His name was Bob Presto. He had soft, white, fat hands and a plump face and wore a white guayabera shot with gold threads. He was vain of his voice, had been a radio announcer for many years before getting into his present line of business. What that was he didn’t specify. But its lucrative nature was evident in the white Continental with red leather seats and in Presto’s gold watch and jeweled rings, his newscaster’s hair. Despite these grown-man touches, there was much of the mama’s boy to Presto. He had the body of a little fatty, though he was big, close to two hundred pounds. He reminded me of the Big Boy at the Elias Brothers’ chain of restaurants, only older, coarsened and bloated by adult vices.
Our conversation began the usual way, Presto asking me about myself and I giving the standard lies.
“Where you off to in California?”
“I’m impressed. I’ve got a brother-in-law went to Stanford. Big muckety-muck. Where is that again?”
“Yeah, what city?”
“You forget? I thought Stanford students were supposed to be smart. How are you going to get there if you don’t know where it is?”
“I’m meeting my friend. He’s got all the details and stuff.”
“It’s nice to have friends,” Presto said. He turned and winked at me. I didn’t know how to interpret this wink. I kept quiet, staring forward at the road ahead.
On the buffet-like front seat between us were many supplies, soft drink bottles and bags of chips and cookies. Presto offered me whatever I wanted. I was too hungry to refuse, and took a few cookies, trying not to wolf them down.
“I’ll tell you,” Presto said, “the older I get, the younger college kids look. If you asked me, I’d say you were still in high school. What year you in?”
Again Presto’s face broke into the candy-apple grin. “I wish I were in your shoes. College is the best time of life. I hope you’re ready for all the girls.”
A chuckle accompanied this, to which I was obliged to add one of my own. “I had a lot of girlfriends in college, Cal,” Presto said. “I worked for the college radio station. I used to get all kinds of free records. And if I liked a girl, I used to dedicate songs to her.” He gave me a sample of his style, crooning low: “This one goes out to Jennifer, queen of Anthro 101. I’d love to study your culture, baby.”
Presto’s jowly head bowed and his eyebrows rose in modest recognition of his vocal gifts. “Let me give you a little advice about women, Cal. Voice. Voice is a big turn-on for women. Never discount voice.” Presto’s was indeed deep, dimorphically masculine. The fat of his throat increased its resonance as he explained, “Take my ex-wife, for example. When we first met, I could say anything to her and she’d go bananas. We’d be fucking and I’d say ‘English muffin’—and she’d come.”
When I didn’t reply, Presto said, “I’m not offending you, am I? You’re not one of those Mormon kids on your mission, are you? In that suit of yours?”
“Good. You had me worried for a minute. Let’s hear your voice again,” Presto said. “Come on, give me your best shot.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Say ‘English muffin.’ ”
“I don’t work in radio anymore, Cal. I am not a professional broadcaster. But my humble opinion is that you are not DJ material. What you’ve got is a thin tenor. If you want to get laid, you’d better learn to sing.” He laughed, grinning at me. His eyes showed no merriment, however, but were hard, examining me closely. He drove one-handed, eating potato chips with the other.
“Your voice has an unusual quality, actually. It’s hard to place.”
It seemed best to keep quiet.
“How old are you, Cal?”
“I just told you.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“I just turned eighteen.”
“How old do you think I am?”
“I don’t know. Sixty?”
“Okay, you can get out now. Sixty! I’m fifty-two, for Christ’s sake.”
“I was going to say fifty.”
“It’s all this weight.” He was shaking his head. “I didn’t look old until I gained all this weight. Skinny kid like you wouldn’t know about that, would you? I thought you were a chick at first, when I saw you standing by the road. I didn’t register the suit. I just saw your outline. And I thought, Jesus, what’s a young chick like that doing hitchhiking?”
I was unable to meet Presto’s gaze now. I was beginning to feel scared again and very uncomfortable.
“That’s when I recognized you. I saw you before. At that steak house. You were with that queer.” There was a pause. “I had him for a chicken hawk. Are you gay, Cal?”
“You can tell me if you want. I’m not gay but I’ve got nothing against it.”
“I’d like to get out now. Could you let me out?”
