Addiction, Bringing Yourself, Confessions, dating, essays, Sex, Travel

Brace Yourself For Impact

FullSizeRender-19This is the week I realized, with the dawning horror one feels when one has left one’s wallet in the backseat of a hastily departing taxi, that I am in love with Connecticut.

He doesn’t know that I love him. I hadn’t noticed it myself until a few days ago. A friend of mine, hosting a fundraiser in Astoria chockablock with attractive weirdos, asked me to read a piece from the blog as part of the event. Normally, this would be a cherished opportunity to try to speak my filthiest lines directly at the cutest person in the room, but instead I invite Connecticut to come along to hear me. I contemplate reading something about him, because it would be sort of easier to tell him that I love him through a microphone with a bunch of people around; I could be offhanded about it, love with padding.

But I back down at the last moment, and read something from the archives, making conspiratorial eye contact with everyone except Connecticut. The piece is about someone I really liked—until I didn’t like him anymore. This is the thing that scares me: I don’t trust my own feelings, which blow around like garbage in the street, like plastic bags, ghosts of last week’s groceries wrapping themselves indiscriminately around people and tree branches and utility poles alike. I love Connecticut now, but what happens when the wind changes direction?

So I can’t tell him, but it feels good to stage whisper at you guys, I LOVE HIM. Sometimes I text it to him at times when I know the text will not go through. If the subway was to reemerge into daylight and restore my broadband access unexpectedly, all would be lost.

I ask him, Does it freak you out that I write about you? He answers that he is happy to let me blog in private, trusting me not to write anything that would hurt him. He tells me he loves that I have something that I love. And when I stand at the microphone and read about another man putting the dick to me, I chance a quick look in Connecticut’s direction, and he is laughing along with everyone else. And that is when I know that I love him.

That night I go back to his house, and for the first time, I am able to sleep next to him. We are like two porcupines, so bristling with defenses that it is amazing they can possibly find a way to make more of themselves, yet somehow Connecticut and I have managed to line up our soft, vulnerable underbellies. You’re safe here, he tells me. Sometimes when he talks to me like this, I have to duck my chin like a child confessing to a lie. It’s honesty, not deception, that makes unable to look him in the eye.

He drives me to the airport the next day, just like a real boyfriend. My rabbit is in a cage in his backseat, staying with him for the week. It’s hard to let him drive away without saying anything. “I love you,” I say to the rabbit in the backseat, but really secretly to Connecticut. I kiss him goodbye a little sloppily; the car is triple-parked.

On the plane, there is a video that shows how to prepare for an emergency. Remove any sharp objects from your pocket. Take off your high heeled shoes. Hug your knees and brace for impact. Relationships should come with some emergency instructions too, illuminated arrows to show you which way to go. A stewardess, unencumbered by high-heeled shoes or sharp objects, would tell you which things around you float.

On the plane, there is a handsome black man in the seat next to me; his pecs and biceps fill out his t-shirt exactly the way that I like. But I do not chat him up. I let him have the armrest.   I land in Athens, a city where new things are built around the ruins of the old, and I relate to it. Athens knows it’s OK to cling a little to your past. Your past is important. She puts plexiglass around it, to protect it from the people coming out of the Starbucks next door, and goes about her business. Ten minutes from the Acropolis I pass a sex-video shop, and the monitor in the window is playing a cooking show; langoustines have never looked so dirty.

Everywhere here are men with smiles full of white teeth, and dark, soulful eyes, and beards, and no jobs.  Precisely the kind of men that make my knees part. Normally I would have tried to cram two or three into my vagina by now. But I am thinking about Connecticut, and whether I will tell him that I love him, and how that changes things. I even fly to Lesbos without referencing lesbians every eleven seconds. On the island, the rush of attention from some gorgeous Greek soldiers, any of whom I would ordinarily want to break international laws for, is enough to wake me from a jet-lagged stupor when my friend and I stop to ask them for directions. But it’s not enough to shake me out of loving Connecticut.

It’s fucked up.

I get a long-distance text from Sketch; he’s graduating from yoga teacher training this week, and he has some work in a show. He sends me a picture of himself, standing in front of a drawing of a woman with a flower in her hair. It is beautiful. He is beautiful. And still I love Connecticut.

I want to be like Athens: preserve my ruins, and build around them. Whatever Connecticut will end up being to me, he will not be what Sketch was, and that’s probably a good thing. I don’t need to take all the worry beads out of Sketch’s jar and dump them into Connecticut’s.

When I get back, we should talk about us as an Us, I text him, and then want to grab it back, but it’s already gone. Too late. I drive past goat farms and olive groves, the landscape choked with wildflowers, and I think about Connecticut telling me, I’ve got you. You are safe.

What the fuck would happen if I had a functioning adult relationship where all my needs were being met? More importantly, what the fuck would I write about?

No idea. Maybe I’ll finally start that blog about bathrooms from around the world. I am riveted by weird public restrooms, like the one in the airport in Bolivia that had one giant communal roll of toilet paper outside the stalls.

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Why is the toilet inside the shower, Greece?  Everyone pees in the shower, but you don’t need to be so obvious about it.

I came to this island to try to do Something Good, to think less about myself.  To clean up the beach and try to clean up my karma a little.  To sort supplies for the Syrian refugees and try to sort myself out.  My friend and I buy 300 pairs of women’s underwear for the refugee camp in Moria, because clean underwear is in desperately short supply. The soldiers won’t let us past the first checkpoint, but they accept the panties smiling handsomely, promising to deliver them for us.

And it doesn’t help. It reminds me of my self-centeredness without alleviating any of it. Molyvos, where I’m writing this, is beautiful, but I can’t leave myself on another shore, as badly as I want to. I think about Connecticut, and I silently count all the sharp objects.   I love him uncomfortably, and with five thousand miles between us, I hug my knees, bracing for impact.

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Lesbos.  It is nice and you should come here.

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dating, Notdating, Photography, Travel, Writing

Skinny: A Love Story

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Much like me, it only looks wasted and barren

Sketch’s cat is dying.  It’s down to a couple of pounds and it feels like a sock filled with radio dials, all claws and bones and bulging eyes.  “He’s OK,” Sketch insists.  He loves this cat, carries it purring around his studio.  It likes to be hoisted by its scruff, limp as a chamois cloth, all its toes spread wide and its black fur sticking out at odd angles.   You wouldn’t think anyone could love something so ugly; it gives me hope.

“Maybe you should take him to the vet.  He’s too skinny.”

“No, he’s OK.”  He gathers the cat protectively into his body, where it blinks at me, probably 90% tumor.  “I don’t want to think about what I would do without this guy.”

This is not my cat, but it has kept me separated from a solid night of sleep for the last thirteen years so I’m not uninvested.   When I first met Sketch, his cats were kittens, one black, one white, both determined to make sure the other never got to eat from the bowl.  The black cat ate a bunch of thread once, when I left a spool on the coffee table, and it needed six hours of surgery to remove it and I think it still holds it against me.  They call them string cats, which sounds like a children’s toy or a physics theory; Sketch’s cat is a survivor.

We are not, it seems, going to own up to everything that is true here.  It’s OK.  Sketch loves me, the way he loves this dying cat.  He likes to carry me around too.   We have a bunch of the kind of sex we both like and I sleep right at the edge of the mattress, encouraging the cat to go sleep on Sketch’s side of the bed because it keeps waking me up, pacing the margins of my pillow like a prison guard.  I dream that Sketch and I are flying to Australia, and I wake up feeling argumentative and dissatisfied; even asleep I have to admit to myself that as much as I love him, I prefer to travel by myself, to get to be in entirely in charge of the agenda and to make my mistakes in private.  If I want to join a wallaby gang, I will join a wallaby gang (I think their initiation rites involve a lot of hugging).images-61

So here it is: I am a sex and love addict who also needs to be free and alone.  The happiest times of my life, when I have felt most perfectly myself, have been when I’m off exploring on my own, or when I’m sitting at my computer at six in the morning, before anyone is up.  I like to be alone.  I don’t know why this is hitting me with the force of revelation this week, but it is hugely comforting to just admit out loud that I’m single because I want to be.

