Part 2 of Lauren and Carrie
When we talk about settling the world's problems,
we're barking up the wrong tree.
The world is perfect. It's a mess.
It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.
Because the boy in the belfry, he's crazy,
He's throwing himself down from the top of the tower.
Like a hunchback in heaven,
He's been ringing the bells in the church
For the last half an hour.
It sounds like he's missing something or someone
That he knows he can't have now.
And if he isn't,
I certainly am.
-In Liverpool -
In honor of her new icemate, Carrie decided to go to the McMurdo Halloween party dressed as a muon. Lauren tried to explain to her that a muon was a subatomic particle smaller than the wavelength of visible light and that as such it had no optical qualities, and in fact it was basically a probability of existence rather than a thing. Carrie told him he had a certain probability of getting lucky that evening. The science promptly ceased. Muon costume construction began.
To dress as a muon Carrie stripped herself free of clothing. Then, she and Lauren wrapped her in two swaths of thick stolen clinic gauze positioned at the appropriate physical intervals to protect what little modesty she would preserve to cast off later. It looked as though she was wearing the idea of something between total nudity and a the latest fashion mummy micro-mini skirt/tube top combination that would certainly fall off once she got active enough to sweat. Over Carrie's objections Lauren applied two stripes of white medical tape around the gauze to affix it to her body.
For Lauren, Carrie found a large white dentist's tunic in the rec supply room. She produced an electric hair clipper and wanted to shave his head in a Mohawk do. Then she would paint his hair stripe bright blue, strip him naked and have him wear nothing but the tunic. The motif of their costumes would revolve around the story that Lauren was the mad physicist who had released the Franken-muon into the world, and that besides, for all intent and purposes they would both be naked at the biggest yearly party in town, which is what really mattered.
After a dishing out a generous helping of excuses to Carrie, Lauren found an eye patch and went as a pirate.
As soon as they arrived the muon disappeared into the crowd of ice people and pirate Lauren caught glimpses of her twirling and leaping amid a heap of bodies in the mosh pit. The DJ slathered the crowd with a pastiche of sound consisting of 80's punk, 70's disco, and random songs from CDs passed to him by the revelers. Thus, the partiers found themselves head walking to Tony Bennett as well as Disturbed.
Without the benefit of stereovision, pirate Lauren bumped into walls and people. He found his team and they promptly saw to the task of improving his mental state by boozing up. As with most of the beakers on station, they hung around in the most familiar position they could adopt at a social function, which was to stand at the wall and watch the action on the dance floor.
Meanwhile, the muon had figured out how to release her gauze from the tape on her body and the two ends of the modest strips with which she was wrapped came loose and flailed in the breeze. She dragged them past the faces of other dancers as if performing the dance of the 10,000 veils. Lauren watched with great interest. He wanted to be with her, but he didn't know how. He'd never learned to dance and even if he could the idea of gyrating in public was abhorrent to him.
"Who's that you came with?" one of his teammates asked him. "She pretty, erm, cute."
"Just a friend," Lauren said.
"Some friend," said another teammate. "You gonna share her with us?"
A bit of red energy like venom rose up his spine. "No."
"Okay. No need to get testy. At least now we know why you're so distracted."
"You want to shut up?" Lauren heard himself say. He began to feel angry. He had to move. He took a few steps toward the dance floor, then couldn't go further. It made him angry he was too self-conscious to step in with Carrie.
Something hit his shoulder. He turned to see the meat of someone's hand clamping down as if keeping him from floating away. "Larry. Let's talk," said his boss.
His heart sunk. Lauren had never objected to his boss before. They were of equal focus. It was always a good time to talk about work, no matter what the time or place. But now, with Carrie becoming increasingly naked in front of him, the last thing he wanted to do was talk about the broken detector.
He walked with his boss to the door and they stepped outside in the bright cold.
"Larry, you gotta be straight with me," his boss said, lighting a cigarette. "It's been a week. What's wrong? You said you'd have the instrument working in hours. We're behind schedule. We can't hold off going to pole too much longer or we're going to lose our slot."
