by jc jaress

The hair around my nipples has grown longer. It’s not something that one would notice. Hell, I didn’t even notice until one late summer day – actually, an early fall day in Southern California where we regularly push the summers well into October and on into December if we’re lucky – while smoking a cigarette and reading the latest edition of “Modern Painters” I looked down across my bare chest at hairs that had begun to grey and noticed a lengthy curl about my left nipple. Fortunately, the right nipple had equal growth so I did not look unbalanced in any way but the long hairs and the greying and the fact that I could repose on a Thursday late-summer morning and consider this newly discovered arrangement satisfied me in a very adult way.

I had long wondered when I might consider myself adult. 40. And without children. Two years divorced from a 16-year marriage that had begun desperately, ended tragically and with the in between years spent running up and down the same tired hills so often that the geography had ground down into a long, flat, arid plain complete with mirages, and buzzards and the ever-hopeful site of an oasis. It was from this Italian Western image of my life that I prison escaped myself, albeit kicking and screaming and thirsting for more staked-to-the-ground-waiting-for-the-ants-to-eat-me-alive-Indian-torture that I had so come to love and hate. It was in these few short years after the divorce that I had learned to see me. Not the “star of my own movie” image of me but the real me. The whole me, with flaws and fears and unspoken desires; a me that previously had demonstrated itself only in sweaty palms and knotted tongue and ranting self-directed, though outwardly-manifested, anger.

But there had been plenty of real Vincent Price torture inflicted upon me. Like the night that I spent outside of her boyfriend’s closet/office (he was a glorified janitor – a “maintenance man”) listening to the amorous lovers until I could take it no more and introduced myself by the uncontrolled banging on that cold steel door with the sort of fever that sends one hastily to the hospital for fear that the body might boil inside of its own skin. Had that door been wooden, or had there been a window. But what janitor’s closet would rate the expense or privilege of a window. And so, I sat. And read aloud to the caged birds that did not sing. Charles Bukowski. I went out to my car and pulled a recently purchased copy of “Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame” and began to read as if to children at bedtime. Of course, and unpremeditated on my part – for it was an unread copy to me, Buck’s poetry called for “cutting the balls off of the guy” in the first entry. I skipped ahead a poem or two to share in his dismay with his “sack of shit black-haired whore”. Bukowski probably was and wasn’t the best of choices that nig…no one sings of what beautiful sacks of shit that we humans are better than Bukowski.

The faint hum of a car engine preceded the police by just a few seconds but enough that I remained calm and expectant as they “surprised” me with guns drawn for whatever madman must be lingering about outside of the University janitor’s closet reading poetry at 2:30 in the morning. Surreal does nothing to describe the flush of emotions, the acuity of the senses, the sharpness and absolute blindness of that moment when first you hear your loved one’s panting, throaty, impaled voice through a steel door in the hallways of your own alma mater. Nearly twenty years prior I would have given nearly everything to steal away into an unlocked closet with any number of fresh, new little college girl-things or some worldly, frustrated, closed-down, soon-to-be-spread-eagled instructor that chose to lose it one day with a coed and dragged me into some secreted space. But not your wife. No one, no one wants to hear their wife’s murmurs and squeals from the other side of That Door.

I tried explaining all of this to the police; there were three. Good, bad and indifferent. Mr. Bad talked with the inconvenienced couple while Mr. Good chuckled with me over the absurdity of the situation. How, no, he never had come across a guy reading poetry to his wife and her lover and, though there were several other choices of action that he suggested, this was far and away the most inventive approach to the dilemma that he had ever encountered. Mr. Indifferent was the go-between; running back and forth with updates, “If they want to pursue this, you will go to jail” and “It is against the law to stalk someone…even your own wife” and, finally, thankfully, “They have agreed not to press charges.” The cops, in their car now, followed me the mile and one half to my house. They stopped short of walking me to the door figuring that their last threat of arrest if I stepped foot on the campus again should suffice a guy that had enough deranged wits about him to sit and read a book when he could just as easily taken apart both of their cars that were so conveniently parked together like a pair of cooing doves in the deserted campus parking lot.

I spent the next six hours packing her things. The U-Haul station opened at 7:00am and I bought two bundles of the largest boxes they sold and filled them, carefully, and with packing paper, with just about everything that looked or smelled or intimated a connection to Bukowski’s, and my, sack of shit whore. It’s only now, today as I sit admiring my lengthening and greying chest hairs, that I begin to truly appreciate the wonderful gift that she bestowed upon me; that surreal sense of what it is to be alive. To begin to feel the world disappearing from under my feet until I was left completely ungrounded and, for the first time in my life, face-to-face with myself.

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