Published in Hair Trigger 31
Look, I’m not saying there aren’t glitches. I mean, we barely speak the same language. But in some ways, meaningful ways, our communication is flawless. Like in his dark bedroom. He whispers into my ear, “Illipota, Illipota,” which he says is Macedonian for “Beautiful,” then he stretches my arms out above my head and holds them there. I close my eyes and feel his hot face against mine. My hands search his tan, lean body as he kisses me playfully and hard. Then his lips are at my earlobes, where he bites harder than any American boyfriend ever did.
Let me tell you about Vladko. He is tall and strong with draculine features: a thick, dark brow, suave black hair, soft brown-sugar skin and brooding eyes. He always smells of old spice and cool water combined and he knows just how to touch me.
His name sounds sharp with Vehh, Dehh, Kehh sounds, but it is buttery and sweet in my mouth like a warm chocolate croissant. I roll my tongue slowly on the L, Vlllaaahhd, then I cup my lips for the Kaa, Vlllaaahhdkkk, and let the Oh just last and last. Vlllaaahhdkkkohhh.
Vladko is not like the Northwestern boys I’m used to. He is more sold on a the idea of being a man. An idea that doesn’t involve being all mushy or pulling my head to his shoulder to bear some of the brunt of what weighs on my mind. An idea that doesn’t involve calling me on the phone with the sound of excitement and joy in his voice. No, his calls sound like anticipation, desire, bra hooks unsnapped.
Each time he calls me his tone is, well, calculated. “Hey, Debra,” he says, with a smirk instead of a smile. He has his game face on. He doesn’t tell me jokes, but asks only when he can see me. He breezes past my talk of the day and moves right into, “You come over.” And I do go over, immediately, lying in his cuddle on his white leather couch while we silently watch the Serbian TV station, the only one that comes in at his house, in Serbian, which I can’t understand, but he, more or less smilelessly, enjoys. “Hey,” he spurts out Fonzie-style here and there, sometimes turning his face to me, his thick brow furrowed in invitation, and puckering up for a kiss, which I deliver.
There are two things you need to know:
First, I have a weakness for accents. I love ‘em. Southern, Irish, Macedonian: they crumble my will power to dust. When Vladko says my name, “Debra,” that me that likes her hair pulled back in a tidy pony tail suddenly feels wind-blown and wild. That me that eats yogurt and granola every morning craves the thick, juicy medium-rare fillet. In his Slavic hum, boring words transform. “Carwash” becomes “Kahrvashhhh.” Sexy. “Big Mac” becomes “Beeegha Mahhhk.” Sexy. “Debra” becomes “Dehh-behh-raaahh:” a melody so deep, so primal that I feel it halt the earth.
The other thing, well, it had been three lonely years of abstinence. Three years of not being touched by anyone, except for a student at the massage school every now and then, which doesn’t count. But instead of feeling more spiritual or precious or confident, which I totally expected – like I would be some angelic newborn virgin and the world would reward me for my innocence with, I don’t know, a sexy, lovable Shakespeare scholar that worshiped me – instead of that, I felt vile and unwantable. I felt like I had been pronounced dead sexually and God was punishing me. I felt like I was maybe even punishing myself.
So when this accented man, Vladko, large and aggressive, hand on my leg, chest pressed to my back, said, “Ay, bay-bee, wahnt to fukk?” with no emotional inflection at all, just that breathy incantation of his, of course I did.
* * *
We met on LaSalle and Oak in late August. I was singing along to Usher’s “You Remind Me of a Girl, that I Once Knew,” with my windows down when I pulled up beside his shiny black corvette at a stoplight. I hadn’t even looked him in the eye when the light turned green and I, by habit, gunned it. He pulled ahead of my old blue Mazda like it was nothing.
At the next light, he was on my passenger side rolling down his window.
He hung his arm in front of the glossy black door and leaned his head out the window to ask, “Ayyy, Where you frahhm?”
That’s when I got my first look at him: his black hair combed back and gelled, with a few strands curving against his forehead; his clean shaven, pretty-boy face; that “Of-course-you-want-me” smile.
The light clicked to green. I mouthed, “No thanks” and punched the gas. Bottom line, I don’t go around picking guys up at stoplights.