"I just need to get a few parts machined. A few more days..." he said.
"I don't think so. We don't have a few more days." He tossed his match into a can marked "construction waste--FLAMMABLE". Lauren's reflex was to flinch, expecting a small explosion. It didn't happen.
Lauren said, "You want this to work or what? I told you what the damage was. You saying you can get it done faster?"
"I'm telling you I have eyes. I see what you're doing."
"What do you think you see? I'll tell you what you see. You see a man working his ass off to save the season, that's what."
His boss took a final drag on the cigarette and tossed the burning butt into the construction waste can. There was a quiet "whump" and a two foot green flame emerged from the can. The gray paint on the outside of the can peeled off and fell onto the ice. The flame went out and the outside of the can smoked as if it had been witness to a nuclear blast.
Lauren's boss ignored it. He said, "You're in the same room. Am I right?"
"Who's in what room?"
"Suddenly I'm an idiot? She's living with you, Larry. The whole fucking station knows about it."
"Yeah, well--" and Lauren's mind went blank. Then he thought of Carrie dancing inside. Wondered how naked she was. He'd have to get in there and bring her back to the room before she went too far and some other guys got the wrong idea.
He went to the door.
He heard his boss say, "I can't believe this. What the hell's wrong with you? You stand here and finish this conversation," but he couldn't explain. There wasn't time.
When he got inside the crowd had formed a circle. Carrie and one of the helo tech guys were dancing topless, doing a version of the Lambada as interpreted by a break dancer.
He stopped at the edge of the circle peering in. "Who's that?" Lauren asked Karen, the bartender.
"You mean Carrie?" she replied, then she saw to whom she was speaking and corrected herself. She said, "That's 2003," with a certain degree of disgust. The way she looked at Lauren made him feel she was angry with him. He hardly knew her, but he knew some people were always unhappy.
When the dance was over Lauren gave Carrie his outer layer poly pro shirt so she wouldn't have to walk outside with her breasts exposed to Antarctica. They went back to their room holding hands.
That night as he lay on his back in the bed they assembled by pushing together the two singles, he noticed holes and stains on the ceiling of the doom room. A red splotch merged with something blue and lumpy to make a purple stalactite right over his head. There were numerous blue ringed pinholes and a bic pen that appeared to have been embedded in the ceiling since the Truman administration.
His body felt smooth and quiet and for once his head cleared so he could process what had happened sensibly. For once things had not been as he anticipated them. Carrie had told him before they started, "Just because you watch the races, that doesn't make you Secretariat," and he understood what she meant. Sex had been nothing like he expected. Twenty-two years of living. He'd seen all the pictures and mpgs and full-length DVDs. He expected the moaning and grasping and pumping and sweating and in real life none of it had been that.
He hadn't expected it would start the moment her stomach touched his. It was nothing--absolutely nothing--like his own occasions of secret self-abuse. The moment her hands moved down his sides. He hadn't expected there would be something beyond simple body heat--something invisible and electric. It built with her movement and accelerated until it peaked at that endorphin rush he thought he was familiar with. But it was more intense. If his mind had been forcefully removed from his brain before, it was now crushed beyond recognition under a sno-cat tread.
And now his mind filled with questions. Did I do the right thing? Did she come? What if someone finds out? What's that red stuff on the ceiling?
Carrie was lying on her side, staring at him.
"What up, money?" she said.
"Looks like you got something on your mind."
"I don't know how to ask this without sounding like..." the words stuck in his throat.
She finished his sentence. "Like a virgin?" She said it. Then she sang it like the Madonna song. "Like a virrrriiiggginn...fucked for the very first tiiiimeeee."
He furrowed his brow, unable to compute a smartass remark.
Carrie sat up and put an arm over his chest and leaned down into his face. "You've never done this before."
"How could you tell?" Lauren asked, truly wondering.
