“I had wanted to fuck her for forever” were the first words that came into my mind as I looked out on the chocolate mountains behind the billboard of the casino. Years ago, my wife and I had come to this very motel in Winnemucca, Nevada as it was the half way point from Idaho to California. We were moving. In transition. She had a new job. Everything was perfect. The giant sign outside the window blinked a twelve foot version of what I thought we were: “Winners." No neon letters were missing. That’s all it said.
W i n n e r s.
That was then and this is then and now. I have returned to Winners Casino in the hellhole that is this place with its one strip featuring a virtual sadness museum of little to no relative history, the cigarette smell of desperation, and oddly, a Portuguese restaurant. I am without wife, which is fine because she would be perfect for this place, draped always in black dresses, her favorite non-color. Like the blackness that she enveloped herself in, she is gone. Long gone.
This time I am here to meet the new her. The woman I had been accused of having an affair with. My student. An obsession that never was but an undeniable afterthought, or bugbear . . . what is it when there is something stuck always in the back of the mind? What is that word? A brain splinter? In the desert, words escape me like sweat evaporating.
Her name is Brianna Olsen and indeed she is shorn of Swedish Mormon stock. She has for years written me letters. She took all my classes. She would stand very, very close to me. Cue the police song. She absolutely would not give up. And since I have nothing now, nothing that is my own, why not? Isn’t that what Nevada is for? Beautiful unattainable illusions.
We have agreed to meet here. She is 26 and already divorced. My age is irrelevant but do not think she could be my daughter. More like little sister. Or maybe a niece. A niece I can have my way with and this single factor, not the conversation or what we will eat, terrifies me.
I am drinking watermelon martinis in the bar of the casino. They are very easy to stomach and are a bit weak but there is sugar on the rim. No one of any youth has entered the casino is the last hour. The requisite obese woman with tubes hooked up to her nose and a Pseudo-Hawaiian shirt most likely purchased at a flea market. Men whose skin have transformed into beef jerky, slick backed hair, Polo-like shirts, and gold bracelets.
The air is a combination of cigarette smoke, burnt eggs, some kind of melted cheese, and desire. Really, it is kind of delicious. If seedy had a summer address, it would be this. It is absolutely perfect and about eighty seven degrees at night.
She chose to do it this way. In a sense, her life is over in the small Idaho town in which she is condemned to live. She is too beautiful for it. She is an anomaly there and this was obvious when she walked into my classroom wearing fashionable clothes, with her hair done up, and her perfectly manicured toes.
Students from Southeast Idaho Mormon/ranching country normally do not attend classes dressed as models. They don’t reek of smoldering sexual desire and smell like a mixture of honeysuckle and vanilla. Her kind of stuff only happens in perverted old man fantasies or seriously dated MTV videos. She was a kind of pornography I could have never predicted.
Cling cling. Ting ting. Wazza wazza wazza. Bweeeep boooo. That is how the stupid take-your-money gambling machines talk. Blinking lights blinking lights blinking lights. Desperation has such a weird demeanor. And I should know.
This was all her idea, for the record. To meet up like this. Sure, I picked the destination as it was a random stop in the life of my wife and me. I should say the lives, as it was my illusion that I was sharing one with the person I had been devoted to for over twenty years. There are a few things in this general experience we all share, this mortal coil, and one thing is sure: never be fooled that anything is a mutually exclusive phenomenon. People, no matter how in love, do not share a life. They are always their own solitary creatures.
The weak retreat back into the caves of their own existence and do not desire company. Like a sick dog, they aim to die alone behind a bush or a tree to not be a burden on others. This is the ultimate sadness of being. The audience at the one armed bandits: proof.
It is only in the minds of the crazy ones, the Romantics, who will forever deny this reality. The accursed co-dependent types who want to be with another for every breathing minute, who live in fear of the other’s not breathing, who value their existence at such a little price tag that it is negative value if the other is not around– those are the ones who eventually will die of a fabled broken heart. That’s my type. I am a seriously fucked up individual. I am what they call the eternal lover.
This is why I have driven six hours and thirty-three minutes. All the way from the East Bay, listening to a.m. radio. Smoking and eating candy bars and drinking horrible gas station coffee. To see what I could not see then. And that would be Brianna’s soul.
None of this makes sense. I think that it is so wrong. The premise is fucked up. It’s like when, and this is a terrible comparison, when a person, well, mostly a guy but some girls too, look at porn. It’s not like they, him, she, we are focused on the naughty bits. We are looking at the photo to see what is in the room, what is on the wall, do we have the same Ikea knick knacks? That kind of thing.
The excitement or dirtiness created by nudity and some melodramatic erotic pose. That’s what makes the stuff in the background so interesting. Wondering what the pornographers’ subject just had for lunch. Wondering if she has ever truly been in love. Wondering why she holds her hands that way.
My phone just lit up. She texted me. She will be here soon. In an hour or so. She had a bad drive. The freeway was windy. There is still snow on the mountains coming her way. Said she passed a whore house named Donna’s Ranch in the middle of nowhere. Said she’s never seen one before.
I can feel the day’s heat creeping into the entrance of the casino. The entrance is carpeted in bowling alley style motifs and the lobby branches into a restaurant, the front desk, and the small black hole of the gaming room.
I tried my luck at a slot machine. Spin, spin spin. A banana, cherries, a bust. An omen. Or just dumb luck.
