I remember this:
March 9, 2009.
Driving across the high and lonely West Texas plains in Jeff's Escalade, the fine gray rain turns into stinging gray ice. I cut our speed, although it's hard to make yourself go slow on these long roads that stretch on for hours between nothing and nothing. The broken yellow dividing lines tick off the seconds. Outside, the world aches with cold -- smoky lilac sky and miles and miles of winter-worn prairie grass frozen in mid-wave, the color of dishwater. Inside the car everything feels warm and safe, as though the outside were just a movie. That's why you have a big box of an automobile like this, I guess.
In the passenger seat, Jeff taps fretfully at his laptop and curses because he can't get a signal. Like there was any ghost of a chance of a signal out here in the million miles between Amarillo and Odessa, even without the weather turning nasty. Once upon a time Jeff was born in the country like me, but he's a city boy now through and through and he wants what he wants when he wants it with no interference from natural law.
The roads are getting slippery, but my feet feel sure and my legs are strong. I will take us through the storm. Like the car, I was made for this.
Last night, in the hotel, Jeff asked me to run a bath instead of a shower. I filled the tub and added bubbles from the hotel's fancy soap. We undressed and got in together. I leaned back on my side of the tub and let the hot water soak out the day's long drive. Jeff sat forward, reached for me, took hold of me, pulled me towards him. I made my body hard, a pillowcase full of coat-hangers.
"Don't worry," he said. "You're virginity is safe with me. Unfortunately. I haven't had anything like an erection in almost four years."
I made my body soft. He pulled my back tight against his chest, wrapped his arms around me underneath my breasts. I listen to his breathing as it slows. I do what I learned to do when I was dancing: I take pleasure in the pleasure that he takes in me. It works. Too well, maybe. I get lost inside the roles I play for other people, though never quite lost enough. In the end I always have to be myself; in the end, I always have to disappoint.
My legs are strong. I take us through the storm. The ice is picking up as we hit the wind-farms in Culbertson County. I've always loved driving through them, valleys of skyscraper-high turbines that remind me of giant electric fans. Like the fan my mother used to put next to my bed on summer nights and I'd put myself to sleep humming into it and listening to the spinning blades shake my voice to pieces.
A layer of ice must have built up on the turbines. They are still, all of them. Every giant fan frozen in it's flight against the purple sky. Everything is so still. Everything is so quiet.
In the bath, I made my body soft. I slowed my breathing to match Jeff's breathing. I took pleasure in the pleasure that I gave, though even at the time maybe I knew I was giving up too much, and I wouldn't be able to give that much much longer.
Jeff cleared his throat. "Once upon a time, in the jungle, there was a small monkey," he said.
He paused. With my eyes closed, I heard the vibration of his voice inside his body. I heard his voice inside my ear. I nodded my head against his shoulder: Go on.
Jeff is not really a mean guy. He's a kind guy and a funny guy, but his pain makes him fret, and the more he frets the worse it hurts. I watch his anger tick upwards, and that's when he starts to get mean about little things. I grew up this way. My method for dealing with unpredictable adults is all mapped out: Smile. Be cheerful. Act cute. Stay out of reach.
"The monkey thought of himself as a real playboy," Jeff said. "And he went all over the jungle asking the different female animals to have sex with him. And the female lion said no, and the female rhinoceros said no, and on and on. But finally the female elephant felt sorry for him, and she said yes."
Jeff is a large man. His chest is warm and solid against my back and for the moment it feels strong, like something I can rest against. It feels good to rest against another person's body. I nodded my head again. When I took this job I wanted something stable, something I could count on. Money I didn't have to hustle for, that I could get just for showing up to a certain place and doing a certain task, like regular people do. It has not worked out just like that.
"So the little monkey is going to town on the female elephant, and just then a coconut falls off a tree and it lands on the elephant's head. And the female elephant says, 'Ouch'."
Jeff is smiling. With my back turned and my eyes closed, I hear him smiling. Like everybody smiles right before they spill the joke, when they know the punch-line and you don't, yet. Jeff tightens his arms around me and kisses my cheek.
"And the monkey said, 'Suffer, bitch.'"