Or maybe it’s because I finally printed out a copy of my book; seeing it unspool from the printer unpacks something in me, looking with my fists balled under my chin at this thing that I made.  It makes me laugh: the manuscript is as thick as a phone book, one where you can find the numbers and advertisements for all the people I have loved and the hostages I have taken. Its bulk reminds me of being at Columbia and how my graduate thesis was twenty times longer than anyone else’s, and how humiliating that was, but how it was too late to do anything about it but drop it on the pile like a bomb in a backpack and walk off quickly with my head down.

I message Michael Cunningham, once my thesis advisor, on Facebook, to apologize for being so lame all those years ago.  He assures me that no time was wasted. I want to paste that up on the book jacket. No time was wasted.

I haven’t wasted my time.  I’ve spent it, exactly the way I needed to, exactly as I was always meant to.   I was always meant to wind up here, sitting naked in Sketch’s rocking chair with his computer, with him but still contentedly alone, working, listening to him snore softly.  Nothing distracts me.   I will have to show him the book soon, and I wonder if it will be like revealing that I have a tail or am secretly Portugese.  Will he read what I have written and wonder: how could I have gone all this time and not known these things about her?

There is a scrawny cat, pawing at my ankle the way you would tap someone on the shoulder, looking for attention, hungry. I run my hand along its vertebrae. What do I know? Maybe Sketch’s cat is not dying, or at least maybe it isn’t dying soon. Maybe it is just supposed to be skinny.

 

 

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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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Addiction, Closer Examination, Love, Personal Ecosystems, Travel, Writing

All Bodies Are Time Travelers, Part I

imgres-18On Friday, flattened from work, I lay on the couch with a headache, halfheartedly texting the Roman. I want to see you, I write, and then add: Sometime. I am hungry for touch, but not hungry enough to shower over it. I can’t tell if this is progress or depression.

Anyway, I’m fairly certain that the Roman gave me a bacterial infection the last time we got it on. I went to my smoking-hot gynecologist yesterday, and she told me that men should be washing their hands and brushing their teeth before they apply these parts of themselves to the resounding need between my legs.   It sort of seems like it would kill the moment, to tell some guy, I want you to go down on me, but I need you to floss first. Speaking of floss, she also told me you can get a vaginal infection from a thong. So apparently everything is trying to kill my vagina.

“The mouth and the genitals are the most bacteria-laden places on the human body,” my gorgeous gynecologist tells me, inviting me to scootch down.   “You put those together and you create a whole new ecosystem.” My ecosystem. I like that. I want my ecosystem to have poison frogs and like maybe flying kangaroos. It’s a great, tropical-sounding word, like I’m carrying around a whole other planet within me.

She asks me questions about Sketch, while doing the pelvic exam. These sort of questions, difficult to answer at the best of times, are impossible with someone swabbing at your internal cogs, and I make bland, noncommittal noises.   I texted Sketch last night, and got no reply. Now it’s Friday, and he has more energy than I do, so he’s probably off somewhere bounding around with some Tinderella, while I look at the blank face of my silent phone, baffled and disheartened.

My roommate comes home and I pounce on her, eager for company. “You should enjoy your own company,” she suggests. And I do; there was a bath and a facial, accompanied by the steamy piano music I love, and some vegan dinner (the more I am alone the more I want to be a hard little kernel of a person; my friend Vera warns me: “You don’t want to become one of those women where it’s like fucking a bicycle frame”). I eat on the couch while watching Cosmos, where the host, Neil Degrasse Tyson, reassures me that the Halley’s comet that last swung around when I was in sixth grade will perambulate back for a second visit when I am in my eighties. I love that these things move in predictable circles. Miss it the first time and you might catch it the second time around. It takes a lot of the pressure off, as Sketch and I cycle once more in and out of togetherness.

