MirrorMirrorThe rain fell through bus headlights, getting us ready for the big lie.  We spent the weekend in New York City, my heart beating up through my neck in the gold glow and enormous doors of the Mayflower Hotel.  Eric and I, when the urge to crawl out of myself toward her became no longer strange but strange and terrifying, left to cruise Manhattan, ending in a topless bar with hardcore sex moaning from each TV in the corners, where one of the dancers after having danced and swung her breasts before me gently and rhythmically, sat next to me and asked why I was in New York and (patting my thigh) honey would I like to buy her a drink?  Eric (two months later he mounted an unconscious girl drunk on beer and gin in a motel room in Ocean City, Maryland  because he didn’t think anyone was watching) wouldn’t move his gaze from the television, so I creaked something about a journalism convention.  I said no.  She glanced at the bartender who removed our watered-down, over-priced beer and asked for ID.  We left.

Later that night I stared at Cathy or Katy and the thousands of freckles on her cheeks, the way her loose hair caught light from the desk lamp by the bed as if each strand were alight and moving, and imagined the soft dark inside her baggy sweatshirt and the way she would look through me and say my name or ask my name and realizing then that she had a brother and a father.  She sat utterly unkempt, breaking my heart with every shift of her leg, or sip of her drink. Mike got a date with Cathy’s or Katy’s friend, whom everyone thought was prettiest.  I don’t remember the bus ride home, or much of the following weeks, when my fingers would tremble as I phoned her, and I’d ache in the surprise she expressed each time she knew it was me.

So I called less and less.  I was relieved when I lost her number.  I drove past what I thought was her house, and I wished I could be her brother, who endeared himself to her in so many domestic ways, his bedroom down the hall from hers, the way he answered the phone.  What I recall: rain through bus headlights in the parking lot, with my house sitting down the hill.  March.  The rain fell as if on a great swell, and I looked, I thought, and saw ahead of me, over Cathy’s or Katy’s head of red hair, and saw little else.

The memory hole.  Who, what, when, where, why. Cathy, or Katy.  A faint whiff of Catholic schoolgirl gleam-in-eye a peek down a white blouse a pale blue bra.  Did I meet her mother?  Or was that someone else.

I caught fourteen sunfish on one bright, mythic afternoon.  That I know.

I obsess on the motivation of my friend Eric who mounted an unconscious girl drunk on beer and gin in a motel room in Ocean City.  A filthy beach house at three a.m., and I wonder if I really was there, in an adjacent bed, feigning sleep under pale blue sheets while on the floor beneath me, between the beds, Eric quietly laid on top of a girl and did what the hallways later said he did.  Or did I hear the tale months later.  Or imagine the whole thing.

I recall when my younger brother was born: a mother in a red pony-tail, a pale blue package, a tenuous smile in a garish photo.  My parents said it never happened, I was never there.  There.  There’s the photo to prove the memory correct, just as it happened, as I promised.

Joe Bonomo is the author of Installations (Penguin, 2008), Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band(Continuum, 2007), and Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost & Found (Continuum, forthcoming 2009). Recently listed in “Notable Essays” in Best American Essays, his prose appears in Fourth Genre, New Ohio Review, Storyscape, Hotel Amerika, and the “Lyric Essay” issue of Seneca Review.  He’s at work on a collection of autobiographical essays, and teaches at Northern Illinois University.

photo by Kristin Fouquet