And we laughed, at the world. They can have their diamonds and we'll have our pearls.
I guess if I’m going to tell this story, I have to mention the other important person in it. It would be futile to try and tell the story of how I became bonded to Jack without mentioning Karen. Considering that in many ways this story is a love story, I have to talk about her. She was not one of the people in my normal social group until I started to hang out with Jack late in my junior year. She was one of the people who hung around with his friend Becky.
Karen wasn’t tall, or lithe, or conventionally beautiful, but she had a certain cute demeanor hidden under the black make up and dyed hair. You’d never see it in a photograph, but she was actually beautiful when she was around. For the most part though, she was just someone I saw when Becky was around and for the most part, when Becky was around all you could see was Becky. Becky had a way of filling the room, and then some, so she could overtake another person’s personality.
Yeah, I didn’t like Becky Hain. I was sad to hear about it when she died, but I didn’t suddenly start liking her or anything. She used Jack a lot, only coming running to him when she had some kind of problem, and he let her because he thought she was beautiful or something. No, maybe it was something else. They were never a couple as far as I know, but she wanted to hump him. Sex was her way of controlling a situation. She wanted to be able to control people, hold them in place or something. Jack didn’t do it with her though. I think he probably knew what that would lead to. Or rather, what it did lead to when she did fuck him before she was killed. Or maybe he still held out, I can’t say because he refused to talk about that situation when he came back from wherever the hell it was he went for those months after that event.
So I saw Karen around, but always as one of the little particles that had gotten caught in Becky’s gravitational field and wasn’t strong enough to escape. She was just another of the sort of pretty, but not as pretty as Becky, faces that followed her because she was so glamorous. We met at parties once in a while, and she was nice to talk to, but we never actually hung out until my senior year when we ended up both having the same chemistry class and she sat next to me.
I’ll go ahead and tell you that I was glad to have her sit with me, because I knew her and I liked her well enough. Since she was a she I also figured she wasn’t going to spend all our lab time trying to look down my shirt. She had stopped hanging out with Becky quite so much by that point and the change was interesting to watch. He black hair had been allowed to go back to a nearly white blond that was so beautiful I can’t understand why she ever dyed it black. The black leather jacket, which I think had belonged to her father before he gave it to her, was a constant feature though. I don’t know if she owned other coats, because she always had that one.
There was also a change in her personality, now that she had been freed somewhat from Becky’s thrall. She had a playful way of talking, and she was smarter than she let on most of the time. As it turned out, she was really nice to talk to and we ended up spending a lot of time hanging out together that year. I won’t say we were inseparable, but I had a much better friend in her than I’d had before. Actually I’d never had a friend as good as her before that. Scratch that, I don’t think I ever had a friend that good ever. Full stop.
She lived in a different part of town from me, so we couldn’t just go see each other whenever we wanted. She didn’t like me coming to her house, because she lived in a trailer park and I think she was ashamed of it. Her parents weren’t white trash or anything, she wasn’t abused or anything like that. It was just that my parents owned a McMansion before anyone called them that and she lived in metal box that had about the same floor space as our living room.
She never had a car at her disposal the whole time I knew her, and I had my dad’s old car when he bought his Lexus in February that year because he figured I needed a car. I was lucky, and she wasn’t, and I think it shamed her a little. It didn’t matter to me, I didn’t care, I suppose I could afford to. It didn’t matter to me how nice or not nice their place was. I didn’t care about things like that. Jack said once that I don’t worry about money because my family always had it, and maybe he’s right a little.
We did reach a level of inseparability though, late in the school year. When it started to get warm enough for us to start going to parks and things, we started to hang out together a lot more then. I had dad’s old car by then, so we had something we could tool around in together, and it was nice. I would go get her and we’d drive around with the LeBaron’s top down, feeling grown up and sexy with the wind in our hair. We never really talked about anything that you could call important, but it seemed important at the time.
You know how those conversations would go, back in the day. We’d talk about something that just seemed so very deep, intricate and maybe even important. Now though, it seems like the talks we had in my car on the way to Stony Creek were nothing more than a series of empty words. You could replace 98% of what we said to each other with “Blah, blah, blah!” and you’d pretty much have the substance of our talk. It seemed important at the time, but damned if I can actually remember more than one or two of the things we talked about.
