Addiction, Boys, Breakups, essays, Fantasy, Men, Queens, Want Monster, Writing

The Reformed Werewolves Club

images-78Are you supposed to feel this insecure three months into a new relationship? I guess no one ever looks down until they are halfway up a ladder, and when I chance a look, I feel sick. Because he matters to me now: I eyeball Connecticut, across from my parents at brunch and I wonder I wonder if I look too old for him, and if that is what everyone is thinking, and if it is only a matter of time until he thinks so too, and the whole structure sways vertiginously beneath me.

He meets my family, and at brunch, he gives my parents too much information; they ask how we met, and he launches into the long tale of how he was retired from dating when he met me, had been for a while, and then how things were sort of bumpy at first, and how he had told me on our first night out together that his dentist was hot and from this I had concluded that he wasn’t interested in me.

I can still remember how disappointed I was that first night. That’s how he got the name “Connecticut—“ named after the state he’s from, where people are regular and do not like me. He hates this name, has requested a new one for the purposes of this blog. So far, no dice.

Connecticut is not regular, and he does appear to like me, but still, I never feel like I have a good hold on him. He feels slippery, like any moment he might need to get his teeth cleaned and realize that loving me is a mistake.

With my addict-head thusly jammed up my own ass, I go out to speak at a 12-step meeting in midtown; I was nominated to speak at this fundraiser in October, and there are people there with clipboards sitting in the folding chairs and coffee fug, scoring my story on a rubric. It’s not a good enough story, I know it’s not good enough. It’s ordinary and I stumble over the words. A man with a clipboard makes a notation when I freeze and look at everyone for a long time, forgetting what I’m supposed to be doing and why I am here, my back a run of flop-sweat. When I was little, I was in some performance where I self-consciously pulled my dress up over my head so no one could see me. Stood there hidden, showing my underroos. This feels sort of like that.

When I get home, my apartment smells like grilled vegetables; Connecticut has magically made there be dinner out of the ingredients for dinner in my cabinets. I keep a lot of ingredients in the house, but only he knows how to put them together; left to my own devices, I will eat the same vegan grilled cheese sandwich night after night. While I was out, he hung my mirror; he hooked up my DVD player.

And I don’t know what to do with the certainty that I do not deserve this, any of this. Who sent you? I want to bark. Why are you here? How long, exactly, are you planning to stay?

When I look at him, I feel certain that he will be gone soon. He is like a snowman someone built on my lawn. In June. Inexplicable and temporary. I’m scared to get used to him being there.

Are you supposed to feel this insecure in a new relationship? I do not know. Maybe it’s the thing that keeps me from taking him for granted.

But in the middle of all this fear, I become aware, suddenly aware, of how many other interesting-smelling people there are around.   Deal messages me, letting me know he’ll be in New York soon; I never got the chance to fuck him while I was single and that doesn’t seem entirely fair. Also: I’m going on a field trip today with my students, and one of the chaperones is this sexy divorced father, who I think was waiting until the end of the school year to invite me out for coffee. I go on Facebook and stare forlornly at the long, golden limbs of that hot yoga teacher; she is wearing a bikini, and she is upside down, and she looks delicious.

But I am somehow in a monogamous relationship.

I look at myself in photos on Facebook and think I am unbearably ugly—the way my mouth hangs crooked on its nail, the tendons in my neck taut like rigging. I am old and uneven and I exercise too much. When I feel this way, I usually go looking for someone willing to try to persuade me that I’m wrong. Me, along with a million other girls I see walking around Astoria, all bright lipstick and short skirts and thumb-shaped bruises on our muscular thighs, waiting for someone to tell us we’re pretty enough.

This weekend, Connecticut and I are driving to New Haven, where I will be meeting his family, even though I’m not to be trusted in polite social settings, and even though people from Connecticut don’t like me. It’s a pretty good sign that we’re in something solid. But when he tells me that afterwards, he’s going to drop me back at my place and go home to his, because he’s tired, and is that OK, I tell him that it is. Of course it is.