She shook the hair out of her eyes. "How could I tell? Well, first of all, you fuck like a rabbit."
He gave her a quizzical look and then she slapped her palms together a few times. "Bam bam--then whippie..." she brushed her palms apart as if they were flying away from her arms.
Now he was embarrassed. "Well I didn't..."
"Yeah, I know. Secondly, like, I'm here, too. Let's get that straight. There's you and there's also me, right here." She patted the bed next to her. "I don't know what kind of porn you get off on, but dude, there's a couple things you need to learn before you sleep with another woman."
"I don't want to sleep with other women," he said, fast.
"Let me rephrase. Before you attempt to - fuck - another woman-- you need to learn a few things."
"I'm not going to--" She put her fingers against his mouth and closed her eyes. He saw her counting silently. When she got to ten she removed her hand. Lauren said, "Why do you do that?"
"Because not only are you a terrible lay, but you say things that guarantee you're going to get in a whole lot of trouble someday."
"I'm just saying how I feel."
"I thought girls liked talking about feelings."
"Not after the worst sexual experience she's had since playing doctor with Roger Whitman when she was 12."
"When I give you the high sign."
"Who's Roger Whitman?"
"None of your business," she said. Then she pulled the covers off him and looked him over. "Ok. We're going to start this up again. We're going to do it my way. No improvisation on your part. You do exactly what I say, when I say it. You do not say a word. You get me?"
Lauren nodded really fast.
"Okay. Now first, open..." And she lay down beside him and grabbed his hand. He held it open for her and she brushed her fingertips against it. Then she pressed the tip of her finger into the base of his thumb slightly. Moved it in a tiny circle, the radius of which he silently computed to be five millimeters. She said, "Like this. Understand?"
He started to say "yes" but she stopped him, brought his fingers to her mouth, and moved her tongue against them gently, then faster. "You feel that?" He was confused, and she did it again, more pressure this time, but quickly. Then she moved her hand down his chest, over his stomach, and onto his groin. "See?"
And it tickled and he couldn't believe anyone would want that done to them, but she stopped immediately and he did what she had done, running his hand between her breasts, down her tummy and into the space between her legs. She gave him instructions and he followed them, his face where she wanted him, tongue brushing and pressing against her word for word, and when she was sure he was on autopilot, she relaxed her head backward, closed her eyes, and sucked a half-breath through the space she made biting her bottom lip. "You learn fast."
"Yearghsh," he said, not wanting to spoil the moment, even though he had no idea what the moment was.
She led him through the process step by step. It seemed to take an agonizingly long time but he realized he didn't want it to end. She showed him how to stop himself from coming to climax, how he could keep her interest even when he was losing his. There were spots that could be nibbled, rubbed, licked, sucked, and some simply felt.
Toward the end, when he was watching her move below him, and he imagined the path the crown of her head took, forward and back, followed a wave pattern equal to the addition of his and her unequal and asynchronous thrusts, why couldn't they synchronize--and not being able to made him laugh and when he did it moved her inside and made her laugh, too, which he felt and liked very much. She made a sound like he'd heard in one of the movies and said, "Another 'A+' graduate," as she threw her head backward.
"Now," she said, her eyes closed, her back arched.
"What? Now what?"
"Now...tell me...what you feel."
No words came to his primal mind until he realized that was the high sign. And when he opened his mouth what came out were lines from a movie he'd seen.
So he thought he'd explain, "This is just like the movie."
She looked at him, wide eyed. "You bastard."
"Not Ron Jeremy," he said. He took a huge breath. "My gift is my song..." he sang, loud enough to be heard on Hut Point, hitting the high notes perfectly. "And this one's for you."
She laugh-screamed, grabbed his sides, pulled herself toward him, and bit him on the shoulder.
Imagine a man whose internal experience of love is uncategorized and you understand Lauren in those days. All humans experience love in that as an infant the dependency on mother is the basis for the bond. But suppose one has spent his early years focusing all efforts on quantifiable, material goals. Suppose that in an individual of superior mental talent a defensive psychological mechanism causes him to forget the bond he had toward mother in a way that could not be expected of a normal person. And further suppose the quest for attainment occupied the space in the heart normally reserved for tenderness and compassion.
