Fiction · 07/21/2010

Would You Please Let Go, Please?

In Eugene, Oregon I used to live with two women — Charlene and Ms. T. We were young, we weren’t fluent in anything and had never been anywhere but we talked about Europe like we grew up on baguettes and Da Vinci. We read each other Krishnamaruti’s philosophy of unattachment and stole neighborhood cherries, plums and apples during pre-dawn raids to feed ourselves.

In our time we were inseparable, never to be deeply involved with anyone else. Though Ms. T belonged to a sect of people who believed in ‘free love.’ “Free fucking love!” I cried, proudly holding up a flotsam of belly-button lint. “Free anything’s good for me.”

Voluptuous Ms. T wore faded and shredded concert T-shirts. She never wore a bra so it seemed two puppies were playing around on her chest. If we had a leader it was her. She was the smartest and most daring. She’d sat in old growth trees, been arrested dozens of times and claimed to have never watched TV growing up. She made us toss the I Ching, she made us learn to tie a medley of knots from an alpine coil to a sheepshank (“You have to be useful on this earth,” she berated), she made love to us (I can’t say “with” because she had her selfish side — still the love she wrought was supreme), though after my few times with her, the polish wore off and we assumed a brother and sisterly camaraderie. For Charlene, one tumble with Ms. T was enough for thirty-six lifetimes.

Ms. T liked to walk into the kitchen while someone else cooked and taste how it was coming along. Too raw? Too done? Her feet black from not being into the shoe thing, she leaned on our paint scraped doorway and hummed Sesame Street songs. One time she rubbed her bean-shaped head and whispered, “Dale, I want you to know that I will always be there for you. Even if you hate me and I hate you, we’ll still have a foundation we can fall back on.”

I was boiling applesauce from our stash of fleeced, hole-ridden mackintoshes. “That’s totally awesome, Ms. T. Where’s the cinnamon?”

We three walked the streets in a line of either ascending or descending order by height. Myself at six-six, five-foot Ms. T and Charlene somewhere in between, a befitting stance. While Ms. T could bounce off the wall in anger at air-conditioner radio commercials and I might sit on our broken couch for days, reading and re-reading Notes from the Underground and constantly feeling my cheeks to check the progress of my bohemian beard, Charlene worked steadily in a flower shop and never seemed especially bitter or bursting, attached or aggravated — and that was why she was the most widely liked person we knew. At twenty-seven she had diplomacy down to a science and though sometimes her blue eyes swelled at the thought of eggs benedict or new buckets of tiger lilies, soon enough she’d sit in the kitchen and very easefully open her diary, tilt her head and watch the branches of the old oak tree sway in Eugene’s special wet wind before writing short declarative sentences about her mood.

One night after she came home from work I followed her into the kitchen and tried to ask her in Russian why she lived with us. I uttered vowels and consonants that banged against each other like derailing train cars, falling back into English as she covered her smiling mouth with an empty avocado peel. “Probably because you are so different. It’s inspiring Dale — and I’m never bored.” She pasted her willowy yellow hair into a ponytail and continued making herself a salad.

Born in a hilly town thirty miles west, Charlene was the only one of us with relatives close at hand. Ms. T ran away from Los Angeles when she was fifteen and I had lost touch with my betters after my father tried to have me arrested for forming a socialist ultimate Frisbee commune on a barren lot he owned in St. Paul. I plagiarized my letter of disownment to him from Kafka. Constant references to Vienna must have made him think I was either on drugs or bad at geography — or both.

Rumors of something very decadent had reached Charlene’s parents but in the two years we lived together they never visited. Only her Aunt Corrine stopped by. A thick-legged woman who carried a vinyl purse full of old Sunday New York Times art sections, Aunt Corrine had once lived in San Francisco trying to make it as painter. Now she fiddled around with photographs, mostly pictures of tomatoes, apples and squash strategically placed on her white kitchen table. A waitress at the only good Italian restaurant in Lane County, Aunt Corrine was always eager to visit, have some lemonade and tell us we should pool our money and buy property in Hawaii. “They’d leave you alone there. They don’t care who’s sleeping with who. It’s island mentality.” We would nod our heads judiciously and then she’d touch my thigh and chuckle, “You can do anything and with your height you will.”

