The Ones I Love
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2002
The ones I love are many. There is Linda. There are her lips. There are my parents and their admonitions. There is Darryl. There is food. There is the boy with velvety skin like a cousin, the one with the shiny gun. There are the Peruvian villagers with their exotic cooking, with their lipstick stains. There is the sand here in Phoenix that blows from west to east, then back. There is my massive body.
These are my obsessions, the things I always think about, the things in my dreams. If obsession is love, then it must be love I feel for them. But Linda says I don't know love.
Women with muscles only need to love themselves," she says, and then smiles, and when she smiles her face looks cute instead of fierce. As we finish a workout, she holds my arm out in front of me, the lump of a deltoid blocking much of my view. She pulls on it and says, "An arm like this doesn't need anything."
Yes, I am the woman who asked her to say these very things, and then I fell in love. I wanted her to make me different in her hands, to fill me with squeezing power. Love really shouldnt matter, and I should never feel fear.
The child me was full of fear. I was always hesitant with my round hair, round body, always feeling stupid in the tight, ochre-colored pants my mother thought were precious. Back then I never thought of real love, never saw it defined, never held a hand like I meant it. I never raged back then, and God and love were always the same. Every morning and evening, every Sunday, my little Mormon family would pray to Him for the loving strength to serve others, avoid the pit of worldliness, and continue to prosper. My own private prayers were sinful, squeaky pleas that He remove the trembling in my throat and fingers, that He take from me like a cancerous frog that fear of talking, of hearing the nasal sound of my voice squirting inanities out into the air. Before riding horses with rich friends, I prayed to God to remove my fear of riding on an English saddle. I prayed to Him to give me the strength to read His Book of Mormon, but it always terrified me, so filled with people killing each other and begetting children I began to think Gods heaven would be that way. Then there was my body, wanting lips and tongues and feminine sex, fearing the holy-of-holies, the male penis and its biblically hideous, procreative potential.
The blue-suited brethren at church scared me with their loud voices, their scuffed shoes and pharmacy cologne, their turquoise bolo ties. They smiled at me, their future sister or wife, and I smiled at them because thats what Mormons often do.
I never liked my father on Sundays because he seemed too much like these other men in his dark, polyester suits. Jaime was always more comforting when he put on his yard clothes that smelled of cut grass and desert mold and rabbit droppings. The things of this world.
It was enough to make a girl stop wanting to think, to enter the tunnel of mindlessness.
But I do think, I think Linda is of this world, and yet I have let her become Godly. She saves me from that manly, praying place, that place of obvious female weakness. If love is obsession, we must be sick with it.
A week ago I woke up late from a night of chocolate dreams and walked into the kitchen to see Linda sitting in her chair, her chair raised slightly off the ground. There was a certain glow around every object in the room. I could see the sun, the blue sky outside, but Linda and her kitchen were surrounded by silent ripples. Mormons often have visions, but I had not been Mormon for so long my hand began to shake. I put it behind me.
Good morning? I said. Linda was reading one of her Navajo books, and when she looked up at me, her chair dropped, hitting the floor hard. Her mouth looked a little embarrassed, and she kind of mumbled something about wanting to live in Sedona Arizona and become holy like her Navajo relatives.
Well, I said. Thats nice.
She blinked a few times, and as her eyes became their usual intense selves, the room became hard and clean-edged again, and I knew the vision was over.
"I believe we need more emptiness in our lives, she said. At least once in a while.
Just a little, she said. Her eyes seemed so dark, green right then, her hair so blonde, her lips so tightly pressed, and then she was looking back down at her book. All the colors in the kitchen cups began to fade and soften. I could feel that old tunnel vision coming into my brain, trying to push out the little feeling that I was not living in this world. I touched a wall to try and open my head again, make myself feel, then said Christ so at least someone in the room would be vocalizing.
This floating Linda often makes me want to hit things, and so I did, I left the room and kicked her bed for 20 minutes until my foot was numb. I fell onto her shag, wishing I didnt have to notice her little nuances, wishing I could live the carefree and fearless life of a guerrilla girl in Peru. I dreamed humid dreams all night, and when one girl with long hair handed me a gun, I took it. She kissed me the rest of the night.
The next day I woke up, still on the carpet, my lips dry and pulpy. Linda was gone and the air outside was hot and filled with particulates, so I decided to read one of her Navajo books. There were pictures inside of delicious, wide-faced women with shiny skin, and eyes like Lindas, only black. I read the first paragraph, in English, telling the reader no language could capture earth and sky and the fallacy of flesh. Only a complete return to the spirit land would make one free. Linda was no doubt succumbing to this book in spite of being blonde, in spite of doing her laundry in machines, in spite of wanting cigarettes and, at least sometimes, womens bodies. I flipped through some pages, then saw the word LEVITATION and a whole chapter of instructions for squeezing through this dimension.
