Lunch again. 1:30 pm martinis. For her. My work day doesn’t end until the last word typed before my eyes close. A bit dramatic, yet still, lavender double shot espresso blended iced latte for me. Yeah, I’m needing something lavender. From decay grows the lotus.
“My fantasies were filled with faceless men. No, actually the same man, I think. He never had a face, like any man of your fantasy fill-in. He was the kind of addictive cruel, one part sadist, one part devourer–obsessive and possessive. You know?”
“Any way, I always used him to start me off…like my go-to Playboy centerfold. A pre-pubescent boy’s wrinkled up centerfold he hides under his mattress to jerk off to when the folks are gone. I embarrassed myself with such a cliche fantasy: the cruel lover who made me do things. You know?”
I didn’t want to know. Not on an iced latte. I’d have to switch to martinis. I nodded.
“A writer should be able to masturbate to something less classic, more creative than a faceless fantasy fascist.”
“In your defense, you write feature stories not erotica.”
“Yeah, well…Johnny Depp, even as jackass pirate shows a little more imagination–and taste…
But then after a few years with Vincent, it hit me. The faceless fascist disappeared. And you know what an obsessive-possessive nut job he turned out to be.”
“So, you’re saying you manifested Vincent? What’s the moral of the story here? Was he really that demanding? Or commanding? Or I should say, commandant. Did he totally control your mind and body, violently, if necessary? Maybe just a little bdsm?”
“Yes, all of it. He wasn’t violent. I wouldn’t have stayed. He just…just…I don’t know…owned me. Subtlety. In inches. He crept up on me, and before I knew it, I was not going out with friends, and cutting down my hours at my job, and worrying if someone stopped by to visit and stayed too long, when Vincent would come home and wince at the sight of anyone ‘intruding.’ Well, you know. You called it my ‘leave of absence from myself.’ And it was. But he’s gone, and so are the faceless fascist fantasies. Now I slap a face on my imaginary friends. Like that checker at the food mart. He’s adorable.”
I reflected a second in between chuckles. Some fantasies are fantasies so long as there’s little possibility that they become real. In fact, the more far-fetched, the sexier, more enticing. But when fantasy becomes reality, the thrill is gone. At least I doubt women (or men) slapped faces of Stalin, Mussolini, or Hitler on their fantasy men. But I can’t be sure.
We decided our favorite coffee is wine on this sweaty hot summer late afternoon. The temps rose to about 88 degrees even here at the beach. So we met at a wine bar by the water instead of our usual siesta hour coffee place. I enjoyed a Patson Hall Chardonnay, chilled, and she a Central Valley Pinot Noir, whose name I forgot. Cheers, clink, and she was off. First the job, politics, and then her current “person of interest.”
Her: I like a guy who talks me up dirty. Just gets me going, like when D***** says, “Gonna pump sum jiz in you” right before he cums. I want to scream, “Go, go, go for it, fucker!!” And her voice does get loud.
I wince, probably visibly. I mused how I’m more of a Nike kind of girl. Don’t announce. Just do it.
Her: I must have some sort of oral fixation that I get off on sex talk like that, his mouth clenched in urgency, coughing out, “Here it cums, baby.” Makes the finale all the more spectacular. I should have been an actress, not a business major. It all seems so meta sexual, you know, like acting out sex inside the sex act. You know what I mean?
I nod. Honestly I did. Like sex in front of a mirror. The self-consciousness of the act as act. The wine buzz would not let me fall into the full possibilities of sex, mirrors, and performance. I shook it off, silently.
Her: I mean when T** and I were seeing each other, he was the quiet church mouse type. He performed all right, but I never could gauge the decibels of his pleasure like I can with D*****. I can coordinate my own orgasm much easier with the verbal cues.
The church mouse visual stuck in my mind, I just then remembered the guy who shushed me during sex. We had been dating for a few months; it wasn’t the first time we were going at it. But he all of the sudden unquestionably shushed me, like I was making too much noise. The only thing missing was the hand covering my mouth.
