In first grade I tried to have sex with Linda Paine but it didn’t work. Her dad stood six foot eight. His name was Tom Paine. That’s not a joke. That was his name. He passed his colossal genes down to Linda and at seven years old she looked like a giraffe, lanky, awkward, a neck that suggested foraging from high places. We were in her room. We had the door closed. I came up with a game and called it prisoner. The rules were simple: I played prisoner and she played guard. She sat on my chest and held my arms down while I tried to get free. Higher, I kept telling her. You have to sit higher or I’ll get away. She did. She was an excellent guard. Then Tom Paine walked in and towered in the doorway asking us what, exactly, we were doing.
Around that same time I tried to make friends with Andrew, a special needs kid in the third grade, but it didn’t work. It’s hard to say what, exactly, his special needs were, but something in his head wasn’t right, I can tell you that. At lunch, he ran around alone in the cafeteria, throwing crayons, pretending they were tiny, colorful bombs. He didn’t know he had special needs, and that, somehow, made it worse. I felt bad for him. The thought that someone might not be aware of his or her own head not working made me feel alone. They know not what they do, that biblical correlative. Andrew invited me to his house, which was a trailer, at the edge of town, like a Bruce Springsteen song. He owned a number of rats. In his room, he showed me how to throw them in the air like small bombs. To Andrew everything was a bomb. His mom’s name was Barbara and she taught Andrew about the female body by letting him touch her own body. I know this because it was the reason Mom said my friendship with Andrew just wouldn’t work.
Mom was always trying to make things work. She had a boyfriend named Tom, who, at thirty-three, still lived in his mom’s basement. He found God, was reborn, and stopped wearing shoes. When he gave Mom an engagement ring, she said yes, thinking if she tried hard enough, if she committed, it might work. Three days later she gave the ring back. Next came a boyfriend named Mark, a geologist, handsome, but dense as the rocks he studied. It would never work, but Mom tried anyway, for two years. He drove a Jeep without a top and always had stubble. That’s what I remember about Mark. Then came Paul. Smoking, drinking Paul. Sometimes Paul would drink so much whiskey he’d sit cross-legged on the couch and channel a dead Indian chief, speaking in tongues. But Paul was kind so Mom tried to make it work. Sometimes I would sleep on Mom’s floor and Paul would read Of Mice and Men out loud to us. Everyone seemed happy, or at least content. Paul did Lenny’s voice so well. You should have heard it, full of longing and sadness and confusion. And at the end of the story, when Lenny kills the rabbit, when he accidently strangles it, I felt something so powerful that I asked Paul if I could call him Dad. Tentatively he said yes. I knew then it wouldn’t work.
Basketball didn’t work.
Baseball worked sometimes, but not very well.
Swear words, at first, didn’t work. Once on the playground I heard one of the older kids chanting a captivating song. It went like this: Mother fucker, titty sucker, two-balled bitch / sitting in the corner eating red hot shit / daddy’s in jail, mommy’s sitting on the corner saying titties for sale. I repeated it on the bus to a kid named Gabe, thinking I would feel older or smarter or stronger, but it didn’t work. Instead I felt guilty and dirty. That night I told Mom what I had done.
I told Mom everything because she said we were a team and I wanted to make it work, our team, you and me against the world. “We’ll make it work,” she’d say, and I’d nod. It was her mantra. And whenever things went wrong, like when a boyfriend would leave and Mom would cry in bed for days, or when we’d drive the five hours from Northern California to San Francisco to visit Grandma and Grandpa but turn around at the last minute because Mom just couldn’t do it, or when she’d talk about my dad, the affair, his wife, and cry and say how sorry she was things weren’t different, she’d always pull it together and say, “don’t worry, we’ll make it work.”