I hid the book in the bathroom.
In spite of this, Linda and her javelina eyes still give me hope. I feel hope when she wears her electric blue suit to work, and during our massages, when she pushes into my back muscles and tells me how she loves the feel of my thin, perfect skin, I know she hasnt left completely.
Theres a new vein here, she tells me, comforting me, flicking at me. Darryl never had skin like this.
When she digs into my hamstrings and talks about the governor looking at her legs as they walk to press conferences, I smile. Im sure he wants her, and loathes her, and cant stop looking at her more than blonde hair, or at her changeable Navajo eyes. She says he lights up high-powered cigars every time she leaves his office. A woman made of pure spirit couldnt make this happen.
Lindas fingers dig into my scapula tendons as I fantasize about her sitting in a stuffed chair in the governors office, her eyes all squinty and powerful, lined by years and excess. I like to imagine myself as the governor, touching her thighs as she sits there in a purple suit, looking down at me like some kind of flat-lining Mona Lisa. I think of how she must have looked ten years ago, smoking, pushing fumes out of her nose, pushing weights, flexing for money, too big for the petite suits she wears now. I imagine this muscular Linda sitting against my gubernatorial desk. Id be a bit bloated, looking over blueprints and her still tight legs. I would want to touch the polished smoothness of her pumps, the thin wools of her skirts, feel them give and bend, sniff at them for the smell of potions and desert.
If I were the governor, I would push her onto my desk and kiss her neck, maybe even bite it. But Linda can be untouchable and slapping. Instead of touching anything, the real governor would have to ignore her, an impossible task. He would have to distract himself, stand, light a cigar, and watch the colors of his stained glass window while Arizona heat waves push up into the clouds. Linda is the kind of woman who could drive a man like him mad.
* * *
Yes, I did pray that Linda would come to me. Three years ago, I asked her to change me into a hard thing that walks stiffly without bending. Darryl was still my boyfriend, still muscular and thinking only of himself.
Those were the days when I would stand in the sun four hours spraying Darryl while he tanned, the days when I posed in a bikini for the amateur section of a women's bodybuilding magazine, but I only looked like a pudgy white woman, bread-like, transparent, and barely covered with a blue-string bikini.
Those were the nights when I prayed for Linda, prayed for her hands, prayed for God to forgive me for having sex with Darryl, and for wanting to lick Lindas sinewy, shaven arm pits.
I would watch her in her yard, so close as she bent over prickly pairs to take their fruit. She would clean them and eat their redness right there. Looking out on any weekend day, I could watch Linda eating desert fruit, or planting sweet grass, her tendons pulled so tight. She made my imaginings intense and deep, like the one where I wanted to strip her slowly in our desert sand, or the one where I wanted us to kiss, passing cactus candy between us with tongues.
I was still a quiet thing, still feeling scared of men, finishing a finance degree by day, coming home to Darryl at night, dreaming of Linda on the weekends. She had left Darryl five years earlier, a month before I moved in with him, a month after I turned 18. One night, Linda decided Darryl was too egotistical, and he decided she was too controlling. She immediately moved into a house down the sandy road, for she is a woman who makes up her mind quickly. A few weeks later Darryl stuffed himself into a navy blue suit and came looking for me, or someone like me, and my mousiness in a Mormon church, a place he hadn't been in years. He seemed dangerous and large, and the veins in his hands hypnotized me, and though he was dressed like the other men in the chapel, his body was hairless, his cologne was subtle, his nails were perfect, and he touched my head sweetly. I moved in with him, my hope beginning to grow. He showed me how to cook non-Mormon foods with wine and curry, how to scrub his walls all white, how to cut his desert lawn down to a precise 2 inches, and how to massage him just so. I liked touching a persons skin, something I had seldom done before, and in this way Darryl became my new religion, demanding that I be his unquestioning house girl.
Its only fair, dont you think? he said. Im putting you through school, after all. Maybe when you get a job, I can be your little slave. He pinched my little 19-year-old cheek.
I smiled, and seldom said a word, and every night I cleaned, polished, then perfectly lacquered his nails.
You are a godsend, he always told me, and I always liked to hear it.
Eventually, when he wanted sex, he also taught me how to lay just so, and hold him exactly this way at the base of his penis, moving my body precisely to the left when he started to come so he could feel that maximum explosion. The idea of sex had always excited me, but I was glad he didnt want it all that often.
