It should have been a sunrise. Or the feel of salt spray blowing off the bay on an overcast day. Instead it was Ron, a black man with a Roman nose and a blown-out Afro. It was 1968, more or less, and we met through my childhood friend Elisa who, I suspect, was more than a little frightened by him. Predictably I rose to the bait. Back in those days I was a novice at love, drawn mostly to men of color. The white boys were friends and I their confidante, someone they could relate their girlfriend woes to, not boys I could fall into love with. They looked too much like my father.
We went to a party up in the mountains. Straight out of a ’60’s movie, there were paisley-clad girls with black eyeliner and bubble hairdos dancing with Jimi Hendrix look-alikes. Skinny men with long, stringy hair reclined on mattresses thrown on the ground. Wall hangings of Indian prints and lava lamps set the mood, along with midnight blue lightbulbs and Iron Butterfly thrumming at full-tilt on the stereo. The air dripped with hash smoke. Everyone was high on something. I was fresh-faced and from a religious background. This was not a place I felt comfortable. In all fairness to Ron, he was a gentleman, very groovy, not at all agro and we meshed, kind of. Rather he was moving smoothly through the gears of the party while I tagged along, eyes wide open, feasting at the banquet of life without tasting the meal. Sensing my discomfort, he offered a way out. We could take a drive, go into the city.
About an hour later, we pulled into a motel in a shabby neighborhood with too much decking and tiki torches glowing a sickly yellow. These kinds of places rented by the hour, and, as I waited in the car, Ron disappeared into the office to make arrangements. I don’t recall what I was thinking or feeling, but strangely I trusted the man. And really, I had no experience of men outside family or church that would have lead me to believe in motives, ulterior or otherwise. In no time he emerged, key in hand, and we entered a downstairs room with the requisite gold shag carpeting and wood paneling on the walls. “I don’t know…” I began, and he reassured me that, if for any reason I wanted to leave, we would go, no questions asked.
Ron flopped onto the bed, smiling. I folded into his arms and we kissed. Maybe I relaxed for the first time in my life in a physical sense in the company of a man. Maybe it was the smell of Ivory soap or the snapping of neon outside the window or the musty sheets on the bed. Maybe it was patchouli. I never will know precisely what caused me to crumple into a heap on the floor, muttering repeatedly no, no, no, and him reassuring me, petting my shoulders and me pushing further and further away. Confused and frightened, I asked to be taken home. Now. Miraculously, Ron agreed.