But the best times were when Mom forgot she was trying to make it work. Like those nights when her friends came over for dinner. After the food and the wine and the marijuana, everyone would dance in the front room to the B52’s. Mom loved to dance and men loved to dance with Mom. They’d swing her around the room by her hands, her black hair lifting and falling with each dip. When she laughed, her mouth opened so wide I’d think how light and easy this world must be. Or that time during a thunderstorm after Mom broke up with Paul. She had stayed in bed for days and finally her best friend, Liz, came over to drag her out. The rain sounded like someone throwing stfuls of gravel at the window. Thunder shook the house. When Liz nally got Mom out of bed they took their clothes off and ran through the streets, naked, in the rain, Mom screaming and crying and laughing. They got back and I started crying, too. I thought they were going to get arrested, but Mom smiled and said, “Don’t worry, honey, that’s not how it works.”
Boy Scouts didn’t work. I couldn’t remember all the knots.
Pretending to be brave while camping in my best friend Ely’s backyard didn’t work. In the middle of the night I snuck into his house and then, ashamed, snuck back outside when the sun rose. “Pussy,” Ely whispered, as I crawled back into my sleeping bag.
School, in general, didn’t work.
I discovered intentionally being cruel. Things like burning ants with a magnifying glass or throwing frogs in the air and watching them slap the pavement or calling another boy at school the same name a neighborhood kid had called me earlier that week. Wannabe. You’re a wannabe. I tried but it didn’t work.
Once, in the bathtub, with the lights off, I tried to psychically connect with my dad even though I knew it wouldn’t work. But I sat there anyway, in the iconic cross-legged pose, a ten-year-old boy, pretending, my first foray into doing something I knew wouldn’t work but trying to convince myself otherwise.
More time passed. Mom met another man. His name was Stan. Stan the Man. He was perfect. He was a physical therapist. He surfed. He backpacked. He rollerbladed. Don’t forget, this was the nineties. He let his hair grow long in the back but kept it short in the front. It seemed like he was definitely going to work. He took me surfing. Bought me a pair of rollerblades. Took Mom swing dancing. He tried to move in. He brought a framed poster of the Colorado Rockies and then panicked, said this can’t work because there is another woman who left him but came back saying she wanted to make it work. He left. Mom came into my room, curled into a ball on my bed, and we wept, together, as a team, because we were so scared it might not work, any of it, ever. But the next day he came back, Stan the Man. He rode his bike the twenty miles from his house to our house. He knocked on the door. I opened it. There he stood, in spandex, with his bike. He asked if my mom was home. I felt so happy. I couldn’t believe it. He had come back to make it work.
Later that day, Mom and I went for a drive, as a team. She smiled in the rearview mirror. I loved seeing her smile. It made me happy. We did lazy loops around the big houses on California Street. One day, when things were seriously working, Mom said we’d live in one of those houses. We drove by a trashcan. A homeless man had his head under the lid. Mom stopped, pulled a twenty out of her purse. She said, “Honey, give this to that man.” I got out of the car and ran over to him. I startled him but didn’t mean to. Rotten food plastered his hands. A yellowed beard and dirt covered his face. “Here,” I said, pushing the bill toward him. “Put it in my pocket.” He went back to digging in the trashcan without even looking at me. That’s when I realized trying to be kind doesn’t always work.
Soccer didn’t work.
Mom and I were starting to realize that team sports, generally, tended not to work.
Getting to school on time never, ever worked. Once, in the fourth grade, Mom dropped me off an hour late. It was show-and-tell day. We were late because I didn’t have anything to show and tell, so Mom made me bring this massive, heart-shaped rock she had found at the beach. In the parking lot of the school, I told her I didn’t want to show-and-tell a rock. She said it wasn’t just a rock. “It’s a stupid rock,” I said, reluctantly hefting it out of the trunk and then dropping it, by accident. It broke into tiny pieces and Mom cried. After that, show-and- tell didn’t work.
More time passed. Around the age of eleven I discovered Cameron Diaz and masturbation. Together they worked very well. But other things seemed to simultaneously stop working. Like telling Mom everything, for instance. And my voice. It kept cracking and breaking. And that free and easy feeling with girls. I seemed to be entering a world in which to get one thing to work other things had to stop working.
Masturbating in between the cushions of a couch didn’t really work.
