Decisive Moments

I had sex with a woman who was twenty years older than me after my first divorce—Jacquie. She was the first woman I ever French-kissed the way I will always think it should be done. In fact she set the standard for kissing that I keep to this day and probably always will. It was unbelievable. Our tongues moved around in our mouths slowly, softly caressing each other back and forth like warm, mating worms. Her lips were hot and soft, so soft. It felt like our faces had melted together. That affair didn’t end the way it was supposed to—for Jacquie.

I had only been with one woman before her, my first wife. She said she was a virgin before we married. I hadn’t had sex with another person myself yet, so I wouldn’t have known the difference if she was or wasn’t. Come to think of it she was the only woman I ever made it with who claimed to be,unsullied,” as the nuns put it, so I probably still wouldn’t know the difference. But, now that I’ve been around, I think she probably wasn’t a virgin. Even now I don’t want to think she lied to me. Maybe she believed it herself. Maybe it was immaculate misconception.

The virgin and I dated for three years and married a year after she graduated from high school. She was blonde, petite, pretty. Friday nights we stayed up to watch TV, Midnight Special usually. We made out in her parents’ living room after the rest of the family went to bed. I liked making out with her. Though, to me, it didn’t feel as good as it looks like it feels in the movies. But we weren’t actors either. I was full of hope and anticipation, barely able to wait for our wedding night so I could put my penis where only my finger had been and so I could see her fully naked. I knew it was going to be great.

We stayed married for sixteen years, bad sex and all. That virgin was smart, and she earned a pretty good living with a high school diploma, which was a good thing for me because I was immature and kind of a bust-out back then. Way more testosterone than brains. There was good sex between us when we partied—if she got drunk enough—especially if we had some weed and wine. At the time, as far as I was concerned, that was as good as it got. I thought sex was like all the advertising for cheap paint jobs, used cars, and TV shows, mostly hype to make people want it or buy it because they can’t not afford it: “Any car any color for nineteen ninety-five.”

We were great friends. Sometimes we finished each other’s sentences. I thought I was the only one who wasn’t quite happy. I was willing to settle for what I had. Plus, I didn’t make enough money to support myself. It was familiar, even if it wasn’t very good. She wasn’t, as it turned out, happy or willing to settle. She was smart. But that’s not what this story is about.

Jacquie and I first started fooling around in the parking lot after work one night. This  was about two years after my first divorce. We got very hot and were going at each other like we were on a mission. We had our hands on each other in places that I’d have thought were impossible to reach with our clothes on. After about half an hour of that we couldn’t be considered strangers in any significant way. Jacquie pulled herself away, pushed me back, and lit a cigarette. She smoked Kool longs.

She put her hand on my leg way above the knee. “If we’re going to do this,” she said, “there needs to be an understanding.”

I would have agreed to almost anything but murder to finish what we had started. I was more excited that night than I had been for the three years I was engaged to the virgin. I think it was because I knew this woman was no virgin at all. Plus, I could tell that she knew, really knew what she was doing. I was amazed at what I had learned from her in that car in half an hour. I lit a smoke of my own, a Marlboro from a box, and said, “Okay.”

She said, “We have to agree that either one of us can break it off at any time for any reason and the other can’t be mad or argue. It has to be that way, or we can’t do this. I mean we can’t do any more than we already have.”

I wondered why she wanted to make a deal like that. She was married. She had told me her husband didn’t do anything for her in the sack but that she loved him and wouldn’t leave him. They had a kid still living at home too. So, I never had the idea that we would get married or anything. I hadn’t thought things through beyond making out and feeling her lips and tongue on mine and filling my hands with her flesh. I was in heaven just from that. This, I thought to myself, is probably what I missed out on with Cathy.

I met Cathy through the boss I had in the first body shop I worked at after high school but before I married the virgin. Eugene tried to tell me that I shouldn’t get married to a woman I haven’t had sex with. He said you can’t buy a lock without knowing the key fits—or something like that. He tried to set me up with one of his customers. She was the wife of an over-the-road truck driver. Cathy something—Harold or Ronald or Roland. Eugene sent me to her house to deliver her car, which I had just painted.

I don’t remember the car, but the address was 2269 Frontage Road. It was adjacent to the parking lot of Beckwith Moving and Storage, which had once been a trailer park, along Route 83. They were an agent for Road One Van Lines. It was in a half-industrial, half-residential area on the outskirts of Elmhurst. The house was small and brown from dinge and age and sat on a city lot surrounded by business parking and storage lots. She asked me in and sat me at the kitchen table. The kitchen was small and claustrophobic. There was a bottle of vodka on the table and dishes peeking over the top of the sink.