We were at a hotel. He had kids, a divorce, too soon, all of that. And what? He didn’t want to disturb other hotel guests? I wasn’t screaming, that’s for sure. He was a serviceable lover but not scream-worthy. I was stunned, totally thrown off. I didn’t even question why or how or what. But afterward, I became hyper aware of the sounds I would have made had I not stifled them before they came out. I couldn’t cum.
It wasn’t long after that we broke up. I’m not sure if it was because of that. We just didn’t have enough gelling to get over the breach.
The server came by just then. “Yes, I’ll have another. Same.”
Image: the Purple Passport
“I wanted to grow into a tree when I was five because the trees around my house looked like they all had arms that reached to the sky or really high places like rooftops, and my arms were so short I could not even reach the counter to steal back contraband my mom confiscated: cookies, silly putty my brother and I fought over, and fake clip-on earrings snuck from my mother’s jewelry box.”
I stare at her perfectly halved hard boiled egg chin as she speaks, mesmerized by its perfect oval shape.
“The Wizard of Oz kinds of trees all bramble and sparsely leafed. Not because they moved or were threatening but because they looked like outstretched arms. I wanted arms to heaven.”
I laugh. “Sounds like you’re going to break into song or start a book Elizabeth Gilbert might write. You know transformation…arms to the heavens…that sort of thing.”
“No, I’m serious,” she counters. “I wanted to grow up to be a tree, a coffee tree. That’s what they were in my mind, for some strange reason. I have no idea what a coffee tree is, but that’s what they were. And for the longest time I could not shake that dream, had literal dreams of being a tree like some Greek goddess. Who was it, Diana? No, Daphne, escaping Apollo, only I wasn’t running from anyone into tree hood. It felt natural, like I would evolve organically into a tree, starting with my fingertips elongating into thin spikes with wispy leaves drooping from the tiniest reaches of the branches that my arms would become. I could almost feel it then…even now, a little. I can summon up that feeling.”
“How curious, specific and lovely,” I silently acknowledged. “I wish I had imagined that as a five year old. But I was too busy wondering if God could wipe out nightmares for me or if I could somehow fly without wings or nun’s habits like the flying nun did.”
I ignore it a full three seconds and then bite:
“Some people have more to worry about than themselves.”
To which he replies, “You’re full of shit.”
“Why do you have to push everything to the last minute? You know we had to get gas before we leave for the doctors…”
Just keep driving, eyes on the road, I insist to myself. I know he’s baiting.
I know how he deflects the dissatisfaction of an 82 year old man who needs to be driven to doctors now, and I pray for patience and composure to rise above my own self pity.
“I mean, it may be okay for you who always runs out of gas…”
“Dad, I haven’t run out of gas…oh maybe once, but…”
“Yeah, don’t give me bullshit; you run out of gas the way you put everything off.”
Fucking traffic at 7:00 in the morning…it’s my one day off before I work tonight…
“You like living like that but I don’t like ruining cars like you do…”
“The car did not need gas; it was not even below a quarter of a tank, and your fucking neurotic obsession about insignificant bullshit doesn’t change that fact!!!”
“Yeah, sure, you know best. I’m not as smart as you. We all can’t be as smart as you.”
Shaking my head in silence, the anger spat out of me like a solar flare, scarring its landing like the faint white stitched line just below my abdomen ever reminding me that we evolve, leaving behind ancestral appendages no longer useful to us as outgrown beginnings.
Baited, I bit. Again. Just waiting for the flip side…and three…two…one…
“But I appreciate everything you do for me. Really I do. I can’t thank you enough.”
And so it goes, we two relics, this dance we substitute for conversation underneath which lies halved relationships lost to time, decay, disorder and disease.
“I adore looking down at his face, his mouth and chin wet with my pussy,” she sighs.
An unmistakeable internal wince triggers the 20-second rapid-fire movie reel of analysis playing before my mind’s eye:
“Why the discomfort at glimpsing a peek into her fucking? It’s not like I’m intruding. Certainly I have outgrown my culturally infused hang-ups about nudity and pleasure long characterized as pornographic guilt sources. And the word “pussy” ceased to make me bristle decades ago, ” I muse.
She and I confess daily details hidden from the public in the corners and crevices of our lives each week for years now. “From whence does this auto-shame come?” I hear a feigned British accent ask inside my head.
I watch her circle her hollow straw round the inside of the half empty mocha blended drink she seemingly speaks into. Her fingers are long, delicate and deceptively thin for how strong they are. I have seen them finger guitar frets and forcefully rip out knotted laces of a five year old’s shoes with ease. And her lips belong to a much younger woman, half her age, the way they remain stained pink-naked like the color of her fingertips after strumming that guitar.
The rolling analysis halts at the sound of her voice.
“But he still can’t make me cum.”
Shaking my head, “After all these years…?”
“I know, right? You would think he could figure it out. Of course I don’t give him much help finding his way. I give hints like it’s some sort of treasure hunt or game of you’re-getting-warmer…put your finger here, circle like this, now move here… but I lose interest when the whole lesson becomes teachy and disruptive to the flow. I prefer to masturbate for cumming and leave the loving to him.”
“Hmmm…” I intone. Funny how we parcel the sides of ourselves out like that, almost a division of labor delegation to those who specialize according to training and capability. Who is more trained at knowing a body than its long-exploring owner? And it’s far greater, multiply abundant, to love physically with another than alone.
“How ’bout dem Ducks,” she mocks, and we’re off to more surface ground.
“I was going to make you a cake, but I had no eggs,” she cried and then crumpled to the floor. No consoling her. She was crushed, fragile as the empty space where the egg carton used to be–a shadow of a former delicate, susceptible embryo container.
She too had been plucked from her mother’s warmth too soon, arresting her world in a devil’s playground of tears and fearful misfortunes always on the verge, always.
“It’s okay, really okay. It was their time to fly. You couldn’t have known. It’s not your fault. I love cake, but I love you more. Come up and sit beside me this time, just now.”
She wiped her nose in the plaid flannel folds of her elbow and rose. It was over.
“I finally convinced my students that writers are like magicians. They make something out of nothing. Turning a blank sheet of paper into an essay is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, changing the properties of one thing to transform it into another.”
“And they bought that?”
“Because you hold their future, namely their grades, in your hands, you think?
“Maybe. Whatever it takes.”
“Sounds like teaching is a lot like extortion.”
“There’s a lot of ‘or else’ in life, not just in teaching. Everything is a matter of dangling carrots or dodging sticks: Pay your bills on time or pay penalties, finance charges or lose your electricity. Pay your bills on time and build good credit, so you can have more credit. Sticks and carrots.”
“Speaking of which, I’ll get the check this time. You paid last time.”
“Carrot. You want me to show up next week to reciprocate–or retaliate, right?”
Shit or get off the pot, my mom always said. Well, I’ve taken enough shit. I’m getting off by telling him off. I mean, who the fuck says he loves someone and then fails to show up at an important event as promised and then nonchalantly excuses himself with some lame-ass story. Unbelievable.
–Did he know he was supposed to be at this wedding for a long time or some last minute invite by you?
No, for fuck’s sake! He got the same invitation I did a few months ago! He’s known forever!
He offered to come all the way to my house to pick me up so we wouldn’t have to take two cars. That’s at least a half hour out of his way, since the church is north of his apartment and I am way south. He knew as of last Wednesday when we made these plans.
–What was his excuse?
He claimed his mom called him in a panic about losing her driver’s license and was frantic about it. He had to go help her.
–What? That IS lame.
Right? Especially since his stepdad is there to help.
–Sounds like he just didn’t want to go this wedding.
That’s what I think. And these are good friends of ours, so he knew it was important for me to go. (Smiling) You know how much I love a good party too. There was an open bar and everything.
–So did he find the license for his mom?
I don’t know. I was so mad at him I hardly listened. He might have said they couldn’t find it.
