photo by Alex Lear
AIN'T GOING BACK NO MORE
1.—The mountain village
It was raining by the bucket-fulls. The door to Soulville, which is what we called our collectively rented hooch, was open and it was early afternoon. Rain softened daylight streaming in. And warm, a typical summer monsoon day.
Em, which was the only name I knew her by, was near me. She was reading the paper. I had a Korean bootleg Motown record spinning on the cheap portable player plugged into the extension cord that snaked out the window to some generator source that supplied this small village with a modicum of juice. Did I say village? The place was erected for one reason, and one reason only, to service the service men stationed on the other side of the road, to supply the base with cheap labor and even cheaper pussy. I know it sounds crude, but that's the way occupying armies work.
I had never fucked Em, and, as it turned out, never would. I remember one wrinkled old sergeant, a hold over from World War II, talking on the base one day about Em sucking his dick, but that was not the Em I knew. Somehow, the Em I knew, the woman reading the paper I couldn't read because I couldn't read as many languages as she could, somehow, the lady who put down the paper and, as the rain fell, calmly carried on a conversation with me, clearly that Em was not the same Em that the sergeant knew.
It would be many, many years later before I realized that sarge never knew Em. How can one ever really know a person, if one buys that person? If you buy someone, the very act of the sale cuts you off from thinking of that someone as a human equal. Sarge simply consumed the pleasure given by a female body to whom he paid money, a body which kneaded his flesh and opened her flesh to him, made him shudder as her thighs pulled him in or as she sucked him. A business transaction. Nobody buys pleasure in order to get to know the prostitute. In fact, the whole purpose of the deal is to remove the need for a human connection while satisfying a desire.
I didn't think like that at that time, laying in the hooch with my boots off, day dreaming as I gazed out into the rain, my chin on my arm. In Soulville, just like in all the other hooches, which were usually little more than a large room that doubled as both a living room and a bedroom, we took our boots off upon entering. Even now I like to take my shoes off inside. At the time it was a new thing to me, a difficult thing to get used to, especially with combat boots rather than the slip-ons which most of the Koreans wore. But that's the good thing about going to a foreign country: learning something that you don't already know, something that you can use for the rest of your life.
It's funny how stuff can catch up with you years later, and only after rounding a bunch of corners does the full impact of an experience become clear. I mean more than a delayed reaction, more like a delayed enlightenment. I remember one of the cats we used to hang out with. He was a real deep dude and sometimes he would sit on his bunk holding court while we played an all night game of tonk on a make shift card table constructed of two wooden footlockers stacked one atop the other and a big bath towel (to keep the cards from sliding when we slammed our winners down) serving as playing surface. Some argument or the other would come up and we'd all look to Unk to settle it — his name was Samuel, which naturally got shortened to Sam, and since we were in the army, Uncle Sam was almost inevitable, which in turn got transformed into "Unk” by one of them country dudes out of Alabama with a molasses slow drawl — early one morning when we was mustering up for roll call, Hezakiah came strolling up in a lean back amble, his fatigue cap rolled up in his back pocket (which he knew he should have had on his head the minute he stepped out doors), Hezakiah (whose named didn't get shortened) fell in next to Sam and, with a glee-filled slap on the back, greeted Sam with a loud, long, hearty, albeit southern-slow "what's happening Unk?" It was just the way Hezakiah said it, cracked everybody up and from that day ‘til Sam went back states-side, everybody called Sam by his new handle: "Unk."
Anyway, I don't even remember what the particulars was that we were arguing about, but I do remember, just like it happened yesterday, that when we turned to Unk for his Solomonic judgment, he pulled a draw on his pipe and casually dropped a gem.
"Don't neither one of you ignant motherfuckers know what the fuck you talking about.” Unk looked to his left, "Billy, you just plain dumb‚ and country, and cause the only schooling you ever had was how to hitch up a mule and how to pick cotton, I wouldn't expect you to have no real learning.” Unk looked over to the other combatant, "And, Jones, you from the big metropolis of southside Chicago, but you dumb‚ too.” Then Unk inhaled a long draw on his pipe, took the pipe out of his mouth, studied his cards with feigned seriousness, casually blew the smoke through his nose, and continued just like he had never stopped talking.
