Jesse lived in a little house in Swansea with a couple of other guys.
“Staging a horror show, eh?” asked one of them sympathetically. “Far out.” He had heard about my plan and Jesse’s complicity. None of them knew why I was leaving, but they all went by the Freak Code of Conduct: just be cool and take care of each other, that’s all. Don’t ask questions. If somebody wants you to know something they’ll tell you up front. Otherwise, don’t go poking into other people’s business.
That night we all slept in Jesse’s van, crammed together on the floor. I cried all night. Jesse tried and tried to get me to talk to him, to tell him all about it, but I wouldn’t. I wanted him to take me like the other boy had, just for comfort, and told him so in broken language, but he recoiled from that in horror, so I just cried in his arms all night until it came time for me to go into the airport and get on the 6 o’clock plane from Boston to San Francisco.
When the time came, I marched right into the airport and found my boarding area. I gave the gate attendant my ticket and she tore off the front copy and gave me the rest.
“This flight is overbooked,” she told me. “Would you mind being seated in First Class instead of Coach? It’s the only seat we have open. Otherwise you’ll have to stand by for the next flight.”
Somehow, being seated in First Class did not sound like a bad deal. I had heard about flying standby, and I knew that could be a bummer. So I volunteered to go First Class, what the heck. The gate attendant crossed something out on my ticket and wrote something in instead.
I climbed the steps up to the airplane and handed my ticket to the stewardess, who was dressed in a smart white and blue uniform with a miniskirt and high heels. She looked maybe eighteen to me. She smiled at me and ushered me to the left, to the very front of the plane. I had the seat in the first row on the right hand side just behind the cockpit. I could see the pilot but not the copilot because there was a partition right in front of me. This turned out to be the bathroom, which was very convenient.
Soon the plane started up its engine. I had been on a plane once before, in fact it had been almost exactly a year before, when my dad decided it was time for a family vacation. We had been on family vacations when I was a young child, but those were always by car. And they always involved traveling to visit relatives, which was usually pleasant especially when it was the ones who lived in Florida and took me to see alligators and parrots.
So when my dad decided that we should go to an island in the Caribbean, it was an exciting idea, or would have been if it were not for the fact that I would be cooped up with my mother and her inevitable temper tantrums. But I was not given the choice whether or not to go, so I went. We flew on a jet from Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I saw the biggest cockroach I have ever seen, before or since. It was in the bathroom of the airport, in the stall where I was going pee. I did not scream.
Then we took a propeller plane from San Juan to the island, and that plane seemed to barely skim the Caribbean waves. You could see the white caps on the startlingly blue water. I thought I saw sharks.
The stewardess brought us Mateus Rose wine, and I forgot about sharks and everything. I got good and tipsy and before I sobered up we were there.
It turned out to be a desert island. Very boring, nothing whatsoever to do or see. You could look out over the ocean and see the neighboring island, which was a lush jungle. I wanted to be on that one, but of course that was not possible. So I just tagged around with my parents, because they would not let me go anywhere by myself.
They had rented a golf cart, and that was how we got around the island. We went to the market in the only town and got soggy rolls and cold cuts. It was disgusting.
The beaches were beautiful. They were pristine white sand with nobody on them. We were staying in a nice bungalow right on the beach.
About the third or fourth day we were there I broke out in a rash from head to toe and a fever. My head ached something fierce. My whole body itched like fire. My father found out who the doctor was on the island, and he came to the house.
“Sun poisoning,” he pronounced. What to do for it? Benadryl is all, he said. So my parents got me some Benadryl. It didn’t do squat. I was going berserk.
The person who owned the bungalow came to see how we were doing. I was miserably sacked out in a hammock in the shade. “I know something that will make you feel better,” he proclaimed. He mixed me a Planter’s Punch: dark rum, light rum, and orange juice.
I spent the rest of the two-week vacation in that hammock, smashed on Benadryl and Planter’s Punches and wishing I was dead, or at least somewhere out of the sun.
Finally the day came when we could go home. They packed me up and we puttered back over the Caribbean waves in the propeller plane, This time I did not care about waves or sharks or anything, because I was still smashed on Benadryl and Planter’s Punch.
We ran into a small problem in San Juan when we went to board our flight back to Boston. It had to do with my rash. They sent me to the Health Department, where they declared me infectious, they didn’t know with what. I had a big old scar on my left arm where I had had my smallpox vaccination, so they were pretty sure it wasn’t that. Measles was the next thing on their list. They wouldn’t take our word for it when we described how I nearly died of measles when I was eight, had a 106 degree temperature and had to stay in a darkened room for two weeks. And that I had had German Measles twice, but they wouldn’t believe that either.
They drew my blood, and we had to stay in a rickety old hotel room with cockroaches almost as big as the one I had seen in the airport bathroom, until they got the results back that I did not have any infectious disease, which I could have told them and in fact had.
For years after that I broke out in the same horrible rash every time I went out in the sun in the summertime. It definitely killed any aspirations of getting a tan.
The fall after that, when I was about turning sixteen, my mother got it into her head that the reason I was getting these rashes must be that I was taking birth control pills. Never mind the fact that I was a virgin and in fact did not yet have a clear idea yet of how the sex act was done. Once she got something into her head it was in there permanently. Now in addition to the rest of her abusive vocabulary was “whore,” “slut,” and the like.
What that did, really, was to pave the way to my eventual downfall. What was the point of trying so hard to stay sexually pure, if I was going to be called these awful names anyway? I did not go out and try to find someone to have sex with. The only people I knew who “did it” were disgusting louts that I wouldn’t have anything to do with anyway. But I told myself that if the right person came along, I would be open to the idea.
As it turned out, the right person did not come along. The wrong person came along, and I was not a willing participant. But it happened to me anyway, and there was no going back. All there was, was this jet plane that I had boarded, and I was going to San Francisco, first class. Far fucking out.