Under the Covers

I walked in on my three-and-a-half-year-old.  Tashi was playing in her room with Emma, her six-year-old friend when lunch was ready.  They were under the covers all the way, wiggling.  I thought they were hiding—a game Tashi still plays, even though by now she must know that I know exactly where she is.  Still, when I ripped back the blanket, she laughed like she did the first time I found her.  I pulled the blanket back on Emma and Tashi.  Tashi laughed.  Emma shot up straight.  She looked caught.

“What are you guys doing?”

Tashi said, “We’re licking.”

“We’re licking bellies,” Emma said, quickly.  “She licks mine and I lick hers.” There was shame on her face and in her voice, and I knew, like a momma bear, that something wasn’t right.

Tashi said, “I’m the baby and Emma’s the mommy.  I lick her boobies.”

My face got hot and my first instinct was to yank that child out of my daughter’s bed and send her to reform school.

And then I realized exactly where this idea came from.  Tashi will ask to touch my boobs, and yesterday she asked if she could lick them.  I said, “No Honey, that’s for babies; you’re not a baby anymore.”

If anything, Tashi was the corrupter.  She was the leader in this relationship, and even though she was younger, she bossed Emma around like Emma was her little sister.  When Tashi smiled with an orange peel in her mouth, Emma put an orange peel in her mouth the same way.

Was my daughter sex crazed?  And at three years old?

I stood at the side of the bed, not sure what to do or what to say.  Tashi said, “Let’s go,” and bounded out of the bed and down the hall, her curls bouncing.  Emma followed slowly behind.  She hung her head down, turning her eyes away from mine.

I hated where my mind went, but that look—guilty and afraid—reminded me of a man I’d known years ago.  His name was Ayjay.

*   *   *

The first time I met Ayjay, I’d gotten a flat tire doing the LA River Ride and found him in an orange volunteer vest at one of the rest stops.  He had the complexion of a blond, but few hairs left to show for it.  His face was burnt, his lips chapped.  His eyes, steely blue and bloodshot.  He looked fit, like an old tennis pro, but dirtier.  He patched my tire and gave me a handwritten business card that said, “Muscle Powered Transportation, I Can Fix It.”

He was a bicycle away from homeless, it seemed, although he told me he had an efficiency big enough for his bed and his bike.

I hired him to fix bikes for an organization I ran called Bike Out, which took high school kids on mountain biking expeditions.

Every few months we’d have a giant used bike sale to subsidize our trips.  Before we got a shop, a pile of donated bikes filled a church parking lot.

Ayjay didn’t mind working on the hot pavement, and would come on weekends before each sale.  He’d sleep on the floor in our office some Saturdays, when no one was there, so he wouldn’t have to make the trek home—twelve miles on his bike, pulling a trailer heavy with tools—and back again in the morning.

He was the one we could count on to fix anything.  I’d say, toss that one, but hours later I’d catch him at it:  rigging a mountain bike chain ring onto an old fashioned Schwinn ten speed.  “It’s a collector’s item,” he’d say.

*   *   *

I’d pay him in petty cash and three Big Cheese burritos from Pollo Loco.

Because I was the director of a nonprofit, I was in the business of getting things cheap, but that’s not the only reason I hired Ayjay.  He was a nice guy.

We were sitting alone on the pavement under the one tree in the lot when I said, “How old are you?”

“I don’t know, I’ve lost track, Andi.  Sixty-something.”

He called me Andi.  No one, my whole life, ever gave me that nickname.  I think he may have thought that was my name.  He was hard of hearing.

We talked a lot.  Mostly he talked about stuff like being in San Francisco when guys first took bikes off-road, or how the mechanics of bikes hasn’t changed much in a hundred years.  He had been in the army.  Never been married.  Had made some mistakes.

After three years of weekends in the church lot, we built a dream together.  We’d open a shop and a workspace for the kids.  We’d have weekly sales or maybe we’d have enough inventory to be open every day.  We’d generate enough income selling bikes to pay him a salary and fund all our tours.  And we’d teach kids a useable skill.

I thought he could manage the shop.  He said he just wanted to fix bikes.

