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.

Addiction, Breakups, dating


Because my love life is a series of concentric circles, like Dante’s vision of hell or the spirals in the eyeballs of the recently hypnotized, I find Kick again and am immediately reinfected with lust for his attention.  The more he holds back, the more I want to bite down on his leg and not let go; it worries me, how much I love to be eluded.

We go to see the new Lars von Trier movie, Nymphomaniac.  When he hugs me good-bye, I cling to his neck to smell him.  The smell of him is not entirely pleasant—a mash-up of man and improperly dried towels, but I love it and I stand on the corner huffing him.  We meet again a few weeks later, and I am humming like a high tension wire; Nymphomaniac II this time.  I am ready for a sequel.  We stand outside the Cornelius Street Bakery, after another dinner we go dutch for, and I tell him: I want you.  Take me home and burn me to the ground.  (In the film of my life, there should be a swell of German industrial music behind me here).  I have never wanted anything, or anyone, as badly as I want this man at this precise moment.  My hands are on him, his hands are on me, we ride the subway like teenagers: one seat.  Back at my place, I have a half dozen orgasms, the sheets and pillows fall into the widening gap between the bed and the wall.  It is amazing, but when it’s over, I find myself looking at the clock and the door again.   When he looks at me and proclaims, “We’re back!”  I feel the panic lift in my chest like a flock of birds.

I am determined to ride this one out with the handbrake on, even after I smell the burning.  I feel panicky when I wake up in the morning, not that he will be gone, but that he will still be there.  But I can’t keep my hands off him, I can’t stop wanting to give him things.  Even as I search for the exit, I want to tell him all my secrets; I want to give him both my kidneys.

He goes through his own shit, legal machinations he will spend hours telling me all about, his anger exploding in nine directions when he fucks me.  He wraps his hands around my neck so hard it leaves stranglemarks, my back and my legs are bruised, he scratches my vocal cords shoving parts of himself down my throat.   I display my battlewounds and wait for a rescue.   I imagine Sketch coming in swinging.

I squint harder and call him my boyfriend, but it’s always with italics, like a foreign word. I bring him to the Astoria carnival to meet my friends, where he complains about the cost of things and is just generally weird and awkward and embarrassing.  I crack jokes that Sketch would have run with, and Kick stares at me with incomprehension.  If there is a title for this tableaux we frozen in, it would be What the Fuck are You Talking About?  And then he comes home too depressed to fuck, and I know that this is the choice I have made, but I could leave at anytime, so I do not leave.

Meanwhile: Sketch and I have decided not to talk or text until Halloween.  It is now June.  Letters, we decide .  We can still send letters.  He has a new girl, someone named Kim.  I hope she’s nice to him.

I get bed bugs, a social disease in New York City that involves hauling everything you own down the block to the Laundromat and no one wanting to let you in their house.  The exterminator comes, and everything is sprayed with toxic powder.  I take a picture of the powder-bestrewn entrance way and send it to my roommate with the tagline, “First you get the bugs, then you get the powder, then you get the women,” but she has never seen Scarface.  I wish Sketch was around; it’s an allusion he would have appreciated.  No one can live here for awhile, and so I exile myself, Elba-style, to the Upper West Side to Kick’s neighborhood.

Kick’s neighborhood is also Sketch’s neighborhood, and I haunt Sketch’s favorite restaurants like a friendly but stalkerish ghost, hoping for a glimpse of him.  I don’t see him, but he sees me and Kick go traipsing past one afternoon; he is seated behind a menu board, camouflaged.  Kick is pushing me on his bicycle down the sidewalk.  I am wearing heels and a short skirt and I’m laughing.  No one who looked at us would know that he and I would argue that night until daybreak, or that I would look at him across the dinner table as he challenged my pronunciation of the word “offal” and want to stab him right in the neck with my fish-fork.  (He was right, by the way.  It is pronounced the same as “awful.”  This seems an unfortunate coincidence for the guys in suits trying to market organ meats to Americans.  Fucking offal, dude.)

Kick lives on Central Park West, across from the North Woods.  I find a spot called the Children’s Glade, where my pet rabbit can frolic in mad circles while I keep my eyes peeled for hawks and dogs.  Kick steps over the fence and into the prickers to forage around for blackberries for the bunny and me; he returns bleeding, his hands purple and brimming.  When he goes to put one in my mouth, he jams his finger in hard, and I laugh it off—I am developing this hey-I’m-in-on-the-joke-too laugh around him that reminds me, depressingly, of the particularly bullied seventh graders at the school where I teach.

I bring waterguns to the park the day he has to make his first, deeply-resented child-support payment, hoping to give him an outlet for his frustration, and I give him the good, battery-powered Supersoaker, keeping the pea-shooter for myself.  I know it will make him feel good to beat me at something.  He’s in a contentious mood; he grills me over my use of the word atavistic (context: “I have an atavistic response to cockroaches”) before conceding I may have used it correctly.  I’m used to throwing my vocabulary-weight around without being questioned, and it is this as much as anything that has me smiling at him while wanting to punch him right in the teeth.   He chases me down, jams his watergun down the back of my shorts and holds the trigger while I laugh, genuinely this time.

I enjoy walking into the fancy-pants lobby of his building dripping into my sneakers and carrying a sodden rabbit.  Rich people with no problems breeze past.  None of these people look like New Yorkers.

Despite the glamour of the lobby, inside Kick’s apartment, I am living in someone else’s despair.  He is a fanatic about recycling, but with no follow-through, so cardboard toilet paper tubes stack up in the bathroom and balls of aluminum foil crouch under the sink.  Broken glass is supposed to be disposed of in some special, pain-in-the-ass way, so broken chafing dishes reside on the top shelf of his cabinet.  Everything is coated, panko-breadcrumbs style, in baby-oil, dust, and cat hair.   His coffee table has cubbies, each cubby filled with prescriptions that expired ten years ago, remote controls with no batteries, stained envelopes scrawled with notes to himself about how much he hates his baby’s mother.  The very walls of this apartment seem to slump with despair, and between them, we have our own private dildo parties until five in the morning, bruising one another with the shades drawn.  My friends Lisa and Eddie have nicknamed him Mr. Fuck, and they laugh when I come limping in, my eyes wide, smiling and stunned.  I lose days in this apartment, and my life is both unrecognizable and creepily familiar.  It reminds me of when I lived with Domenick, before he electrocuted himself installing an air-conditioner while high and died; we spent our days shooting cocaine and we lived on top of mounds of our own garbage.  There are no drugs here, except for Kick’s old psych meds, but it is Unmanageability, encapsulated in the single cat turd that’s been drying on Kick’s futon for two days.

There is only one thing I dread worse than bedbugs, and it’s having to break up with someone.  I once ran away from home rather than tell the boyfriend I was living with in this weird New Orleans apartment with no furniture that it wasn’t working out.  I didn’t leave a note; instead, I called him a few weeks later from New York, but by then he had figured it out.  I believe this was the precise moment that I permanently and irreparably damaged my dating karma.

So when the moment arrives where I know I need to break up with someone, my mind casts desperately about for another solution, one that does not involve having an adult conversation where I have to feel guilty.  I search for this alternative with the desperation that you would look for something to douse a kitchen fire, leading to squirting dish-soap on the ungraded history exams I left too close to the range.  My flashes of good-ideaness include asking a friend to call him for me, pushing a note under his door like his apartment is his seventh-grade locker, and sending him a text so emoji-laced that maybe he won’t notice the dumping.

As this is a man I have dated and professed to love for six months, I know this will not fly.   I keep procrastinating; one more load of bedbug laundry, and then I will text him with the good-times hashtag, #weneedtotalk.

Most things, I have discovered, actually only take about 30 seconds of actual courage.  I write two sentences that say what I need to say on a piece of paper, so I can read them to him instead of extemporizing, and set the oven timer for twenty minutes.  I give him nineteen minutes to berate me because I do, afterall and in my fashion, have love for him, and I am sorry to have to let him go a second time.