Addiction, Art, Blogging, Breakups, Consequences of Blogging, dating, essays, Getting Honest, Girls

Still Addicted: The “Ex” in Sex

images-77Sketch calls me. And he calls. And he calls once more.

If your sexy, charismatic ex calls three times, I think there’s some rule that you have to call him back before he appears in the bathroom mirror behind you, right?

In the messages, he sounds like himself: funny, affable, familiar. But there’s something just underneath: hurt and bewilderment and teeming irritation that I can see like something glimpsed moving beneath the ice on a pond.   In the last message, he tells me he doesn’t know what to do, or why he can’t reach me, and that he might just come here.

I live on the ground floor of my building, and I find myself peeping, heart kicking in my chest, out the windows.  Afraid, and also feeling the other thing that I always feel when my ex is around. Over a decade, and my pelvis still tilts at his signal like a satellite dish.

Sketch has never been the type to come battle the bushes to imprecate through the window, so I don’t know what to make of any of this newfound passion. To be honest, I didn’t think he was invested enough to get on a train and cross the East River. I figured in the fullness of time, I would have to explain why I vanished, but I thought I would have  months of head start before I had to introduce him to the new boyfriend.

My new boyfriend, Connecticut: sweet, available, clumsy as shit. He fell in my bathtub the other day while we were taking a shower and scared the fuck out of me. Bruised his ribs. It seems I’m no longer the only one around here losing fights with furniture.

It’s not fair to compare him to Sketch and I know it. There’s no decision here, I tell my friend Courtney. It’s like being asked do you want a horse or a unicorn. Unicorns are amazing but you can’t actually have one, because they are not real. Once I realized that Sketch wasn’t actually an option, it got a lot easier to pick.

Sketch texts me: I read your blog, he says. What’s going on? Who is Connecticut?  

He texts me a picture of a coffee mug I once gave him that says, You are my person. There’s nothing like having your own coffee-mug promises thrown back at you. The guilt feels like I’ve swallowed teeth and they are chattering now in my belly.

I’ve written that finally moving out and moving on from a relationship like the one Sketch and I had feels like watching your childhood home burn to the ground.   But this is worse. This is watching your childhood home burn to the ground with your puppy still inside.

And there is nothing I can do, not without undoing a lot of the things I have already done. I want to go and rescue him, but all I have is this flamethrower and everything I could say is incendiary. How is this possible, I want to ask him. I am astonished by his astonishment. He had no idea, my friend Courtney says. When you told him there was someone else. He didn’t really believe it.

Meanwhile, Connecticut, my someone else, lets me pick what we do on Saturday. Sketch never used to let me pick the thing to do; he’s still upset about that time I made him come with me to see 12 Years A Slave; he rescinded my picking-privileges indefinitely after that one. Which I didn’t think was fair, as we had just gone to see Tim’s Vermeer and that film is literally two hours of watching paint dry.

Connecticut lets me pick. We go to Figment, the big participatory art-fair and weirdo-fest on Governor’s Island. Making our way past a group of people getting married in Midsummer’s Night garb and a bunch of acrobats in body paint and a man driving a giant toad with a throbbing base line, he posits, I don’t think I’m cool enough for you. He is, of course he is, but it’s nice that someone thinks I am cool.

He lets me pick, even though the East River ferry makes him a little queasy and the sun will wipe him out for the entire next day. We eat trendy popsicles on a pair of old-timey porch rockers, and talk about everything and nothing. When we go home, he will make me come until I cry.

It feels honest, which is a great feeling considering the fact that I am a lying sack of shit. I tell people that I told Sketch about Connecticut, but this is a lie. I told him that I was seeing someone, and that I had feelings for the person, and I deliberately omitted all gendered pronouns. I let him think it was a girl; it was the same week I made out with that girl from yoga, and I gave him enough details about that so he would think that was what I was up to.  All the while telling myself that we had an open relationship, and that leaving him with these half-truths would be less painful to him. I am a self-serving asshole, because really it was about making it easier for me to leave. It was about buying time so I could make a slick getaway.

And it was about leaving the door open just a crack in case things didn’t work out with Connecticut. Let me just be honest here, if no place else. It’s hard to look behind you and see that you can’t go back the way you’ve just come. How do I know I’m going the right way?

