It was New Year’s Eve, 1986, at the tarted-up Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. I slipped inside a glittering ballroom; bushy-browed, sensitive, head-to-toe in black, searching for a thoughtful perch where I could observe the action from the back.
There was no place to hide. The joint was on fire. I sat on a bar stool in the corner and felt it all: big hair, lonely hearts, flashing skin and a throbbing beat, crashing on the dance floor in waves of wanton need.
Time passed. I’d been inhaling smoke, tee-totaling scotch, and fielding offers all night at the boozy trough, when a sky-eyed, platinum-curled guy from Jersey whispered hey you in my ear and offered me a light. His flame blew like a torch, and, laughing, we shared our first joke. He wasn’t at all my type, but when he said, my name is Pauly, my lips parted and I told him mine. He smiled so crookedly and spoke so softly, I have to admit, I was kinda charmed.
I learned a lot about Pauly that night: his life was inked in color on his arms, he sold stuff for a living out of the trunk of his car, and his soul was touched by my open mind and heart. When I told him I was a writer and that my field of study was love, he kissed my cheek and whispered, I never met no one like you before.
The party hit its peak. The new year exploded with a chorus of screams. Open, broken hearts and pounding, salty heat. Pauly looked at me; I said, let’s go upstairs.
He had a room beside the Atlantic, we were naked under the moon. I remember the tenderness of his lips, not the sex, and his black satin bathrobe with the mad dragon that rolled my eyes and made me laugh.
When it was over, Pauly seemed emotional, upset. He sat in the corner by the window and left me alone in the king-sized bed. He said he had a question. I had no idea what he meant. He tightened the sash around his waist, and asked, in the softest voice, if I had ever killed anyone.
I lit a cigarette and so did he. The moon swooned with smoke. If I answered, I’d have to ask him back. My mouth opened and the question fell out. I couldn’t help myself, I had to know.
I never told no one before. Pauly pushed open the window and the ocean roared. He said that, his cousin, a bright, young Jersey girl was walking home from school one day, when someone grabbed her from behind and dragged her into a car. A teenage boy raped and then murdered her, and put an end to her beautiful life.
Shock. There were no words. I hugged myself, but I was not afraid.
Everyone in their town knew the kid who did it, and believed he would be thrown in jail, but he was 17, underage and his mother gave him an alibi. When Pauly realized that his cousin’s rapist and killer was going free, he went to the store and he bought a gun.
The waves crashed around him, flooding the room. We cried and I held on to the bed. Pauly looked deep into my eyes, but he didn’t drown.
I never saw him again. He sent me a couple of letters from a Motor Inn in the Bronx. He wanted to meet me in the city, Pauly scrawled, but first, I’d have to tell him exactly where I was.
Moon Painting, courtesy of the artist, Rafe Martin.
Names and places have been changed.
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