It’s fine, to be alone on a Saturday night, with incoming text messages that offer me opportunities to feel wanted, to touch and to be touched even if it’s only our emojis that rub up against each other. I’ll be fine. I’m not going to turn into some addict-werewolf that rips her pants off and runs out into the night baying for attention.

Probably. Almost definitely not. I’m pretty sure.

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(Side note: I think it’s impossible for a werewolf-girl to look sexy.  It always looks like a dog in a dress.)

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Addiction, Awkward Moments, essays, Getting Honest, Love, Sex, Social Anxiety, Writing

Junkies Suck at Making Decisions

imgresI go uptown to see Sketch and he is forty minutes late, but still I am infinitely glad to see him.   Every time he walks through the door, it feels like seeing the bus you need, cresting the hill toward your stop, coming to take you out of the cold. Home. He still looks like the way home.

I cling to his neck for a while, but something isn’t right. We go back to his place and have a Szechuan picnic on the rug, hand-pulled noodles and cucumber salads, but that thing is happening with us where the conversation doesn’t come easy. Misunderstandings stick out like briars and sometimes we are both quiet and then we both start talking at the same time. “You go,” he says.   “You first.” One thing about Sketch is that he always lets you talk first. But I keep saying the wrong things; we talk about his brother’s weight loss and recent tattoo choices and I venture the opinion that his brother is foxy now, and Sketch gets irritated. My social-appropriateness filter sucks balls. I don’t know that he’s much better. He tells me about some lame chakra workshop he had to go to today, and he makes me laugh, but all his stories from the week are studded with exotic women’s names, and he tells me about some chick at yoga teacher training who is sexy, and how none of the other girls like her. He was partnered with her this week, and it was, I take it, a gratifying experience for him. I nod with practiced equanimity. Cool. My throat chakra sealed tight.

Sketch is not mine, and he is never going to be mine, not in this lifetime. Connecticut, however? He offers me the pen, and waits to see if I will sign my name on him, claiming him for my greedy self. Awareness of this tilts things right in his favor, and I am thinking about him anytime I stop moving. It feels like love, but this might just be the oxytocin talking.   On Saturday, getting ready to go uptown to see Sketch, I take out my best underwear, consider them for a moment, and then lay them to the side. Saving them for Sunday, for Connecticut. Maybe this is the best indicator of where I am at with all this. How can you tell who you actually want the most when you are involved with two people? Answer: the perfect black silk lingerie gets set aside for the one who matters the most.

We are both gamblers, Connecticut and I. Connecticut is betting that I can change and love only him, and I am betting that he can accept me, broken and hungry and questing. I am gambling that he won’t judge me for still loving my ex, for still being scared to let go, for believing boyfriends are like kidneys; you don’t need two, but it is nice to have a spare for when one inevitably craps out.

Connecticut knows where I am at and he wants me anyway. I go over his house and he applies his naked body to mine for four hours straight until my ears ring with my own cries. In between orgasms, I do some looking around, because you learn a lot of things about a person when you go to their place. He makes things here, cuts glass and carves stone, and there are dead leaves on the kitchen floor that blew in from outside. I see his pajama pants on the floor, and they have Grinches on them, and I am filled with unspeakable tenderness. Waves of oxytocin move me further from shore and I do not care. In bed, he plays me a Tom Waits song on his guitar, laying on his back with me, wild-haired, in the crook of his arm. He doesn’t look at me when he sings and I am glad because I always think that is creepy.

We only get up to shower and dress because I have to go to a late-night 12 step meeting where I promised to share my recovery tale. I’m not drinking, but my footing feels uncertain from too many hours spent in a prone position. I feel better when I face all the other drunks and junkies. At the best of times, these things feel like we’re all gathered around the warmth of the same campfire, and what I end up mostly talking about is the importance of finding at least one person you can be honest with, that you can trust with your shit. And I look at Connecticut and feel feelings.

At least one person. Sometimes you get more than one. But the sexual teeter-totter with Sketch and Connecticut is not going to last forever, me balanced in the middle, smiling at each of them in turn. Eventually one person always bails, and you go crashing to the ground on your ass.

