We were returning to the country from the city, where we had passed four hours that evening in knowing everyone there, finally, because the owner of the house knew me from mutual friends and wanted me to meet “some people.” I brought Irene because she was Mexican and a personality whose spirit was akin to the stereotype so many conjured when they discussed Lupe Valdez or, in later years, Isabel Vega, who most reminded me of Irene Castenada and more than once I identified with some hybrid of her director and her leading man–Sam Peckinpah, Warren Oates–though years later, when I told Cathleen of her, and mentioned this comparison, the olive-skin Black Irish–“gypsy,” she insisted–who not only came after but stayed long enough to see me die, replied, “You were that pilgrim, that prophet in the song we played on the jukebox, over and over, that evening we stayed the night in the hotel in the middle of nowhere in Ontario . . . but you were more palatable once you came back to life.”
Irene’s naked body was my body’s first love. That moment remembered on the drive back set me off on our brief but luckless journey. You cannot grow up somewhere like our village and stay there happily, not if you were like me or like her. I do not know where she went, but no one in that place ever knew either and most had already forgotten about her since they were white boys like me but whose conception of beauty was only what they saw that most resembled Marilyn Monroe or Jane Russell or, for the more cultured lads, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood . . . There was only one theater in town and rarely did it show movies other than the B-Westerns of that time, so that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, War and Peace, and Rebel without a Cause were fare for the routine cowboy tired of contretemps in Hell Fire or Red River, to give you a range of Westerns then from B to A. I never cared for Howard Hawks, but I did appreciate King Vidor’s choice of the actress to embody Tolstoy’s Natasha and more than once Irene, like Cathleen, would say I reminded them of James Dean and I replied each time, “Only because you put me in mind of Natalie Wood,” and sometimes I would say it first followed by their own versions of my remark.
I did not love Cathleen immediately after Irene. I first had to suffer the loss of true innocence, the change the heart must make when the woman you think you love insists you stay with her until she makes up her mind what she wants to do. Cathleen told me, as she still does, I was her first love, but the evidence of what came after put the lie to her heart’s words–you know, those you say later that you would not have said during the absences when either you were gone or she was. They are simply the words you say before, during, and after, and for the sake of memory, never change.
(12 April 2013)
copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander