My ex-boyfriend Sketch and I have challenged one another to see how long we can go without getting ourselves off. We just want to see what happens, if all the focus will go rushing to other parts of our brains and we will suddenly be able to recall all the things we learned about ancient history, or spontaneously discover how to untangle thorny dilemmas from more recent times, like closing the Medicaid gap or figuring out why we can’t let go of one another.
It has not been easy, rejecting my own advances. I love everything about masturbation, except of course the word itself. Masturbation. The word has a grainy 1950s public service announcement quality; you can practically hear that narrator who did the voiceovers for all the sex-ed films saying it and sounding like your father. Masturbation. The available euphemisms for men jerking off are hilariously telling (paint the ceiling, punch one’s clown, and rough up the suspect are my favorites), but I have yet to find one worth adopting for women. I am not petting a kitty, buttering a muffin, or double-clicking a mouse. No. I’m not doing these things. Maybe the expression that comes closest is to rub one out, which makes it sound like there will be a gangland slaying for which my clitoris will take the rap, but at least it’s not anatomically misleading the way flicking the bean is.
Anyway, it’s an experiment. Sketch often proposes experiments like these, where you find out what happens if you remove something like eating or sleeping from your daily routine. The end goal is just to feel something different. Does self-abuse alter brain chemistry? Maybe. Professional fighters aren’t supposed to get off before a match; the belief is that abstinence makes them more competitive. But do I really need to be more competitive? Already this week I fell down the stairs racing a colleague to be the first to the copy machine. I don’t know that my competitive drive is a part of my personality that I need to enhance, but I am determined that it will be Sketch and not I to first succumb to temptation. Because it is totally a competition.
Sketch and I share a love for the polarized extremes of excess and asceticism; we are all toggles and no dimmer switches. And it was indeed a weekend of excess that we just shared, nothing too filthy to be growled into one another’s ears. After that kind of sex, it would be powerfully anticlimactic to come home to a little ménage a moi.
But when I can’t have something, I want it doubly. Nothing makes me want a Twix bar like watching a documentary about the evils of sugar. Tell me not to think of pink elephants and their penises, and suddenly that is all I can think about. My beleaguered addict brain doesn’t do well with forbidden.
Besides, I am something of a chronic self-abuser. From the time I was little, once I figured out how it all worked, I was my own favorite toy, constantly played with and a little broken. I was pretty sure no one else was into it, even after the amazing health teacher I had in eighth grade laid down the revelation that EVERYONE masturbates. Everyone. This is pretty much the only thing I remember learning in middle school (ancient history still unavailable as of press time), and I appreciated the nod towards normalcy, but I still prefer to think that some people put themselves to sleep with warm milk and a dull book because ew. Everyone?
The thing is, if Sketch and I are not getting ourselves off, then we are only getting off with other people, and I don’t think he is OK with just getting off once a week. (Well, Saturday was more than once. Orgasms lined up like Rockettes. But still.) Many things are good once a week: getting a manicure, vacuuming your apartment, calling your mother. (I believe I saw all of these listed as synonyms for female masturbation, and they say disturbing things about my gender). Orgasms once a week? Not good enough.
And this of course is the crux of the issue. Sketch and I want to murder one another if we are together with greater frequency, but I need more skin-on-skin contact, more attention, more sex than this.
We are supposedly seeing other people, but I just can’t summon the requisite energy. I’ve been asking everyone what I should do (which is probably why no one at Starbucks wants to wait on me anymore) but no one is giving me the answer I want. Still, if you ask people what you should do about your crazy relationship, they will probably tell you. “If you meet a right guy while you’re still taking oxytocin baths with the wrong guy, you’ll miss the opportunity,” one friend levels quite reasonably. I know he is right, but now all I can think about is oxytocin baths: I’m picturing one of those spas where you lamp out in bubbling mud, drinking themed cocktails. I’m enjoying a codependent colada; I’ve got a rub-down scheduled for after.
Through the warm glow of oxytocin, I can’t help feeling abashed. Social shaming: it may eventually work where honest self-reflection has failed. Because time is passing and I am getting tired of talking about this, but I can’t not write about what is going on.
It’s getting darker earlier, leaving me feeling like I am perpetually running out of time. This month marks a year of getting up every morning at 5:30 to write before work in my dark apartment, even though I sometimes feel like it is stupid and will never amount to anything. The act of writing a book is like walking into a forest and somehow believing you will manage to come out on the other side even as it get darker and you get more lost. That the words are not, as you sometimes believe, gibberish that to other people will sound like the words one finds on a dropped piece of paper, one that looks like a grocery list but none of the items on it are food, or real.
Maybe an irregular supply of orgasms is making me morbid; too few little deaths to distract me from the big one. I talk to Sketch about it. He is telling me about how the Chinese have a taboo against skeletons, so certain video games tend to censor them out. The graphics offer a tombstone in place of a body.
I love tombstones, have since I was little. I’d like my grave to have some sort of a bench built into it, so maybe horny teenagers will come into the cemetery and make out on top of me. I ask Sketch what kind of a tombstone he wants; he uses his hands to frame his epitaph in the air, Well that was long and mortifying.
The man is so easily embarrassed. I wonder what that feels like, to carry around such a sense of social occasion. I don’t have it. I’m doing a reading this week, and I’m going to talk about masturbating, and it’s fine. I don’t have a body, I am a body, doing body things and bodying around town, and I sort of hope it is long and I hope it is mortifying because at least I will have taken a chance, and been rewarded with the blood moving somewhere, even if it’s only to my face.