But there is no other way for me to go now but forward. I read the blog, Sketch said. For months now, the blog’s been all about me falling in love with someone else.

He will never forgive me.

All the guilt is here now, a wall of it, and I can’t face him. This person I have loved longer than anyone– the phone rings with him on the other end and I handle it like a pillowcase full of snakes, carrying it from the room with my thumb and forefinger to go throw it in a drawer.

Eventually I text Sketch, saying exactly what everyone everywhere says when they feel guilty about hurting someone they love: I love you but I need some space. Because I can’t. I can’t talk to him, I can’t see him right now. I don’t trust myself with him, the way I don’t trust myself around someone else’s Xanax. I can list for you all the reasons why it’s bad for me and still want it anyway.

So I hold myself back, and Sketch is at the windows of the burning house that is our relationship, and I pray, hard, that someone else will come soon and rescue him.

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Addiction, Art, Blogging, dating, essays, Movies, Photography, Sex, Writing, yoga

Inanimate Objects

restraintwithpenSo this weekend Sketch draws me for the first time.   Never in one spot long enough for him to block me in on paper, my attention caught on all the things outside the margins, I finally remember this remarkable party-trick I’m calling sitting still and doing nothing. That’s when he takes out the pencil. Sketch is half hidden behind a battered easel, dressed in his day uniform of black workpants and combat boots, wearing a hat to cut the glare. I am wearing nothing, perched on the edge of a stool with one foot tucked up on a rung and one leg stretched out of the carpet, sucking in my stomach, wondering if the cast shadows from the studio light make me look older.

I’ve seen him draw a thousand times, but never from this angle, where I’m the thing he is looking at. He measures, one eye squeezed shut. Looks down, marks something out in vine charcoal. He looks up again, squinting to catch the values in the stack of shapes that is my body, and then back to the paper. My body is faxed one shape at a time across the room. And I’m watching him back. It’s a weird, center-of-attention experience that is both concentrated and utterly abstracted, and when Sketch makes appreciative noises, I’m not sure if he is approving of  the lighting, or me, or the drawing, or something else entirely. In the studio his dying cat cries, wanting something but not knowing what. It’s hiding, a noisy lump under a blanket.

Things between Sketch and I have been particularly good since the blizzard locked us up together for a weekend, and all of New York finally caught up on its sleep. Now I’m back IMG_3109in that place where I feel restless until I see him, missing him, texting him random pictures of blobfish or the songs that get stuck in my head in the middle of the day, but when I do finally see him, I think about heading home. I want to get out of here before I fuck things up again. The whole thing feels like an open window, a banana peel, an accident waiting to happen.

It scares the shit out of me, and looking for a distraction I make plans on Sunday to go see that horror film The Boy with some friends. I invite Connecticut along, still trying to determine if I am capable of having a friend who is straight and male and single. He’s chubbily adorable, and I try to shake off wondering what it would feel like to make out with him against the side of a building, his hands down my pants.   I like you as a friend, boys used to say in grammar school when they wanted to blow you off. But I genuinely like Connecticut as a friend, one who is vivid enough that I can almost make him out through the thick murky dimness of my own self-centeredness. I sit next to him in the movie theater, and when scary things pop out, I lean appreciatively toward him, our shoulders touching. In the film, people are talking to a doll like it is real. I understand, because I am broken and other people can feel like dolls, animated by my interactions with them, lapsing into plastic once I walk away.   Some of my most successful relationships were the ones I had with my stuffed animals as a kid; actual human interactions are wildly confusing.

Connecticut is my friend, but I can’t stop trying to assess if he wants me or not. I can’t stop caring if he wants me or not.   I’m taking him to a hot yin class after the movie at my yoga studio, an opportunity to parade half naked in front of him to try to find out.   “So that’s why you’re wearing make-up to yoga,” my yogini friend Veronica says knowingly.  Connecticut gives nothing away as I strip down. Poker face.

Three mats over in the yoga studio, which is bedecked with budhhas and smells like a boxing ring, all feet and effort, I spot that girl who stopped wanting to be my friend last September. It’s the first time I’m seeing her since she broke off contact with me, ending our friendship with a vague text. I still don’t know why we’re not friends anymore.  Sometimes I wonder if she caught a whiff of lust off of me, but it really wasn’t like that; she was just my perfectly imperfect friend that I liked to meet for tacos. It’s the first time I’m seeing her since the breakup and I’m not sure what the protocol here is, but I can’t not say hello. I give her a hug and do that back-patting thing, which I never do; I find it weird and confusing. I’m hugging you but I’m hitting you.

