· POETRY ·
J Andrew Clark
Bill the Cat
· FICTION ·
· SWAG ·
B L I N D L O V E
The University of Montana was darkly surrounded by ancient forests whose wildlife, I had no doubt, was far more daring and vigorous than that on campus. U.M. was a conservative school in a sleepy, often frigid environment conducive to huddling and conserving energy. The academic tone was one of intellectual diffidence, cultural muting, religious mainstreaming. Students gazed somberly out library windows, rested their heads on their desks, gathered in the cafeteria to consume starches. The few roads that joined our campus to the world disappeared into dense woods, vanished under snowdrifts.
When Jeanine graduated high school at the precocious age of sixteen and came to the university, she was away from her parents for the first time and, after pursuing her studies with such commendable diligence and discipline, she was now determined to spend her time in pursuit of nearly life-threatening debauchery: to finally cave in to her roaring lust, to shatter her orderly mind with a dizzying variety of controlled substances, to betray friends, to tear couples apart in torrid trysts, to bounce from one hopeless, tortured relationship to another, to pickle herself with booze, to overwhelm her organs of pleasure, to indulge to sickening excess, in general, to degrade, to abuse and thereby, to finally, really live.
This was a lot harder than she imagined; this was the University of Montana. One of the most popular majors was agriculture, and Jeanine soon concluded that the future farmers of America had as much of a capacity for hedonism as the vegetables they grew.
"You look at these torpid bastards and you get the sense that all they fantasize about is harvesting their fucking crops. And that's not even a metaphor. These are people whose livelihood depends on fertility, for chrissake, but do you think that even suggests sexuality to them? Hell, no. I'd like to run them all over with their goddamn tractors."
Jeanine began buying stacks of pornographic magazines in convenience stores, tearing out photographs of nude women, then inserting these, more or less at random, into books shelved at the university library. She hoped this would stimulate a massive, campus-wide outbreak of libido.
It didn't. In her first semester, Jeanine was asked out once: to a country music festival to benefit farmers.
"The guy wears nothing but flannel. Imagining him in leather is like imagining a cow riding a motorcycle."
"You're too young," our friend Peggy assured her. "College guys are afraid of being charged with statutory rape, or something. Once you get older you'll get more action."
"How many guys have asked you out this semester?"
Peggy was silent for a moment. "Well, everyone knows that I'm looking for a husband, not a roll in the hay."
"Bobby," she turned to me, "How many girls have you asked out this semester?"
"I'm too busy planning my next harvest to bother with girls," I said. She shook her head disgustedly, then grabbed a copy of Penthouse from her backpack and handed it to me.
I surmised that the problem was that Jeanine came off as haughty. She seemed to disdain all of the guys in school: men destined to spend a substantial part of their lives shoveling manure, driving tractors. Her arrogance, partly based on her stellar academic record, came across as strongly as the Chanel perfume she seemed to marinade herself in. She reminded me of a slab of luminescent flesh yearning to be ripped apart in someone's teeth, but which everyone assumed was lethally poisonous.
"Ted, can I ask you something?"
"Sure, Bob, what's up?"
I stepped closer to him, turning away discreetly, my gaze settling on the window. Outside, snow swirled through the cone-shaped orange beams of the parking lot floodlights.
"You know Jeanine?"
"Do you think she's pretty?"
He hesitated, as if puzzled.
"Would you sleep with her?"
Ted instantly looked away. For a moment he gazed out at the snow, his eyes following its passage from the black sky to the window, where it melted against the warm glass.
"Well, I'd hafta think about it."
"No, no, it's a simple question. Would you sleep with her?"
He cocked his head.
"Well, would she be talkin' much?"
"No, she'd... well, she'd just be lying there, I guess."
After a moment he shrugged, then said, "Sure, I guess, if... I mean, it's a little far-fetched, but I suppose if--"
"That's it. Thanks."
She was lying back on her bed, a rumpled psychedelic nest of quilts and velvet pillows, gazing at the Janis Joplin poster she'd pinned to the ceiling, and smoking a Marlboro like it was marijuana. This was another one of her perennial complaints: the dearth of illicit drugs on campus. She rolled her eyes to me.
"I've talked with a bunch of guys. I mean, word has reached me that there are a bunch of guys around here who find you extremely attractive. It's just that..."
She hammered her cigarette out in the clay ashtray resting below her belly, then said bitterly, "It's just that they don't have penises."