"Billy, he ain't never had the advantage of schooling but he got brains.” Then Unk turned his full attention to Jones, who was sitting to his right, "You had the advantage of schooling but you ain't got no brains, which is why you just dissed that deuce and let me go on out. Read um and weep gentlemen. Tonk!”
As he collected his pot, Unk continued the lecture. "Let that be a lesson to all yalls. If you got to choose between an ignorant motherfucker and a stupid motherfucker, choose ignorance. Cause stupidity, just like ugliness and diamonds, is forever. Whose deal is it?”
Billy picked up the cards and started shuffling. Unk was on a roll and, with a two beat paused punctuated by his cackling laughter, Unk just kept on talking right through Billy's fast shuffle which ended with the deck sitting in front of me for my cut. "You know what I mean,” Unk turns to me, "cause at least you can enlighten an ignorant dude, but a stupid motherfucker, huh, you wasting your goddamn time. Cut the cards, man.”
Except I never could figure out how it was that Unk fell in love with Jenny, what with her being a prostitute and all. I mean like on the serious side. Got so, he paid her a $100 a month, and she wouldn't even much look at nobody else. I could understand her, cause Unk was her ticket to ride. Anybody in her position would want to get to the states. But why would somebody like Unk want to bring Jenny back with him to the states? It was deep, too deep for me to figure. I wasn't sure whether my inability to comprehend where Unk was coming from was cause I was ignorant or cause I was stupid, so I never did say no more to Unk about it.
When Unk's time was up, the money was on him leaving Jenny behind, just like did ninety-nine percent of the GI's who fell in love in Korea. To no one's surprise, although there was some awfully sentimental moments, Unk went back and Jenny stayed behind.
My reminiscence was broken by Em's hand on my arm. I looked over at her. This wasn't no sexual thing. We both knew and observed the one rule of Soulville, i.e. no fucking in Soulville. Soulville was a place to hang out and cool out. We put our money together and rented Soulville so as anytime day or night when you didn't feel like being around the white boys, if you was off you could come over to Soulville and just lay. And you didn't have to worry about interrupting nothing. It didn't take long for all the girls in the village to know Soulville was like that. So a lot of time was spent in here with Black GIs and Korean women just talking or listening to music. It was the place where we could relate to each other outside of the flesh connection.
From time to time we had parties at Soulville. And of course, some one of us was always hitting on whoever we wanted for the night. But when it came to getting down to business, you had to vacate the premises. We had had some deep conversations in Soulville. One or two of the girls might cook up some rice or something, and we'd bring some beer or Jim Beam — although I personally liked Jack Daniels Black, Jim Beam was the big thing cause it was cheap, cheap, cheap — and, of course, we brought our most prized possessions, i.e. our personal collections of favorite music, and we'd eat, drink, dance and argue about whether the Impressions or the Temptations was the baddest group. As I remember it, there wasn't much to argue about among the girl groups, cause none of the others was anywhere near Martha and The Vandellas. Soulville, man, we had some good times there.
Em was getting old. She had been talking about her childhood and stuff. And when she touched my arm and I looked over at her, I could see a bunch of lines showing up in her face. Most of the time, when you saw the girls it was at night or they had all kinds of make up on their face. But it was not unusual for some of us to sleep over at Soulville and if we were off duty we'd just loll around there all day. Early in the morning we would hear the village waking up and watch the day unfold. Invariably, one of the girls would stop by to chat for ten or fifteen minutes. Or sometimes, two or three of them would hang out for awhile.
On days like this one, you'd get to see them as people. Talking and doing whatever they do, which is different from seeing them sitting around a table, dolled up with powder and lipstick, acting — or should I say, "trying to act” — coy or sexy, sipping watered down drinks through a straw and almost reeking of the cheap perfume they doused on themselves in an almost futile attempt to cover the pungent fragrance associated with the women of the night.
Just like when we was in Soulville we was off duty, well it was the same way for them. And I guess without the stain and
strain of a cash transaction clouding the picture, we all got a chance to see a different side of each other.
I started wondering what it must have felt like to be a prostitute, a middle aged prostitute getting old and knowing you ain't had much of a future. A prostitute watching soldiers come and go, year after year. What it must have been like to have sex with all them different men, day in and day out and shit. Especially for somebody like Em who spoke Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese, and could read in Korean, English and Chinese. I mean, from the standpoint of knowing her part of the world, she was more intelligent than damn near all of us put together.