Connecticut is of course friends with this girl because our social circles are weirdly cramped, considering we live in a borough with over two million other people in it. After yoga class, which is front-loaded with lengthy hip-openers that make me feel both like crying and like fucking everyone in sight, I wave goodbye to the two of them, enmeshed in conversation, and beat an undignified retreat, dropping things in my haste to get the fuck out of there.

There will be no making out against the side of a building today, and there will be no trying to explain Sketch to Connecticut, luckily; afterall, I can’t even explain it to myself. Sometimes it feels like some karmic consequence. Maybe I’m doomed to go on loving, wanting, fiending for this person, making the same mistakes and then: taillights. Maybe this is why Sketch has never drawn me before; we’re both too worried about getting it wrong.   That’s why pencils have erasers, is a thing that teachers say. I am always explaining to my students that we learn more from our mistakes, our failures, than we do from the easy and early successes. Not a lesson I have personally taken to heart, but it is still a thing I say. Around the right angles of his easel, Sketch looks at me, drawing, and I look back around my laptop, typing, and I wonder if we’ll get each other right eventually.

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Art, dating, New York, Photography, Travel, Writing, yoga

How It Looks Close Up

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I am totally naked in this picture.

Even the most innocent parts of the body, if sufficiently magnified, look pornographic and sort of gross. In Paris, I went to the Mona Hatoum retrospective at the Pompidou and there was one round booth with a large video monitor set into the floor like a peep show; you could watch the camera crawl into the corner of the artist’s rolling eye or into her moist nostril. Up close, there’s always wet hair. It’s the kind of art that makes you take an involuntary step backward. Full respect, Mona Hatoum.

Personally, I like my life viewed from a comfortable distance. I don’t take selfies, and when I ask people to take my picture, they ask if I really want them to stand so far away. And I do. I do.

From a safe distance of four thousand miles, I message Squeeze in Venice and then wait hours for a reply so polite it makes me want attack my phone with a hammer. Our texts are constructed like the conversations in a Wall-Street English phrasebook: How are you? I am fine, thank you. Are you enjoying your visit? They are the sort of texts that promise nothing, that give nothing away.

Go ahead and ask me how I really am. From a distance I look alright, but pan in close enough and you can read the truth in all the moisture.   In a lather that I will be left without anyone to pay attention to me, I go out on a date with the kind of man I would probably set myself up with if I liked myself better: Dig is kind, he is actualized.  His profile picture shows him in front of Machu Picchu, where he attended a yoga retreat. He works construction and he offers to teach me how to drive a backhoe, playing right into my fantasy of being able to dig trenches around my enemies and ex-boyfriends, moats I would fill with crocodiles and raw meat.

Dig and I meet for a restorative yoga class, where we lay on our backs side by by side, our legs spread and buttressed with pillows. I can feel him liking me from one mat over. When my hand drifts into his space, he lightly touches my fingers. The next day, he texts me a picture of a baby rabbit because he actually heard something I said when we talked. Astonishing.

“He’s available,” a friend I meet for dinner suggests, laughing when I recoil at this gruesome possibility. “That’s the problem. It freaks you out that he is actually available.”

Gross. I am such a cliché.

I walk around my neighborhood past the apartments of men I have slept with, half hoping to see them, half wishing I had that backhoe. A neat chasm around their apartment buildings would end my worry that I will run into one of them at CVS when I’m out without makeup on.

My neighborhood is quiet, but sometimes it is violent. The most terrifying part? The randomness of the violence. A gay man was walking down my block a year ago and someone threw a rock at him from a speeding car, hard enough to kill him. In 2012, a Sikh was standing at the subway platform that I use every day when a 33-year-old woman, mistaking him for Muslim, came up behind him and pushed him in front of the train. This week, a woman was walking down 43rd Avenue, and a man threw acid at her face. She’s in critical condition; she might die. “Can I ask you a question?” the man asked, to get her turn around. I would have turned around too.

