Melissa

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Ten

Driving through the night. A dark road. Melissa was in the backseat, holding my friend’s hand. I was up in the passenger seat, newly low. She’d stopped fucking me, now they were fucking. I mean it was more than that. They were in love. Me and her were out of love. A song came on the radio. “My Best Friend’s Girl” by the Cars. The driver turned it up. I can’t quite remember who was driving. I just know it wasn’t me. Those two lovebirds in the back started laughing. The driver laughed. I laughed too. I’m still laughing.

You’re born absolutely helpless. And then you’re alive awhile and you don’t think about how helpless you are. Then you get old and you turn back into a baby.

Mostly in the beginning you just stare.

Then you start staring at each other.

I met Melissa at a different friend’s house. His first serious girlfriend. He lost his virginity to her. She lost her virginity to him. Melissa had blonde hair, she usually kept it up. Blue eyes. Or green. This was a long time ago. When my friend got up to use the bathroom, I asked Melissa for her phone number. After that we talked late into the night across the wires. She broke it off with her boyfriend. I had to stop being his friend. But she was my first girlfriend. I lost my virginity to her. She came over to my house, taught me how to smoke weed out of a Pepsi can, taught me how to go down on her. She tried to teach me that ska music was good, I didn’t pay attention to that part. No matter how naked she got to explain that ska music was good, ska music wasn’t good.

We were at the mall. She was looking at shoes. I was just standing there off to the side, chewing gum. Not a care in the world. I moved one shoe, just picking it up, looking at it, and the entire display of shoes crashed down to the ground and everybody turned and looked and Melissa turned red and stormed past me and everybody else. Stormed through the mall. Stormed all the way back to her car. When I finally got to the car, she was still mad. “What took you so long!” And I told her I helped the lady re-stack all the shoes. There were so many shoes. The shoes went on for a million years.

She was a vegetarian.

Then I was a vegetarian too.

Another time we were fighting in the grocery store, fighting about vegetables. But then we calmed down and we were up by the register. But she still had this hateful look aimed at me. I was like whatever. And then a woman with a cart came up behind us and Melissa turned to look and there was a toddler in the cart. The toddler saw the hateful look and actually said, “Mommy! It’s a monster!”

That baby, at that moment, was the smartest baby in the entire world.

She was in the eleventh grade, I was a senior. But she was more mature than me. She’d been places. I’d been nowhere. She was in the National Honor Society. We went to different schools. It was harder to get in the National Honor Society in her school than in mine. If she’d gone to my school she probably would have been president of the class. And I wouldn’t have dated her. She looked like the woman from Crocodile Dundee. Linda Kozlowski. Crocodile Dundee’s main squeeze. In real life, Linda Kozlowski married the guy who was pretending to be Crocodile Dundee.

When I graduated, we got ecstasy and had sex on the lawn in my parents back yard while nobody was home. I got a job building waterfalls into rich people’s swimming pools. Melissa had a job working for a CPA. She did paperwork. I got a pretty good suntan. She got an okay suntan. We filmed ourselves having sex and then we watched the VHS and made jokes about how white her ass was and how tan my back was. She said I could have been from Portugal. I said, “Your pale ass looks mighty fine on the silver screen, Linda Kozlowski.”

In the fall, I didn’t sign up for college and she said she wouldn’t date me anymore if I didn’t go to college. So we broke up. But then we got back together a few weeks later. I sang, “Soy un perdedor, I’m a loser baby why don’t you kill me?”

I met a dorky kid at one of her track meets who said, “I saw her tits.” And I said, “Yeah? Describe them.” And he described them, telling me she had an innie nipple on one side and a regular nipple on the other side. Which was true. She’d been running a relay race, and came over, all sweaty and victorious, to where we stood. The kid said to Melissa, “I told your boyfriend I saw your tits.” And she said, “So?” And the kid was kind of embarrassed. We both stood there looking at him. Until he just walked off. Later, I found out that she’d shown him her tits in class so she could get all the answers for some big math test. She was victorious on the test too.

We dated for almost two years. I think she told me we were breaking up the day before our two year anniversary. She hadn’t fucked my friend yet, but she was gonna. They’d agreed to do it soon, but not while Melissa and I were officially dating. I thought that was pretty kind. They had a lot of honor. I don’t know why they had that much honor. Everybody was seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old. It was all very official.

And nobody belonged to anybody else anyway.

We should have broken up. We’d dodged a fatal bullet the month before, when the world was still iced over.