Her touch was soft on my arm. I looked down at her small hand, the unpainted fingernails, the sort of dark cream color of her skin. I looked up into her face. Her eyes were somber but she was half smiling.
"Same-o, same-o.” She said, rubbing first my bare arm and then her bare arm. "Same-o, same-o.”
2.—The border town.
There was no Soulville in Juarez, Mexico, which was the service town at my next duty station at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Tay-has, as the Mexicans say it, actually North Mexico.
The stolen land. Well, actually, all this land is stolen land, but that's another story, right now, I'm just telling you why I ain't going back in there no more.
As clear as it was that the relationships between the indigenous women and us Black men was a business, the exchange of sex for cash, still, in Korea, there had been a human side to it, a side which had some of us falling in love, and most of us, to one degree or another, made aware that there was only a very thin line between us. But Juarez was different.
Different in that it was brutal and inhuman. I remember my first and last trip to get laid. It was such a downer that I came close to making up my mind then and there, that I wasn't going back anymore. At first I thought my problem simply was that I wanted more than a quick fuck.
Life is so funny. We be changing and growing up, but because it's us, and because it happens day to day, we don't notice it much. I hadn't noticed how Korea had helped me grow.
I immediately noticed the obvious changes in some of the other guys who I had shipped out with to Korea. They had been assigned to different bases up and down the peninsula, and now it was like a whole year later. We was running into each other and swapping lies about our tour in the land of the rising sun.
The growth process was most noticeable in the guys who came from the small southern towns. By the time we hooked back up, everybody was slick in their mannerisms and modes of dress.
Shit, if Korea didn't do nothing else, it had us all dressing like hep cats. Even Roger, who I never saw hanging out much, had brought back a silver-gray, sharkskin, tailor-made suit from Korea.
Within a year we were all either actual or aspirant pool sharks. We all drank like crazy and acted like today was our second to last day on earth. I saw it clearly in them. I don't know if they saw the same thing in me.
I don't know how much I had changed or what I looked like, but I do know that there was some things I just couldn't deal with and at the top of the list was Juarez pussy.
When you find yourself doing something you don't like doing even though you thought it was something you wanted to do, you get real philosophical. So standing in this dark, dimly lit room where the only light was shadows, an old hag, which is not an exaggeration, holding out her deformed hand for the money and then afterwards asking to see my dick to make sure it wasn't infected or something, and feeling it expertly for blemishes and sores, standing there under than short arm interrogation, Louis Jordan's song was beginning to sound in the back of my brain: "if I ever get out of here, I ain't never coming back no more.” At least I think it was Louis Jordan who sang that, maybe it was me making it up and kind of attaching it to something that I half remembered Jordan singing. Whatever, the point was the same. This shit was awful.
After I passed the test and made the requisite payment, I
was led into a smoke drenched haze that set my nostrils to flaring under the sharp assault of musky odors in the room which was an even darker room than the dark room of shadows I was just in, a room so dark that til this day I can't tell you what the woman I fucked looked like, or, for that matter, whether she was really a woman, or for that matter whether I really fucked her, or him, or whatever or whoever it was in that lightless hole.
Memory is never accurate. Memory is colored by feelings and limited by awareness, especially when you are dealing with an emotionally charged situation. I guess you can tell I been spending more time in the library than across the border, more time reading a book than drinking in a bar. I'm not ashamed to say that I never went back even if it do mean that I wasn't a man like the other men who went over to Juarez all the time.
I still went over there, but for the most part all I bought was cheap liquor. Boy, one time it was so funny. Between four of us, we collected about twenty dollars, made a quick run and came back with two shopping bags full of rum and brandy. We sat in the deserted, Sunday evening barracks and drank, and drank, and drank until we literally couldn't drink no more.
I never will forget the feeling. I mean we were so stoned that if you had made a movie of us, it would have been the perfect thing to show to kids to scare them off drinking. At first we were just drinking and telling tall tales, lies and what not. Then we was drinking and thinking that we was talking — you know like in that routine Richard Pryor does when first he's talking mucho shit, then he's mumbling, and then his mouth is moving but he ain't saying nothing, then he's nodding, and then all of a sudden his head snaps back and his eyes buck-wild wide open and he shouts "was I finished?", well, we was like that.
