The Ramseys—two parents, four boys, three dogs, and one cat— lived at the top of the street in a two-story split-level ranch with an in-ground pool.
My father threatened their father once after an incident involving my brother, the oldest Ramsey, the curb, and the wheel of a ten-speed bicycle.
We were not invited to the pool.
We looked longingly over the fence at the aquamarine crest of their water slide.
My mother said, “Get over it,” and hooked up our Willy Waterbug sprinkler. We thought its tentacles were lame.
Their visiting cousin de-centered the alliances of the street. His name was Todd or Sam or John or Dave. He looked like a boy in a movie about California.
He kept riding his skateboard down the hill to our house. He seemed detached from the Ramseys—autonomous and forward in ways that confused me.
I heard his skateboard wheels in my driveway. My brother liked him, but he wanted to see me. I had invisible girl status. I was Alex’s sister, the spaz at the screen door, a screamer, the one who practiced for color guard but never tried out.
Somehow we went to a movie together—a pack of us (Ramsey boys, him, my brother, and me).
It was The Karate Kid, Part II. He bought my popcorn and held my hand for all of the movie. I couldn’t follow it, and felt only the force of his thumb rubbing mine. I felt hot and clammy and internally lit up. I felt that my movie seat cushion was pushing up against me and that he was some kind of better, more real version of Ralph Macchio and that maybe I could move to California. I felt entirely aroused. I felt suddenly catapulted into age thirteen. I felt certain for the first time that someday, somewhere I would become someone’s girlfriend.
When the lights came on we stopped holding hands. I couldn’t look at him because I knew I was totally red-faced. I was the only girl there. I couldn’t afford to look like I had desires. I lived by the credo, reveal nothing. If my brother found out, he would tease me, invalidating the experience. Besides, I had no idea what to do after a near-orgasm bout of hand-holding.
Possibility, idea, fantasy.
He went back to California the next day. I don’t think he knew what to do either, or maybe he didn’t think about it at all.
History in a Purse
Freud said that a woman’s purse is also her vagina.
They used to be called reticules.
We took them out for show—jeweled cases with sticky clasps.
Ornate, small, a clutch.
His patient dreamed he had stolen her purse.
She held it tightly during the session.
Later, she forgot it on the couch.
In junior high, we got purses for our tampons and maxi-pads.
Thin, faux-leather rectangles in rainbow colors to match our shoes.
A lot of zippers, a long strap, compartments for pens, lip gloss, stickers, a house key.
Kristi, my lab partner left hers open one day on her stool.
She even asked Todd to go inside for a stick of gum.
I had nothing to hide, no tampons, no gum.
But I looked on, prudish and jealous, at what seemed like an invitation, a transgression,
Baby purse—leopard print, plush, a pill-box.
Hourglass shaped purse with fake buckles and boho flower fabric inside.
Gray envelope clutch with option to add straps.
Expensive distressed red leather bag—two roomy compartments. First cell-phone slot.
Fake army bag, strap across the chest.
Gold sequin handbag with tiny gold chain.
Rubber change purse with winking eye slit.
Conference tote bag.
Black backpack with pink stitching.
Things I Liked to Touch
My brother’s fine baby hair.
The smooth white scrimshaw necklace my grandfather carved.
The waistband of my underwear.
The pink inner ear of my stuffed rabbit.
The bumpy quilted top of a Saltine.
The hairs on my leg.
The ruffle of my yellow bedspread.
Shells, all shells.
A wooly caterpillar.
One was from high school. He did my math homework. I listened to him talk about his undying love for a cheerleader named Nicole. Why had we never touched each other? Ten years later, we spent three consecutive nights in his childhood bedroom scrupulously not doing it. Almost. Everything but. His mother was so happy to see me in the morning. I sensed something fated or that I was fulfilling a family wish.
Another one was older—a stoner, who was funny at a party and a friend of a friend of a friend. At an East Village wine bar, he said, “You’re pretending I’m someone else, aren’t you?”
Another one was English and the editor of a Marxist academic journal that I pretended to read. He never touched me. He wore a trenchcoat and gave me books to read.
The ex-boyfriend who belonged to someone else. Years of irregular, but calculated backsliding. Meeting in cars, climbing through a window, and never, ever calling his house. My primal arrogant justification. He loved me first.
When I was 15, I noticed someone cuter on the dance floor. I held his hand while my then boyfriend glared at me from across the room.
The ones who cheated on me. He had a boyfriend in Germany. He gave his three girlfriends the same Christmas presents—later, at a concert we compared notes. He came to my room at midnight and hers at 3 am. He started sleeping with a French girl. She had a girlfriend in Arizona who was more butch, better.
My father’s cryptic warnings that my mother was not so innocent.
The affairs I knew about growing up. My mom’s boss and the wake of women he left behind. Lisa, one of the youngest, and the leader of my youth group, called our house one night crying. “He gave me a ring,” I heard her say as I listened in on the downstairs phone. “But he’s married,” my mom said firmly. My father’s friend Paul and his four divorces—each new wife a younger, slimmer version of the previous one.
The soap opera cheats I grew up watching on The Young and the Restlessand As the World Turns. The good wife with her anguish and the bad slut with her schemes. Nicky and Jill were my favorites.
I had this friend in high school—if she knew who you liked, she’d give him a blow job before you even had a chance.
Little slut. Little cheater. A girl I never liked once called me sneaky while handing me a can of beer at a party. She was right.
The urge trumped all. I didn’t care if I made a mess.
I put myself in his orbit—the center table at work, a set of friends, a particular bar.
I operated on a principle I called “the repeated run-in.”
I got drunk around him. Helpless enough to need a ride, but not sloppy enough to look like I might barf or pass out.
I initiated a visit.
I called the apartment.
I started a fight about a book.
I invited him to a Halloween party.
I refused to sleep in the other room.
I ignored his friend, the one who told me it wouldn’t work over barbecue chicken.
I agreed to go out for steak.
He bought me shots.
He wore a red sweater and sat next to me in the booth instead of across from me.
He told me this was the beginning.
The red Toyota Tercel.
The gear shift.
A giant fourth story window with a security gate.
A baseball bat in the corner by the futon.
He’s naked and looking for socks.
I’m watching from the bed.
Carley Moore's poetry has been published in The Birdsong Collective, The Blue Letter, Coconut, Conduit, Fence, La Petite Zine, and Painted Pride Quarterly. She teaches writing in the Liberal Studies Program at New York University and lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn, New York. She is the co-curator of the POD reading series with Matt Longabucco and a founding member of the Brooklyn Writers Collaborative. Her young adult novel, The Stalker Chronicles,is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
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