Thinking all that time I must have been in love, if love was cooking and doing nails and laying just so, a few years later I stood in Darryls kitchen late one night and saw something moving out in the desert. Sometimes coyotes ran through the cactus chasing rabbits and mice, and I always liked to watch them darting. Darryl was reading Cosmopolitan as I got the heavy binoculars. When I focused them, I saw a woman running through the desert like I run through it now, except it was dark and she had no clothes on. Her blonde hair and ass cheeks gleamed in the moonlight. I had seen Linda before in her yard, but I had never seen her like this.
Who are you spying on, pumpkin? Darryl asked, turning pages.
Im just looking at cactus, I said.
I could see her nipples and shiny pubic hair as she jumped over bushes, blue-skinned running thing. Certainly I was too shy for such displays, still thinking of myself as chaste, holy, pure, clean, white, in spite of the sexual sinning Darryl and I did once a week. I had always known women were an enticement, and Lindas naked running easily made me wetter than Darryl had ever made me.
I was taught the body was a burdensome, ephemeral thing, something to be released from upon death. But when I watched this woman in the bright moonlight, I could see her muscles moving like well maintained hydraulics, obeying only the laws of perfectly oiled physics. She seemed powerful through my binoculars. Later, Darryl would fuck me in his precise, little way, never quite present, and I would think of Linda. I would think of licking her underarms and her thighs and her nipples, and eventually Darryl gave me my first Linda-induced orgasm. After that, no spying Jesus, no graying, senile prophet or muscled man could keep me from my future.
Linda often ran through the desert at the same time each night, and I was always there with my binoculars to see her leapings. Afterward, I prayed on my knees before bed. I prayed for Linda, and knew God would not let me down. A few months and many Linda orgasms later, on the shortest, most holy day, the solstice, Linda was at Darryl's front door holding a piece of smoking sage and a barbell.
"I had dreams about you," she told me when I opened the door. Even then, before she had thoroughly wooed me, her voice had a power. I was holding a cup of milk. It poured out onto Darryl's carpet like melting plastic. I looked at her lips, sexual, puffed, sun burned. She grabbed my hands with her powerful fingers, and looked right into my pupils. Her eyes were so blue, soft Navajo blue then.
"I can save you," she said.
"I know," I said, and I believed it. Please.
I knew if I left, there would be no return, and my parents, already in Peru, would seem even further away. A few hours later I was driving myself and my bag of possessions down to Linda's house in Darryl's golf cart. She opened the door before I turned the motor off, standing there with her arms out to me, and though I thought she would kiss me, she started right in, organizing my new training schedule, then taking me to her gym every day even though I knew there would be men like Darryl there, staring at themselves, grunting and turning red in order to feel less impotent.
It took a few months, but when Linda first kissed me, I laughed for an hour, feeling ticklish, feeling unholy and light headed, feeling like Darryl's lips were a joke. Eventually, though, after all those years of sexual suppression in the name of God, I was letting Linda kiss and lick me all over without making her stop. She made my clitoris fracture and explode nightly. Sometimes I would lie naked on her bed all day, touching the beginnings of my new body, less and less pudgy, exhausted from coming. Sometimes I would chew her ass cheeks or toes for hours. And each time, I envisioned my parents less and less. Their words about atonement and masturbation and dust to dust became more and more faint as Linda obeyed my wishes and began to transform me. They were glad I had moved away from Darryl, but they could sense my distancing techniques over the phone. My voice was less ephemeral, less spiritual. My sentences were more direct and short.
Hows your new job? It must be wonderful to have your own money, my mother would say.
Yes, I would say.
Id love to hear all about it. James, wouldnt you like to hear all about it. My little girl with a job.
Its fun, sometimes.
I bet, honey, my father would say.
I would rush my conversations with them and hurry back to my magical Linda.
You know, women are the powerful ones, she would tell me. Women have all the secrets, and they know how share them with each other.
Yes, I would say. Tell me everything.
And so she did. She told me how to put make-up on my face for serious days, and how to run without getting shin splints. She bought me my first designer suit, the color of coffee. Kona, she said. Its a power color. On our runs, she taught me the names of the ocotillo, the brittle brush, and the ironwood. I liked it best when she would cover my body in spinach leaves and marinated mushrooms, then eat everything slowly off, or feed it to me, then slide all over my salad-oiled body until we were both screaming.
Though I dont like to think about it, I know her changes havent only come from Navajo books. There was a day when she came home from a run looking different, but such subtle things are easily ignored only to become important later. I was cooking dinner, and she opened the door.
I cant talk, she squeaked. Her face was white. She laid on the couch, and I put cold rags on her head. I moved around her, lit some sage, and made her drink cool water. Ive seen something. Ive had a vision.
Youre just heat exhausted, I said. Being a former Mormon full of fear, I wasnt too interested in anyone having visions.
No. Yes. The heat. Ive been dreaming of heat, she said, dreaming of air. Dreaming of my children. I thought she was hallucinating. She had never mentioned children before.
