I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee
BARBARA ANN. I went to a dance looking for romance. I saw Barbara Ann so I thought I’d take a chance. We had a dance. The song was “Funky Town”. We got down. She said let’s go. I said where? She said your place.
We took her car. She started it by touching two wires together. I said what happened to the key. She said it was out being fixed.
I didn’t have any rubbers, but she didn’t ask. As I was coming she said, “Don’t come in me.” But she didn’t seem to care that I did, she just finished herself off and lit a cigarette and began talking about her affair with the guitar player in Hanoi Rocks if you could call it an affair.
Barbara Ann had a bottle of Southern Comfort and we both took a few slugs off it. Then she took a pill out of a pillbox that looked like it was from some hippy Indian shop. I said, “What’s that?” She said, “They’re great. Take one.” She popped it into my mouth and I washed it down with Southern Comfort.
The next thing I knew we were racing down Route 9 in an orange Dodge Road Runner. She said it belonged to her best friend Betty Sue. She had the pedal to the metal all the way out to the Corral off Interstate exit seven. There was about 50 Harley Davidsons parked outside and ordinarily I would have kept on going, but I didn’t give it a second thought.
We drank Jagermeisters with Pabst Blue Ribbon chasers and I wound up telling some biker named Tiny about Carlos Castaneda and he kept saying, “Yeah, I see your point.” The band started playing Shotgun, the Junior Walker song, and Barbara Ann came over and asked me to dance. I was explaining to Tiny about how if you walk in a circle around somebody’s house it gives you power over them. He asked me if it would work walking in a circle around a mobile home. I said I’d dance with her later and she grabbed a black guy in a Spuds McKenzie teeshirt and disappeared on the dance floor.
I never saw her again. A couple of days later I woke up with herpes. But the funny thing is, I’d do it all over again.
RHONDA. Since she put me down I’d been arguing in my head. I’d come in late at night and in the morning I’d just stay in bed.
But Rhonda she looked so fine, and I knew it wouldn’t take much time. So I said, “You’ve got to help me Rhonda. Help me get her out of my heart.”
Well, you can imagine how flattered Rhonda was by all this talk about me needing to get over another woman. Rhonda is an incredible girl. But the weird thing is that she went for it. You see Rhonda was codependent, although I only found out about that later. I should have known from the start, because when I asked her if she had a boyfriend she told me that she had had a boyfriend, but he went to rehab and he liked it in Minnesota and had decided to stay there after he got out. They still wrote to each other a few times a week.
I impressed Rhonda with my helplessness. My apartment was a wreck. Clothes strewn everywhere. Days of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink crawling with roaches. Empty beer and vodka bottles on the floor around my typewriter. No sheets on the bare mattress on the floor of my bedroom.
Although Rhonda was beautiful and intelligent, I never praised her. Instead I spoke of my obsession with Sue, who took my love and ran around with every single guy in town. I complained of Sue’s infidelities while I idealized her beauty. In lurid detail I portrayed myself as a fool and the more I did the more Rhonda responded with unconditional love and affection.
In fact Rhonda was much more beautiful than Sue. She was more intelligent and unlike Sue, whose sense of humor was rooted in slapstick verging on tragedy, whose most spontaneous laughter was occasioned by someone falling down hard. Rhonda’s laughter was free and easy. She saw the amusing side of situations others would regard as entirely unpleasant. Rhonda was the most perfect woman I’d ever known. But Rhonda was there for me and that was the problem.
I longed for the disappointments I had known with Sue. Wondering if she would show up. And when she didn’t, imagining who she was with and what they were doing. I liked Sue’s unpredictability, how a sunny mood would cloud up suddenly for mysterious reasons. I liked her elusiveness, I was fascinated by her lies, as transparent as they were.
Rhonda would come over and clean my house. She’d do my laundry. She brought me groceries. She hated me drinking but if I asked her to stop at the liquor store on her way over she would without saying a word about it. And she never asked me for money. When I got behind in my rent and was going to be evicted Rhonda started working extra nights at the restaurant and she paid up all the arrears. While she was out working I was fucking the go-go dancer who lived down the hall. She would come over and borrow Rhonda’s clothes and I’d let her.
One day a woman came into the restaurant and told Rhonda that she should be a model. She gave her a business card which was from a big agency in New York. Rhonda was all excited when she came home, but all I could do was tell her to hurry up and fix dinner, there was a big hockey game on in a half hour. That night when she fell asleep I threw out the business card and went around the corner to the Dew Drop Inn for a couple of drinks.
Down at the end of the bar was Sue, sitting with some butch in a Red Sox jersey that said Fisk on the back of it. They were both drinking Manhattans. I caught her eye and she smiled. I was cool and nodded. She came over. She asked if I was mad at her. I said I wasn’t. She said she missed me. I said that’s good. She put her arms around me and I could actually feel the willpower leaving my body.