I can’t stop thinking about this woman, a priest who has dedicated her life to service and spiritual pursuits.   Karma must have been taking a smoke-break. What hope is there for the rest of us? My friend saw her right after it happened, kneeling in the street with her hands covering her face. The paramedics hadn’t arrived yet, and my friend thought she was just another woman, crying in street.

For a while after I hear these things, I am more careful than usual. I stand with my back to the wall of the subway platform, instead of craning out to gauge the distance of the next train. I am momentarily alert about someone passing me on the sidewalk, or a car that slows down as it approaches. I pay attention, for a moment. But then nothing happens, and I go back to walking with my headphones in and my brain unplugged.   I can’t maintain that heightened alertness.

The thing with dating is that it can lapse into violence at any moment. I am meeting men in public places, but I always want to walk them down dark streets so I can kiss them afterwards. I am not the greatest steward of my own personal safety.   I leave my purse on the table when I go to the restroom; I sometimes forget to lock the door. I meet a man and after a charming hour think I know him well enough to invite him up to my apartment. Petty amounts of cash vanish.

I’m not careful. I go to an 80s dance party in Ridgewood, and I let a man nearly twenty years my junior kiss me to a George Michael song (“Sex is natural-sex is good/ Not everybody does it/ But everybody should…”) He wants my number, and I tell I am too old for him. His abs like cobblestones under his t-shirt, his name unpronounceable.   My friends watch me, with mingled amusement and disapproval.

We are playing Truth or Dare, but if you say “Truth,” my friend Helena will moan with disappointment. You’re supposed to say dare. I get dared to sit down at the only empty chair at a crowded table full of young men with beards. I take the seat like it’s always been mine, glad to get off my feet, and the beards act bored with me before I’ve even opened my mouth.

Truth or Dare. A good metaphor for my life. I dare myself to do things that maybe I will tell the truth about it afterwards.

I dare someone to duck under the table cloth at a table full of strangers and emerge out the other side. I laugh a little too hard. Sometimes I feel like I am have to work to make it look like I am having a good time. At home, I sit alone and read something howlingly funny without my lips twitching. I only fall on the floor pounding my thighs when someone else is around.

Things aren’t that funny. I’m glad to be back from Paris, but I feel scared a lot of the time too. I don’t know what I’ll do next. I don’t trust the strangers next to me on the street, or I trust them too much.   I want to call Sketch but I can’t think of what to say after I tell him how much I miss him. Instead, I spend hours trying to perfectly mat and frame an etching I bought him at the Rembrandt house in Amsterdam. I can’t get it to not look fucked up. Sketch is the one who taught me the word for those dented places where you can tell a paper travelled in a duffel bag: dinkles.

My life is full of dinkles.   I send Squeeze a final text, sensing I will not hear back from him again. My phone is heavy with disappointments. I get an inquiring text from Push, my hot, dickish neighbor. I’d like to sleep with him again, but I don’t want to reward his shitty attitude towards women.   We can correct their behavior, ladies, if we just stop fucking the shitty ones.

No one is coming to take responsibility of your safety for you, I tell myself sternly. No one is coming to make sure I am happy. I get a text from Dig, wanting to see me again, wanting to get up close. I tell him no, wanting to then run water over my phone so I can’t take it back. Look at me from over there, I want to yell. Don’t scrutinize me. Don’t come any closer.

“You are literally insane if you don’t go out with him again,” my beautiful roommate says, drunk and flushed. I believe that this is the universe talking to me, so I decide to act on it, even though it scares me.   He is kind. No man who has lain beside me in sevasna peeping at me so longingly is going to do me harm. But am I safe for him?   Why does he like me so much? Why is he so willing to turn over the keys to heavy machinery to me?   Why would anyone trust me with their actual feelings, ever?

But I am not going to learn to do things differently if I don’t try to do things differently, so I text him and ask him out. I type out a warning label, and then delete it. I will be careful, aware of the fact that for a certain kind of man, I am the next oncoming train.

