Addiction, Bad Things, Blogging, dating, Men, Queens, Relationships, Sex Addiction, Writing

Adulting is Hard

FullSizeRender-26I settle into my new digs like fog, my belongings dustily swirling around me. This newly purchased Queens apartment makes me feel like I’m in that movie where aborigines come into first contact with modern society; I am overexcited by the jetliner flush of the new toilet, and have made a god out of the dishwasher. I’ve always loved the sound of the dishwasher, it’s my favorite white-noise setting when I can’t sleep and need sounds to block out the terrifying podcast of my own thoughts. Now, I stretch out on the couch and listen to a machine wash all my plates. Where I once used the same toast plate and teacup over and over until they were too sticky to lift off the counter, I now select a clean glass each time I want a beverage.  It’s crazy.   I ride the elevator (the elevator!! It’s like getting a piggyback ride for you and your shit every time you want to go to the laundry room!) down to the basement to wash my blankets, and there are signs down here in 400-point font reminding me not to play in the laundry carts. I’m not sure how you play laundry carts, but now that they told me I can’t, it’s all I can think about.

Things are changing, but they also stay the same. Barely 72 hours of homeownership and I drop a decorative conch shell in the bathroom and manage to smash the ceramic toothbrush holder that juts out of the wall. IMG_3801.JPG  I have noted before that everything I own looks ready for a street rumble, dangerous and jagged. And yet it’s quiet here; my one-bedroom place faces the garden and there’s no one out there to fight but this one asshole bird that makes a mating-racket at one in the morning, and maybe myself.

I move in on a Saturday, Connecticut and these four dudes I emotionally blackmailed carrying my furniture down four flights of stairs, shunting everything out of the apartment I shared with Sketch for years and years and into a moving van. I feel like I should leave a message written in all the bedbug powder I’m leaving behind, some kind of warning to the next inhabitants: This apartment is haunted and also bugs live here. I run my hands over the murals that Sketch, my charismatic nightmare of an ex-boyfriend, left up on the walls; I kiss them on the lips. I love you, I tell the paint.   The ghosts, in return, say nothing.

Love him or not, this week I unfriend Sketch and his family on Facebook so that I can make the announcement that Connecticut and I are in a relationship; then I stand back a little to give the Internet the space to react to this weighty news, covering my ears and waiting for the blowback.

The Internet shrugs.

People are busy living their lives. There are adults here in my new complex, busily doing laundry and not playing in the laundry carts, and I feel disguised among them, clearly fraudulent and yet proud of myself anyways. I fix a mortgage over my head and blink out of the eyeholes. No one screams when they see me coming, although I do get a couple of odd looks as I pedal my piece-of-shit bicycle, dead leaves ticking in the spokes and the frame tacky with duct tape, down the sidewalk. My name is on the miniature license plate.

This is important, because this week I’ve been finding that I don’t exactly recognize myself. A week of living here, and this is the first time I’ve opened up my laptop. What if I can’t write here? What if writing was contingent on living in that sticky, haunted walk-up, a punk-rock Miss Havisham waiting for Sketch to come back for me? What if I have unwittingly traded in the place where the writing comes from for a dishwasher and a normal boyfriend?

Connecticut comes over, and the next day we drive to a Target to look at rugs for my new apartment, and I help him pick out a dress shirt for work, and inside, Tippy is screaming that she doesn’t even know what is happening here. Who is this adult and why am I wearing her pants?  I bike past the old place to drop off my keys with the super, who surprises me by giving me a stiff, one-armed Ukrainian hug and wishing me luck, and that’s it; I feel like there should be some ceremony here, some number where the entire ensemble comes from the last ten years comes onstage for a final song. But there is nothing. I look at my phone, because if Sketch was to call me at this moment, I would answer. I don’t know what I would say, but I would answer.

Instead I peddle away, wobbly. My adult self doesn’t quite fit. It’s stiff at the joints. Connecticut drives me to Bed Bath and Beyond, where we shop for a dustpan and a new garbage can. Get me the fuck out of here, Tippy internally rages. Connecticut and I go back to my place and fuck, and I talk him into peeing on me, because I need the bed, the bath, and the beyond. My inner addict and my inner adult duke it out for control, and when Connecticut and I go to Home Depot to buy the shit to hang my pots and pans rack, we also buy anchors for the bedroom wall to properly tie me down as a compromise.

I need to be restrained here for a little while. I’m not to be trusted, I want to tell everyone I pass. You can’t trust me to pay a mortgage like an adult. You fucking can’t trust me not to run. Sketch calls, and I let it go to voicemail, and I talk to Connecticut about the voicemail at dinner.  But I do not tell him: You can’t trust me not to hurt you.  But he does. Foolishly, the people here trust me not to play in the laundry carts, and it’s the trust that keeps me from climbing in and taking off.   It somehow staves off the impulse to ruin everything, before it all falls apart anyway, at least for the fragile moment.

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Addiction, Bringing Yourself, Distance, essays, Men, Photography, Relationships, Sex, Teaching, Writing

Giving a Shit, And Other Things That Hurt

IMG_3581.JPGThe Eftilou guesthouse where we’re staying is surrounded by hordes of semi-feral cats, needy and squalling, their ears shredded, their tails bobbed, some of their eyes missing. Battle cats: they fight and fuck late into the night in the jasmine-scented darkness. It seems like it’s always quiet in Greece until the cats or the church bells raise a sudden commotion, or some men from the local village start shooting shotguns at an effigy of Judas Iscariot tied to a pine tree. It’s Greek Orthodox Easter, and my friend and I are looked after by an old Greek woman whom I want to jam into my suitcase so she will come back to New York with me and be my new grandmother. She bakes me cookies. She picks me some strawberries.   She enthusiastically wishes me good morning in her thick accent. I love her.

But mostly the first thing I want to do when I get back to the guesthouse is get on the wifi so that I can text Connecticut. It’s a jones, low-level but persistent and distracting, like wanting a cigarette or something with sugar in it. Back in New York it is lunchtime; he’ll be sitting out in Union Square Park, and I can usually talk him into taking a selfie to show me what color tie he is wearing. I don’t particularly care what tie he is wearing, but I love that there is a person who will photograph themselves at my demand, for my personal pleasure.