"No, no. Look: Do you know Ted Daniels?"
She covered her face with her hand, groaning.
"Good lord. Ted's farmer stock. He's as articulate as a bullfrog with tape over its mouth."
"Well, okay. Do you know Mickey Blake?"
"Yes, I do. Well, actually, no, but I did once watch Andy Griffith, and that's close, right?"
"All right, this is getting complicated. Do you know Les Goodman?"
"Know him? Well, I've smelled his overalls, but I haven't actually gotten within fifty yards of him. That's close enough to smell his overalls, though."
"Jeanine, you're making my point, okay?"
"What point is that?"
"It's not that there aren't romantic opportunities here, it's just that you're so full of contempt for all the guys at this school you're not even willing to give them a shot. It comes across, okay? They can all tell how much you deplore their agrarian mentality, or whatever, and so of course they're not going to make advances toward you."
"Listen, all right?" She grabbed another cigarette from the pack and gestured fiercely with it. "If I slept with any of these guys, sure, it might give me momentary pleasure, but I'd be on the verge of nausea until I got old enough to drink."
She lit her cigarette slowly, sucking at the lighter's flame until it had burned up half of the tobacco, then lay back. Janis watched over her like the patron saint of dissolution. She puffed for a while, coughed hatefully, then closed her eyes and groaned.
"Christ, Bobby, I just want to get laid."
Then the solution came to me.
At least it seemed like a solution at the time. Like many of my solutions, it ended up generating more problems than it solved, but at least they were interesting problems. The solution was that I would select some clean, sexually hungry young man to come to Jeanine's dorm room and anonymously fuck her while she was carefully blindfolded. The guy would take a solemn oath to not reveal his identity to anyone, especially her, and would have to swear not to talk about the unusual encounter with anyone. Jeanine would get laid, but would not have to endure the painful knowledge of which local nitwit she'd slept with. The guy, for the price of keeping his mouth shut, would get pussy.
The illusion that it was a simple plan lasted only briefly. The first actual encounter went smoothly: the man and I walked in together and found Jeanine masturbating on the bed: naked, blindfolded.
"Jeanine," I said sweetly, "You have company."
She froze for a moment, then lay back, her breathing quick and tense. The guy gazed at her wide-eyed as he stepped out of his shoes -- I was greatly relieved to notice that he was not wearing boots -- then clumsily undid his pants. His heavy sterling belt-buck chinked against something; shit, I thought, she's already got a clue; he wears a metal belt buckle. I laid my fingers over my lips in the "Shhh!" sign, and he nodded, though I don't think he was aware that he'd done anything wrong. I turned politely when his pants came off, and sat down in front of Jeanine's small television set, which was stacked on top of wooden boxes. I turned on the television set -- a good strategy, I thought, since the program's sound would muffle any he might make -- and didn't look up from the screen until the first commercial. He was panting, and pulling up his pants. His eyes did not rest again on Jeanine, who was lying on her side, her knees raised to her breasts.
Jeanine would not talk with me for a week after her dose of mystery love. I guessed that that was the sexual equivalent of post-battle stress syndrome -- after all, that had been her first experience with intercourse.
For a while her reticence worried me, but then she came to visit me.
"I want to do it again," she said, lighting a cigarette.
"Ah ha! See? It worked out, didn't it?"
"First times are never smooth, Bobby. That was just to get the job done; now I want to do it for fun."
"I should charge you money for all my trouble."
"You're not a pimp. When can you set it up again?"
"I'll have to communicate with your invisible knight."
"You do that."
One of the questions that I had to confront was whether to select the same guy for the second event. As I saw it, the main advantage was that if there was only one guy there was less chance of the situation getting publicized. The more participants, the greater the likelihood of someone blabbing. To tell you the truth, I didn't even really consider that using the same guy over and over would increase the intimacy of the encounter, or that they would care more for each other with repeat sessions. I assumed that since the guy was not permitted to divulge his identity there was zero chance of any intimacy.
But the downside of sticking with this one guy was that the fellow was not a remarkable lover. It felt strange for me to evaluate another man's sexual competence, and I wondered if my standards weren't a bit slanted by my own preferences. Moreover, I realized that probably no man could really flourish under these circumstances. But perhaps by rating this guy's moves truly objectively I might be able refine my own skills as well. At any rate, my conclusion was that this guy was too quick. Not a severe premature ejaculator, but probably far too quick for Jeanine to really savor the experience.
