Dispatch 28 (Dec. 6, 1998 Part 1)

     Am I completely wrong to think that sex has to be more than a salve? Something more than lubricated skin against skin on a lonely night?
     The popularity of strips clubs and adult video stores in Austin, Cinemax and Showtime’s after-8 p.m. programming, and the variety of options at the condom rack in any drugstore make me believe I’m in the minority.
     Gina’s actions had thrown me for a loop because I assumed that she had set up guidelines for herself – that when she couldn’t be with Juan and loneliness consumed her, she might end up fooling around with some guy. But that, at least, seemed to have boundaries – like a virgin making split-hair distinctions between this act and that. Sex, it seems, is a whole other beast – one that requires a whole other set of rules and commitments than a drunken kiss.
     If she could so easily deceive the person she was supposed to love, what chance did I, an outsider, have in breaking through her veneer and seeing who she really was?
     The day after I found her in bed, Gina called me twice -- she left short messages asking me to call. The next day, I didn’t hear from her. I kept myself busy cleaning my apartment -- I vacuumed, I bought groceries, I even organized my CD collection alphabetically, an activity even I found excessively anal.
     When I couldn’t stand the homestead any longer, I went to Book People next to the Whole Foods supermarket. Side note: some of the people I see shopping at Whole Foods look like the most sickly, unattractive, gangly people to walk the streets of Austin. You would think that with their diets of tofu, sprouts and ginseng, they’d be golden-skinned Adonises and Madonnas. Instead, they look like the grown-up versions of the kids in elementary school who couldn’t eat anything at the cafeteria and brought special nutritious home-packed lunches in plain brown bags because they were allergic to nearly every substance not prepared in an airlocked home kitchen.
     At Book People I went to contemporary fiction – Tom Wolfe’s novel is out and while I loved Bonfire of the Vanities, I always get the feeling Mr. Wolfe is way too fucking full of himself. (A Man in Full may be a self-reference, if you ask me). He writes fully aware of his own cleverness, his own charm. If he were hosting a dinner party, he’d make sure to let you know where every piece of exotic and expensive dishware you were eating or drinking from originated.
     I bought an old Jean M. Auel paperback I’d never gotten around to reading in the Clan of the Cave Bear series and some magazines — a Writer’s Digest and In Style. (Yes, In Style is a fluffy piece of turgid, rancid heroin-chic bullshit, lower in nutritional value than even Us magazine, but I like the pretty pictures of the pretty people. Sue me.)
     I returned home with enough lazy Sunday reading material to keep me entertained when I saw the double-light blinking of my answering machine. I looked on the Caller ID and one number was Gina’s co-op. The other I didn’t recognize and it was in the 956 area code — south Texas, where Gina’s parent’s live.
     I checked the messages. The first was from Soo, and her voice sounded worried, almost panicked.
     "Hi. I’ve been calling people to see if they’ve seen Gina." She pronounced the name, "She-nah" "She didn’t come home last night and her parents called looking for her. I thought she might be with you. Tell her to call."
     The sound of the receiver hanging up was followed with the beep of the next message. I didn’t recognize the familiar voice until she announced herself by name.
     "Heather, this is Angie, Gina’s friend. Her parents just called me and said she hasn’t answered her pager and her roommate doesn’t know where she is. They’re kinda worried and I thought you might know what’s going on. Call me," she said, giving me the number, "or call Soo or Gina’s parents. We thought she might be coming home again, but nobody’s heard from her. Anyway, thanks. Bye, Heather."
     The double beep signaled the end of the message, and the machine clicked, then whirred as the tape rewound and set itself for new incoming messages.
     I didn’t know what to do — I hadn’t heard from Gina since yesterday and if her roommate and best friend didn’t know where she was, why would I have any better idea?
     I ignored the messages, feeling only a small bit of guilt. I skimmed through my In Style and then set to reading the Jean Auel volume. I opened up the blinds and used the late afternoon sunlight for my reading. I thought about studying for finals, one on Tuesday, the other Thursday, but I can never get myself motivated to study up until the night before. I wasn’t worried — they were both classes I felt comfortable with, despite my preoccupation with Gina for the semester.
     I was about to open up a bottle of red wine and enjoy a solitary glass with my Cave Bear adventure when the phone rang. I debated letting the machine pick up, but since I was on my way to the kitchen anyway, I picked up the receiver.
     "Gina, everybody’s looking for you," I said. "Where are you?"
     "Heather, I can’t talk right now, but can you pick me up? I need your help."
     "I don’t even know where you are. Nobody does. Gina, you should call your parents."
     "Are you coming or not?" she asked, angrily. I could hear music in the background. I looked at my Caller ID unit — Intech Inc., it said.
     "Gina..." I began.
     "Are you going to come pick me up or not? I need your help."
     "Where are you?"
     Gina gave me the address. It was an apartment building near Riverside and Pleasant Valley, a side of town I wasn’t too familiar with.
     "Will you be there?"
     "I can’t leave," Gina said. "My car broke down."
     "I’ll be right over," I said. I put my book away, closed my blinds and left the peace of my Sunday afternoon to see what Gina had gotten herself into this time.