I had tried so hard to be something, someone. I had tried to make my life mean something. But, sitting here at this moment, desolate, empty and still held hostage, I knew I was never going to write a screenplay, or a book, or direct a movie. I felt like I was never going to be anything more than what everyone presumed I would be. Nothing I did mattered. Never did. Never would. And I’d been completely naïve in assuming otherwise, but hoping and dreaming had never seemed such a bad thing.
I finally answered his question. “It doesn’t matter anymore Caleb.” I sounded brittle, tired. “Nothing does.”
He was quiet for a few seconds but I could tell he was angry. But so was I. Even in my numbness, I was seething. I watched him. Subtle changes that I wouldn’t have noticed in the beginning were completely visible to me. What window did I now have into him? Did he know I saw him? Worse, could he really see into me? “You and I both know the truth. What they did to you matters.” There was no anger in his voice, only certainty. “Everything matters. Everything is very personal. You know that just as I do. Don’t act so defeated, we both know it isn’t like you.”
I laughed, but it died in my throat and it came out as a ragged choke. “How would you know?” He had never answered me fully before and his words often smacked of half truths, but in some odd way, I sensed it was because he didn’t know how to answer. In other words, he wanted to answer me. “You don’t know me. Not the simplest things, not even my name.”
More silence. I stared at him intently, waiting for his rage, wanting it. I needed to pick a fight with someone I knew wouldn’t really hurt me. I needed to rail. In that moment I knew Caleb was right, giving up wasn’t like me, no matter how much I wanted it to be. He remained calm, kept his eyes closed. His beautiful golden hair was tinged reddish brown, there was blood caked in his hairline. I shuddered. I made them pay. Delicious, beautiful words, something I’d never hear from anyone but a man like Caleb.
There was a shift in his body, muscles in play but he remained utterly still. His expression was cold, stark but it wasn’t directed at me. “You’re right. I don’t know your real name. But I don’t know mine either and it’s never stopped me from knowing who I am or taking what I want.”
His words were the last I was expecting. I sat dumbfounded and confused. He was telling me something important but I wasn’t sure what to do with it or if it’d ease my pain. I understood it was something few people knew and by his expression, it mattered to him greatly. It made my heart speed up to know he’d just opened up to me in some way. I realized I wanted to know how he’d become the person sitting next to me. Caleb. It wasn’t his real name. He didn’t know his real name.
What happened to you Caleb? Who did this to you? And why are you now doing this to me? I watched his face, the lines hard but not cultivated to project his usual demeanor. I felt it then.
There is a moment, in all my studying of movies and scripts, that I’d realized something elemental about human beings and why I’d been attracted to that imaginary world. Each piece of work was attempting to describe the human condition, in all its good, bad and ugly glory. At first, it’d been an extension of my own life, strangely mirrored in this world of ‘fiction’.
Each story wanted, no—needed—to reveal a human fragility, a human bondage which tied people to the things they did and to be the person they held in their heads. Those stories were something true and sometimes horrific but people were people and the parts didn’t just tell the whole story. I’d seen parts of this man, Caleb. What was the whole man, unshielded, and vulnerable? Who was this man that could do this to me, to anyone, and live with himself? And what type of person was I, to see some light in him that was somehow redeemable? Why did I try? But then, more importantly, why did he?
He waited. I waited. I wanted to press him, to dig for more, but I knew it would only push him away. He had thrown down a gauntlet. He would only give as well as he got and if I wanted to know more, then it would be up to me to make him beholden to me. Perhaps the more we knew about one another, the closer we would become and maybe, possibly, I could convince him to stop hurting me.
Surrender, he had once said. He had wanted me to surrender. Not just my body. My mind. I would try. I would try for him. Not for the sadistic, confusing man sitting next to me, not for Caleb. I would try for the handsome stranger underneath. The one I had met on the sidewalk that fated day – the one with no name. I was willing to try and understand him, piecemeal, and what came of it, I’d let fate decide. I made the first move because he wouldn’t. Maybe he couldn’t.