The thing is I don’t have a lot of trust anymore. I don’t trust myself, that I can get through another breakup. In my life, ever. I think it is possible I will just lose my shit, turn to a life of doll collecting or serial killing or poetry writing. And I’m still not sure Connecticut really knows what he is getting himself into here.

Here’s some things he doesn’t know: that I am secretly short-tempered, particularly around copier machines and elevators, that I get horrible stomachaches all the time and need to be left alone to get through them, that once every couple of years I get Bells Palsy and half my face falls further behind, that I think I am ugly and instead of this making me more accepting of physical flaws in others, it makes more likely to notice them. That I care what other people think, and I am selfish and aggressive with getting the last seat on the train or the biggest piece of cake on the tray.

He doesn’t know these things, but I feel like I could maybe tell him eventually and see what he does. With Sketch, I spend a lot of time trying to walk back some ill-considered thing I just said, but Connecticut listens, nods, is still mine. I am selfishly hanging onto both these men, hopelessly indecisive.   A voice in the back of my head announces it is nearly closing time. I am grabbing for whatever I can get with just these two hands, what I can pinch between my knees, what I can hold between my teeth.   My stomach is in a knot, and I want and I want and I want. I want the one that I want, and I also this other one, that I can actually have, and I’m making my way to the door with my arms overflowing.

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Addicted to attention, Addiction, Bad Influences, essays, Sex, Texting, Want Monster, Writing

Return of the Want Monster

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Connecticut is going to IKEA with a friend this evening, and I ask him to please text me pictures of pieces of furniture he would like to do me on. He complies, and then sends me an actual dick pic (not shot at IKEA.   That would be insane). A dick pic! What have I done to this shy person? Just last month he was still hugging me like we needed to save room for a Bible, and now he’s documenting erections and one-upping me on the filth I send him on my lunch hour.

He also sent me a text a few days ago in which he thanks me for reconnecting him to his humanity. I think by humanity he means getting blow jobs, but I am glad that this is working for him and that so far I am not making him miserable. Suddenly, after months of chasing him, he likes me; I can tell he likes me, but it feels like someone just handed me something heavy and valuable and slippery, and I’m nervous.

Getting Connecticut in my bed doesn’t feel like I thought it would. I thought I would finally feel contented; I thought it would be a break from the tireless want that constantly ruins everything like a spoiled child pointing at things in a store and yelling. But this doesn’t feel like contentment. Instead, I feel dizzy and glutted, like if you drank wine with bourbon or ate a fistful of gummy bears with piece of cheesecake. It’s too much sweet. It’s too much.

Also, there are scheduling problems, already. I go to see my parents for the Easter weekend, which just leaves Friday, and this is why it’s tough to really be involved with more than one person. Because sometimes you only have one night free, and then it becomes painfully clear who you like best.

It’s Sketch, it’s always Sketch, Sketch forever.  I go uptown to see him and put my phone on airplane mode so Connecticut can’t text at an inopportune moment, and Sketch and I walk across Central Park to go see the Edvard Munch exhibit at the Neue Gallery. I identify not with “The Scream” but with “Puberty,” Munch’s painting of a round-eyed, naked girl sitting on a bed, an enormous phallic shadow menacing the wall behind her. And walking home Sketch makes me laugh and I can’t stop admiring the way his shoulders fill out the back of his shirt, a back I want to climb up on like a raft, but there is this thing that’s going on in my life now and here we are not talking about it. And it makes me feel far away from him, like his voice is coming at me through a tube. In the morning we will have coffee at City Kitchen with three of his friends, two of whom want to sleep with him. One of the women calls him sweetheart. A long time ago she was the mistress of someone famous; she has the best ass I’ve ever seen. When she tells him goodbye, she tells him that she loves him, and I know I have forfeited any right to be jealous, but I am, and he’s not even sleeping with any of these people, at least not that he’s told me.

He doesn’t belong to me, and I don’t belong to him, and no one belongs to anyone, and I take my phone off airplane mode so I can see what Connecticut has texted me, and I kind of feel better for a moment until I realize that this is what coping looks like.   I am getting enough to get by, but this is not what I pictured for myself, not at all. My friend Jocelyn asks me over dinner, “In an ideal world, who would it be?” Something I am learning is that no one can handle your lack of monogamy, and I’m finding it hard to even talk about Connecticut with people, without feeling sort of apologetic and sheepish.

