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   t h i r s t,    8 2 °    f

--- A B E E R   H O Q U E

When I accompany Li west in late November, I have a sense of intense purposelessness. The reason I'm going is more than just to drive cross country, which I've never done, but because I am acutely attracted to him. Li isn't good looking in the usual ways, though I suppose I've never gone for the usual ways. He's got an angular face, a high voice, and a lisp. But he's sexy and the pot he smokes daily doesn't seem to dent his honing wit. And he's fast. I've always liked fast boys.
     The road trip had been broached at my annual themed birthday party a few months before. This one was called the Blue Party, so everyone who came had to be wearing blue. If they didn't, I had remedies in the form of blue streamer necklaces and crowns. Li was wearing a lightning blue shirt and clogs.
     "So I see you're wearing clogs," I said with some amusement.
     He looked down at his shoes and smiled, "Yes, I am. Anything else you want to make fun of?"
     "No, that was it," I said laughing, leaning against the cold metal railing of the balcony. A fold of blue silk swung against my legs. We were drinking blue punch out of blue plastic cups.
     "So here's what I wanted to ask you: will you drive across the country with me? It'll be a trip."
     Of course.
     Li is moving west for his girl. I learn intimate and disconnected things about her over the 4000 odd miles Li and I travel together, like how she went crazy on birth control pills, and had to stop taking them. Then again, when you hardly know someone and then spend every moment together for two weeks, every detail is intimate and disconnected.

I love you
(I know you love me)
I want you
(How could I disagree?)
- Pet Shop Boys, "Go West"

How hopeless to go on a road trip with a boy who's only waiting to be reunited with his last love (this one is different, Six, I've never felt this way before . . .). Still, the thought of being so close to him for so long is good enough for me. And perhaps I will learn something about will power.
     Our first stop is N.C.'s house, outside Philadelphia, where Li scores a freezer size ziplock bag of marijuana, crammed and pungent.
     Going away present, man. Use it well, N.C. drawls on our way out.
     When we get back into the car, Li leans across me to stick the bag in the glove box. I hold my breath. It's going to be a long few weeks.
     As we set off, Li asks me to put on some music. This is not a simple request. He has probably close to a thousand CDs sorted carefully in a wooden crate. I stick in a Seal album, and the first song is Human Beings. The opening bars will introduce what will soon become our morning song.

You look like you're puffing
But you're really only blocking the sun
- Seal, "Human Beings"

Li is determined to get me high. He has taken my protests that pot doesn't work for me as a challenge. We have a few weeks and more than enough marijuana to destroy good size portions of both our brains. I don't have any qualms about trying drugs, but it's true, pot hasn't worked on me so far. And I've tried many kinds (no, this shit is really good, Six . . . you know what they say about California weed . . . Dyan's stuff—never fails . . . ), and many times (you can't just smoke once, you know . . . have you tried smoking up every other day for two weeks?), and many ways (eat two of these brownies, Six . . . my bong will blow your mind . . .).
     The only effects I've felt so far include a certain heavy headedness, fatigue or sleepiness, and sometimes, an active hunger. Still, I'm willing to let Li try. He seems to have worked up an enthusiasm for the task, and I'll take any attention I can get.
     The pipe is a simple and lovely carved wooden number with a small sliding hatch that covers the bowl when it's not in use, which turns out to be not very often on our trip. Li's strategy involves the "keep smoking and we'll see what happens" line of thinking. So we do.
     Why do you call us boys? He asks me in one of our first unenlightened conversations.
     Why not?
     It's patronizing, he says seriously.
     Yeah, it's meant to be. Because girls don't have power, so it's ironic.
     What do you mean women don't have power?
     You know. I'm losing the thread rapidly.
     No, I don't. Tell me why they don't have power.
     Because they're just pretending. My brain is making a last ditch effort.
     But that doesn't explain why they don't have power.
     A mutual friend, Phineas, has offered his dad's house in Memphis as a lodging option. As we pull into the winding willow lined driveway, we see that it's not just a house. It's a mansion, and Li and I will have our own wing (please follow the maid), so we aren't disturbed. Indeed. If only there were going to be any activity that might be disturbed. Even the shower has dual heads. I use both and pretend. And then go to sleep alone in my room.