Here, I’ll tell you about it:

She called my landline and told me she’d missed her period and she didn’t want to tell her parents, or go through with an abortion. She’d decided she’d just kill herself. I was quiet for a few seconds. She yelled, “Did you hear me? You’d just let me kill myself?” And I said, “No, I was just thinking of what to say and I shouldn’t have thought, I should have just said, ‘Don’t kill yourself’ but I made the mistake of thinking.”

The next day she came over and we sat in my room and just stared at each other. It was too soon. The back of the pregnancy test kit said it was way too soon. We just stared at each other. And then it was time to take her home because her curfew was up. It was so cold out and the heat was broken in my car. We shivered. We shivered and worked out our plan which was for me to go inside with her and talk to her parents about our dilemma. But on the way through town, shivering and discussing this situation, I took my eyes off the road for a second and when I looked back, there was something lying in the road. It lifted its head. I ran it over. A deer. A little deer. Someone else had already hit it. But I had surely killed it. When we got to Melissa’s parents’ house, she jumped out of the car and ran inside. I waited a minute and then I drove back to my parents’ house.

In their driveway, I scraped the deer off the bottom of the car. Hair and guts. It smelled terrible because it was burning on my exhaust. I scraped and scraped with a shovel. And I washed the guts off the driveway with the hose. Put salt down. Stood there shivering.

She called later that night. Two a.m. She’d gotten her period after all. We were going to be all right. I picked her up the next day and the heat didn’t work in the car and the car smelled like burning deer guts. We went to the diner and got whatever we wanted.

One waterfall even cantilevered off someone’s roof. I can’t imagine that didn’t end up as some kind of disaster. But I’ve lost touch.

I closed the bedroom door. My parents world was loud upstairs. My dad was playing a WWII simulation on the computer hooked up to the stereo. The house shook. Whatever side he was on had a lot of artillery.

Melissa liked to have sex on her period, she liked that we didn’t have to worry.

Blood got everywhere. It was stupid to be shy about anything a body did. It was the year 2000. Bodies had been doing what bodies did for 200,000 years. Some people said the earth was 5000 years old. Even by that math, 5000 years was a long time to be afraid.

Melissa was in the high school orchestra. I forget what she played. Maybe the flute.

We’d go to Philadelphia and walk around. South Street. Condom Kingdom. She liked to go to Black Cat Records and buy punk CDs. She liked fairies and butterflies. Beads. The beach. She was on the softball team. A couple softball teams. Yeah, I think it had to be the flute. She played the flute, that’s my final answer.

People would take her the wrong way and it was funny, but she didn’t deserve it. One time, on a long train to New York, she was sitting there and the person in the seat in front of us had a baby and the baby kept standing up and looking at Melissa over the seat and Melissa was making cute faces at the baby and the baby was going googoogaga at her. Melissa said googoogaga back to the baby. It was so sweet. And then the mother viciously turned and shouted at Melissa, “Can you please leave my baby the FUCK alone.”

So we left the baby alone.

On the way home, we did the wild thing in our seat on the train. Nobody else was in the train car, so we did the wild thing. When you’re young you’re supposed to at least try to fuck on a train. If you don’t try. If you don’t try. If you don’t try. Well, I don’t know what, but whatever it is, it seems sad.

On a different train, some guy sat down in the seat across the aisle and pulled out his dick, started jerking off. Somebody yelled and the conductor came and told the guy he was going to be arrested if he didn’t stop. So he stopped. When he got off at the next stop, we watched him standing there on the concrete platform. No police in sight. It was a snowy day. The world was pulled along on a string away from that platform, with us pulled along on it. We left him there. Smaller and smaller he got to us. Smaller and smaller we got to him.

A funny thing about when Melissa and I first started talking on the telephone was that I was in negotiations with a friend’s older sister who was awaiting my eighteenth birthday so she could legally have sex with me. This had been discussed between myself and the older sister. Melissa was coaching me out of that, saying that I shouldn’t have sex with the 24 year-old sister. She said it wouldn’t be a good way to begin a lifetime of sexual encounters. She proposed instead, that I should have sex with her, and she’d leave her boyfriend and all I had to do was sign on the dotted line and the contracts would be drawn up in the morning. She said it would be great, I could do anything to her I wanted. I had no ‘anything I wanted’ guarantee from the 24 year-old sister. So, I signed on with Melissa.

In the beginning, I wrote her an epic love poem in iambic pentameter, calligraphy flowing across the paper. She said, “You know, that’s not how I spell my name.”

I guess I never really learned. I’m still out here guessing.

Mellisa.

Melissa.

