This story was included in Belting Drunk, a collection I put together as a zine my senior year of college.
Carli moved into the house across the street when we were both three. We played tea party and Barbie together because in return she would watch Voltron and Transformers with me. We watched at her house, since my mother forbid commercial television. Exceptions of course, were made for MacGyver.
For my twelfth birthday, my mother turned our basement into a Pirate’s den with pirate booty prizes and I dressed up as Captain Hook. Carli came as a princess with a patch covering her left eye and a beard drawn on with magic markers. They weren’t so magic and she had three days of pirate-princess five o’clock shadow.
The day that Carli’s mother died, Marianna and I made out in the back of a Volvo 240. Marianna was driving since I was only fifteen. Carli watched from her dark bedroom window as I played soviet spy groping at Marianna’s Russian breasts. When we were finished, she kissed me on the cheek and said she was expected home.
I watched the Volvo pull away before laying down on the summer grass to fantasize about the nicest—the first— breasts I had ever seen. The moon and stars above were like symbols in cheap romance novels.
“Did you know my mother died today?” Carli asked, looking down on me.
“No,” I responded.
She then rolled herself out on the grass next to me to stare at the emptiness between the stars. And my mother had told me at four that afternoon, about Carli’s mother, but I didn’t want to skip Marianna’s breasts.
Carli had skin as pale as the moon, and eyes with stars in them. She went to the senior prom with a spaceman. He thought he was that night, at least, when he failed to take his Lithium. He showed up at Carli’s door with a NASA helmet he found at a garage sale. She never made it to the dance floor.
My mother baked applesauce cookies and pumpkin bread; pumpkin bread with walnuts and without, and with raisins and with apple butter. The Christmas after Carli’s mother died, Carli spent the holiday with us. Her father had gone to South Carolina—some woman he found at a bar the week before. He had also neglected to get anything for Carli. Carli’s sister was older then, and with her fiancée’s family lived in California. She had all but forgotten her little sister. And so that left my house for Carli to sit and wait for Santa Claus.
I dressed in a collared shirt and khakis, and a tie with a print of Santa’s sled being pulled by his reindeer. At the head of the pack was Rudolph. When you pressed down on Rudolph, the tie played Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and a red light blinked where his nose should be.
Carli laughed at the gimmick, but mother made me change before the aunts and uncles and grandparents and old folks came stumbling in. They were so blind or drunk that I doubt any of them would have noticed Rudolph.
Carli’s sister flew in from Chicago the day after her mother died. My mother and Carli and I drove to Newark to retrieve her. I liked Nicole, especially when she once had babysat for me and allowed me the pleasure of watching commercial television. And now Nicole, who I hadn’t seen in five years, had grown up, and I, becoming infatuated with breasts and women and pubic hair could do nothing but think about Nicole and the fun we would have if she would baby sit for me that night. But, she didn’t.
In August after graduation, I noticed Carli had finally developed her long sought curves. She was a late bloomer I suppose.
We were watching MTV one afternoon sometime during the seventh grade, fretting over biology reports and Muscle Men trading figurines, and Carli said, “When we grow up, we won’t do this anymore, since we’ll both have families and jobs and we’ll barely see each other.”
I ignored her since Radiohead was playing. But maybe she was right, and if she was, she grew up faster than I did.
Marianna was two years older than I was and drove and had beautiful breasts, that much a certainty. But years earlier she had been fat and had braces and so no one really talked to her then, except for me since I was fat and had braces too. She promised she wanted me to accompany her at her senior prom. That was, until of course, David Lee Keller invited her. He captained the football team.
Before that fiasco though, Marianna and I kissed for the first time one summer night at the lake where as five year olds we had built castles and sunk battleships. The association that ran swimming lessons and beach volleyball was holding an Italian spaghetti night. The evening was one dedicated to boxed wine and cheap spaghetti sauce from cans stuffed into the mouths of middle aged Sicilians who had never seen where Dad was born or where Mom first got kissed, or who even knew that Sicily was an island. Carli wanted to play shuffleboard with me. She wanted to let me win. She wanted me to make her feel bad, so I had no choice but to console her with a kiss. But since I was on the tip of the outermost dock and speaking in tongues with Marianna, Carli went home.
Carli received her driver’s license in June and her father, wanting the freedom to fly to South Carolina without regard for how Carli would get to softball practice, bought her a station wagon. One night instead of studying for calculus we drove down to the boardwalk at Belmar. It was around midnight and cool for early June, but the salt air and the sand exfoliating our feet churned a mediocre idea into a pleasant distraction.
We tossed a frisbee she kept where a spare tire should be. She said, “I’ll race you to the water,” and before I answered, she was stripping down and jumping into the icy Atlantic Ocean. My lips turned blue with cold, but how could I refuse?
When Marianna went off to college, and because I had two more years of Shakespeare and water molecules and Germany had only invaded France once, she said good-bye, for good, she promised.
Over her winter break we had coffee at a diner far away from where everyone else was, far from the eager ears of blathering peers. “I’ve really done it this time,” she said.
“I’m knocked up,” she said. She was calm and smoking a cigarette. “That’s what finals will do to you,” she said, “you get crazy when you take those anti-sleeping pills.” She told me earlier that three cups of coffee and a jelly donut were a fine substitute for eight hours sleep when the time was needed to learn a semester of Wordsworth.
“I refuse to get fat again though, so I’m going to get it taken care of,” she said. She waited a moment while I stirred the syrup left on my French Toast platter.
“Would you come with me when I go?” she asked.
Carli wanted to be a yuppie after we were out of college, instead I made her a mother. I condemned her to stretch marks and floppy breasts and a stomach like Swiss Miss vanilla pudding. She made applesauce cookies.