Presto let go of the wheel and held his palms up in the air. “I’m sorry. I apologize. No more third degree. I won’t say another word.”
“Just let me out.”
“If that’s what you want, okay. But it doesn’t make sense. We’re going the same way, Cal. I’ll take you to San Francisco.” He didn’t slow down and I didn’t ask him to. He was true to his word and from then on remained mostly quiet, humming along to the radio. Every hour he made a pit stop to relieve himself and to buy more economy-sized bottles of Pepsi, more chocolate chip cookies, more red licorice and corn chips. Back on the road, he tanked up. He tilted his head back while he chewed, wary about getting crumbs on his shirtfront. Soft drinks glugged down his throat. Our conversation remained general. We drove up through the Sierra, out of Nevada and into California. We got lunch at a drive-thru. Presto paid for the hamburgers and milk shakes and I decided he was all right, friendly enough, and not after anything physical from me.
“Time for my pills,” he said after we had eaten. “Cal, can you hand me my pill bottles? They’re in the glove compartment.”
There were five or six different bottles. I handed them to Presto and he tried to read their labels, slanting his eyes. “Here,” he said, “steer for a minute.” I leaned over to take hold of the wheel, closer to Bob Presto than I wanted to be, while he struggled with the caps and shook out pills. “My liver’s all fucked up. Because of this hepatitis I picked up in Thailand. Fucking country almost killed me.” He held up a blue pill. “This is the one for the liver. I’ve got a blood thinner, too. And one for blood pressure. My blood’s all fucked up. I’m not supposed to eat so much.”
In this way we drove all day, reaching San Francisco in the evening. When I saw the city, pink and white, a wedding cake arrayed on hills, a new anxiety took hold of me. All the way across the country I had absorbed myself in reaching my destination. Now I was there and I didn’t know what I would do or how I would survive.
“I’ll drop you wherever you want,” Presto said. “You got an address where you’re staying, Cal? Your friend’s place?”
“I’ll take you up to the Haight. That’ll be a good place for you to get your bearings.” We drove into the city and finally Bob Presto pulled his car over and I opened my door.
“Thanks for the ride,” I said.
“Sure, sure,” said Presto. He held out his hand. “And by the way, it’s Palo Alto.”
“Stanford’s in Palo Alto. You should get that straight if you want anyone to believe you’re in college.” He waited for me to speak. Then in a surprisingly tender voice, a professional trick, too, no doubt, but not without effect, Presto asked, “Listen, guy, you got any place to stay?”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“Can I ask you something, Cal? What are you, anyway?”
Without answering I got out of the car and opened the back door to get my suitcase. Presto turned around in his seat, a difficult maneuver for him. His voice remained soft, deep, fatherly. “Come on. I’m in the business. I might be able to help you out. You a tranny?”
“I’m going now.”
“Don’t get offended. I know all about pre-op and post-op and all that stuff.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I pulled my suitcase off the seat.
“Hey, not so fast. Here. At least take my number. I could use a kid like you. Whatever you are. You need some money, don’t you? You need an easy way to make some good money, you give your old friend Bob Presto a call.”
I took the number to get rid of him. Then I turned and walked off as though I knew where I was going.
“Watch out in the park at night,” Presto called after me in his booming voice. “Lot of lowlifes in there.”
My mother used to say that the umbilical cord attaching her to her children had never been completely cut. As soon as Dr. Philobosian had severed the cord of flesh, another, spiritual connection had grown up in its place. After I went missing, Tessie felt that this fanciful idea was truer than ever. In the nights, while she lay in bed waiting for the tranquilizers to take effect, she often put her hand to her navel, like a fisherman checking his line. It seemed to Tessie that she felt something. Faint vibrations reached her. From these she could tell that I was still alive, though far away, hungry, and possibly unwell. All this came in a kind of singing along the invisible cord, a singing such as whales do, crying out to one another in the deep.
For almost a week after I disappeared, my parents had remained at the Lochmoor Hotel, hoping I might return. Finally, the NYPD detective assigned to the case told them that the best thing to do was return home. “Your daughter might call. Or turn up there. Kids usually do. If we find her, we’ll let you know. Believe me. The best thing to do is go home and stay by the phone.” Reluctantly, my parents took this advice.