Then you may convince yourself it would be possible for such a man to find himself in love and to consider himself the victim of disease or malfunction of an organ. A man who can beat slot machines in Las Vegas by determining the probable modes of metal fatigue in the tumblers might fall in love and determine his loss of mental clarity is due to a stroke or undiagnosed psychoses. He might start believing in long odds solutions to his internal disruption: that the atmosphere of the planet Earth is being depleted of oxygen. That he has been drugged by foreign agents and will be kidnapped when his IQ drops to that of a freshly-shaven llama. That aliens have ablated sections of his cortex. That cartoon chipmunks have taken up residence in his ears and are whispering great evil.
I sat with Lauren in Gallagher’s at McMurdo station that late Sunday afternoon. We pounded boilermakers and made fun of politicians and early twentieth-century cubists. As is bound to happen when the effects of the first drink are tailing off while the effect of the fourth is just kicking in, a wave of depression was followed by treacherous and pervasive melodrama in each of our brains, and because Lauren's mind was much more sophisticated and much younger than my own middle-aged and calloused brain, Lauren confessed he had not reported the mistake made by housing, and that while the rest of us were living with balding overweight men who farted and snored like the 1812 Overture performed by a symphony composed entirely of tubas, he was living with the cargo babe.
"Dude," I said, and in my drunkenness the sound of my own voice brought forth to me such profundity I was sure I'd be offered an honorary PhD for it by the nearest university president.
And we toasted with double shots of Jack Daniels' while I imagined being in Lauren's position, with Carrie coming out of the shower looking for the underwear she knew I had hidden in the broom closet in the hallway, and that made me say, "Dude," again. Which was the cause for another toast.
And Lauren said, "Have you ever been in loheve, Bob? I mean, Bob. No--I mean, Bob--Jim. Jim. Yeah. You're Jim. What was I saying?"
"Sure, lots of times."
"I've been in love a lot," I said. "I made a whole family out of it. Highly recommend it. Wonderful institution, love. Get in it and get your ticket punched so you don't have to pay for parking."
The good thing about Antarctica is that no matter how much you've been drinking, when the bartender stops serving you, you can always go back to your room and get more. Because they know that, they really don't stop serving you. I tapped our glasses, threw another Kiwi twenty on the table and got Karen to pour us a couple more.
"How do you know?" Lauren said.
"That you're in love?"
The way he nodded reminded me of the way my kids looked when they were five and I asked them if they wanted ice cream. His eyes were glassy and he couldn't hide his smile though I know he wanted to be serious. Then he giggled and rubbed his face and said, "Yeah. Love. How do you know?"
"You've never been in love?"
"Never had a crush on the girl next door or the one who sat next to you in math class?"
"The boy next door?"
He punched me in the arm and giggled some more.
"Oh, come on," he said.
And I started to tell him I didn't know how I knew, only that I just did, when he cut me off.
"I can't think," he said.
"Sure. You just had six boilermakers. If you could you'd be a robot."
"I don't mean drunk. I mean, I just think about her, like, really, awhl the time. All of it. Even right now."
"That sounds serious."
"And then, when I'm dreaming it's about, you know, her. And then when she's there I just can't--It's so, just so, dumb, kind of--oh this is stupid. I'm drunk."
"Yes you are," I said and tried to apply superior adult experience. "So tell me. When you see other women. Like that one over there. Are you still thinking about her? Or are you thinking about the one over there?"
He sat there and smirked. Then he said, "She marked me, man," and pulled at the neck of his poly pro shirt till I could see the black-and-blue mark on his shoulder.
"Shit, man. That makes you her territory. Not a woman in sight's gonna see that and..." and I couldn't go on but it didn't matter. He was staring at his knees, apparently about to pass out. I said, "Oh shit, man. You're totally in love. Look at you. You're a total mess."
