Love Smells Like Crayons.
[Reprinted from 14 July 2009]
I was attending a church study group, but it was not at a church. A handful of us had gathered on a Monday night in a friend’s living room in a northern suburb of Detroit. The living room faced west and opened out over a lake through two enormous picture windows. The view of swans and sky and possibility was dazzling. Michelangelo would go silent here.
It was high summer. The days were long and the sunsets were longer. Despite the beauty, I was fidgeting because I was, well, alive. The group was debating the pros and cons of “patient endurance” (I was leaning toward “against it”) when the doorbell rang.
I leaped up to answer the door. It wasn’t my house, but leaping up for any flimsy reason is something at which I am gifted.
There was a man at the door. This house was in a remote location, down a long winding driveway through the woods to the lake. Anyone who came all the way to the door had to be determined. To do SOMETHING. If he was here to kill me, I had gone out with a beautiful view. If he was selling cookies, I would fetch my wallet. If he was a missionary of some kind, I would tell him he was preaching to the piano player.
The man was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. He was about my age, about my size. Dark skin, dark hair, Latino. He was carrying nothing.
“Hi. I live across the lake,” he said, pointing, “and I couldn’t help but notice that people have been putting motorized boats into the lake from your easement out back. And see, we have some rules about…”
Damn, no cookies. And this sounds official. I’d better go get someone who knows something.
“Okay, hang on. You need to talk to Ben who owns this place,” I said. “I’ll go get him,” and I started to close the door. Then my inside voice yelled at me for my poor social skills and I apologized to the stranger. “I’m sorry. Come on in.” I smiled and motioned for him to follow me.
“So, what’s your name?” I asked, leading him down the hall.
“Ray. Ray Rosales.”
I halted mid-step. He nearly crashed into me.
I shook my head. Nah, couldn’t be. That’s a common enough name. I started walking again.
“Huh. I knew a Ray Rosales once. Where did you grow up?”
Full stop. No way. This is ludicrous. I spun and faced him. The right age, the right size, the same pretty caramel-colored skin… I wanted to sniff him.
“Where in Detroit?” My eyes narrowed and I dared him to answer correctly.
“Near Eight Mile Rd.”
My heart forgot to beat and I couldn’t swallow. I stuck out my hand to cover the fact that I was having a stroke.
“I’m Erin Waugh.”
“Erin…” he breathed. And his shoulder fell against the wall.
There’s that risk that you will say your name, and the other person will hear… crickets. And maybe you will try to nudge their recollection: “Don’t you remember when we…?” and the guy will say, “You’re a crazy person. Leave me alone.” But not this time. No, astonishingly, a real-live memory was staring back at me, as stunned as a deer on Eight Mile. Ray Rosales, the first “love of my life,” was standing in a hot hallway with me. And, judging by the way he was recovering, he remembered.
Ray Rosales had been my very first crush when I was 10 years old. My family lived in Detroit in the late 60’s just south of Eight Mile Road, and Ray and I attended Bow Elementary School. Ray lived one street over and he, like all the neighborhood kids, visited the Waughs’ “Kool-Aid House” every single day. (A “Kool-Aid House” is that one house on the block where the mom has a seemingly endless supply of snacks and drinks and “patient endurance,” and all the kids in the neighborhood know it and they swarm there like adorable leeches.) Ray Rosales and I rode bikes and played on the swings and fought with our little brothers.
At least that’s what we did in public.
Ray and I were also, as fifth-graders, both conveniently appointed to be on something called “Attendance Duty.” Or maybe it was “Pencil Sharpening.” Or “You Clean My Eraser, I’ll Clean Yours.” The details of this assignment were immaterial. What DID matter was that once a week, Ray Rosales and I had to collect some important thing from Mrs. Sullivan and, even more opportunely, had to deliver this important thing to an empty art room on the first floor. By ourselves. Together. To an empty art room on the abandoned first floor. I don’t know why it took two of us to deliver this important thing.
Well, maybe I do.
It was behind a desk in that darkened, unsupervised, adult-free art room, that Ray Rosales kissed me. My first kiss ever. A lot. Many. I liked it. A lot. To this day the smell of Crayolas makes me dizzy. And makes me stop in hallways so that people crash into me. Right there in that art room Ray Rosales and I pledged our undying love and vowed to get married and have two babies named Ian and Esperanza to satisfy our ethnic diversity.
But it was not to be. My father was transferred out of Detroit shortly after that art-room kiss (kisses, plural; the two of us volunteered for this terribly difficult assignment for weeks on end), and my family moved to Ohio. I had not seen Ray Rosales since I was 10 years old when we were both giddy with the responsibility of “some important thing,” yet here he was decades later, miraculously, leaning against a wall in a house in Michigan looking like he was trying hard not to get caught by Mrs. Sullivan.
I summoned my Christian virtue and invited him into the picture living room. The group was friendly and we all sat and chatted with Ray, looking out over the lake, trying to discuss the original reason for his visit, namely the invasion of zebra mussels and the introduction of, I don’t know, typhoid or something. I had sort of stopped listening. Ray kept losing track of his own story and turning to me with that 10-year-old’s smile.
“Hey, remember when I pushed you on the swing and you fell off?”
“Remember when we told your little brother to ‘go get lost,’ and he did?”
And the one he didn’t say: “Remember how crayons smell like desire?”
I know you’re wondering, so… Ray Rosales is married, has no kids, and is a tool and die maker in Warren. And, yes, he’s still cute as hell (and has all of his floppy black hair!). He lives right across a picture window from some friends of mine in Lake Orion, Michigan, in the same town as me, where, as the sign says, “Living Is a Vacation.” And sometimes a flashback.
I gave Ray Rosales my card and he gave me his phone number, and we will probably never see each other again.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go color.
14 July 2009