Before leaving, however, they had made an appointment with Dr. Luce. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” Dr. Luce told them, offering an explanation for my disappearance. “Callie may have stolen a look at her file while I was out of my office. But she didn’t understand what she was reading.”
“But what would make her run away?” Tessie asked. Her eyes were wide, imploring.
“She misconstrued the facts,” Luce answered. “She oversimplified them.”
“I’ll be honest with you, Dr. Luce,” said Milton. “Our daughter called you a liar in that note she left. I’d like an explanation why she might say something like that.”
Luce smiled tolerantly. “She’s fourteen. Distrustful of adults.”
“Can we take a look at that file?”
“It won’t help you to see the file. Gender identity is very complex. It’s not a matter of sheer genetics. Neither is it a matter of purely environmental factors. Genes and environment come together at a critical moment. It’s not di-factorial. It’s tri-factorial.”
“Let me get one thing straight,” Milton interrupted. “Is it, or is it not, still your medical opinion that Callie should stay the way she is?”
“From the psychological assessment I was able to make during the brief time I treated Callie, I would say yes, my opinion is that she has a female gender identity.”
Tessie’s composure broke and she sounded frantic. “Why does she say she’s a boy, then?”
“She never said that to me,” said Luce. “That’s a new piece of the puzzle.”
“I want to see that file,” demanded Milton
“I’m afraid that’s not possible. The file is for my own private research purposes. You’re free to see Callie’s blood work and the other test results.”
Milton exploded then. Shouting, swearing at Dr. Luce. “I hold you responsible. You hear me? Our daughter isn’t the kind to just run off like that. You must have done something to her. Scared her.”
“Her situation scared her, Mr. Stephanides,” said Luce. “And let me emphasize something to you.” He rapped his knuckles against his desk. “It is of tantamount importance that you find her as soon as possible. The repercussions could be severe.”
“What are you saying?”
“Depression. Dysphoria. She’s in a very delicate psychological state.”
“Tessie,” Milton looked at his wife, “you want to see the file or should we get out of here and let this bastard go screw himself.”
“I want to see the file.” She was sniffling now. “And watch your language, please. Let’s try to be cordial.”
Finally, Luce had given in and let them see it. After they had read the file, he offered to reevaluate my case at a future time, and expressed hope that I would soon be found.
“I’d never take Callie back to him in a million years,” my mother said as they left.
“I don’t know what he did to upset Callie,” said my father, “but he did something.”
They returned to Middlesex in late September. The leaves were falling from the elms, robbing the street of shelter. The weather began to turn colder, and from her bed at night Tessie listened to the wind and the rustling leaves, wondering where I was sleeping and if I was safe. The tranquilizers didn’t subdue her panic so much as displace it. Under their sedation Tessie withdrew into an inner core of herself, a kind of viewing platform from which she could observe her anxiety. The fear was a little less with her at those times. The pills made her mouth dry. They made her head feel as though it were wrapped in cotton, and turned the periphery of her vision starry. She was supposed to take only one pill at a time, but she often took two.
There was a place halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness where Tessie did her best thinking. During the day she busied herself with company—people were constantly stopping by the house with food, and she had to set out trays and clean up after them—but in the nights, approaching stupefaction, she had the courage to try to come to terms with the note I’d left behind.
It was impossible for my mother to think of me as anything but her daughter. Her thoughts went in the same circle again and again. With her eyes half-open, Tessie gazed out across the dark bedroom glinting and sparking in the corners, and saw before her all the items I had ever worn or possessed. They all seemed to be heaped at the foot of her bed—the beribboned socks, the dolls, the hair clips, the full set of Madeline books, the party dresses, the red Mary Janes, the jumpers, the Easy-Bake Oven, the hula hoop. These objects were the trail that led back to me. How could such a trail lead to a boy?
