Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Why I Can't Stand the Smell of Liz Claiborne Perfume

by Edward Kim

OK. There was this girl named Lindsay Lee. I don't know why, maybe it was the way she looked, but I was really cruel to her—this was back in the fifth grade. I'd do mean things like make fun of her clothes, or what her mom packed her for lunch, or pull on her ponytail or shoot spitballs at her. I think secretly I was in love with her. She never did anything back, she just sort of took the abuse—like she knew I'd be waiting for my mom to pick me up at a certain place, and she'd show up there, too, every day. I'd get all excited whenever I saw her, and then start to tease her, really make a spectacle of her.

Well, one afternoon, a bunch of us were waiting around for our parents to pick us up, and Lindsay Lee comes through the door with this brand new purse she'd just bought. She just started showing it off to her girl friends, all the little pockets and stuff. That really got me going, and I went over to her and said, "Can I see your new purse, Lindsay?" and she looked at me kind of scared and handed it over. The purse had a long strap, and I swung it around over my head like a lasso.

She said, "Hey!" and either the purse slipped from my fingers right then or I let go of it, and the thing sailed straight at her and hit her in the stomach. It was a total accident. I kept telling her that while she was all doubled over in agony.

I wanted to touch her and put my hand on her back and tell her how sorry I was, but instead I just stood there saying, "I didn't mean to, Lindsay, I didn't mean to.” She didn't cry at all, just straightened up and didn't say a word and got in the car when her mom came. Everyone looked at me like I'd crossed the line this time, except for this one kid who kept laughing hysterically.

The next day I avoided her in class and during lunch. I was through with messing around with her and girls in general. No more, I vowed, it didn't make sense anyway. One thing I remember that day is how Lindsay Lee all of a sudden looked different, like she got a brand new haircut or was wearing a new shirt or her shoes were some other color, I don't know. We didn't make eye contact. Then it was after school and we were waiting for our parents to come, and I saw her come through the double doors and head in my direction. I started to get nervous. Everyone got quiet as she walked right up to me and handed me a piece of paper wrapped in something like moss—it was a note. She stood there for a while looking up at me, not saying a word, so I accepted the note. Then she left. I clenched it in my fist and didn't open it till I got home. The note read, "Meet me at the baseball diamond at 5:00pm!"

She didn't live that far away from me, and there was a tiny baseball park in our neighborhood, so I knew exactly where I had to be. I can't tell you why, but I got really excited then—it was a mixture of excitement and fear. What if her older brother was waiting for me with a baseball bat? What if she gathered up her girl friends and had a gang ready? For a second I thought about not going, then it dawned on me that I owed her that much, that I would be an even bigger creep if I left her there waiting. And who said anything bad would happen? What if she tried being friends to smooth things out between us? I didn't know what to expect.

I hopped on my bike and pedaled over there, sort of circling around at first to make sure. I wouldn't get jumped. But there was no one out there except for Lindsay Lee, sitting on home plate. She'd changed into shorts and was doodling in the sand when I came up. It felt totally weird to be with her out there just by ourselves and no school around us; suddenly we were equals, or maybe I was less than equal now—I sure felt that way. In any case, the craving to torment her had vanished.

"Well, I'm here," I said.

She stood up and told me to get off my bike. I almost thought she wanted to fight, something I wouldn't even think about doing. She walked up to me as soon as I got off, and I braced myself for whatever was coming. I distinctly remember the shape of her nose then; it was pug-like and flared. Also the way she smelled: she had definitely splashed on some perfume beforehand, almost too much, and the scent was overpowering. Just the combination of these things and the circumstances made everything dream-like, and I probably wasn't as shocked as I should've been when she reached out and slipped her hand in mine.

A billion things rushed to my head. I can't even tell you what my heart felt like. You know how sometimes you sit in your stuffy room for hours, and then all of a sudden you step outside into nature and get that first breath of clean fresh air? Something like that, only times a hundred. Her name kept repeating itself in my head: Lindsay Lee, Lindsay Lee, Lindsay Lee. She was holding my hand and leading me somewhere; I couldn't help but follow.

I can't remember if we said anything to each other or what. Next thing I know, I was leaning back against the baseball cage with her face inches away from mine: this was the first time I'd been that close to a girl. And it took all this for me to realize that Lindsay Lee was actually kind of pretty. I don't know, maybe it was the perfume. She had her body pressed against mine, her hands on both sides of me, holding onto the chain link fence and I had to do everything to keep from swooning. Did she want me to kiss her? I was about three seconds away from doing that, but then something happened. Something happened, and suddenly I wasn't feeling too good. In fact, I was in the worst pain of my life. She had kneed me in the balls. I couldn't fall forward because she was holding me against the fence—all I could do was cry out and lean against her and smell that perfume of hers.

When you're in that kind of pain, you become almost paralyzed. You can't move, you can't think, everything slows down and you sleepily notice things in super fine detail, like the degree to which she needed to have her ear cleaned, or the number of strands that composed one lock of her hair, etc., etc. In lots of ways, you turn into an infant, or at the very least start to make infant-like sounds. I guess it wouldn't be stretching it too far to say that Lindsay Lee at that moment was like a mother, not only because she'd given birth to my sorry condition, but also because of the way she was holding me, really embracing me with a tenderness that only mothers possessed. She was full of that loving touch that separates boys from girls. I don't know.

As much pain as I was in, I didn't feel one bit of anger towards her. I was in too much shock for that (although somewhere in the back of my mind I was a little put off by her thinking that this would make things even, when really she had no idea how uneven she was now making things—I mean, getting racked in the nuts puts you in a different galaxy and time dimension, and I was truly finding that out—and her not knowing all this made everything new and scary, like we were both going into an unknown realm together with no one to guide us). All I could do was cough and cry and watch as she spread my legs farther apart with her Keds—I had no control over my legs at that point—and she hugged me against the fence and whispered in my ear, "It'll be over soon," and kneed me again.

I burst out in screaming sobs and retched over her shoulder. It felt like my eyes were going to pop out. It felt like someone had taken a jackhammer to my crotch. I didn't know what it felt like. Beyond description. I yelled, "STOP!!! DON'T DO IT AGAIN, LINDSAY!!! IT HURTS!!!" and she hugged me and said, "One more time," and started to spread my legs again. That's when I really lost it. I hollered and wailed like something that wasn't human, I don't know for how long and, after a while, I ran out of breath and energy and just rested my cheek against hers. I whimpered into her ear. Then the pain came back, and I broke out in fresh screaming sobs and tried to rattle her off the fence. She wouldn't budge, and eventually I went back to sobbing into her ear, more quietly now, and she didn't do anything then but listen.

I thought if this girl had any kind of human decency in her, or anything human at all, she would have let me go then and there because of the horrible way my crying sounded. Not only that, but my body was actually quaking against hers—I could feel every part of her body and knew exactly what shape her legs were, and her torso, and her shoulders, and her arms—and I knew she could feel me, too. But she didn't let go. We were so close. I could feel the shape of her head pressed against mine despite the drool and tears and hair and skin, the hardness of her skull and how it was just like mine, how everyone was the same, how she could've been me and I could've been her, it didn't matter. If she let go of me, I would've fallen down, but I didn't fall down when she finally did let go to put her arms around my neck, because my arms were around her, too. She was shaking pretty badly, I'm not exactly sure why because I was too timid to pull away and look at her face.

The pain had mutated a little and now felt like a butcher taking a butcher knife and stabbing me deeply and repeatedly in the balls all the way up to my stomach. Or someone splashing me down there with a bucketful of lava. Like I said, beyond description. I don't know if other parents told their kids this, but my parents always warned me about getting hurt down there, and to always guard your balls and never hurt the balls of others because it could mean the difference between having kids and not having kids. For me, it was hard to be optimistic about the future after that day at the baseball park. I can't remember how long it took before the pain disappeared, probably an hour or two or three, all I knew is that it took a long time before I felt comfortable enough to ride my bike again. Lindsay Lee never acknowledged me after that, during school or after—we pretty much stayed away from each other. And then elementary school was finished and we ended up at different middle schools, and a couple months later I heard that she and her family moved to some state in New England, somewhere like Delaware or Vermont.

It got to where I would have recurring dreams about her and that day at the baseball park, not really nightmares, but not good dreams either. The memory of it now is understandably fuzzed out. I couldn't see the look on her face as she left me wriggling there in the dirt, once she had let go and I had fallen; I could only see her walk off with one arm raised so that her sleeve touched her cheek. Our faces had made a lot of moisture together, and that's what she must have been wiping away.

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