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The Adventures of Me and Martha - sex story


The Adventures of Me and Martha



"Well," Lash LaRue said with his cocky grin, each hand perched
on one of two pearl-handled .45's at his side, "that takes care of
the McGraw Gang."

"Sure does," said Fuzzy St. John, nodding and spitting a wad
of tobacco juice.

Lash LaRue tipped his hat to the pretty gal in the calico
dress, who beamed at him admiringly from the wooden sidewalk. Lash
LaRue cocked his cocky, self-assured head toward Fuzzy St. John.

"Let's get goin', Fuzzy," Lash LaRue said, and he and Fuzzy
mounted their horses.

Their steeds reared up. Lash LaRue and Fuzzy spurred their
horses and galloped outta town.

It was my ninth summer, pushing for my tenth year.

Things had changed. I knew it as I watched this absurdly out-
dated B-grade western for the third time, the first time being with
Uncle Johnny when I was five years old. At ten I bid a fond but not
reluctant farewell to Lash LaRue and Tex Ritter and Roy Rogers.

Martha Jane had graduated high school, on time and with high
grades. She started college immediately that summer at the largest
of the local campuses, Memphis State. She was determined to get her
teacher training in less than four years. My mother dated almost
always on weekends, and since I spent every weekend with relatives,
no one was needed to overwatch me. These were gray, uneventful days.
I got bored every fifteen seconds.

Life had tragedy now. It had dire consequences, uncertainty,
loneliness, nuclear warheads. Left more often to my own devices by
my relatives on weekends, I searched the downtown movie houses for
an intensity of experience not found with the Bowery Boys or in Gene
Kelly musicals. I would hit the Main Street cinemas as soon as they
opened at eleven A.M., my pockets jingling with the movie money with
which my relatives bribed me into conformity. They assumed I was
watching Abbott and Costello or cowboys. Instead, I sat tearfully
absorbed in more than a dozen showings of the archly romantic "Cyrano
de Bergerac". I was fascinated with the impressionistic Technicolor
of "Moulin Rouge"; again and again I watched this moody film, empa-
thizing strongly with Lautrec's pitiful infirmity.

My relatives, staunch stay-at-homes, had no idea these films
existed until I told them what I'd seen--and at that they seemed
bewildered as to why a boy would be so magnetically drawn to Bogart's
sarcasm, William Holden's cynicism, or Brando's hostility. They were
amazed when I told them I had spent an entire day in the same movie
house watching over and over as a somber Robert Mitchum portrayed a
death-obsessed army officer in "G.I. Joe."

I saw Martha Jane on our front porch once or twice in the early
summer. By August she had disappeared. Once I knocked on her
front door, expecting her mother to answer. But no one did. My
Mom didn't mention her. It seemed Martha Jane had been swallowed
up into nowhere. Knowing she was in summer classes, I assumed a
break would occur soon, probably in September. But by September
I'd heard nothing.

Associating with others had eroded my confidence. My impression
was that other kids regarded me as a little weird; I had a fatalistic
attitude toward people and events. Repression and criticism from Mom
and relatives didn't help. By age ten, I was on a psychological downer.

I began to expect that life would either take people away from me,
or me from them. Stepper and Uncle Robert was a case in point; Mom
and all the dead of the war were others. When the Korean War started,
Josephine Louise's dad, my Uncle Lawrence, was called back to active
service. He paid us a farewell visit in the early Fall. He smiled
and saluted me when he left our house, bound for Fort Hood, Texas.
By October he was killed in action.

My future step-dad had little interest in my activities. His
name was Anthony. Mom called him Tony. He was a dark-haired,
virile, handsome man. I disliked him somewhat; he had a deep and
relatively loud voice, very different from the softer voices of all
the aunts around me, different from the breathy Italian quality of
Uncle Johnny and Josephine Louise. By the end of that summer
Tony started hanging around our apartment more often. He came over
many mornings before opening the supermarket in our neighborhood
and had breakfast with Mom and me while I prepared for school. Our
interests never interlocked. He assumed I was interested in sports,
in being a fireman or doctor when I grew up, in playing with other
boys. When he found out I wanted to be an artist, he was taken
aback. His idea of art was limited to portraits of the saints.

One morning at breakfast as I ate my milk and oatmeal, he sat
at the other side of our tiny kitchen table, reading a newspaper
article to my mother who was working at the sink. He was mildly
agitated about a report on small business regulation. He read until
he came to a word in the article that made him stop.

"What is that word?" he asked irritably, squinting at the page.
"Why do they have to use words this long in newspapers?"

"Ask Speedy," Mom said, so he handed me the paper and pointed
at the word. "What's that word say?" he asked me.