Time is limited, and energy is limited, and after a long holiday weekend with family I just want Sketch. I change the sheets before he comes over, because someone else has been here, and it’s impossible for this not to make me feel profligate and seedy, and he gets down with me on my new rabbit sheets. Some of the rabbits have sweaters. One is a wearing a scarf. One is turned the wrong way.

Am I turned the wrong way? I’m not even sure what the markers are for the wrong way, but I am being reminded this week that getting what I want is not necessarily the thing that makes me happy. Getting what I want doesn’t stop me from wanting something else, something different.

The next day I have one of those 12 step meetings to go to; I’m impressed that I’ve made it through the last few days without getting into my mother’s Xanax or turning up at some bar with my wallet and my bottomless supply of want, and so I can hardly begrudge the time I have to spend in church basements to make that happen. But because the recovery rooms are basically high school, I’m in a fight with someone there and now I don’t want to go. Connecticut goes with me and sits on my left and my leg drifts in his direction until it finds him, warm, on the other side of my jeans. He found a book of weird John Shirley stories for me at the Strand. It is a specifically thoughtful gesture, precisely the correct gift for me.

The argument rages inside my body about whom I am supposed to love, where I should be spending the energy that I have left, and the most convincing argument for Connecticut is that he is there, showing up next to me when I need him.

And Sketch is far away. The messages I get remind me of the texts I sometimes get from Lovesick, in Paris. Lovesick messages me this week, and we compare the states of high terrorist-alert in our respective cities this week. It’s raining in New York, I tell him. It’s raining in Paris too, he reports.  Sketch sends me a message in between art school and yoga, but when I call him, he does not call me back. It’s a good thing I like his back so much. I can see it now, retreating.

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Alcohol, essays, Rape culture, Recovery, Revenge, Self defense, Writing

Oh Look, It’s Inappropriate Behavior

imgres-19A man walks up to me at a meeting. He is in his sixties, fat, tanned to the color of belt leather, and his nickname is the Mouth because he never shuts up. (A joke I heard recently: what’s a support group for people who talk too much? On-and-on-anonymous) I’m wearing something form-fitting under a loose cardigan, and he opens the sides of my sweater to get a better look, with an “aren’t I just the naughtiest” expression like he is stealing a cookie. Inappropriate goddamn behavior, but I just stand there, frozen. I think I might have whined a single mousy, “Dude, come on, not cool.” But the part of my brain that hits the klaxons when a moment of social awkwardness is impending was evacuating my wits, leaving me to laugh kind of weakly rather than roar my disapproval.

Later, of course, I was furious, not just with him, but with myself. Why? Why is my first reaction a worry that it’s going to be awkward? It should be awkward. If I walked up to a male acquaintance and pulled out the waistband of his pants to get a look at the goods inside, it would be very awkward.

Ten years ago, when I was still drunkenly snorting coke in the bathrooms at 12-step recovery meetings, I met this one slimy asshole at the spot that would one day be my home group, and he scooped my drunk ass up like I was money left on the sidewalk, whisking me back to his place, away from prying eyes. This kind of thing is generally frowned upon by people in recovery, the idea being that you ought to give a person a chance to dry out a little before offering them the opportunity to make some bad decisions for themselves.   People who go for sobriety newcomers are known as “thirteenth steppers,” and no one likes them. I once heard a particularly disgusting specimen of this type remark that you need to “bang them before the hospital bracelet comes off.” These are people that want punching.

I know I made the drunken choice to get in that dickhole’s car, and I know I made it in part because he promised to get me a job and I thought I owed him something, so there’s that.   And, shit, it’s been a decade, but every time I see him—squat, ugly, limping bemulleted– all I can think is how satisfying it would be to hit him with a stop sign. I wish I had, ten years ago. I wish I had said stop, instead of just thinking it really hard at him.

I once heard someone espouse the belief that rape is just a fight that you lost, but it’s such a specifically sucky kind of fight.   It is deeply sucky that someone should be enjoying themselves so utterly, sauntering off all satisfied, while you are left with all the rage (along with its dance-partner, shame. They are tap dancers, those two; you can feel their routine right inside of your rib cage).

