By Joe Speaker
She thought I was a jerk, she told me later. The first time she saw me, I was leaning on my right arm, which was pressed against the paneled walls of my fraternity’s rec room. I was grilling another young co-ed, flirtatious pressure amidst the stench of spilled beer and rampaging testosterone. The scene was cliched, she said, and she marked me down as a typical frat boy, interested only in getting drunk and getting naked. I never did remember who that girl against the wall was, but before the night was over, I'd met someone I can't forget.
I was introduced by her friend Kelly, a chirpy blonde sorority pledge whom I'd met briefly at another party. Emma was her contrast, dark hair, petite (five-foot-two..."and three-quarters!" she'd always add), her slim waist giving way to inviting hips. Taken separately, her features would seem odd, a walking Picasso. Her nose was long, with a unique extension on the end, as if it had been placed there later. Her teeth were adorably crooked with a slight overbite. Her eyes turned to gleeful slits when she laughed. But together, they fit her face, framed with high cheekbones and a strong chin.
We danced, and the way she moved stirred me, forcing heat through the keg-induced haze and sharpening my senses. Her hips seemed to bend every which way, effortlessly, the enticing curve of her backside rotating, thumping.
I thought I was doing well with her. We laughed, we drank, subtle touches and probing questions. She was leaving, she said, and I offered to walk her and Kelly back to their apartment just a block away. She demurred, shook my hand and walked out of my life.
Durazo was a pledge brother, a couple years older than I, more confident, more strident. "I thought of you because you won't make an ass out of yourself," he said, by way of explaining why he'd invited me to join he and his latest lady friend--and her roommates--on a Friday night trip to Tijuana. "And you won't try to hit on my girl...like Alter or Rich." I laughed.
"No problem," I said. "What about the friends?"
"All cute. One's annoying as hell, but she's got a boyfriend. Then there's this Hawaiian chick, a little stuck up. The third, I think you'll like her."
We knocked on the door and Kelly answered. We were both startled to see each other and my heart started jackhammering in my chest. Recovering, she kissed Durazo and invited us in before adjourning to the bedroom. We shot the shit with the other boyfriend, a guy in a wheelchair whose name now escapes me but who I saw many years later on a short-lived primetime soap opera. When Emma emerged from the bedroom, confidently, my stomach did a little flip.
"Hi!" I blurted too loudly, rising from the couch and giving her an awkward hug. It had been six weeks since that first meeting and she had crossed my mind on several occasions. There and then, the night grew in promise and we immediately set about reconnecting.
Margarita's Village was a staple on the SDSU Underage Drinking Circuit, but this was the first time I'd made it to the underground lair on the always festive Avenida de Revolucion. The seven of us sat around a table drinking swiftly, like kids hell-bent on cramming as much fun as possible into their first day of summer vacation. Emma sat to my left and because of the noise, I was forced to talk close into her ear, a frequent act which made me feverish. We danced some more, those hips beckoning.
Ever had a tequila popper in Mexico? I hadn't either, so when I was seized from behind and involuntarily forced to consume alcohol in a hailstorm of whistles, complete with the requisite neck-snapping by the waiter, I briefly thought I was being jumped. The guy nearly tore my head off, relishing the act and the shocked gringo response. My tablemates laughed at my naivete, which I took good-naturedly, but every time I hear a whistle in Tijuana—to this day--I instinctively assume the duck and cover position.
The popper took my drunkeness to new heights and with it, my boldness. Soon, my hand was lingering on Emma's thigh. Our dancing became more overt, closer. At one point, leaning into her again to speak, I turned her chin toward me and kissed her softly, momentarily. For years after she would term any resemblance to that moment's tenderness a "Mexico Kiss."
We spent that night together and with one other before the Winter Break commenced. We both went to our respective homes at different ends of the state and had just limited phone contact those five weeks. For my part, I was looking forward to seeing her again, in the typical manner of a sex-crazed 18-year old. I would soon find out her anticipation was considerably less.
