Monday, September 24

Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em


Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em

Roxane Marquez

Fall 1991. Inside, the West Covina club is smoky and packed. The
stage lights are just bright enough to show off the red highlights
in my hair and the gold highlights in his. Even among the emcee’s
announcement of the next band and the thud of beer bottles against
the bar, the steady clunking of my leather, knee-high, 1960s
hand-me-down, high-heeled boots announce our arrival.

His arm hangs over my shoulders and as we walk past some of my
old high school enemies, I tilt my head next to his and he kisses
me. "This is my girl Roxane," he says as he introduces me to some
friends of his. "She goes to UCLA," he quickly adds. He looks at
me, and I am so proud of us. Matthew and Roxane ­ best friends
for two years and finally together.

"You got lucky, girl," one of them says to me, smiling. "Matt’s
the best guitar player around and someday he’s gonna make a million
bucks."

"Hey man, my baby’s gonna make money, too," Matt replies. "She’s
got a lot of ideas and she’s smart enough to make them happen."

And now it’s the Realm’s turn to play. Before he leaves, he
lights my Marlboro cigarette and kisses me. As he leaps onto the
stage and straps on his gold Gibson Les Paul, my friend Beth says
to me, "He’s fine."

"I know," I respond, but that’s not what’s on my mind. "He tells
me that I’m beautiful and he’s proud that I’m smart," I’m thinking.
"I can’t believe it. I’m so happy and I’m never letting this one
go."

Summer 1992. It’s Labor Day and Matt’s family is having a
barbecue. My freshman year of college came and went and my
sophomore year is about to begin.

Thank God. Because in many ways, the summer’s been a nightmare.
Matt didn’t do too well at the local junior college, the guys in
his band are either "flakes" or "assholes," and his old high school
friends smoke weed every day and tell him to kick back, that he’s
working too hard.

All this while I’m doing well in my classes and have made new
friends at school. He’s been teaching me to play electric guitar
and I’m picking it up pretty fast.

"If Bill Clinton wins the election, this country’s morals will
go to hell in a handbasket," I hear Matt’s brother-in-law proclaim
as I spell my name in mustard on a hot dog. Matt’s sister and her
husband converted to Fundamentalist Christianity fairly recently
and their proselytizing is dividing this once-Catholic family in
two.

They hate it that I spend every weekend at his house during the
school year, and over the summer their talk about "family values"
almost drove me insane. More than once I heard his sister preach to
his mother how "God will send them to hell if you allow this to
continue."

I know that such conflict only adds to Matthew’s troubles, so I
do my best to help him out. I make sure that his laundry gets done,
his car stays clean, that he has enough peace and quiet when he
does his homework and ­ hangover or not ­ I always have
breakfast made for him by 9:30 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

I’m thinking of all this as I eat my hot dog and overhear more
talk from his brother-in-law about how "feminazi takeovers" have
ruined families across the country. I think of how I hoped my
efforts would make Matthew happy, but somehow it just seemed to
frustrate him that thus far I’ve successfully juggled so much
responsibility.

"Oh it’s just a phase," I think to myself. "It’ll pass. It’s
okay. Why? Because he’s worth it. He loves me. He respects me. He
listens to me."

But he’s not listening to me. He’s listening intently to his
brother-in-law say how "all this women’s lib bullshit isn’t what
God wants. A woman’s supposed to obey her husband. After all, isn’t
that why He made men stronger?"

Winter 1994. I’m sitting outside the Whisky in Hollywood, chain
smoking and trying not to cry. He’s in there, talking to Dolores.
Dolores is beautiful, much more beautiful than me. Dolores is a
fucking airhead.

Dolores is everything I feared this morning as Matthew and I
argued while I washed the dishes from that evening’s dinner and he
watched the hockey game or maybe it was a basketball game, who the
hell knows.

"I’m not going to that damn church of theirs!" I’d screamed as I
scrubbed ketchup stains off his plate. "That preacher is full of
lies and everybody there just buys it and I feel like standing up
and yelling, ‘Don’t you know you’re being brainwashed?!’ and
getting the hell out of there every time you make me go!"

"Well then we’re going to the Catholic Church with my mom
tomorrow instead," he’d yelled back at me from the sofa.

"Hell no! That’s just as bad."

He’d jumped up and faced me. "What the hell’s wrong with you?!"
he’d balked. "You’ve changed. You never used to be like this, you
never do things for me anymore!"

"What do you call this?" I’d shouted as I flung a scraggly
orange dish scrubber into the sink. "What do you call me paying for
the phone bills and for gas in the car and for guitar strings and
for your flight jacket … "

"A girl who really loves her man will go the extra mile for him
and things like that won’t matter to her."

"What are you saying, then, that even though I’m working my ass
off for you, I don’t love you?"

"I’m saying that there’s girls at the clubs who are willing to
fuck me right then and there and they won’t make me put up with
this ‘I’m doing history papers on women’s rights crap’" he hollered
as he stormed out of the room to pack up his guitar and amp for
that night’s gig.

I don’t know why it was that I went to the Whisky with him that
night. Maybe because after I’d cried for a half hour and looked at
myself in the mirror I saw an old, tired young girl whose grades
were falling, friendships were strained and body was out of shape
because she’d put "her man’s" needs ahead of her own. He was all
she thought she had, and to leave him would be to admit that the
past two years or more had been an enormous, irreversible
mistake.

After all, I’d thought as I caked my face with make-up. How many
guys do you know who can play guitar like Jimmy Page? And he
"understands" me. He "loves" me.

Yeah right. At his gig, I’d felt as old and useless as the glam
rock groupies and has-beens that still hang out at the clubs on the
Sunset Strip even though the grunge scene was well under way.
Matt’s new band sucked. And I’d seen him leave my side to give an
ecstatic hello to Dolores, his old flame from high school.

I hadn’t bothered to see if the Whisky had a "no re-entry"
policy. I’d just walked outside, lit another Marlboro, sat on the
sidewalk and let the freezing cold numb me.

So now I am shivering here, remembering years past, of my mother
listening to me read Dr. Seuss to her when I was a little girl. She
tells me how she is so proud that I am the best reader in
kindergarten and that I bring home awards for handwriting and
spelling so often.

She tells me that she and daddy are so happy that they had a
little girl when I ask if daddy wanted a boy instead. That they
love me so much and that I can be anything I want when I grow
up.

"Read to me," she says.

I begin. "My feet are cold. My teeth are gold. I have a bird I
like to hold."

And now I’m walking uphill on Sunset Boulevard trying to find a
pay phone to call my sister. "It’s true, mother," I think. "My feet
are cold from the winter wind. My teeth are gold from all the
cigarettes I smoke when I’m sad. And that little bird ­ I’m
still holding it and I will not let him kill it."

Assistant Viewpoint Editor Roxane Marquez is a fourth-year
student double majoring in history and English-American studies.
Her column will run on alternate Thursdays.

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