The "high point” of that particular session happened towards the end when one of us, I forget who, I know it wasn't me, at least I don't think it was me, but one of us was sitting with our legs crossed and then, boom, just keeled over and fell on the floor. I remember thinking that who ever it was was on the floor. He had fell out. And nobody laughed or nothing. Nobody moved. He had fell out on the floor, the rest of us had fell out sitting up. I mean at that point we was so cool and so stoned that literally the only move any of us could make was to keel over.
Eventually, I gave up that kind of drinking after I got puking drunk on wine one night. But all of that was something I learned over time, this Juarez pussy thing was instant.
I don't know why I even went through with it. I mean even after I had paid my money I could have left. It wasn't nothing but five or six dollars or so, but you know, the thing about being a man is that once you start something you supposed to see it through. No, I'm lying, what the deal was is that I kept thinking that somewhere in the process there had to be some pleasure. After all it was like the old joke between the two
privates who was arguing about whether fucking was fifty-fifty pleasure and work or whether it was more work than pleasure. A old master sergeant comes along and settles the argument by telling them, there wasn't no work involved in fucking, it was all pleasure, cause if there was any work involved in it, the officers would make the privates do it for them, and wasn't no officer asking no private to do his fucking for him.
So, I believed that there had to be some pleasure somewhere and I was going to find it.
But you can't find what ain't there. There was no pleasure, only a deeper and deeper disgust with myself. She said something. I don't remember whether it was in English, Spanish, Splanglish or what. I don't know what it was we did it on. It wasn't a bed.
This wasn't anything but unadorned sex and the basic sex act itself. No petting. No caressing. No talking. Not even no real touching. I came as fast as I could to get it over with. And left in a hurry with my head down, truly ashamed of myself.
I never went back.
3.—The desert shack.
Masturbating was better than Juarez. I saved money, it was cleaner and I didn't feel guilty afterwards. Still, being that I was what we used to call a "cock-strong” twenty years old, there was the undeniable desire, indeed, there was almost a driving compulsion, to fuck. I found myself wishing for Korea sometimes.
At that point, I really wasn't opposed in principle to participating in prostitution, just opposed to what I perceived to be the degradation of Juarez compared to the "enlightened” prostitution of Korea. Sometimes it takes us a while to get our ethics straight. I was ready to do it as long as it didn't repulse me, and I wasn't really thinking about the women.
The women who were the "same-o, same-o” as me. In fact, the Mexican women were darker and often looked more like sisters than did the Korean women. But I wasn't ready yet to see women in the same way I saw men. So even if we were the same color and suffered the same racism, when it came to the particulars of their situations, I didn't really see and understand the particulars of the suffering of women.
I remember Yoko Ono saying — I believe it was Yoko, or somebody associated with the Beetles — that women were the niggers of the world. To me that seemed like an over simplification of a complex condition, meaning the complexity of racism rather than the complexity of being a woman. I never even thought of how complex it must be to be a woman. But, like the song say, if you live, your time will come.
Sometimes we have to learn the hard way.
We were at a party somewhere in New Mexico. I don't even remember how we got there. By then I had wheels and one of the three of us that hung together had heard about this party and suggested that we ought to go, said there was going to be some sisters there.
Now, you have to be in the army, stationed in a place where Black women (who would associate with soldiers) are few and far between, to understand what it meant to go to a party where there was going to be Black women there. I mean you'd drive to another state for a party like that. Which is what we did.
The party was a small, house party and there were some women there — two in particular. One was plump and one was tall. Skee-zazz, whom we sometimes called "Lil Man,” cause he was short, decided to pair up with the plump girl and I went after the tall one.
The rap on soldiers was all we wanted to do was fuck and after that forget it. Of course that's an over generalization, but it's not too far from the truth. But on this night whether we finally fucked or not, we were having a good time. The liquor was flowing. There was some food there. And whoever was responsible for the music, had a bunch of good jams.
We drank, we danced, got sweaty, talked, slowed dragged and belly rubbed. As the night wore on, this tall sister got to looking more and more outrageously fine to me.
My rap was kind of on the weak side and I hadn't really developed no game. I mean I did my share of bullshitting with
the guys and stuff, but as far as talking a girl out of her drawers, you know like when you meet somebody cold at a party or dance or something, and then get them in bed four or five hours after you just met them, I had never done that.