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Art, dating, Food, France, Paris, Photography, Travel, Writing

A Common Tongue: Paris Part II

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The theme for the day is kissing men in front of French landmarks; I’ve arranged to meet some guy I met online in front of the Bastille monument that evening. I had only clicked the heart beside his picture by accident, but I was glad I did. We’ve traveled to many of the same places, and I chatter happily at him as he squires me around the neighborhood of Marais, pointing out buildings built before the first American colonies were a thing. He is older, more diminutive than I generally go for, but he writes reviews for the opera world and he is well-read and delightfully informative. He indulges without commentary my wish to have chocolat chaud even though it is August, and he brings me to this amazing place beside the Louvre, where they put crème fraiche instead of whipped cream on top.

Afterwards, I think he’ll kiss me in front of the Louvre’s glass pyramid, illuminated and surrounded by brides having their photos done, but he doesn’t. Nor does he kiss me on our stroll over the Pont Neuf bridge, or at the Paris Plage, where we sit with our feet dangling over the Seine and watch the Eiffel Tower go all disco. The lights twinkle madly for five minutes on the hour.

IMG_2203He waits until we are in front of Notre Dame before pulling me in close to kiss me.   He is slim and smart and kind and thoughtful, and the moment is beautiful, and I wish I could feel the lust and joy I think it ought to elicit, but I don’t. I really like him, but my vagina is tapping her watch and pointing out that the last Metro is in ten minutes.

What is it that makes chemistry with some people, and not with others? I would be delighted to feel it with this informed, charming man. We could make out in front of monuments all over the world. I want to feel it, but I don’t. Even as he kisses me, I am distracted, trying to think what verb I might apply to him for this blog entry and coming up short. Expirer, maybe. The French word for breathing out, with the English word for running out of time tucked inside.

I am running out of time here in Europe, and I still don’t have any answers.  In Paris, the leaves are already changing color and skittering along the sidewalks. I want to feel what I feel with Sketch, with someone else, anyone else, but I don’t. I want to call him, from across the world, even though I know what it will cost me.

I get an incomprehensible, Google-translated text from one of the men who demonstrated real French kissing on the Rue des Lombards the other night.   He wants to meet up, and I think about his enormous hands, and I put my hands on myself and I am tempted, but it’s too frustrating trying to conjugate all the verbs in someone else/s native tongue. Maybe there is someone other than Sketch that I could love, but maybe he is on the other side of the world and we do not speak the same language so I will never know him.   It is a depressing thought.

There is a language barrier here, a concrete dividing wall between me and even the English-speaking Parisians. I ask for something: Avez-vous le wifi? Or Are you still serving lunch?  They answer with a curt non. Not: No, I’m sorry, I wish I could help you, I’m sorry you don’t have the thing that you need. Just non, with the implication that it was rude of me to even ask.

Maybe this is something I need to cultivate for myself, non as a complete sentence. I can’t just say non; I need to make elaborate excuses. I don’t know what is wrong with me.

This city is making me crazy, so I try to do the things that make me feel more like myself: I go to a Bikram yoga class, and although it is all in French, I can follow along. I know what ouvrier means, and I do. Amidst the reeking carpets and the jacked Parisians, I open.

I decide I need to spend a day by myself, and I go to Pere Lachaise cemetery, where the crows call out overhead in French and I visit the graves of Jim Morrison and Balzac and Delacroix and Charlie Chaplin. Alone, contented, I spend time with the bones of Collette, a French writer who asked her man to lock her in her room and not let her out until she had finished her writing for the day. I identify with Collette.

I eat my lunch near the grave of Oscar Wilde.   I had gone there, looking for something pithy on his tombstone, and here’s what I found: “And alien tears fill for him/ Pity’s long broken urn/ For his mourners will be outcast men/ And outcasts always mourn.” It’s not funny, and my eyes fill up unexpectedly. No other grave has been so defaced with lipstick kisses; they had to put up a plexiglass screen to protect it.   I kiss the glass, leaving a mark amidst the all the other outcasts.

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Art, dating, Drinking, France, Italy, Travel, Writing

What’s That Smell: Florence

IMG_1779I hate Florence immediately.   I come in on the Regionale from Rome, the local train ambling unhurriedly past acres and acres of withered sunflowers and occasionally stopping for no apparent reason. No announcements are made in any language, and eventually the train pulls along again like a reluctant animal that isn’t used to being on a leash.

We sigh into the Florence train station at Santa Maria Novella and I drag my bags through an unfashionable neighborhood in the slanted late-afternoon sunshine, the deserted sidewalks like something out of a De Cherico painting. My thoughts, as my bags rip my arms out of the sockets: ugh and why? I can’t believe they keep all the treasures here in Florence; it’s like making your ugly sister carry your purse.

