Date Published: Mar 2018
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I don’t have to tell you she’s beautiful. All the world knows that.
I knew that much long before I met her, from those skyscraper-high videos flashing her face in Times Square to the cover of that men’s magazine published obscenely soon after her eighteenth birthday. The magazine hit the stands so fast that the shoot had to have happened when she was still a minor. I and all the other twisted perverts of the world had been counting down for that moment, for the little-girl princess to grow up just enough to be legal fodder for our prurient fantasies.
As opposed to the ones I’d had before that. The clock clicked past midnight and she went from forbidden to fair game.
I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t one of those guys. I was. I am. And I’ll cop to feeling like a dirty old man for being one of the ones waiting for her to be legal, even though I’m not a hell of a lot older than she is. War will do that to you, make you old before your time.
I got my buddy to bring me a copy in the hospital. I even kept it in a plastic sleeve, to protect those precious images of her. Not that I was obsessed, exactly. Back then I didn’t even know much about her music. I’d heard my little sister talk about her, but that was it. Not something the guys listened to.
The guys—we liked her for different reasons.
I don’t claim to be some special snowflake, but I always thought something else drew me to her, besides the star-struck, lust-filled awe I shared with so many. I was stupid with the pain management back then, so that contributed. Still, on the glossy pages of that magazine she gazed out with her trademark tawny-gold eyes, as if she saw right through me.
I won’t say I didn’t scrutinize the fine freckles on those high cheekbones that looked like they belonged on a sculpture of an Egyptian goddess, or where they scattered across the snowy skin of her breasts, a hint of her nipples behind the cloth she held in place. Or that I didn’t, like every other het guy out there, study that one pic—the one that showed her back—and the dark mole high on her adorable ass, which was barely covered by the gold-sequined drape of her gown.
Yeah, I fantasized about kissing that little mole. And more.
A hell of a lot more.
But it was never only that. Her eyes grabbed me in that photo, too. Something riveting in that gaze. Calling to me. The way she looked over her shoulder, with her hair in gleaming waves like one of those forties Hollywood movie stars, lips painted with gold glitter, pouting in what was probably supposed to be sexy. I guess it was, for all that, though it didn’t work for me. With the expression in her eyes, she looked sad. I had plenty of my own problems, but it still bothered me.
I went over and over that photo spread—and then every one I could find after that—studying her eyes, how they never matched the rest of her expression, the renowned color unfailingly brighter than all the glitter and jewelry they decorated her with. As if, if I looked long enough, I could decipher the thoughts behind them. Not what she was saying to me, some random guy among millions, but what she might say, given the opportunity.
What can I say? I had a lot of time on my hands.
I started downloading her music. People wanted to know what they could do for me, how to help? An iTunes gift card, man. All through the physical therapy, the hellish weaning from the morphine and all that other shit, I listened to her songs, her sweet voice a constant murmur in my ears. I even went back all the way to the kiddie albums and the inane and infectious bopping of those princess years, the goofy saccharine family movies and that kids’ show she started on.
A bubblegum counterpoint to my grim reality. I wasn’t going to show anyone my playlist, but I wouldn’t give it up, either.
Not long after that magazine spread, she came out with a new album—I told my home health aide to back off and stayed up to midnight to get it when it released. It had some of her own songs on it. With each album over the next few years, she had more of her own stuff. I made a game of it, when each dropped, listening and deciding which were hers before I checked the credits. Every once in a while I’d be wrong—and then those would be written by a particular few, the songwriters she must love. Her actual friends, maybe.
Once I was able to work again, I made mixes of her own songs and the special ones, listening while I drove, as long as I had no clients. People seemed to find it funny that a guy like me listened to a pop star known for the rabid fandom of teen—and tween—girls and I didn’t have much bandwidth for smart remarks.
Okay—zero bandwidth for static of any kind.
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