But the wifi is out in Eftilou; there was a storm earlier this week that chucked rocks up onto the esplanade and swallowed deck chairs whole. It was a day to be relieved that the Coast Guard is turning back the Syrian refugees that are trying to cross the Mediterranean out of nearby Turkey; they wouldn’t have survived the five-mile crossing today. I, meanwhile, am a person whose worst problem is that she does not have wifi, and I am losing my shit. Because I can not text Connecticut, and if I can not text him, I worry that maybe his attention will shift to something or someone else. After all, that is my modus operandi: code name Out Of Sight, Out of Mind.

And now I care, and it is hard, caring. I still remember the way he side-eyed me back in December when I told him, I find you riveting. I’m pretty sure the only way I was able to get this close to him was by being all casual and ambiguous, still ducking out to go crawl under my ex. I got close to him the way you get close to a shy cat: a careful display of disinterest. I think of the battle cats outside, who wind around your ankles, hoping for scraps; the second you make eye contact and extend your arms, they bolt.

And now I catch myself pursuing Connecticut with my arms outstretched, texting him that I want one of his old t-shirts to sleep in because I miss his smell, my stomach lurching when I see his name, wildly swinging my phone around in circles trying to catch a bar. A throbbing cliché. Next I will start drawing hearts in a notebook and checking out his horoscope in the newspaper.   It’s terrible. He has a hundred and ten percent of my attention and I’m worried I’m going to freak him out, because my full attention is scary, and what if he only likes me elusive and disinterested?

So maybe it’s good that there’s no wifi. It might save me from myself.  For all he knows, I’m down on the beach with some Greek fishermen, running my fingers through their beards. This is a country where, to appropriate a line from Bill Bryson, the hottest man you’ve ever seen is blocked from your view by the next hottest man you’ve ever seen. I walk around smiling at people I could easily fall in love with for a week or two, fists balled under my chin. I flirt, but halfheartedly.

All my attention is directed on Connecticut, sunlight intensified through the magnifying glass that is my addict brain. I wonder if he’s puzzled by the change. I’ve been gently nudging him away for weeks, only making plans with him at the last minute, trying to schedule him around Sketch, replying to his lengthy texts with a single, distracted emoji, getting naked with him in the afternoon on days when I know I have something to do in the evening. And then one day I just wake up in Greece and find myself wanting to be this man’s girl, and it’s fucked up. I’ve already told him that I don’t want to be his girlfriend, that I think monogamy is for suckers, that I am not a relationship person.   And this is why you should never make sweeping pronouncements about yourself; you will only need to walk them back later.

How do people handle it? All the feelings? It’s like some rock over my soul just got kicked over, and this is what is underneath. It’s gross, and scary.

There is a smoking hot yoga teacher I know who invited me to go to some sort of girl-on-girl party in Brooklyn. That is what I am supposed to be doing with my life, not this thing where I feel so needy, where I want constant reassurance, where I need to see what color tie the man is wearing just to breathe normally again.

But alas, my phone has no wifi. Also, a few days ago, my phone’s iMessage shit the bed, and now I can’t hear from anybody unless they get me through Facebook or What’sApp (the worst application name ever, by the way. I can’t say it without wanting to punch my own self in the face). So also Sketch doesn’t know what happened to me. For all he knows, the cats got me.

I can’t even begin to think about having the conversation with him about Connecticut, and how this changes things. Every time I try to bring up the subject with my brain, all my thoughts dart away into some bushes, startled and wild. I can’t shake the conviction that this is really it, this time. I’m not going to frame this departure as a date-stamped break, or claim I’m just going to see what it’s like to date other people. I love someone else, and I need to put him first now.

It is a phyllo dough comprised of flaky layers of guilt, oozing with grief and dried lust-fruits. That is exactly the Greek pastry that my relationship to my ex now is.   Something you would feed to the stray cats to get them to leave you alone.

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It’s not Greek Orthodox Easter without this horror show.

I’ve reached my last day in Greece; I’m typing this from the tiny balcony of a cut-rate hotel. Greek Orthodox church bells woke me up at seven, and I came out here to write for a bit, looking up at the Acropolis. You can see it from everywhere around here, it seems like.

Ten days without sex and I feel a little more leveled out. I dreamed about bondage last night and woke up unsure of who had me tied up, Connecticut or Sketch.   Maybe neither. Maybe it’s a symbol or something.

I didn’t do much here. My friend and I came to volunteer with the refugee crisis, but we spent most of our days aimlessly looking for people to tell us what to do in various overstaffed storage warehouses. We folded and labeled clothing donations from boxes where it had already been folded and labeled.  FullSizeRender-22.jpgWe went to the beach up by the lighthouse and climbed down with the environmental crew to help cut apart rubber dinghies caught on the rocks, allowing me to live out my lifelong fantasy of wearing a knife and work-gloves with a bikini, but the work could have been done in minutes with proper equipment.   Everyone here is just kind of waiting for the borders to reopen, and I feel embarrassed when my friend posts humble-brag photos on Facebook. We are tourists here, trying to blend in with the real humanitarians that have been in the camps for months.

We loiter around the gates at Kera Tepe, the refugee camp outside of Mitilini, still hoping to Do Something Good. There’s a power strip at our picnic table, so when a couple of Yazidi men come out to charge their phones and electric shavers, they have no choice but to talk to us.   That’s how we end up having English class with their children and their wives, twenty-five Yazidi in the adjacent olive grove. What words do you teach someone who has no English? (They do know the ABCs, however, everyone including the men singing the song right up to the next time won’t you sing with me part in a heavily Kurdish-accented English) Cherry-picking vocabulary to pass along, I go with members of the family, things that you wear, the names of the things on your face. They take careful notes, double-checking the letters, and teach me Kurdish for the same, but I forget it immediately. I would make a terrible refugee. I am a bad swimmer and my brain is like a fossil in a can.

