Even liars need a rest. It’s Sunday morning, and Sketch is sleeping in my bed, and, so long as we remain horizontal, things between us feel honest and sweet. But we recline on a knife-edge, our balance contingent upon asking one another no questions, and for every question I mentally squash two new ones take its place, like hydra heads, asking impossible things like: Who else are you dating? What are we doing here? Is it possible we have lost our minds? What comes next? I imagine these hydra heads have squeaky voices, like cartoon mice, their heads in the shape of question marks.
But I like having him over my house. When I am at his place, there’s always a hip soundtrack for getting down, and I find music during sex wildly distracting. It reminds me of being in high school, and how the ancient radiators in the classroom would seem to be banging out the exact percussion to a Love and Rockets song while I was taking an exam. It’s not appropriate to hum “So Alive” while you fill in a Scan-Tron sheet, nor while somebody pages through your labia.
I could ask him to turn the music off, but again: knife-edge. I don’t know what piece of criticism will send me toppling back over into the condom-strewn wastelands of Not-With-Sketch. In the morning, we have a walk in the park like any regular couple on a Sunday morning, holding hands and exchanging commentary on passing dogs. It all feels so cozily normal.
“You like to sometimes touch normal,” he explains over coffee at Queens Kickshaw. Our waiter is a smarmy bastard who when I ask him if the place serves tea as well will deadpan: “Yes. On the menu. You might try looking under the header marked TEA.” I will end up throwing curried pumpkin seeds at his retreating back. Bad attitudes all around.
Sketch is right. I find normal to be utterly subversive and fascinatingly other. I like to look at people’s pictures on Facebook, people who do regular things like own babies or maybe drive somewhere upstate to go to a relative’s seventieth birthday party. In the photos, everyone wears party hats. My Facebook page is crowded with ghost stories and pictures of my rabbit stretched out beside various things she has destroyed. A friend of mine, looking for me, posts to my wall: Tippy Rex, what are you doing? More questions. I don’t tell her. I don’t know what to tell anyone. There is no way to avoid a whiff of judgment emanating from your friends when you start seeing your ex-boyfriend again. They’ve been mostly coming at me with a shrugging Whatever makes you happy, but I can tell that they do not think it is this thing that will make me happy.
What am I doing? We talked a month ago about getting some sort of couples counseling, but now Sketch is dragging his feet and I don’t have enough energy to frog-march him through. And anyway, I’ve been growing increasingly disenchanted with the whole therapy thing myself. But thin-skinned as I am, I am highly attuned to causing feelings of rejection in others, and I’m afraid of hurting my therapist’s feelings if I ditch her. Also, she is weird and I believe in supporting the strange. Her apartment, where she holds our sessions, is filled with grubby therapeutic stuffed animals and sage smoke, and we talk about my childhood, which at this point feels less like something that happened to me and more like a movie I saw one time, long ago, while drunk.
The type of therapy we’re doing is uninspiringly called core methodology, which sounds like a college course in metallurgy. It actually is about talking out loud to your inner child while your therapist asks you to “say it again, but with more heart this time,” until I want to punch a stuffed elephant in its dusty face. Every time I hand a payment over, I think of the things I could spend the money on instead: dinner with forks not made of plastic, a massage. My shopping privileges are suspended, because I can’t afford therapy and also the expensive shampoo I like, so I’m walking around with bridge-troll hair. The other day my hair was so fucked up that people kept asking me if I was OK.
I said I would give therapy a shot for three months, and it’s only been two, but I’m really good about breaking promises to myself. I’ve had a lot of practice letting myself off the hook for things. The real problem is telling my therapist that I don’t want to continue. I know I should tell her face-to-face, but I would rather leave her a voicemail canceling our appointment and then slide off into the night screening my calls. If anyone asks, I can always blame it on my inner child.
My inner child craves shitloads of freedom, and with the way things are with Sketch, freedom is exactly what is on offer. We’re seeing other people, except I don’t have any other people. “I won’t ask you any difficult questions,” he says. “And I would ask the same from you.”
What counts as a difficult question? They all seem sort of difficult. What I want to ask most is what I should call him when I talk about him. Sketch is not my boyfriend; a boyfriend is a person you bring home at Thanksgiving and vacation domestically with and maybe hope to own a baby with someday. He’s not my ex-boyfriend either; an ex-boyfriend is not someone who scoops you up and carries you shrieking laughter down the street, who you whisper your secrets to at night. He’s not my lover, because that word is gross and makes me think of garter-belts and chest hair. He’s not my friend, because I have a lot of friends and none of them make me feel like throwing myself into traffic if we are together or if for some reason we are separated.
We are not seeing each other exclusively, but we haven’t mapped out the boundaries of that arrangement either; it feels more like tribal territory, following the migration path of the gazelles, then a political boundary drawn on some map with a ruler. The lines are not clear, so I am left feeling mortified as he is using my phone this weekend and a text rolls up from some guy I had hasty sex with over the summer. The text queries: Hey Tippy, where have you been?? I don’t reply. I am not asking questions, so I feel justified in not answering any either. I text my therapist that I want to terminate, and she wants to have another session to wrap things up, but fuck that. I go and buy myself a good bottle of shampoo instead.
Sketch has surgery this week on his hand, his right hand, on his drawing hand, and I am not there when he wakes up from the anesthesia in the recovery room. I am not his wife; I am not even his girlfriend. I am banished to the dark outer realms of its complicated ; the selfie he sends me afterward, looking sleepy in his hospital johnny and holding his bandaged hand aloft, makes the backs of my eyeballs hurt.
It’s complicated. I should be there. Instead, I am staggering around beneath the usual freight of missing him, plus a shipment of new infatuations. These crushes lurch half-formed and menacing out of the furnace of my genitals like something out of Mordor. I went on a field trip this week and one of the dads came along as a chaperone; he is single, he is sober, and there is the faintest undercurrent of flirtation. He is so normal, his daddiness so deliciously regular. I text him afterwards, carefully crafting my text so that he might read it as a friendly educator-to-parent thing or he might read it as invitation to come and get it on, completely depending on which words you stress. This text is fucking Shakespeare; I burn the fuck out of a pot of quinoa while absorbed in composing it. I make sure to sign off as Tippy, not as Ms. Rex, which in my mind, should read pretty clearly as taking my pants off and waving them over my head.
His response is muted and polite. It’s a good thing the impending parent-teacher conferences won’t be awkward at all.
What am I doing? What do I want? How do other people just walk around knowing what they want? Am I broken? When is the smell of burnt quinoa in my apartment going to dissipate? Is it always going to be this way? The squeak of questions like an ungreased axle, like a cartoon mouse with its teeth glued together, like a cheap door that swings on its hinges and hits you in the ass on your way out. There’s got to be some answers out there. If you’ve seen them anywhere, please tell me.