Time kept moving forward. Mom married Stan the Man. We moved out of the apartment and into a newer, nicer house with two bathrooms, both of which worked. Mom and Stan threw big parties with their friends. Everyone got stoned and drunk and danced. Mom looked so happy. She hit thirty-five, and I remember, one night, her lying on the couch with Stan saying, “isn’t it funny how things work out.”
Then Mom got pregnant. Her stomach grew. I asked Stan if I could call him Dad. He said yes. We did things together, as father and son, like surfing and rollerblading. Once we were walking out to the ocean with our wetsuits on, surfboards under our arms, and I started lagging behind, dallying, daydreaming. He said, “Walk next to me. You’re my son, not my pet.” It was the strangest thing anyone had ever said to me but I liked it.
Mom and Stan bought a bread machine and at night the smell of bread baking reminded me of what I imagined a well-adjusted household might smell like. It was the smell of things working.
Mom’s water broke in the shower at five in the morning on a Tuesday. We all drove to the hospital together, as a family, excited. I was going to be a big brother. I got to miss school. Mom was going to be another mom. Stan a dad. This was it, what it was all about. When Mom gave birth, I watched Byron come out, covered in blood and mucus. Mom cried. Stan cried. Mom took Byron to her chest and said “my baby.” I was twelve.
I grew distant. Byron cried at all hours of the night. I didn’t like being a big brother. Nobody slept. I tried smoking pot. At first it didn’t work. I tried again and it really, really worked. Stan the Man didn’t have time to surf or rollerblade. Mom didn’t have time to lazily drive around California Street. “But we’re still a team,” she promised, while driving me to my last day of junior high. “You and me,” she said.
In high school I met a girl. She had long, dark hair. We started walking home together. We made mix-tapes for each other. Her name was Sophia Barach and her mom had a mind that didn’t work, at least not after Sophia’s dad died. I lied and said that my dad had died too. I wanted to be with Sophia all the time. I wanted to be inside her. Not just physically, but symbolically, or something, somehow. So I suggested we play a game. We called it boyfriend and girlfriend. She sat on my chest and held my hands down. She moved higher and higher. It worked. I suggested we run away together. We concocted a plan. We were going to take the Greyhound bus to Oregon and live on the beach. It wasn’t a game. We were serious. She had seventy-five bucks. I had eight dollars in quarters. We’d be together and that was enough. The rest was just details. We’d make it work.
But it didn’t work. Mom caught me sneaking out of the house with a backpack strapped to my shoulders. She found Sophia in the backyard, hiding behind a bush, snacking on granola, our rations. “What the hell are you thinking?” Mom yelled. “You can’t run away.” She drove Sophia home and that was the end of that. When Stan the Man got off work, Mom made him try to talk some sense into me. It didn’t work. He said, “You’re not thinking. You need to start thinking.” I looked at him and thought about Andrew, the special needs kid from way back. Maybe, like Andrew, something in my head didn’t work. Maybe I had special needs. I said, “Fuck you, Stan. You aren’t my dad.” This time swearing worked.
Time is a river. Pot stopped working but alcohol started to. My little brother, Byron, grew. I didn’t know him. I didn’t like his presence in the house. I didn’t like being in the house. I didn’t like the house. I made new friends who surfed and I went without Stan the Man, who had cut his hair and gained weight. The nineties were over. Bill Clinton came and went. Everyone wondered if the twenty-first century was going to work.
High school didn’t work. I dropped out, shaved my head, grew a mohawk, and listened to loud, angry music. I watched a friend of mine try to pierce his scrotum with a safety pin after a girl rejected him. We were in his bathroom. I held a wooden spoon in his mouth so he wouldn’t scream. He had the pin halfway through his balls when his dad walked in on us. Obviously, it didn’t work.
Once I walked in on Stan the Man with his face between Mom’s legs. Locks, apparently, don’t always work.
Stan the Man gained more weight. He watched more TV. Maybe a distant father is worse than no father. Maybe a distant father who isn’t even your real father is worse still. Once when we were all driving home from the store, he drove right past our exit. “Sorry,” he said. “I was on auto pilot.” Later that night, I heard Mom and Stan fighting in the kitchen. Mom, always so emotional, started crying. She said, “Marriage isn’t about being on auto pilot. You have to try harder if you want to make this work.”