Full disclosure: I haven’t had the experiences with trauma and abuse the way so many women I love have.   Through absolutely no virtue of my own, no has one ever knocked out my front teeth or dragged me into some bushes. No one ever slipped me any drugs that I wasn’t already eager to take. What did happen to me: coming to, wasted, in the backseat of a cab with the driver’s hand up my dress, or someone pressuring me into some shady sex and me being young and uncertain of how to get home on my own, or some dick at a meeting opening up my sweater to look at what was underneath. I don’t feel that I have a right to even be upset about these things, because they are not as bad as other women’s shit, and because I have been so complicit in allowing them to happen. A volunteer, not a victim.  Someone who rides her bike with no helmet and breezes the red lights, expecting other people to be careful. Foolish.

Also, the things that have been done to me are so fucking ordinary that they don’t even feel like a story.  The indignities of the patriarchy are as common and clichéd as something really common and clichéd. I have no words for talking about the wearying effects of everyday brutality towards women that haven’t already been used by better writers than myself. So I tend to leave the topic alone, along with other things that I believe are better left in the hands of professionals.

But the fact that the markers of rape culture happen so frequently that they have become a predictable and boring narrative makes it worse.   One in five women walks around with serious sexual trauma, right? Imagine if one out of every five people you knew were victims of amputations. If your chances of reaching middle age with all your limbs intact were less than your chances of, say, rolling a particular number on a die. Try to picture one in five people walking around minus a thumb or a foot or an ear because someone was a drunk asshole in college, or because a random d-bag just really strongly felt it would feel so good if they just removed your leg. This would be a national emergency. Kids would get taught about it in school by anthropomorphic puppets. A task force would be appointed. There would public service announcements about avoiding the chop. But what happens when the victims are mostly girls, and there’s no stump to stare at?

My sponsor, who by virtue of that relationship sometimes feels like the big sister I never had, is celebrating 18 years of being sober this week.   I joke that her sobriety could now buy a pack of cigarettes or a dirty magazine; it could vote. It could go to war. And I go to her anniversary this week, and there he is: my thirteenth-stepper. Still bemulleted and still limping around unsmited. The last time I ran into him at my meeting, I cornered him and I told him: I don’t know how you feel about what went down, but if you want to make it up to me, stay the fuck out of my homegroup. And yet here he is, large as life and twice as ugly. And every time he hails a woman who is my friend, I want to kick him until he is dead.

But I don’t. I pretend he isn’t there, I laugh a little too loudly with my friends, and I lie and tell people he doesn’t bother me, even though he does. Why am I pretending? Why is it so important to my brain to avoid an awkward confrontation? Why does his night get to be easy? Mine sure as shit wasn’t. Why can’t I just once look a man square in the eye without doing that laughing thing that I do when I’m uncomfortable and just say, Get the fuck out of here before I fucking kill you. Walk away or l will leave you to pick up your teeth with your own broken fingers.

You’d think by now I would understand that no one is coming to protect me. No one is going to be more invested in my safety than I am.  Not a sponsor, not a boyfriend.   When I told Sketch about the man who opened up my sweater to look at my tits, he went to go find him and bark on him.   But this was strangely unsatisfying. I took a self-defense class once, and in it, we practiced yelling at invisible attackers. A good yell is a decent defense, or so they tell me. I just hope that next time I can unleash it in time.

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The cloche makes this even awesomer.

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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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Phone Sex, Recovery, Relationships

Landlines

images-4True story: I used to work for a phone sex service, back when I was an undergrad at Rutgers. The business was owned by these two guys who looked like the dudes central casting would send over if you asked for asked for two specimens of the species bro heterosexualis. The year being 1995, their marketing strategy consisted of sending flirty messages to lonely men on one of those proto-internet chatrooms, and then casually suggesting they call our 900 line.  These words probably make no sense to you if you were born after 1990; just try and roll with it.   The way it worked was we ladies got paid by the call, not by the minute. So it made sense to try to get out of these calls as soon as possible, but I always lingered.   Just as I was getting ready to hang up, a man would tell me something about himself: that he collected Hummel figurines or raised scorpions, that he played oboe in a jazz band, that he sometimes had that dream where your teeth fall out for no reason. And I would get interested, in spite of myself.   I knew I was supposed to be more businesslike, to get them off and then get off the phone, but I needed to ask: Why Hummel figurines? Do you like them because they are creepy or in spite of this fact? If you break one, is it filled with razor blades and human hair?