What these people have been through, are going through, will go through as they petition for asylum in one of the few countries willing to take them, is a bigger and more important topic than I am willing to ham-fistedly tackle in my silly sex blog. But I can tell you that the only time I stopped thinking about Sketch and Connecticut and the whole mess was when a five-year-old refugee girl slipped up next to me as we walked back to camp, and put her tiny hand in my hand. She didn’t ask. She just trusted that I would take care of her. And the only time I stopped thinking about whether I really love Connecticut, and whether I should tell him, and whether I am capable of actually loving anyone because I only think about myself all of the fucking time, is when a Yazidi boy the age of my students at home, gorgeous with his hazel eyes and thick eyelashes, stopped me by our rental car to practice his new vocabulary: I love you.   I lost it for a moment, my throat almost too tight to return the English. I love you too. I mean it. In the moment I mean it.  For now, it’s the best I can do.

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Come to Lesvos!  They supported the refugees and now they need support; tourism is down 85% here.  Also, there are no annoying tourists around being all annoying.  So it’s win-win.

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Addiction, Blogging, Competition, dating, Environment, essays, Relationships, Sex, Writing

I Wish They Were Bigger, and Other Shallow Musings

FullSizeRender-15There is a broken rail on the M line, the train crammed elbows to ass cheeks, leisurely stopping at each station. It lingers while track fires are extinguished, or suicides are committed or whatever, and I’m fast on my way to losing my shit: muttering to myself, cutting dark looks around, kicking the door like I can spur the subway to get me to yoga class on time. I see a former student of mine, this kid who always looks a little lost, even when she is sitting at her own desk. She blinks at me through smudged glasses, buffeted by crowds of commuters, while the conductor makes indecipherable announcements about the delay. This kid is trying to get into a competitive high school in midtown, and the placement exam started five minutes ago. And she is behaving better than me.

Here’s the thing about other people: sometimes they startle me into the awareness that I am a horrible, selfish person.

This has been a week of impatience and impotent rage over things like not getting a seat on the subway or failing to secure my favorite spot in the yoga studio. No one else is acting like this. I don’t see other people throwing shit because they might be late for Pilates.   Other people are simmering quietly, while I boil over with such a froth of invectives that even the homeless people inch further away. It’s like road rage, but the road is my entire life.

I can’t sleep; every noise wakes me up, and people are awake here, drinking and fucking and living. None of my pillows feels comfortable, and I don’t understand it, because I used to think they were OK.   Every time the cheap wood of the bathroom door collides with the doorjamb like a director’s clapper, it startles me out of a miserable half doze.  Action. Finally, I’m just starting to fit the notches of consciousness into the grooves of valerian-assisted sleep when a single chime from the iPad on my dresser brings me back to utter wakefulness.

I decide that I’m going to take the iPad and throw it out my front door. I want to set fire to all my technology. These glowing rectangles are at least 30% of the reason I can not sleep (the other 70% is having arguments with people who are not here).   But when I pick it up, it slips from my hand and hits the little toe I once broke, twenty years ago, in the middle of an argument with Bummer.

Motherfucker, I cry in bruised exasperation.   In the movie, this is where they would insert the footage of birds frightened from their roosts.

I can not sleep, and I am alone.   In some small hour, I dial Sketch. He’s not too big on sleep. I think maybe he will be up, and will be able to coach me to sleep. He hypnotized me once, his voice persuading me to drop it, like a hostage negotiator or someone playing with an overenthusiastic dog. When he commanded SLEEP, I plummeted like an elevator with a cut cable. Slept.

In the morning, I check to see what the message was that chimed in and woke me up. It’s from a friend of mine asking if I want to go to Greece over spring break with her to volunteer at this refugee camp on the island of Kos.

In case I needed a reminder: I am a horrible selfish person, completely consumed with my own bullshit. Case in point: lately, while my friends are worrying about Syrian refugees, I have been whiling away my spare time browsing plastic surgery websites.  My favorite ones are South Korean.  I figure could skip on out of New York and come back a month later from Gagnam with a new face, all my problems bouncing off my newfound symmetry.  I look at the before-and-after pictures, sighing with envy and lust.   One average-looking Asian girl comes off the operating table glowing like a lightbulb, her eyes doll-round.

I am scolding myself even as I’m perusing these websites, because there are greater problems in the world then whether or not the skin on my neck lays the way I want it to, and because it’s such a gross industry to support; I fucking hate those ads on the New York City subways that show a woman holding a pair of clementines in front of her chest and frowning in photo one, and then holding a pair of grapefruits and grinning in photo two.  Written over these ads in sharpie are things like This oppresses women. Sometimes the sharpie-handwriting is mine.

But secretly an enormous hypocrite, I sometimes look at the websites and wonder what it would be like.  How things would be different, if I emptied out my bank account to get my chest cut open and filled with jellybeans or whatever they put in there.   I’m not going to lie; I would love to have bigger tits.  I own a bunch of those bras filled with air or that mystery jelly, bras that crinkle when you hug me.  Some days I wear them and some days I don’t, magical cleavage that waxes and wanes at my will.

When I was twelve my mother bought me my first bra.  I had heard boys supposedly would come up behind you and snap it; I showed my back with studied casualness, but they left me alone.  Maybe that game is only fun if there is the chance that it could unclasp and unleash an avalanche of boob.  I tried padding it out with folded layers of toilet paper, but no one was fooled. I was so committed to this ruse I even went into a swimming pool this way once and broke the intake filter when my padding immediately disintegrated.

A few years ago, I went to the mineral baths in Saratoga, New York with some well-endowed friends.  Mineral waters are known for their buoyancy– settling into the water, the girls were laughing.  Tit soup, my friend called over.  Oh yeah, totally, I responded, sinking like a stone.

“Sometimes I think about breast implants,” I tell Sketch.  “What would you think about that?”   I’m expecting him to protest.  He’s always praises the shape of my body, telling me what a razor blade I am.  Which is not the most sexually enticing symbol, now that I think about it.  He also calls me his lick of flame. These metaphors are the stuff of weaponry, not wet dreams.

“If you wanted them, that would be cool,” he says.

Bodies are different, and I get that.  It would be better for me, almost, if the possibility for modification didn’t exist.  And there’s things about having small tits that I like: I can stand on my head without anything pressing into my chin and wear sundresses in the spring without bras, and I don’t know what it feels like for it to hurt when you run down stairs.  I could shoot a bow and arrow without my nipples getting in the way, if I needed to.

