Friday, June 20, 2014

An Excursion in Northern California

A work of fiction.

We met online by chance, completely by random. I picked the right AOL chat room and we started talking. Years later, I don’t remember the circumstance of how we formally met. All that I do recall is that we spent several hours each day pleasantly chatting for several months, well before we even had knowledge of the other's face. Before long, we confessed our romantic feelings for each other. We told this both to ourselves and to our friends close to home. I proposed a trip out to visit her in California. She said she’d have to ask her mother first, with whom she still lived.  

On the way to and from class, I asked my close confidantes for advice, because I was enrolled in college then and these were my primary group of confidantes. To a person, they did not approve, mostly because of the substantial age difference. I was 21 and she was 16. Though I didn’t check the laws on the books, I knew that in several states consummating this relationship would be considered statutory rape. This was a fact that did not escape those I consulted, either. One of my best friends of all, a woman, told me that I’d only end up turning her into a whore.

I proceeded forward in the face of considerable scrutiny from every direction. In retrospect, I remember nothing of the five hour flight to Sacramento. I’d never been to the West Coast, but my tour took me to former gold mining country, not its famously libertine cities. It had become white trash heaven, and then later it was home to many fleeing the oppressive cost of living in San Francisco. At the end of each day while I was there, I wrote down my thoughts onto an online journal. Before wireless internet and the prevalence of laptop computers, the internet cafĂ©/coffee shop was my only option. There was much to process and the culture shock was profound.

Her courage online was, as I discovered, very superficial. When I stepped out of the aircraft to meet her and sought to collect my bags, what faced me was a terrified teenage girl who had not bathed in several days. We’d agreed to wear particular t-shirts to easily identify each other in the airport. Hers said, “It’s Wasn’t Me.” I've forgotten what mine said.

I was introduced to her mother after a thirty minute drive from the airport, a chat which was pleasant and friendly. The driver, her older brother, had a bad habit of riding the bumper of every car. I never understood his impatience on the narrow two line highways we traversed. Due to the double yellow line, it wasn't possible for him to careen across the median and get ahead of whichever car was slightly ahead. Eventually, we arrived. In an odd moment, the mother ushered me into a quiet, adjacent room, clearly wishing to speak to me about a matter of some importance.

“I want you to know that she is a virgin now and she’s going to stay a virgin for as long as you stay here.”

This was said with a smile, but her intentions were relayed to me effectively.

Message received. Later that day, however, her daughter and I took advantage of a minor catastrophe. One of the younger children had gotten separated from her mother on a cross-town bus. It took several frightening hours to find out where the child was, and my girlfriend and I took the opportunity, without supervision, to release some long pent up sexual tension. But first, firm boundaries were set, boundaries I respected, even though I wanted more than I received.

It took a while to fully realize my surroundings and where I was. I was keeping company with three people in intimate quarters, packed tightly into a small apartment. The third addition was an infant, who had recently been born unexpectedly to uncomprehending parents. The mother had been mistakenly told by a doctor that she could no longer have kids. They hadn’t used contraception because they were told it wasn’t necessary. Regardless of the circumstances, at 42, she delivered her fourth and final child, one which managed somehow to be conceived after tubes had been thoroughly tied and the matter had been seemingly reduced to an impossibility.  

Her much younger boyfriend was the father and was financially supporting the child, even though he'd had no intention of being a parent at the outset. He was stable and supportive, but he later told me he’d met his child’s mother at a male strip club. He wasn’t happy with the work he did there, but it paid the bills. He confided that it made him uncomfortable to strip for gay men, but he did it all the same. I wondered why a man like him with chiseled muscles, posing for beefcake calendar photos would opt for a woman years older than himself.   

My girlfriend worked with her mother at Burger King. Knowing no other career option, I speculated that she might well work here for years, following in the footsteps of those who had come before her. I was dropped off there for a few minutes slightly before it was time for shift change. I noticed that the rough and tumble Northern Californians were only part of the work force. Based on their clothing, piercings, tattoos, and basic attitude the transplants from the Bay area served as a tremendous contrast.

After the third day, I desperately wanted to go home. The family professed itself as white trash, and this would seem to be a well-fit description for all I had experienced. The blanket and bed sheets I slept on badly needed washing. Every room in the house was filthy and needed cleaning. The shower was stopped up and I quickly found myself in a pool of water reaching past my ankles. I wasn't sure how people could live like this and didn't want to find out.

I really knew I wanted to leave immediately when taken by my girlfriend’s older brother to visit his friends in town. They were potheads and I partook, but I felt strange and out of place in their company. Some days before, they’d decided to get rip roaring drunk and had taken a camera along to document the evidence. I saw picture after picture of people puking. The images showed tiny coiled snakes of vomit exiting their mouth, which would almost be artistic if they weren't so disgusting.

The male stripper drove me back to the airport at 5:30 in the morning, the day I was to leave. He talked about his job a little more, and the stops he’d made at different towns. Two or three years ago he’d worked in Alaska, and found he had mixed feelings during his stay. The cold was oppressive. It required fortitude and patience. He was glad to be in warmer settings, but I could tell he’d never vouched for a baby. All the way back to the airport, I knew this was my last trip, the end of a relationship that had never really started. I wanted to go back to a clean, well-maintained home where people felt a need to not wallow in their own filth.

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