I'm lonely like Adam
you're evil like Eve
I shouldn't take forbidden fruit
‘cause I believe
- Elvis Presley, "Adam and Evil"

After an afternoon tour of Graceland, we head out of Memphis. I'm starting to feel as if the emotional restraint (or is it physical?) will be harder than I imagined.
     Why are you so quiet, Six?
     Am I?
     I feel like there's some tension between us.
     Yeah, maybe. I take another hit as Mississippi blurs past.
     Well, do you want to talk about it?
     He waits, and then says, I thought maybe that would help diffuse it.
     I squirm, and say nothing.
     What are you thinking? he asks.
     I don't know.
     It's not so much that I don't know, but I'm unsure if the tension he's talking about is mutual, or even sexual for that matter. And I don't want to reveal my emotion unless it's reciprocated, otherwise the next few weeks will be excruciating for me. I wouldn't even be able to avoid the object of my embarrassment, like any immature idiot would. On the other hand, I can speak about it neither theoretically nor in disguise because my brain seems to have lost all powers of nuance and subtlety. Not that spewing honesty would be so bad—it's worked for me in the past—but I seem to have lost the power of easy expression as well.
     We arrive in Dallas where a college friend of mine will be hosting us. He takes us to what he claims is the best ribs joint in the city. It's a roadside affair, with dusty wooden tables and chairs sitting in the broiling sun. The ribs are juicy, meaty, and spicy, and we eat to our hearts' content. Next we go on a tour around the ritzy neighbourhoods of Dallas. As we drive in slow motion through the lovely avenues on a Sunday afternoon, middle aged fathers stop putting out the trash and watch as our battered Honda cruises past while its occupants light up and exhale unmistakably their way.
     Texas lasts forever. Everyone knows this, but unless you actually drive through the whole of Texas, you can't really know it. After a full day's driving, we are not even close to the border, and we stop in Odessa for the night. Odessa isn't much of a town: swinging oil pumps, acres of scabby plains, and a few lone wooded areas. We find a campsite with cabins and rent a little log house for the night. After drinking half a bottle of vodka and telling stories, we pass out on the solid wood bunk beds. Li has always loved music. He listens to everything and anything. When he finds out that I haven't heard much of the Beatles, we start listening to each of their albums one after another (we're on Abbey Road now). I also learn about 4 tracks and 8 tracks, which had always been a mystery to me.

Didn't anybody tell her?
Didn't anybody see?
- The Beatles, "Polythene Pam"

The trouble with driving west in a car that has no driver's side sun visor, is that we feel as if we're going blind half the day. Sunglasses keep our retinas from being burned to a crisp, but we still can't see the road in front of us. And the ball of flame leading us west is almost unbearable in the late afternoon. Our sophisticated technique of holding a palm out in front that cups the sun only works as long as the arm muscle does, and then only as long as the arm muscle of the passenger holding up the driver's arm. And then who would light the pipe?
     Li's friends in Phoenix have an apartment with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains. Or maybe all of Arizona looks like this—that sun bleached Ansel Adams big country grandeur. But this is why I remember Phoenix: in the night, on the futon in the living room, when I turn towards Li in my sleep, he takes my hand. And I'm awake in the next breath. There are so many ways to move without moving. Every thought and urge I have seems to manifest itself in throbs and pulses through my body. I am completely still, but I feel as if every single one of my cells is in motion.

Touch if you will my stomach
Feel how it trembles inside
You got the butterflies all tied up
- Prince, "When Doves Cry"

Li wants to go to Mexico. I've never been either, and I'm excited. Our border crossing into Mexico is more dramatic than we expected. Li hasn't shaved in a couple of days and he's wearing a thin white tank top. He looks like a Latino thug. I look equally un-American with my braids and dark skin. Neither of us has proof of citizenship easily available, and when the cops find the Supersoaker in our trunk, we have to spend some time explaining the concept of an over sized water gun.
     Mexico might be the only place where I consciously feel high. I have no doubt that I have been under the influence throughout the trip, and I've just not recognised it. But here, at the border, when Li sends me to get water from a nearby grocery store while he fills up gas, the effects are undeniable. I enter the grocery store and experience immediate information overload. I have no idea where the water might be, and I'm not sure whether this is the effect of the constant pot smoking or if it's normally hard to find the water. I've never tried to purchase water before, so I feel a little justified in my confusion. I wander around the store for a while before I give up and start reading the signs above each aisle. Luckily, the ability to read is still with me, although I know some people lose that too.
     Pasta, spices, frozen foods, dairy, bread, canned goods . . . wait, bread . . .
     I have the faint thought that bread and water go together, and I walk down the bread aisle slowly. When I emerge, defeated, I see Li at the register buying a few gallons of water. He looks at me in amusement. When I ask where he found the water, he points. Directly by the entrance to the store are huge stacks of bottled water.
     When we get in the car, Li says he's going to drive even though it's my turn. After my exhausting round at the grocery store, I am more than happy to sit and bop to the music. As we drive deeper into Mexico through the cacti spiked desert, I feel the music moving around me as if singular threads of melody and rhythm are falling from the sky, like rain. I reach my hands out on the dashboard into the sunlight and close my eyes. Li rubs my back while the music keeps falling and falling.