Chewing oatmeal, I glanced at the word quickly and announced,
"Antiestablishmentarianism."

He sat back in amazement. "Well, damn," he breathed. "How'd
he know a big word like that?"

"I don't know," Mom answered absently. "He just does. I
think his Uncle Johnny taught him to read from the comics."

"The comics?" he echoed, dumbfounded. He reached for his
coffee cup. "Damn," he breathed again.

In my isolation, movies became my life. I devoured them like
popcorn and soda. I saw three or four films each weekend. If new
ones hadn't opened I'd frequent the rerun joints and the art film
outlets. My relatives didn't mind, as it kept me out of their hair
all weekend, didn't cost much for a child's admission (twelve cents
in those days), and Uncle Johnny was getting a little too old and
arthritic to escort me all over town the way he did when I was
younger.

Truly, I enjoyed the freedom of doing mostly as I pleased.
They knew I was smart enough to find my way around town; most of
the movies were a short walk from the restaurant. But the art film
outlet was far out in the eastern part of town. With my usual
brazenness I allowed folks to assume that I never traveled that far
out of the way. But one Saturday I took the No.10 bus all the way
to the Ritz theater to see "Cyrano de Bergerac." I was so affected
by the film that I stayed inside and watched it again, then again,
then a fourth time. The movie was longer than most, so that when
I left the theater I discovered I was just in time to catch the last
inbound No.10, which stopped running by ten PM.

It was nearly eleven when I arrived at Aunt Frances' house and
let myself in. Entering by the long unlit front hallway, I assumed
everyone was asleep. But Aunt Frances was waiting up for me
in her long white nightgown on the living room sofa.

"Where the hell have *you* been?" she demanded as I walked
into the room.

I knew from long experience that the best tactic for handling
Aunt Frances under these circumstances was to appear unfazed and
keep on grinning.

"The movies," I answered.

"You trying to give your Aunt Frances a heart attack? Huh?
You want your poor old Aunt Frances to have a heart attack? What
kind of movie they let you into that lasts till this time of night?"

"Cyrano de Bergerac," I said.

"Syrup what?" She squinted hard.

"Cyrano de Bergerac," I repeated. I sat sideways on one of
the ornate dining chairs in the room and slipped my arm around
the back of the chair. I smiled and batted my eyelids.

"Don't give me that look. What kinda movie is this, uh,
Cereal di Hajiback?"

"It's French."

"It's what? It's fresh?"

"French, Aunt Frances. French."

We both looked up as Uncle Johnny appeared in the doorway
leading to the bedrooms. His hair mussed, his eyes squinting
in the light, he scratched his tummy over his pajamas.

Aunt Frances huffed, "Look, Johnny. He walks in like nothing
happened. You see him, Johnny? Look at him."

"You home?" Uncle Johnny mumbled drowsily.

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

"It's late, Speedy," Uncle Johnny said.

"I know."

"You okay? We were all worried about ya."

"I'm fine."

"Have any trouble?"

"Nope."

He yawned. "How'd you get here this time of night? Walk?"

"The Number 10 Bus."

"Oh." He yawned again. "Well, you be careful out there. You
oughtta call us next time." Another yawn. "Good night, Frances."
He walked back into the dark.

"That's all you have to say?" Aunt Frances called after him.

"Good night, Frances," Uncle Johnny said, disappearing.

"I'll be damn," she muttered, settling back into the sofa.
"Two of a kind, you two. Listen, you're too young to be watchin'
French movies at eleven o'clock at night."

"How old do I have to be?"

"Seven years old is too young!"

"I'm not seven years old, Aunt Frances, I'm ten."

"Ten? You ain't no ten years old. What kinda movie is this?
Is Clark Gable in this movie?"

"No. Jose Ferrer."

"Who?"

"Jose Ferrer."

"Never heard of him."

I leaned forward and peered at her. "Aunt Frances, are you
sure you're not asleep?"

"Of course I'm not asleep. I look asleep?"

"Well, the things you're asking and saying to me don't make
much sense."

"How'm I supposed to make sense with you talking French, or
whatever it is?"

I rose from the chair and bent down to her and kissed her on
the cheek--a surefire technique for calming her down. Poor Aunt
Frances, who had not been anywhere except to work and church and
bed since the 1920's, had no idea how the world had changed.

"You think you're gonna kiss your Aunt Frances and that's all
you hafta do?"

"I just don't want you to be worried."

"You look just like your poor daddy when you do that. You
love your Aunt Frances?"

"Yes, ma'am, I sure do. You're my favorite." I kissed her
again. "Now you ought to go back to bed. I'm all right."

