Daily Prompt: First Sight, Whether a person, a pet, an object, or a place, write about something or someone you connected with from the very first second.
It was kind of strange because he was just a kid, a boy, 12 years old. He was in the garage with my ex-husband (good X, not evil X) and a bunch of other kids, including his little brother, Mikey. They were building and repairing bikes. He had a home-cut Mohawk, sun-bleached hair, green eyes, freckles and a crooked grin. He wasn’t even as tall as I am, yet, and I’m only 5’2″. He looked up at me from the vise where he had his bike fork. “This is Martha,” said my ex.
“Hi.” He grinned.”Hi,” I said, suddenly getting a kind of electricity from this kid, a feeling I’d had in the past when a relationship turned out to be important. I didn’t give it any thought at the time, but I remembered it, and Jimmy turned out to be one of my life’s best friends. I was 40.
Now don’t jump to weird conclusions. I don’t know about you, but there’s a part of me that IS a 12 year old boy. I have never BEEN a 12 year old boy, but that pre-pubescent moment, pre-romantic relationships, the first signs of adult physical power and skill, the liberty of being self-responsible in the “age of accountability” — well, I was happy at that age. At times I feel that all the other happiness in my life (though real) has been negotiated, compromised. At 40, I didn’t know my “inner 12 year old” wanted out.
That was the beginning of a 7 year adventure with a gang of “underprivileged” white kids and their homemade and patched together BMX bikes. Jimmy was the solid center of that gang, the sane and determined soul that held everyone and everything together. I spent my weekends with them — starting on Thursdays, usually — and a video camera I bought once I’d seen exactly what BMX is and how beautiful they were riding the jumps, and while most adults looked at me as the boy’s benefactor, it was a two-way street. Here is a story from our adventures that shows something of Jimmy’s importance to me in MY life. My life would seriously have been much less if I had not met him and spent four years filming wild boys and sharing their weekends. In this story, Jimmy is 13. His little brother, Mikey, is 9 and their friend, Ryan is 13. They all live on my street in a bad neighborhood (once San Diego’s “Crime Capital”) City Heights.
Background: In 1992 I was chosen to go to Hong Kong to conduct a business writing program for Hong Kong businessmen through the American Language Institute. I was incredibly excited and worked it out so that after Hong Kong I would return to Guangzhou, to the university where I had taught 10 years before, and do the same seminar or whatever they wanted. I was going home.
China was the greatest love I had experienced until then and it was years before I recovered from the broken heart of having left. Not that I didn’t try to keep the wound open by studying about China, bringing home stray Chinese people I met at the post office, writing a book proving that Pearl S. Buck wrote from the Chinese rather than the Western literary tradition. In 1992 I was still “carrying a torch” for China and going back was all I thought of. Naw, that’s not not true. Looking through the journals I wrote at this time, I actually thought of many other things, many of them quite silly.
Jimmy was out of school and hanging out with me whenever he could, including going with me to work. He had conceived a code of honor in relation to those who mattered to him, his family, his friends, that they should be defended from all the dragons and monsters and evil-doers.
I was married. It was a marriage that possibly should have worked, but it didn’t work. Bottom line, both of us were just not good at forming an intimate relationship with anyone in our close environment. Jim didn’t see such a thing between his parents as he grew up, and I grew up in a house where the closer I was to someone, the more likely they were to hurt me. By 1992, we were very near the end of our marriage, but we didn’t know it yet. Jimmy was the first to point it out to me, and the “man” who demonstrated that what I needed and what I had were not the same thing. That is what this story is about, the wisdom of a 14 year old boy offered to a 40 year old woman, and a kind of love that opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t known anything about.
We leave tomorrow and Jim’s passport is still not here. The INS had a problem legitimizing Jim’s presence in the U.S. He was not born here, but rather in Canada, and we’ve had a whole run around with getting this taken care of so Jim can go with me to Hong Kong. Jimmy shows up early in the morning; he’s going to help me photocopy materials for the class. He jumps in the truck.
“You must be excited!” he says.
“I’m very excited. But we haven’t gotten Jim’s passport yet.”
“You’re taking that guy? Why are you taking him? He doesn’t even like you.”
I’m stunned. “He’s my husband.”
“So? Take me.”
“You don’t have a passport, Jimmy, or I might think about it.” I look at his home-hacked Mohawk, home-poked ear piercing, and know I’d be proud to have him along. Those elderly Chinese women I knew on my old campus, who had come from the mountains of Hai Nan Island, would just think I’d brought my own tribal warlord.
We’ve been listening to Right Said Fred — “I’m Too Sexy”. The boys mimic the video in a way that that makes parody out of parody with their skinny boy chests, the random safety pin hanging from the random pink nipple, the briefs with the elastic separated from the cotton in back, the jeans falling down not out of fashion but because they’re too big, the worn Vans. Mikey, Jimmy’s little brother is the funniest, doing his little “…walk on the catwalk.” Jimmy turns on the music. Right Said Fred takes us all the way to the intersection of Chamoune and University at which point Jimmy giggles and says, “I’m…too sexy for this tape!” ejects it and throws it out the window in a winsome, elegant little over the shoulder toss.