I shut my door and turned my music up. Sometimes that worked.
The curfew Mom set for me didn’t work. I stayed out all night, alone, wandering the town until the sun rose, until people woke up, got into their cars, drove to their jobs, and commenced with trying to make their lives work.
Going on family vacations didn’t work.
During meals Byron threw his food and silverware across rooms and Stan the Man would yell at him and clench his big, German jaw, so restaurants were out. They didn’t work. Maybe they would when Byron got older. Maybe.
But surfing worked. At least for a while. Being in the roiling Pacific, alone, rising and falling with swells that come from hundreds and thousands of miles away, worked. You can lose yourself out there, in all that ocean and sky. You can lose yourself and when you come back you realize you have forgotten about all the shit that doesn’t work.
Where does the time go?
I turned seventeen. I snuck friends into the house and we drank Black Velvet and climbed onto the roof and pissed off it. One night Mom found us up there.
“This isn’t going to fucking work,” she yelled up at us. “Whatever,” I mumbled.
Mom worried about me. She said I was depressed. Withdrawn. Our relationship attenuated, got thin. I called her a fucking bitch. I don’t remember why. She called me an asshole. I called her a cunt. She wept and said she was so, so sorry and then made me see a shrink. It didn’t work. Next she made me see a psychic. That’s how Mom was. She believed in that kind of stuff, crystals and cards and magic. I said, “That shit doesn’t work.” But she bribed me, paid me fifty bucks to see Indigo, who burned incense and wore a shawl. She was fat. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but at the end of my reading, when I asked if Mom and Stan were going to work she said, “I really don’t know.”
I tried community college but that didn’t work.
“You can’t just not do anything,” Mom yelled. Why not? I wondered.
More time. I started to grow hair on my chin but a full beard just wouldn’t work.
By then Mom and Stan had stopped having parties. They went to marriage counseling. Mom wanted to make it work. She carried it around with her, a heaviness, a constant laboring, a trying to put things right and make them work. Sometimes, despite our having grown apart, she would come into my room at night, and crawl into my bed. “Honey,” she would say. “Did I fuck things up? Did I make a mistake along the way? We’re still a team, right? We’re going to work through this? Right?”
Tick tock tick tock.
At eighteen I got a job at a natural foods store. I met another girl. There’s always another girl but this one was different. She surfed. She had long, blond hair. Her name was Kaitlin. She was twenty-one. She was from Georgia. She said ya’ll and she smelled like the sea. I remember we would close the store together and I couldn’t stop looking at her. She asked me questions. Big questions. “What do you want?” From what, I wondered. From who? “From life,” she said. “What do you want from life?” I didn’t know and maybe still don’t, but I knew then that I wanted her very, very close, yet I pretended that it wouldn’t work, or that I didn’t care or that it didn’t matter because I was eighteen and scared, but she was persistent. Here’s what I remember: I was house sitting for a friend. It was the end of spring. The air smelled like lilacs. There aren’t lilacs where I grew up but nonetheless. We had gone surfing together. Surfing is one thing but surfing with a girl from Georgia who says ya’ll is another thing entirely. A sunset and an easy wind out of the south and then there we were, together, in this house, alone, our hair still wet from the saltwater. She said, “I can’t believe you’re making me do this.” Do what, I wondered. Everything she said turned my mind into a question. “Tell you I like you.” She tasted like saltwater, like the Pacific and rain.
She was pregnant. Not from me but from before me. A one-night stand. A fling. She didn’t tell me at first. She thought if she did it wouldn’t work. I was eighteen. She knew what that meant. She waited a month and then she said, “I understand if you don’t want to try to make it work.” But I couldn’t help it. I said, “I’ll be there, no matter what. I want this.”
I told Mom. She said, “Honey you’re only eighteen.” I said, “What do you know? You’re the one getting a divorce. You’re the one that couldn’t make it work.” Teenagers can be so cruel.