"You think you're smart, don't ya? That's what your daddy
used to do. You love your Aunt Frances like your daddy did?"

"I sure do," I cooed, knowing I had her in the palm of my hand.

"Okay, then" she said, blushing childishly. She looked up at
me with her big round confused eyes, as if trying to comprehend how
the universe had become what it was without her knowing. It had
taken me years to fathom this hysterical woman. I had learned, with
coaching from Josephine Louise, that Aunt Frances had not been all
there since my father's death. A couple of years before, I would
not have been able to understand it. Now, after many weekends, I
realized that her thoughts and feelings were stuck at a single
moment in time and would go neither backward nor ahead.

"You look just like your daddy," she said wistfully, looking
at me and seeing someone else. Then she scowled mildly and said,
"You don't do that to me and your Uncle Johnny any more. You
hear me?"

"Yes, ma'am," I said, sweetly.

"Your Uncle Johnny loves you too. You know that, don't you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"We don't want anything to happen to you, like what happened to
your daddy."

"I know," I said gently. "Now," I began, standing up and holding
her hand. "I'm gonna go to sleep, and you go back to sleep too."

"You love your Aunt Frances?"

I bent down and kissed her again. "I sure do."

With that, she was satisfied and sloughed off in her fluffy
houseshoes to her bedroom. For a while I sat in the living room,
breathing a long sigh of relief. I asked myself, seriously, if I
would ever again find someone with whom I could communicate without
the need for these convoluted tactics. Trying to follow Aunt Frances'
line of thought was like working one's way through a trick maze or a
hall of mirrors.

When I stayed with them I slept in the front bedroom with my Aunt
Frances' mother, my great-grandmother Nifa. She was, everyone esti-
mated at that time, in her nineties. She wore black. She wore a
simple black dress and black shoes and black hose all day long, and
she wore a black nightgown and long black stockings when she slept.
She had worn nothing but black since her husband's death in 1936. She
spoke no English, only a Northern Italian dialect that other Italians
found difficult. Speaking with Nifa was similar to speaking with Aunt
Frances; their minds were elsewhere, their words and memories and
thoughts had not changed over many years. Being among them was to be
among memories of loved ones never seen and long since gone, of time
long since past and silenced. It was a lonely experience, like
talking to the blind and deaf, who could neither hear nor see me.

Somehow I had learned to understand, pity and love these lost
souls. I may not have known what they thought (no one did), but
I somehow knew what they felt.

But as for me, by the summer of 1952 I didn't see a soul-mate
in sight. Not anywhere.

Late that Fall I did have one baby-sitter when my Mom had a
rare weeknight date. The sitter was none other than Evelyn,
Martha Jane's sister.

Evelyn spent almost the entire night on the phone. She was
working days at a clerical job and attending the University of
Tennessee Medical Extension at night, studying for work in medical
research. She was an attractive woman in her middle twenties now,
tall, rather chic and long-legged. Only in her eyes and general
posture did she resemble her sister. Objectively, most people would
have thought Evelyn to be more beautiful: she was brunette and had a
svelte, sophisticated air, with a lazy voice and large dark eyes and
high cheekbones. But being among young women other than Martha Jane,
which didn't happen often, taught me something about my own needs--
Evelyn, though sexy, did not appeal to me at all. I found her nice
to look at, friendly, and boring. I was beginning to learn the vast
difference between just any "good-looking woman" and one who has a
compelling, irresistible, unsettling appeal. At that point I could
be brought under the spell of only two females on the planet: the
physically devastating Josephine Louise, and the warm, captivating,
and equally devastating Martha Jane.

Evelyn told me that night that she was herself so busy with
career and friends (she admitted she had no steady man and was tied
to her work), she seldom spoke with her mother or Martha Jane. But
she offered me the last phone number she had for her, an apartment
somewhere near Memphis State that Martha Jane shared with two other
students. I was certain Martha Jane must have found a boyfriend by
then and had little time for anything except school. Evelyn also
told me she last saw her sister for lunch in downtown Memphis at
Woolworth's, where Martha Jane worked part-time. She was 19 now,
"busy as a busy little bee." Evelyn promised that when she contacted
Martha Jane again she'd ask her to give me a call.

I missed Martha Jane. I missed her sexually, of course, but
at that age sex was still secondary. Mainly, I missed just her,
her warmth and the ease of simply being with her. At age ten I saw
her as a sexual object much more clearly than I had a few years
earlier, though I still had a while to go before the full impact of
sexual attraction hit home. At that point I wanted the
sisterly, motherly, girl-woman of her more emotionally and intel-
lectually than physically.