I miss my children, she said, then suddenly she was weeping, holding my hand so tightly I didnt want to move. I kissed her wet face until her red eyes became blue again and she closed them to sleep. Eventually, she spoke some more. I started working out after they got older. I used to let them hang off my biceps. It put them nearer the ceiling they could never touch by themselves, she said. "I knew my kids would hate it without me. I did everything I could. If I went back, Id be shot." She kind of moaned then. She told me she tried to get custody with letters, chain smoking, incantations and midnight fasting, but this is one thing she has not been able to change or control.
I was already learning that heat and pain could induce powerful visions, but I didnt know it would make her lips just a little less available, or her fingers just a little more mechanical against my skin. She stopped doing multiple sets, and her muscles began to thin. Sometimes I wondered if she had gotten bored with me, and made up imaginary children, but she talked about them so much, even showed me their blonde pictures I had never seen. One of them looked Navajo. The other two looked like her, with smooth faces. Linda would lay against me, her hair against my lips, her lips talking about them. It felt strange to be holding her this way, as if she needed me.
They would run all day, and came home covered, she told me. Even though my husband thought it was wrong, I would make them watch every sunset.
And then she told me about his other wives, and about her divorce.
We were in Utah. He got custody, she said. He split them up between the other wives. I tried to sneak back once, but they had guns. I wasnt a strong person then.
Her pain, her fracturing face made me begin to feel something much deeper for her, perhaps even something like real love.
Theres nothing like the smell of a new baby, she would sometimes say. And their feet.
At night, Linda started tucking me in. She slowly became more maternal toward me, and I, being the coward I still am, being a girl newly in love, never quite objected. I thought it might be comforting.
The more she doted, the smaller she got, the larger and more defined I got. The less she kissed me, the more sets I did. Three years after meeting, Linda seems so maternal, yet she still likes to look at my body. In the audience during competitions I know she likes to look at my tanned shininess. I live for these kinds of looks, the kinds that tell me she is still a woman. Linda stares at this inhuman thing she has made, the one the judges whisper about afterward and sometimes drink over at night. They don't tell their wives about the way they score my body, or the way they look at my hamstrings with the beginnings of erections. They don't tell their wives about the notes they leave in my backstage bags.
Linda, my sometimes surrogate mother, sees all this, all the erections, all the note passing and groping, all the touching she used to go through so she could flex in public. Sometimes she will walk up to the judges after a competition and try to make them listen.
"Don't you feel the power coming from these women?" she asks them, pointing a painted nail around the room. "Its not just for your pleasure." She wants them to understand that their votes are for women who have, theoretically, left sex and the regular world behind. But they never believe her, certainly not of the girls up there in their hot, fuschia bikinis touching each other so slippery and confident during the pose down, flexing each muscle with such physical assurance. Those girls never did forget their bodies, the judges want to tell Linda, but her Navajo eyes stop them from talking. This is something I understand. Linda's words stay in their heads, make them blush as they leave their notes, make them feel guilt as they later fantasize about muscles when their doughy wives make love to them on the weekends.
* * *
At the rotunda, when Linda takes dictation for our governor, I imagine her now thin fingers flying like Hindu factory fingers over her steno pad. Her telepathic nails, magenta today, no doubt cut into pencil wood and tap against mouse buttons and door knobs. Perhaps the Governor, momentarily slipping and getting personal, says things like "My other secretary never had nails like yours." I like to imagine that he fixates like I do. He would want to know what color her nails are, what women would call a color like that, but Linda never says those kinds of names, names like "luscious lavender" and "bodacious blue," names that make her hesitate in air conditioned stores before she buys them.
After Linda began remembering her children, she put pictures of them on her neat, government desk, and on our walls at home. Her children were cute like Linda when she smiles, frozen at the ages of 3, 5, and 7, but now all teenagers, and all conceived before any of us had muscles or knew Darryl and his cooking. She would stop in the hallway and almost look at them, then go change her shoes or take a bath. Her baths became longer and longer. Some nights they lasted hours until her skin was wavy. Sometimes she would lock herself in the bedroom and I would hear choking sounds. Other times she would put her head on my lap and push her talons into my thigh. She often stared out at the desert, at the dusty creosote bushes and lumps of sand.
Then one day I noticed the blankness of the walls. She had removed all the photos from the bedroom. When I visited her at work to bring her a sandwich, her desk was empty, sans photos.
The absence of photos made me feel a little cold inside. You cant just erase them.
Yes. I can, she said, chewing on her sandwich. Her tone was so secure and detached. I looked at her hard, trying to see if she might blink or smile. She chewed.
Your parents are truly holy to live in another country and serve their god, she said eventually. She probably wondered if she could live in a place where monks thrive, a place where God is inside everything, a place where the unclean memories of children might stop.