I laugh. The serious moment has passed. We arrive at school and are ready to begin our last minute prep, when the boss tells me that he got a fax explaining that the program has been cancelled because there was a “fire in the venue.”
“Fire my ass,” I think. “They don’t want me and this is their way of saving everyone’s face.” Fuck the Chinese. I am over my love affair. I see them for what they are. Not me. Damn them. I know exactly what had happened. The ALI lacks the cultural awareness to fully appreciate that sending a young woman is something of an insult; to begin this relationship — which they hope will turn into a lucrative contact — they should send the boss.
Jimmy and I get back into the truck. Jimmy says, “I bet you’re disappointed.”
“Yeah.” I’m actually fighting tears. “I really wanted to go.”
“Maybe there’ll be another chance.”
We’re silent. No music, no talk. Damn. I bought very nice clothes for this.
My husband, Jim, is home when we arrive. Ryan and Jimmy’s little brother Mikey are there, too. Ryan is a great kid with a weird mom. Ryan’s big liability is that he is physically as beautiful as any girl. Tall, slender, enormous blue eyes, blond hair. He’s wearing his Guns n’ Roses “Use Your Illusion II” t-shirt which Jimmy mocks mercilessly. Jimmy has intuitively — and accurately — determined that Ryan needs a thicker skin or he’s going to be crucified.
“Are you hungry?” I ask Jim, thinking we could all go to Taco Bell, but while we’re eating lunch, it hits me what has happened and the whole world seems a little askew, surreal, dishonest. I am really disappointed and angry; I’m sad, in fact.
We walk down the street a bit. The light is flat ugly and white. We pass a dead yellow cat in the gutter, really the last thing I need to see at that point. It looks like Sandy, the cat owned by my Chinese brother when I lived in Canton. It seems to represent all my now flattened dreams.
At home I ask Jim if he wants to go hiking with me. A few hours under the open sky will make me feel better, but I’m lonely in my disappointment and don’t want to go just with the dogs. Jim he tells me he has a Toastmasters thing, so no; he won’t go along. As I turn to go inside, I hear Jimmy yell something but the angry noise in my head, angry at the Hong Kong businessmen, my boss and now Jim, blocks the words. Jimmy takes off on his bike. I change clothes as fast as I can thinking, “Fuck Jim,” get in my truck and head to Big Dog Health and Fitness Spa (Mission Trails) for a couple of hours with Molly and Truffle to do as my mom says, “Get my head on straight.”
When I return my whole life changes.
Jimmy is sitting on the curb in front of my house. “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for you,” he says. “I went home to ask my mom if I could go with you, but when I got back, you were gone. You’ve had a big disappointment today and you shouldn’t have to be alone.”
“Wow,” I think. I was gone at least two hours. To Jimmy I say, “Well, go ask your mom if you can go with me for pizza.”
“Can Ryan go?”
“Sure, and Mikey. I’ll go clean up. Come back in about an hour, OK?”
This is our first of many, many trips to Woodstocks. Good pizza, indestructible atmosphere, and the ability to feed half a dozen boys on $20. We sit in the corner that will later become ours, and we play Megadeath “Anarchy in the UK” on the jukebox, then Iron Maiden, then Metallica. We discuss their comparative merits. Only Metallica has any merits. We use paper plates for Frisbees, plug the tops of the salt shakers with torn napkins and loosen the tops on the pepper shakers. We sprinkle too much chili on Ryan’s pizza and then the best moment comes. Ryan goes to the men’s room and comes back. “Martha, can I borrow fifty cents?”
“What for, Ryan?” I’m amused and flabbergasted; he’s 13 and there’s only one thing for sale in the men’s room. We’ve already put enough into the jukebox. It’ll play our four selections over and over for the next hour.
“They have these cool stickers in the men’s room. I’d like to buy one.”
Jimmy actually gets Coke up his nose at that, and then it sprays everywhere. At nine years old Mikey has NO idea, and I’m trying not to laugh.
I say. “I’m pretty sure they’re not stickers. I think they’re probably condoms.”
“Are you sure? The ones on the machine have cool spiders and stuff. One says, ‘Spyder Skiwear’. It’s got this cool spider on it. I want that one.”
“Ryan, people probably put stickers on the condom machine.”
“Do you want to come and look?”
“I don’t think the other guys in there would appreciate it if I went in there to check out the condom machine.”
“Yeah, sure.”He wipes the Coke off his face with his napkin and follows Ryan into the men’s room. Mikey and I wait and wait and wait. They finally come back, both laughing like maniacs. I hear Jimmy say, “Dude, you gotta’ learn to read.”
Post Script: Not long after this, I got a video camera because I wanted to make a movie of our adventures. We wanted to film this scene so we staged it at Woodstocks. It required I follow the boys into the men’s room with the video camera. We actually did this, but the challenge of getting the men’s room to ourselves and acting out that bit was more than we could handle without side-splitting laughter. It took about 8 tries and a couple of surprised — and embarrassed — men. I had to be the one with the camera since all the boys were too goofy to film that shot.
As for Jimmy and the rest, well, Jimmy ultimately rode pro BMX; he got the sponsorship he always dreamed of. He and his brother, Mikey, both graduated high school — that made their mom both relieved and proud. I still know Jimmy. He’s very happily married with two kids (his lifelong dream was to be a dad).