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Authors: Kevin Sampsell

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BOOK: This Is Between Us
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When all of you were returning to the horses’ ranch, you saw another family waiting their turn. A big family, mostly teenagers it seemed. Like ten of them, you said. At first they were smiling and then their faces changed. They were all looking at you. Instinctively you lowered your head. Then you saw what they saw: the blood on the saddle and down your legs.

You wanted to ride off and disappear, you said. You wanted to stay on the horse until everything was back to normal.


I think I may have lost my virginity to my cousin/babysitter but I’m not totally sure. She was with me one night when I was twelve and my parents were out playing poker somewhere. She was seventeen and her name was Wendy. I remember she was trying to teach me how to play a card game and then I was suddenly ill and feeling woozy like I had food poisoning or had been drugged. I passed out for a while and when I woke up, Wendy was taking a shower. I was on the couch and she came out in a towel. Maybe it was the wet blonde hair or maybe it was the sight of her smooth tan legs and bare feet, but I suddenly thought she was the most alluring and beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. She sat next to me and then started crying and saying she was sorry. Her eyes were closed and it looked like she might have been in some kind of dream state. But I noticed that I felt better than before. I also noticed I had an erection.

“I think I did something bad,” Wendy kept saying.

I didn’t know how to respond and I said quietly, “What did you do? What did you do?”

She opened her eyes and looked at me and asked, “How do you feel? Are you all right?”

“I feel good,” I said. “I’m having fun.”

That was the last time I saw Wendy. My parents never mentioned her again, but I thought about her for a long time.


When I was eighteen, I started to like another girl named Wendy. She was also blonde and sat in front of me in two classes. She was maybe a little taller than I was and ran track and field. She was going out with a friend of mine named Derrick, but I heard that she had other boyfriends at other schools. She seemed dangerous somehow. I spent a lot of time staring at the back of her head and hoping for a breeze to blow her scent back to me.

One night, I was at my first party where there were no adults anywhere. People were making out everywhere, like they’d never have a chance to make out again. I saw Wendy and Derrick but there was something tense going on between them. He was really drunk and couldn’t stand up straight. I helped Wendy prop him up on a big old couch that looked like it would be hard to get up from. Then Wendy asked me to drive her to another house.

I didn’t have my own car yet but I drove my mom’s Pontiac sometimes. It didn’t even have a cassette player. Wendy pulled out a mixtape and looked around the dashboard for somewhere to insert it. “I just have a radio,” I said.

“I see that,” she said. She pushed the tape back into her bag.

When we got to the other house, I wasn’t sure who lived there but it looked like another party. Wendy asked me to wait a couple of minutes and then ran inside. I wasn’t sure what she was doing in there but she came back after four or five songs and some commercials had played on the radio.

“Do you want to go back now?” I asked her.

“I don’t think so,” she said, and scooted closer to me.

The front and back seats of the Pontiac were like long vinyl couches.

We started kissing and she leaned back, pulling me on top of her. Besides possibly that hazy night with my cousin Wendy, I hadn’t had sex yet but it seemed like it was about to happen. I was trying to slow it down, trying to ask her about Derrick or whose house we were parked in front of, but she pushed her mouth harder on mine and I gave up after a while. We took off our pants but kept our shirts and coats on. She said, “Don’t worry. I’m on the pill.” We fogged up the cold windows.

There didn’t seem to be a need to talk after we were through, and I drove her back to the first party, where Derrick was passed out on the couch where we’d left him. I felt embarrassed for some reason and wanted to talk to her about what had happened but didn’t know how to. She went off with one of her girlfriends and I got back in the Pontiac alone.

I still stared at the back of her head the rest of the year, but that’s as far as I got.


You told me that when you had your first high school boyfriend, you used to go to his house after school and put your head on his stomach. He was a big guy. Sumo wrestler legs, broad shoulders, and round beer belly, even though he was too young to drink beer. You said his belly was like a pillow, and when you heard it grumble it turned you on. Sometimes it became a game. You wouldn’t have sex with him until he was “hungry for it.”