And yet now, apparently, it did. Tessie went back over the events of the last year and a half, looking for signs she might have missed. It wasn’t so different from what any mother would do, confronted with a shocking revelation about her teenage daughter. If I had died of a drug overdose or joined a cult, my mother’s thinking would have taken essentially the same form. The reappraisal was the same but the questions were different. Was that why I was so tall? Did it explain why I hadn’t gotten my period? She thought about our waxing appointments at the Golden Fleece and my husky alto—everything, really: the way I never filled out dresses right, the way women’s gloves no longer fit me. All the things Tessie had accepted as part of the awkward age suddenly seemed ominous to her. How could she not have known! She was my mother, she had given birth to me, she was closer to me than I was to myself. My pain was her pain, my joy her joy. But didn’t Callie’s face have a strange look sometimes? So intense, so . . . masculine. And no fat on her, nowhere at all, all bones, no hips. But it wasn’t possible . . . and Dr. Luce had said that Callie was a . . . and why hadn’t he mentioned anything about chromosomes . . . and how could it be true? So ran my mother’s thoughts, as her mind darkened and the glinting stopped. And after she had thought all these things, Tessie thought about the Object, about my close friendship with the Object. She remembered that day when the girl had died during the play, recalled rushing backstage to find me hugging the Object, comforting her, stroking her hair, and the wild look on my face, not really sadness at all . . .
From this last thought Tessie turned back.
Milton, on the other hand, didn’t waste time reevaluating the evidence. On hotel stationery Callie had proclaimed, “I amnot a girl.” But Callie was just a kid. What did she know? Kids said all kinds of crazy things. My father didn’t understand what had made me flee my surgery. He couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t want to be fixed, cured. And he was certain that speculating about my reasons for running away was beside the point. First they had to find me. They had to get me back safe and sound. They could deal with the medical situation later.
Milton now dedicated himself to that end. He spent much of every day on the phone, calling police departments across the country. He pestered the detective in New York, asking if there was any progress in my case. At the public library he consulted telephone books, writing down the numbers and addresses of police departments and runaway shelters, and then he methodically went down this list, calling every number and asking if anyone had seen someone who fit my description. He sent my photograph to these police stations and he sent a memo to his franchise operators, asking them to post my picture at every Hercules restaurant. Long before my naked body appeared in medical textbooks, my face appeared on bulletin boards and in windows across the nation. The police station in San Francisco received one of the photographs, but there was little chance of my being recognized by it now. Like a real outlaw, I had already changed my appearance. And biology was perfecting my disguise day by day.
Middlesex began to fill up with friends and relatives again. Aunt Zo and our cousins came over to give my parents moral support. Peter Tatakis closed his chiropractic office early one day and drove in from Birmingham to have dinner with Milt and Tessie. Jimmy and Phyllis Fioretos broughtkoulouria and ice cream. It was as if the Cyprus invasion had never happened. The women congregated in the kitchen, preparing food, while the men sat in the living room, conversing in low tones. Milton got the dusty bottles from the liquor cabinet. He removed the bottle of Crown Royal from its purple velvet sack and set it out for the guests. Our old backgammon set came out from under a stack of board games, and a few of the older women began to count their worry beads. Everyone knew that I had run away but no one knew why. Privately, they said to each other, “Do you think she’s pregnant?” And, “Did Callie have a boyfriend?” And, “She always seemed like a good kid. Never would have thought she’d pull something like this.” And, “Always crowing about their kid with the straight A’s at that hoity-toity school. Well, they’re not crowing now.”
Father Mike held Tessie’s hand as she lay suffering on the bed upstairs. Removing his jacket, wearing only his black short-sleeved shirt and collar, he told her that he would pray for my return. He advised Tessie to go to church and light a candle for me. I ask myself now what Father Mike’s face looked like as he held my mother’s hand in the master bedroom. Was there any hint ofSchadenfreude ? Of taking pleasure in the unhappiness of his former fiancée? Of enjoyment at the fact that his brother-in-law’s money couldn’t protect him from this misfortune? Or of relief that for once, on the ride home, his wife, Zoë, wouldn’t be able to compare him unfavorably with Milton? I can’t answer these questions. As for my mother, she was tranquilized, and remembers only that the pressure in her eyes made Father Mike’s face appear oddly elongated, like a priest in a painting by El Greco.
At night Tessie slept fitfully. Panic kept waking her up. In the morning she made the bed but, after breakfast, sometimes went to lie on it again, leaving her tiny white Keds neatly on the carpet and closing the shades. The sockets of her eyes darkened and the blue veins at her temples visibly throbbed. When the telephone rang, her head felt as if it would explode.
