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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.

Addiction, Awkward Moments, Blogging, Books, Consequences of Blogging, dating, Photography, Treating Men Badly, Voice, Writing

The Care and Feeding of an Ex

images-63It’s all Mary Karr’s fault. In The Art of Memoir, she writes about sharing your work with the people who might want the opportunity to dispute its veracity, and in the spirit of Truth, I message Bunny last week and explain this project to him and ask if he wants to see the bit about him or express anything.

OK, maybe it’s not all in the spirit of Truth. He got out of the fire of that breakup so clean that even fifteen years later I still want to hand him the charred photo album and say, Look. Look how damaged it is.

I don’t hear from him all week, and then he sends me a text reading I’d rather not be involved at this point. We knew each other so long ago.

I can tolerate a wide range of bad behaviors from men: tease me, hit me, infect me, and I will find forgiveness for you. But ignore me? Ignore me and I will fucking kill you.

The rage is instant and astonishing, a bank of heat like opening a furnace door, the kind of anger that blows back your hair and makes you feel like crying.   I am angrier than I was when he suddenly moved away with no explanation, taking with him a bunch of my hopes and my signed copy of Civilwarland in Bad Decline in which George Saunders complimented my sweater. I am angrier than I was a year ago, when for one weird week he would call me at four in the morning because his new girlfriend had broken up with him. More fool me, I would answer the phone, make comforting noises. Once he felt better, he ignored my solicitous texts. How are you, bun? Are you OK? I was pretending I was checking on him, but actually I was showing him how much of a better person I was than him. Irritatingly, he didn’t take the bait.

I guess I don’t really blame him for not wanting to read about all this. Look at this charred photo album of the two of us. Remember how you left all those candles burning? But he has dismissed me, like I’m trying to sell him some bibles (I’m not interested, Tippy), and now my ears are ringing with anger-induced tinnitus as I try to message him back. I want to remind him of things. I have things I want to say. But I can not write him back, because apparently he has defriended me, and so a carefully composed retort along the eloquent and mature lines of Oh yeah, fatty fat fat fat? slips right between social media’s couch cushions.

The moral of this story is, when people tell you who they are, believe them. He’s been telling me for years that he is not available to review the past, and still I have persisted. How about now? How about now? Acceptance is always the latecomer to the party. Sighing in the face of the inevitable, knowing I won’t talk to him again, I dig out his email address. Parting words should always be simple and not labored over, so I type three little words to him while I walk to the train: Die in fire. And hit send with a wistful sigh.

I have been laboring for years under the pleasant fiction that I am friends with my ex-boyfriends. It’s a thing I tell people, especially new boyfriends, that is not even close to true. My ex-boyfriends: two of them are dead, three of them are crazy and in the wind, and then there’s Sketch, who is not my ex so much as he is, to cop from Richard Burton talking about Elizabeth Taylor, “my eternal one-night stand.

There is just one ex I am legitimately friends with.   I saw him and his wife and kids this weekend; his other ex-girlfriend was there, willowy and beautiful and aging in that refined way I can not seem to master.  His wife is amazing and sends me off from the party with packed food; I feel like a bit of an orphan, albeit a well-cared for one, every time I come here. He asks me about the necklace I am wearing, a brass shovel with my initials in it, and when I explain that it’s a sort of totem for this blog I write, he immediately pulls it up on his computer to look at it.  I watch him for a moment, a face I once was in love with illuminated by words and words and words about other people I have loved. Loved, and sometimes hated. The anger is so misdirected and diffuse, like a fire hose with pinprick holes in it, the pressure diverted in a thousand trivial directions. This ex I am friends with, he looks at the screen for a moment. Cool. And he x’s it out, closing the browser and we, at least, are good.