by Heather Stewart
He was the gentlest lover I ever had. I met
him on a Saturday night at Kodiak Jack’s: a smoke filled military bar complete with scratched and torn up pool table,
automated bull, bartender with a sleazy yellowed grin and a penchant for lighting drinks on fire for theatric effect (see:
to impress the ladies), and a crowd comprised mostly of overflow from the army base located a couple blocks away. I knew he
was military from the moment he took off his hat to reveal the buzzed ‘high and tight’ haircut, by the tattoos
clawing up his arms like battle scars, the way he carried himself a bit too rigidly. He was built like a bulldog, complete
with bulky body, muscular arms, under-bite, and a wide – and probably oft broken - nose spread across his face. Having
recently crawled out of the pupae of break-up-blues into new fluttering single life, I was dressed to impress with dangerously
tall black heels, tight black and blue dress, and puckered red lips. Bulldog and the soldier next to him were following protocol
by oogling me from their seats across the bar. They alternated between staring at me and then turning and giggling amongst
themselves like two gossipy girls. I found this comical given how the lumbering
musculature of their bodies made them into living hyperbole. I soaked them in as I slowly sipped my water, stirring it absentmindedly
with my straw, staring every once-in-a-calculated while up at the soldiers out of my eyelashes as I sucked the liquid through
the semi-phallic utensil betwixt my lips. When I asked for a refill, the bartender winked at me and told me to order my next
drink alcoholic, courtesy of one of the two douchebags at the end of the bar (my words not his). Instead, I sauntered over and sat between the two soldiers.
Bulldog smiled ear to ear as my thigh brushed
against his. I traced my fingers along tattoo reading Chivalry Is Not Dead stretched across his bicep. I asked him what steroids
he was using, and if they affected his equipment. He laughed, blushed and said no, he took estrogen blockers to counteract
that. I said I’d have to see about that: I don’t do well with disappointment. He blushed. When I got up to use
the bathroom and another soldier grabbed my ass, I smacked the offender across the face. Bulldog stood up. A bar chair squealed
across the dirty bar floor. Bulldog put his bulbous nose in the harasser’s face and asked if there was a problem. The
other soldier skulked off with narrowed eyes, sputtering excuses that he was sorry, he had just gotten back from Iraq.
“That’s no excuse to mistreat
a lady,” Bulldog growled after the departing soldier.
I put my hand on Bulldog’s frighteningly
hard arm and whispered a thank you into his ear.
I didn’t take him home that night. I asked for both of the soldiers’ phone numbers with the intention of
spending time with one or both of them at the gym. I figured I could learn some exercises from them and their vascular arms.
Bulldog and I worked out together and went to lunch on a Tuesday. He was extremely serious for someone who laughed as often
as he did. He opened doors for me, insisted on paying for dinner, and walked me to my door to kiss me goodnight. We didn’t
make love then either.
That wasn’t until our third date. We were supposed to go to the gym, but instead I grabbed him through his shorts
when he came to the door and pulled him inside. He whisked me up in his arms, asked me which way to the bedroom, and bounded
up the stairs while holding me gingerly across his chest. Afterwards he kissed me multiple times on my lips, my cheek, my
forehead, my neck, my breasts. He gently smoothed the softs of his fingers up and down the curve of my back, over my ribs,
and rested them over my heart. I asked him about war. He told me that he had been deployed four times, but was now medically
disabled from battle injuries. He described the first time he killed a man when he was 20; the dust choked middle eastern
market place, the slick of sweat and grit of sand on his skin, the gunman firing at his unit from above a produce stand, how
his machine gun bullets ripped through the gunman’s midsection so that his middle “disintegrated” like watermelon
pulp. He described how the top half of the body fell separately from the bottom half as he draped his fingers through my hair
and cradled my body against his chest. He listed the names of the friends he had lost to alcoholism, to war, to suicide, to
all three. I ran my hand along his outer thigh and retracted it quickly when I felt roughness. He held my hand in his as he
explained the scar: a result of a semi-recent surgery. Here is where they put in the scope. Here is where they sliced open
the muscle. They were only pins implanted, of course; the army wouldn’t completely replace his hips because 25 was too
young and they would have only to replace them again when they wore out. That was just too expensive of a maintenance fee
for an army ranger who had extended his usefulness since he could no longer fight….
Heather Stewart suffers from MGD (Multi-Genre-Disorder)
and is a scholar of Romanticism, essayist, poet, journalist, English instructor, self-satirist, over-hyphenator and aspiring
philosopher-novelist. She hails from the Bay Area, received her BA from the University of California Berkeley, and someday
hopes to call Scotland home. Her recent work can be found in Educe, Psychological Poems: A Journal of Outsider Poetry, Drink
Me Magazine, and at the upcoming June 2012 James Hogg Society Conference in Glasgow.