A Bell Jar Incident

People. Such random and chaotic beasts. When you get mixed up with people, you never know what’s going to happen, and it’s best to learn to disengage with mere observation, without too much investment.

There was this girl I used to play with. She went to the same church and had a single parent. The kids with one parent were my friends, because everyone else in the church was in a big family so, although we weren’t exactly ostracized, we just mostly played with each other. My best friends growing up were this girl, one of two black boys in the entire county, and a hispanic street kid from LA. Of all of them, Carly and I had the least in common.

Her mom was a widow, kind of a converted hippie, and I liked her, her traveling way of life and her dishes and her house. Carly was a princess. She had blond ringlets and she liked to boss me around. We had this game we played where we were sisters. She was always the older sister. The point of this game, I believe, was to give her more opportunity to boss me around. One day I suggested that I be the older sister for once. No, she said.

I shrugged. “That’s ok. I’ll be younger and prettier longer.”

She thought about it. “Ok. I guess you can be the older one today.”

So this girl called me out of the blue when I was living in the Grant Park house with Will and Paul.

“I’m divorced,” she said. “And I’m in Atlanta. I want to see you.”

So that was the way of things, in that religion that I had long abandoned. Here she was, 20 and divorced, because if you wanted to sleep with someone, you married them.

“It was bad,” she said that afternoon. She was still blond, very what I will call voluptuous (her and her mother were always on the big side), and she was dressed in this Mary Kay pink business suit, because she ran her own cleaning business like her mother.

“My husband just turned to complete shit. Then we had to go through this long process of meeting with the elders to explain why we wanted a divorce. They grilled us on everything. Even asked if we had oral sex, because you know that’s against the rules and has a whole lot to do with why we were getting divorced. Fuckin pervs.”

Will got this idea that the best place to treat Carly to a night out was Guys N’ Dolls, formerly Tops N’ Tails, on East Ponce. It was a terrible part of town, among many, but then you were always taking your life in your hands going anywhere. I had never been there, only every other strip club in Atlanta. He thought it was a swell idea because we could go to the guys’ side and he could hang out in the other. I drove, of course, and Carly rustled through her purse in the back seat.

“Hey, I picked up an 8-ball if you want some,” she said. Oh, God. It was going to be a long night. I declined because I was never into putting stuff up my nose. Will was all for it. I calmed down when I reasoned that this turn of events would most likely keep him from getting too drunk and unmanageable, without considering how sad it was that I had become used to deducing the probable future turn of events this way.

It was a weeknight, and the club was virtually empty except for one small group of women having a bachelorette party, who bailed early, and an old dude at the bar. What this means is the male dancers showered all their attention on us, and Carly was eating it up. It was all horribly strange. The boys had no grace or form onstage, there were just too many appendages, but I figured that they usually had a mostly gay audience who didn’t care. In a moment of boredom I wandered to the girls side. Will was the only customer, sipping a beer, and he looked bored, too. He finally came over to our side, to see what happened, and because the old man at the bar started buying his beers.

The rest of the night was just a blur of boys who came and went from our table and Carly in her pink suit chasing them around the club and getting private dances.

“That one, Damon,” she whispered,” he’s hung. I got a lap dance from him in the back and sucked his dick.” 

I absolutely had no idea how to respond to this. The lights were low but the colored strobes kept swirling and swirling and the night went on. I think Carly was a little drunk. I didn’t know how to make it all stop.

“Come on!” She pulled me over to these two chairs. “I got us a lap dance.”

There was no escape. He went by the name of Valentine. 

When he danced for her, she pulled her suit jacket to reveal the side of her breast.

“Oh, you can’t do that,” he said. He became flustered, tried to cover himself. “You’ll get me in trouble.” But he didn’t leave. They were all wild about her — her confidence, her money, the sex.

When it was my turn, I gripped the side of my chair and tried not to look down. First, I knew Will was back there somewhere in the darkness watching, and also it was just so terribly awkward. All I know is Valentine had fair to reddish hair, freckles, and pale skin. About the time I started philosophizing on why this life was happening to me, Carly announced she was ready to go. We went back to the house, she took her car, and then she vanished into the vacuum of the Atlanta night in search of Valentine.

I didn’t see her until I was finishing up the lunch shift the next day. I had no way to contact her. She slammed her purse up on the bar.

“I was right…about him,” she said, and proceeded to give me the unrequested details.

“Well…I’m glad it turned out ok.”

“Oh, yes,” she said brightly. “He made me pancakes.”

She left and I’ve rarely ever come into contact with her again. I tried to digest the way people can be so different. For a long time I thought everyone thought of things kind of the way I do. But it’s just not true. Some people are more fit for this world, and can go barreling through it unscathed, without scars or being affected by it at all. Or maybe they are just one gigantic scar to begin with.

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