"Being a mess is in love?"
"Fraid so, Jack."
He held out his glass and we toasted. He said, "That's the fact, Jack. I love her."
Karen came by because she couldn't help but overhear our conversation. As she refilled our glasses Lauren said to her, "I love her. I love you, too. But I love her more. I'm in love. Can you believe it? At least I'm not insane."
"Oh, you're insane," Karen said. "Believe me, if you think you're in love with Carrie..."
Then I realized what was happening and I got her attention by spilling my drink and spitting bourbon all over my North Face vest. I said to her, "You can't tell anyone this. It's against the rules of bartending. Drunk/bartender privilege is being invoked."
"Right. Sure," she said. "But somebody's gotta set your friend straight or he's--"
I cut her off, a feeling of alarm driving a spike of sobriety through my head, "Look. Look. I know about these ice things. It's sort of--can't we just leave him be?"
"Yeah. Some friend you are," she said to me and I started to get angry. She knew it. Stared at me and pointed right at my face for half a second. "One way or another, he's gonna get straightened out."
"Nobody's straightening me out," Lauren said, slurring. "I'm in love."
I got off the bar stool, took Lauren's arm and urged him off his. In Antarctica there is no happy medium. Things swing from stop to stop. It gets really good, or really bad, really fast. We had to get out of there before whatever was going to happen, happened.
"I'm not a mess, I'm in love," Lauren said.
Karen scolded me with her eyes as I grabbed Lauren's red parka from the hook on the wall and helped him put it on.
"I'm in love. I'm not dying," he said, looking like he was going to kiss me.
"Yeah. I know. Let's go, lover boy," I said, almost able not to slur my words.
Karen came to the end of the bar and said, "This is going to be your responsibility," as we walked out into the eleven PM Antarctic sunshine. I didn't know what I could do about it. They were adult ice people. They were making their own decisions. I'd done all I could do.
The rest of that evening is a blur to all the ice people. I'd heard some so-called facts from others who said they were there, but truth was, nobody was close except the Kiwi air force and the MacOps guys, and they all retro'ed north without talking about the incident. We heard they were placed under a gag order by congress and the NTSB.
I'm pretty sure it went like this, though.
When Lauren got back to 208 the door to his room was open. He could feel it was colder inside from the second he crossed the threshold and the window wasn't even open. The two beds had been pushed apart to the far walls where they had been before he and Carrie had started sleeping together. The sheets and blankets had been taken off of her bed and stuffed into the pillow case. Her clothes and toiletries were gone. Towels. Shoes. Gone. His stuff was undisturbed except for a note that was under his gold vial.
The note said:
I don't blame you for anything. Not even for the salary I'm losing. But seriously, were you really stalling your program so we could continue our sex lessons? Bad boy. You made your PI very angry so your little love muon has to go. But seriously, I was starting to feel like there was an *US* and that got me very nervous and I bet you were feeling that way too. Whew. This saved us both a lot of headache. End of the season always sucks in Mac Town with all the couples splitting, anyway. So it's for the best, except for my paycheck, of course. Hey, if you wind up in CHCH before Feb, look me up in the hostel. Maybe I'll catch you next season.
P.S. I hope you don't mind I looked in your little gold jar. What's that in there? A tooth? You are the weirdest beaker in all of Ant-fucking-arctica, and thanks to me you're the best lay on the continent. Big smooch.
It became a first rate ricochet. The love in Lauren's calculating heart turned to rage, pain and burning.
He was still wasted on boilermakers when he dragged himself down to the sea ice and stole a snow machine from the inventory. He gassed her up and blasted out to the ice runway.
Unlike a modern, civilian airport, there isn't much in the way of airport security on the frozen McMurdo sound, but the whine of the approaching snowmobile alerted the guys in the portable tower, who had been alternately sleeping, swilling beers, and watching a title from the library of Ron Jeremy DVDs one of the guys had brought down in his orange bag.
