Published in Belle magazine, Dec. 2012
The first bad boy I love is Jeff, a fellow kindergartner who skids across the linoleum floor on his knees. His pants are always torn, and I talk about him to my mother all the time. She marvels at how impressed I am by the skidding.
The first time I feel a full body bolt of longing, mysterious to me at the time, is when my second grade gym teacher lifts me up so I can grab the monkey bars. He later went to prison for murder.
My first kiss happens shortly before I turn fourteen, delivered by a boy on crutches after a drunken car wreck that killed two of his friends. He wrangles my skittish self expertly despite it all, irresistible with his punk hair and hard, amused eyes.
“It’s like a plague I have lived with all my life,” my friend Vicki says of her love of bad boys. It’s not entirely uncommon, most women having at least one experience with a man she knows she should resist and does not. But for some of us, the attraction seems to be hard wired.
The boy I love in high school is so bad I recycle him years later when he gets out of prison for stealing a Corvette from a used car lot. He also unsuccessfully robbed a donut shop. “The gun wasn’t loaded,” he said. “And besides, I just drove the car.” His own mother wails when I tell her we’re dating again. “He’s no good,” she says. “He’s a sweet boy, but he’s no good.”
I have to drag him past my father’s big white police captain car in the driveway when we go over to have dinner with my family. A true bad boy is brave; he steels himself and goes inside. We make it through dinner, my father employing the same cold courtesy he uses when he loads handcuffed people into the police car.
I love going to work with my father. When I come home from college on weekends, he and I blaze through alleys at impossible speeds. I watch him arrest drug dealers and even a murder suspect. I stand rapt with knees shaking against the wall of a building as my father draws his gun. Maybe the imprint of my sire, who comes home from work with finger shaped bruises on his throat, conditions me to men who love risk. Only I choose the wrong side of the coin.
My father starts running my boyfriends through the police computer. “Did you find him?” I ask. The answer is always yes. He says very little about what he finds, sometimes just one word. “Pot,” he snarls. “Did you know he used to wear stupid little black framed glasses?” he asks once in a quiet, icy voice. But his standards are very low. He just makes sure they aren’t murderers.
I believe his approach of standing by without much commentary while his daughter makes a series of dreadful but somewhat supervised mistakes pays off. The man I marry only looks like a bad boy when I meet him. For fifteen years, every night after work he comes home and helps the children with homework and reaches for my hand at night. I was duped, thank God. If I need a fix, I can always watch an episode of “Louisiana Lock Up.”
For a short time after college, I work at a thoroughbred farm. One day, a stallion comes to the fence, jet black, blowing air at me through distended nostrils. He allows no one to stroke his thick neck or rub his muzzle, and he has no use for me. For a split second he looks at me with his cold, wild eyes before he whirls and tears off across the field. His gaze sears me, that brief attention from a dangerous creature. If he had allowed me to untangle his forelock, if he had eaten from my hand, I would be the chosen one, the special girl who rode when others walked. The one who could have it all.