No Going Back
as always, for Marcia
I arrive in Denver on the fourth day of July in 1975 after twenty-seven years of East Coast life. My girlfriend (let’s call her “Crazy”) had at the time wanted to experience Kerouac and Cassady’s “the West,” and so I had resigned from my life and tenured position in Jersey and moved here to accommodate her wishes. We found a second-floor one-bedroom apartment at 14th and Elizabeth and set about reinventing ourselves. I found work as a waiter making more money than I had as a teacher and commenced the life of a Bohemian, writing poetry and starting work on my “great American novel,” activities the time constraints of my career as a teacher and union organizer had precluded me from indulging in. I found great pleasure in my disassociation from all that been before and reveled in my newfound anonymity. Writing in long hand on the built in table of my walk-up apartment, such things as my teenage gang membership in Philadelphia, my degree in physics, and my tenure as a professional educator had little to do with this new life as an artist I was undertaking; quite aware I was that I would never return to the life I’d known before. Sadly my girlfriend embraced not the uncertainties of living in the West as an artist, and by October Crazy was in NYC, never to return.
During the time Crazy and I lived in our Congress Park pad on the second floor of the Elizabeth Arms, we were friendly with a couple that also lived there, Ric and Sandy. Ric was a folksinger and social worker and Sandy was, well Sandy was a wee bit strange, as strange as she was beautiful. Sandy and Crazy had been summer friends, a friendship based on the similarity of their childhoods and upbringing, and, in retrospect, their apparently fragile mental health. Both were sexy and exotic (Crazy was a Mediterranean beauty and Sandy was archetypal Aryan), and both women expected men to take care of the mundane matters of life – like making a living. Both had been raised by very wealthy parents who lived in gated and exclusive enclaves, Crazy in Wellesley Massachusetts and Sandy in the Bahamas. I especially enjoyed eyeballing Crazy and Sandy from my writing table window as they sat, late afternoons, on the front porch. My first fantasies of infidelity and “the other woman” were incited by the vision of the two of them, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine, rocking side by side on the porch glider, comparing notes, and gossiping about Ric and me.
Shortly before Crazy abandoned me and left Colorado, I bought a house on Pearl Street and lost contact with Ric and Sandy. Crazy leaving me was brutal, for I was deeply in love with the woman I imagined she was, and I sought to numb my pain with alcohol and drugs. On my evenings off, I’d prowl Congress Park and Colfax Avenue – places we had loved - on foot or in my van in a nostalgic hunt for the ghost of Crazy, and one night I came across a bewildered Sandy outside the 7-11 on York Street around the corner from my old apartment. She lit up when she saw me, and the hug she gave me had a hint of sexual innuendo that was hard to ignore. She clung to me like a child clings to a favorite grandparent or a favorite toy. Like the lost to their savior.
I asked after Ric, and Sandy told me he was in a hospital in Thornton. Minor surgery had corrected a herniated disc but he’d be in recovery and physical therapy for another week. She asked after Crazy and her eyes got sparkly when I told her of my Ex’s return to the East Coast. I do believe she actually licked her lips with a serpentine tongue, as she appeared lost in thought. And then she asked if I’d give her a ride to the hospital sometime soon as she had not been able to visit Ric. Public transportation, its schedules and transfers, was beyond her ken.
So, with a wee bit of lust lurking in the shadows of my intentions, I arrive at my old apartment building the next morning. Sandy and Ric lived on the ground floor across the commons from where Crazy and I had lived, and she was waiting on the communal front porch. She bubbled with excitement as she flew the length of the walk and climbed into my van. All the way to Thornton she gossiped about Ric and his increasing demands on her abilities. She practically hissed a litany of things that needed redress. Did Ric actually expected to return home to an organized apartment, one without dirty dishes and piles of laundry? Did he really expect her to keep track of her medication and dirty clothes? Suffice it to say, Sandy was all over the map, mentally and physically. She constantly changed stations on the radio, rolled her window up and down, down and up, squirmed, one might say “writhed” in her seat, all the while prattling on about Ric’s peccadilloes, his dislike of clutter and certain sexual practices, his Zen stance on organization. His absurd talk of finances and the future, as if money or tomorrow matter! She’d never cleaned house in her life and she was not about to play maid, even though Ric brought home the bacon. The entire trip was a harangue of non-sequiturs and unrelated trivial chastisements of Ric and his maddening expectations. At the hospital there were other telling revelations. Sandy had forgotten to bring Ric his Gibson guitar as he’d asked. “Left it on the porch.” She’d failed to bring his checkbook. “Couldn’t find it.” She’d not remembered his request to bring him a few joints. “I don’t know how to roll.” She hardly looked at Ric and when she left to use the restroom Ric confided in me his assessment: “Sandy’s off her meds! Look out, Eddie. Her demons are as venomous and real as she is beautiful and flighty.”
On the way back to Denver Sandy announced her intentions. She’d be leaving Ric and the Elizabeth Arms. Tomorrow! “And could I,” she asked, “move in with you?” - a tricky question, one I had no sure answer for, to say the least.