I've heard there's joy untold
lays open like a road
- PJ Harvey, "Angelene"

Puerto Peñasco is a scrubby little town with dark, packed little corner stores and flamboyant hotels everywhere. We choose a cheap seaside motel, dump our stuff, and go swimming in the Gulf of California. After watching the sunset, we stop at a store for some tequila. The scruffy owner of the shop regards us lazily, his shirt half buttoned in the dying heat. We buy a half litre bottle and head back to the motel. After few eye-watering shots, I go to our tiny bathroom to shower. Halfway through, Li opens the shower door and steps into the stall. Before I can say anything, he turns up the hot water and swallows me with a kiss.
     Before this trip, I never realised how frustrating it was to be on the receiving end of a kiss. When I started college, I determined to say, do, think, and take what I wanted. And this is exactly what I still do, whether it is a romantic, physical, platonic, or intellectual endeavour. This is not to say that I am always successful, but I always try. So waiting or hoping is not something I am used to doing. But I have never wanted someone (this bad) who is taken. And now that I know that he wants back, it is far worse, the waiting. The girl he loves is still the girl he loves. The fact that I respond to Li's kisses might mark me as morally deficient, but I feel as if the territory that has been crossed is his to dig up. But my own moral rules (as vague as they are) require that I wait for each kiss, instead of taking them as I ordinarily would. This doesn't necessarily mean I get less than I want from Li, but that I can't initiate a single sexual moment is troubling.

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back, she was nobody's wife
Well, I see you there with a rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
- Leonard Cohen, "Famous Blue Raincoat"

But back to the tiny shower stall in the bathroom with one window in the motel by the sea in Mexico, the brown and green tiles, and the round faucet knobs, the toilet crammed to the left of the sink, back to the water that is so hot I can almost not bear it, back to the kisses.
     I don't realise how tall Li is until I feel him against me, pushing me against the tiles, my mouth pressed into the hollow of his collarbone. His tongue is like water, like fire, and I cannot distinguish between the pressure of the water and his mouth on my skin. His hands are around, between, in me, and my bones feel as if they're melting with the water. Heavy, wet braids fall over my face and my back and my arms. He pushes each dark strand away as he kisses me, and I am so thirsty, from the tequila, from the heat, from my want.

I never knew what the hype
about breasts was.
I get it now.
- Li, Puerto Peñasco

Puerto Peñasco is like a dream. Everything has that surreal quality of being in a foreign country, and now imbued with the tangible smell and feel of our secret and hungry affair. We leave the motel late one night to get food, and the road slips underneath us and away. The silent night and the faces of men walking by in half light are like watching a movie. We stop at a taco stand on the side of a potholed and narrow road, the only point of light on an otherwise dark stretch. The man tending the grill is heavy set and wearing a faded gingham shirt. He points to metal bowls beside the grill on a low bench containing different shades and textures of meat. Li indicates a collection of bulbous yet stringy cuts. They are darkly and unevenly coloured. The man shakes his head.
     You don' wan' that, he tells Li jovially.
     Yes, I do.
     The man shrugs and throws a heap onto the grill. They sizzle immediately. I look at Li, and we start laughing. Both my beef taco and Li's unknown meat taco are flavoured, filling, and utterly satisfying.
     But what strangeness surrounds us now. I feel it again when we're back in our room, naked under yellow lamplight, his long legs twined with mine, that out of body experience when you can see yourself talking, touching. I wish that I could live in the moment more easily. The present never seems as satisfying as the past's anticipation promised or as the future's nostalgia will colour it. And I've spent years wondering why I want something until I have it. Even if I get exactly what I had asked for, suddenly, I can't wait for the moment to be over. And when the present does measure up, like these nights of wonder and consummation in Mexico, I can't get out of my head enough to simply enjoy them. Is it a fear of happiness? Or perhaps a kind of self loathing?

If I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
- The Who, "Behind Blue Eyes"

Oh, but the sex.... This liaison will end one way or another in two weeks, whether either of us wishes otherwise. It will remain secret, for obvious reasons. We've set it up well. It almost has to be good. Every morning, we get up, brush our teeth in silence together in front of the bathroom mirror, get into the car, start with our Seal CD, and drive into the sunlight and the desert. I forget everything but the landscape as the hours pass and the music plays, and then the night comes with its madness and we fall all over again.
     We drive into Joshua Tree National Park at sunset, chasing the sunlight through the winding roads and shadowy hills. Li has requested a Persian CD from his collection. A voice wails a broken, trilling chord and it makes the hills dip and swoon dramatically as we career through the fading park.
     You know which song I love, Li?
     Which one?
     You'll laugh.
     Because it's not a cool or complicated song.
     Tell me, girl.
     Dirty Diana, by Michael Jackson.
     Great song! But you know which one is the best Michael Jackson song? Smooth Criminal. Play them both.