One Saturday, before showing us her latest roll of still-life fruits and vegetables, Aunt Corrine offered us mints she had stolen from her restaurant. “Do they taste Italian?” and she jerked her head back and forth like she was trying to escape being gagged, but this signified delight.

For some reason that may have had to do with her three stays in psychiatric wards, Ms. T thought Aunt Corrine worked for the FBI. Shyly she went to her room and turned up a supersonic sound meter (a gift from a Seattle anarchist) that would have damaged the ears of anyone listening through a hidden mic. Nothing happened, and strangely Ms. T, a woman who had kicked two cops in the balls, was afraid of telling Charlene what she suspected. It soon came out at our weekly sharing session dubbed What are you hiding? and my mates said all was well, but only after we’d become high and I pretended we were on Family Feud. Since there were only three of us and we were on the same team (I doubled as Richard Dawson), we were assured of winning. Eagerly I gave them both a cheek kiss and said if they fully made up and hugged I’d do a striptease while reciting the Gospel of Luke. But even when stoned, Charlene had a keen sense of truth. “Why am I making up? I don’t have any grudge against Ms. T.”

This was correct but I wanted to be the peacemaker. Though I bragged about “letting go” of attachments, when they took hold, they took hold. A football team of seven foot, three hundred pound Krishnamarutis, Gandhis, Buddhas and Lao-Tzus couldn’t stop me from needing to have things go my way. So I did what came naturally to me — I went to the stove and started to burn our stores of udon noodles. Then I started to cry because I remembered my father and how he told me how hard life was going to be, but that was all horseshit right? Here I was living with my two best friends in the world and it was wonderful and I refused to make myself unhappy even though that was our civilization’s baseline.

I looked at my two girls with unblinking eyes until a dust mote entered my right one and I ran to the bathroom to flush it. I came back and said, “I’m so happy and I’m so in love with you and I don’t want anything else, even if it’s a roundtrip ticket to the Zapatista camps in Chiapas or a date with Susan Sarandon. Give me your hands. I am sated. We are one and nothing else. Ms. T, can you ready another bowl of the Chico green bud please?”

My friends, as well as strangers, both looked at me askance. He doesn’t deserve it, seemed to be their mutual refrain. Aside from the initial experimentation, no one would believe we weren’t all having sex. I invited naysayers to set up 24-hour surveillance but they’d just shake their heads and change the subject.

“You don’t live in the real world,” my mother told me and I proceeded to read her my Safeway grocery receipt as proof. “I want you to move away from there,” she moaned. “Why can’t you do things that are… accepted.”

I thought all was well (the not ejaculating for ninety-seven consecutive days a quiet homage to Buddha for all he’d done for me and Hesse) and went back to sitting in on the Kant class at the University. One afternoon when Charlene was at work, Ms. T and I ate frozen, tamari-soaked tofu as a preparedness exercise for Y2K. In addition, even though it was a gray, rainy Eugene day, we kept all the lights off and listened to eerie Brian Eno ambient music to simulate the apocalypse. Suddenly Ms. T burped and told me she had poison oak.

“Oh Lord Marx in heaven.” I couldn’t breathe. “Wait. You said poison oak? You didn’t say AIDS.” I placed a hand over my heart center to steady myself. “You see, since reading the Ninja secrets book I can plug my hearing at will and did, wanting to make things seem more end of the worldly. Also I’ve been practicing lip reading with this audiotape from the library. I wanted to use a videotape but they were out, plus we don’t have a TV or VCR.” Poison oak has three syllables and AIDS only one. I wondered how I could have mixed that up.

We stood and Ms. T sighed while taking off her shirt. I fixated on her secondary sexual characteristics before she pointed to a large patch of hot pink under her arm. Her eyes danced puppy-doggedly, “I’d like you to have poison oak with me. I’d feel so much better,” and she pulled my crotch into her breasts because my head was too far away for her to grab.

I was consuming a lot of Jack London at the time. I figured if he had a woman in his life, and she asked what Ms. T uttered, he’d probably honor her request because deep down he was a nice guy, a writer with heart and I wanted to think that I was a Jack London type even if I couldn’t write like him or build a good fire. I rationalized I’d given the Buddha some of the most sexually prolific months of my life and despite a Eugene circuit court’s denial of my changing my name to Dale Baader-Meinhof, I decided it was now time to commune with the London spirit, even if I hadn’t slept with that many chicks (I assumed he didn’t either because White Fang was a long book and it took time to write a long book).