At the world’s most repulsive youth hostel, which I booked because it was cheap and near the station, I am sharing a room with three girls: an Australian I don’t meet but will later be sharing a rickety bunk bed with, a kid from Beijing who has been clearly waiting for an exhausted American to practice her English with and whose bed has a monkey-printed blanket on it which makes me feel guilty enough to give her English lessons, and a gorgeous Indonesian girl whose B.O. is like a whole extra person. Even after she showers, she stinks.   Kicking like Bruce Lee, Sketch would have said. The whole city is kicking like Bruce Lee; Florence stinks like a freshly-laid turd, and I can’t find anyone to acknowledge the sewery stink of it. It’s a little lonely, feeling like I’m the only one wrinkling her nose in the cobbled alleys, which grow markedly quainter as I trek further from the hostel. Everyone else is swooning over this place, but I miss Rome.

But even I have to admit: the Duomo is pretty amazing. Waiting in the queue to climb up to the dome, where despite the many notices asking tourists not to write on the walls the old stones have been signed more times than a high-school yearbook , I meet some people. By the time we have climbed to the top to look at the red-tile roofs of Florence spread out beneath us like the world’s most uninformative map, we are friends, me and these two strangers, one gay and adorable, one Chinese and pushy but also adorable. We decide to go to Siena together, a Tuscan village that looks pretty much just like Florence only hotter and hillier. At least we outpace the smell, and I celebrate with my third gelato of the day.

Despite the infusion of sugar, my alcoholism keeps up a steady want-whine over all the vino I am passing up. “You don’t want any?” my new friends ask incredulously, as the waiter brings free shots of limoncello with our bill.

“Nah, I’m good,” I demur, as my inner alcoholic throws herself on the floor dramatically complaining that I never let her do anything.

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We go back to Florence, because this is where they keep the treasures. I spend twenty minutes just looking at the massive hands on Michangelo’s David at the Accademia. I am a sucker for good hands.   As evening insinuates itself in the narrow alleys, I climb to the top of the Piazzele Michelangelo with my friends to watch the sunset; Florence is one of those places where people watch the sun sink and applaud when it’s finished. I appreciate that. It’s a romantic moment, and I feel Sketch here like a phantom limb. I feel him in the museums too, all those paintings so rich and oily they look like they should be sopped up with bread and eaten.

Sketch would have loved Florence, and I can picture him here, drawing in his book from some heartbreaking marble statue, and it makes me queasy with love and longing.  He is not here to love Florence with me, so instead, I hate it. Even the beautiful parts make me resentful.

At night, I go back to the hostel and sleep with international strangers; the bunk beds are so flimsy that the whole structure shakes when I turn over, and I am a restless sleeper. The Australian girl down below must hate me. I am too old to play the part of a teenage backpacker, too old to accept things like the air-conditioner over the door which has dripped a lagoon of water onto the floor, or the key I am given that is so badly-fitted to the door’s lock that I have to bang to be let in. It’s only marginally better than sleeping on the street.

I go through a whole thing to rent a towel; I don’t bother trying to get a hair-dryer, and I wander around Florence with all my hair shoved under my hat. Outside, it is so hot I am lapsing into a bovine state, staring at things and chewing.

“Go make out with some hairy Italian guys,” my friend texts me, and I feel vaguely that I am letting someone down: myself, perhaps. This blog isn’t going to write itself, I tell myself sternly. Go out there and make some stories. But I can’t seem to whip up any enthusiasm, even for tall men with ponytails, who are everywhere. I love a man with a ponytail.

France is next. Maybe Paris will be different, I tell myself. I leave Italy feeling like I missed some vital bits, like I dropped the ball, already planning my excuses for when someone asks me if I went to the Uffizi, which I failed to book tickets in advance to and thus did not visit. I don’t know what to tell the person who asks me why I didn’t hook up with any Italian men, here in Italy, except to confess that I sort of blew it.

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Inside these sneakers: the most blistered feet in all the world. I don’t know if you are supposed to stand on the glass in the Cathedral of Siena. I wanted it to look like I was levitating, and I was past caring if I plummeted to my death.

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