The Cardinal Ghost Carmen and I had a rocky relationship at first. We were both drunks, and she had a roving eye that she could barely control. If you read Ghosts and Ballyhoo, you’ll understand why I stayed with her despite our problems.
At our Tokyo school, teachers came and went. One day we had a new colleague named Lynne, a British woman who looked exactly like a more voluptuous Naomi Watts.
I liked her immediately for her intelligence and insanely twisted sense of humor, the two attributes I find most attractive in women. Carmen—a brilliant, wildly funny person herself—could tell how I felt about Lynne. Though jealous, Carmen couldn’t really complain because she knew I’d never act on it, and she was also aware that I’d overlooked her own extracurricular activities in the hopes that she’d outgrow them.
Carmen and I spent most of our lunches at the top of the old building where were worked, talking and gazing out the windows as we ate. Once when we saw Lynne arriving, Carmen said, “I never realized how busty she is. You can really see it when you’re looking down at her from six stories up. She’s gorgeous, isn’t she, Tom?” And she gave me an arch, sad look.
Carmen herself was rather flat chested. I’m not a boob man; having been born and raised in Venezuela, I have more of a Latin preference. My favorite view of a woman is from behind, when she’s wearing tight jeans. Carmen was a former gymnast, so she looked great from behind, outfitted in her signature tight, faded jeans. But I wasn’t with her because of any part of her body. While I appreciated her excellent caboose, it was a bonus, not a requirement.
During the holiday season of 1989-90, Carmen went home to California for Christmas and New Year’s. She was gone for two weeks. Before she left, she said, “You’re going to spend all your time with Lynne, aren’t you?” Again, said sadly and sheepishly but with a definite trace of vicarious enthusiasm. Spending two weeks with someone else was what Carmen herself might do. She was titillated by infidelity—even that of her mate—because of the naughtiness and drama. There was no question: She was giving me permission.
By 1989 the worst of the turbulence in our relationship was over, and we’d settled into the happiest extended period of my life. Still, Carmen could never accept that I wasn’t bothered by what she hinted was her astronomical number of conquests, nor could she believe that I’d known of her infidelities but had forgiven her. If I cheated on her, it’d take the sting out of her own adventures. “You did it too!” she could say, assuaging the guilt I knew she felt about betraying me. I therefore had carte blanche to fool around with a British woman who looked like Naomi Watts. If she’d have me.
Two weeks to do whatever I wanted
After Carmen departed for California, Lynne and I went to lunch together every day. She cracked me up because all Brits are wordsmiths who love to imitate the millions of regional accents in their island kingdom. Being from Manchester, her own natural accent—Mancunian—made her sound like a pirate, and she was very sarcastic. I gelled my hair in those days; during one of our lunches, Lynne said, “Let’s ‘ave a feel, then,” and touched my slicked-back locks. She burst into laughter.
“Oo, it’s awful, innit, Tom!” she shouted. “‘Ow can ya ‘ave that on yer ‘ead all day? Feels like dried wood! Ah could use ya fer kindlin’, coodn’t Ah? Start a fire wif yer ‘ead in me fireplace!”
She was hotness incarnate.
On Christmas Day, we went to a British pub in Tokyo that served a traditional Christmas dinner: roast turkey, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, parsnips, bread sauce, chestnut stuffing, pigs in a blanket, bacon, and gravy. With Christmas Pudding doused in flaming brandy for dessert. It wards off evil spirits.
We also had Christmas Crackers, little paper tubes twisted at both ends. When you and your date pull at either end of the tube, they pop and a paper crown, a prize, and a joke written on a piece of paper fall out. Our prizes were a plastic mustache and a toy penguin. Lynne put on her crown and managed to look even hotter. There’s something about beautiful women in silly headgear…
It was the best Christmas I ever had as an adult. The combination of the company, the food, and the erotic tension made it magical.
After our Christmas dinner, Lynne began talking about sex. I’ve always had a problem doing that, but with her it was easy. She was so funny and clever that we were able to relate in plain English what we liked and didn’t like, as though we were discussing movies or food.
“‘Ave you ever—?” she’d ask and describe a technique or position. “‘Ow d’ya like that? Not for me, mate. One thing Ah ‘ate is ‘avin’ me [fill-in-the-blank fill-in-the-blanked].” We never talked about Carmen; neither of us brought her up. It was a weird but intoxicating experience to speak so frankly about these things with such an attractive woman. A lapsed Catholic, I was ridiculously inexperienced for an American man of twenty-seven.
Lynne was also an electric-bass devotee. She loved the bass because she found it much sexier than the guitar. Male bassists were far more masculine than male guitarists, and the lower registers affected her lower register, she told me. (“Noodge-noodge; wink-wink!”) I played my bass for her at school during our lunch breaks. She watched hungrily, like a panther.
On New Year’s Eve, we went to a Japanese club where they rang in 1990 the traditional way, by smashing open a sake barrel with a mallet and splashing everyone nearby. Lynne and I got soaked. As the crowd cheered, she grabbed me, pulled me into her ample chest, and planted a big, wet smacker right on my lips. It was the best kiss ever, no question. We’d reached the point at which I had to make my decision. There was a week left before Carmen came back, and Lynne had made it clear that she was up for some fun.
I didn’t do anything about it.
Why not? I had permission, and Lynne obviously didn’t want anything except a nice, friendly romp.
And that was the reason why I didn’t. I was already madly in love with her, so if we’d had our tryst, she would’ve thought of it as a simple dalliance while I’d be left with another hole in my life when it was over. We were too well matched. Since I was committed to my flawed, difficult Carmen, if I’d gone the extra step and consummated with Lynne, it would’ve gotten really ugly for everybody.
When Carmen came back, she realized the second she saw me that I hadn’t gotten together with Lynne, and that was the last hurdle we had to go over. It was smooth sailing from that point on, until it ended in a level of hate and verbal violence I found incomprehensible coming from the woman I’d come to regard as the other half of me. But when Carmen recognized that I’d turned down my perfect match in favor of someone who was so much trouble, it calmed her and allowed her to finally lower her defenses. She and Lynne became friends and would often go out together. I didn’t ask what they talked about. It was none of my business.
On January 26, 1990, Carmen, Lynne, and I—along with my friend Steiv Dixon and his date—went to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Lynne hated them.
“They’re rubbish!” she scoffed. “‘Ow can ya listen to this shite? That’s the great Flea you always talk about? ‘E’s awful! Every solo sounds exactly the same!”
She preferred the pathetic Japanese opening act, these cargo cult Chili Pepper clones who performed with hats made of egg-crate mattress foam.
So Lynne and I weren’t a perfect match after all. Actually, I think she said what she did just to be perverse and tweak me a little. I hate being teased, but like Carmen and Steiv, she could do it to me without making it hurt. How many men would be upset if Naomi Watts teased them?
Even though Carmen dumped me three years later in the most inhumane, painful, selfish way possible, I don’t regret my decision. I still think I made the right choice, because now I have memories of a great Christmas Day; an even better New Year’s Eve; some of the frankest conversations I ever had with a woman; amazing intimacy that didn’t end negatively; the hilarious improbability of a beautiful blonde Brit offering herself to me and not being offended when I declined; Carmen’s joy when she came home and realized I’d chosen her, warts and all; and the three years of total fulfillment Carmen gave me before it ended.
Wherever you are, Lynne, thank you.
Supplement to “Farewell and an Order that was Obeyed,” pages 55 to 59.