that I had done something I knew was wrong sickened me more.
The worst thing wasn't drinking when I didn't feel like it. It wasn't peeing in the woods a million times because I couldn’t hold my beer. It wasn't bumming cigarettes when I ran out of my Marlboro 100s. It was Mike.
Mike - tall and big like a football player but way too soft and stupid. He had blond hair and B.O. He was fumbling and awkward and mean. Why did I always get stuck with the ugly guys? Why couldn't tight and small Dave like me? He had feathered brown hair like Davy Jones and nice jeans. He and Mousie fooled around. I guess that's how it works. The skinny girls always get the prime cuts and I get left with the doofuses who are so desperate they'll try to fuck anything that moves.
I pretended not to notice what was happening, on account of the beer and all. There was a tiny flame going in the top of the bottle where the candle was about to melt down to nothing. God, I wish I could have done that. Melted down until I just went out. Zap!
I was lying down next to Mike and you know, in the dark, no one looks that bad. I didn't think he was going to try anything but I guess his pheromones or some shit like that must've kicked in because he started making out with me and it felt good. He had really big hands and he was putting them under my shirt and I wanted to turn away, but god, I never got touched like that. Some of my friends had gone all the way a whole bunch of times but not me. No one ever wanted to fuck me except the old geezers like that guy who worked at the Circle K and gave me free beer if I drank it in the back room. And the Mexicans. Only we called them wetbacks cause all of my friends, even the Indians, were stupid. But it didn’t do any good to be liked by freaky old men and pickers. It just meant I wasn’t prime meat.
Even though Mike was white he was an idiot with pimples and a dumb laugh. But in the dark with the candle flickering out, his hands felt so good on me. I could tell it was making me all excited cause I started shaking all over. And then I kept shaking until I felt this kind of surge inside me. But really, the reason I turned away from him is not because I came (I'm not sure I would have known if I did anyway, it's nothing like you read in Penthouse Forum as far as I can tell), it's because he grabbed my hand and put it inside his pants on what I guess was his dick and it was disgusting! A fat hard finger with ridges and weird-feeling skin. I mean, what is sexy about that?
Anyway, I guess in retrospect he was embarrassed when I wouldn't touch it more, but man, he was so mean to me later when we got out of the tent and he accused me of pre-mature ejaculation. Isn’t that a guy thing? He made me feel so bad for temporarily feeling good. Fucking Mike and his fucking dick.
Maybe that's why he taunted me until I threw that rock the next morning after a night when none of us slept and everyone laughed at me. Who the fuck knew it was going to go through the church window? I swear to god, I'm not a criminal!
The floor careened up toward me before I could stop it. Lights flashed sideways and I fell diagonally, splayed between someone's legs and tangled in my skirt with my less than flattering underwear showing. Note to self: you should never do speed and go dancing at a suburban dyke bar. Lucky for me, I felt like I was swimming in slow motion so the whole thing was rather entertaining, even if I couldn't make a sound. Something had disconnected in my head.
This didn't stop me from writing poetry all night in my kitchen afterwards. At a tiny table in our little Oakland apartment with window blinds that someone could see through no matter which way you turned them. Facing down, people could see up through the slats from the sidewalk. Facing up, people could peer down at us from the rich- people apartment building across the street. This made unselfconscious masturbation difficult, unless I did it totally in the dark, but where was the satisfaction in that? I needed words to get off. Words have always been the thing. Oh, okay, and the occasional beaver shot when I was younger, but I've matured. Plus, when you have your own kids, porn never seems the same again. "That's someone's child!" you think and then slam your legs shut.
So there I was, across the table from Luce, my girlfriend's best friend. The one that would later betray my ex by getting together with her secret love. Or maybe it was the other way around. The thing about lesbians in the 90s was that everyone slept with everyone else and someone was always getting cheated on or doing the cheating. Sure I felt jilted when it happened to me, but I was also relieved. I mean, it's not like I saw a long term future for us - especially since my girlfriend felt more comfortable asking questions than answering them, and drawing comics to share her deep seated emotional wounds. Although, now that I mention it, she drew awfully cute caricatures of me.
Luce and I were on a wild kick of creative energy - riffing on words, or peeling paint, or the way the light looked coming through the annoying never closed slats in the blinds above the sink. The Formica counter top was as old as the building which, as it turns out, was infested by fleas. You couldn't walk into the basement without having your legs covered. Marty, the building manager didn't do much about that, but you couldn't really blame him. He was after all, an inventor. I like to think his silicon wafer slicing machine made him rich. It was definitely a legitimate idea. Still, he was a hoarder and he had long hair with a scraggly beard. He only told me these stories standing in the hall with just a crack of his apartment showing where the door tipped open. Hard to imagine that he really was on the phone with lawyers night after night working on copyrights and secret deals.
Marty's daughter was a punk rock hairdresser with bleach blond short hair and tattoos. She looked queer, but wasn't, although we didn't really use the term so freely back then, even after the Queer Nation years. Or maybe it was only one year. Everything moved so fast then, white lines notwithstanding.
In the morning I couldn't read anything I had written the previous night. This was before computers in every house and before I could type. I hand wrote my brilliant thoughts and looked at the ceiling a lot for inspiration, thinking I was creating an opus. Now that I mention it, there probably was no real morning for me, but a head splitting late afternoon and dry sour mouth. Either way, I couldn't read my writing.