She said we should go to my place. I made up some lie about why we couldn’t. My mother was staying there or something. So we went to the lady Red Sox’s car—a really mint GTO Judge—and we made it in the back seat. I knew then that I would do anything for Sue. Steal, kill, turn tricks with queer Johns. I couldn’t help myself. Well, Sue and I stuck around to drown my sorrows until closing time.
When I got back to my place Rhonda’s golden hair was all spread out on the pillow. She looked like an angel. I knew she deserved better than to be with a guy like me. But she knew what I was about and she loved me anyway. Was that my fault? I fell asleep thinking about Sue, walking off across the parking lot with that dyke’s hand on her ass.
Three days later Rhonda was in New York and before the year was out she was on the cover of Glamour Magazine. It’s funny, there was a line on the cover that said “the dangerous ignorance of men.” It was an article about men and safe sex, but somehow I felt like it was talking about me.
Rhonda was in town for Christmas, staying with her mother. I called but she said it was better not to see me. She told me that she had been going to Alanon meetings and that she had discovered that she was an enabler. She was addicted to my problems. It was weird but it made sense.
And for the first time I forgot about Sue. I realized that it was Rhonda I loved. Maybe she’ll never, ever talk to me. But it doesn’t matter. I know the truth now. Rhonda did help me. She helped me realize that only I’m the only person that can help me. One day at a time.
BILLY JO. I guess I’m the only person to know the truth about Billy Jo McAllister jumping off the Talahatchee Bridge. Over the years I’ve heard all these stories about babies and abortions and drugs and murder. As if the real truth wasn’t crazy enough.
The thing you’ve got to understand is that Billy Jo loved danger. She was up for anything. Playing chicken at railroad crossings, knife throwing—she and Joe Bob Conroy used to have a sideshow act till she cut off his ponytail. If Billy Jo McAllister was a kid in New York City today she’d be subway surfing or joyriding on top of elevators. There was nothing that woman loved more than a dare, unless it was a double dare.
Billy Jo was down in New Zealand playing exhibition softball with the Queen and Her Court—the Queen is a woman who throws the ball over one hundred miles an hour underhand and Billy Jo used to catch her. Billy Jo could have played minor league ball. She could pick off base-stealers like a Patriot intercepting a Scud.
When Billy Jo came back from New Zealand, all she could talk about was bungee jumping. When she first mentioned it I thought it was some weird kind of Asiatic jump rope. But then she told me that you tied these giant elastic bands to your feet and jumped off a bridge. She said it was better than jumping out of an airplane. And she’d know about that. She used to sky dive out of Floyd Martin’s crop duster at county fairs wearing a cheerleader outfit and waving pom poms.
She tried to get me to go with her that night, but I said no way. Somebody had to be there to haul her up again. Or else somebody had to be down below in a boat to haul her in. At least that’s what I figured. But I was wrong again. I should have known that night that she was going to go ahead and do it. I’ll tell you, I used to hear Billy Jo say “just do it” back when Nike was just a guided missile.
Anyhow, I remember the look on her face. She was disappointed in me as a human being. To this day I can see that look on her face in my dreams and it makes me feel like a real pussy. I don’t mean that disrespectfully. All I mean is that Billy Jo had balls and I didn’t. Period.
I couldn’t sleep that night and about five in the AM I called her place and there was no answer. That was very unlike Billy Jo because she always took her beauty sleep. So I went over to her place and the bed hadn’t been slept in. I drove down to the Talahatchee Bridge and I got there just about dawn. At the middle of the bridge I got out and there were those damned bungee cords just dangling over the side.
I was holding my breath as I looked over. I thought I might find Billy Jo hanging there limp as Howdy Doody on Buffalo Bob’s day off, but no, there was nothing down there but air hanging over the dark, swiftly running waters of the Talahatchee.
I ran down to the riverside but there was no sign of her. The river was cold and swollen from spring rains but I couldn’t believe she had drowned. Billy Jo was too good a swimmer. Unless she hit her head on something. But then how would she have gotten out of the loop that the bungee made around her ankles. I just knew that she had gotten out okay. So I went home and waited for her to call.
But she didn’t call. She disappeared. The rumors started right away. Then the police investigation. Somebody said they saw Billy Jo McAllister throw something off the bridge. Somebody else said they saw her jump. The police had showed up right after I did. I had taken the bungee cords home with me ’cause I figured I’d see her that day.