Stan the Man moved out. Kaitlin and I moved in together. Mom fell apart. She got angry and threw silverware, not unlike Byron. She cried all the time. Kaitlin looked beautiful. Her hair grew thick and shone in the sun and her breasts swelled. Time passed. Her stomach grew. She glowed. We got a toaster and a TV. She had two dogs. One white and one black. Eve and Shady. They chased each other in our tiny backyard. Mom wanted to come over and see our new place. We had a cinder block coffee table and a double bed. Mom looked around the apartment and started to cry. She shook her head and she left.
Stan the Man started sleeping with Mom’s neighbor. Maybe he already had been, before the divorce. Mom didn’t know, but she speculated. Byron split his time between Mom and Dad. We were a modern family now. Mom cried. She was like a fountain. She’d call me after midnight, often, when she couldn’t sleep. “What did I do to fuck this up? Why didn’t it work?”
Kaitlin’s water broke in bed. I took her to the hospital. I watched her give birth. Augusta came out covered in blood and mucus and Kaitlin cried, holding her baby to her chest. “My baby,” she said.
Some more things that didn’t work: Mom having an ex-husband who was fucking the neighbor. Trying to have sex without waking the baby in the bed next to you. Pretending that the real dad to your girlfriend’s baby doesn’t exist. Getting a blowjob in the shower while a baby cries in the other room.
Time doesn’t wait.
Mom tried to beat up the neighbor. It didn’t work. She got a couple good slaps in but then Stan the Man pulled Mom off. How valiant. The neighbor pressed charges but then offered to settle it outside of court, if Mom paid ten thousand bucks. It worked. Augusta grew. Kaitlin carried her around in an organic cotton sling. She dutifully stood on the beach with her baby while I surfed. We got food stamps. They worked. We bought diapers. They didn’t always work. I remember Augusta’s shit running down her tiny leg. I turned nineteen. I watched my friends do nineteen-year-old things like camp and sleep in. I stayed at home with Kaitlin and the baby. I remember dancing Augusta to sleep to Neil Young. Sometimes I thought it might work to love Augusta like a daughter. Kaitlin and I would take her for long drives on California Street to get her to fall asleep. That always worked. Sometimes Kaitlin and I fought. Sometimes over nothing. Sometimes over something. Like when she wanted to surf and would ask if I’d hold the baby. I did. In the cotton sling. Augusta would drool on my chest. Kaitlin would come back and I’d be moody and withdrawn. “Don’t say you’ll watch her if you don’t want to.” “I do want to,” I said. “I do.” Sometimes it all felt like a game that wasn’t working.
Augusta started to walk. She said words, garbled, nonsensical words. Sentences didn’t work yet but monosyllabic words did. One night, in bed, after Augusta had fallen asleep, Kaitlin looked up at me. She had cut her hair. She still smelled like the sea but now also like breast milk and baby formula. “Maybe when Augusta gets older she can call you Dad.”
Augusta grew. Byron grew. Stan the Man got a new girlfriend, moved in with her, grew his hair back out. Mom cut hers. She went back to school. A master’s in psychology. “I beat up the neighbor,” she joked. “I couldn’t be more qualified.” Mom’s jokes always worked on me. I turned twenty.
Augusta’s dad started coming around. He made demands. “I’m her dad,” he said. “She needs to know.” He drove a big truck and called, sometimes late at night. I could hear his voice on the phone while Kaitlin talked to him. He said, “I should be able to sleep in the same bed with my daughter.” Kaitlin hung up. He made her nervous. This wasn’t going to work. She called her dad, in Georgia, and cried. She said she didn’t know what to do. I lay there, next to her, in bed, listening.
Driving across the country with two dogs and a baby and all our stuff plus surfboards strapped to the roof of Kaitlin’s Volvo station wagon worked, but barely. Speeding through New Mexico definitely did not work. Augusta screamed while a cop searched the car. I was still twenty years old. I was trying to get the reasons for moving to North Carolina with Kaitlin and her daughter to work. I told myself Kaitlin wouldn’t do it without me. She needed me. This was what I had committed to. I was trying to be a man and make it work. If I didn’t go she would have stayed in California and then what? I couldn’t allow that. I felt trapped. I thought of playing prisoner with Linda Paine.