"So, look, do you want me to get the same guy?"
"Are you kidding? Of course I do. I don't want half the male population at U.M. parading their penises through my room."
"You're exaggerating. All I'm saying is, I might be able to get someone with more staying power. Maybe better endowed. Someone you could enjoy more."
"Are you going to ask to inspect their genitals before admitting them?"
"Of course not."
"Well, then, you might end up with a guy who shoots before his cock even enters me, or a guy who's got, I don't know, two inches or something. This guy -- whoever he is -- is reliable. Maybe not exquisite, but he's tried and true. Stick with him."
Stick with him we did, for a total of nine sessions, and the guy's performances became increasingly effective. In all fairness, I'd say he went from about a 2.5 to an 8. At first edgy, reserved, a little bashful, he became graceful, attentive, and powerful. Jeanine became more relaxed, shed her inhibitions and fears, began grabbing his shoulders, arching orgasmically, clawing at his back; vocally, she was like an orchestra warming up: she went from an eerie, cadaverous silence to delicate moans to exultant laughter to ecstatic wailing to animalistic shrieks. It was really incredible to watch. Yes, I admit, the spectacle really tore me away from her television set.
"I want to know who he is."
"Did you hear me? I want to know. You have no right to keep this from me."
"Part of the deal was, I promised him you wouldn't find out. Look, maybe he doesn't want a relationship. But there's no way I can tell you without his consent."
"If you don't tell me whose cock was inside me, I'm going to kick your ass."
The guy wouldn't consent to me revealing his identity. I admit I felt awkward refusing to tell her who he was -- she was my friend, after all -- but I had given him my word. We had exchanged trust; it was part of the bargain.
Jeanine's bitterness about me keeping my vow of secrecy aside, it seemed that the whole project was going really well. Her moody urgency about losing her virginity was gone; her burning curiosity about sex was satiated, and now she comported herself more confidently, with an uncharacteristic calmness. I had heard about deflowering having a big impact on people's behavior before, but I had never witnessed it myself. I was impressed; Jeanine went from being a edgy, high-strung swarm of electrons to a cool, flowing girl. If one morning I glanced out the dorm window and saw her strolling naked over snow drifts with flowers in her hair and her voice alive with song, I would not have been surprised.
She also began socializing more. She acquired a fake I.D., and began hanging out in the campus pub with me and various future farmers. She danced to country music, quaffed tepid beer, laughed dizzily at stupid jokes, and smiled a great deal. The terrible irony is that this was when the problems began.
One evening, sitting with Peggy, me, and three other guys from school, she blew the whole operation. We had been playing truth or dare, which for us was usually a safe and unsurprising game, and just by chance one fellow named Dale asked about her first time. She stared at him penetratingly -- I assumed she was wondering if he was the one -- and then she blurted it all out. My proposal, the secret trust, the grand mission to liberate her from virginity. I kicked her under the table but she wouldn't shut up. By the time she finished babbling the guy was mortified, and she clearly inferred from his reaction that he was not her man. An awful silence descended. Jeanine looked over at me, wounded, helpless, stunned by her own stupidity.
"That's a nice bit of fiction, Jeanine," I said, trying to cover her tracks.
"Did she make that up?" Peggy asked me, her voice high-pitched and wavering.
"Nope," a guy named Del said. "Too real. She said too much details. Know what I mean? She couldn't have made all that up just now."
Her face flushed, Jeanine rose unsteadily and walked to the ladies' room. Two of the guys, almost fainting with hilarity, went to the pool table to repeat what they had just heard.
Later, Jeanine told me that as she exited the bathroom a stranger approached her and claimed to be her anonymous lover.
As did nine other people over the next two days.
One of whom was a woman who claimed she had worn a strap-on.
Jeanine told me that her response to all the guys who claimed to be her lover was: Prove it.
To which most of them replied:
"Sure. But, um... the only way I can prove it is if you let me sleep with you. Then you'll know it was me."
"The problem, Bobby," Jeanine inhaled from the joint I had managed to talk my older sister out of. "The problem is... I mean, I can deal with all this bullshit, the ridicule, everyone saying how desperate I must be. The real problem is, I love the guy."
"Jeanine, no, you don't. That's just a normal first-time reaction to sex."
"Fuck you, you bastard. I love the motherfucker and you can't say otherwise."
"Jeanine, give me the joint. No, go, go ahead, finish it. You can't possibly love him 'cause you don't know the first thing about him."