She said he's not coming back
because he's sleeping with me
- Michael Jackson, "Dirty Diana"

We pull into Palm Springs the day before Thanksgiving, blasting Michael Jackson for all the world to hear. Li's friend, Travis, has offered to put us up at the ritzy resort where he's holidaying with his family. The hotel is lined with palm trees and sumptuous flowering bushes in spite of the desert clime. The room we're sharing with Travis is luxurious: real blankets, silky cool sheets, all the toiletry amenities. Li and I head to the pool and Travis goes off for a private family gathering.
     It's dark but the pool and whirlpool are lit from within. Another couple is lounging by the whirlpool, steam curling around their well-tanned limbs.
     Are you together? The man asks us idly, rubbing down a perfectly muscled calf.
     No . . . We say in unison.
     He has a girlfriend, I say unnecessarily.
     They shrug and laugh. Is it that obvious, I wonder? But Li ignores their disbelief and comes up with a game for us to play. It involves sitting in the hot tub until we're hot, jumping out, running over to the pool and diving in, getting out immediately, and starting over again. I go along even though I'm certain that we'll both suffer heart attacks and have to be buried in this hot hard ground. After three rounds, I'm done, and luckily so is Li. And after the sex in a well made elegant bed, more desperate and intense than usual because we're not sure when Travis will come back, we fall asleep so soundly that we don't even hear him come in.
     Can you believe how much sex we're having? Li asks suddenly, as we drive up Highway 1 along the western edge of California. We've passed drop away cliffs with their sea blue collars, and now we're driving through a eucalyptus grove.
     I glance at him, but say nothing.
     So much sex, he says again, sounding genuinely astonished.
     Li's birthday falls while we're in Santa Cruz and to celebrate, we go out to a local bar, and then head back to the hotel. Birthday sex is strange. In the last few years, I've only had it in a drunken state, and then only because I want to have sex on my birthday and not necessarily because I'm in the mood. At my last birthday party, Dez and I did it in the bathroom, and there in the dark, we had that most uncomfortable (and sexy) of sexes: standing up against a counter sex. This position is second only to standing in the shower sex where the added danger of slipping or cracking a head against something makes it even more uncomfortable and exciting.
     Li's birthday sex happens under the dim lamplight of a motel room in downtown Santa Cruz. I want this time to be different, for him to remember this birthday, this night, which is only one night in two weeks, with a girl he might not see again.
     I can't use my hands or legs? What about my mouth? Don't you want kisses? You always want kisses.
     No. You can kiss me back if I kiss you. But you don't get to start anything.
     I am always too concerned with actively possessing whatever body is below or above me. The act of sex occupies me so fully, it's such an encompassing game, that I often don't relax into it. I don't realise that it might just be more than good enough for whoever it is to touch me, or even just watch me, whether I move or not. Tonight is a perfect example. I could have had it another way, let him take control, do what he pleased, but I'm afraid he might run out of things he wants to do, and so to forestall that, I take charge. Which is fine in many ways—I like being aggressive and taking what I want. But it doesn't always allow me to just feel.
     For hours, my tongue and teeth and fingers and breasts move over his skin, my body mapping every inch of his. His body arches and writhes under the yellow light under me, and it turns us both on, more than we expect. It's the last time we will have sex because we're heading into San Francisco the next day and our road trip will be over. But that's not what I'm thinking about this night. This night, like every other night, I am entirely consumed with my hunger, with the taste of Li, the feel of his skin.
     When Li drops me off at San Francisco's airport, I am struggling. I've never been good at changing states. If I'm alone for a while, it takes some effort for my voice to work properly or easily, for my natural enthusiasm for being with people to stir. And if I've been spending time with someone, I always feel a wrench when we part. It's some sort of psychological inertia. So even though I have known the whole time that Li and I will be leaving each other in a matter of weeks, it doesn't make it any easier when that time comes. He stands on the curb in front of me.
     Li. I say.
     He smiles. Six, he says.
     I smile back although I feel as if his smile means something very different from mine. He's going on to a new love in a new city. I'm going back to an old city with old memories. Aren't they all old before they can breathe? This feeling of loss will pass, I know it. I just have to wait a day, a month, a year (whatever the recovery rate is on illicit and intense two week affairs), and this feeling will pass.
     He leans down and cups my face and kisses me. In the space of that kiss, of which I only remember the first touch of his lips, I can feel the heat of that shower in Mexico, the cool of the bed sheets in Palm Springs, our bodies moving under the lamplight in Santa Cruz, and every moment between. All the music and sex and driving—all the time that had stretched so languidly and lazily through the days, it suddenly gets compressed, squeezed to a point, so it can end with this kiss. And then the wind rushes back between us.

human being
if you bleed
they will say it was destined
- Seal, "Human Beings"

© crossconnect, inc 1995-2006 |
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |