A few Sundays ago, after almost sleeping through the 5:15 vesper service, I followed someone walking towards the subway station looking like she wasn’t in a hurry to go home yet. Maybe it was the alcohol from the night before that made me imagine things from my past (thanks to a friend for buying me more than a few rounds that night, because he felt it was his duty to take my mind off a girlfriend who broke up with me). She was the kind who’s tall and cute. Nobody would mistake her for a girl next door. No, the woman I saw was nothing like Brigitte, my Bardot from Brooklyn, who wore lines from Emily Dickinson up and over her ass.
The woman I followed looked like an older version of the Anna I knew seven years ago, when California wore Chanel every Sunday, all white and impeccable like someone holy. This was part of my curse during puberty: I was sentenced to like married women, the types who were scrambling for high-school fun again, maybe to compensate years for being genius wallflowers and social outcasts. The foolish ones often got involved in emotional attachments with under-aged boys who have radars for desperate victims. But of course the wise ones avoided scandals that could ruin their careers, and took heed of the age of independence and consent: eighteen; they were crazy for big boys of that age who have predilections for sexual conquests beyond their age-group.
And, yes, I was part of the big-boys club, courtesy of a growth spurt, immediately after I turned seventeen, which gave me a five-eleven frame, plus other assets proportional to a lean body that made me look like an adult, three or four years older than my age. In fact, I used to go clubbing around L.A. back then, and would never be carded, thanks to an attitude I wore so convincingly, a kind of nuanced swagger I learned from other big boys in locker rooms and the street. Part of God’s plan, right? Well, God’s sense of humor back then also came in the form of our pastor, whose voice boiled into a squeaky pitch behind the pulpit every Sunday, as though someone was choking him, underlining points from the Bible, that we should relinquish ourselves to the Almighty and let his glory control the life of our thoughts and needs.
And there goes the puzzle. Control: submission to the divine hypnotist. You can see how this became a dilemma, when my pants got tight, as soon as it gave in to another dimension of hypnotism: the neck of Mrs. Anna Beaumont who loved to sit three pews in front of my family. Back then, the woman was a gorgeous, petite creature, with a slim waist, including a facial structure that went well with a non-angular jawline. Now add flawless skin to that equation – courtesy of her Chinese and Scandinavian extraction – and you have someone worthy of Vogue or Harper’s, a deep contrast to her husband’s complexion — somewhat ravaged with skin disorder — who is also mixed (according to her, that is), but within the bloodlines of Western Europe.
And let’s not even talk about his face, which appeared to tell clashing stories, courtesy of his densely wrinkled forehead, and a layer of chins that was about to surpass number two. Now could this number be the reason why Mrs. Beaumont number one left him? We love shallow assumptions, don’t we? Well, our church was like the fall of Rome, when she left him for one of the lay minister who wasn’t particularly good-looking. In fact, the rumor mill in our church ran haywire about their affair, full of vulgar slants that only worsened our church’s declining membership number.
Now, the second Mrs. Beaumont, Anna, was prettier; hands down. And I still remember helping Mrs. Beaumont number two carry things for church programs, usually after greeting Mr. Beaumont, who loved to chitchat with my dad, on new companies they could gamble on. Looking back, I don’t think my father ever talked to me like a father would who didn’t care what I did in school, as long as I didn’t bring home too much trouble. Your typical, corporate type, I guess.
My mother, in her own way, did care, even though she had her own distractions, too. But frankly, my parents were deliriously screaming at each other about trivial things back then that Splitsville appeared to be their only way out. Later, it made so much sense why they pushed me so hard to finish high school, leave home, and make a life of my own somewhere without worrying about my bank account for a while, because they got me covered on that department.
Anyway, shyness turns me on, like how Brigitte wore it, when I first met her reading in Central Park at four in the afternoon. The softness of it gets to me, like how Mrs. Beaumont number two made my head spin on our first meeting when she said, “I’m Anna,” very softly, and tried to avoid my eyes like she was embarrassed about something. But she wasn’t that shy at all. She was all voice as a Bible Study leader, as though she was an expert on the book, its characters, stories, backroom deals, and the history of it all. And she also had access to the backrooms and alleys of my teen-aged mind, being the flirt that I was. She knew there were Sodom-and-Gomorrahs in there burning tongues of fire, that in my calm, and somewhat upper-middle class neighborhood of Porter Ranch, my computer was porn central; and that tall, big-boned boys are bursting with high-grade testosterone, hungry to express themselves with desperation.