"Like hell I don't. I know how he treats me. I can tell how strongly he feels about me from the way he touches me. Do you realize how he makes me feel?"
"That's what good sex is like. Don't confuse your physiology with your emotions."
"They're inseparable, dummy. Our emotions are rooted in our physiology."
"Our emotions are rooted in our spirits, which have nothing to do with our bodies."
"If you don't tell me who the fuck he is, I'm going to tell the dean you had him rape me, and then you'll be screwed. You think you're going to be able to withhold his name from the cops when they're interrogating you?"
"Look, why don't you want me to tell her it was you? She loves you, for chrissake."
Paul Banks sighed, shaking his head, then jerked off the metal crank that triggered the sprinkler system. We were inside a gigantic greenhouse the agriculture students grew experimental crops in during the winter. Abruptly the slender jets of water arching over the beds of loam were reduced to weak trickles.
"She can't possibly love me; she doesn't know the first thing about me."
"Well, I know, but she insists that she does. Who are we to argue? It's her feelings."
He began walking to a wall where rakes and other tools were hung. I followed him.
"Look, she says it's the way you touch her, the way you make her feel."
"It's called orgasm, not love."
"Well, I know, but... I'm in a total mess here, Paul."
"Yeah, well, it was a weird idea."
He grabbed some sort of peculiar tool, a wooden bar ending with forking plastic tubes.
"You had fun with it, didn't you? Come on, fess up. You took advantage of the situation for your own delight, now you have to pay the price. It's like everything in life, right?"
"Goddamit, Bobby, listen to me: I can't have her find out, all right?"
His tone was venomous, but his face seemed cramped, his eyes narrow.
"Bob, I'm married. I have a two-year old daughter, okay? If my wife and my family find out about this, my marriage will end. You understand?"
I groaned. Paul watched another student at the other end of the greenhouse dump a bag of white pellets into a bed of soil. I struggled to think of something to say, some way to resolve the situation. Paul turned back to me.
"And if you tell her it's me, I'll just deny it. It's your word against mine, Bobby."
"You goddamn coward. How could you do this to me? You... you not only deceived me, you not only humiliated me, you goddamn fucking well raped me. That's right, you fucking worthless scumbag: You raped me. I consented to sex with some guy of your choice, but I did not consent to sex with you. And I know goddamn well it was really you. That's why you won't tell me who it was, you fucking bastard. I can't believe that a friend would do this to me; it fucking shocks me. You're not a friend of mine, you have never been a friend of mine. You've taken advantage of me, exploited my problems with men simply to... to goddamn rape me. Nine times! I can't fucking believe it! You raped me nine goddamn times, you... you..."
"Jeanine, no. Hold on. You're absolutely wrong."
"I am not goddamn wrong. I could fucking smell you, you goddamn bastard."
"Smell... you could smell me because I was in the room when it was happening."
"I was there to make sure nothing went wrong; to make sure he didn't mess with you."
"You were in the room all those times? Then if you're not a rapist you're a goddamn voyeuristic creep! But it was you; I know it was you, and I'm calling the goddamn cops on you, you fucking rapist loser."
She hung up the phone. I dug the bottle of bourbon out of my closet, drank half a glass, then walked slowly to her dorm room. A sheet of lined paper was tacked to her door with large, sloppy letters commanding, "Go Away!"
I stared at the note for about half a minute, then walked back to my room.
The next morning I found a note from her slipped under my door:
"Dear Creep -- I just wanted you to be fully aware of how much you fucked up my life and ruined my sense of self-esteem. You have made my sex life the subject of grotesque rumors all over campus; you have made my vagina public intellectual property. Every moment that I endure this hellish existence, the knowledge of how you cheapened and hurt me grows stronger, more painful, like a cancer devouring my conscience. You horrify me. Your former friend, Jeanine. PS: Rotting in hell for eternity would be far, far too gentle a fate for you. PPS: Don't ever talk to me again."
Peggy told me that Jeanine had initiated a series of telephone sessions with a psychic in order to figure out who the guy was.
"Madame Horowitz is really a fantastic woman. Really empowered by the purity of nature and the spirit earth. She lives in Los Angeles, reads Tarot cards, tea leaves, astrology charts, palms, crystal balls. Actually I think it's all nonsense. Expensive nonsense. But Jeanine's pretty desperate."
"She's threatened to go to the cops," I said.
