I had to do something to commemorate Pauline helping me learn how to love the world. What I did was take all of the money I had saved to a jewelry shop. I found this beautiful locket and bought it for Pauline as a Christmas gift. I hand wrapped it myself and mailed it to her address so it would be a surprise. I included a Christmas card signed "Your anonymous admirer, David, with all my love." I hoped she would get a kick out of the anonymous part as a sort of inside joke.
I walked around for a week with that funny glow in my stomach. I must have been smiling all the time because my old man asked me what was wrong one day.
"Nothing," I said.
"What are you up to?"
"I'm not up to anything."
"Then why are you grinning like an idiot?"
I couldn't explain it to him for several reasons. He wouldn't understand and even if some miracle happened and he did understand, he would consider it abnormal. He'd think I had lost my marbles or something. The most important thing to my old man was acting and thinking like everyone else. He lived in constant fear that I would do something to bring shame on him. The funny part is he thought that made him a good father. All you had to do was ask him and he would tell you what a goddamn expert he was in parenting. Anyway, I sort of wiped the smile off my face so he would stop feeling paranoid. You have to fake it with parents or they'll drive you up the wall.
I thought Rudy was intelligent enough to understand my Christmas experience, so I gave him my best shot in explaining it. He listened patiently as I tried to put it into words that made sense. To be honest, I'm not very good at verbalizing things orally. My speaking vocabulary is pretty rotten compared to my writing vocabulary. I almost flunked the public speaking course last year because I kind of got stage fright every time I had to make a speech in front of the other students. For one thing Jeff Adler kept making faces at me when the teacher was in the back of the classroom and couldn't see him. Jeff was the class clown and had an IQ of about ten, but I couldn't help laughing at his stupid tricks, which practically ruined my speeches.
Anyway, Rudy listened to my explanation without asking any questions. When I finished, he said: "I didn't know you believed in God."
What the hell was he talking about? "I don't. Not exactly."
"You're no agnostic."
I hate it when people throw ten-dollar words at me. "I'm not sure what I am."
"I've always been an atheist myself."
I knew he never went to church, but that was different. "Are you really sure there's no God?"
Rudy laughed. "You don't have to look so worried. I'm not going to hell when I die."
"I didn't say you were."
I told Rudy our conversation was getting sidetracked and asked him what he thought specifically about loving the world and so forth.
"It just proves you believe in God," he repeated.
"You lost me again."
"First of all, the Larry Darrell character wanted God to forgive him for getting his friend killed."
I thought Darrell only wanted to forgive himself.
"That's why he traveled all over the world," Rudy continued. "He was looking for God."
"Have you read the book?"
"Last year. The part about the Buddhists helping Darrell find God isn't accurate. Buddhists don't believe in God."
Rudy was obviously up on this subject, but I still thought he was missing the whole point of my experience. It didn't have anything to do with Buddhists or God as far as I was concerned.
"What about learning to love the world by loving one person?"
"Actually, you're a pantheist."
At first I thought he said pansy-ist, which sounded like a crack. Rudy noticed the scowl on my face and added:
"It means you want to see God in everything that exists in the world."
We talked a few more minutes before I finally gave up. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't explain my experience to Rudy or anyone else. It was impossible to translate into words that would make other people feel the same way as I felt. It was like a secret that couldn't be told because it sounded like nonsense when it came out of my mouth. I wondered if Rudy had the same sort of secrets he couldn't tell me. Maybe everyone went through life with these bottled-up secrets and each individual thought he was alone in not being able to communicate the most important things he learned. Instead of the blind leading the blind, it might be the mute leading the mute. A guy could go crazy thinking about this stuff.
What happened later may be hard for you to believe, but I swear I'm not making it up. The roof fell in on me when I got a phone call at home one night. It was Mr. Lancaster, Pauline's father, and I could tell he was mad as hell. He started raving about how inappropriate it was for a near stranger to give an expensive gift to a 15-year-old girl like his daughter. I tried to explain I wasn't a stranger, near or otherwise, but he barely let me get a word in edgewise. He kept repeating that he wouldn't stand for it, shouting so loudly I had to move the phone receiver away from my ear to keep from going deaf. Finally, he ordered me to pick up the locket the next day at his house. "May I speak to Pauline?" I asked as politely as I could.
"She doesn't want to talk to you."
"I don't believe that, sir."
"Don't you ever telephone my daughter again. Do you hear me?"
"I'll talk to her in school."
"You stay away from Pauline or I'll have you thrown out of school."
"Why are you doing this?"
"I won't have my daughter associating with a juvenile delinquent."
I couldn't take anymore, so I hung up. I was shaking like a maniac and my mother noticed.
"Who was that?"
"I don't want to talk about it," I said and went directly to my room. I laid down on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I felt really weird, like I might throw up or something. Jesus H. Christ, I thought. The crazy bastard believes I practically raped Pauline by sending her a Christmas gift.
The next day Harold drove me to the Lancaster house after I explained the situation to him. He didn't make any wisecracks on the way over, which floored me. I guess he could see how upset I was and decided to act like a human being for a change. Walking to the door, I slipped on the ice and nearly broke my goddamn neck. I was about to ring the bell when I spotted a brown paper sack on the doorstep. The boxed locket was inside, minus the Christmas wrapping. Lancaster wasn't even going to open the door. He had left the locket outside on the doorstep as if it was a turd that might stink up his house. I was surprised he hadn't set the bag on fire like a Halloween prank. As I returned to the car, I saw a man's face peek out of the curtains across the picture window. I felt like tossing a brick through the window just for the hell of it, but that would only prove Lancaster's claim that I was a juvenile delinquent. The bastard probably wanted me to do something like that to show Pauline how right he was about me.
As we drove away, Harold said: "Forget that girl. She's out of your league."
"I knew you'd kick me when I was down."
"It's the truth, David."
"She won't go along with her old man. You'll see."
But I was wrong. After Christmas vacation, Pauline avoided me in school. I couldn't believe it because I thought Pauline was different than other girls. I thought she had a mind of her own. One day I trapped her in the hallway outside of homeroom before she could scoot away like she had been doing every morning.
"What's going on?" I was pretty hot under the collar and I think I sprayed her with a little saliva, unfortunately.
"I can't talk to you anymore."
"Why not? Because your father said so?"
"You don't have to listen to him."
"Yes I do."
"You don't understand." She had tears in her eyes by then, which made me feel guilty for yelling at her. Women always tear up when you say something you wish you could take back.
"Don't you know I love you?" I said as softly as I could.
She turned and ran down the hallway, disappearing around a corner. I knew it was pointless to chase her, so I just stood there feeling numb. The numbness started in my head and moved down my body until it reached my toes. I walked around the rest of the day feeling like I was a goddamn zombie or something. It was really scary and I wondered if the feeling would ever go away.
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