There was one other man I did this dance with. I called him Monster in the spirit of one of those adorable plush creatures with striped horns from a Maurice Sendak book. Let the wild rumpus begin!  He had espresso colored eyes and thick black curly hair, alighting my passion for Italian men and their hair. From Monster, I got my first orgasmic sex and, also, an introduction to heroin.

But I was mostly impressed with the orgasms.   No one had ever given me an orgasm; orgasms were something I gave myself when no one else was looking, or things that I cleverly faked with a lot of scenery-chewing and writhing around. But with Monster, it was as easy as falling. After he came up from between my thighs, I stared at him like he was a magician, and then we got high.

I didn’t so much move in with him as I sort of came over one day and then forgot to ever leave. It was a basement apartment on Laurel Street in New Brunswick, about fifteen brisk minutes on foot from campus, past a long gauntlet of bars I was newly entitled to drink in. Monster didn’t like me drinking in bars, didn’t like me drinking, full stop. “I think you have a problem with alcohol,” he suggested, passing me the mirror and the straw. Drinking was a thing I did, out, with other people. Getting high was a thing I did with him, and naturally he favored nurturing my fledgling habit, which seasoned dope-fiends kind of sweetly call a chippie. A chippie: it sounds like a children’s snack but is actually the place where you watch all your principles and self-respect begin to vanish.

I don’t know why hard-drug connoisseurs like a mirror with their powdered recreational substance of choice. That is a whole lot of your face to confront with a tube protruding from your nostril like a proboscis. It was my senior year, and I don’t know how I sold myself the story that this was all playful experimentation, but somehow I managed. Monster and I graduated to needles in the spring, and I had my first overdose that summer. Monster and his ex-girlfriend, a gorgeous girl we were both sleeping with at the time, had to carry me out to the car, convulsing.   I came to on the drive to the emergency room as he leaned on the horn, blowing through red lights at six in the morning. Who the fuck is honking at us? I croaked grouchily from the back seat, where someone was cradling my head. I was annoyed. I had been having a dream.

Monster cried, and his ex-girlfriend made me promise that I wouldn’t use anymore.   I promised, and I meant it, the way you always mean promises.   It’s the sincerity of promises that always astonishes me, and how transitory they are. Monster went home to get rid of what was left, and he was gone for a suspiciously long time. His ex-girlfriend stayed and held my hand, while professionals came in and said judgey things. I tried to stonewall, but she wouldn’t let me, telling the doctor exactly what I had been up to while I tried to signal ixnay to her with my eyes. I never trust doctors.

“What should we do for her?” she asked the doctor.

“How about don’t let her do any more cocaine or heroin?” the doctor said snippily.

“I love you,” she told me when he went away to dispense medical judgment on someone else’s lifestyle choices. “Please stop. I don’t want you to die.”

“I will,” I promised. It was all very teary and heartfelt, and I meant it until the next time I wanted to get high.   After that day, I wouldn’t see her again until Monster’s funeral. He had less than a year to live.

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(Part II will be up in a day or two.  Over two-thousand words really seemed like it was pushing your patience.  How long, exactly is TLTR??  Uncertain.  But on another note, just wanted to take a moment to give a shout-out to RAGE readings in Astoria.  Amazing.  You are my favorites.)

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dating, Love, New York, Photography, Reading Series, Travel, Writing

The Middle Spot

In-BetweenAfter months of it being easy, I’ve been struggling to write. Everything coming out of this keyboard right now sounds like a lie or like an excuse, like some bullshit you would offer if you were stalling for time. Partially this is because the blog has recently been subjected to some unexpected scrutiny, and as I live the kind of life that pairs the psychotic questions, Why won’t you look at me with what the fuck are you staring at, I’ve been left feeling paranoid and stalled. I’m stuck in the in-between space, like some embarrassing item hastily crammed halfway between the couch and the wall when guests arrive. Ask me how I am and I panic.