Skee-zaz˙ was in the corner laying down his line and giggling through his teeth, flashing his big dimples. Me and Tall Girl was talking about something, I don't know what. I think what was saving me was that I could dance. So, when a good jam came on, I would jump up and talk shit, clear out space on the floor, cut the fool and give everybody a good laugh. I think on that night nobody even came close to some of the moves I was laying down.
There's something intoxicating about dancing when you get into the flow of the music. Everything I could think of, I was able to do with a panache that only, say, James Brown would have been able to match. I guess being in the army and being in good shape helped a whole lot. But I know the real deal was having this big, tall, fine, healthy Black woman smiling at me as I whirled and twirled, talked shit and popped my hips was the real spur to my confidence.
That particular warm New Mexico night it was getting so I couldn't do no wrong. By about one a.m. when peoples started drifting off, I knew it was time to make a serious move. We was slow dragging on some number, my hands was crawling up and down Tall Girl's torso — I can't tell you her name cause I don't
remember her name, besides, names ain't important on one night stands — I gave Skee-zaz˙ the eye and he winked back at me.
Skee-zaz˙ had his bottom lip tucked into his mouth and was squeezing his eyes shut with exaggerated concentration while he rocked his head from side to side. Tall Girl was saying something in the general vicinity of my ear. I nibbled a reply on her neck. She kind of moaned a little. My left hand was resting on the top of her butt, rotating in synch with her rocking from side to side.
"How you getting home?”
Tall Girl answered me. I didn't hear her answer. I really wasn't listening to a word she was saying. My radar was locked in on the target and I was close enough that my heat seeking missile was about to explode with a direct hit. It didn't matter to me what she thought.
"Say man, let's go,” Skee-zaz˙ commanded with the terse finality of a general ordering troops forward into battle. Our foursome stumbled out into the star encrusted desert night way out in lost-found New Mexico. Shit, I didn't know where I was and didn't care. I had this fox on my arm and I was about to get laid.
I don't remember what Skee-zaz˙ and Plump Girl was saying. Knowing Skee-zazz, he probably had a drink in his hand and was laughing into his fist, his characteristic gesture when he was having a good time, bent over slightly at the waist and then abruptly rearing back hollering, "Stop, stop, stop” as he laughed full out, holding his balled up hand to his lips like he was drinking an imaginary bottle.
I was cooler than that. I had Tall Girl on my arm and probably was asking her to stand still a minute, stepping back and framing a shot with my "air camera” and then waving the make believe picture back and forth until it dried Polaroid style and then looking at it with intent interest and pronouncing, "Just like I thought, this proves it, your smile put the moon to shame.” And then Tall Girl would blush with her mouth of twenty-five or so gold capped teeth — she was missing a few but that wasn't no big deal to me, and she obviously didn't feel uncomfortable about it cause she laughed with her mouth open and didn't hide her smile with her hand or turn her head away the way people who are self-conscious about their bed teeth do. I liked that she was comfortable with her self.
There was no question about where we was going. Skee-zaz˙ and his pick-up was in the back seat, I was driving, and Tall Girl was sitting there beside me with that tight green dress riding up those long, luscious legs. Skee-zaz˙ leaned forward and touched my shoulder in pretentious imitation of what he though a rich man did with his chauffeur, "Aug Jeeeeee-veeeesssss, take us...” and then he turned to the girl, "where you live baby? Is it alright if we go to your place?”
"I stay with my sister. Yeah, I guess it'll be ok. But I
got to ask her when we get there, you know.”
"Yeah, yeah. Yeah.”
"Well,” I said.
"Well what motherfucker,” Skee-zaz˙ said impatiently.
"Well where the fuck am I going?”
Skee-zaz˙ turned to the girl again, "Where we going baby, what's the address?”
The plump girl said something. Skee-zaz˙ relayed the info, "yeah, that's where we going. Just drive motherfucker. We'll tell you where to go.”
I pulled off.
The plump girl said something. Skee-zaz˙ hollered a loud guffaw, "Hey, Doc, you going the wrong way. You got to turn around.”
After I dropped Skee-zaz˙ off and we had agreed that we would rendezvous in two hours or so, I turned to Tall Girl and just smiled.