I found it difficult to stay in character, or at least the character the bros had assigned me. My name, according to my phone-sex profile, was Lola and my hair was long and red (That bit wasn’t too far off, I was indeed wearing it hennaed an implausible shade of red that year). And then, like a baseball card, my stats were listed: 36D-24-36. This, of course, was pure fabrication.

Except for when I was eleven and my bitch of a dance teacher yelled out everyone’s measurements to the costume coordinator, I have always given exactly zero fucks about my numbers, preferring the more subjective measurement of how my jeans fit or whether or not I got the attention I craved on the street. I don’t own a scale, and only bother trying to keep my stomach flattish so it won’t throw too much of a wobble in my handstand. I am flat-chested in the extreme, and have never wanted a pair of rubber tits to call my own. I’m lucky; I’m on good terms with my body these days. But for that one summer in 1995, it was kind of fun to pretend I was lugging around these huge tits. I talked differently when I was pretending to have the tits; I felt differently.

I went to work and put in eight hours of phone sex on my twenty-first birthday, and when I went out with some friends for margaritas that night, it was the one time I didn’t get carded. I drank a single anticlimactic cocktail before passing out from dehydration on the walk to the ladies room.  I guess it had been a long hot day of vividly describing imaginary blow-jobs, and I didn’t realize how much it had taken out of me. I fell over, boneless as a sack of flour, taking out a bar-stool, my dress flipping up because even when I’m unconscious, I want to show you my underpants. When I came to, I wasn’t hundred percent sure who I was. The ambulance came, and when they took me out on the gurney I covered my face with the sheet so the people walking by would think they were wheeling out a dead body.

It was that kind of summer; I tried on new identities like hats.   “Lola isn’t here,” I would tell some man down the phone line, my voice all husky and twenty-one. I would invent terrible calamities for her; I would be Lola’s sexually precocious little sister, or her lesbian lover, or her black-veiled nemesis. I would tell stories.

The men paid by the call. Sometimes they had to go, and sometimes they would call back. Sometimes I rubbed one out with them for company; maybe this is why my orgasms to this day tend to be on the loud side. Occupational hazard.

The brothers moved their base of operations from their basement in Piscataway to a warehouse space: lots of big rambling empty offices, painted brothel red. Bean-bag chairs. The phones had the extra long cords so you could drag them into an empty room like umbilici. There was a perpetual after office-hours feel that made me think of hide and go seek. One time I wanted to go smoke some pot with one of the bros, uninterrupted by the phone, and so I took the phone off the hook and forgot about it and for the rest of the night we wondered why no calls came in.

Over the course of the next few months, the drugs got harder until I was off the hook myself. Not “off the hook” like the millennial cliché, off the hook like in the movies where the receiver is on the floor and there’s blood and you can tell that a struggle happened here.   I picked up heroin, and it was like I had kidnapped myself, leaving a badly spelled note patched together out of letters from the newspaper: GiV me YR DruGs or tHE girl DIEs.    But no one paid my ransom, so I quit the phone sex place and waited for people to stop bothering me. I couldn’t bring myself to answer a phone, any phone, anymore, discovering that I deeply and profoundly did not want to talk to another person. For most of my twenties, I didn’t have a phone number you could reach me at; I used someone else’s landline or a bar payphone.  I called my parents collect to let them know I was still alive, usually with some man nuzzling the back of my neck.

