It was the summer after high school, when days were spent drinking Bacardi at the beach and the nights looking for trouble.
"Can I bum your lighter?" I asked him in Spanish. It worked. It always did. We started talking. He introduced himself. "Me llamo El Vampiro," he said.
My friends made fun of me. "His name is The Vampire?" they questioned. "Seriously?" Seriously.
We met at my favorite dive bar in Old San Juan. All the pretty, popular Puerto Rican kids hung out at this one bar up the street, but I considered everyone there to be plastic and pretentious. Instead, I opted for something a little grittier, freakier. My bar of choice was Café Culebra, where they played Nine Inch Nails, and the goth kids stood outside the doorway with their trench coats, even on the muggiest of Caribbean summer nights.
El Vampiro was a few years older than me, small-framed with jet-black hair, Bowie-inspired eyes and custom-built vampire fangs from the dentist. It was Tom Cruise before he went Scientology crazy, not Robert Pattinson. He was a weirdo and I got off on it; me, the 18-year-old Puerto Rican punk with the tongue ring, blue-streaked hair, and collection of plaid pants and studded belts.
"What's up with the one blue contact?" I asked him.
"What are you talking about?" he asked. "That's my natural eye color." Right.
After we met, we talked on the phone here and there, but a formal relationship wasn't something on my radar — everyone knows bad boys are for playing with, not staying with.
On the weekends, instead of joining his friends for their amateur Fight Club sessions, we got drunk and climbed the brick wall of the Spanish fort nearby to make out, the waves crashing against the fort and the 1860s cemetery that rests alongside it.
My mother never approved of the guys I dated, but she was particularly horrified by El Vampiro. He wasn't in college. He worked at the aqueduct and sewerage authority. He was divorced with a child and not yet a quarter of a century old. And, of course, there was the whole vampire thing.
"Can't you date normal guys?" she asked.
"I'm not marrying the guy," I explained. "We're just hanging out."
We did so for nearly a month when I invited my fang-wearing friend over to my aunt's court reporting firm, where I was alone at work. No sooner did he arrive than I pushed him onto the office chair and began to straddle his waist while I kissed him.
"Bite my neck," I told him. He stood up and pushed me off him.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked. "There's no one here. I could rape you right now and no one would know."
His response confused me more than it frightened me. Suddenly he looked smaller than usual. He looked scared.
"What are you talking about?" I asked him. "Are you going to rape me?" It was a perverse question, I realized.
"No," he said.
"Then what's the issue? We're just making out."
"You girls put yourselves in these situations where you could be hurt. You don't take care of yourselves," he said before he walked out the door. I had no idea what happened. I thought bad boys were supposed to coerce girls into doing bad things, not lecture them like a mother would do. Where was the adventure? Where was the dirt? Where was the fun? I phoned to see if he was OK, but he never picked up.
My summer romance with El Vampiro was officially over.
The next weekend my friends and I went out, when my eyes landed on a tattooed, dark-haired man. "Excuse me," I said to him in Spanish. "Can I bum your lighter?" When he spoke, I noticed his tongue was pierced in three different places.
"Dude," I told my friends, "he's got three tongue rings." They shook their heads. "Seriously?" Seriously.
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