But I still want them.   I could go to Brazil and get implants; apparently they give out boob jobs there for girls’ sixteenth birthdays.   I don’t know what ultimately keeps stopping me– the image, maybe of someone with a sharpie drawing dotted surgery lines along my perfectly healthy chest.  This oppresses women.   What if they come out looking shitty?  I knew a girl, back when I was our city’s most flat-chested stripper, who used to have to duct-tape her tits into place because of a botched pair of implants. Her nipples looked liked shoes when you put them on the wrong feet.  Also, I heard the pain is pretty serious, and they give you drugs, which makes my dormant opiate habit smile in its sleep– not an animal you want to encourage with scraps.  And the $8000 price tag means I would be choosing slightly bigger tits over a couple of years worth of summer travel, and I do want to go to Greece with my friend, and also I am lusting after a trip to Patagonia.  My friend Michelle is there now, hiking glaciers and going to this island only inhabited by penguins.

I’d rather kick it with the penguins, flightless birds endowed with the A-cups of wings, FullSizeRender-17short and stubby. As a species they traded flight for superior swimming, for the ability to hold a breath under water for twenty minutes. There is a trade-off, it seems, in all things.

I take the subway to work this morning, and it’s running on time. Over the doors, an ad for a Manhattan surgical center featuring a topless woman invites me to DREAM BIG. Demeaning to women, a recently-added sticker opines. Who knows. Maybe they’ll be bigger in my next life. Maybe in this one, I can learn to worry about something else, someone else. There’s no implants for selflessness, unfortunately. I look around for an old lady who might like my seat, but the train is mostly empty.

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Addicted to attention, Environment, essays, Holidays, Relationships, Uncategorized, Writing

Global Heartwarming

images-62It is annoying to me when people confuse climate with weather—the denier who plummily queries What global warming? It’s FREEZING outside. Likewise, I have well-intentioned friends who make entire assumptions about Sketch based on what is going on right now. Things are going good at the moment, but he is not my boyfriend.

We’re in the holiday season, and here come other people’s expectations. Apparently, you are supposed to spend the day together, with family, possibly in matching sweaters, and this is not how Sketch and I roll.   Our first ever Christmas together, I got him a rat in a jar of formaldehyde—the skin translucent, the tiny bones inside visible. Yeah, I’m that kind of girlfriend. He liked it though, kept it until the jar was shaken too many times (I don’t know why; a rat-jar is not a snow-globe) and the thing started to come apart. Eventually we abandoned it someplace.

There’s a lot of family stuff during this time of year, and I go alone, and I don’t mind going alone because it’s easier to get one seat than two adjoining on the overcrowded New Jersey Transit busses.   It’s not just family, it’s extended family, people like my cousin’s wife, who has an ugly baby slung from each arm. I would literally die if I had to shoulder those burdens, just as she could not handle my life of carrying all the groceries six blocks and up four flights of stairs. The other day a homeless man on the subway was jerking off inside his pants just a few feet away and I just went back to putting on my mascara.   My family and I are mutually horrified by each other’s lives, so it’s good that we get to live with our own choices.

The internet makes it possible to find other people who think the way I do. Thus: blogging.  This week, I am Twitter-stalking my favorite writers.  I don’t understand how Twitter works, so it is very ineffective stalking, like peering really hard out my window for a glimpse of Ryan Gosling.  It could happen, it just probably won’t; I live on a sort of seedy side street. One of the writers, Jennifer Wright, replies and retweets something that I wrote, so in my mind we are best friends now.

Sometimes I worry that I am becoming a mean anti-Christmas type person.   I want to be charmed by babies and Santa and mistletoe, but this is overshadowed by the more muscular and developed part of my brain that thinks videos of children crying over bad presents is hilarious.

Sketch’s apartment is a blissful holiday-free zone, the walls crowded with faces, none of them Santa.   His unit faces an airshaft and a stack of other studio apartments; across the way, there is a middle-aged woman who walks around naked. Not in the way you do when you are showing off, but in the way you do when you believe you are totally alone and want to eat spaghetti without worrying about spilling anything on your shirt.   Sketch’s nickname for her is Hiney-Time. She is an interesting study on what people do when they believe they are unobserved: she sniffs her bra as she removes it, she licks her plates when she’s done eating. Occasionally, awkwardly, we see her in the elevator and pretend not to recognize her.

Is it exhibitionism if you are obliviously unaware that people are watching you? In my teens and twenties, I had a whole fetishized relationship to parading around in no pants, very very aware of being watched. My dorm room window should have been tricked out in marquee lighting. This impulse has since faded, but I still have an astonishing lack of modesty (Exhibit A: this blog).  I am most comfortable walking around my apartment in nothing but a pair of slippers, and it doesn’t occur to me that the Indian couple whose windows face mine might be bothered.

It’s kind of weird communal feeling, having these strangers with whom my life is so intertwined. I don’t even know this Indian man, but I see him doing lat pulls with an old towel in his livingroom every morning at 5:30. I sort of absently applaud his progress.  I feel like the lights he has hung in his window are a sort of Christmas card to me, to all the naked neighbors his apartment faces.  Who else can see them?

Sketch and I have an across-the-airshaft Annie Hall style relationship too; I just wish people would stop trying to make it be something that it isn’t, or looking at me with pity-face when the temperature of our relationship is actually precisely the climate that suits me.   But I guess if I didn’t want people to comment on my relationship, I should stop walking it around with no pants on. That sort of thing generally is an open invitation to remarks.

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Distance, Photography, Relationships, Travel, Writing

More People in Bed, Together

images-53Many imperiled couples want to add a third person to the mix: generally this third person is a baby.    Sketch and I, uncertain of what we are to one another, are talking about adding another, more adult person to our vortex of dysfunction while we try to make sense of things.   It’s not an unappealing idea– somebody else to mind the seats at the movie theater, someone to take some of the pressure off. Historically, I love threesomes, the way I love any opportunity to crowdsource my bottomless need for attention and affection. And I’ve always liked girls.   They represent this weird alternate reality of my sexuality: with boys, I will vie for attention and approval until my voice gives out and my eyes are burning from lash glue, but with girls, it’s more of a sexual smash-and-grab, simultaneously shady and liberating. Submissive with men, dominant with women: it bothers me to be participating in the patriarchal paradigm of aggression after just this very week I culled all the catchy hip hop songs with casual misogyny in them from my playlists. But some tunes are just hard not to sing along to.