They grabbed their radios and tried to get Lauren to identify, but as he hadn't stolen a radio with his snow machine, he had no idea they were calling.
The Kiwi Air Force crew of aircraft KTH-002 spotted the rooster tail from the cockpit and wondered if they should break out the ordinance. Then they realized they hadn't been in the habit of carrying guns from New Zealand because there was nothing to shoot at except rocks and balls of ice. They were completely unarmed and an attractive target if love-sick Lauren happened to be driving a snowmobile filled with C4. The pilot's logic was that the best thing was to get the hell out, so he pushed the throttles forward and the Herc built up a head of steam and rotated its nose skyward.
I'll dare say that nobody knows what was going through Lauren's mind, not even Lauren. Did he think he'd stop the plane from leaving? Was he going to try to jump into the wheel wells as it took off and stowaway? Or was he trying to find a way to kill himself as close to her as he could?
Lauren missed having his head taken off by the rear gear by a couple of feet, which feels like inches when a 20,000 pound airplane with engines at full passes that close to your brain.
The guys from Mac Ops sent a crew out to capture Lauren, and he had them in snowmobile rodeo mode for nearly an hour before his fuel line broke and the machine stalled. Then they subdued him with sticks and their fists, brought him to the chalet and locked him in a storage closet until someone could figure out where they'd left the handcuffs. The ladies who were left there to guard him said he cried all night, asking for his mother, and blaming the whole race of women for giving him birth for the purpose of hating him and ruining his life.
Eventually, his boss got a lot of it straightened out, but the NSF insisted that Lauren be retro'ed north for the season and not be allowed back onto the ice until he passed a thorough psychological examination. The heavy nucleus cosmic ray team's season was over, and they all flew north that next week. Lauren sobered up and refused to speak to anyone about anything. He became mute, and as far as anyone knows, hasn't spoken a word since.
He was allowed to pack his gear himself.
He passed me in the dorm hallway on the way out to the ice runway for his flight back to CONUS and handed me the note from Carrie. He'd taken a sharpie and scrawled "MR. 2004" across the name tag on his red parka. He also gave me his wooden Maltese cross, and the false gold vial. The vial looked like something you'd buy in a tourist trap in Nepal. Inside was a tiny incisor. I figured it was his baby tooth. Probably something his mother was saving before she left.
He kept her picture.
Lauren left his post at the university and no forwarding address. I wrote to his mother at her publisher's address and to date have received no reply. Without a quest, Lauren seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.
I met Carrie in CHCH on my way north. She said Lauren hadn't touched base with her and neither of us were surprised. She said she was thinking the whole time that he'd just grow up and out of it--that he'd realize it was not love, just good old ice sex. She genuinely liked him a lot and maybe for a moment, a bit more. They could be friends, right?
But I knew better and tried to explain that a guy never stops loving his first girlfriend. We say we don't and move on. But the downtown Tampa is littered with geriatrics sporting huge square sunglasses and quad canes pining away for the young girl with the braids who gave them their first kiss.
We're just built that way.
We spent my free day touring the botanical gardens and drinking the local microbrew at the Dux DeLuxe until both of us were blind drunk. Gave her the rest of my Kiwi money so I wouldn't have to bother converting it back to American. She was flat broke, wearing the same clothes she had on when they tossed her into the herc that day.
That night, I brought her back to my hotel room because she convinced me she hadn't slept in a real bed since she'd been kicked off the ice. Seeing as how it was a queen, I had the space. I let her shower and get cozy first, and then when I got in, we spooned in together under the covers and pretended we were married by talking about the future, kissing each other good night like we'd been having sex our whole lives and needed a break.
She asked me if I thought Lauren was okay, and I assured her a guy as smart as him would always land on his feet. She got quiet for a long time. Then she mumbled she was lonely and cried a bit. I stroked her hair. I told her I thought we were all lonely. We have the time together we have, and afterward we move on like subatomic particles governed by the laws of chance and chaos.
Then we both fell asleep.