Horseshit, I thought, which wasn't strictly the point. The real question was why his car had been pulled over in the first place, and why, after a brief but unfriendly conversation, the backseat of his car had been removed, disassembled, and his trunk thoroughly searched. Bad attitudes didn't void the Constitution.
Pitting the word of Miguel Caliz against the Atlanta Police would not be a walk in the park, except I met the arresting officers later that afternoon, and they were exactly as Caliz described. That was the moment I knew for certain that Caliz would walk, whether or not he was guilty. The two policemen were a couple of meanspirited assholes who couldn't keep their dispositions off their faces. They reminded me of Caliz himself: they were bullies, making their living off the pain of society. It was simple human nature, therefore--people despising being reminded of their own shortcomings--that Caliz would bring out the worst in them. I could see it in their eyes: they didn't like Latinos, they didn't like Caliz, and above all, they didn't like people they couldn't scare. If I put together a jury with the right disposition, just looking at those officers would be all it would take to spring Caliz.
None of that explained what happened, how I took his girlfriend to dinner, how for three or four hours the conversation drifted easily into areas she knew nothing about: law school, the summer I had backpacked across Europe--it was only three weeks, but we were a couple of drinks into it by now--how the cost of a really good bottle of wine wasn't something to compare with other, lesser things. In fact, I knew very little of these matters, but she had watched me with those shining, dark eyes, which was enough. It was a wet fall evening, and she had huddled close to me as we walked past the shops in Buckhead, a world she couldn't reasonably expect to ever call her own. She was wearing what ghetto girls always wear when they go someplace decent--something black, a little too tight, a little too short.
The word seduction implies a victim, and there is too much confusion about what happened next to assign the word here. Certainly, I found myself wondering what it would be like to lose myself in her beauty, to see myself in her dark, shining eyes. And after a few hours I invited her home--I fumbled the invitation a little, but she didn't seem to notice--still telling myself we were only going to talk, to spend some time together. But inside my apartment she brushed against me, bringing her breasts against my chest, and I pulled her to me, determined to treat her like the angel I wanted her to be. My sin was not lust. My sin was the sin of Satan, who wanted to be like God. I wanted to be the savior of the earthbound Violeta Ramirez, and I wanted her to worship me for doing it.
The next morning there was a rustle of sheets beside me, her exquisitely feminine scent creeping over me as I woke, making me dizzy. She sighed deeply and turned over, her light brown backside coming up against my hip. I closed my eyes and felt something like euphoria, only deeper, earthier. Her sleeping was so deep, so untroubled, that I marveled once again how God, with His infinite capacity for irony, so often paired angels like Violeta with losers like Caliz. Maybe I was romanticizing. I'm certain that I was, because at that point in my life I still had that capacity. Maybe she had a bad-boy complex. Maybe she was working through some father issues by dating a guy like Caliz. Maybe she was like me, and just wanted someone of her own to save. Caliz certainly fit that bill. The mind is infinitely complex.
Lying awake beside her in bed, I didn't know if what happened between us was romantic or cheap. There was so little context, and I never had the chance to find out. One of God's tricks is to cloud the human mind at the moment of mating with so much angel dust that it's only in looking back at things that you can discover what they really meant. We fall in love and then, on the fourth date, we wonder who the hell we're with. I do know that when Violeta finally awakened and started to dress, she looked even more beautiful to me than the night before. It hit me how extraordinary sex was, that she was walking around with me inside her, every strand of genetic code containing the purest essence of myself. Inside her warm body was every detail of who I am, and I felt extravagantly, marvelously happy.
From The Last Goodbye. Copyright © 2004 by Reed Arvin. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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