“Any word?” It was Aunt Zo. Tessie’s heart sank.
“Don’t worry. She’ll turn up.”
They spoke for a minute before Tessie said she had to go. “I shouldn’t tie up the line.”
Every morning a great wall of fog descends upon the city of San Francisco. It begins far out at sea. It forms over the Farallons, covering the sea lions on their rocks, and then it sweeps onto Ocean Beach, filling the long green bowl of Golden Gate Park. The fog obscures the early morning joggers and the lone practitioners of tai chi. It mists up the windows of the Glass Pavilion. It creeps over the entire city, over the monuments and movie theaters, over the Panhandle dope dens and the flophouses in the Tenderloin. The fog covers the pastel Victorian mansions in Pacific Heights and shrouds the rainbow-colored houses in the Haight. It walks up and down the twisting streets of Chinatown; it boards the cable cars, making their clanging bells sound like buoys; it climbs to the top of Coit Tower until you can’t see it anymore; it moves in on the Mission, where the mariachi players are still asleep; and it bothers the tourists. The fog of San Francisco, that cold, identity-cleansing mist that rolls over the city every day, explains better than anything else why that city is what it is. After the Second World War, San Francisco was the main point of reentry for sailors returning from the Pacific. Out at sea, many of these sailors had picked up amatory habits that were frowned upon back on dry land. So these sailors stayed in San Francisco, growing in number and attracting others, until the city became the gay capital, the homosexualHauptstadt . (Further evidence of life’s unpredictability: the Castro is a direct outcome of the military-industrial complex.) It was the fog that appealed to those sailors because it lent the city the shifting, anonymous feeling of the sea, and in such anonymity personal change was that much easier. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether the fog was rolling in over the city or whether the city was drifting out to meet it. Back in the 1940s, the fog hid what those sailors did from their fellow citizens. And the fog wasn’t done. In the fifties it filled the heads of the Beats like the foam in their cappuccinos. In the sixties it clouded the minds of the hippies like the pot smoke rising in their bongs. And in the seventies, when Cal Stephanides arrived, the fog was hiding my new friends and me in the park.
On my third day in the Haight, I was in a café, eating a banana split. It was my second. The kick of my new freedom was wearing off. Gorging on sweets didn’t chase away the blues as it had a week earlier.
“Spare some change?”
I looked up. Slouching beside my small marble-topped table was a type I knew well. It was one of the underpass kids, the scroungy runaways I kept my distance from. The hood of his sweatshirt was up, framing a flushed face, ripe with pimples.
“Sorry,” I said.
The boy bent over, his face getting closer to mine. “Spare some change?” he said again.
His persistence annoyed me. So I glowered at him and said, “I should ask you the same question.”
“I’m not the one pigging out on a sundae.”
“I told you I don’t have any spare change.”
He glanced behind me and asked more affably, “How come you’re carrying that humongous suitcase around?”
“That’s my business.”
“I saw you yesterday with that thing.”
“I have enough money for this ice cream but that’s it.”
“Don’t you have any place to stay?”
“I’ve got tons of places.”
“You buy me a burger I’ll show you a good place.”
“I said I’ve got tons.”
“I know a good place in the park.”
“I can go into the park myself.Anyone can go into the park.”
“Not if they don’t want to get rolled they can’t. You don’t know what’s up, man. There’s places in the Gate that are safe and places that aren’t. Me and my friends got a nice place. Real secluded. The cops don’t even know about it, so we can just party all the time. Might let you stay there but first I need that double cheese.”
“It was a hamburger a minute ago.”
“You snooze, you lose. Price is going up all the time. How old are you, anyway?”
“Yeah, right, like I’ll believe that. You ain’t no eighteen. I’m sixteen and you’re not any older than me. You from Marin?”
I shook my head. It had been a while since I had spoken to anyone my age. It felt good. It made me less lonely. But I still had my guard up.
“You’re a rich kid, though, right? Mr. Alligator?”