But there he was again at the next light, pursing his scarlet lips into a pout.
I turned Usher down to a low hum and opened my window. He said, “Cahhm, we goh to deennehr. Why naht?”
And I said, “Look. I don’t even KNOW you! No way.” But I was smiling, seriously flattered, and, he could probably tell by how red I was turning that I was more than half won over.
“We goh to Leeohnah’s righttt nahw,” he said. “You fahllohw me, ehh?” He pulled off as the light changed and we both merged onto the crowded, midday highway. I darted away from him into the fast lane, but there he was in the rearview, chasing me like we were in some video game. Just before my exit, he overtook me, and we both pulled off at Belmont, him in front, as if we were together.
That’s when I got to thinking. Here’s this hot guy trying to take me out. A date. Male interaction. Sexy accent. So I pulled up next to him in the bus lane at Clark and Belmont.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Vllhaadkkoh,” he said, sizing me up like I was something he might buy.
“Well,” I said, blushing, “I can’t do dinner, but you can call me. I’m Debra.” I passed him a napkin with my number on it.
“Dehh-behh-rahh,” he repeated. Then I drove off fantasizing what other things he might say.
* * *
Vladko believes that he is Eastern Europe’s Enrique Iglesias, (he’s told me this) and often gives me that trademark, sex-symbol look: half-smile, half-serious, with his head titled down and his eyes peeking out through half-fallen lids. One night as we are watching the Serbian equivalent to Late Night with Conan O’Brien,Vladko stands up in front of the 72-inch screen and sings, “I can’t believe it,” the only line from an Enrique Iglesias song that he knows, and reaches his hand out to me. I take it and am pulled up off the couch. We are belly to belly as he swings me around his open living room, around the white leather couches, the glass coffee table, brushing against the Macedonian flag on the wall, in a slow, unfamiliar waltz. He raises my hands up above our heads with our elbows bent. We bob our hands together so that we are in sync with his Macedonian dance, lifting our interlocked hands at every sixteenth beat.
As he then leads me to his bedroom, I wonder if he knows that I’ve been fantasizing a moment like this my whole life. Sometimes the foreigner is French and we are in Paris in his East Bank apartment overlooking the Sienne. Other times he is Brazilian and we are in the kitchen where a hot breeze ruffles the table cloth as he lays me on the kitchen table. This time, he is Macedonian and we are in his small bedroom in a suburb of Chicago, and he has black hair and my pheromones are on overload, and one touch of his flesh to mine and I am rapt with bliss.
He curls me up against him on his queen-size bed, using one of his long arms to caress the length of me while another presses me into him. One kiss lasts fifteen minutes as we grind our bodies together like pulling stitches tight on a loom. It has been three long years of wondering if I would ever feel this way again.
Then I come back to myself. Wait. What about my long abstinence? Maybe my virginity award is just a few days away. And I barely know him. I’m not sure I can do this. And so I say to Vladko, “I’m apprehensive. I’m not sure.”
He whispers in my ear as he licks the outer lobe, “Whaht dihs, ‘appreehehnsihve’?”
“What if I feel strange tomorrow? What if . . .”
“Cahm ohn. No prahblehm,” He says. Then his large hands smooth out over my back, and I stop talking. Yes, I think. No problem.
* * *
A few weeks later, lounging on his couch as we watch a Serbian talk show, as usual, I say to him, “Tell me about Macedonia.”
“I show you video,” he says, “My cousin.”
The light cobble streets of his village outside of Latrovo, Macedonia, come into view. It’s his cousin’s wedding. Thirty people dance in a loose circle. His cousin, dark, like Vladko, thinner, and in a white suit, and his bride, dance together. “Seventeen,” he says, pointing to her. She is fragile and thin, holding onto the groom with one hand and her mother with the other. Her virgin white gleams against the dark stones of the church and the bright clothes of the other cousins. The whole family dances the same way that Vladko does, with arms bent, hands in the air at head level, all rising in unison to the beat. A live band with a trumpet, accordion, and drummer marches ahead of them toward the tall, grey steeple of the church where Vladko himself was baptized.
“You lihke Mahcedohneea?” he asks me.
