A memoir by Claire Massey
It helps to compartmentalize. I like the word. Mentalize a compartment. Boyfriends of late teens, tender twenties, have been banished to an island in my head, an atoll of sand and coral rubble, arising from the jagged reefs, the dormant volcanoes that comprise the undersea of my neocortex. I’ve created an outcropping, like the archipelago where outcast eighteenth century Aussies were dumped, sentenced to isolation and hardscrabble living.
Not all the boyfriends are shanghaied. Not Bernie, master of verbal repartee, gleeful when I boomeranged barbs. Not Arthur, WWII aficionado, enthralled with a steady who interviewed a WASP flygirl at the vintage air show, earned accolades from the journalism club.
But Jack…strong-backed, marathon lover, vane of his Nordic nose, his mane of titian colored hair, he’s a different story. Always tossing his head like an ungelded thoroughbred, eyes cavorting, averting his ears from my needy recitation of Mom’s hospitalization or a pregnant cousin’s impending ruination. Always trolling the length of our favorite bar, sonar pinging off any available blond. He’s relocated to hindsight’s epicenter.
Jeff too, a huge mistake, poster boy for steroid abuse, is consigned to my isle of the displaced. His MO was ambush at Godfather’s Pizza or Longhorn Steaks, his mantra Hey Ms. Liberated, you gotta job. I don’t. Pay up. When I summoned the nerve to ask why not ERA, he called me a Femi-Nazi. He examined my shapely legs, pert high-chested breasts, decided nice assets but not worth budding challenges to machohood.
Brad dwells on this geological uplift of mind, this topographical design of the thalamus. He rode Hondas while jonesing for Harleys, a short-fused guy out of patience with novices. Lacking the mettle to be a motorcycle mama, I leaned away from him in curves, leaned further when he urged an Ecstasy-fueled threesome. He kicked me to the curb at some country store, had to call my girlfriend for a lift home.
My island isn’t lethal but time is relentlessly linear. These bad boys will age if not mature. I’ve left a cache of sunglasses so they won’t burn their retinas and bottles of Coppertone, albeit expired and not high numbers. I’ve thrown in books by Gertrude Stein and Virginia Wolf, tales of survival from Zora Neale Hurston. Mother Nature is by turn indifferent, or in a mood to discipline disrespectful sons. She calls forth Amazon ants from the walls of driftwood shelters, floods them with rot, blows them apart. Feast or famine is Mother Luna’s decision. Minuscule anchovies or egg-laden she-crabs. It’s all in the crest of her tides, the whim of her phases.
Jack’s back will ache and his head will bald. He’ll stop seeking his reflection in after-storm puddles that crater quicksand. Jeff’s muscles will elongate, unbunch, as he shimmies up palms and runs the perimeter for washed up sushi. Deprived of red meat and artificial testosterone, he’ll crave coconut milk, contemplate fate like a fledgling monk. Brad has nothing to ride, no boat to drive beyond bone-crushing breakers. Still, he wants to get high, wonders if he should try a bite of lionfish or oleander.
Prodigious talkers, these smooth operators will one up each other with conquest stories. They’ll never figure I’m the common denominator, put a name to the ex with the endless legs and overblown imagination. I was one of a legion of girls on the serpentine route to womanhood, rehearsing smiles till it hurt, swallowing uncomfortable words, questioning if Eve really did ruin the world. We combed Cosmo for conversation starters, nodded when the quarterback denied there were female pilots. Heads cocked at inquisitive angles, we longed for dialogue, settled for monologue.
Should this trio appear in a dream I’ll forget before waking, ask for second chances, a seismic shift in my thinking, I’ll offer a test. Convince me you remember. Name the lost girlfriends who didn’t know they could stand on their own, legs gangly yet resilient as a colt’s. Name nine Greek muses, the feminine charkas, the seven sisters, Minerva’s domains, “harvest moon” in eight languages, the maternal ancestors who gave you birth. Do this seventy times seven times and maybe, I’ll revisit my seat of higher judgment, re-examine the molten heart of my own Vesuvius.
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Claire Massey has published award winning poetry, memoir, flash fiction, and short stories in an array of literary journals including Wilderness House Literary Review, Persimmon Tree, Panoply, Snapdragon Journal of Art and Healing, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and Flights 2020, among others. Her memoir, “In the Backyard of Childhood” placed in the National Keats Soul Making Literary Competition. She is Poet Laureate for the Pensacola, Florida branch of National Pen Women. A Selection Editor for The Emerald Coast Review in 2019, she is Prose Editor for the 2021 print edition of this publication.