Whats going on with you?
Its not important. Thanks for bringing me the sandwich. Her eyes were green, and so I left, not wanting to look at them any more.
When Linda looks sad or in love, her eyes are blue. Sometimes shell look sad now, and I know she must be thinking about them, about her growing-up children, but she doesnt talk about them any more. I know when shes thinking about them because she talks more about Sedona Arizona, spiritual capital of the world, vortex of the solar system. Its odd to know Linda might be in denial, and that she might have been in denial these last three years or more. Her fate could have easily been mine if I had not moved in with a fastidious, condom-wearing gay man, if only one breath change had happened and a smooth polygamist had shown up that day instead of Darryl. I wish I had known Linda then, so young, so silly and pregnant and unlike her confident, shaky, spiritual self. I imagine her pregnant belly all tight and tan, with me there feeling the kick of a small foot. I imagine being her husband and filling her with the procreative semen.
I, however, would have done it for love. If only things werent changing.
One night, Linda decides to tell me a secret. She tells me when she taps a fingernail against her head, she can convince people of things telepathically.
I read it in my book, she said, smiling and cute. The finger helps the mind focus and project. Her fingernails were olive green and playful enough to make me feel less fear. But ever since then, whenever she taps her cheek, Ive started shielding my mind. This is something Ive had lots of practice with. As a child, I would always make the tunnel vision come and cloak me whenever our Mormon Bishop was near. I knew he could see into me, could tell I felt lust for some of the Sisters, could tell I would be molded by anyone I was around.
More and more Linda tells me she will someday go to Sedona and become holy. She will drive there, she says, and become changed like her aunt Margarita was once changed into a being of space and magic, a being who could fly anywhere and see us all. I like Lindas aunt Margarita stories, but I never expected her to want to go in that direction.
On other less emotional nights, the one I love will read with me on the couch, never quite touching because if she does brush too close, she sees into me. I try to keep it in and not let her get telepathic glimpses of my lust, my gubernatorial fantasies, my more frequent terrorist dreamings. When her finger starts tapping, I try not to let Linda feel the humidity of Peruvian jungles, of murder and parents getting shot at, of yellow-eyed boys, of her being pregnant with my child, or of my occasional thoughts of Darryl. When my love is in the room, my mind must become a covered, tunnel thing.
One day not too long ago, a day I will always remember later when I think of what Linda once was with me, she looks up from her magazine and says, I am no longer a mother. She doesnt move for at least a half hour. She stares and stares, then dives into the deepest weeping I have ever heard. I try to hold her, but this time she pushes me away, then runs into the bedroom. Many hours pass, the news comes and goes, the moon moves from the bottom to the top of the window, and I fall asleep with the lamp on.
The next day Linda seems normal. We eat breakfast and go to work. When we come home that night, I run, and we eat dinner. As we watch television, we both read magazines.
"I'm going to build a sweat lodge," she says, looking up. She shows me the article about how a man once came out of a sweat lodge after a year of praying, claiming to be God, claiming to see inside the trees and people around him. There is a picture of him, his eyes almost white and blind from heat, his skin seemingly sucked down and in toward the center of his chest. She touches his picture. "I can feel the need for a conversion. I try not to look at her. It says here I can build my own sweat lodge with a few large bags of clay dust and some branches.
I look up at her and see her eyes like starving javelinas, like runaway herds of cattle, like flying sheets of burning newspaper. Linda walks into the kitchen, and stares out the window. "There's enough clay out back, if we sift it. You'll have to help me with the water too. Itll build your lumbars."
"There are bugs out there," I say. "I saw four scorpions when I ran yesterday. No one should be digging around this time of year."
"Scorpion venom is very healing." Linda was once bitten by a group of small scorpions as she played outside her grandmother's tract house in Tuba City, and it gave her fever visions. She saw a vision of her future polygamist husband, his blonde hair like hers, his legs long and thin, his words spiritual and white. She saw a vision of her Jewish mother, gone years ago, sitting next to a pool in Miami. She even saw a vision of Darryl, she told me, because all she could smell was chocolate, though that is not how he smelled when she met him. Years later, when she met her first husband, the polygamist, the venom vision had sealed her fate. There was nothing she could do but go north with him, closer to Utah, but not quite. She stands in the kitchen, thinking what the pain of insects can do for a person, I can tell, because she is rubbing the arm that was stung. She looks at me, and I almost think she wishes I could get bitten too so I would see the desert the way she sees it, and stop longing for her lips.
Jesus, Linda. I climb off the couch and do sit-ups to avoid her eyes, but I feel them there, close behind my back as if they were about to touch me.
"You'll just have to miss out," Linda says, sounding sad, but I keep doing crunches.
