Working 9 to 5

Age 21. New York City.

I remember I sat on the cold, piss-covered tile of the men’s bathroom holding on to a moist rail above my head, recuperating from soreness that heated my neck, my thighs.

Perhaps he had been too rough with me. Perhaps I had not deserved the reckless banging, his heavy, calloused hand at my throat affixing me to the grainy film along the tiled wall as I stood compliant but alarmed. (I’d said ‘affix’ in my mind, confused it, however applicable, with ‘asphyxiation.’ To die engorged with an angry cock and a fake, gold watch ticking impatiently beneath my chin seemed less than honorable.)

We were strangers, all of the men then, strangers, and I expected nothing more, nothing less from them.

He hurried as most men with little regard for the women they pollute do. He held his head down as he fumbled with the tarnished silver buckle of his belt and shoved my legs apart with one bent and jabbing knee. The erratic undoing, unzipping. The upward yank of my ripped t-shirt, one large palm grabbing at the full weight of my breast, mashing the flesh up and back, scissoring the nipple between spread fingers.

The back of my head ached. Knock, knock, knock with the thudding beat from the club outside the bathroom door, where sweaty bodies convulsed and collapsed in rhythmic, intoxicated motion, the mixed allure of indulgence and pain. Each violent surge of his body into mine strengthened his grip on my throat. Fingers pressed deeper, palm pressed deeper. His muscled arm, mass. My throat constricted. Gasp the air. Push it down.

My limp compliance. My balance on one leg, one high-heeled foot. How he enjoyed this! I can see him even now. Look at his grooved brow, creased with concentration. Look at the gutters formed within the rolling folds of his forehead. His bloodless lips pulled tight across stained teeth as he came inside me, nostrils flared with the rushed gusts of completion, a job well done.

Two, maybe three minutes had passed between his solicitation and clean escape, and yet I knew the cowlick in the center of his thinning blond head spun clockwise. The intimacy in this information sent me to a place far from my destructive present. How his mother must have fretted over the cowlick’s prominence. How she must have wet the defiant hairs before a bathroom mirror and combed them flat. Cursed as they sprung back stiff, united, toward the light.

Retrograde

I lied when you called last night.

I wasn’t standing outside a bookstore waiting for a friend. I was sitting on the toilet, locked in the bathroom with an uncorked bottle of wine at my feet. You see, my son, Sawyer, is four and a half and a lousy listener, an unfortunate yet common trait among males that, since having him, I realize begins at birth. Men start out not listening to their mothers. They are so used to the timbre of her voice--they have been listening to it since wee embryos after all--that as early as the age of four, they have already tuned her out.

“Sawyer, I’m not going to tell you again. Pick.up.the.crayons.” But I was going to tell him again and he knew it.

I looked to my husband who stood in the kitchen, frying bacon for a sandwich. “Sometimes, I want to hurt your son,” I said jokingly but my jest was lost on him.

“Then do it,” he snapped.

“You don’t have to yell at me.”

“I didn’t yell. But you keep saying you’re going to do something that he knows you never will. How can you expect him to change if you don’t mean what you say and hold him accountable?”

“So you want me to beat him?”

“I never suggested something so ridiculous,” he said, and cracked eggs into a frying pan.

I found it ironic or pathetic or both that i was reading Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying at that exact moment. Erica Jong was for women who could sling words like cunt as easily as they did diaper bags. I had nodded along with her laments because I am thirty-eight, well traveled, educated with children and a career. I too was some version of strong. But then my husband yelled, snapped, or whatever he does or doesn’t want to call it and my lip starts to quiver. I felt like a fraud as I sat on the toilet hiding, book in hand and wine consumed, like Erica herself sat somewhere in her New York apartment shaking her head at such a feminine cliche´.

And then you called, said you were in town and asked what I was doing.

“Me,” I asked. “I’m standing on Centre Street waiting on a friend. We were going for drinks but she just called to cancel. Why do you ask?”

My first mistake was that I let you kiss me hello.

You didn’t kiss me on the mouth but that didn’t matter. Your smirk was enough. I felt the rise of your mouth in my underwear, that flash of teeth in my throat. You kissed me the way you know I like. You slid your palm against my neck, pressed your face to mine. The sun at your back was bright and I squinted. You smelled like sweat and oranges.

You ordered a round of drinks at the bar. I sat at a table waiting then joined you. We drank and laughed and touched too much. I asked about your wife and you said she was well. You asked about my husband and he was well too.

