A droning sun pressed against the condo window as I lay in bed listening to children screaming in the morning surf. They sounded happy like my family did on trips in the Ford when I was piled between coolers and a quiet dad and a contented suburban mom. The ocean was peace and martini buzzes for them. For me it was a hole where the river of being sixteen poured into my brain. But my parents were back in Baltimore and I was here with Randy who had a mom with pouting lips and round hips that made me hard in my damp swim suit. I often had to hide behind the breakfast counter in the morning because I was all sunrise and still in a dream. One time I had to stand up to get my plate of scrambled eggs and I blushed and dropped my spoon. She looked down as I looked down and I thought I was all skinniness and bulge. I was so completely transparent that I felt naked and wanted to be naked—embarrassed and urging all at the same time.
Randy was crazy spoiled and we spent the first part of the day driving his mom’s Volvo station wagon up and down the Ocean Highway. We drove so fast that at one point it caught on fire around the muffler. He laughed and it made me sad but I didn’t show it. His life was so different than mine. Mine seemed so perfect that it made me uncomfortable. I was awkward and he was confident, maybe because he had to be strong because it was all a little tilted here to a fog. Sometimes Randy’s mom looked at me above her magazine. Sometimes she looked at me above her sunglasses at the pool. She looked at me one time when Randy left the room and she leaned over and said I had a stain on my jeans. She said she could get it out with warm water. I was lucky that I liked walking to the edge, or maybe I just wanted to be taken hostage—held down by Randy’s mom and ruined. She made the whole upper part of my thigh wet, rubbing and pushing in slow circular turns.
Later in the day Randy’s divorced father showed up and things fell into swirls. Randy and I had just smoked a bowl in our beachy bedroom and I followed him out, grinning behind his long sandy hair. Randy’s father was a psychologist, stone cool in his side burns and satin shirt. He was the fun dad on our street back in Baltimore and last summer he took us for rides in his VW bus. We surfed between the seats as the bus sputtered around the curvy reservoir. Cat Stevens played “Moonshadow” on the radio and we all thought we had a first-class ticket to cool. When he screwed his secretary the suburbs turned real. It wasn’t long after that that Randy came running to my window and hyper tapped like he’d eaten a box of pop rocks, “John….(tap-tap-tap), John!… (TAP!) “Come out, man… I got a new album!” I threw on a t-shirt and we cut through the backyards to his house. We came in through the basement and tore the cellophane off the album. It was Led Zeppelin II. He put the album on his father’s stereo and Randy and I sat there in a trance. We didn’t say a word for forty five minutes
Randy’s father tried to put his arm around Randy’s shoulder but he pushed on past with a bag in his hand which had his toothbrush and a few shirts. In Randy’s other hand he carried a thin stack of albums…these were a travel must: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” and Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy.” Randy was set. If he forgot his pipe, his father was sure to have one hidden somewhere in his new rancher. His father’s paternal place in the world was seriously messed up and I thought about my father with his Sigma Chi mugs and plaid shorts and white socks pulled to his knees. I felt blessed…honest to God blessed.
They walked out into the parking lot sun as the door sucked shut. I felt awkward alone in Randy’s condo. It was just for one night but my head spun with fantasies that were so much my own and so horribly wrong that sometimes I thought Randy’s mom could read my eyes. A few days earlier I was taking a shower and I hoped she would walk in. I had left the door unlocked and thought maybe she’d come in by mistake. When I stepped from the shower, I cracked the door so there would be a slight view from the couch in the living room. I stood there with water dripping down my leg as I moved my towel across my stomach and up around my head. I stood wide-legged with both hands in my towel. Then I heard Randy’s footsteps and I lunged for the door. My heart pounded and I felt embarrassed.
Now, suddenly, I was alone with Randy’s mom. “Can I make you some lunch?” she said as I walked across the living room towards the TV. My hands were buried deep into my pockets.
“Sure… that would be nice.”
I watched her as she kneeled down in front of the refrigerator. She was small and had a thin face with thick lips and blue eyes that looked lost and sad. Her hair was a wild, curly mess of brownish-blonde. She once told me I could call her Sara. I remember the day last winter when she told me I could call her by her first name. Randy wasn’t around. He was out sledding and I had stopped by her house looking to borrow his saucer. Their house was hot and a fire was burning in the living room. I stood in the doorway by the edge of her white shag rug. I had round balls of ice stuck to the bottom edges of my Levi’s and she got down on her knees with a small broom and brushed my wet pant legs, knocking off a few specs of white up near my knee as I unzipped my heavy coat. I was sweating and still cold at the same time. “Thank you, Mrs. Brown,” I said and she looked up while pulling her crazy hair back and said, “You can call me Sara.” Since then I only called her Sara when Randy wasn’t around. She seemed fine with that.
I carried my sandwich over to the couch and we sat across from each other as I ate. She picked up a magazine and the TV played “The Young and the Restless.” She told me about this guy on the show called Snapper and how he was in love with Chris. Snapper was this heart throb doctor guy and other women loved him too. Sara said she understood Chris. She looked with stranded eyes out towards the ocean. We sat there in silence and I asked if I could play her a song on my guitar. She smiled and her eyes glittered. She folded her legs on the couch and leaned forward with her hands cupping her cheeks. I got my guitar and started playing “Like a Rolling Stone.” I sang it loud because I was nervous and my fingers trembled as I switched from F back to C and back to F. She got off the couch and started dancing in front of me, slowly at first just swaying her rounds hip side to side then she turned in circles moving her hips side ways, then forward and slowly back. Her eyes were closed and her lips mouthed the words along with mine “…you used to ride the chrome horse with your…diplomat, who carried on his shoulder a…Siamese cat. Ain’t it hard when you discovered that…he really wasn’t…where it’s at…” She folded her arms as if she were hugging the air. We rode the next line up to a pounding G chord and she fell on the floor crying. I stopped and awkwardly put my guitar in its case. As the door was closing I heard Snapper say to Chris “I love you, my dear…. I will always love you.”