More years intervened, and my relationship with the telephone stayed stubbornly dysfunctional. In my early thirties, during the years when I was drinking like someone was holding a stopwatch, I hid my phone from myself so I couldn’t drunkenly pick it up by accident. When it rang, I reacted to it like a bomb or a snake or one of those bombs that bursts into snakes. The voicemail box was consistently full; I didn’t want to hear the worried messages from my mother or the voicemail from some drug dealer that I had lead on to get some Xanax, my favorite palindrome. I sunk deeper into silence, calling myself an introvert when really I just didn’t want to talk because I was completely stoned and I didn’t want to have to think about you.

Then, recovery.  I realize that the transition is abrupt there, but that’s exactly how it feels. It wasn’t like stepping out of a cave, it was like having someone lift the cave off of you, and I panicked in the exposure. Suddenly, there were people calling me. This is the thing that happens; when you come into recovery, everyone wants your phone number, and your phone is suddenly a thing that connects you to other people who know that you are having a rough Tuesday, or that you haven’t been to a meeting in a few days, or that you had a doctor’s appointment and how did that go?  It is a thing. It’s weird.

I started clocking my phone. Sure, the calls from women who gave a shit about me were cool, but my phone was also a direct line to a hit of attention, a text or a message from some dude I met online. When I started online dating, I made the first guy I went out with call me first, believing that I have some sort of Jodi Foster Silence of the Lambs level of psychological acumen that would allow me to deduce if this was a crazy person I was meeting for coffee (note: I do not have that level of psychological acumen and it was indeed a crazy person I was meeting for coffee). I had a hard time remembering that the man on the other end of the line was potentially as much a fabrication as my Lola, 36-24-36 and ready to tell you what you wanted to hear.

Today, my phone is mostly exciting to me because of this blog, and I check it in the mornings the way you would check the underside of the Christmas tree, looking to see if anyone has paid digital attention to me while I was sleeping.   Like everyone else everywhere, I am in my screens.   Except sometimes I need to pretend I’m not. Once a year, I try to go someplace where my phone won’t work, where the messages and emails and Facebook notifications will pile up in drifts like leaves, just to give my voice a break, just to stop talking.   It feels good sometimes to just let the fucking thing ring.

 

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Alcoholism, Attention-Seeking, Bad Influences, Friends, Recovery

“Just Friends” and Other Lines of Shit I’d Like to Sell You: Part II

images-14When I was in the seventh grade, I had no friends.   I’d stand in the cafeteria with my tray, all awkwardness and spare elbows, and try to find the least conspicuous place to slide myself.  Today, I can always spot the kids I teach who are going through this no-friends phase; when I ask what superpower they would want, they always pick invisibility, or flight.  Don’t see me, or let me get the fuck up out of here.  (For the record, the superpower I would pick is shape-shifting: psychic residue from that part of my personality that never could get over being twelve and not looking like Alyssa Milano from Who’s the Boss.)

Friends are the softer-core version of my inner sex addict’s need for constant attention and validation.  During my four-month period of abstinence (stop scoffing, back row, four months is forever when you don’t really feel like anyone really sees you unless they are balls-deep in you), I transferred all my neediness over to my girlfriends.  Once I walked into a 12-step meeting and no one had saved me a seat on my preferred side of the room, and I was fighting back tears for the entire hour.  It’s just not that serious, but it is.  It is.

I had friends when I was using, too, but those are friends on a completely different order.  Cocaine makes scenery-chewing extroverts out of everyone. Of course, things got worse, because that is the invariable narrative arc when you are getting high, and gradually, I had just one friend left: Monique, a stalwart who came and found me when I was sitting in a skanky Wendy’s across from some drug dealer with sores on his face who was plying me with Vicodin and working his hand up the tight leg-hole of my jeans with a zen sort of patience while I sat there stultified in front of a cold hamburger.   She walked me to a meeting and I fell down on the sidewalk.

So, recovery. I made a few more friends.  I learned a little about being truthful and accountable and semi-responsible; not 100% of the time, your birthday card will still be a month late and have peanut butter on it.  But at the very least, I can today be relied on not to steal your wallet and then help you look for it, or to try to sit in your boyfriend’s lap when you disappear into the kitchen.

Boyfriend’s friends, however, have always been a source of sexual fascination, and that hasn’t totally gone away yet.    I don’t know why.

Sketch’s friends were no exception, and for a time, if we were going out with his friends, I always put on extra mascara and something where you could see my belly-button.