My horrible college boyfriend Bummer was super annoying about threesomes; I was invested, but he was obsessed.   In college, I stopped bringing friends over, because he would just look at them like he was sizing them up for a hole in the backyard. It was senior year and he was getting creepier, and I knew I had to break up with him, but I kept guiltily putting it off. His family had practically adopted me, and he was so sad and needy and ill-prepared to take care of himself. Codependent bullshit, I know that, but I was twenty and Bummer had been telling me for years that this is how all men were anyway; I was just inexperienced enough to believe him. If it wasn’t for meeting Monster, I might never have left.

I was cheating on Bummer with this couple I had met; she had short, platinum blond hair and wore overalls with cropped tops, a look that put me right over the edge in 1995. Her boyfriend was hot in the regular way that most men in their early twenties are hot; today I am left with a vague suspicion of his name and oddly crisp recollection of the configuration of Green Day posters on his wall, and nothing more.

Bummer and I had that standard deal that has been boilerplate since man first sought to have his cake and eat it too: I was allowed to sleep with girls, but not with boys. My blond would come to pick me up with her boyfriend ducking down out of sight, and we would drive off to get fucked up on ecstasy and grind on each other on some dance floor until long after the sun came up.

It was a relationship, I guess, in that it went on for some time and there were rules and parameters.   Neither of them were supposed to hook up with me unless the other one was there, and they both did anyway. Her smooth, white body under her overalls smelled like the frosting on a sheet cake.

I hooked up with couples for years, and that is how it always went; there was always the codicil that it was supposed to be a triangle, and not a line, but that only prevailed until desire and convenience dictated some hastily justified exception. I have learned there are no equilateral triangles. There is always someone you are more excited to be with; someone is always out of the loop on a secret. One person always sort of ends sleeping up at the foot of the bed. Is this why we crave other people? So we can pick our favorite? People love to pick their favorites, which is why coffee shops all have two tip jars, one marked KITTENS and one marked PUPPIES. We like to get to choose.

And still, for all the complications and the limitations, I love threesomes. I can get down with a girl without a guy there, but it is vastly easier with a man. A man approaches sex with a very linear organization sense of organization: mouth, breasts, pussy. There is a tidy order of operations, like in math.  Women? Women are like art class, where you’re never really sure if you are done or if it was good.

So this is what Sketch and I have been talking about.

How are you going to feel about me writing about it? I ask him.

He tells me he would never tell me what to do with my writing.   This is not the same thing as telling me that it’s OK.

An open relationship. Sketch suggests I go and do a little research, but this is not the sort of thing Google is going to provide the answers to. I type into a search field anyway: What do I want?  All the top hits are about your career.  I don’t know what to do about that either. I wish I could quit my day job and run away to Nicaragua and eat avocados and write all day.

Avocado, from the Aztec word for testicle

Avocado, from the Aztec word for testicle

Deal, a gorgeous friend of mine who lives in Central America, texts me a proud photo of himself in bed with a gorgeous couple the other day.  He wants to Skype, but as most nights my hair is configured into two manky horns from hot yoga and I’m wearing my glasses, I make excuses. Still I like messaging him, and imagining the sweaty things I would do to him if he were nearby.

He’s dealing with some breakup shit himself, and I feel weirdly protective of him, partly because he’s so much younger than me and partly because he’s really a nice person, so nice in fact that when I tell him I’m feeling lonely and so hungry for sex I could chew through metal, he cyber-introduces me to a friend who lives in my neighborhood.   Of me, he writes, “She’s fun, athletic, and has a banging body.” He also says that I am the hottest girl at yoga, which is a bald lie, but one that has the power to cheer me up immensely.

I love a compliment. Maybe I am even more compliment-starved than I am sex-starved. And this is another thing that I love about women. A woman will never fail to tell you how much she likes looking at you.

Deal and I banter a bit on this thread, but I don’t hear from his friend.   It’s OK, though. Life is full of these attempts at threesomes, grappling attempts to include other people, to expand beyond the tight confines of a couple, before collapsing back down to two.   That’s what Sketch and I used to call it: World of Two.   He would cup his hands around the sides of his face the way you hold the sides of a coin-operated scenic telescope, and then he would bring his face down to mine, his fingers like parentheses that we could both fit inside, our eyes inches apart and shut to everything and everyone else.

We don’t have that anymore. World of Two fell into civil war, barbarism, cannibal orgies, flames.    Its government is in exile, its countryside scavenged by carrion birds. And yet I’m still sweeping the wreckage to see if there is something left, because I still believe there is a person under there tapping on the collapsed masonry, waiting for me.

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Addiction, New York, Photography, Relationships, Sex, Travel, Writing

All Bodies Are Time Travelers, Part II

imgres-20No one had ever wanted me as badly as Monster. We had sex constantly, everywhere. It became a joke; everywhere we went, we left furniture bent and crooked and used-looking.  We had sex in his car, unable to wait until we got home. We had sex in bathrooms while people banged on the door with their fists. His parents owned a funeral home and we had sex there, amidst the cooling bodies and the reek of flower arrangements spelling out beloved.   Anytime we stopped moving, our hands were in each other’s pants, our default position. He held me like I was something important that he owned.

And we had the dysfunctional but effective bonding agent of active addiction. We didn’t call it getting high, we called it getting right, because we woke up very wrong every morning. And getting right came before anything, including one another, but still, even dope-sick, his eyes followed me around the room, the way a cat will watch a laser-pointer.

He stayed more alert than I did in general; I was more one of those gravity-defying junkies you see sometimes, magically upright but bending like the bough of a Christmas tree taxed with too heavy a bauble, sleeping in my shoes. I must be part giraffe.   Monster would shake me awake, my forehead practically on the sidewalk, my cigarette resting between the pages of some book I was trying to read. We went to see the band Monster Magnet at the Stone Pony in New Jersey, and in the clamor I snoozed against the stage, the press of bodies behind me the only thing that kept me from slumping to the floor.