I imagined your ear on him and the sounds his body would make. “What did it sound like?” I asked you.

“Like a lion, drowning in an ocean,” you said.


We once decided that we would surprise Vince and Maxine by getting them a dog. We went to the pound and found one we liked, a two-year-old medium springer spaniel with white and caramel-brown hair.

We took him home and the kids became very excited when we walked in carrying the shy dog. Maxine wanted to play catch with him, but the dog was young and untrained. Vince wanted to wrestle with him. We took photos of the kids with the dog, and I told them about how I took pictures of my dog when I was a boy, and I could see how much the dog (and even I) grew. I still have those Polaroids with the dates penciled in on the bottom.

In the morning though, Vince was stuffed up and his face was puffy. We realized that he was allergic to the dog’s hair. We had to take the dog back.

There have been a few times since that day when the kids have seen those photos in our coffee-table photo album and wondered out loud about what happened to the dog. I should just take them out. It’s probably best that they forget that day, and the gift we had to take away from them before they got attached.


We showed Vince and Maxine how to press aluminum foil against their faces to make robot masks. They punched out holes for their eyes and wore wraparound sunglasses. We took out the video camera and decided to create a robot talk show. We interviewed the kids like they were movie stars. Then we made dinner, moving around the kitchen like robots. Then we made signs that said
FREE THE ROBOTS
and told the kids to walk around the neighborhood with them. When they came back, they asked if we could make this Robot Day. We said sure, we could make it an annual event. But for some reason, we never celebrated Robot Day again.


Sometimes your mood was unsettled and volatile. The kids noticed this, and then our home felt tense and they’d get quiet. It was up to me to open you up and help you feel better somehow. This was usually done through a series of earnest questions, half jokes, apologies, and lofty promises.

But sometimes it was me who was in a bad mood or feeling hopeless, and you weren’t sure how to change that. You’d say, “I’m the one who gets depressed, not you.”

If we were depressed at the same time, it felt like no one could help us, not even the kids. We’d send them off to a friend or relative’s house. And then you’d start slugging me in the arm. “You can’t be depressed when I’m depressed. I need you to be the level-headed one.”

“Why can’t you be the level-headed one?” I asked. “I need you to do that for me sometimes, you know?”

Your slugs were harmless at first but they got harder. When the bruise appeared, you’d cry and rub your face on it.


Sometimes I wanted to unload some anger, even just once, to see what you’d do. I wanted to stop you and say “fuck off” to your face and see how deeply you could be hurt. It would be easier than saying “I hate you.” I often wondered if “I hate you” would be the same thing as “I don’t love you.”


I’d rather have a tomboy for a girlfriend than someone who always fussed about makeup and expensive fashion. I got turned on when you talked about football with me.

But I still liked high heels and your delicate hairstyles that no one was allowed to touch.

And I liked you in that black dress that showed your back.

That part of your collarbone that I could scoop sugar out of.

Lips swelling red.

I took a snapshot of this version of you in my mind—a sort of high-maintenance bitch. I savored this side of you. The prim and perfect woman who secretly wanted to be torn apart. You always gave me something to look forward to.


I slapped you lightly when you said you liked it rough. You laughed, so I slapped you harder. I called your pussy a “thirty-five-year-old pussy.” But you pinched my face like a weird grandmother.


About a year after we moved in together, you showed me a police report about an ex-boyfriend. He had physically abused you for most of your eight-month relationship. It was a three-page list of dates from about twelve years before, with descriptions like:
February 12: Defendant accused claimant of flirting with his friends and slapped claimant at public café. When claimant tried to calm defendant down, defendant yelled at her and pushed her as he exited café
.

There were about thirty incidents listed, and at first I couldn’t believe all of these things had happened to you. You had never mentioned this relationship before. It took me a moment to fathom what I was looking at. The first thing I asked you was why you had stayed in the relationship.

“I had a really dear boyfriend who had just moved away and I was really vulnerable.”

Before I got a chance to read more, you grabbed the papers from my hands and put them away. I didn’t get to see what the guy’s name was and you wouldn’t tell me. “He’s still in the music scene here, so I can’t really talk about it. I got a restraining order and he’ll go to jail if he’s anywhere near me.”

I felt shocked and my face went white as I looked at you.

“I didn’t know if I could ever mention it,” you said. “It’s not like I can just insert into the conversation:
Did I ever tell you about the boyfriend who beat me up for eight months?

An hour earlier, we had been having sex and playfully acting rough with each other. You bit me and then I pretended to slap you and hold you down. Now I suddenly felt guilty and overwhelmed and started crying. You put your arms around me and my face rested between your breasts. “I hope I didn’t remind you of him,” I said.

“You never remind me of anyone,” you said. “You just remind me of love.”


Vince told me he had been planning to go to a movie with his friend Tyler, but then his new friend Alex wanted to go skateboarding instead. He hung out with Tyler on most Saturdays, sometimes reluctantly, so I thought it would be fine if he did something with Alex for a change. I wasn’t really sure if I liked Tyler much anyhow.

I heard Vince telling Tyler on the phone that I wouldn’t let him go out because he got a bad grade on a math test. I didn’t approve of this lie but I understood it. I didn’t say anything to Vince about it. An hour later, Alex came over and they headed out on their skateboards.

While you and I were eating lunch that afternoon, Tyler called and asked if he could talk to Vince. My stomach tied itself into a knot and I told him that Vince was grounded for the day. I said something about the math test. At first, Tyler sounded suspicious, and then his voice sounded heavy and wounded. “I was in the car with my mom and I thought I saw him at Alberta Park,” he said.

I felt my throat get dry. “If he was at the park, he wasn’t supposed to be,” I said.

There was an impatient silence coming from Tyler’s side of the phone line. I felt a little bad that Vince’s lie, probably one of his first ones of betrayal, wasn’t quite foolproof. Maybe he hadn’t thought it through well enough. He still had some work to do before he was as good a liar as I was.

I got off the phone and sat there for a moment, thinking about what to do. I wondered if Tyler would get on his bike and go back to Alberta Park to see if it was Vince. I knew he probably would. You noticed me thinking deeply about this and asked me what was wrong, but I didn’t want to say anything to implicate Vince.

My heart beat fast as I drove to Alberta Park. I wanted to make sure Vince’s lie was safe. Sometimes the truth can be harmless, but it can feel bad to the person on the short end of it.


I was driving on the freeway one morning when someone cut in front of me with his
BMW
. I honked my horn but the guy seemed oblivious and uncaring. I sped up and tailgated him. I’ve always had a fantasy about ramming my car into the back bumper of a shitty driver, just to scare him. I was accelerating so much this time that I almost did it for real. The
BMW
took the next exit and I jerked to the left at the last second to stay on the freeway. But I was going so fast that I lost control of the car and stomped on the brakes. I spun a blurry circle toward the side of the road, and for a moment it felt as if my tires had lifted off the ground. Somehow I ended up not hitting any other cars and barely missed T-boning myself on the V of the exit ramp. My car stopped on the shoulder of the exit, and I thought for sure that the driver’s side would be scraped all to hell by the rail I was up against. An old man pulled over to check and see if I was okay. My car was facing the wrong way, so we were looking at each other, face to face through our windshields. I rolled my window down and yelled out that I was fine. I motioned him to go around as I maneuvered my car so I could get out and inspect the damage. I was shaking as I got out of the car but then relieved to see that there was no damage at all. I was surprised by this and by the fact that I hadn’t even blown a tire in the skid.

BOOK: This Is Between Us
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