Then one day, Bike Out got a warehouse.  Our dream was about to come true.

Before we brought the bikes and the kids together, Ayjay and I were eating burritos, talking about the shop like we’d been talking for years.

“I have to tell you something, Andi,” he said.  He hung his head down, turning his eyes up to barely meet mine.  He massaged the inside of one hand with the thumb of the other, something I’d seen him do many times while he studied the bikes.  I saw again that two of his fingertips were missing.  He must have told me, but I couldn’t remember why.  I got a sinking feeling, like maybe he was about to tell me he was sick.

“I was in prison for many years.”

“What’ja do?”

“I was accused of molesting a child.”

I forced myself to look at him.  He looked away.  “Did you?”

I’d never knowingly met a child molester before, but I knew a molester could be anyone:  a normal guy, someone’s dad, even someone’s mom.

“I picked up a six-year-old girl, only for a couple of hours.  I had her watch me, that was it.”

I didn’t say anything.  My heart sped up.  My brain flipped through our years together like the frames of a moving picture.  I tried to remember every time Ayjay was near the kids.  I looked at the bikes.  I didn’t want Ayjay to see me react.

Mostly he worked alone, in the parking lot.  Sometimes other mechanics worked with him, always adults.  But he was there on the mornings of all of our sales, custom-fitting every bike to its buyer.  Our youth helped, too.  And kids from the neighborhood came with their parents to buy bikes.

“I know it was wrong.  I was mixed up.  My dad would yell at me, even in front of my mom and my sister, ‘Control your thoughts, Boy, or you’re goin’ to hell.’  But I couldn’t control ‘em.

“One night my dad caught me masturbating.   Walked in, hit me so hard he broke my hand.”

“Oh shit,” I said.  The smell of my burrito was making me sick.  I wrapped it up and pushed it to the side.

“I’m not sayin’ I should’a done it, but I was mixed up, bad.  I got so twisted.  Like what’s the difference what sin you commit?

“I was in for seventeen years.  Once you’re out, your life’s ruined.  You can’t get a job, it’s on your record.  And who’s gonna love you?”

We threw out our burritos and locked up the bikes.  It was Sunday, and the sun was going down.  I gave Ayjay a hundred bucks for two long days of work.  I gave him a hug.  “Thanks Ayjay.  Stay out of the sun.”

“See ya, Andi,” he said.  “Take care of those kids.”

And we said goodbye without having to say it.

*   *   *

I leaned against the door to the living room, watching the girls, sitting cross-legged on the floor.  Ayjay’s father must have believed that a boy thinking about sex would go to hell.  Like any parent, like me, he probably just wanted to protect his kid.  But he didn’t.

I looked at Emma, and I didn’t see a werewolf.  I saw a little girl, one with traces of baby fat still and dull, sleepy eyes.  And I looked at my daughter, who was now showing Emma how she could draw circles on a giant pad of paper.  Did she understand licking a girl’s breast as sexual?  Wasn’t it OK even if she did?

I said, “Lunch is ready.”

***

Andrea Askowitz is the author of My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy (Cleis Press, May 2008).  Her work has appeared in Jewcy.com, Offsprung.com, Literary Mama.com, The Washington Blade, The New York Blade, The Manhattan Resident, ibelle, The Feminist Alternative Press, Affinity, TWN, Hers, and Looking Queer (Haworth Press). As a storyteller, she has performed at venues throughout Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami, including Sit ‘n Spin at Comedy Central Stage, Porchlight at Café du Nord, In the Flesh at Happy Ending Lounge, and Lip Service at the Miami Book Fair International. Andrea is an adjunct professor at the Florida International University, where she teaches narrative nonfiction.  She is contributor and co-producer of Lip Service, a quarterly true-stories reading series at Books & Books, Coral Gables.
Slate.com says, “Andrea is warm, funny and filthy.”
Check out her blog @ http://www.andreaaskowitz.com.

Trackbacks

  1. […] At the end of your story, Under the Covers, you ponder the questions, “Did [my daughter] understand licking a girl’s breast as sexual? […]

  2. […] meet Andrea Askowitz, author of My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy. Her stories have appeared in the New York […]

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