On the one hand, I was entranced by the blue-eyed blond beauty that was Sandy. Even though I had been deeply in love with Crazy, I had sensed an un-fulfilled desire in Sandy when I’d first met her and Ric, a passion I imagined I might be able to satiate. I remember sensing Crazy had picked up on my feelings about Sandy; my girlfriend had been especially assertive making love her remaining time with me, going as far as to fake or achieve multiple orgasms. And now here was Sandy coming on to me, bringing into focus my loneliness and horniness and longing for what I’d had with Crazy. But on the other hand there was Ric’s mention of Sandy’s demons and her medications.
So I played it safe. “Sandy, how about I come by tomorrow. Last night, today, it’s been a blur of intoxicating emotions. Like a whirlwind in my heart. I get it that you and Ric are done for, yet being with you, I can’t help but think about Crazy. You two were like sisters. And I will admit that even when I was in love with Crazy, I used to think of you. You are one beautiful woman. Let’s do breakfast at Pete’s Kitchen in the morning. I need a night to think about your moving in with me. And I’m not sure if you’re talking as roommate or girlfriend.”
“If I move in I won’t be paying rent,” were her parting words as she sashayed up the sidewalk to the Elizabeth Arms.
Next morning I arrive at Sandy’s. Again, she’s waiting on the porch. Again down the sidewalk to my van she flies.
I’ve decided to give it a shot, taking up with Sandy, demons and all, and I tell her as much. You might compare my lonely and horny and bemused decision making to a car going ninety-miles an hour down a dead end street with my dick in the driver’s seat and my rational mind blind-folded and tied up in the trunk. All I know is that I’m game and I’m gonna get laid. Enough said.
After a passionate kiss initiated by her, Sandy tells me she’s going to leave it all behind: her old clothes, her old life, her old ways, and her old medicines. She wants to start her new life with me without baggage. “All I need,” she tells me, “are a few things: make-up, tooth brush, hair brush, boots. Be back in a minute,” and out the van she flies, up the sidewalk and into the Elizabeth Arms. I await her return with all the nervousness of anyone on a first date, of someone about to seal his or her fate.
Minutes pass and my nervousness increases. To what have I committed? What exactly are the meds Ric spoke of? Who are the demons? More time passes. I exit my van and make my way back towards the building where I once lived happily with Crazy. Ascending the steps to the porch I see my first hint of a demon at work: Ric’s Gibson guitar. Behind the glider against the railing, its hollow body splintered, its cat-gut strings gyring from the tuners like a nest of snakes, it apparently had been rammed repeatedly by the glider: a gone guitar for sure. More than a minor chill percolates below the surface of my skin as I step into the building and approach Sandy’s apartment, the door to which is open. And beyond the threshold is a nightmare. The former Zendo of a living space is topsy-turvy with retribution and destruction. Broken unwashed dishes fill the sink and clutter the kitchen floor and counters. Every closet and cabinet is empty, as is the open refrigerator. Foodstuffs, in and out of packaging, and cookware and clothing scattered helter-skelter from kitchen to living room baseboard constitute a maze even Daedalus could not solve. No path anywhere. The smell of sour milk mixes with the odor of soiled laundry, molding washcloths, and rotting fruit and meats. Even the temperature of the apartment is off the charts, in line with the thermostat setting that I note: 88 degrees and rising! And then I sense her aside me, coming as she has from the bathroom aside the kitchen. In her hands are the personal hygiene items she came back for: her hairbrush, toothbrush and lipstick. She’s wearing white cowgirl boots. She looks not at the destruction she has caused; rather, she looks piercingly at me, as if there’s nothing in the world but me. She quickly and haphazardly paints her lips with the purple lipstick in her hand then brushes her long cascading hair slowly. All the while her eyes give me their full attention. Then she unbuttons her blouse. She wears no bra. She empties her hands of brushes and make-up, all of which join the mess on the floor. She steps forward and falls to her knees in front of me unzipping my pants with the quick work of fingers. I close my eyes to the scene around me, to the world I know, as she takes me into her mouth. She swallows me ravenously, dead-set determined to make me unaware of her demons, but standing there, as I approach orgasm, I see in my mind’s eye unfolding visions of snakes and birds. They slither and flutter all around as they escape from her mouth and leak out of her eyes. I press the back of her head against my body in an attempt to escape the visions, to return to the tactile, the sexual, the here and now, but my hand’s first touch of the back of her head, my first skin to scalp, is met with a cruel rebuke that kills more than my sexual buzz, a warning that she practically squawks: “Don’t ever touch the back of my head. You can have the rest of me, my breasts, my lips, my ass, but my head belongs to them. Then with her side-winding arms slowly undulating, she flutters her fingers in such a way that I sense for sure the nature of her demons, the vipers and raptors to whom her head belongs. Her ophidian dance of arms and quivering flicker of digits ends with her appearing catatonic as she kneels before me. Then she unwinds herself cobra like as she coils to the floor asleep. When she awakens a little while later, she is docile, almost penitent. She knows I won’t be taking her home to my house. She knows I’ve seen her madness. Literally and figuratively. She asks that I take her to Denver General, to the psychiatric ward. “They know me there,” she whispers.
I drive to Sixth and Bannock. We sit silent in the parking lot for quite a while before she leaves me alone in my misery, bewildered, bemused, bewitched, and now with visions of snakes devouring birds and raptors ascending with talons full of snakes leaking out of my mind’s eye into my memory. Two days ago I was simply lonely. Now I will be forever hungry to go to a place to which I know I can’t return.