We were getting close, that’s probably all it amounts to. We talked about boys and books and what a pain it was being smart girls when everyone wanted us to be dumb and pretty. Getting close is probably the point of all this. I know I’m not telling you a lot about Karen, but I… I don’t know it’s all flooding back at once I guess.
She was about five feet three or so, her hair was very light blond, usually cut short and sort of frizzy in a very cute way so that it would look like a halo when the sun caught her from behind. She had these bright blue eyes, almost like a grayish silver sometimes. It looked like someone had melted a couple of old silver coins and dropped them into her eyes, and the metal just stayed liquid. She wasn’t exactly the prettiest thing, not like magazine pretty, but she had a sort of cuteness that was emphasized by the way she acted. You had to get her out of Becky’s stupid, beautiful, obnoxious radiance to see it, but she had a way about her. She hadn’t really had many steady boyfriends, but she had been in Becky’s shadow during the last three years. I thought that if she could get confident enough to know she didn’t need a Becky, she would be breaking all the boys’ hearts when she got to college.
This shows how much I knew back in ’95, doesn’t it?
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself now. I guess I’ll have to tell the story now or you’ll wonder what I’m talking about. It actually works okay, because it was when we were wandering around at Stony when this story really starts. It’s one of the stupid little conversations that I can actually remember having with her. I remember a lot of the things we talked about, but this is one that I remember clearly.
We were talking about musicians that we thought were good looking. We’d gone through Eddie Vedder and a lot of the other guys of grunge when I thought maybe I could share a secret with her. I wouldn’t have talked to any of my other friends about it. I thought it would have freaked anyone else out if I told them. Maybe not Jack, but Jack has always had a different way of looking at the world. Usually Jack looks at it from atop a huge mound of contempt and disgust, so that makes him pretty unflappable. I can’t understand him, how does he manage to get up in the morning when he clearly hates most the world besides those very few people he likes so much he’d put his soul on the line for them? Maybe that’s why he’s staying where he is.
Anyway, we were talking and I decided to try and test the waters. I had my laugh all ready so I could throw the whole thing off as a joke. How very stupid I was, thinking the world had the same narrow view as the people I knew in school. The stupid, vapid, hateful bitches. Still though, I wanted to try and express what I’d been feeling in some small way.
“You know who I think is really pretty?” I asked as I stood up on a fallen log and tried to balance on it.
“Pretty?” Karen asked, looking up at me from the ground. “Like girl pretty?”
“Yeah.” I said and lost my balance. I didn’t tumble down, just jumped to the ground. “I totally have a crush on Natalie Merchant.”
“Really?” She looked astonished, as if the idea of one girl thinking another is pretty had never struck her before.
At least that’s what I thought, because I was seventeen and rather ignorant of the world. You might even call me naïve if you felt so inclined. I have to explain though, things hadn’t really exploded yet. The gay or at least the bisexual, which swept our school’s female population like a plague wouldn’t explode big time for another year, and by then we’d be at college where it went unnoticed.
“Yeah.” I nodded, feeling a little self conscious. “She’s so beautiful in that ‘These Are the Days’ video. You know that one? I just feel like kissing the screen when I see that.”
“Yeah.” She smiled.
It might be worth noting that when Karen had gone around with her hair dyed black, she looked a bit like Natalie Merchant. The length was right at the time and she looked almost just like her, if Natalie had blond hair and blue eyes. Karen’s nose was narrower, and her chin was a shade sharper, but she did look a lot like her. I had mentioned it earlier that day, twice, just to make sure it was in her head.
“I guess it’s a little weird, wanting to kiss her. Huh?” I was hoping for a note that I wasn’t insane or something.
“No.” she shook her head, but I noticed that the subject had her a little embarrassed. At least, I had thought it she was blushing because I had admitted such a weird thing. “It’s not weird.”
“You think it too sometimes?” I asked.
“Yeah.” She nodded. “Do you think anyone else is pretty?”
“A few people.” I told her, and if I were as observant as Jack I might have noticed that she was about to cry.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” She managed to ask through gasps that I couldn’t quite identify. I had told her that she looked like Natalie Merchant, and then told her how pretty I thought Natalie Merchant was. Maybe she wanted to hear it directly. I smiled and gave her a hug, a tight one and talked softly into her ear.
“I think you’re very pretty.” I said and fairly impetuously I kissed her on the ear.
“I think you’re beautiful.” She said.
We pulled away from each other just far enough for me to look into her eyes and as I was looking at her, she kissed me. I’m glad she did it first. I don’t think I would have had the gut to kiss her without knowing it was okay.
I remember thinking that it should feel weird, like wrong or something. It didn’t though, it felt nice. In fact, it felt almost perfect. We parted for a moment, and then I kissed her back, and it went back and forth like that for a little while. We didn’t make out big major time, and it didn’t really get hot and heavy, I just felt like we were making up for all the kissing we could have done if we’d each spoken earlier.
We broke off after a while though. You can only explore so far when you’ve discovered something so wonderful. I was actually worried that it would just be a phase and if we went too far in the first day it would wear off and I didn’t want it to ever wear off. I suppose I shouldn’t have worried, the phase has now gone on for about fourteen years now. Or is it thirteen? I’ve long guessed that bi-sexuality isn’t the phase so much as being a stupid little bitch who likes to play girl-kisser to get the boys horny is a phase. I knew some girls who did that in college and they did grow out of it.
“So what do we do now?” I asked as I sat down on the fallen log to catch my breath again.
“What do you mean?” She asked, sitting next to me and grabbing my hand.
“Do we announce we’re girlfriend and girlfriend?” I asked.
“No!” She shook her head fast. “No, we’re not really serious. Are we? Are we serious? Is this real or are we just kissing in the park?”
I had to admit, she had a point. Until she asked I would have told her that I would love her forever and ever, but asking the question broke the spell. I felt for her, very strongly, even before now I had cared about her a great deal. Having gone that extra step, I had peaked over the edge of a great pit, a depth of feeling I hadn’t known existed before. I have to admit, it scared me a little, but no so much that I wanted to let her go.
“I don’t know.” I touched her hand and she gripped my fingers like a little girl might. “What do you think?”
“Rebecca would kiss me sometimes.” She said suddenly and started to cry a little. “And then when Erica came along last summer she didn’t even want to hang out with me anymore. I wasn’t as cute, or as fun, or something. Jack gave her hell about it and she started calling me again, but I knew she didn’t really want to.”
“You never mentioned that before.” I said, putting an arm around her.
“It’s humiliating!” She said and turned her head into my chest to start crying. “I mean I didn’t want to tell you she just threw me away because the cuter girl had come along.”
When I talked to Jack about it later, he said it was perfectly natural to notice the way her breasts felt against me. He said it was okay to want to move around a little, so they would rub against my side a bit. He said it was natural to notice her breath on my neck and to get a little excited over it. He even said it was okay to have enjoyed the smell of her hair while she was crying into me. He told me it was okay, but I couldn’t help but feeling like I was a boy who had just discovered girls around the time one was pulling her shirt off for him.
“That’s not going to happen with us.” I said taking her chin and looking into her eyes. “I’m not going to dump you for another girl.”
“You promise?” She asked.
“I promise.” I said and kissed her lightly on the lips. “No one is going to take me from you.”
“I still don’t know.” She said leaning into me again. “I like some boys too.”
“Well, so do I.” I said. “Lots of them. You’re the only girl I’ve ever kissed, so I would have to kiss five more to make the numbers even.”
“You don’t want to make them even, do you?” She asked while curling in a little closer into me.
“No.” I said. “I don’t think so.”
“What if you decide you don’t want to kiss me anymore?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” I told her, and had to consider that it was a possibility.
“They’d just hassle us if they knew.” She said. “Rebecca can do anything the likes, but we’re not Rebecca.”
“We’ll keep it quiet for a while then.” I told her.
We didn’t act like sweethearts when we came out of the woods. It was like we had to leave whatever it was we had back there so people wouldn’t see us with it. Or at least we had to keep the expression covered. Maybe we didn’t exactly leave it there, but we only took a small part of it with us. You can never actually leave it behind, never. It was easy to fall back into just the two girls who are buddies routine, and we might not have ever kissed back in the woods. It might not have ever happened, and maybe it would have turned out differently if we’d really left it there.
I’m pretty sure that it was better that we didn’t leave it back there, despite what happened later. I’m still not convinced that it happened because of us. It could have been that or it could have been any number of things. The train of events that lead up to her being stabbed could have been any number of things, most of which no doubt had to do with her former dealings with Becky.
I suppose, looking back, that I was a bit wrapped up in myself at the time. I was young, and really in love for the first time. I mean, really, sue me. I’m not perfect, and I still thought the world was a good and worthwhile place. I guess I still do believe that, I just found out that there was some ugliness in the world too.