“Eugene said you would give me a ride back to the shop,” I said, thinking she must not have understood the arrangement. She wore tight jeans and a long-sleeve pull-over shirt with the buttons undone in the front, so her cleavage was visible when she bent down, which she did for reasons I didn’t quite understand at the time. Dumbass that I was.

“You’re not in a hurry to get back to work, are you?” She said.

I wasn’t exactly in a hurry, but that’s where I was supposed to be—at work. I watched her move slowly around the kitchen staring at me with big brown eyes.

“Sit,” she said, “you can relax for a little while.” She picked up a glass and sipped.

“Want a drink?”

I sat down on a chair at the table and politely declined. I wasn’t twenty-one yet. I only drank with people I knew.

“You know I get a little lonely around here. Asshole spends most of his time on the road. Then he comes home and doesn’t do a damn thing to take care of me.”

“Oh” was all I could manage to say. I thought, Asshole must be her husband. Why am I sitting in this woman’s kitchen? Why doesn’t she drive me back to the shop? She’s not bad looking. Is she tanned or is her skin that sexy olive color all over? I wish I wasn’t engaged. I was aroused and I was glad for the baggy coveralls I wore at work.

It was the first opportunity for my biker-trash self to come out. He was in there, scared and excited almost to the point of cumming in my shorts. But the loyal Catholic Boy Scout won out. I didn’t take a drink or play the game she invited me to play. I didn’t know it was a game. I didn’t know the rules. This was long before Pete Rose got kicked out of baseball and Monica Lewinski’s dress got stained. This was before I learned that there are no rules.

Eugene was trying to do me a huge favor. I was too insulated to see that this woman was a gift, a door opened for me. I sat in her dingy kitchen, looking at the tops of her breasts as she leaned over to talk to me about how “Asshole” didn’t take care of her, even when he was around, wondering what they looked like naked, comparing them to my fiancé’s breasts, the size, the texture of her skin. I was squirming in my chair with a raging boner, wishing I could just go back to work and not have to try to understand anything more than how to rough out a fender and block sand a hood, wishing I could make an adjustment, sitting in that tiny kitchen on that squeaky old chair without Cathy noticing.

When I walked into the shop after half-drunk Cathy dropped me off, Eugene was all smiles and kept asking me how it went. It was like he wanted a reason to be proud of me and thought he was about to get one. He said something about me getting back sooner than he expected. I didn’t know what to tell him. The smell of peroxide hardener and lacquer thinner became the smell of erotic confusion. I didn’t understand why he sent me there or what was supposed to happen or how long I should have been gone. I didn’t understand why he was so interested or why Cathy was so friendly at first but cold and pissed off later.

Now I know that he was hoping I got laid, hoping that I knew the secret that every young man and woman should know before they get too serious. Now I know that he arranged for me to go to Cathy’s house, that she wanted me to come to her and fuck her. Now I know. Now I wish I had known then. But I was determined to be faithful. I wouldn’t have done it even if I had figured out that the encounter was an opportunity. I had been taught by my mother, the nuns in school, and the Boy Scouts about the importance of the virtues of loyalty, honesty, selflessness, obedience, reverence. What would God think, or the Pope, or President Kennedy?

Now I know to never turn down a woman who isn’t related to me and who isn’t revolting. Now that I don’t get the opportunities I got when I was young, I know how rare and precious it is, even if the woman isn’t beautiful and young. Now I know that a young woman with a perfect body, cute hair, and a pretty smile is like a motorcycle with extra headlights and a radio. What the world sees when you go by isn’t nearly as important as the ride. It’s the ride that matters. It’s the only thing that matters. That’s what I know now.

I doubt that Cathy remembers me if she’s still alive. But I remember her. She’s the rat bike I didn’t ride because I had my own unridden Sportster waiting for me, brand new, I thought, and fresh as its first day out the factory door—sleek, pretty, new, safe, unbroken, unworn. Now I know that Cathy was probably the better ride. Even if I just took her for a spin, I would have had a way to compare the first ride on the bike I had bought unridden—I mean the virgin. Even if she wasn’t half as good a ride as the girl I was betrothed to, I’d know what it was like to mount up and go through the gears, even if they were a little sloppy.  I’d have something to gauge others by, a baseline.

