I loved her before I met her. It was this freak deal. She had lived in this place where I lived, but she lived there two or three people before I came.
East Village, summer of 1969, last of the Sixties, just when it was all melting into the 70s, which, as decades go, was never going to be as mellow and full of possibilities. The 60s had so many good vibes, such positive potential, even with the riots and the sit-ins, the beginning of Nam and napalm, the assassinations. There was still all that love. And shrooms. And tabs. I was lucky, managed to stay away from the hard stuff. But the trips were… Well, just let me say I still remember how it felt to unlock the secrets of my particular corner of the universe.
That summer was the moonwalk. Which I watched on an old black and white TV I’d picked up on the street. Clothes hanger antenna, but it got Cronkite in focus, and the moon guys, bouncing. The place on East Second Street had a view of the hookers coming in and out of the building across the street, and I’d grown almost used to the sound of shots being fired in front of the corner bar, especially on the weekends.
That weekend the roomies had all gone away, and I’d done some serious drinking and other shit, and the astronauts were going to walk on the moon—on the Moon, man—on Monday. So I knew I was calling in sick. It was hot. The windows on the street were open, I didn’t dare open the door—too many dopers in the building—so it was hot. I got up to move some books—Kafka, Kirkegaard, Mao’s Little Red Book—off a shelf to re-position the fan, and a smaller book fell on the floor. I picked it up. Inside, in beautiful, clear handwriting: Janine Rogers, My Journal.
I fell into her life, right then, while the moon jumpers were getting ready to come down the ladder. She wrote about how she walked into a bar and listened to Alan Ginsberg read “Howl.” How she gave him one of her poems, and he told her to keep writing. She wrote about a lover who pressed ice cubes onto her nipples. Right then I got lost in the moonwash of her words and spent the rest of the day reading and re-reading the loops and whorls of her curvaceous prose, increasingly convinced that she would return my love as my love for her was foaming and spouting.
My roomie had gotten the place from Lester, who was working at the corner bar. Lester didn’t remember anyone named Janine, but he said there were these two girls, he called them Donna One and Donna Two, who were around for three months last year. Donna Two worked at The Pink Pussycat over on Bleeker. Donna Two remembered Janine: she’d stayed with them for two weeks around Christmas 1967. She thought Janine had gone to California. Maybe Los Angeles. Venice, she thought. A boyfriend there maybe. What does she look like? I asked. She’s, you know, a pretty girl. Dark hair.
I knew loved her. The woman who could write the words I read was the woman I wanted to be with the rest of my life.
I knew her name, I knew she was in Venice. August was a great time for a road trip. I quit my job, got my camera out of hock, and picked up my brother’s mini-van, promised myself no dope until I got there, and kept the promise. Because I knew Janine was waiting.
It turned out to be easy. She was the girl on the bench, sitting north of Muscle Beach, writing in the sister-book of the journal I clutched. She was beautiful. “Is this yours?” I asked. She wasn’t surprised. “Yes,” she said. “Thank you.” I looked into her eyes. “Do you want dinner?” I asked. “No,” she said. “Can I take your picture?” I asked. “Sure,” she said. We sat in the van and she looked at me, and I only clicked once. But that was all I had to do.
We went back to her place. And afterwards she trusted me with three of her poems, reading them aloud to me as she straddled me, looking down into my eyes over the page. I could see the clear lines of her pen’s curls through the paper.
“I love you,” I said. “I love your words.”
“I have a boyfriend,” she said. “He’s in the Marines. Stationed at 29 Palms. I’m going there tomorrow. I’m going to count the palm trees. Then I’m going to count the stars.”
“Can’t we see each other?” I asked.
“No, “ she said.
“Can I write you?”
“Sure,” she said. “Care of General Delivery. He’s a good guy, for a general.”
“Will you write back?” “
“Maybe,” she said. “Anyway, you have to go.”
I wrote her every day for two years, until I got drafted to go to Nam. She never answered. I told her everything. Except I didn’t tell her I kept the last page of her diary. It was the poem about ice and ecstasy. She didn’t know she had written it for me.
Published in Lovers & Other Strangers, Spring 2014. Purchase here. Also available at Forbidden Planet NYC and Barnes & Noble Union Square. Image courtesy of Lovers & Other Strangers.