I was giddy from too many tiny servings of free gallery wine the first time I met W.D. (this name has been changed to protect the barely innocent). He was one of Reyna’s best friends from LA. For months there had been half-hearted talk of setting us up, but my initial assessment of him–on the corner of NW 5th and Couch–was less than enthusiastic. While he wore glasses (a virtually non-negotiable requirement), he was blonde and barrel-chested. I preferred the scrawny, dark-haired types. Or fellows with curly hair. Even the occasional sassy ginger. But no fair-haired suitor had ever tasted success with me. To make matters worse, he was definitely wearing women’s jeans (a guaranteed bonerkiller, even in that era of the skinniest skinny jeans). His black t-shirt was too tight.
“So this is how LA dudes are,” I decided. “Uncomfortably slick.”
Nonetheless, I was emboldened by a combination of Charles Shaw and my surprising sense of power over him. I grabbed the horse pendant dangling around his neck (male necklaces: another controversial topic). “So are you some sort of horse fan OR WHAT?”
His response was easily forgotten. But a few hours later, I was inviting him back to my apartment for toast. “You’ve really got to see my toaster to believe it.”
W.D. was a true whirling dervish. He was a kleptomaniac, an accomplished liar, and a general layabout. His misadventures inspired many of the short stories I’ve written in the last five years. But he was also wildly funny and surprisingly tender. He tried his hardest to cook meals for me and he always took care of me when I was sick.
Most importantly, our sexual relationship was incredibly uncomplicated. It was always fun and no matter how wild and “dirty” we got, I never felt the slightest sense of shame or guilt. At times, the dirty talk would escalate into a series of incoherent-yet-totally-hot phrases and sounds. Even the sound of the simplest syllable escaping his lips was enough to vaporize my practical panties. There were a few requests that I just couldn’t honor, but overall, all of the debauchery was on the healthy end of the spectrum.
And so, while I wasn’t fully convinced of the longevity of our relationship, I had no qualms about bringing my blushing bride across the country with me to Philadelphia. I was so honored and so PLEASED that any individual of intelligence and charm would be willing to accompany Damaged Me to the dirty, difficult City of Brotherly Love. I could ignore his tendency toward purloining ketchup bottles and toilet paper from restaurants. Surely I could overlook his heavy drinking and slovenly approach to housekeeping. Right?
Welllllll, a brutal winter in a tiny bedroom in a hard city was too much for us. Within a few months, he was crying in bed late at night while I tried to get enough sleep to face my stressful grown up job. He skipped work more often then he went. He drank and drank and drank, while eating stolen sandwiches under the covers of my–I mean, our–bed. All of this was temporarily forgotten during the fleeting moments that our bodies melted together. Ava Gardner once said about Frank Sinatra, “He was good in the feathers. You don’t pay much attention to what other people tell you when a guy’s good in the feathers.” Sometimes the voices of others are merely echoing what that annoyingly reasonable person hiding in the deepest part of my brain already knows.
By summer, even sex was a chore, a toll I paid to Department of Can’t A Gal Get Some Fucking Sleep Around Here. W.B. spent the wee hours in the living room, in long, teary phone calls with west coast friends. I escaped to my parents’ house in Central Pennsylvania as much as possible. Our break up was surprisingly drawn out and melodramatic, contradicting the palpable sense of relief we both experienced.
We moved to opposite sides of the city. He began to date one of his coworkers and I buried myself in various endeavors, primarily the fine art of pining away for Portland. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think of him, but I was also enjoying the sensation of having my very own life. Initially, the solitude of MY OWN APARTMENT and MY OWN RULES was delicious.
A year later, he called me in the middle of the night.
“Admit that bad things have happened to you, Amanda, and that is why you are so cold and fucked up,” he demanded.
I said nothing. I wish I could say that I regretted answering the phone in the first place, but truthfully, some communication from him was a respite from the oppressive loneliness that my day-to-day life had become. His breathy late night slurring was a treat.
He persisted. “I won’t leave you alone until you tell me all of the bad things that have happened to you, in chronological order.”
I surrendered my baggage, only because I wasn’t ready for the phone call to end. We stayed up until dawn talking. I took the day off work and whisked him back to my house in Port Richmond. We ate prepackaged indian food and half-heartedly watched Dr. Zhivago, but really we were both waiting for the green light to undress one another.
The waver in his voice betrayed the air of determination in his sudden announcement. “I think it’s weird that we are just sitting on this sofa when we could be lying down.”
And that was the starting pistol to the marathon that began on my great-grandmother’s couch, inched its way up the stairs, and culminated in my bedroom. His shirt and my dress hit the floor before the smoke had a chance to clear. It was everything that I hoped: thrilling, hot, and comfortable. But just as sheer ecstasy was about to propel my eyes into the back of my head, I heard myself say “You know, I don’t really like you at all.” He either missed that statement or chose to ignore for the sake of coital diplomacy.
Afterwards, we fell asleep in silence, our bodies entangled as we pretended that we still loved one another.
In the morning, I slipped out of bed and cried silent tears of shame in the shower. I could barely look at myself in the mirror as I quietly performed the grooming tasks necessitated by my glamorous grown up job. Before I left, I placed a subway token and a tepid thank you note in his shoe. I tiptoed out of the house, gingerly closing the front door. I couldn’t risk waking him up, because there was a chance the agonizing awkwardness of any conversation might have stopped my heart completely.
Ladies and gentleman, beloved readers, old friends…this incident was indeed the beginning of a very, very bad stretch of awkward and regretful sexual experiences. Not that the actual act of sex has been bad since then. It’s actually usually pretty great. At times, even the best possible distraction. But the minutes, hours, and days afterwards have been excruciating. Imagine a lot of uncomfortable small talk being used as a flimsy shield against an onslaught of guilt and “real conversations.” Boundless opportunities to utilize my cheery I’m Going To Sell You Something (even if it’s just the foolish idea that Everything Is Going To Be Okay) voice. I find myself donning this faux sunny demeanor even before the condom has hit the trash can. There is strange comfort in this painful routine; for a moment I am the brave heroine holding it all together for everyone. But I think we can all agree that there is little merit in behaviors best described as “It Hurts So Good.” Many will try to tell you that any habit can be broken in a mere 21 days. Could this thinking be applied to the comfortable routine of hating oneself? Then again, changing one’s entire way of thinking about this really huge thing called sex in a mere three weeks seems a bit unlikely, similar to pinning one’s hopes on That Diet Where Kim Kardashian Lost 10 Pounds In One Week. Come to think of it, however, I wouldn’t mind losing ten pounds this week, too.
Part five coming soon, when I return from my California adventure!