I'm known in some circles as a genuine femme fatale -- this illustrious badge has shadowed me for years.
I was in my early twenties, living on Long Island's south shore with a bunch of my cousins in their childhood home. Their parents had moved miles away from their herd of rowdy kids. We often made trips to the city -- an easy ride on the LIRR -- and in a half-hour's time, we'd be slumming around nightclubs.
That particular night, my cousin and I sat at this glitzy bar somewhere on Manhattan's east side, swinging our mini-skirted legs as we flirted with guys twice our age, unaware that the grim reaper stood by, eavesdropping on every word we said. As the evening teetered along, with drinks lined up like a freight train bound to derail, it seemed that anything following us into this infamous night lingered too long on the sullied side of the tracks.
Two men, whose names were Hy and Sal, eventually invited us to their digs for a nightcap. One drink led to another, and before long, with lights dimmed, we paired off and were snuggling in our respective corners of their small quarters. Destiny lured me to the couch, where I cuddled with Hy.
In the midst of sloppy smooching and freely roaming hands, eyes closed in a haze of liquor and lust, my arm, stuck under my companion's back, grew numb. Upon moving to reposition myself, I heard a thud; specifically, a body-dropping-to-the-floor kind of sound. Hy had fallen off the couch, just like that.
I rolled my eyes and snickered, while Jeez, this guy passed out mid-kiss staggered through my mind. Hopping off the sofa, I straddled his fully clothed torso, gently smacking the sides of his face.
"Come on, Hy, wake up." With no response to be found, the smacks grew vigorous and more pronounced, as I amped up the volume of my voice. "HEY. HY. WAKE UP!"
That's when I felt the dampness, inching its way around my thighs. Eww!
I jumped up and switched on a light, disturbing the canoodling duo on the opposite side of the room.
"Oh my god, you guys, I think he might..."
My cousin, a nurse, composed herself, then rushed to check on his status, and immediately noticed the liquid staining the crotch of his pants.
"Oh god, I think he's…" and then antiseptically explained how a bladder empties itself when a person dies.
My hand shot to my mouth, squelching the gasp that was dying to escape, as my cousin knelt beside him, pressing two fingers to the side of his neck.
"I can't get a pulse." As she placed her ear to his chest, tears gushed from my eyes, as a torrent of shame shouted guilty as charged!
"Call 911!" she screamed, as she started pumping his chest. Sal didn't budge, so she repeated, "Call 911. Now!" with a voice loaded with all the command I lacked, as I slumped on the sofa. Falling apart.
After making the call, Sal paced in that hand-wringing sort of way that makes onlookers extremely nervous, and then suddenly announced, "You girls, you gotta get outta here." With that, he gathered our purses and shoes, rightly perceiving I was in no condition to do it myself, and whisked us toward the door. Fear flickered in his eyes as he scanned the apartment. "I gotta find that damn gym bag before the cops come."
My cousin and I eyed one another, wondering about its contents. Could it be drugs? We knew the implications of finding illegal substances on the premises, though I could barely see through my haze of tears.
My overly composed cousin slipped on her shoes, whipped out a pen and scrap of paper from her purse, scribbling our phone number, and then stuffed it into Sal's hand, beseeching him to call with updates on Hy's demise. But when the doors to the elevator slid open, we both realized at the same time that we couldn't leave. We suspected something was up and returned to the scene.
Sal was not thrilled to see us. "You girls shouldn't…" but my cousin pushed him aside and strolled in. I took one look at Hy's body and wailed.
A knock closely followed. Sal's agitation was off the charts as he peered through the peephole. A slew of cops poured into the apartment, firing off questions like a semi-automatic. The EMTs confirmed Hy's death, slipping him into a body bag, while I sat at the kitchen table and bawled, guilt in full control of the faucet of tears.
The cops stood around and laughed, smoking their cigarettes, questioning us for what seemed like days. My cousin did most of the talking, as the only words that slipped through my lips were, What's so funny? and Is Hy really dead?
When they finally let us go, Sal walked us to the elevator, pressing bills into my cousin's palm to catch a cab to the train. We rode in silence as dawn cracked open the day, wondering if they'd found the gym bag, and what it contained. My cousin still hadn't shed a tear. That would come three weeks later in the dead of night, ignited by a nightmare she suffered in the middle of a fitful night's sleep.
After that, I was wary of kissing anyone that I liked, doling out kisses to the ones I didn't, and forever wondering who might be the next.