Two years after I passed on a quick spin with Cathy, I was still into cars and painting them. But I always liked motorcycles. I liked the sound of most of them. They seemed to make their riders free, like they didn’t care what anybody thought. I wanted to be like that. I didn’t know any bikers, though. They weren’t in the auto shop classes at school. They didn’t work in gas stations. They didn’t live in my neighborhood. They were not Boy Scouts. They didn’t build models in the basement and they would never have married virgins. Most of them were veterans with the special patina that Viet Nam put on their souls. They were cool. I was sure they got laid. That’s almost all they talked about. But that’s not what this story is about.

I missed out on the chance I had with Cathy and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I agreed to Jacquie’s terms. I didn’t even think about it. And that started an affair that lasted for about a year and a half. We both worked second shift at the hospital. On Friday nights I went home to my apartment from work and Jacquie showed up about ten minutes later and we had the best sex, ever. We got to know each other and had verbal sparring matches about questions like “How does God keep track of the bad things everybody does?” and “If you were on a desert island and had three wishes but you didn’t know it, how long would it take for you to wish for something and have it come true?” It was good and safe and fun. There was no commitment for either of us. And we had that agreement, so we were free to be honest. That worked great for Jacquie and me, until I met Beth.

Beth also worked second shift at the hospital, and smoked, which is how we met in the smoking lounge. Beth was younger than me and prettier than Jacquie. She looked sexier when she turned on all her charms. I was tempted beyond my limits and decided that I had to break things off with Jacquie before I fooled around too much with Beth—to be honorable. I figured that since it was a rule Jacquie made up, she would understand, and we could be friends and things would be fine.

Before Jacquie and I started fooling around the Friday night after I met Beth, I asked her if she remembered the agreement we made in the car the first day we got together. She said, “Sure I remember. Why?”

“Well, I need to invoke that rule or whatever we’re supposed to do, you know, sort of break it off and just be friends.”

She didn’t take it well. She said, “Ohhhh?” Like nobody ever did that to her before. That’s when I realized that when she made that rule it was for her to invoke, not for me. But since that wasn’t the agreement, she was stuck. She knew from our sparring matches that I was too smart for her to back up and change the rules. She didn’t go off on me or anything, but she got very quiet. She was shocked. It was very awkward, which, of course, I didn’t expect.

We talked for a while, but it wasn’t the same. She talked about odd things, like she was dissociative. She told me that Phil was not just a Viet Nam vet but that he was a killer, that he had nightmares and kept a gun under the bed and freaked out if there were sudden noises when he was asleep. Weird violent things like that. I just let her talk. We didn’t make out or have sex. She left early and we didn’t kiss goodbye or anything. Work was awkward as hell for a few weeks until she hooked up with a guy named Frank who worked with my new friend Beth and who also smoked Kool cigarettes. But that’s not what this story is about either.

After my second divorce, I bought the house I live in now. It was a wreck. A handyman special. The neighborhood wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. There was seediness around, which I felt comfortable in most of the time because it was easy to fit in. But there was an element of danger there. Not enough to think I was going to be assaulted or robbed, mostly because it wasn’t the kind of neighborhood where there was likely to be anything worth robbing, but enough to give me a safer feeling with a gun in the house than with just a knife and a baseball bat. So, I kept a .357 handgun between my mattress and box spring, a .38 Special in the pocket of my sport coat in the closet and a 12 gauge shotgun hanging by a pull-cord chain through the sling hole on the end of the barrel looped over a screw on the clothes rod behind some old belts and a couple of ties. I felt safe enough.

It had been six years since I had lived alone when I moved into this place. So, it was a little strange for a while. It takes time to get used to the noises in a house and in a neighborhood. By this time, I didn’t work in hospitals anymore. I was a truck mechanic and for most of the time I worked on second shift. That worked out okay for me. Second shift paid a little better and it was generally quieter with fewer bosses around. But I never got home before dark and it usually took me a while to fall asleep after I got tired of whatever was on TV.

I was lonely and often thought about the women I’ve known and the things that were good about them. Which meant that I wasn’t thinking about my second wife at all and that I wasn’t thinking much about the virgin. But I was thinking about Jacquie, who, it turned out, was a much better lover than Beth was and a lot smarter and more fun to talk to. I thought about some of our conversations about philosophical subjects involving God and then about our last conversation when she told me about her husband, Phil, being a killer. I went back to thinking about our first encounter in the car and had almost fallen asleep when something woke me all the way back up.