"What're you smiling at?”
"Cause you make me feel like smiling,” and I put my hand on her thigh above her knee. She didn't move it. "Come on, tell me how to get to your place.”
Tall Girl lived way out in the desert. I'm sure it wasn't really that far out, but it was at least two or three miles away from where I had dropped off Skee-zazz. Fortunately, these one horse towns don't have too many streets to get lost on. It was mostly straight shot highway.
When I pulled up to what looked in the dark like an adobe style blockhouse, the first thing I noticed was there was no lights on nowhere and it was deathly quiet. As I rolled my window up and stepped out the car, I heard my footsteps and Tall Girls footsteps making a real loud crunching sound in the sand of the walkway leading up to her door.
Like a friend pulling my coat, I had an eerie intimation that perhaps this wasn't going to turn out like I thought it was going to. For some reason I just got the impression that this house was a one room hut and there was some kind of faint, familiar odor which I couldn't identify.
Although it wasn't as dark walking up to her front door as it had been in that room back in Juarez, and although Tall Girl's crib‚ was far more substantial then the hooches back in Korea, still I had this strange, but brief, deja vu premonition that I had been through this scene before. Just then a coyote howled from not too far away. Tall Girl paused briefly when she heard the canine's call. On cue, my arms flew around her waist and pulled her to me. We kissed. Then she stepped back to dig her keys out of her jacket pocket, which was when I noticed that she didn't have a pocketbook with her.
I imagined by now that Skee-zaz˙ was humping and pumping, and I intended to be doing the same in a few minutes. Tall Girl started talking some talk about having a good time and thanking me for bringing her home and shit. The missile had left the launcher. I didn't want to hear no stalling and side walling.
Inside her place was a musty aroma really different from the night air we had been breathing. The house really wasn't hardly nothing more than a front room with a open kitchen behind it and what must be her bed room off to the side. I didn't see where the bathroom was. Maybe it was out back.
I was trying to follow Tall Girl without bumping into anything. She was bending over something and then I saw she had a child laying on a cot. I said to myself, "Goddamn girl, you left that child here all by herself.” Child didn't look like it could have been no more than three or four years old. Fortunately the child was sleeping.
After pulling the cover up around the child's shoulder and passing a kiss with her hand from her lips to the child's head, Tall Girl said "Thanks.” Again.
Fuck that I thought. We was going to fuck or fight. I put my hand on Tall Girl's butt. Just wanted to make sure she understood where I was coming from.
She squirmed away.
I followed her into her bedroom. There was this big bed and another child sleeping in a crib.
I started to hit myself with the heel of my hand upside my head. Wanted to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
Tall Girl kicked her shoes off.
She left her two kids sleeping to go partying. Goddamn what kind of mother was she?
The sound of her zipper brought me back to my senses.
She had on a black slip.
What if the child woke up while we was doing it?
She sat on the bed.
I kissed her and felt up her right breast.
She lay back on the bed. "I'm on my period.”
Meaning what?, I started to ask. I was still thinking about those kids. How she could just leave them out here in the middle of nowhere. Then I thought, if that's bad, then how is it you can be here trying to fuck this woman, why you want to fuck her if you think she's so trifling?
Ignoring both my question and her statement, I kissed her again. Maybe she was just saying she was on her period to get out of fucking. I reached my hand under her slip, up between her legs, and felt the lump of a sanitary pad sitting like a stop sign at the fork in the road.
"Please...” and she just looked at me, didn't try to move my hand away from between her legs, didn't even try to turn away or nothing. She just looked at me.
I was rubbing her thigh and at the same time I could see her eyes searching my face. Her brown pupils moving back and forth in the moonlight. Didn't say nothing else. Nothing more.
I didn't know which of us was more pathetic.
My eyes were growing accustomed to the surroundings. I couldn't help not see that baby in the crib. I couldn't help not think about it. I was close to getting some pussy. But at what cost?
We stayed like that for almost a minute. It got so quiet I could hear the child's light snore of contented sleep. It was clear Tall Girl wasn't going to stop me if I really wanted to do it, yet the more I thought about it the madder I got with myself. What was I doing laying next to this menstruating woman, a woman whose name I couldn't remember, a woman I never wanted to see in life again. It was too much. I couldn't do it.