I didn’t say anything. And suddenly he was all appeal, full of kid hungers, his knees shaking. “Comeon , man. I’m hungry. Okay, forget the double cheese. Just a burger.”
“Cool. A burger. And fries. You said fries, right? You won’t believe this, man, but I got rich parents, too.”
So began my time in Golden Gate Park. It turned out my new friend, Matt, wasn’t lying about his parents. He was from the Main Line. His father was a divorce lawyer in Philadelphia. Matt was the fourth child, the youngest. Stocky, with a lug’s jaw, a throaty, smoke-roughened voice, he had left home to follow the Grateful Dead the summer before but had never stopped. He sold tie-dyed T-shirts at their concerts, and dope or acid when he could. Deep in the park, where he led me, I found his cohorts.
“This is Cal,” Matt told them. “He’s going to crash here for a while.”
“You an undertaker, man?”
“I thought it was Abe Lincoln at first.”
“Nah, these are just Cal’s traveling clothes,” Matt said. “He’s got some others in that suitcase. Right?”
“You want to buy a shirt? I got some shirts.”
The camp was located in a grove of mimosa trees. The fuzzy red flowers on the branches were like pipe cleaners. Stretching over the dunes were huge evergreen bushes that formed natural huts. They were hollow inside, the soil dry underneath. The bushes kept the wind out and, most of the time, the rain. Inside, there was enough room to sit up. Each bush contained a few sleeping bags; you chose whichever one happened to be empty when you wanted to sleep. Communal ethics applied. Kids were always leaving the camp or showing up. It was equipped with all the stuff they abandoned: a camping stove, a pasta pot, miscellaneous silverware, jelly jar glasses, bedding, and a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee the guys tossed around, sometimes enlisting me to even out the sides. (“Jesus, Gator, you throw like a girl, man.”) They were well stocked with gorp, bongs, pipes, vials of amyl nitrate, but understocked on towels, underwear, toothpaste. There was a ditch thirty or so yards distant that we employed as a latrine. The fountain by the aquarium was good for washing oneself, but you had to do it at night to avoid the police.
If one of the guys had a girlfriend there would be a girl around for a while. I stayed away from them, feeling they might guess my secret. I was like an immigrant, putting on airs, who runs into someone from the old country. I didn’t want to be found out, so remained tight-lipped. But I would have been laconic in that company in any case. They were all Deadheads, and that was what the talk was. Who saw Jerry on which night. Who had a bootleg of which concert. Matt had flunked out of high school but had an impressive mind when it came to cataloguing Dead trivia. He carried the dates and cities of their tour in his head. He knew the lyrics of every song, when and where the Dead had played it, how many times, and what songs they had played only once. He lived in expectation of certain songs being performed as the faithful await the Messiah. Someday the Dead were going to play “Cosmic Charlie” and Matt Larson wanted to be there to see creation redeemed. He had once met Mountain Girl, Jerry’s wife. “She was so fucking cool,” he said. “I would fucking love a woman like that. If I found a lady as cool as Mountain Girl, I’d marry her and have kids and all that shit like that.”
“Get a job, too?”
“We could follow the tour. Keep our babies in little sacks. Papoose style. And sell weed.”
We weren’t the only ones living in the park. Occupying some dunes on the other side of the field were homeless guys, with long beards, their faces brown from sun and dirt. They were known to ransack other people’s camps, so we never left ours unattended. That was pretty much the only rule we had. Someone always had to stand guard.
I hung around the Deadheads because I was scared alone. My time on the road made me see the benefits of being in a pack. We had left home for different reasons. They weren’t kids I would ever have been friends with in normal circumstances, but for that brief time I made do, because I had nowhere else to go. I was never at ease around them. But they weren’t especially cruel. Fights broke out when kids had been drinking, but the ethos was nonviolent. Everyone was readingSiddhartha . An old paperback got passed around the camp. I read it, too. It’s one of the things I remember most about that time: Cal, sitting on a rock, reading Hermann Hesse and learning about the Buddha.
“I heard the Buddha dropped acid,” said one Head. “That’s what his enlightenment was.”
“They didn’t have acid back then, man.”
“No, it was like, you know, a ‘shroom.”
“I think Jerry’s the Buddha, man.”