One of the things I love about Sketch: he never hit on my friends in return. Never. When I was younger and more accepting of bullshit, I had boyfriends who were obsessed with my friends; in college, my boyfriend Bummer was mad-dog obsessed with my friend Karly.   Karly was this hot hippie chick with dirty-blond hair and a languorous manner of rolling joints that drove him crazy. She was one of the best people I have ever known; when I was heartbroken over a girl in my program whom I was madly in love with, Karly came over and had sex with me. It was basically the only thing that got me through finals.

Bummer was pissed that he had missed out on the girl-action, and he kept needling me for details. He stole a photo of her from me and kept it in his desk. Eventually, Bummer conned her into some crummy aconsentual sex, while she was really freaking high on Qualudes. I was passed out snoring on the carpet a few feet away while the cats walked daintily around me.

What the two-legged in the house were mostly about that summer was drugs. We had a friend who was studying veterinarian medicine, and somehow this qualified him to fill up a nitrous tank the whole gang of us would sit around, assassinating brain cells, our lips and fingernails turning blue. (I believe this is the reason why I can not figure out how to resize the header on my blog correctly. My beautiful wizard of a roommate finally did it for me.) Bummer and I were living in a basement apartment on Easton Avenue, behind the frat houses, and sometimes a drunk frat boy would stand pissing against the side of the building in the parking lot and urine would arc into my livingroom through the open street-level window. I was nineteen, the perfect age for accepting the unacceptable with a jaded, drug-wearied shrug.

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I have this exact hat, minus the power to levitate it.

I just accepted that Karly was hotter than me, but then, all my friends were hotter than me. I picked hot friends. I walked around reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, aping its romantic cynicism.   So when I went by Karly’s boyfriend’s dorm, and he wanted to fuck me, I swore I was just showing off my refusal to take anything too seriously. I loved Karly, and she was one of the most caring and compassionate friends I have ever had, but I needed the hit of validation from her skinny boyfriend more than I needed to honor our friendship, and so I did.

Plus, I figured she would never actually find out. But right after it was over, the guy had an attack of conscience and he was all “you need to leave so I can go tell Karly what happened.” Unwilling to relinquish narrative control, I ran along behind his car, but he put on speed and lost me. I caught up an hour later, his car parked on Karly’s lawn with the fervor of confession. I rang and rang the bell and yelled, but nobody answered.

I came back the next day with homemade rice krispy treats, which I had decided was the dessert that took a properly contrite tone, and she opened her door to me standing there weeping and bearing the tray.   “You don’t even know what you’re doing, do you?” she sighed, with more compassion and empathy at twenty than I can muster at twice that age. She hugged me and let me cry it out, eating her rice krispy treats through my tears and making the whole thing about me. Of course, after that, she gradually put some distance between us, and I was to some extent relieved, for it meant I didn’t have to deal with Bummer’s obsession with her, nor my own guilt.

Her boyfriend called me up, once, maybe a year later. He and Karly had broken up, and he asked if I wanted to go over his friend’s house and get high. His friend turned out to be Domenick, who I would be instantly and completely addicted to, and who would introduce me to the wonderful world of heroin.

It’s funny how unbroken the chain of bad decisions is, and how much of it was started by the need for someone to think I was as desirable as my cute friend. It’s a butterfly effect of petty need toppling an entire life.

I also still kind of blame Milan Kundera, too.   Books can be really bad influences on me, like when I was ten and I wrote my name on my bedroom wall because Anastasia did it in that book where Anastasia is moving to a new house.

Today, I legitimately have a lot of friends.  Most of them know who I really am, even the super sweet ones from school or yoga who have probably never in their lives done a big pile of coke while watching interracial gang-bang porn as the sun comes depressingly up.  I send them links to this TMI-y blog anyway.

I haven’t made any blogging friends yet.  I keep hearing about a “blogging-community,” and I read other people’s stuff (to have a friend you have to be a friend, my mother would say) and leave comments I hope are endearing, but so far, I am still shifting around hopefully with my metaphorical lunch tray, a tray loaded with drug and dildo references, looking for people to get me.

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