I got up.
Stood over her for a few awkward seconds.
"Thanks.” She sat up. I didn't say nothing. As I started to turn to leave, Tall Girl said, "I really did had a good time.”
I realized just then that she was thanking me for not forcing myself on her. "I would offer you a drink or something, but I don't have nothing,” she said matter of factly without a trace of self pity. That's just the way it was.
"Yeah, that's ok.” Then there was another anguished pause. I didn't know what to say, "well, see you around.” I took my keys out of my pocket. We both knew that we would never see each other again.
I walked out, or rather, to tell the truth, I stumbled out. I don't even remember what else I said, or even if I said anything else to Tall Girl. When I got to the car, I realized that I had been almost holding my breath on the way out. The smell was the same smell I had smelled in Juarez, in Korea, the smell of poor women at the mercy of men, men like me, men like Skee-zazz, like old sarge, like any of us, no matter whether we was a private or a general, poor women at the mercy of men.
Tall Girl, I thought to myself, you sure got a hard row to hoe, and you can't even afford to get your head bad and forget about it. There she was, lying on that bed, not wanting to fuck but resigned to the rules of the game. I wondered what I would be like if I had to let somebody fuck me every time I just wanted to have a good time.
I turned around in the middle of the deserted street. I took my time driving back to retrieve Skee-zazz. A lot of thoughts was tying up in my head. Although I probably did the right thing, I felt bad because I had come so close to not doing the right thing.
It looked like it took me twice as long to get back to where Skee-za˙ was at then I remembered it taking when I had dropped him off, and even so, I still had to wait outside til almost 5:30 before he came out.
Although I had rolled the windows up, locked the door, let the seat back, slouched down deep and pulled my black leather lambskin cap over my eyes, I didn't really sleep. I kept hearing Tall Girl saying "Thanks” and seeing her large eyes looking at me.
Later, on the ride back to the base, Skee-zaz˙ told me how he had "got them drawers. She kept saying, no, no, no. But I just pulled them drawers off her and got me some. I told her, I said, baby, if you didn't want to fuck, you shouldn't fucked with me. Them bitches know how the game go.”
I told him about Tall Girl being on the rag.
He said that wasn't nothing, I should have just pulled that rag out of there and gone ahead and got that pussy. "You should have got that pussy, man. That was your pussy. Yours for the taking. Betcha, if I would have been there, rag or no rag, she would have been fucked.”
I was confused for a moment. Skee-zaz˙ was from Newark and could be cold blooded as a knife in the back. Sometimes he didn't have no respect for nothing or nobody.
I kept vacillating between being satisfied with the decision I made not to fuck Tall Girl and the desire to be more like Skee-zazz. To young men there's something attractive about being a barbarian, something manly about being a ruthless hunter and a stone killer, just taking whatever you want regardless of what it is or who it belong to, which is why, I guess, "to Bogart” was a major verb in our everyday vocabulary. Skee-zaz˙ and Humphrey Bogart would have fucked Tall Girl, maybe I was being too southern, too soft. I don't know.
When you're growing up, sometimes the hardest decision to make is the decision to be yourself, especially when being yourself causes you to have to put principle above pleasure.
So here we are, driving through the New Mexico night back to El Paso discussing whether to fuck or not to fuck. I didn't say nothing about how the place looked. I didn't say nothing about the kids. I was just mad with myself cause I was in the middle of some trifling shit that I finally decided I had no business being mixed up in.
That was it. As we crossed the state line I made a pact with myself. I wasn't going to buy no more pussy in Juarez, or no place else for that matter, for the rest of my life. And I wasn't going to be taking advantage of no women who were so poor they didn't have nothing but they bodies.
For the rest of my natural born life, as much as I could help it, I wasn't never going to take advantage of a poor woman just for some pussy, and it wouldn't make no difference if she was yellow, black, brown or white.
It would be over seven months later, not until I returned home and had been mustered out the army, before I made love to a woman, but that's a nother story, for another time.
I guess I must have been thinking real hard to myself and ignoring Skee-zaz˙ cause the next thing I knew, Skee-zaz˙ was sitting with his head thrown back, snoring loudly as I drove back to the base.
Directly in front of me, in the east, the sun was coming up. A new day was on the way.
—kalamu ya salaam