“Like when I fucking saw Jerry play that forty-five-minute space jam on ‘Truckin’ in Santa Fe,’ Iknew he was the Buddha.”
In all these conversations I took no part. See Cal in the far underhang of the bushes, as all the Deadheads drift off to sleep.
I had run away without thinking what my life would be like. I had fled without having anywhere to run to. Now I was dirty, I was running out of money. Sooner or later I would have to call my parents. But for the first time in my life, I knew that there was nothing they could do to help me. Nothing anyone could do.
Every day I took the band to Ali Baba’s and bought them veggie burgers for seventy-five cents each. I opted out on the begging and the dope dealing. Mostly I hung around the mimosa grove, in growing despair. A few times I walked out to the beach to sit by the sea, but after a while I stopped doing that, too. Nature brought no relief. Outside had ended. There was nowhere to go that wouldn’t be me.
It was the opposite for my parents. Wherever they went, whatever they did, what greeted them was my absence. After the third week of my vanishing, friends and relatives stopped coming over to Middlesex in such numbers. The house got quieter. The phone didn’t ring. Milton called Chapter Eleven, who was now living in the Upper Peninsula, and said, “Your mother’s going through a rough period. We still don’t know where your sister is. I’m sure your mother would feel a little better if she could see you. Why don’t you come down for the weekend?” Milton didn’t mention anything about my note. Throughout my time at the Clinic he had kept Chapter Eleven apprised of the situation in only the simplest terms. Chapter Eleven heard the seriousness in Milton’s voice and agreed to start coming down on weekends and staying in his old bedroom. Gradually, he learned the details of my condition, reacting to them in a milder way than my parents had, which allowed them, or at least Tessie, to begin to accept the new reality. It was during those weekends that Milton, desperate to cement his restored relationship with his son, urged him once again to go into the family business. “You’re not still going with that Meg, are you?”
“Well, you dropped out of your engineering studies. So what are you doing now? Your mother and I don’t have a very clear idea of your life up there in Marquette.”
“I work in a bar.”
“You work in a bar? Doing what?”
Milton paused only a moment. “What would you rather do, stay behind the grill or run Hercules Hot Dogs someday? You’re the one that invented them anyway.”
Chapter Eleven did not say yes. But he did not say no. He had once been a science geek, but the sixties had changed that. Under the imperatives of that decade, Chapter Eleven had become a lacto-vegetarian, a Transcendental Meditation student, a chewer of peyote buttons. Once, long ago, he had sawed golf balls in half, trying to find out what was inside; but at some point in his life my brother had become fascinated with the interior of the mind. Convinced of the essential uselessness of formalized education, he had retreated from civilization. Both of us had our moments of getting back to nature, Chapter Eleven in the U.P. and me in my bush in Golden Gate Park. By the time my father made his offer, however, Chapter Eleven had begun to tire of the woods.
“Come on,” Milton said, “let’s go have a Hercules right now.”
“I don’t eat meat,” Chapter Eleven said. “How can I run the place if I don’t eat meat?”
“I’ve been thinking about putting in salad bars,” said Milton. “Lotta people eating a low-fat diet these days.”
“Yeah? You think so? That can be your department, then.” Milton elbowed Chapter Eleven, kidding, “We’ll start you off as vice president in charge of salad bars.”
They drove to the Hercules downtown. It was busy when they arrived. Milton greeted the manager, Gus Zaras. “Yahsou.”
Gus looked up and, a second late, began to smile broadly. “Hey there, Milt. How you doing?”
“Fine, fine. I brought the future boss down to see the place.” He indicated Chapter Eleven.
“Welcome to the family dynasty,” Gus joked, spreading his arms. He laughed too loudly. Seeming to realize this, he stopped. There was an awkward silence. Then Gus asked, “So, Milt, what’ll it be?”
“Two with everything. And what do we got that’s vegetarian?”
“We got bean soup.”
“Okay. Get my kid here a bowl of bean soup.”
“You got it.”
Milton and Chapter Eleven chose stools and waited to be served. After another long silence, Milton said, “You know how many of these places your old man owns right now?”
“How many?” said Chapter Eleven.
“Sixty-six. Got eight in Florida.”
