I’m bad with names so it wasn’t a surprise not to know her name when I saw her face again. It was, however, stunning to see her because she belongs to a part of my past that has never resurfaced again, ever. 1980 was a very long time ago by anyone’s reckoning, unless you deal with the birth and death of galaxies, but this woman was still fresh faced and very much alive the last time I saw her. My mind scrolled over the names of people I knew back then and I tried to pin someone’s name to something near her. She wore an uncommon name, something that I had associated with someone else long forgotten. Memory at its worst reminds us that it cannot dig itself out of a hole without making the hole deeper. Memory did know enough to say this woman and I had not left on good terms.
To make matter worse she was out of context. This was one of the few people I still remembered from Brunswick and it took nearly a full minute for me to realize it. There isn’t anyone in my life left from that era and hadn’t been in decades. I can find my old duplex on Google but that’s about all that remains. It’s odd I can still remember my old address from that time period, 3687 Wylly Avenue. The neighborhood doesn’t look like it has improved very much at all. It was a dead end street in so many ways back then and it probably still is.
We slept together one night. To this day I will never understand why she agreed to it. I don’t think she liked me and she certainly didn’t understand me. She didn’t like my music and she didn’t like my long hair. She wanted a lot more out of life than to be stuck on Wylly Avenue in Brunswick Georgia but to me this little side street in a smallish coastal city was my first heaven. It was the first place I was totally out of reach from my past, all nineteen years of it. I think the idea that someone could just pick up and leave their hometown appealed to her in some way. Perhaps that was enough to spawn some hope that I could alleviate the boredom and tedious day- to- day existence she lived. I was nineteen and underemployed while she was just seventeen and had dropped out of high school in her senior year. Could habitual bad judgment lead two people into coupling?
It was an odd encounter. Have you ever had someone just come along for the ride when you went to a movie or something, and they didn’t really want to be there but didn’t have anywhere better to be? It’s not like she was obligated to me in any way but there seemed to be a certain point in the night she resigned herself to doing what I wanted her to do without knowing why she did it. She never seemed really into the act itself or even interested in what I was getting out of it, yet there she was. “Yeah, okay, sure, why not?” but at the same time she didn’t seem fully engaged.
More than once in my life I’ve had a woman ask me, plead with me, demand of me, “Don’t tell anyone about this, okay?” only to discover the very next day she had told someone. This girl repeated that mantra each time we paused and again when we began again. I remember a woman I loved truly and deeply, who swore me to secrecy upon pain of death if I ever mentioned the fact we were having sex but an hour after we got out of bed she told her roommate. We went from never-say-a-word to guess-what-we-did in less than sixty minutes.
This woman from Brunswick, damn, what was her name? What is her name? She seemed so worldly and mature at seventeen. We had smoked pot and drank beer together and I remember very distinctly being awed by her demeanor. She was pretty, very pretty, with jet black hair offsetting her pale blue eyes. She seemed to have so much going on inside of her head and looked perpetually bored with the world. There, in that tiny duplex, in that smaller bedroom, with the railroad less than a hundred feet away, and the windows nailed shut against thieves, she allowed me to undress her and she allowed me to treat her as if she were mine and I remember thinking this was such a grown up thing to do and that this act, this very act in and of itself, made me an adult in just a few hours which was something I had not accomplished in all of my life. I was sleeping with a stranger, someone whose last name I didn’t know, who didn’t know anything about me, who I had not gone to school with, or knew a friend of mine at all, and this intimate anonymity was everything to which I aspired. Her ambivalence was the only thing left on her body and the fact that she would wear it and still allow me to enter her excited me. Was this not the nature of adulthood? Was this not the essence of the life I sought?
I remember getting up in the morning and she told me she had never slept with anyone she didn’t know before, and had never slept with anyone she wasn’t in love with, and that I was only the third man she had slept with and again she begged me not to say anything about it. I remember her getting dressed, and she seemed so much older than I, all seventeen years of her and I remember her telling me, as she turned away to put her bra on, “I’m not the kind of girl who sleeps around”
Honestly, I don’t think she was. I’m at a loss to explain why sometimes good girls do bad boys but it does happen. Not that she was that good and not that I was that bad, but her best friend showed up later to explain to me it was an accident. She didn’t mean to sleep with me. It had taken a couple of hours for her to tell someone about it.
Her best friend was one of those girls whose life has been mapped out and plotted on a downward graph. I don’t remember her name either but I don’t care. This girl wanted the man she loved so desperately she was willing to get pregnant before she was eighteen in hopes that the DNA the child carried would be anchor enough. It wasn’t and it wasn’t going to be, and this scene has played out before. But six months before she ventured into motherhood using an unborn as a proxy for matrimony she was explaining to me her best friend wasn’t on the Pill and that was something that did get my attention.
Honestly, I do not remember as much about the night in question as I do the questions about that night. The best friend asked me personal details as if she was trying to match what she was told with what she had suspected. I was much younger at nineteen than I could have ever known. A nice looking girl had spent the night with me and I was happy. What else was there to worry about? The Pill thing killed the joy a bit. The fact that the pretty girl was mad at me and I didn’t know why seemed to puzzle the Best Friend.
She was a week late that month and the whole of the neighborhood was abuzz at what had happened. The Best Friend told me and it was like the third grade where you check a box if you like someone for she had written a note asking me what I wanted to do, as if there was something I could do to affect the outcome of one night. It stunned me she might have a baby, my baby, our baby, and suddenly Wylly Avenue became clear to me for what it was and who I was. It never occurred to me a woman, any woman, a girl, a pretty girl, might see me as a way out, and pregnancy as a necessary but inevitable evil. But the seventeen year old was wise beyond her errors and realized that hooking her wan hopes, her low standards, her faded dreams to a man enthralled with the idea of maturity via erection just might end poorly. She moved back in with her parents just about the time the truth of the matter flowed into being and blood. We never spoke again.
Yesterday she caught me staring at her and she stared back, angry that I would stare but then I saw the look on her face. Oh hai. Oh hell. Oh no. There was a moment when we both realized we had known one another a very long time ago. Neither of us moved yet neither of us stopped looking. Time has been much better to her than to me. The face still carried some beauty of the girl. The eyes were the same and that look, that last look over her shoulder as she left that day, yes, that is still there. A much older woman, perhaps her mother, sat down next to her and she looked away. A man that might be her husband joined them. I don’t remember if she had a brother or something like that.
I knew better than to keep staring and finally she looked at me again, and shook her head nearly imperceptibly as she looked away. How can it be that someone I knew for eight months is here in this place ten feet from me and thirty-two years later? What hellish part of her past had emerged to haunt her, I cannot say.
Yvonne. That was her name. I’m halfway home when I remember.