“Part of me thinks I’m actually glad – to be away from my old life.” I could tell he was surprised by the detour of our conversation and it felt nice to surprise him for a change. “Not that this is much better, but at least you wanted me back...I don’t think my mother would.” I licked my dry lips and forced myself to continue. “She thinks I did all this to myself. That I ran away...that I’m a whore. But she’s always thought that.” The lump in my throat moved down instead of up. Surprisingly, my muscles loosened. It felt good to say things out loud. I had said things about my past to Nicole, but this was different. Caleb was strong. He wouldn’t flinch. Somehow I knew he could bear the weight, and not feel the burden and uncomfortable unease associated with it, like Nicole had. “She hates herself, and I’m a part of her, manifested.”
Caleb’s eyes opened slowly, his brows furrowed, intent on listening. I continued, “When I was thirteen my mother caught her boyfriend kissing me. Or rather, she caught us kissing. He was younger than her, an immigrant looking for a green card. My mom was looking for a man who couldn’t leave her.”
“His name was Paulo.”
“I never meant to cause my mother any problems. I just wanted to be like other girls, wear things they did, do things they did. But she was too strict.
I kind of…,” tears spilled from my eyes, “I kind of…liked the way he looked at me. Boys at school didn’t really look at me you know. I was always wearing these long, ugly dresses. But Paulo…he looked at me like I was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.”
Across the bed spread, Caleb’s fingers drifted slowly toward mine. Before he could pull back, I hesitantly placed my open palm, face-up on the bed. Without a word, his fingers intertwined with mine. “What happened next?” His voice was rough, edged with some emotion I couldn’t discern.
“My mother was sleeping. I was out in the living room watching television. There was this movie on Cinemax starring Shannon Tweed.” Caleb didn’t recognize the name of the most infamous soft-core skin flick actress of all time. It almost made me smile. There was something sweetly innocent about it. Something innocent beneath the façade of Caleb.
He squeezed my hand, urging me on. I felt like I had someone who was on my side and the irony of it didn’t escape me. My mother hadn’t believed me, but I knew, I knew, Caleb would. Because I said it was the truth.
“There was this…sex scene. I was alone, so I…started touching my br**sts. I knew it was wrong to be watching it, but…everything I did was wrong.” I squeezed Caleb’s strong hand in my own as my anxiety grew and old shame threatened to rip what was left of me apart.
“Paulo caught me. He was wearing this bikini underwear and I could see he was really hard. I’d never seen that before. They never showed that in the movies.” More tears ran down my face, I was blind with them. My vision swimming in a water-color of memories.
“I tried to get up and go to bed but he stopped me. He was drunk. I could smell beer on his breath when he pressed me back down into the couch. He put his hand over my tank-top. I told him to stop. But…he said if I didn’t kiss him he would tell my mom what I’d been doing.” Without meaning to I sobbed.
“It’s okay Kitten, you don’t have to tell me anymore.” Caleb’s body was close to mine, his warmth pressed against my side, but he only held my hand.
“No! I just have to say what happened…why she doesn’t love me anymore.” I squeezed my eyes tight, blasting myself with both physical and emotional pain. I wanted him to know this about me. I wanted him to do what he always did after I was wrung out. I wanted him to take the pain away.
“He kissed me. It was my first kiss. He tasted like beer, but that wasn’t such a bad thing. For some reason, I’ve always liked the smell of liquor. He kissed me and my head swam. When he told me to open my mouth…I did. It was different after that. I didn’t like it anymore. His tongue was slimy and he kept moving it in my mouth like a snake, in and out. It was gross. I tried to pull away but he wouldn’t really let me.”
“My mom walked in on us. Paulo jumped up. His horrible f**king erection pressing against his ridiculous underwear. But she wasn’t mad at him. She was mad at me. She looked at the TV and back at us. I tried to explain but she just said, ‘Is this what you do when I go to bed Livvie? You put on your puta clothes and try to seduce your father?’”
“‘He’s not my dad.’ I said, but that wasn’t the point. I tried to explain how he was the one who kissed me. I didn’t ask him to. I didn’t want him to, not really. Paulo didn’t say anything. It was like he knew the entire thing was about us, about me and my mom.”