Later, I look out at her as she sunburns in sleeveless white shirts, as she puts mud on her arms to stop the radiation. She is good at folding twigs and logs in a perfect, spiritual dome. In the morning, when corporate husbands run by, when my staring boss drives to work and I am eating a thin breakfast, everyone looks at Linda's blonde head occasionally disappearing through the small opening of her new sweat lodge, occasionally looking out to see the sun. The men that get close enough can hear her chanting in languages they don't know. As their running takes them back home, some of them will stop to look behind them, as if they were being watched. she begins to move furniture around the house.
She says she does it for me.
When cars and sidewalks are too hot to touch, she begins to move furniture around, the refrigerator from the north part of the kitchen to the south part, the television from the living room into the bedroom.
I truly want the world, and us, to be more unified and holy, she says. She holds my hand against her chest, her warm, sun burnt fingers on mine there where her breasts are so small and soft. Feel that, Teresa. Its her heart beat, thumping as usual.
A few days later, just coming in from her mud hut covered in dust and dried clay, I notice twigs in her blonde hair placed carefully for maximum, holy receptions. I want to pull them out, and if we had a fireplace, burn them until everything was calm. I want to touch her hair and her naked, sinewy back until shes melting toward me.
I wish you could understand. Her voice is soft and I want her sounds filling my ear. I want her to help me through this New Age hurdle.
I grab her by her small, thin arms, mud falling to the floor. I want to tell her to stop this, to cease her crazy decay, but its hard when I still believe in her, when I still think that maybe all her machinations might this time help me change for real, to forever stop feeling fear. I let go of her and walk into the bedroom. I practice posses in our big mirror, the one Linda herself once looked into to see if her body was perfect. There I am, stripping my undershirt off, stripping down to panties, quads pushing out at angles and arms looking like murder as they shake and squeeze.
"Youre a doll," Linda says later as I kneel, handing her a glass of warm tap water through the small opening in the lodge. I look at her and want to pull one of the more bothersome twigs from her hair. A fly buzzes by my ear. There are edges by the ground floor of the lodge where I know black widows will come at night to lay eggs. The mud that rises up from the sandy base is still dark, wet, and it sticks to my lovers moving hands. I touch the sweat lodge wall.
For one second, for a tiny moment in the cosmic consciousness of time, I can see what my lover is thinking. Her brain is one mass of constant, electronic thought, orbital calculations, atomic understandings, planetary maneuverings, motherly, goddess genuflections before the expanse of space and time and pain. Linda's mind is a frightening mess and this is as clear to me as a bulging muscle. I hold my hand like it has been burned, but I don't tell Linda any of this.
She is much more changed than I had imagined.
The next day Linda smiles at me from the kitchen. She has marked places in the house with colored chalk, places that might be vortexes. There are pink circles in the bedroom. There are orange circles in the kitchen.
"Thank you," I tell her, and smile, and act like everything is ok.
Every night, when she comes in from the lodge, I watch her looking in the mirror at her northern reservation eyes, and there I see children running around circular hogans built on the rocks of Tuba City, small black dogs panting under the few, still living bushes. There I see her Jewish mother, her Navajo father with his huge smile, his huge teeth. Linda is still human, I say to myself. I chant the human mantra of her.
Linda is a smoker. Linda has had orgasms. She has licked my body. She is of this world, I say in the mirror each morning, and each morning these words give me a headache later when Im at work doing tabulations. As I shower each day, I can see her so clearly, smell her patchouli skin as she sits in the governor's office. She is clean and mud-free, sun burned. She sits and thinks about the power of solar flares on her still red skin. She watches as the heat bakes insects onto the chiseled glass window behind her boss's leather chair. She sits, stirring her iced tea with a mandarin orange fingernail until he arrives. She can already feel the way her body has changed from kneeling in the sweat lodge, and I feel it too. She is becoming a movement of molecules completely under her own control. She can feel the power it has given her, the way it makes her see how very small the wood and leather and dust particles around her really are. She knows she has a higher vision.
"Your chair. It's leather is from an old, Yuma cow," she tells the governor as he walks in, and I drop the soap on my foot. The governor's mouth actually moves right in front of me as if I were there in the room with them, naked and sudsy and pulsing blood. Then the image disappears.
A few weeks later, when she decides to take a break from sweating in her lodge, when she has washed the dust and dried sweat off her body, she gives me a massage again after so many days of not touching. She always was an expert, knowing exactly how to get the knots out, how to push into the pain of lifting weights, and make it stop speaking. And even though I want to melt silently into her moving fingers, I decide to talk. I tell her it hurts, all these distant fingernails, and that a body needs to be kissed once in a while, and though I try to say it nonchalantly, it comes out sour. Then Linda and I wince simultaneously. I see my look in her face, and know that she is feeling a high pitched pain coming from somewhere in my chest. She takes her hands off me.