So why didn’t I say anything. Well, if she didn’t turn up and I went to them with this story of her jumping off the bridge with cords wrapped around her ankles, I figured they’d lock me up one way or another. In jail on suspicion of murder or in the county loon farm for being non compos mental. Besides, I thought she’d show up any time. But then I realized she had taken off for good.
I suspect that the real reason Billy Jo McAllister jumped off the Talahatchee Bridge was to get out of town. She jumped and then just headed downstream. Sometimes when I’m sitting here drinking Canadian Club and staring off into those eddying waters I imagine Billy Jo floating on an old truck tire down the Talahatchee, down past Swan Lake, Glendora and Minter City till it meets the Yazoo River at Greenwood and then floating down the Yazoo past Yazoo City and till it hooks up with the mighty Mississippi at Vicksburg. But I don’t see Billy Jo stopping there. I see her floating all the way down to New Orleans.
Every time I get down that way I head over to the French Quarter hoping to run into Billy Jo. Of course she could just as well be in Dallas or Houston or up in New York. I look for her in the magazines. She was a hell of a golfer and I look for her name in Women’s Amateur tournament scores. Of course she could have changed it Could have married some guy. But I figure Billy Jo to be the kind to keep her own name. Or else go hyphenated.
People can talk all they want about her throwing things off that bridge and jumping off it to take her own life. But I know the truth. The best thing that ever happened to Billy Jo McAllister was jumping off the Tallahatchee Bridge
SLOOPY. Sloopy came from a very bad part of town. And everybody there always put my Sloopy down. I’d say, Sloopy, I don’t care what your daddy do. ‘Cause you know Sloopy girl, I’m in love with you.
Well, believe it or not that always cheered her up considerably. I’d wipe the tears from her eyes and we’d go to a movie. Like maybe a Godard festival up at the New Yorker theater or anything by Alain Renais. Then we’d go out and have an espresso and talk for hours. She could talk on just about any subject. If we were talking about abstract painting she could discuss the major abstract painters of Yugoslavia in the Fifties. I don’t know where she got her knowledge, but it was astonishing.
Then it would be time for her to go home. I’d always offer to see her home, but she would never let me. At first I thought she didn’t want me to see where she lived, but later I realized that she was just concerned for my safety. I’d try to put her in a cab, but we hardly ever found a cab that would take her to that part of the Bronx. So usually I just walked her to the train and kissed her goodnight. I’d say, it won’t always be like this, Sloopy. Just hang on. Hang on, Sloopy.
Sloopy would have liked to stay with me once in a while, but her mother was a Dominican and very religious.
Sloopy didn’t like to talk about her father. I told her that I didn’t care what her daddy did because I was in love with her. For some reason she didn’t want to hear about that and she would begin to cry. I would wipe the tears from her eyes and we would go to a movie. Maybe something Japanese. She loved Woman In the Dunes, Fires on the Plain, In the Realm of the Senses, anything by Ozu.
One night after seeing Dodeska Den by Kurosawa she came back to my apartment and conducted the Japanese Tea Ceremony for me. After that she lay down beside me on the futon and took down her hair. I had never seen it down before. I think she had been growing it for her whole life it was so long. She spread her hair over me and it was so soft and warm and fragrant We made love for the first time that night I begged her to stay. She said she couldn’t I said she could move in with me. She said it would kill her mother for her to live with a man she wasn’t married to. Finally I got up the nerve to ask her to marry me. She said she couldn’t but when I asked why she didn’t answer.
That fall she transferred from CCNY to Columbia where she had been granted a full scholarship. I began to see less and less of her because of her schedule, but she worked part time in the library, so I used to drop in and see her. One day I was sitting in a coffee shop reading the Daily News and there was Sloopy on the front page. They were leading her father out of her house in handcuffs. He had been nabbed by hero cops with three pounds of heroin, $60,000 in cash and an arsenal of semi- automatic weapons. Sloopy was holding up her mother who appeared to be in shock.
Things were better after that. Sloopy’s father was sent to Sing Sing. Sloopy got a job with a professor in comparative literature and took an apartment down on Avenue B with her mother and her sister Lupa. I was able to walk her home after that, and once in a while Sloopy would spend the night at my apartment It was always a thrill when she’d let her hair hang down on me.
Last year Sloopy went down to Johns Hopkins where she got into Medical School. The day she left we met at the Avenue A restaurant for sushi. I couldn’t believe it when I saw her. She had cut off all of her beautiful hair. She said she had seen a picture of Linda Evangelista in Vogue that had just made her do it. And besides, it was much better for someone studying medicine.
I couldn’t believe she was going away for four years of medical school and then probably for four more years of internship. I felt like I would never see her again. But she just took my hand and said hang on. Hang on.
Glenn O’Brien is a writer and golf player. He lives and works in Bridgehampton, New York.
I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee