Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Work, Friends and the Unconsummated Relationship: Santa Fe 1984

I've always had a talent for friendship. No matter if I was new in town or even in the depths of my own self-pitying depression, I still made friends, I still had lovers. Maybe it's just me: though I don't possess a bubbly personality, or even a gregarious one, I am pretty much sincere and nonjudgemental. I enjoy cutting past the surface of people and am not afraid to divulge my own shortcomings, but I also like to keep things light and funny. Maybe it's because my family moved so much in childhood--from Sioux Falls to Vancouver to Johnson City to Des Moines--and I followed suit as a young man--from Des Moines to Iowa City to Santa Fe to Los Angeles to Grayton Beach and so on--that I got used to meeting new people from different backgrounds on a regular basis. Santa Fe is a good example. I came to town knowing one person--Joel--and he wasn't even my closest of pals. He put me up but I went into town and found my own little tangle of friends.
I got a job downtown, waiting tables at The Forge, a restaurant attached to the Inn of the Governors. I'd never waited tables before--never worked in a restaurant--and, not being a gregarious person, I didn't like it at first. But I needed a job and liked having tip money in my pockets at the end of the day, so I adapted. But from that job I met cooks and other waiters, busboys and bartenders and dishwashers and cocktail waitresses. I met some regular locals--including politicians. I also, eventually, met the friends and even the family of some of these people. (I later had a job as bouncer at Club West and met a whole slew of other people, but I left Santa Fe before getting to know them very well.) I also met some of Joel's pals from St. Johns University, but did not hang out with them very often.
So, let me think, there was John the cook, there was Alex the waiter, Vince the busboy, Sherri the manager (who hired me, who I slept with once), there was Hally who was John's girlfriend (who I slept with more than once), there was a hostess and other busboys and fellow workers whose names I can't recall, there was Maria, a waitress who was from Sweden and working illegally (and who I did not sleep with though there was enough attraction between us that I thought we would--but she was traveling with a boyfriend, also from Sweden, and he didn't like me too much) and there was the tall blonde New Mexico girl cocktail waitress, Tana.
Tana was a classic beauty. She was statuesque. She was blue-eyed and golden-haired and long-legged. And she liked me . . . I'd been working at the Forge for a while by the time she was hired. Sure, found her attractive but never really thought to pursue her. I was just a waiter from Iowa and I figured she must have better things on her mind. So I was surprised when the other cocktail waitress told me that Tana was indeed interested.
"Okay," I said. "Interested in what?"
"In you, you idiot."
"Oh. Okay."
The thing was, I still really wasn't that interested in her. But, she was such an obvious beauty, that I felt I needed to see her, that, like some gift from the heavens, I couldn't turn the opportunity down. It was my duty as a man to at least date her for a while. And so I did.
It turned out that Tana had worked all around northern New Mexico, that she was a local girl, that she was outdoorsy--liked camping and rafting--that she had worked with horses on ranches (I'm not making this up), breaking wild horses, that she had been a Girl Scout and then a Boy Scout leader of some sort supervising the big national camp outs they have in New Mexico (bet the scouts enjoyed that), she also played guitar, sang like an angel. She drank a little, but enjoyed smoking dope more . . . So, what wasn't to like?
But somehow, I just never did. I mean, I liked her. I admired her, for her accomplishments, for her sense of living. And yes, I thought she was pretty as hell and it interested me that she was interested in me, if that makes sense. But I never lusted after her. Never felt a kinship with her--never dove beyond the surface of who she was. It wasn't her fault, it was probably mine. Or maybe it was just that we were different in some simple and profound way, though she seemed unaware of this divide . . . so, maybe it was her fault.
Tana and I went out a few places, went to a party or two. She took me to her place--a house she was housesitting out in a valley south of town--where she cooked me dinner and we drank red wine and watched a rain shower cross the mountains, leaving a full double rainbow as big and  bright as a slab of candy in the sky. It was a nice house, too, out in the open with neighbors just distant enough. She was pretty and young and we were alone. I slept with her--but only sleep. We slept in the bed fully clothed. I don't even recall if we kissed. Maybe that was what I felt or saw--there was some lack of sexuality. It wasn't that she was cold or imperial, she just didn't give off the need for sex, for passion, just a need for companionship, to be held. Maybe. And it didn't bother me. I was surprised I didn't try harder--she had a great body--but really, I already knew something was missing between us, so I didn't try to push it.
Later we went camping. We went up to a state park where, as we drove up the mountains, above the desert, suddenly the landscape changed: green grass and ferns, huge pines wooded the world. I was pleased and surprised. We brought some food and beer and she had brought some whiskey, we brought her guitar and sleeping bags but no tent. It was cool up on the mountain, there were few other campers. We hiked, ate, had a campfire and ate again, drank whiskey with coffee, beer, smoked a little weed and she got out the guitar and sang for me. It was the first time I'd heard her sing.
She had a very pretty voice--much like her looks. A voice tall and controlled, yet also sweet and not overpowering. She sang folk songs, sincere and sad. I sat on the picnic table and listened. What was I doing here in these beautiful woods with a beautiful girl, I asked myself. I should be ecstatic. But I wasn't. Instead, inside of me, I was laughing.
There was the campfire, the mountains and trees, the stars and New Mexico twilight, there was the blue-eyed blond girl strumming her guitar, singing her seraphic songs with her seraphic voice and there I was with her, polite, applauding, looking interested. But inside I was cracking up. I thought it was funny as hell. It was too much. Too perfect . . . So maybe it was my fault . . . I was pessimistic and satirical, skeptical, I liked my sex straight up, emotional and animal and she didn't seem to have that vibe.
We slept cuddled together in twin sleeping bags on the dry ground. She slept under my arm. My arm went numb. I was freezing. But I couldn't bring myself to disturb her. At no time did she seem inclined for more than just sleep. And I didn't ask for anything more--which mystified me as much as she mystified me.
We saw each other for a while longer. She read one of my stories--liked it--but thought it was about someone else I loved (and maybe it was). We drifted apart as easily as we had drifted together. There really wasn't any point--any promise--in the relationship. Eventually an old lover came to town and took her back. Maybe that's all she was waiting for and I was just a companion during the interim. That was okay. She quit The Forge. Worked at a little dress shop near the Plaza. I saw her around here and there. I knew other women, who I didn't hesitate with.

When Bill drove down from Iowa to visit, and before I left Santa Fe, I made sure to introduce him to Tana. I knew he'd be impressed and he was. I was showing her off, even though nothing had happened between us. 
I never told Bill that I had secretly laughed at her.

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