I gravitate to violent men. When I first met Sketch thirteen years ago, he was fresh from a ten-year bid at Attica, all biceps and easy confidence, and I could tell from the sure way he negotiated the sidewalk that he could handle himself in a fight. Kick, the last man I loved, or at least claimed to love in an increasingly insistent voice, was a skilled fighter, and everything he did was charged with aggression; he came at me like a suitcase full of bricks, slamming me back on the mattress, my teeth rattling like dice in a cup. The roughness always made me feel like I had his full attention, even though I secretly worried I would end up in a dumpster somewhere with a broken neck. In the end I had to cut him loose: I want a man who is scary but who is nice to me. Like having a pet dinosaur for a boyfriend.
I was just telling Connecticut my whole theory about how you can’t get dumped if you don’t have a “boyfriend,” and that this is why I’m done with boyfriends, and he jokingly proposes a different label for us: associates. I like this, think it sounds appropriately sinister. As in, that guy? Known associate of Tommy the Neck. People with troubled pasts have associates; violent people have associates.
Connecticut did a lot of boxing in college, with a minor in bar fights, and he shows me how to punch, half naked in his bedroom: hooks, jabs, upper cuts. You don’t really make a tight fist until the last moment, he tells me. He shows me how to drive the impact with my legs. But it doesn’t look like it would hurt that much, if he actually hit you. He’s not scary.
He’s rough, but not in the intense, Tyler-Durdenish way that gets the dysfunctional side of my personality wet. Rather, he’s rough in the unfinished way of a thirty-four year old whom no girl has ever taken through Gentleman 101. He doesn’t think to open car doors for me, or to offer me a drink when I duck into his basement apartment (I am, it seems, doomed to love men who live in holes). When he drops me off late at home I turn around to wave at his car after opening my lobby door, and discover he was already driven away. I mentally compose a note from my killer: Thanks for driving away so quickly so I could get right down to cutting this girl’s head off. I’m into deep throat, but only from the other end. But I don’t text it to him. It seems a little mean to tease him. He’s a sweet person. He’s too sweet for you, whispers a voice, insistent as an obscene phone call in the back of my head.
Maybe I can just tell him. Come on, dude. Be a little meaner in bed. Get your shit together outside of it. Someone has to tell him, because he doesn’t know things like you can’t spank someone like you’re just kidding, and also you need to keep more than one clean towel in your apartment in case you have a guest. But my system is so jacked up with oxytocin that I can’t get it together to explain this to him.
He’s a kid, painfully cute and terribly awkward in equal parts, and I am reminded of the campsite rule of dating younger people, with thanks to Dan Savage: leave it nicer than you found it. And here I am, a camper with loose matches and a penchant for littering, my libido an unleashed dog. If this were a movie, you’d be shouting at the screen for him to get away from me.
He just doesn’t know things yet. He is only 34; when I was 34, I was still shoplifting lipstick from the drugstore, still siphoning pills off the top of other people’s prescription bottles, still lying to anyone who would listen. I still preferred comic books to novels, and I was still wearing enormous patent-leather platform heels and rainbow thigh-high socks to go run errands. I would routinely commute on the subway with a bearded dragon lizard perched on my shoulder like a crazy person. So Connecticut is doing alright. He’s got more going on then I did at his age.
We meet in Long Island City and go to that amazing ramen place that only has one large table and doesn’t take reservations, and we split the bill. This is always an awkward thing because I never know whether I am unmanning someone by offering to pay my half of the check, but I feel uncomfortable with someone buying me a meal unless they are older or wealthier and Connecticut is neither of these things. Afterwards he stays at my place and I have to fight, every time he makes me come, not to say I love you. It feels like love, but what I actually love are orgasms. I am old enough to know this.
There is deep power in those words. I love you. Magic. I always say it first, and then often. I tell a lot of people that I love them. With men, it’s never about hearing it back. Sometimes they look a little at a loss for words; the worst is when you tell someone that you love them and they thank you. Ugh. That’s a weird thing; they may as well just say, “I don’t love you, and now it’s awkward.” Every man I’ve ever professed to love, I’ve declared it before the orgasm had cooled off, but I’ve promised myself I won’t do that with Connecticut. I keep my mouth shut tight.
Because I still feel like running. I can’t fall asleep with Connecticut in my bed; he wraps his arms around me until I can’t move, trapped, and I want to tell him, I love you, but can you please just fucking stay on your side of the bed? I can’t sleep, my brain making that whining noise it makes when I’m about to have a panic attack. When I shift into a hypervigilant semi-doze, I’m woken first by a fight outside on the street, and then later by bloody dreams and the vague sense that something terrible and bloody has happened to Sketch.
I love you, I want to say. Mostly because I like saying it, to anyone. But you don’t get to unsay it. And there are diminishing returns each time you repeat it, because when I tell Sketch that I love him, it feels less and less like magic and more and more like conversational filler. I like it best when Sketch grabs me hard, and there is no more talking. I like it when he puts his hand over my mouth.
Connecticut wants to talk, and I can feel a big conversation coming. I don’t want to hurt him, but I know that my answers to the questions he has will hurt. Maybe this is the real truth of why I am drawn to tough men; I like people whom I can throw the full weight of myself against, all my lust and greed and momentary love, certain that I will not break them. I’m confident by now that I know how to reattach my own pieces, but I don’t know how to put you back together.