That was as far as the hard sell went. Milton ate his Hercules hot dogs in silence. He knew perfectly well why Gus was acting so overfriendly. It was because he was thinking what everyone thinks when a girl disappears. He was thinking the worst. There were moments when Milton did, too. He didn’t admit it to anyone. He didn’t admit it to himself. But whenever Tessie spoke about the umbilical cord, when she claimed that she could still feel me out there somewhere, Milton found himself wanting to believe her.
One Sunday as Tessie left for church, Milton handed her a large bill. “Light a candle for Callie. Get a bunch.” He shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt.”
But after she was gone he shook his head. “What’s the matter with me? Lighting candles! Christ!” He was furious at himself for giving in to such superstition. He vowed again that he would find me; he would get me back. Somehow or other. A chance would come his way, and when it did, Milton Stephanides wouldn’t miss it.
The Dead came to Berkeley. Matt and the other kids trooped off to the concert. I was given the job to look after the camp.
It is midnight in the mimosa grove. I awaken, hearing noises. Lights are moving through the bushes. Voices are murmuring. The leaves over my head turn white and I can see the scaffolding of branches. Light speckles the ground, my body, my face. In the next second a flashlight comes blazing through the opening in my lair.
The men are on me at once. One shines his flashlight in my face as the other jumps onto my chest, pinning my arms.
“Rise and shine,” says the one with the flashlight.
It is two homeless guys from the dunes opposite. While the one sits on top of me, the other begins searching the camp.
“What kind of goodies you little fuckers got in here?”
“Look at him,” says the other. “Little fucker’s gonna shit his pants.”
I squeeze my legs together, the girlish fears still operating in me.
They are looking for drugs mainly. The one with the flashlight shakes out the sleeping bags and searches my suitcase. After a while he comes back and gets down on one knee.
“Where are all your friends, man? They go off and leave you all alone?”
He has begun to go through my pockets. Soon he finds my wallet and empties it. As he does, my school ID falls out. He shines the flashlight on it.
“What’s this? Your girlfriend?”
He stares at the photo, grinning. “Your girlfriend like to suck cock? I bet she does.” He picks up the ID and holds it over the front of his pants, thrusting his hips. “Oh yeah, she does!”
“Let me see that,” says the one on top of me.
The guy with the flashlight tosses the ID onto my chest. The guy pinning me lowers his face close to mine and says in a deep voice, “Don’t you move, motherfucker.” He lets go of my arms and picks up the ID.
I can see his face now. Grizzled beard, bad teeth, nose askew, showing septum. He contemplates the snapshot. “Skinny bitch.” He looks from me to the ID and his expression changes.
“It’s a chick!”
“Quick on the uptake, man. I always say that about you.”
“No, I meanhim .” He is pointing down at me. “It’s her! He’s a she.” He holds up the ID for the other one to see. The flashlight is again trained on Calliope in her blazer and blouse.
At length the kneeling man grins. “You holding out on us? Huh? You got the goods stashed away under those pants? Hold her,” he orders. The man astride me pins my arms again while the other one undoes my belt.
I tried to fight them off. I squirmed and kicked. But they were too strong. They got my pants down to my knees. The one aimed the flashlight and then sprang away.
“It’s a fucking freak.”
“I’m gonna puke, man. Look!”
No sooner had the other one done so than he let go of me as though I were contaminated. He stood up, enraged. By silent agreement, they then began to kick me. As they did, they uttered curses. The one who had pinned me drove his toe into my side. I grabbed his leg and hung on.
“Let go of me, you fucking freak!”
The other one was kicking me in the head. He did it three or four times before I blacked out.
When I came to, everything was quiet. I had the impression they had gone. Then somebody chuckled. “Cross swords,” a voice said. The twin yellow streams, scintillant, intersected, soaking me.
“Crawl back into the hole you came out of, freak.”
They left me there.
It was still dark out when I found the public fountain by the aquarium and bathed in it. I didn’t seem to be bleeding anywhere. My right eye was swollen shut. My side hurt if I took a deep breath. I had my dad’s Samsonite with me. I had seventy-five cents to my name. I wished more than anything that I could call home. Instead, I called Bob Presto. He said he would be right over to pick me up.