A motel in Oklahoma almost didn’t work. Here’s what I remember: I took a bath while Kaitlin put Augusta to bed. I started shaking. I was scared. I remembered Ely saying pussy. I didn’t want to move to North Carolina. I missed California already. My friends, Mom, the roiling Pacific. Kaitlin came into the bathroom. I seemed to be entering a world in which to make one thing work you had to destroy everything else. I started to cry. I felt like Mom, like a fountain. I felt pathetic. Kaitlin sat down next to me. I said, “Don’t leave me, please.” I chanted it. My new mantra. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. I couldn’t stop, not until Kaitlin pulled me out of the tub, brought me to bed and gave me a blowjob. For the time being blowjobs worked.
In North Carolina we rented a hotel room for a month. You can do that in some hotels. I thought there is no possible way this is going to work. Then we found a basement apartment, on the beach. Sand blew in from the sliding glass door. Augusta ate solid foods and threw little cubes of tofu off her highchair. I clenched my jaw. In North Carolina the sun rises instead of sets over the ocean. It made me ache for home. I hated seeing the sunrise over the ocean. I called Mom. I couldn’t speak because if I did I would cry. Like mother, like son. She said, “Come home, honey. You don’t need to put yourself through this.”
Mom redid the guest room. She was so excited. We’d be a team again, but it didn’t work, not anymore. I missed Kaitlin. I felt trapped. Seeing the sunset over the Pacific while I surfed made me think of the Atlantic. I called Kaitlin. I couldn’t speak. She said, “Come back, please. We miss you.”
It worked for a few weeks. Blowjobs helped. But then they stopped working. I went home. I came back. I took busses and planes and hitchhiked. I used payphones and wept into the receiver while rain beat against the phone booth like fistfuls of gravel. I went home again. Kaitlin made a friend while I was gone. He was her neighbor. He played the guitar in a band. Over the phone, Kaitlin said, “I’m teaching him to surf.” I came back. I met her new friend. His name was Harley. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. I went home. Being a man wasn’t working. I was a pussy. I couldn’t even leave home. Mom said, “Why are you doing this to yourself?” I didn’t know. Byron was seven years old and spent a lot of time watching The Jungle Book. He walked around the house mimicking Baloo the bear telling Mowgli to relax. Try and relax, Byron was always saying. Try and relax. And then Mom: “You’re twenty years old. Why are you putting yourself through this?” I didn’t know. Do any of us really know? That old biblical correlative. I turned twenty-one.
I called Kaitlin and told her I was coming back. She said that wouldn’t work. I didn’t understand. “This time it will work.” I promised and then begged. “I’ll stay there with you,” I said. “I’ll make it work. I swear I will.” On the other end she was so quiet. “What?” I said. “What is it?” The neighbor. She was fucking the neighbor. History has shown that doesn’t work.
Time seemed to stop. Funny how that works.
I fell apart. I got angry. I threw things. I packed my surfboards and wetsuits and went to South America to forget. But forgetting didn’t work. Everything reminded me of Kaitlin. Surfing stopped working. It reminded me of Kaitlin. Here’s what I remember: A coastal town outside of Santiago. I had four surfboards, wetsuits, thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. I gave it all away to a friend I barely knew. “I don’t want it,” I said, and went to Argentina. I remember calling Mom with a phone card. She said, “Come home.” I couldn’t speak. It’s true what they say, you can never go home.
In Alaska drinking worked. I got a job at a campground store. At night the sun didn’t set. It circled the horizon. It was nothing like being on the Atlantic or the Pacific. It didn’t remind me of anything. I’d fall asleep to the sound of far off wolves howling and dream about big, empty horizons.
Hitchhiking worked sometimes but not other times.
Finding the phone number to the father of your ex-girlfriend’s daughter and then calling him, drunk, to say you’re sorry, for you aren’t sure what, maybe for playing dad when you shouldn’t have, maybe for having once been eighteen, maybe for something much, much bigger that you couldn’t articulate and still can’t, doesn’t really work. He said, “If it wasn’t you it would have been someone else,” and then hung up.