That first night back in San Diego, she was distant. I stayed at her apartment because the dorms didn't open until the next morning and all I got was stilted conversation and a buddy hug. Days later, she'd admit that she had gotten back together with her high school boyfriend over the break and that she was trying to figure out what she wanted. I was able to slough off this news, in the typical manner of a sex-crazed 18-year old. I was at San Diego State, where 70% of the student population had an STD. They didn't get that way from being chaste.
About a month later, I was again at the Frat House, talking outside with a dirty blonde sporting a nice rack (though I would find out many months later, after she gave it up for my roommate, that she had hairy nipples). It was going well and as midnight approached, I began to seal the deal. All at once, the lights went out, plunging the patio into darkness and eliciting drunken whoops from the masses. Laughing, I rubbed Karen (yes, I remember this one's name) on the shoulder and said I was going to go find out what happened. As I carefully strode away, the lights returned and I was staring face-to-face at Emma.
She greeted me enthusiastically, a tight hug, a kiss on the cheek, those crooked teeth grinning wide. Karen became an afterthought and, for the next couple of hours, Emma and I caught up. She was different, more open, than the last time I'd seen her and while she didn't take me home (or let me walk her home), she did agree to join me the next afternoon at a picnic with people from my dorm room floor.
It was early March and the weather in American's Finest City was postcard perfect. Emma showed up at my room in a yellow sundress. The thin straps clung invitingly to her wintry white shoulders. The hem came down to her mid-thigh and seemed to float there, a willowy destination, a secret promise. I hugged her and was enveloped by her scent, fresh and reassuring, like spring itself. I never left her side all afternoon, so intoxicated was I by her presence. She had an easy manner about her, comfortably meeting all my friends, joining the conversations and laughing gaily. I couldn't keep my hands off her and she accepted my touches, reciprocating with caresses of her own. Suddenly, in the midst of it all, she leaned into me and whispered in my ear, "Let's go back to your room."
My roommate, a foul, sloppy young man named Chris was out of town for the weekend, so we were alone. The expiring afternoon light forced its way through our tattered curtains as Emma sat on my thin mattress, her delicate calves crossed, feet hovering over the pock-marked linoleum floor. I leaned over and kissed her, using one hand to steady myself, the other to run my hand up her thigh, brushing the hem of her sundress, cautiously moving it aside. She fairly pulled me into her and we crashed unconsciously onto the lumpy bed. But this was not an assault. It was a dance, a tango. We took our time with each other's bodies, pausing to breathe, examining every inch. The sundress remained, though folded and pulled and hiked, its cotton arousing to the touch, tickling like a feather. The heat of our coupling caused perspiration, tangy and sweet, like morning dew, and it mixed with her perfume in an alluring potion, a unique aroma I've not smelled since, nor ever forgotten.
We spent the rest of the day there, napping from pure spent emotion, waking again to explore. Dusk fell and still we held each other, our bodies slick and mingling. I never wanted her to leave, telling her so as darkness surrounded us. Neither of us moved for a light or a candle, only lay there, seeing by touch, by memory. She said she'd stay and she did, even as the whole experience took on a hazy, dream-like quality, endorphins retreating, leaving behind only indelible recall, footprints in my memory.
She left in the morning, but only physically. Her touches lingered on my skin, her kisses resonated into the pit of my stomach. I fell in love with Emma that day, deeply, unassailably. It was a reckless love, the hard-headed and cocksure belief of two young people not really ready for the demands of the emotion. We thought we were, but when we were married less than six months later, we doomed ourselves to hard lessons. Still, that afternoon, that sundress, that woman. Nobody since has touched the part of me she did that day. I suppose that's one of the reasons I can recall it so vividly, more than 20 years later. It rustles some leaves, this recall, sweeps the cover off some other dormant memories. Makes me wonder how she's doing. Makes me wonder if she remembers, too.Joe Speaker is a writer from Southern California.