Even back then, my mantra was a day at a time. Tomorrow I will leave. Tomorrow I will stop. But I didn’t not leave, and I did not stop, and the wild rumpus continued unabated. We had stopped paying the rent by then, and we lived on landfill of our own trash, hills of bloody tissues and newspapers and needles and cigarette butts and unopened letters covering the furniture. A cat picked her way through this wreckage; she must have been shitting everywhere in the apartment, because I know neither of us had the wherewithal to clean a litter box. A friend of mine took her to saner apartment, where she would nevertheless escape out a window one evening and run directly under the wheels of a passing car.   When I started stripping, I took on her name.

Monster and I lived like bears, scavenging for take-out and throwing the containers on the carpet, where we would later be crawling, looking for crumbs of euphoria one of us would convince the other we had dropped.  Then one afternoon we got home from the copping to find that someone had been by the apartment to slap up an eviction notice and fill our lock with airplane glue.   Shrugging, we moved into the car, which could conveniently be parked closer to the dope spot, a flophouse on Bowery unironically called the Providence. Drug deals were brokered from the second story windows, and if the Dominicans who ruled the fifth floor didn’t like you, they would throw you off the roof from a spot overlooking the Chinese fruit peddlers where the razor wire had been stomped flat.

Women weren’t allowed inside the Providence, but they snuck me in once, up the fire escape. Inside: cheap plywood cubicles, each cubbying a narrow mattress, a footlocker, and a single, desperate man. Chicken wire rolled out over the tops so everyone could share the same sad lightbulb. If you didn’t like the guy next to you, you could drop a lit cigarette into his cell and try to burn him out, nevermind the shared walls.

It was prison-living for free people, but still better than what I managed. By the end, the car had been towed, and after that it was rooftops and doorways and sleeping on the train. I would try to leave Monster, to find a friend I could hide out with for a few days to try my luck at getting clean, but I always went back. I had to go back.

Monster and I would drift to different places, because we were pretty sure it was the city that was the problem. I brought him up to my grandmother’s house in New Hampshire once, our suitcases clinking with bottles of Mad Dog 20/20, stumbling through the snow in sodden sneakers. Gram took one look at him and pronounced him a loser.

Gram was someone I always liked to take boyfriends home to, because at some point she would take them to the side and warn them to be good to me. Her philosophy regarding men was that you couldn’t have it all: rich, kind, handsome– pick two. Or at least I’m pretty sure this came from her; I have a tendency to attribute bits of wisdom to her; my grandmother always said is a much better opener than here’s something I read on the Internet one time.   Anyway, Gram knew it was important to know what you wanted in a thing.   Ask the universe for things, but be damn specific.

The last time I saw Monster was on 14th Street and 8th Avenue, as I jumped the turnstile for an uptown train. He was crying. That late in the game, he cried a lot, and so did I, broken things that leaked.  I had sent out a distress call to my ex, Bummer, who drove up from Georgia to get me, and I slept in the backseat the whole way back to his parents’ house in Atlanta, dirty and spent. I was so skinny my chin was pointed like an awl. Down South, I enrolled in some methadone program, and Monster moved into a halfway house, where I would call him on a payphone from time to time, crying because I missed him, and I missed getting high, and because I couldn’t recognize myself or my life anymore. I was deeply and profoundly homesick for him. We talked about getting back together, by the end of the summer, once we had figured out how to stop being so horrible for each other.

Monster died by accident. He was installing an air-conditioner and he got some kind of electrical burn and there were complications, because there are always complications.  He didn’t tell anyone at the halfway house, because he was afraid they would think he had been getting high, which knowing Monster was probably the case. The next morning, he was incoherent, but no one knew what was wrong with him, so his internal organs began to fail one by one while the administration shuffled papers.

I was living in New Orleans when I heard he was in a coma, and I hitched a long, sick ride home with a change of clothes and a few books that belonged to Monster; I still have his copy of William T. Vollman’s Rainbow Stories which I opened recently to find still had a piece of notebook paper inside reading I love Tippy. Monster died about the time I was crossing the state line back into New Jersey, bent over double with stomach cramps and slicked in withdrawal sweat, unaware that it was already too late.

Monster was laid out in his father’s funeral home, and I was there on a medley of memory-killing pills so I don’t remember much. His parents, his grandmother, his little sisters, huddled in a knot up front. He was twenty-four when he died, but they still hung his high school varsity jacket beside the coffin, a totem of better, more hopeful days, before things ran so horribly south.

I know I mourned, but in the clumsy, soggy, dramatic way you do when you are twenty-one and everything is all about you.   Hidden like a live wire was the naked, selfish truth: I felt relieved, because I knew that there was no way I could ever have walked away from him while he still drew breath. I would always come back, like a comet, my tail a fan of tissues and lipstick tubes and used needles and gritty, glittering debris. The comet moves, Neil Degrasse Tyson tells me, because it is falling, always falling into the sun, but the momentum somehow keeps it spinning.

Some people live through the Depression, and they can’t throw away used aluminum foil. I lived through the depression of active addiction, and now I can’t throw relationships away. Not while there is still love in them, and there is always love in them somewhere.

And now Sketch is the person I love more than anyone, and I crave him the way I once craved a needle with that bubble on the tip like blown glass. Sunday night, I meet him at this hokey vegetarian restaurant he likes in the East Village. Sketch is taking a run at veganism, and I myself am flexibly vegetarian, which means that I sometimes eat meat and feel really bad about it. He has his fussy reading glasses on when I walk into the place, which I find utterly, heart-grippingly adorable, like if you put glasses on a dog.

There is just no one I like talking to as much as I like talking to this man. We trade stories and he asks how the blog is going. “What are you telling people about me?” he asks nervously.   One day he will read this, and I hope he will forgive me for it.

Afterwards, we walk to Tompkins Square Park, where nearly twenty years ago I perambulated as a junkie,  looking for a comfortable bench to get some sleep on, or hunting for this elusive heroin dealer named Purple whom I never managed to find. Someone might have made him up to torture me; I heard he had the good shit. My life has come so far from where I started out that all these sober years later it is still sort of disorienting, and I walk through this neighborhood now with double vision: I see it, and I see it as I saw it.

