My Dad was a golden gloves boxer back in his youth and taught my brother and I some good sparring moves. He also told us not to fight, but to not back down either, so, without hesitating, I stepped back and laid a full bore punch on His nose which dropped him like a stone, blood immediately spurting from his (found out later) broken nose. His minions immediately backed away, not seemingly inclined to protect their master. I turned and walked away with a really sore hand hearing Cray’s screaming profanities and threats.
“Dumb,” I thought, “so incredibly dumb and stupid. What a complete asshole.” I would soon find out what a totally complete, obnoxious and dumb asshole Johnny Cray really was.
I frequented Marie’s place about every night, sometimes with a few of the road crew guys, and many times by myself. There wasn’t much nightlife in Tristan other than have a few beers, an occasional game of Euchre, and sleep.
Over a few weeks time, Marie and I became sort of friends. When business was slow, she would come over and talk to me and ask me about myself and she seemed interested in what I had to say about my life, my family, and my work.
She talked very little about herself at first, but eventually started to open up about how she was born into a working family near Pondicherry, India; how the English family where her mother worked as a servant made sure that she had a decent education at an English school; how she became a devotee of a holy man and joined his ashram at 18; how she traveled with this holy man to America where he was to teach and give lectures; how he turned out to not so holy when he began to invite himself into her bed whenever he wanted; how she stole cash from him in Chicago, escaped and ran away ending up in Tristan; how the previous owner of the tavern felt sorry for this sad waif he found sleeping behind the tavern and took her in; how she worked for him for five years (immigration laws were not so strict in the 1960s); how, when his health was failing and he was dying, she cared for him because he had no family; how he gave her the building, the business, and everything else he owned when he died; how much she hated this tavern and wanted to be able to go back to India to see her family; how she wanted to sell it, but there were no buyers; how she only ever had enough money to get by; how much she enjoyed my company because I listened, was interested in her, and treated her with respect. And that her name was really not Marie, but Amisha (which, fittingly, means beautiful) Choudary. That she began calling herself Marie since it sounded more “American” than Amisha.
How I loved to hear her talk in her sort of sing-song melodic accent.
After six weeks of getting to know her and hearing her stories, I was, what, one might say, somewhat enamored, smitten, bowled over or whatever, by this beautiful and interesting woman who seemed interested in me. I might be in love….. at least that was what my youthful head thought it was anyway. Love? I didn’t even know what love was. I guess I loved my parents and family and I was supposed to love god. But this was a different feeling that I had no experience with. What I did know was that Amisha had wormed her way into my heart and into my mind. She was there all the time, whether at work on my scraper, or at night when I was alone in my room trying to get some sleep, or when I was driving to work, or in my dreams….or, really all of the time. All the while, deep down, I knew it was crazy insane as I was six years her junior and she was not white, and she was not catholic, and I was confused, and there was no one who I could talk about to about what I was thinking or feeling and she was loving and kind and sweet and smart and beautiful and I knew that I just wanted to be together with her. I was experiencing some unknown, undiscovered territories of emotional landscape and had no idea what to do.
Through my last few years of high school and up until recently, I had dated some local girls. We did the usual things for those times: movies, dinner, dancing, all the things we thought dates should be. But while I found these girls nice, sweet, and charming, I also found them dull and uninspiring to be with not much to talk about except resurrecting old high school stuff (“Oh, do you remember how drunk Bobby Johnson was at the prom” or like “ Did you hear that Jane Anderson got pregnant and just guess who the father is,” sort of stuff.) They were shallow, not by intention or fault, but simply by lack of experience. It was equally my fault since was equally shallow with little world experience of my own to share. This became abundantly clear after my long talks with Marie. I found myself feeling like I knew nothing of the world, but just learning about her life, her experiences, and where she came from made me feel a little more “worldly” I guess. Girls my age were……. just sort of boring. And, right now, I had no time to meet girls anyway, being busy working 10 or 12 hour days six days a week. But Marie was always there every night to talk to.
My life went on like this for a few weeks until one Saturday night after work, I decided to stay in Tristan and go home in the morning. For whatever reason, I was feeling tired and morose that night and drank at Marie’s way more than I should have. Right before 11:00 closing time, Marie brought me a cup of coffee and a sandwich. I ate while she locked up and did the register. She turned off the lights, took my hand and started to lead me upstairs to her apartment over the bar. The coffee and food were starting to do its work and I was becoming a little more clear headed. I ventured to ask where we were going.
Her reply was, simply, “You staying here tonight and are going to bed.”
She took me upstairs to her apartment.
I found her apartment to be as exotic as she was, tapestries of Hindu entities, smells of incense and patchouli, all sent from her family in India. All managing to block out the stale beer and piss smells, the very thought of the tavern. It was her sanctuary.
She proceeded to take me into her bedroom, turned and put her arms around my neck reached up and kissed me on my untrained lips, long and tenderly.
Shocked and feeling very clumsy, I backed away, “Holy crap, what are you doing?”
“Taking you into my bed to make love with you.”
“I have never done this before, never slept with a woman. I have no idea what to do,” I protested, panicking.