As soon as I could I dialed the number Evelyn had given me. No
go. A young girl answered and said that Martha Jane shared a place
with them but that she had moved again and they didn't know where.
Besides that call, I had no idea what happened to Evelyn's promise
that she would have Martha Jane call me.

That left me with the part-time job at Woolworth's. On impulse
I went to find her on a Saturday afternoon one weekend when I was
staying at the downtown restaurant. It was warm weather, right
around my 11th birthday.

Telling my folks I was going to a movie, I took a bus down to
the end of Main Street and went straight to the big three-story
Woolworth's. Once inside, I had no idea where to look. It was a
huge store, especially to an 11-year-old. I searched the whole
place, checked at every sales counter, roamed through every
aisle.

After a while I gave up and stood outside on the busy sidewalk.
I thought that perhaps it was her lunch hour, or perhaps she came to
work later in the day. Since I had movie money, I went to a movie
nearby and feasted on a lunch of popcorn and Coke. By then it was
after two, so I went back to Woolworth's.

The second search proved futile as well. She was nowhere to be
found. Despite my aggressive, snoopy attitude in so many other
areas, I seem to have lost all my "fight" in this situation. I wan-
dered aisle to aisle, feeling dejected and lost. I walked around the
waterfront area for a while, then up and down Main Street several
times. By then it was 4:00. I returned to the store. It was crowded
nose-to-nose with Saturday shoppers. After yet another hour
of searching, I had not found her and it was near closing time.

I asked some salespeople if they knew Martha Jane Graham. They
didn't. Puzzled, I thought about hanging around and asking every
employee I could find, but everyone was preparing to close for the
day. I asked one more worker if they had a personnel department.
They did, but it was closed Saturdays. She referred me to a sales
counter where she thought Martha Jane worked.

But when I arrived there, I found only a redheaded middle-aged
lady who didn't look anything like her and wasn't particularly
interested in helping me find my way. She eyed me suspiciously.
"You have parents?" she asked, frowning. "Where are your parents?
You shouldn't be here all by yourself, we're getting ready to close."

I felt odd and disoriented. The whole situation was becoming
eerie, dreamlike. The redhead now confronted me with the fact that
I was still only 11. Aggressive and independent though I might have
been at that age, and though I was an 11-year-old kid who in many
ways didn't act or think like an 11-year-old--yet I was, nevertheless,
still a kid. Perhaps it was a feeling of frustration: if I were not
such a kid, I thought, these people would take me seriously and give
me the information I was looking for. And if I did find Martha Jane
wouldn't she, like Evelyn and the redhead and everyone else, notice
that I was not an adult? Had something changed, such that now she
would recognize me for who I really was? And besides, she probably
had a boyfriend now; she was among college students her own age at a
big coed state college.

The day had such a strange effect on me that I was in its grip
for months. I soon became fearful that Martha Jane would not want
to see me again, as least not as she had seen me before. She was
in a different world now. Effectively, she had left the project and
in leaving the project she had somehow changed everything. I began
to feel she was "too old" for me now.

When I went home after that weekend I mentioned Saturday's search
to my Mom, but she was unconcerned. Paranoically, I didn't trust
her as someone I wanted to talk to about Martha Jane, not in any way.
She might want to know why I was so desperate to find her, she might
suspect something was going on--especially since Martha Jane had not
been around for more than a year. I didn't mention it to her again,
and sulked around our apartment for most of that week.

One day several weeks later when I came home from school, Mom said
Martha Jane had called and asked how I was getting along.

The first thing I asked was, "Did you get a number to call back?"

Mom shrugged. "Well, no, I didn't think it was important anymore.
You haven't mentioned her in so long..."

I didn't hear the rest of what she said. I felt as if I had
fallen from a high place and landed on my face. I didn't want to
betray my feelings, so I said nothing more. I didn't even know what
my feelings were.

As I approached and then reached twelve years, I became involved
in that strange activity in grammar schools known as "dramatics,"
which consumed my energy and my thoughts. Because I had gleaned from
movies so much about effective acting, I became very successful at
it. The more successful I was, the harder I worked. Though I had no
close relationships among my peers and teachers at the newly built St.
Michael's School, I did find a source of attention and recognition on
the stage. Being in a new school in a different part of town made me
feel that I, too, had started the process of moving out of the
project. By the time the thirty-minute bus ride to St. Michael's
ended each morning, I had readjusted to an entirely different place; I
felt almost as if I were spending those five hours a day in a
different town.

Then came the day my Mom announced she would be getting married
and that we'd soon be moving out of the project. That day, Martha
Jane seemed to disappear for good. I made it so. I went into our
bedroom the night of Mom's announcement and saw the moonlight on the
window sill. And I forced Martha Jane out of my mind.

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