When Charlene came home and found us nakedly itching and scratching on the shabby living room couch we’d busted even more apart, she’d had enough and called Bennie Letts to pick her up. Bennie didn’t believe in roommates but hard work and individualism. We’d met him a few weeks before but pretended we hadn’t. He scoffed at our shrine to Ghandi: “Everyone in this world needs to eat,” he said. “No exceptions.” A bulky, proud man who went to the YMCA every day to bolster his bench press, he’d founded the first web-design firm in the city. We thought he was not Charlene material but we were in denial. Charlene had seen tough times for so long with her father getting laid off from his logging job, with state wide unemployment and her getting kicked off the Oregon Health Plan for making too much at the flower shop. Adding in the two years shacked up with us part-time activists but full-time slackers, she desired a change. We wanted her all to ourselves and when I entreated her to join us in the slick gruel of our beloved Northwest forests she hopped on her bike. A few hours later a locksmith came to padlock Charlene’s door so no one could infect her belongings. The next week she moved in with Bennie Letts.

We didn’t help her move out, we were still getting over the disease and mistakenly thought hot springs would burn it out of us, but they only burned us and we hurt more. The Saturday after Charlene was fully gone, Ms. T and I sat on our crumbling couch, looking at each other in a ‘Now what?’ sort of fashion. Ms. T wasn’t in the best mood — she’d just read an article that Krishnamaruti had once slapped a man he lost to in a card game. I tried to lie down in her lap but she jumped up and my ear was cut by an exposed coil.

I sat there bleeding and confused. Ms. T had never denied me a cuddle before. Of course Charlene was more important to the welfare of our group than we could have ever guessed. Her rootedness and stable income counterbalanced our invective and pomposity broadcast in the name of change. Without her we floundered.

As Ms. T withdrew more and more I tried to grow avocado trees in small clear plastic yogurt containers. Though it would take some eight years for them to sprout into even the slightest bark and branch, I was undaunted, believing when they finally delivered their fruit, the trees would provide half my daily caloric intake.

I also had my darker moments, like thinking the revolution was not beginning and Donald Trump would halt production of any more Che Guevara shirts. Once, I sat in the living room for four straight days, alternately crying, yelling misquoted Walt Whitman lines and drinking cup after cup of pine tree needle tea until I doubled over in pain.

Ms. T told me many things in those four days but I can only remember a few. “You’ll have to grow up now,” had to be the most devastating followed by, “I lied about liking free trade coffee and Godard films. Starbucks is so much tastier and you can take your precious Godard, all 33 and 1/3 of his faux-socialist films and shove them up your ass.”

She left for Los Angeles and in a year I received a postcard with a picture of a fawn on the cover. She asked me if I wanted to join the Church of Latter Day Saints. Besides the bread pudding the church elders made was the best in eternity.

Charlene didn’t marry Bennie Letts but she did marry a veterinarian and moved to Phoenix. Years down the line I found her number and called and left a message. She sounded vibrant, focused and happy on the recording. She returned my call a week later, but I was already living somewhere else.

After the dissolution of our “home,” I lived in the woods for a while and then went to work at a health food store. I moved in with a couple of guys and started eating packaged food, frozen vegetables and I admit I liked it. I didn’t tell them about my years with the two women and they didn’t ask, though I would have been plenty more embarrassed over the details. I learned new things in the time ahead, new easily-quotable poems, new ways of getting people to help you (money played a big part in this) and entered into relationships with women who were pro-abortion as well as pro-war.

My dependence on the great spiritual leaders of the East waned and I started to let go in my own way which was to simply not care about occupations of countries or the vegan option. As I became more open to the world I also became less conflicted. Krishnamaruti couldn’t make me let go — I had to. And with a lot less to get pissed off about, I did alright. Society welcomed me back and I played along.

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Greg Gerke lives in Brooklyn. His work has or will appear in Quarterly West, Mississippi Review, Gargoyle, and Fourteen Hills. There’s Something Wrong With Sven has been published by Blaze Vox Books. He edits very short fiction at Corium Magazine and ArtVoice. His website is www.greggerke.com.