"What are you doing to us?" I have to say it, finally, but I know her answers will never explain, and as the silence increases and my lovers eyes go out of focus, I feel myself drifting, trying not to wait for an answer. Then she touches me again, bends my leg to maximize the stretch. "Your parents would understand. I would be lucky to be where they are, to know what they know."
"They only know God."
"Trust me my love." Linda kisses me with the little drug of her lips, then pulls and caresses muscles and ligaments to help me pass slow time, waiting for competitions, waiting for her deeper love.
Her kisses always make me a believer, at least for a little while.
One night Darryl calls, no doubt sensing the expanse of Lindas feral mind, or perhaps just feeling lonely and too agoraphobic to come over.
"Terry will hate you in another year," Darryl tells Linda. His voice is slurry and drunk. "I hated you in a year." I have picked up the phone in the bedroom, and I lie on the bed, rubbing my stomach, hoping to hear Linda get angry for me because of love.
"Darryl, I wish I could help you," she says, sweating, slick and smeared with dirt.
"I knew Terry before you. She is a sensual girl." He coughs, and cant seem to stop, and Im sure its Linda sending him something bad through these wires. He sounds so unhealthy I think of getting Lindas cell phone and calling 911.
Youve been smoking weed again, Linda says.
"All you ever wanted from me was my skin in a neat, dead package."
That isnt true, and Im going to hang up now, and then she does, and Im left to listen as Darryl sniffs on the end of the line.
These are the people I have truly loved.
At work I sharpen a few pencils, calculate a few interest rate returns, and think back to when Linda and I had been together for two years already, when we were in the old downtown weight room, the one where the barrio boy eventually came at me. He is always getting in the way, the boy who could be me if only he had a white mother.
Right after winning fifth place in my third body building competition, Linda and I played bassy music, the kind lycra women do aerobics to, the kind in Cuban dance movies. Metal hit metal over and over in the 95 degree hole of a room, a sand-eaten Universal in the corner, broken mirrors and barrio boy graffiti on the brick walls.
The judges had told me my gluteals were too big, but my pectorals were more perfect than words could say. And I smiled at them only a little since I was dehydrated and shaky. I did well enough, though, so Linda and I celebrated. I hung from the chin-ups bar, my arms stretched, my muscles pulled flat and big as I watched her on the dusty carpet doing leg lifts, laughing her post-Tuba City, pre-sweat lodge laugh, all cute and alluring and sexual. I tried to laugh with her, but all I could do was cough after flexing so much.
"One judge just kept pointing and pointing," she said. Her beautiful, cunnilingus lips drank Porfidio tequila from the small shot glass next to her. Even then before her change she probably enjoyed the cleansing heat of the room, and how the liquor emptied her mind into the world of Zen. I tried to pick up the neck of the tequila bottle with my bare toes, but Linda moved it, always on the look out for danger.
We were on our first binge together, feeling very smiley.
I looked up. "My fingers are white." I hung there, barely feeling the fingers I was attached to, all needles and ice cubes up there above me.
"This takes complete concentration." Linda drank and did a leg lift at the same time, laughing and choking unspiritually. Little dust flecks stuck to her cheek from the carpet she pressed her face into. I smile in my office, imagining how Linda might react now if she were drunk. Her new molecularly dense mind would probably break into tiny fragments and spill out of her mouth, leaving her eyes permanently dilated.
I flex my fingers, still remembering how they felt so far away and full of liquor, so laughing and flirty. After a few minutes I fell onto the carpet in front of Linda, lint and soot sticking to my still oiled body. I looked at myself in the mirror, me in bikini top, in shorts, not thinking I would ever have to worry about zealousness or barrio boys or polygamist children. I was, for a few years, invulnerable just as I had prayed to be. Big. Huge. Dizzy with tequila, and making off-centered karate chops in the mirror. Sweat ran down the backs of my knees.
"See these fingers?" I asked Linda. "They're still white, so white, so very white," I, Teresa, star of the moment, said.
"White is a very sacred color." Linda burped. When I get home I hope I can throw up. It's been so long."
"Purge your guts out," I told her. Once before I left my parents sacred Mormon home I used to purge when moments got tense. It felt like knives, like being punched in the head and stomach by heavy golf clubs, like radiation treatments after eating cheese cake and drinking Coke. My own purging days were before the time Mr. Lubic started looking at my legs, before Lindas kisses, before the time when Darryl began eating boxes of cupcakes every night, even before my parents gave me their rose bushes and moved to Peru. My ipecac days were before anyone was living this far out in the desert, and coyotes floated privately through the air.