I took my guitar out to the beach and waited for night to come. Jimmy came running across the sand in his cut off jeans and a red bandana. We grabbed our boogie boards and sat in the ocean beyond the waves, pretending we were surfers. We talked a lot about girls. Jimmy was like me, innocent and naive and hungry and urging all on the inside. Girls were magical spirits who could make things happen to our bodies, things we couldn’t control. They came to us at night when we slept. They brushed against us on the boardwalk with floating breezes of suntan lotion. Girls were our other half and Jimmy and I didn’t know how they fit into our puzzle. Whenever we tried, we just jammed our pieces in wrong and finally gave up looking for that one lost piece of sky.
Randy was also a virgin but he tried to pretend he wasn’t. He liked to point out the vast sea of potential around us. “There’s one for you, Texas…. She’ll definitely do you,” he’d say. Randy started calling me Texas because I wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and an untucked denim shirt. I usually had a blue bandana sticking out behind my chain wallet. Randy looked more like a California surfer with wavy blonde hair and a Sundancer t-shirt. He had a chest and arms and faraway blue eyes and I looked like Shaggy on Scooby Doo. One time Randy said we were a great team on the boardwalk because he could attract the girls and I knew how to talk to them. Randy was good with the backslap.
When night came Jimmy and I got a fire going out on the dunes beyond the last beach house. There was another guitar player there and we sang Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” real loud and everyone danced with beers in their hand. A few more people showed up with grain alcohol and some packets of Kool-Aid. They mixed it in Tupperware that they’d stolen from their parent’s condos. The night sunk deeper and farther away and the beach became a desert of stumbling tribes, black and shadowed in the distance. A few couples remained around the fire but they were all hands and giggles and soon I could only see their backs against the flickering light. I stopped playing in the middle of “Tangled up in Blue.” “…then one day the bottom dropped out and I became withdrawn. The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keeping on like a bird that flew….” I boxed up my guitar and started down the beach.
The light off the condominiums gave the upper part of the beach an exposed quality, like the harsh sprayed light of an alley or a prison yard. The teenagers stayed around the parameter of the light and either walked in the dark of the beach or huddled in small groups. I sat in a poolside lounger next to a gate with five or six plastic tiki lights hanging over it. I looked out over the white neon sand and saw Jimmy weaving his way towards me. He looked determined and panicked.
“What’s up, man?”
“Texas! Fuck, man… there’s no one around. Where’d everyone go? I’m so fucked up…”
“It’s just Ocean City, man,” I said and handed him a warm Michelob.
“Everyone got a girl, man. Not me… Not me—not fat shit me!”
We sat saying nothing for about a minute and Jimmy fell down in the sand by the cement patio. We both lit smokes and blew out two blue spirit clouds that floated up into the hazy white lights.
“Girls dig you, Texas. You can get girls. They talk about you…”
I didn’t know how to respond. We blew two more spirit clouds and watched them float into the pale light.
I popped open the top of my last Michelob and the metal top tinked against the sandy cement. A girl walked up from out of the dark and we started talking. I remembered her from the party. Jimmy said a few words then drifted into the night— another teenage refugee. She asked me if I could walk with her up the beach to her parent’s condo. When we got to her place we sat on a dune and talked. Our faces were close and I looked at her lips. They were red and her breath smelled sweet. I don’t even know who started it but soon I was on top of her in the sand. We were kissing deep and I held the back of her head away from the sand and rested on my other elbow. My arm began to hurt but I didn’t care. I pressed myself against her thigh. “Not now…my mom may be up on the balcony, I’m past my curfew.” she said and I stopped kissing her neck and responded with a meek “Okay…” I had no idea she was thinking about sex. She didn’t know that virgins can’t read ques.
Do you want to come over tomorrow and listen to albums?” she said as we sat up. I responded that I’d love that. “I have some Clash that my brother brought back from London. Have you heard of them?
“Yeah, I think so. Aren’t they like Aerosmith?” She laughed and rubbed her hand across my cheek. “You’re such a freak.”
I walked back down the beach towards Randy’s condo. My head was full of her face and my lips still felt thick from kissing. I opened the door and all the lights were on. Music was playing—it was “Brand New Key” by Melanie. I looked around for Mrs. Brown as I made my way down the hall by the kitchen. I had dreamt about this night all spring, ever since my parents said I could spend the summer with Randy. Now here I was and I was nervous. My throat was dry and my heart was pounding as I moved into the living room and towards the couch. I saw a toe off the edge of the couch, then a foot and then a bare leg that lead up to a pair of pink panties. Her arm was hanging off the side of the couch and her hair covered most of her face. She had nothing on but her panties and a bra and a light blanket was wrapped over her shoulder and one breast. A half empty bottle of Jack Daniels rested on the coffee table by an ashtray filled and overflowing onto the carpet. Through the screen door I could see a few groups of teenagers still huddled on the beach. A few lost virgins in the sand—cast against that huge black ocean.