Though the bar was empty, the music was loud. We had to lean in close to hear each other. “You’ve been drinking,” you said into my ear, and your breath was hot against my neck as you pulled away. “I thought you said your friend didn’t show.”

“A girl can drink alone.”

“A girl can. But should she?”

“If she likes.”

You smiled.

You ordered a vodka neat and asked what I wanted. I said ‘same.’ You put your hand on my knee. That remarkable hand on my remarkable knee. If I’d parted my legs even slightly your fingers would have slipped beneath the hem of my dress. Disappeared.

I was twenty-four when we first met. You were twenty-eight. You performed a similar magic trick then, plucking me from a gaggle of girls leaving a bar, 2am, horny and lonely and just drunk enough. I had a boyfriend and left him for you. Girls are always leaving their stable boyfriends for the unstable creative who wants to take her picture. Who wants to write her a song. Who wants to do her like her stable boyfriend never could. For three weeks we listened to Nirvana and Hendrix and Aretha Franklin, ate Indian takeout for breakfast, smoked naked on the fire escape.

“I saw you in New York Magazine,” I said, teased the rim of my glass with an index finger. “It said you were going to Spain-- or was it Berlin?”

“Berlin. Madrid was two years ago.”

“Of course, Berlin.” We’d spent eight sweaty days in Berlin when I was twenty-six after not hearing from you for almost two years. “How are you enjoying it?”

“It’s Berlin.” Your mouth in a perpetual smile. “Are you writing?”

“A little-- should we get another round?” I summoned the bartender. Your eyes traveled the length of my bare arm as I waved him over. “I submitted a story to The New Yorker last month. It was a trite heap of garbage but, I submitted it.”

“You’re always so hard on yourself,” you said and I notice as I’m standing, leaning over the bar to grab a napkin, how close we are to each other. Our knees touch and your nose, that beak of a thing, inching toward me. “It doesn’t have to be that way. But I’ve been with enough women to know--”

“No number of women is enough for you.”

“Let me finish,” you take a drink. “I’ve been with enough women to know that you like things hard. You like things to be messed up. You like to remember what it’s like to be full of one person when you’re only half full of another. You like for me to call you, but you really like when I don’t. You like to rehearse what you’ll say to me when I finally do call. You like to think about how you’ll pretend not to want me, how you’ll pretend that if I touched you you’d stop me in protest-- and you probably would. But you’d think about it when you left here, the whole way home, as you climb in bed next to your husband or boyfriend or whoever. You’d think about what would have happened if you didn’t stop. You’d play it over and over in your mind. You like to feel guilty. You like it because without it all that’s left if your real life. And God knows how tired you are of that.”

“Why did you call me?”

“Because you always answer when I do.”

____

First published on Ink & Voices

Simple Pleasures | One
D5BE6B0E-ECAE-458E-925D-FBAE6BDE9FAE.JPG

-The freckled skin of a ripe pear

-How the cheesecloth appears to be floating through black space and time

-My daughter’s unwavering confidence and sense of self at the tender age of eleven

-Her immense comfort in asking questions about her growing body and the biology of change

-Blue hydrangeas blooming in the back

-The creeping Jenny sprouting, fluorescent, beneath the bush

-Reciting phrases in French

-Solitude, you exquisite, evasive thing

-Breathy lyrics over solemn keys. (See Kelsey Lu | Kid Koala's 'Music To Draw To' album)

-Music that sounds like my heart

Constant

I am whole with you.
I am whole without you.
I am whole in the in between.

And while i search the answers, 
roll truth on my tongue,
I will store within
these brittle, gray bones
a soft heart.

Untitled | Two

Take hold of these hands,
this wound,
this earth,
only tenderness can stroke.
Bring all of yourself,
parched soil and seed,
and we will find
water.
We will find it
and gather light with our fingers,
pluck the burgeoning flowers
from our bones.

Untitled | One

Where is your voice?
Buried beneath conformity,
crushed by please and thank you, 
apologies,
suffocated between the dead
letters of words you do not believe?
Is it silenced in the girlish swing
of skirts and flash of teeth,
the distance between your God and desire?
Is it heavy in your tangled head,
decayed around your finger?
Is it hollow in his incessant gaze
swallowing your mouth?

Your voice, woman. your voice.

What will it take to wake it?
What will it take to light it alive,
an ember between bones,
a raging spark? A riot
hurtling through tissue,
yanking at ribs and flesh,
writhing against the sleepy beat of mediocrity
to break the fuck out.