"I know. But I think she's afraid of her parents getting involved. Her program of rigorous debauchery has given her a profound sense of guilt."
"She's not so bad. Not nearly as bad as she wants to be."
"She says the feeling of having fucked someone she can't identify by name or sight or anything else robs her of the feeling of sexual accomplishment she's entitled to -- and makes her feel deeply violated."
"She really enjoyed it for a while. She told me she was in love with the guy."
"Sounds like a normal relationship, the way her attitude changed so drastically."
"If she'd just screwed some guy at a bar she wouldn't really know much more about him than she knows about her Invisible Man. Not really."
"Yeah. Welcome to blind labyrinth of human sexuality. Here's a cast for your heart."
Peggy stared at me, beaming with joyous sarcasm, her features bearing a sinister slant. I wanted very much to kiss her.
Jeanine began wearing hats, sunglasses, and clothing made from hemp. She changed her hair: once the color of maple syrup penetrated by sunlight, she dyed it jet black. I sometimes saw her striding quickly down corridors with a kleenex held over her mouth and nose. She stopped painting her nails and wearing make-up. She stopped eating in the cafeteria, preferring dried fruit and nuts she purchased from an organic mail-order company. She stopped saying "Hi," "How are you," or "What's up," but instead leapt instantly into the substance of the few conversations she found necessary to have. She stopped inviting people into her dorm room.
"She says she's very chemically sensitive," Peggy said while we ate spaghetti with clam sauce at the cafeteria. "She threw away her microwave, dumped her television, and now she's trying to get rid of everything that's made of plastic. She's disciplining her environment."
"What's wrong with plastic?"
"She doesn't ride in cars anymore."
"What's wrong with cars?"
"The fumes disrupt her bodily equilibrium. And plastics, she thinks they emit toxic waves that distort her thoughts. She considers it a form of chemical rape. She only listens to chants, and writes everything in runes."
"Does she ever talk about that guy anymore?"
"She doesn't think that men are psychically evolved enough to register in her world."
"Does she still want to know who it was?"
"She claims she's still a virgin, and plans to stay that way."
"Jesus Christ. She's delusional."
"She thinks people shape their own reality. What you decide, what you focus on, that's what's real."
About two weeks later Peggy discovered that Jeanine was pregnant. Jeanine still denied having had intercourse, believing instead that she had been procreatively enslaved by environmentally reckless corporations.
"You're not going to believe this," Peggy said with an air of investigative triumph, "But she thinks that toxic emissions from the paint on her walls triggered spontaneous life-formation in her uterus."
"What's hard to believe about that?"
"I'm serious. She said that."
"Her walls are blue and green and red. Paisley slop she threw up when she was going through her hippie thing. Does she think the baby will be paisely-colored?"
"Christ, Bobby, I don't know what she's going to do. I asked if I could take her in for an abortion, but she hasn't gotten permission from the fetus' spirit yet."
"If she doesn't abort it, is she going to insist that the paint company marry her?"
Shortly after Peggy persuaded her to get an abortion, Jeanine escaped the narrow definition of "human being." Humans were creatures of wreckage, exploitation, environmental poisoning. She had become part of the earth, a silent, passive, but resilient force that adjusts to each new vile liberty people take with it. She had lain on her bed blindfolded like a pristine grassy hill tunneled into by callous metal miners, helplessly allowing, torn open, subjugated. Ultimately, like the earth being stripped of its minerals, she lost her child, but eventually endured the awful loss with an amnesiac forgiveness. She seemed not to realize that any of it happened. Events came to completion, but the play of natural forces went on.
In the months before I graduated I saw her regularly in the agriculture department buildings, entering the greenhouses, transporting tools and pushing wheelbarrows of soil and fertilizer. She was learning the creativity of the earth.
One afternoon I saw her chatting with Paul outside a lecture hall. She was gesturing excitedly as he smiled and nodded. I watched from a cautious distance, half-shielded in a doorway, wondering if at some level, perhaps unconsciously, she realized that he was the man who had made love to her and impregnated her. After about three minutes they walked to one of the campus coffee shops. I kept staring at the shop they'd gone into, wondering about the quality of their interaction with each other, the emotional atmosphere of their togetherness. And I was consumed with sadness for her.
I walked to her dorm room. Standing in the corridor, I tore a blank page from one of my binders, scribbled a brief note to her, then slipped it under her door:
Jeanine: It was Paul Banks.