“Yeah.” I say. “Of course. It’s beautiful.”
“To Macedonia?” I ask. “Like, for good?”
“Noh, a treep. We goh in sahmmer. I geht apahrtahment. Noh prahblem.”
“Sure,” I say, then I roll on top of him and run one hand through his soft hair, pushing it off his forehead where I kiss him, and my other hand down his back.
That night, I lay beside him thinking: I can learn Macedonian. Maybe I can be happy in his village where everyone dances in the street and it’s sunny yearlong and I can write and he can go to the cafes. I can learn their dance. What if this is it?
Yes! Finally, I think. Vladko and I will love each other forever, and I will parade through Latrovoin gleaming white sequins and take his family as my own, and make accented babies, and smooth my bare feet over his strong legs for a lifetime.
“You are perfect,” I tell him.
“Ayyyy,” he says and winks.
* * *
I know what you’re thinking. Glitches. Yes. There are glitches.
For one, I’m Jewish and he’s Macedonian Orthodox. His $600.00 gold crucifix (he likes to tell me how much things cost) is off-putting and, I’ll admit, a little exotic, just like my silver Star of David may be to him. If we start trying to talk much more, this could be a problem.
There is the small issue of me being an English Lit professor and him not reading books, especially those written in English. And, I’ll admit, I could care less about his trucking business.
Then there’s the fact that we can barely communicate, but I only really notice this on those rare occasions when we leave the house.
Car rides are, for example, unbearable. While he drives along 90/94 from my neighborhood, Lakeview, to his far-west neighborhood, Norword Park,zooming in front of semis and squeezing up to the tails of lesser, more standard vehicles, he sings along to the accordion-heavy Macedonian music. I like this part, even though my hip-hop moves don’t translate to these rhythms and I can’t quite master the two-handed, pronounced snap that he matches to every sixteenth beat. Otherwise, though, we are quiet because there is nothing to say.
“Dehbehhrahh, how arrre you?” he asks when he picks me up from class.
All I say is, “Good,” but I’m thinking of the class that I just finished and how my students are so amazing and at some moments I amaze myself. That’s what I would say if I could.
Instead I ask, “How are you?”
“Goohd.” he says. “Saym sheet. Buseeneess. Wahrk, wahrk.”
That’s it. That’s as far as we get. Anything more is too labored. It just doesn’t feel worth it. So we cruise down Lakeshore and across Belmont in silence. But then again, when he reaches across the console and rubs my thigh, for the moment at least, all is redeemed.
Also, I’ve met several of his friends, and they seem to be hitting on me. I can’t tell for sure, but when Vladko’s best friend, Kiro, put his hand on mine and said, “We share everything. Cars, women. Why not?” I thinkhe was crossing a line.
Scarier still is one of Vladko’s few English mantras: “I don’t clean.” He is always asking when I will clean up my apartment, which is insulting even if it is warranted, but when I ask him who cleans his house, he says, “My mahther.” And when I ask who cooks, he says, “My mahther.” And when I asked what his cousin’s bride will do after they are married, he says “Be mahther.” A pattern is emerging.
I found still more bad omens on the web. Articles like: “American Woman Tried to Escape Slavery in Zajas Village” and “Traffickers Lure Women to Macedonia.”
These worry me a little.
* * *
I know what you’re thinking. “Debra, this couldn’t be what you really want. You can’t even talk to the guy!”
I’ll tell you what I want. I want to crawl into Vladko’s warm arms and let his voice lift me out of the familiar, out of Chicago, out of America, to a place that is always warm and where I am always wanted and my name is “Dehhbohrrrahhh” and I don’t have to talk. I don’t even have to listen.
“But is this really love?” you say.
Look. It’s hard to worry or even think about any of that when Vladko whispers softly in my ear, “Illipota, Illipota.” “Beautiful,” he says. And I know just what his hands are saying: “Illipota.” And his eyes and his lips. And I only need one word to make this work. There’s only one thing for me to say, so I say it, soft and clear into his hot neck: “Vladko.” I whisper it and feel his language in my mouth: “Vladko.” And, I’ll tell you, it may be only one word, but as I say it and breathe it, it feels like the whole world: “Vladko!”