So, yes, you guessed it: she was Jezebel. Because why would you call one of your Sunday school students after the rest have left, ask for his help on something like she was all business, and close the door? There were many rooms in my church’s compound, and – excuse the pun – but we took advantage of its upper rooms back then, plus venues outside church, such as the Beaumont house when the mister was away on business trips, and I was the diligent pool-boy garbed in revealing trunks, at the behest of Mrs. Maria Annabella Wang Lundquist Beaumont.
But unfortunately, Anna was heaven on a short-term lease: because she talked and talked, and asked too many questions. My whereabouts at school were particularly high on her list: my favorite subjects, extra-curricular activities, if my team was winning, this and that, like she was investigating, which became annoying. Thus, over time, I made up stories, that we had a hamster in science class that escaped, or that one of my teachers tore his pants, when he bent to retrieve something on the floor. Things like that. Storytelling became work, and I kept at it like there was a reward for me somewhere in the end.
But soon, I avoided Anna. I couldn’t help but think Mr. Beaumont’s twenty-six year old, second wife had issues, not ordinary ones, but serious ones. And the more I knew things about her, the more I ignored her, especially how she wanted me to tie her up in bed and the dark story about her father touching her, which made me think how Mr. Beaumont’s fatherly attitude and physical appearance fit right in that picture. I hate to say it, but I still remember the pain in her eyes every time I ignored her, something deep I didn’t want to be a part of, and that knowing look about my nasty troubles in school and at home around that time.
And no, I don’t have wily plans to spill the beans in the future for monetary compensation, that I was with Mrs. So-and-So when I was still in high school. However, when the setting is right, say, there’s a campfire in the middle, I don’t hold back on juicy details why I had to repeat tenth grade. You see, I was expelled. It’s the kind of story with a bit of suspense, because the Art teacher in question in this drama who had an eye for me also had an eye for a male teacher in the Science department. But he didn’t make it to the local evening news. I did. He gave me a smirk on the week the news was catching up on campus like wild fire, which made me think of slashing his tires, for framing me.
But as stupid as it sounds, I felt like a hero among my boys at the gym, for braving it with our Art teacher, doing things with her in her classroom after 7pm that widened everyone’s eyes whenever they talked about my affair with her on social media. On the other hand, home was another world: my father pinned me hard as a sick bastard upon receiving a ring from the principal, and couldn’t care less how loud he screamed for our neighbors to hear. For days and weeks, I’d see my mother’s frozen head, in front of the kitchen sink, listening to the water running from the faucet. It was a horrible year, the first time in my life that I felt truly fucked. The Art teacher was fired, obviously, and I got my punishment, to repeat tenth grade in another school with lower standards, in a poorer neighborhood miles away.
God knows what ugly things I got from my parents. But I knew back then something was wrong with me; I don’t deny that. I have a feeling Anna saw that, and wanted to be close to me, because she understood me somehow. In our time – at least here in America – you are messed up, in many fantastic ways, if you’re in high school and consider older women your girlfriends. And so, I tried playing catch up in high school at the last minute, like some sort of late bloomer, and dated girls my age, in order to join the prom at the embarrassing age of nineteen, to feel a bit normal. Roughly a year after I graduated, Anna, too, left the Beaumont name in the end, and found new life somewhere back east; in New Jersey, I heard. For a while, there was no Mrs. Beaumont number three, until I left home across state lines, to work, to attend junior college, then university, before eventually taking on the Empire State.
Now, when the woman I followed last Sunday turned around the first time, she looked straight at me, as though she spotted me right away on a crowded sidewalk. I’d like to think she was curious about the scar on my face, courtesy of a bar fight back in San Francisco, where I started working at an escort service for older women, which promised steady pay; in fact, the job helped shoulder school expenses that soon became a degree in psychology, when funds from my parents started dwindling, soon after their divorce.
Before turning another corner, the woman turned again, and this time gave me a curious, knowing look. But it wasn’t until we were down at the subway platform, that I saw her up close. She was now in the train, hugging one of the silver poles, looking at me, with that familiar, longing look. She’d been at my church before, and I chose to ignore her. But looking back, I should’ve ignored her again. For now, it’s enough that I saw her eyes up close, the soft jawline gone softer, and her face, a face, that, in less than ten years, now looked ravaged, not so much with age but something else. Somehow I know I’d see her again in the future.
And so, I retraced my steps back to the elevators, then into the streets, where I followed shadows and thoughts, remembering a child many years ago in a playground of other screaming children in an orphanage, all waiting for a childless couple who might be able to give one of the voices sitting on a seesaw some semblance of home.