–Wow, that’s kind of shitty. How could he justify letting you down for something so stupid. Does his mother drive to work?
No, she doesn’t work. She retired from an 80k a year admin job after she couldn’t do it any more because of memory loss.
–Oh, how sad. Alzheimer’s?
No, she had a slow carbon monoxide leak in the stove of her apartment she lived in for ten years. Apparently it destroyed her memory. Permanently.
–Oh shit, that’s terrible! I mean, is she like severely brain damaged or just slightly impaired?
No, she is totally fucked up. She appears normal, but she forgets everything she just did or said. It’s short term memory loss. Well not everything, but she forgets a lot. And it makes her anxious and paranoid.
–How old is she?
–Is she healthy otherwise? I mean is she a frail 75 or a strong 75?
She just had a heart attack and a stent put it in her groin to help her circulation. She is much better now. Says she can think a little more clearly. You wouldn’t even know she has a memory issue other than she is slow talking, a little, and seems spacy. But she is fearful as fuck when she can’t remember something she knows she should or loses something…like the driver’s license. She gets herself all worked up.
–Which couldn’t be good for her heart.
No, she’s supposed to be on meds to help her mellow out, get rid of the anxiety but she forgets to take it.
–Well, isn’t her husband any help?
No, he’s like 86 and on his way out. Ironically, she is his caretaker.
–Are you fucking kidding me?!!
Yeah, it’s crazy.
–Does she drive? Is she able to?
Well yeah, but she gets lost.
–That is a goddam tragedy waiting to happen.
Right? And yet she won’t let her own son take them in. I mean Terry’s a great guy for that. He wanted to get help for them, put them in a senior living place, really nice community, or just take them in himself, which would have totally sucked the life out of him, suck for us. But she’s too fucking stubborn and would rather just have him at her beck and call whenever the slightest thing happens.
–Holy fuck, Karen! You can’t be serious?! When did you get to be such an asshole?
The war raged a life time, blood and brains dashed to the ground only to be resurrected repeatedly like an ungrateful Lazarus or an unrepentant Prometheus caught in an eternal circle.
One side fought for the good of progress, bravery, cleverness and right action. This side delivered the goods, made the world go round and fed the hungry, sheltered the vulnerable from the elements by sheer will to control.
The other side ceded control, refused to fight and surrendered before the battle began. This side stomped itself invisible, passive and weakly withdrawn, drawn to a light no one could see, a lost vision never achieved, destination never reached.
While one side won the battle, the other won the war. While one side walked in the light, the other created it. However, neither side rested in confidence nor in peace, both sides claiming no victory in vanquishing the other.
I look up at her from my veggie quesadilla plate, my eyes suggesting an answer to the question in my expression, but her face shows no comprehension. She wears sunglasses inside the restaurant.
I pass the salt.
Two shakes and she sets the shaker aside to pick at fake cheese melted over corn tortilla chips. Biting the triangle tip of a chip, she glances up–I think–at me, my head recently returned to face her after scooping up random bits of salsa to topple over one of the soft triangles targeted to dissect and devour.
“When do you think you’ll know? I mean going back.” I ask but already know the answer. How can she know?
“I don’t know. You’re asking me something I can’t possibly know. I mean I could recover next week or continue on like this forever or get hit by a bus as soon as we walk out this door.” She waves to some indeterminate place beyond the restaurant walls.
I know what she means. The asking leaps over logic into faith like a ghost limb needing to be scratched. Nothing there but habit and the act of speaking.
The gap of knowing and being spans eons now. We both know it, and yet we dance this ancient witless dance of caretaker and charge. It’s my job to ask the unanswerable questions and hers to stem the flow of fear with uncertainly, freeing and terrifying, reminding us both to surrender and enjoy lunch.
“Can we have a peaceful family Christmas dinner and forget for a few moments? Will we?” I ask uncertain of her answer, the truth of her answer. I fight the terrible urge to cough.
“Before the bus hits? Sure. Might as well.” She laughs, picking up the salt to shake it once more.
Merry, Merry, Merry to one and all!