The park is crowded tonight; everyone is out for the lunar eclipse. There is a small child who has climbed into a tree and is singing in a clean, clear voice, the vibrato rolling out over all the sleeping addicts and the like-minded couples waiting for the moon to vanish. I can’t tell if the singer a girl or a boy, but clearly it is some kind of magical pixie creature, and Sketch states that we should not be surprised if it sprouts butterfly wings and flies away when the performance is finished. Beside us, a man in pure white goes through a capoeira routine, kicking and flowing and spinning, fighting off invisible opponents. Sketch’s arms around me, I lean back and look up at the shadow of the earth on the moon, wanting to toss up shadow puppets on the lunar surface: a dog, a rabbit, a bird.

The rats scurry across the park’s paths like jaywalking pedestrians trying to beat a city bus, and New York around us is filled with a gritty, barefoot energy. There are Druids in the streets and “youthing” ceremonies in packed rooms. This eclipse, the fourth of a tetrad, is said to have the power to whisk a physiological year right off your life; it is a time-travel moon, which is appropriate, because sometimes I feel like a time traveller bounding across the years of my own life. The next time there will be a super blood moon in lunar eclipse will be in the year 2033, and I wonder if I will have figured shit out by then. Sketch and I decide: if we are both still doing this in ten more years, we will leave everything and go run away somewhere. To an island, or to the super moon, if it will have us. We pull in and out, like breath, like things that fall, like the fucking tides, like all things that cycle.

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Getting Naked, Love, Recovery, Relationships, Writing

Heads Down, Thumbs Up

images-45 I know that I am a crazy person, because Dig and I are supposed to hook it up on Sunday when he gets back from Fire Island, and when I haven’t heard from him by noon, I am convinced that he fell off the ferry and drowned. He will be found with a half-composed text to me on his phone.  The harbor police will contact me, and I will always wonder What Might Have Been.

“I don’t like this,” I tell a friend. I am returning a pair of purple Timberland hiking boots at Century 21 because no. Sometimes I try to buy things to cram in the man-shaped hole in my life, but I just got my credit card bill from Paris, itemized proof that euros indeed are real money and also that I am an incredibly irresponsible person. I am such a child; every day that I don’t cash in my pension and go buy a bunch of candy with it is a minor miracle. Similarly, my emotional spending is profligate. I don’t like this at all. I want a dimmer switch for my feelings, instead of the toggle I am stuck with. I’d like to dial it down to thirty percent of this craving, this need to talk to Dig and to bask in his attention as he reflects my adorability back at me. It’s too much.

After I’ve gotten my $80 back for the purple hiking boots, Dig texts and I restrain myself, barely, from asking if he fell overboard and then following this up with questions that zombie-Dig would not be able to answer. We shuffle some plans together, and he comes to get me later that afternoon. I still can’t get over the fact that he waits for me beside, not inside, his car.

We have yoga plans and we have dinner plans, but mostly we have plans for him to come over and meet the rabbit, to finally spend the night at my house and have a bunch of sex with me. He packs a bag that is so heavy that as I experimentally hoist it, I wonder out loud what is in it. I will later find out: screwdrivers, a flashlight, a pair of pajama pants, and a big bag of marijuana which he had hoped I would smoke with him.

I get that not everyone understands recovery and my whole abstinence thing, but I am still surprised that someone would bring a bunch of pot into my house without asking. The baggie looks as out of place as chainsaw on my coffee table.

I suspect he wanted me slightly impaired, and I don’t blame him.  It’s always awkward and weird, bringing someone into your house for the first time, knowing that you are about to take your pants off in front of them. It’s not that I mind being naked in front of someone else, it’s that awkward moment of hopping around on one foot, trapped in your outfit. It’s taking off your socks and how your feet are sweaty and there are red sock-lines around your ankles.   It’s seeing another person naked and having to act all blasé, and not be all so THATS what your dick looks like!

When I was five, I was dying to see a naked man. I stalked relatives and drew myself pictures of what I expected a penis would look like. My visualizations were a little off; I got the phallic shape, but I thought it would have rings around it, like a ribbed condom. Also, I did not know what testicles were, so when I pictured a naked man, I envisioned all meat and no potatoes.   This error would persist until my sister and I found a glass in our babysitter’s wet bar that featured a man wearing an old-timey bathing suit that disappeared when you held it up to the sun, revealing his flaccid, heavily-furred anatomy to my deep fascination. Armed with this enhanced understanding, I went to school and told my fellow first-graders that I saw an actual naked man in the girl’s bathroom, describing his penis with terrifying accuracy. This started a complete panic at my school and for the next few years you were only allowed to go to the bathroom with a buddy, which always seemed foolhardy to me. If there was an actual pervert in the school bathroom, wouldn’t he be twice as happy with two first-grade girls?

Anyway, I still love to see naked people, but I always get a stomachache before the first time I get naked with someone, and my stomach starts cramping as soon as we walk into my building.   Dig chuckles nervously as I show him around the three recently-scrubbed rooms where I keep all my shit. I tried so hard to make it look like I’m a normal person who dusts and washes dishes with some degree of care, but when he takes a glass down from the cabinet, it is broken. Everything I own looks ready for a street-rumble. My rabbit chews on the bars of her cage, feral-eyed, but when I release her, she streaks straight under the bed, lodging herself under the place where some truly bad sex is about to go down.

Dig takes his clothes off, and with each item that he removes, I am suddenly, horribly, terrifyingly less attracted to him.  It’s like a magic trick: the Vanishing Lust. By the time he takes his pants off, I know I have made a mistake. But you can’t have someone come upstairs and when they take their clothes off, tell them that you changed your mind. Or maybe you can, but I personally can not. The only way out, it seems, is through.

He is a nice person who wants to please me, but I never noticed just how teeny his hands are until he puts them on me and starts doing his thing.  He asks me if I want to remove my necklace, a tiny brass shovel with my initials engraved in it that I bought myself when my blog turned six-months old. I stubbornly tell him that I never take it off, and as we get it on it digs into my chest, in which my heart is banging like a sneaker in a dryer.

