My first job was at a frozen yogurt shop called TCBY. This was 1987, in Tucson. The shop was on Speedway Boulevard, in a strip mall between two car washes—the first TCBY franchise in the city, though within a year there would be two more, plus a Greg’s FroYo and a Yogurt King. In employee training we learned that TCBY used to stand for This Can’t Be Yogurt, until I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt sued. TCBY kept the acronym, claiming it now stood for The Country’s Best Yogurt, and carried on.
My uniform was a beige apron tied over a green polo shirt tucked into a khaki skirt, and a green visor onto which I pinned my name tag like the bulb on a headlamp. After work, I hung the visor and the apron on a hook in the employee break room, which was just a partitioned-off corner in the back, between the walk-in freezer and the counter with the waffle irons.
Mark was twenty-six. He was dating my best friend, Ella, who was sixteen but told everyone, including Mark, that she was twenty. I don’t know if Mark believed her. Most people did. She was five-eleven and a professional model, she’d done local catalog work and even some runway shows in Phoenix. Ella told me that Mark wanted to set me up with his best friend, Doug, a world-class bodybuilder. Doug was also twenty-six. I’d met him once, when he and Ella and Mark came into the yogurt shop. He was gigantic everywhere except his head, which was small and square and sat on his wide shoulders with very little neck visible in between. He had a gentle way of speaking, like he was afraid his words might hurt if they touched you; the ends of his sentences curled up so that everything he said—vanilla crepe with whipped cream and strawberries?—sounded like a question or a mild complaint.
Doug and Mark managed a gym on Broadway called Old Pueblo Fitness. The building was pink stucco, with a Spanish tile roof. A converted monastery, people said, though I think it was a rumor. Doug took me there the first time we went out. It was after work, past ten. I’d told my parents I was staying over at Ella’s. He pulled out the keys with a jingling flourish and flung wide the double doors, which had rough wood panels carved with little diamond patterns meant to suggest Pueblo art. He took me behind the front desk to show me two brand-new computers, and, in the back, he demonstrated how to use the Nautilus machines, pushing and pulling, lifting and pressing, the stacked weights like bars of gold on pulleys. The veins wrapping his muscles stood up all over his arms and legs. I knew it was supposed to be attractive—that he meant to attract me—but I wasn’t sure what to say. That’s amazing, I said, that’s so much weight. Outside, by the lap pool, he flipped open a hatch on the wall and turned a dial that frothed up a Jacuzzi. I stripped to my sports bra and shorts, he to his boxers, and we settled into the water. Warm, not hot. I was sure he would kiss me. It would be my first kiss. A twenty-six-year-old bodybuilder. Doug sat across from me, on the opposite side of the Jacuzzi. Heavy lifting, supersets, competitions in various cities—he raised his voice so I could hear him above the jets—spray tanning, juice fasting, protein-to-fat ratios. That rise at the end of his sentences, his meaning and tone at odds, telling me how much he loved the trappings of his sport but sounding like he couldn’t wait to have it all over with.
The following Saturday, I took my dad’s 1969 Chevy Malibu convertible to pick Doug up on his lunch break. My parents must have been out of town or there’s no way I would have done such a thing. I’d had my permit for three months and would get my license in the fall. I pulled up to the gym with the stereo loud, and when Doug came out he stood there and listened for a moment. He said, This car and “Stone in Love”? Now I’m gonna have to make you my girlfriend. We drove to the park, I spread out the striped comforter I’d taken from my brother’s bed—mine was dotted swiss, not appropriate—and put the Journey cassette on the boom box I’d brought along, bubble-gum pink with a striped canvas shoulder strap. It was sunny but it wouldn’t start hitting a hundred till June. KRQ had a contest: place your bet on the first hundred-degree day. The bets were always on dates in June, back then.
Sitting there on the blanket with our flip-flops kicked off, “Who’s Crying Now” playing, I remember thinking, This is what love must look like. This is what it’s like.