Her dad was all right. He told me that if I ever wanted to quit being a vegetarian, he would take me out for a big fancy steak. So I said, “Sure, I’ll quit being a vegetarian.” He took the whole family out to a steakhouse and he bought me a big steak. And he bought himself one. And Melissa’s mother had one. And Melissa’s little brother had one. Melissa had some broccoli and mashed potatoes and salad from the salad bar. Her father really liked me. He wanted me to come and work for him at his sprinkler business.

And then, right after that, my other friend said if I ever quit being a vegetarian he would take me out for a big fancy steak dinner. I thought he knew somehow that this had happened with Melissa’s family, so I said, “Haha, okay, I’ll quit.” And honest to God, he took me out for another steak dinner. And I still thought he knew. A couple weeks later, while we were partying at his house, I confessed to him that Melissa’s father had bought me a steak before he had, and technically I hadn’t been telling the truth about still being a vegetarian. I was never a really great friend to anybody, let that be known.

Negotiations on the phone late into the night.

And I went to Wawa to get a coffee and there was the 24 year-old sister over by the coffee and she looked great and she was still mad at me, even though she was 25 now.

Something happened with the steak dinner father too. He started fucking the wife of Melissa’s softball coach. A red-headed woman who lived over by the lake. When the softball coach was off at whatever his day job was, Melissa’s father would go over there and fuck the wife. Or more realistically, the wife would fuck him, because he had a broken leg at this point. And then they would drive around in the husband’s Mustang, Melissa’s father in the passenger seat because of the broken leg. He was always wearing these fluorescent shirts that went with his sprinkler business. They were caught because of a combination of the Mustang, the broken leg, the fluorescent shirts, and their passion. A red light camera snapped a picture of the Mustang blasting through the intersection. The husband got the ticket. The husband saw the photo that came with the ticket. The red-headed wife was driving. A person in a fluorescent shirt was in the passenger seat. That led the softball coach to question his wife, who wouldn’t admit. So he questioned the neighbors, and the neighbors described seeing a man on crutches coming and going. Coming and going. Coming and going.

Once, Melissa gave me a blowjob at nighttime in front of some empty tennis courts. It happened in my car. I was in the driver’s seat. There was an armrest and it was really hard for her to do because of the armrest. But I finished. And then she sat there on her side. And then she was angry. “Well?” she said. “Well what?” I said. And she pulled down her pants and expected me to eat her out, leaning over the armrest like that, and it just seemed impossible. I suggested we go out and I’d do that on the hood of the car and she said I was being ridiculous and to drive her home. I suggested we clean all the garbage off the back seat, pile it outside the car, temporarily, to make room. We were quiet for a while. But then, working together like that, we piled the backpacks, CD cases, guitars, fast food restaurant receipts on the lip of the green tennis court, and then we climbed back into the car, together.

We watched The Matrix. We watched The Matrix again.
Then we watched A Clockwork Orange again.

She liked to go to the city and eat at this restaurant where the decorations on the wall talked. A rhino started talking to me while I ate angel hair pasta. The rhino told Melissa I looked like a chump. The rhino told Melissa she could do better. The rhino told Melissa I seemed like a loser and she should forget me and get ready to get a little rhino in her life. But she defended me. She told the rhino that I was a good man. She told the rhino she loved me, adored me. She made that rhino watch as she leaned across the table and gave me a big old fat french kiss.

I did wind up going to work for her father doing the sprinklers. His leg was healed. He had a cassette single of the Bon Jovi song “It’s My Life.” That’s all he would play. The lyrics were: It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just want to live while I’m alive, (It’s my life)/My heart is like an open highway/Like Frankie said/I did it my way/I just want to live while I’m alive/It’s my life

He’d say to me, “It’s my life, man. It’s my life.” Happily single, he was. And he was happy that his daughter and I were broken up because my whole life was ahead of me too. He asked me what this new guy was like. I should know, I was his friend. I told her father that the new guy was cool. He was fun, he did fun things. Her father said that was good. He said I had a great attitude and would be fine. And then he turned up the cassette single.

After all, it was my life too.

We were working in an old age retirement community. The place looked like a combination of heaven and hell. And he waved at all his clients as they stood on their lawns in their pastel sweaters, or as they walked along the side of the bright road with their canes or walkers or their little white dogs. They were hunched over and slow. They were long past the times in their lives when all they thought about was fucking. I waved. They were smiling wide like little kids. I tried to smile that way too. But I had long way to go.

Everyday on the way home from that place, I’d stop at the rundown plaza on that dusty road, and buy a PayDay candy bar. I’d sit in my car, parked in the shade, and eat the candy bar. Some great search was underway. I looked across the empty parking lot, into the dry pines. Turkey buzzards were always flying around. Like I said, some great search was underway.

 

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

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