She is in the back of my head always. Not just a sexual obsession. It’s the fact that no one can save her. There is nothing better than rescue. Even if you cannot save yourself. She is always in the back of my head. She is literally there now.
Hands touch my shoulders. Hands heavily manicured and as light as undone bras. She is here. We are here.
It’s the beginning of a B movie and a 1970s porno with subtitles. The subtitles say in 12 different languages “mistake." The subtitles, like the awkwardly funky music, play in both of our heads at the same time, slightly out of synch.
Green as the smell of sagebrush in a rainstorm she has grown in total isolation. She has no idea what to do with her body.
She touches my neck. I can feel manicured, and maybe even fake, fingernails. I turn around and look up but before I do she has kissed me hard and snug on the cheek, the way a semi-familiar auntie would and she smells of hair product and strawberry lip gloss.
“I can’t believe it”, she says. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
Idolization of Sacajawea. Long black hair dyed into oblivion. Some kind of glittery halter top, pinkish but I cannot tell in these lights. Really tight painted on black jeans or are they some fabric I don’t understand? A white frilly overshirt that is see through. The edges of a black bra. Open toe leather sandal platforms.
Be kind the gods of irony and let me die now. There could never be a moment better than this. The long desert drive. Years of thinking about her. Slightly buzzed on three gin and tonics I didn’t even need to mention. The somewhat vague yet recognizable late eighties music in the background.
Seeing her live standing here, touchable. Her wanting to touch me. Wanting.
“I think I’ve been in love with you for so long” is what we are both thinking although we must both be so very wrong.
Blackout of the drearily mundane. Time has passed. I now sit in the Alameda County Courthouse in the east bay of San Francisco waiting for a divorce proceeding. It wasn’t that night that put this into motion. Nothing ever happened. At least nothing truly worth remembering or regretting.
We went back to the room with its swamp boat fan of an air conditioner blowing the place more windy than frigid. I couldn’t get over the pattern of the room’s carpeting: blue, red, green tartan. There were as expected, indeterminate stains. Not blood, not coffee, not motor oil but something in the category of ugly permanence.
She told me of her problems. Of how she would cut herself just to feel something, anything. About the boys she loved and fucked to, in her own words, “no avail." It’s never good to love or fuck to no avail.
She cried and talked about the tattoos she wanted. About the boys who treated her like shit. I stared at her hair. It was her whole persona. I looked at her young, sloping boobs. Directly. Without shame.
She grabbed my arm. She tried to kiss me.
I started to let her. And then I just couldn’t. I ordered a pizza and a salad and the salad was put on a pizza crust because it was Nevada and that stood for gourmet. We laughed.
I held her as she told me more stories of her terrible life, which were all off premise and born from errors of perception, how young people think and cannot see in depth or beyond their sleek sexy bodies, and she fell asleep in my arm. How she even quietly snored.
The next morning we said goodbye over a disgustingly greasy egg and waffle breakfast and she was gone from my life forever.
Divorce, contrary to customary belief, is a game that children play. Adults re-enacting child’s play.
You do not know me and I do not know you; let’s get that straight. Just like the beauty queen I chose to meet left of the center of the middle of nowhere, in the golden west of utter desolation, the wife, like all people in fact, men and women, friend and foe, cannot not fathom a person like me.
My attraction to the emptiness of sage brush country, to unnamed mountain peaks no one ever desires to hike, to roadside greasy spoons with their depressingly limited menus with only a promise of a malted milkshake and the consequences of knife-sharp heartburn, to the endless highways littered with the refuse of afterthought, was all just my addiction to plain desire. The desire to be forever in transition. Never giving a fuck if the center cannot hold.
So the three-ring circus of divorce is what I get for being who I am or who I refuse to ever be.
This has to be why of the few things I have ever owned that the person who now publicly hates me has kept my mini version, a novelty lamp, of the Las Vegas sign, complete with blinking lights. Though I am gone, my aesthetic remains.
I have traveled from here to here. The secret is that there is no there there or anywhere. It only makes sense that I have located paradise in a semi-arid landscape tamed by out of control expansion and the white buildings that try to hide the dirt that is money are covered, if you look closely, with grime.
Crime and punishment the old man wrote and if you ever end up anywhere near the bay of San Francisco, a body of water that mocks the desert that surrounds, you know you have been convicted and have been sentenced to a most picturesque Alcatraz.
That’s what makes it so bad: it’s all so pretty from a distance but you cannot ever have it. You can only look but never touch. And never know.
That after twenty-three years, she sits down in the hall, nervous, wearing black because of course it’s slimming, out of love once again, is only appropriate. She should be scared. Divorce is the new marriage.
Yes, I could have loved the beauty queen. Hell, I could even live in a place like Reno. That is because I am condemned to be a person who is all about the other. The strange thing is - is that mostly anyone will do. I am that addicted to loving.
It is the desolated places that I long for. The motel rooms without a view. The towns in which one can only wonder what people do there to make a living, intersected by a silent railroad track. Let’s call it Bridgeport, CA in this instance. These places are everywhere. Full of people who have given up on wondering why they are there.
My glory will come within the hour. I have my memories of her and her and her. I have a vague notion of the next one. It is all I need.
Like an aging rock star I await that magical moment when I get to say the one thing I am famous for. My swan song. My state’s motto. The words that fall off my tongue like prayer. I guess they are “I don’t."
As I walk into the court room Breanna texts me:
:( . . .