It’s easier to report on what I’m doing than how I’m doing, and what I’m doing is thinking about Sketch a lot. Last night I talked to him for an hour, our conversation once more a vast web of in-jokes and private references, allusions, pronunciations of words regional to the two of us. It is deeply and profoundly comforting to talk to him, although we resolve nothing. I can’t even report this conversation to my friends, because it will go like this:

Me: I talked to Sketch last night.

Well-Intentioned Friend: What did you talk about?

Me: …

What did we talk about? I have no idea. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention, it’s just that it wasn’t the kind of conversation you can synopsize, at least not with any degree of honesty.

Our only plan for going forward is to have a weekly thing that we do together, something other than sex, although that is the thing that I want to do with Sketch most: to go home with him and have him pound me flat. I miss the tone of voice he uses when he talks to me in bed, low and inarguable, telling me things to do. I miss the taste of the inside of his mouth.

Instead, we’re supposed to come up with a weekly shared activity, and I’m pushing for some kind of do-goodery. I can picture us cutting carrots side by side to feed the homeless, or walking a pack of worm-riddled dogs for an animal shelter. Even if we can’t figure our shit out, at least we’d be doing something.   We need a task, something to keep us focused. We need a goal: I idly entertain the idea that we could train for something together. A marathon, or a swim across the Hudson, a dance competition.

“So, you’re back together?” people keep asking, trying gamely to follow along. We are not back together, I explain patiently, we’re just sort of talking again, sometimes. This is the in-between place, and I stand shifting in front of my phone with time to kill.

Squeeze, the adorable man I met in Paris, finally made it to New York, and he and I exchange a brief, painfully polite volley of texts before he lapses into silence. Although this makes my life easier, I hate the way I find myself justifying and making excuses for his disappearance. He just moved here, he must be really busy. Or maybe he still has jetlag. Or probably something happened to his phone. I make a big show of telling people that I am awesome with rejection, and I appear to be because I court it so avidly, but in reality, I draw the same conclusions every other woman on the planet does: the adorable man did not text me back because I am inherently unlovable and will never have a partner who will give me what I need because I am not pretty enough.

Rejection doesn’t feel great, and in this sticky environment inappropriate crushes flourish like bacteria. A man I work with, or men the generation beneath me, or someone else’s boyfriend are all fair game.

Someone else’s boyfriend always looks better from the outside of the relationship: planning a surprise for you, doing your chores, showing up at the sort of social engagements I have to weather alone.   Flowers bloom on your desk, and I see them on Facebook. You don’t report the other things, the fights and the misunderstandings, the frustration of being tied to another person who doesn’t do exactly what you want every single hour of the day. I only see the ice sculpture your boyfriend carved you for your birthday. And I am jealous.

I have to watch myself around these boyfriends, because I want to get in close. I wouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend, not unless you were into it and maybe not even then. But I get in too close.  You have your arms around each other and I am trying to insinuate myself in the middle where it’s warmest. Some of the affection might fall in this direction, or I might learn how you manage to make it work with a person without breaking up every ten seconds because you both think there might be something better just over the horizon.

I have to watch myself, because these days I am starved for attention. I get asked to participate at a reading series in Queens next week, and I knock my chair over in the rush to email back YES, YES to have the chance to hear someone say my name and maybe clap. And then, yes, because I am crazy person, and because I want more, and because I have the insatiable need to know and to be known, I invite Sketch to come too. He agrees to come and hear some of these things that I have written about him, and I hope that maybe after we will know some new things, or at least I will be closer to one side or the other. I overthink everything: the things I write, the words that have already come out of my mouth, the ways I love. At some point, the only thing left to do is to pick a direction at random and head for it like it’s the right one.

 

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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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