Reading helped. Here’s what I remember: walking by a river in Alaska and sitting down on a rock to read a book I had never heard of called The Sun Also Rises. I didn’t read books. I didn’t care about books. But there was something about this Jake guy with his drinking and his impotence that made sense to me. Maybe it was the simple fact that nothing in Jake’s life worked, or maybe it was the idea that sharing what doesn’t work, might, somehow, work, but that afternoon, sitting in the sun, reading, I felt less alone. Like I could breathe. If it didn’t work, it at least helped.
Time started to move again.
I left Alaska and moved to Bellingham, Washington. I got a job at a bakery and met a girl. There was always a girl. Except this one wasn’t really a girl. She was thirty-two years old, with two kids and married. Her name was Alisa. She had black hair and looked sad and cold and pretty like some haunted Leonard Cohen woman. The blowjob she gave me in the dry storage room at work did, in fact, work.
A couple of other things that worked, at least for a while: believing that Alisa would leave her husband for me. The idea of hurting another man while I got to fuck his wife. It felt good knowing that. I liked it.
“What if I left him,” she said. “I’d be here,” I said. “What about the kids?” she said. “I’d be here,” I said. It felt like a game but not really at all. I remembered Kaitlin and Augusta. That’s when I realized love doesn’t always work.
Here’s another thing I remember: sitting in the passenger seat of Alisa’s minivan while we drove around looking for a side road, or an empty parking lot, or anywhere else we could park and fuck. This didn’t always work but sometimes it did. She still had the two car seats in the back. Buried in the cushions were goldfish crackers the kids left behind. She pulled into a gravel turnout shaded with trees. She climbed on top of me and took her shirt off. The black bra she wore made her skin look cold and pale. She put her hand down my pants. “What’s wrong,” she said. “Nothing,” I said, moving her hand harder against me. But it wouldn’t work. I told her to put my cock in her mouth. She did. “Cock” was her word. I never used it but now I did. I moved her head harder against me. It didn’t work. Maybe it was the car seats in the back or thinking about Augusta or Kaitlin or Mom or maybe it had nothing to do with any of that.
Over the phone I told Mom about the affair because I missed our team. Being without a team doesn’t always work. I said, “Mom, I’m sleeping with a married woman with two kids.” I thought she would say that won’t work. I thought she would remind me of my dad and his two kids. I thought she would say Alisa would never, ever leave them. But she didn’t say anything. Sometimes words don’t work. “Mom,” I said. “I’m here,” she said. But it didn’t feel like it. That’s when I remembered teams don’t always work.
I can tell you about other things that didn’t work. Like Emily, I can tell you about Emily, another girl, after Bellingham, after Alisa. I can tell you how we tried to make it work. I can tell you how I got her pregnant. I was careless. She wanted to keep the baby. She said we would be a family. But I couldn’t hide the simple fact that a baby wasn’t something I was willing to make work. I can tell you about the abortions. The first two didn’t work. Medically induced abortions don’t always work. They give you these pills that are supposed to flush everything out but sometimes they just don’t work. So we went into Planned Parenthood, into a little room with bright lights. Third time is a charm. Here’s what I remember: Emily crying. She was like a fountain. She said, “what if it doesn’t work.” I told her I was here. I said, “I’m right here.” She put her legs in the silver holsters. There was a doctor and two nurses. There was a bunch of medical equipment. I said, “I’m right here,” and Emily squeezed my hand. “My baby,” she cried. She squeezed my hand harder. “My baby.” But this time there wasn’t a baby.
After that I felt so guilty I would’ve done anything to make something work so I asked Emily to marry me. I held her while she cried and then later said, “Marry me.” That didn’t work because I was pretending. It was just a game. I felt trapped. I didn’t know what I was doing and still don’t and years later, after we started planning the wedding, I tried to leave but that didn’t work, either. I tried to leave her three times after that and still it didn’t work. It didn’t work until finally she left me because I wasn’t there anyway.