In public restrooms, I have horrible, comforting ipecac flashbacks from those days, the days when my parents used to buy a new Mercedes every year, and take me to Europe and the Middle East to find good Mormon men. We would walk past shops, me looking for sharp things like knives, medieval weapons, catapults and muskets. Always weapons. Even then I was showing signs of my future need for strength. My mother looked for Christmas ornaments that might, during winter, make her feel less like she was living in a desert. I would look at all the dark Bavarian women as we shopped, but all they looked at were the cobblestones at my feet. Once a man looked at me as I was eyeing a waitresses legs. He had rubber boots on, and spoke to me in long, German syllables, but I pretended not to hear, and looked away. I could tell he was starting to touch my arm, I could see his reflection reaching for me in the restaurant window, so I ran down the street, sliding in penny loafers over the cobbles.
I have always been afraid.
"I'll never be a greased hard body again," Linda said in the weight room a year ago. But she was not afraid, or even sad. "Sad is for white people. Let's drink to something.
"To love," I said.
Then Linda looked right at me.
"You should kiss me," she said, and I did, for a juicy moment until she turned over. There was little hesitancy in those days.
As I resumed my karate katas, Linda watched me closely, reached out for my foot as I glided my moves past her. When I stopped, I noticed she was looking at own her legs in the distorted, broken mirror.
"What now can I believe in?" she asked.
"You have to believe in something," my parents keep saying when they call.
"All I have now is belief," Linda said, and though I didnt know it then, she was probably thinking about her children.
"I believe in food," Darryl would say if he were here or on the phone.
And men, I would say for him.
"You got to believe in us," the barrio boy had said. "You got to know we mean business."
His lips seemed so thin as he stood over me that day. He had taken the gun out of his pocket while I was in the middle of a press. He put the gun against my cheek. Not on the cheek bone, not by my jaw. He put the muzzle into the soft part of my cheek. Then he pressed down on the bar bell until it was on my chest.
"Nobody gives a fuck about you kinds," he said. He flicked at my arms, shaking to hold the bar bell up slightly, to keep my ribs from being squeezed in by weight. "All this don't even count."
His face got close to mine and I tried not to close my eyes, and then I tried to close them, but I couldn't do either.
"Gringa Puta," he said. He licked the tip of his tongue at me, and my long established fear immobilized me in a way I would have thought had become impossible. I should have spit and yelled, pushed him over with a lurch of my bar-bell-laden hands, kicked him, knocked him down with one flick of my muscled body, but I was the center of a zero, the silence after a gun shot. My brain seemed full of nothing, even when he touched my breast.
"You won't hit me, stupid bitch." His face got very close to mine, and for a moment, I thought he might touch me with his sweating, tiny lips.
There was no real violation, the police said later. Probably just a gang initiation. I was lucky to be alive, him with a gun and an attitude. I was still breathing, still able to move my arms and legs, still able to talk, still relatively virginal. Of course, these police, they don't know what it feels like to suddenly think you have nothing, no body, no control, when you had just been watching yourself flex hugely in the mirror the moment before, when you thought you were invincible.
The barrio boy makes be believe in him, like Linda makes me believe in her.
When I come home from the bank and take off my bright blue suit, when I get into sheets, I dream of Linda's sweat lodge, but instead of my lover, there is a velvety barrio boy inside, whipping himself with lit incense sticks
"No tengo miedo," he says. "I can do anything. No pain. No fear of fire." He knows what I want, and flaunts it. His eyes are very yellow, like sharp, knife points in the Phoenix sun. He hits himself with the incense stick, and I can see small burn marks on his skin like holes, and beneath the holes are moving lights like candles at a Catholic mass.
I shake myself until my eyes open and there are only shadows and Linda's breathing body beside me. My hands are pulsing and moving, and I cant stop them.
The next day Im in the executive washroom at the bank and a woman tells me women's legs weren't meant to look like that, that she would never want legs like that, like mine. She points a bit.
"My husband says a woman's legs are God's gift," she says. "Women's legs are like a smooth, sweet wine." I want to tell her I've tasted women's legs before and they are not at all like wine. In a place like this, in a desert, women's legs are covered with dust and sweat and small, stubbly hairs, and sour with razor cuts. But I stay quiet with gritting teeth and she leaves. I look at myself in the mirror. I am not what I was three years ago. I am not what I was.
Suddenly I understand that a woman with legs like these could do the irrational, like throw something here, in this public place, and not be afraid. First I throw a bar of light soap. Then I look in my attache case. The pen is not dense enough, and the book makes only a small crack. Finally, as I throw the whole case at the mirror, as I watch its center glass shatter, I know then that my life is going to change for real this time, all because of my love for a woman going mad and one short boy with velvety skin.
Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2002