1993: The Backyard
The house next to ours was constantly being rented out, much to my father’s irritation. The way he told it some “bastard from Schenectady” inherited it from “Mr. O, who’d smack his bastard grandson” if he knew the kid was renting the place out for a buck because “no one gives a damn about property value and taking a little pride in ownership.”
The point is, someone new was in that house every six months. The tenants ran the gamut, we’d seen everything from a single weirdo in his forties who wore rubber gloves on the regular to a family of nine, one of which actually stole a pound of bacon from our freezer once. There were a ton of random neighbors, but the summer of 1993 is the only one I recall vividly.
Elisa Maria Zacapa.
I was thirteen, she was a timeless goddess from Guatemala with caramel skin and black hair and eyes like a cat, if cats were human and made of sex. Elisa Maria would suntan topless, her nipples were like carnal Cocoa Puffs that I drooled over through the cracks of our wooden fence, sacrificing my mother’s petunias for my visual sexual education.
My friend Louis would ride his bike to my house every day at three p.m., when the sun was the strongest, and we’d take turns at the best gap in the fence while we ate Red Vines and occasionally sipped pilfered Peach Schnapps.
“You think she can like, lift one to her own mouth?” Louis asked, eyes narrowed, his nose mashed against the fence.
Yes. Yes I did think so.
It was one of these blazing afternoons when Elisa Maria said the first words she ever said to me.
“Hey,” she’d called, propping up on her elbows, yellow tube top unfortunately in place, her hand shielding her cat eyes from the sun. Louis stumbled back like she’d screamed “PERVERT ON THE LOOSE” but I stood right on top of my mother’s flower pot and looked right over the fence at her.
“I’m having a party here tomorrow,” she said and I nodded slowly, heart bursting, wondering if I should bring a bottle of wine like my mother always did when she was invited somewhere. “You got any good music I can borrow?”
The pride I took in this was unlike any other I had before. I thought she must’ve seen something deep and poetic in me. Maybe she noted my Licensed to Ill t-shirt or the discman always tucked into my back pocket and thought to herself, “Adam knows his musical shit.” Or better, maybe she was just looking for an excuse to talk to me. Whatever the case, I stood an inch taller and said, “You like A Tribe Called Quest?” It was an attempt to show her just how cutting edge and on top of this I was, how capable I could be for her.
“They’re whatever. Can I borrow it or what?” she asked, thus sealing our fate in my mind as soul mates.
“Drop it the mailbox, yeah?” she asked, before turning to tan her back.
That night, I gelled my hair something extra fine, popped a white head on my forehead and donned my father’s Old Spice and jogged across the lawns, wondering if Elisa Maria would look just as good at her front door as she did the back.
I rapped on the door twice, because I’ll be damned if I was gonna drop the c.d. off and not get some kind of contact. The Low End Theory was in my hand, tapping on my thigh nervously. I could hear her laughter, throaty and slow from the other side of the door and it swung open.
A white guy with no shirt, dreads down to his ass and a lazy smile stood there, Elisa Maria under his arm, her eyelids droopy and her tits covered by what I assume was his t-shirt, because it was huge and covered all the best parts of her.
“Hey kid. You wanna smoke a jay?” he laughed and then she laughed and I shrugged.
“Stop it, Lyle. Alan is a good kid,” Elisa Maria said, and she smacked his bare chest and he smacked her ass and I held out the c.d. in my hand, which was shaking in betrayal and utter humiliation.
“It’s Adam,” I told her as Lyle took the c.d. and padded away, scratching at his soft looking hairy stomach. Elisa Maria started to close the door but then paused.
“You got good style, baby boy.”
She winked and slammed the door shut.
I forgave her.
From then on, every Friday night Elisa Maria would have friends in her backyard. They’d drink from these neon plastic tumblers and pass a bowl around, occasionally Lyle would attempt to play a shitty six string. I’d watch it all unfold from my bedroom window. It was hot, but I kept the window closed. Radio Head’s Pablo Honey had dropped a few months earlier and I’d play the c.d. and watch Elisa Maria’s long legs, stretch up, up, up when she’d get drunk and dance in her yard. The sway of her legs hypnotized me, the curve of her hips made my fists clench into my pillows and the whole thing started to turn into this melancholy ache that would last the entire weekend.
By August, I thought I was in love with her, a kind of sad love that was driven by Thom Yorke and the unfair and irreversible fact of years. Elisa Maria had to be at least twenty eight years old and that made me want to just cry onto my own erection and write poetry about this cruel, cruel world.
Instead, I spent a solid two weeks listening to the song Creep while trying to catch glimpses of my naked neighbor.
And then one night, I slid my hand into my pants, which was routine, and Elisa Maria happened to look up, straight into my eyes, which was not routine. Her eyes dropped half a second before my hand did.
Right before she screamed, she looked really, really pissed. It wasn’t three minutes before Lyle was pounding on my front door, screaming for me to bring my scrawny, perverted ass downstairs.
I ducked under the windowsill, not ready to die, thanking God my parents went out to eat every Friday night.
Lyle went away after about twenty minutes and I stayed the hell out of my backyard like it was a nuclear waste site guarded by rabid German Shepherds for the rest of that summer.
Elisa Maria moved out that November, three days before Thanksgiving. I watched in awe from my window while she quite thoroughly beat the crap out of Lyle on her front lawn, kicking him with those long, brown legs until he screamed she was a cunt and he took off, tires squealing.
For the last time, I caught Elisa Maria’s eyes from my window. She raised her middle finger at me and clomped back into her house.
It was empty the next morning.
Louis and I busted out the basement window a couple days after Thanksgiving, when we were sure she wasn’t coming back, to get my c.d. Inside smelled like patchouli, weed and dog shit. There were ants on the counter tops and the walls were dingy and she left a couple of folding chairs and that was it.
The lusty mystique of her vanished like fog clearing up, she was just a lady with an unkempt place and a selfish, shitty attitude. I kind of hated her for taking the fantasy away from me, but then I put that on her myself. I couldn’t hate the lady for not living up to my hormonal wet dream.
I couldn’t outright say she took the fresh-faced, innocently naive adolescent dreamer in me away (she totally did) but she did take my fucking c.d. with her when she left. I suppose it’s a piece of me I’ll never be able to collect.