I heard a noise that seemed like it was in the house but could have been a car door slamming down the street. It was fall. The windows were closed, but they were old and drafty, and a lot of outside noise came in with the air. I froze, listening with my head off the pillow and my chin pinned to my chest. I heard it again, only this time it sounded like a footstep. There were two bumps—heel toe. Then there was another and another and they were getting closer. I started to panic. Nobody, I think, ever really believes that that they’ll actually shoot someone with their home defense weapons. I reached between the mattress and box spring for the .357, but I couldn’t find it.

I know now that I couldn’t find it because I stashed it there while I was crouched next to the bed and never actually tried to get it out while I was lying on the bed. Kind of stupid. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of a floorboard creaking which only happened in the hallway to the bedroom. I got out of bed and started to thrash around in my closet to find my sport coat in the dark. I felt the revolver in the pocket, but I was too shaky and panicked to figure out how to get it out. I reached into the corner and grabbed the shotgun. I jerked it off the hook which sent little silver balls from the pull chain all over the floor and made a racket. I racked a round into the chamber and, as a figure appeared in the bedroom doorway, I pulled the trigger.

The recoil knocked me backward. My bare feet were unsteady with the little balls under them and I fell against the bed, then onto the floor. I racked in another round but didn’t fire again. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear my pulse over the ringing in my ears. I got to my feet and pulled the shotgun up firmly to my shoulder which hurt like hell because I fired the gun without setting the stock. I had never fired the shotgun before. It was loaded with a slug, not buckshot. I know now that I had bought hunting ammo. It kicked like six motherfuckers because it’s one big solid chunk of lead. Not a round to shoot standing barefoot in your underwear. The doc at the emergency room said it was a good thing I didn’t shoot that gun again or I might have done damage to my shoulder that wouldn’t heal without surgery.

I listened intently through the ringing in my ears and didn’t hear anything. No footsteps, no breathing, no sign of another person. I thought I must have dreamed the whole thing up and that I had just discharged my shotgun in the house and damaged who knows what in the process because I was half dreaming that there was an intruder, a killer named Phil, in my house. It turned out that I wasn’t dreaming. But it wasn’t Phil either.

I stood up, moved slowly, and turned on the bedroom light and peered through the doorway into the hall where I saw Rodney Sterling III of Lafayette, Michigan, lying flat on his back in a pool of blood, still as Christmas Day on Pluto. The first thing I did was throw up. Then the pain in my shoulder caught up with the shock and I dropped the shotgun on my bare right foot and broke two toes. I leaned back against the door jamb and lowered myself until I could squeeze my foot to try to stop the pain as the police sirens began to penetrate my still-ringing ears. Fuck!

The deceased had a .45 caliber Colt 1911 in his right hand which was charged. The cops found a slip of paper in the dead man’s pocket which was wrapped around nine thousand seven hundred fifty-six dollars cash. On it was scribbled an address: 5483 Yonder Street. I live at 5483 Yolanda Street, three blocks away. I learned from a friend who has a relative that works in law enforcement that the guy was from Milwaukee and had been charged in a murder-for-hire sting a year before I killed him for free. The coroner handed me a business card before they carted the body away. It was from Crime Sloppers, a crime scene cleaning agency. Certified * Bonded * Insured: Yes, We Clean Windows!

After my house was cleaned up and I moved back home from the Motel Hell, I checked out the house at 5483 Yonder Street, where Rodney Sterling III was supposed to commit home invasion and murder. There was furniture in the rooms and garbage scattered around like someone left in a hurry. An eviction notice was plastered on the front door over a crime scene release form. The house was dirty. There were saplings growing in the gutters and the dented white siding looked dingy gray. There were car parts strewn on the driveway in front of the garage and broken toys, a cracked water gun, a dump truck without wheels, and a tricycle with an extended fork which was kind of cool.

I felt the irony of it. I went to the right address and found the right person when I met Cathy, but I was too stupid to see the opportunity for what it was. Rodney recognized that he had an opportunity to get something he wanted, money, but he was too stupid to read the street signs, went to the wrong house, and found the wrong person. I missed a life-changing opportunity. He made a life-ending mistake. Dead Rodney had almost ten thousand dollars cash in his pocket. I learned that movie shotguns are toys. Since then I found more convenient places to stash the revolvers and I sold the shotgun. My shoulder will probably never be the same. There was a lesson learned there. But that’s not what this is story is about.

Jacquie asked me one night after a second round of sex, “Do you think Adam ever ate another apple?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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