Sunday, June 05, 2005


Esmeralda: glassy green eyes staring from a papier-mâché face, glossy black plastic curls under a red paisley silk scarf, drowning in brass-coin jewelry and lacquered coral lipstick. I saw her, half a gypsy in a glowing box, through the riotous mass of high school kids packed into the bright parlor-arcade on Disneyland’s Main Street. I gave her two quarters, and within the acrylic cube her pale, stiff hand brought a card forward from the deck before her (oversized Bicycle, oddly, instead of tarot) with mechanical sluggishness. She released it into a chute where I snatched it and tucked it into a denim pocket, with various tickets and wrappers, to examine later. I never once glanced at her again.

That was March of 1996. In July of 1998 I found the card while unpacking in my new apartment on 13th Street in Imperial Beach. The paper was stained and creased but still bore the comically ominous warning, “beware a dark-haired man who wears a great deal of jewelry.” I met black-haired Oscar on a blind date in March of the next year and forgot all about poor Esmeralda. Her card was stored with other sentimental talismans in a Roitan cigar box which I’m certain, in his desperate attempt to completely obliterate the life I lead before he entered my world, Oscar’s brown bejeweled hands covertly conveyed to the dumpster in the parking lot.

Oscar couldn’t erase my life before him, but he had to try. It was almost as if he were two people. Half of him truly wanted to be encouraging, thoughtful, supportive, and a good partner and friend. The other half couldn’t help attempting to force me to fit his ideal. Stay home. Wear skirts. Live only for me; I should be enough for you. Wait until I am successful, and then your success will come easily; you will have the means to create it. Sorry, Oscar, I couldn’t wait. It had less to do with impatience or doubt and far more to do with progress, a natural shift of my concept of happiness. I don’t think there was anything you could have done to prevent me leaving. Dying, maybe. I would have stayed with your ghost forever. I’m terribly adept at making do with just fractions of the men I love. And then too, if you were dead no one could have proven to me that you would eventually damage my life beyond repair. Alas, you lived, and I saw it coming. So you see, I had to let you go. And only then did I notice that love can easily be inadvertently imitated.

I thought about Tom Hanks in Big when I read first read Esmeralda’s card. I pondered being careful what you wish for. But I am a chronic wisher. And not necessarily for unreasonable things, but for simple happiness and meaning. The card also said I love flowers and jewelry and beauty, and Oscar came bearing mountains of these things. Overkill, and a deficit of the things that really matter: patience, understanding, dependability, and respect.

Esmeralda said to stay away from boats. My dream home was once a houseboat on Lake Powell, replete with all the solitude, beauty and romance of reflected desert sunsets. But then, I occasionally get motion sickness. And pests abound near water, West Nile and all that, even though mosquitoes apparently find me unappetizing. And I’m learning that water isn’t so reliable as I once thought it to be. It’s actually quite a fickle element. Corrosive and persistent as all get out, water is nobody’s fool. A pair of hydrogen atoms seduces an oxygen atom and makes for one volatile ménage à trois. A skimpy foundation for a home; even one that floats.

I am only superstitious on August 23rd, when I pour all my hopes and dreams into a birthday wish that more closely resembles a fervent prayer. But if I still had that three-by-five playing card from Esmeralda's enchanted deck, I would frame it, the words kissing red felt and only the graphics on the back visible behind the glass. The card was, of course, the queen of hearts, and the queen had raven-black hair and leaf-green eyes. Her robe was red Chinese silk, and scattered in miniature across the fibers were the divided and destabilized yin and yang of that preoccupied pattern, paisley.


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