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

Still Addicted: The “Ex” in Sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He will never forgive me.

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

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

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

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Fighting, Men, Relationships, Sex Addiction

Fighting Words, Saving Face

images-17In any relationship, only one person gets to be Batman. There is only one alpha dog and, with Sketch, I am not it.  It’s just easier to cede territory; I have never been a confrontational person, and my favorite rhetorical strategy for winning an argument is to never speak to you again.   In this round with Sketch, I am lowering my chin and retreating into that familiar silence.  From this, I hope he will deduce that he is being mean when he gets mad at me for canceling dinner plans.  His horrible cat joins in the nocturnal bullying, pushing at my headphones with a paw while I am trying to listen to ambient noise (my favorite track is the dishwasher, with clothes dryer a close second.  I’m not sure what it says about my personality that I prefer the sound of large domestic appliances to an ocean or a campfire or some shit).

Now I am waiting for him to get over it, a patient monk-like expression on my face.  The problem is I want to check in every fifteen seconds.  Are you still mad?  How about now?  How about NOW?  This must be more infuriating than the original infraction, but I can not help myself.

Complicating things a bit is my love of punishment: the sound of Sketch pulling his belt through the loops of his pants undoes some latch deep inside me.  Does the meaning of the recreational ass-beating change when he is pissed because I’m unable to keep dinner plans with some of his friends at fucking Pio Pio Rio on Sunday?   I can’t figure it out.  All I know is that when his hands are on me I fucking dig it, and I am completely into this man, and this is the one time when I feel completely and utterly in the moment.

But afterwards, he is still mad at me.  The cartoon me would have a frown and two big question marks overhead.  Deduction: amazing sex does not buy me out of trouble.  I want to say something, but my jaw feels painted shut.  In the night, his horrible cat pops a single claw like a hypodermic needle through the soft, vulnerable underside of my foot, and he is irritated when my yelp startles him awake.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a say in this relationship, which is probably why I need to get up in the morning, after a night of not sleeping in the smoke and in the cats, to lay the words down for my side with a purr of animal relief.

I try to just keep moving. When I am walking around New York, I sometimes put my foot into invisible holes; one minute, upright, and the next on the sidewalk. My relationship has these hazards too. I don’t understand what I’ve done this week, but I seem to be in time-out. Vaguely disappointed in me about something, Sketch is showing some work this week at his studio, and I somehow get uninvited from the opening. I wonder if it’s because I look weird. My face is still bearing a hard left, a result of a recent bout with Bell’s Palsy that leaves me smirkier than usual. I ask him what he is upset about, but it seems he doesn’t want to give me a talking-to while my range of facial expressions is so limited.   I find I am smiling less, and that this is not a bad thing—I only smile when I really want to, for a change.

The newly paralyzed side of my face is curiously unlined; it would look like pretty badass Botox if only both sides matched. I wear my hair over one half, like a burn victim, and peep out from behind the curtain. My friend Dawn tells me that the people who say it is not noticeable are fucking lying to me, and I appreciate the candor, rethinking my plans to go to some party where that boxing match is being shown. I decide to go anyway, and sit next to a neurologist from Cornell who serves as the fight doctor when they happen here in New York. He tells me about the correlation between yoga and brain injuries, and I feed bits of cracker into the working side of my mouth, wondering if this is something else I’ve done to myself.

I watch men onscreen punishing each other, their faces wet and glove-burned. One man has his shorts up higher than the other; after a certain point, you may as well cut eyeholes in the waistband and call them all low-blows. I have no idea what I am watching, and go sit down next to an attractive curly-haired man who explains things to me. When I lean forward for my seltzer, he puts his hand briefly on the bare place where my shirt rides up my rib-cage, and I feel that Vegas thrill in the part of my brain that needs attention, that needs to be touched. I settle in closer to him, and we watch the fight and trade bits of snark, his hand on my leg. Tom Brady is sitting ringside, and his head looks three times larger than anyone else’s.  Some people just have punchable faces.

I’m not supposed to be doing any of this; I know I’m just upset because Sketch is being distant, and that the fantasy of new sex feels better than the reality of handling the problems with the one I’ve got. My face hurts when I talk about this relationship, I want to tell him. I can’t just smile my way through it; all I’m packing is this half-smirk.

All Sketch and I do this week is pummel one another, and all I want to do is wrap my legs around this curly-haired stranger.   I am tired of Being Good.   I am tired of keeping score. I just want to throw a chair at somebody, grab for down low.

But you can’t escape who you are. I fold myself in close to the curly-haired man when I hug him goodbye, but leave on my own. I will lay awake in bed when I get home, feeling my bruises; I had acupuncture today, although I am coming to suspect that integrative medicine is bullshit. Fix me, I yell to the East and to the West. East and West retreat to their corners, leaving me in the middle making promises to myself that I will learn to swing, wondering what the over/under is on saving what’s left of my face.

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Drew Barrymore, circa my bisexual years. God, I loved this picture when I was twenty.

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