How did I let this happen? My only conclusion is that I clearly have some highly specific form of mental illness. How else can a man look so utterly different to me in the span of just of a few hours?  Just this morning, I was involuntarily hugging myself with excitement, and by moonrise here I am making warding off gestures and feeling like I can’t breathe. Why?? I wish there was some clear explanation I could point to, as I now pedal backwards away from Dig, the stone-cold nicest man I’ve ever made love to. Something is clearly wrong with me. Maybe there is a whole bouquet of tumors in my head, and an MRI could give me the answer. I want Oliver Sacks to take a crack at explaining it for me: the girl who mistook a man for a boyfriend.

Nice or not, Dig doesn’t comment on my naked body, before, during, or after sex; I can’t understand why some men are so taciturn this way. This is like going to someone’s house for dinner and saying fuck-all about the food, indicating that you think it is horrible. Silence gives contempt. I like my body but I know a lot of guys will think I am too skinny, too muscular, too rangy and weird. We sneak looks at each other’s anatomy, poker-faced, mutually pretending this is all no big deal. He puts his clothes on after, and I leave mine off. I’m not attracted to him anymore, but it is still important that he is attracted to me, and I follow him around the apartment naked, persistent as a street vendor. He doesn’t comment. He does not compliment my body, no matter how many different ways I drape it across the furniture like a stolen watch.

What Dig does make a big deal of is my rabbit, getting down on the floor to feed her a piece of kale.   “Her cage could use some cleaning,” he says, drawing a hard look from me. I cleaned the fuck out of this apartment, rabbit enclosure and all, before he came over, but there is still some ground-in chaos here. Down on the floor with the rabbit, he can see all the shit I crammed under the couch.   I would consistently rather read a book then clean out a cabinet, and over time, things start to feel out of control again. I had forgotten how mortifying it is to have people in your house.   You can’t look in things, dude.

Or under them. Under my bed, everything is lined with diatomaceous earth to discourage any colonial bed bugs looking to set up a bed-bug Jamestown under my pillow. Although I swept it up before Dig came over, powder lines the metal bed frame beneath the mattress, and when he bends me over to hit it from behind, white powder goes spraying everywhere, the mattress like a giant atomizer.

If Sketch were here, this would have been comedic fodder for days. We would have tried to make the biggest dust cloud. We would have made dirty snow angels on the floor.   But Sketch is not here, and in the morning, it is still Dig under the blanket with me.

Generally, one of my favorite things about having a man in my bed is waking up hours before him, and then propping myself up against his warm, inert body, while I drink a cup of tea and read a book, tucking my cold feet between his legs.  I wake up in the morning and beside me, Dig’s eyes snap open simultaneously. He is ready for another round of terrible, dusty sex before he will get out of my bed and leave. He has a tendency to jackhammer, and I don’t know what is wrong with me that I can’t just tell him: I don’t like that or you are getting your sweat in my eyes. I say absolutely nothing. What am I going to say? I have been more or less speechless since he took his pants off.   When a man pulls out the smallest penis you have ever seen, there is absolutely nothing you can say. You have to pretend it is ok, or else you are a terrible person. The penis is the teacup elephant in the room.

“How small?” one of my most adorable friends asks, her eyes wide and round.

“Like a crayon.” I am getting ready to return to school, as evidenced by bad dreams and a tendency to compare the size of a man’s anatomy to school supplies.

“Ugh, thumb dick?”

I give her a thumbs-up and a crooked smile, because what else am I supposed to do?   It is the thumbs-up of a driver who has just gotten out of racecar after it barrel-rolls across the speedway and bursts into flames. I am OK, but it is not OK. The whole thing is depressing. I liked him so much right up until last night. Now I am mystified and uncomfortable with myself, and my rabbit seems to be looking at me in a judgey way.

“Hey, I’m learning things over here,” I try to explain. She stretches out in the diatomaceous space under the bed, just out of reach.

This is not just a line to placate my rabbit. I am learning things: how I want to be treated, the questions that I need to ask a man and the questions I need to ask myself. Also, that I am psychic. I called “kitten dick” two weeks ago; in the future, hopefully I will not doubt my own abilities.

He texts me the next morning to wish me a nice first day back at school, and I do not respond, sinking into silence, submerged up to my eyeballs in antediluvian shame. What verb would he use to name me, if our roles were reversed and he was writing this story? Flee, maybe. Or Flake; I am small, and I disappear easily. We hate when men pull this shit, but here I am, two days later, dragging my electronic feet.  Finally I text him, days later, and my text is a mumble of apology and excuse. I thank him for being so nice to me, and say goodbye. Unsurprisingly, I don’t hear back, and I don’t reactivate any of my trusty dating apps. I shouldn’t be dating, the way that blind people shouldn’t be driving cars—this is not to compound their woes, but to protect all the men on the sidewalks.

The first time I had sex with Sketch, he took control of my body like a lifeguard pulling someone out of a riptide. There was no hesitation in this man. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he said. His body all prison-built muscle, his eyes locked hard on mine: I could see, barely, the shine off them in the dark.  There was no part of my body he didn’t examine and comment on. He told me I was built like a lick of flame. Thirteen years ago. I wanted to read his entire life, I wanted to slice into him like a tree and count his rings. I wanted to see his scars and to show him mine.

His body was a delight, all hard angles like a jungle-gym built for me to clamber on, but it was always about his stories, even more than the pure physical perfection of him. Some of them were prison stories, populated by people with names like Lunchbox and Body Parts and Goat Boy, and the lengths men will go to in prison to eat a decent meal, or to extract justice from an unjust universe, or to try to give themselves a blowjob. But sometimes he just told me stories about his commute that day or a conversation he had had with his building super, who showed up wearing a sweatshirt Sketch had just thrown out in the garbage. Sketch was never not the most interesting and intelligent person I had ever met.  

I’ve been looking for some motherfucker that engrossing ever since.

It’s been commented on: Tippy, why do you curse so much in your writing? It’s because FUCK is a bulwark against the encroachment of sentimentality. And maybe this is why I write so much about sex. Because it is easier to rhapsodize about a great orgasm, or hunt for metaphors to describe a recent encounter’s birth-defective penis, than it is to stand here naked and say that I am lonely and scared.

“We’re not going to tease you,” the man who runs my writing group reassures, while I wonder, as ever with every man, what he is getting out of it. I don’t fucking trust it.  And so I write about things the way that a man takes his pants off for the first time, chuckling nervously, trying to act like it’s all no big deal, hoping you will not notice my inadequacies.

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