Artwork by Hadi Fallahpisheh
Ogden had been my professor when I was doing course work for my master’s degree in English. I had always wanted to fuck a professor, like it was the kind of fuck you could check off a list: celebrity, artist, European, fireman, another girl (check), threesome (check), etc.
I got wet when I listened to Ogden lecture. I loved his deep masculine voice when he said feminine words like “beautiful” and “sonnet.” I watched the way he patted his chalky hand on his jeans and left a white smear like he didn’t give a fuck. I thought of his deep voice in my ear, saying, “Yeah, you like that?” The way the cuff of his shirt was unbuttoned. I saw the dullness of his eyes, as if he had spent a lifetime staring at the color gray. I wanted to see how different his eyes would look when I looked up while I blew him.
After the semester ended, we met for a cup of coffee and ordered drinks instead. I waited for him to come on to me, but he didn’t. He told stories that had the air of being told before. He ate bread like a caveman: gnawing at it, crumbs falling onto the wooden table. Why couldn’t he talk to me like a normal person? Ask me about my childhood, where I was from, about Peter, and then tell me about his high school girlfriend. Volley the ball around instead of talking at me. Even when you are ready to put out for a guy, he has to go and fuck it up. I didn’t care about hooking up with him anymore. I wanted to go home. It was his idea to share a cab. I climbed into the back, my hands on the leather seat. He told the cab driver where to go. I stared at him staring out the window. He was totally content with the prospect of sitting in silence for rest of the ride and then never seeing me again. There was something about a man not caring if he ever saw me again that made me want to suck his cock.
“So you don’t want to have sex with me?” I said, like it was a dare.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen, so maybe that’s for the best,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said as I stared out the window. The way you could see all down the street between blocks. “But you know,” I said, “there is the conquest factor. This has been my objective for a semester . . .”
He laughed. Then he said, “Come here.”
I got on top of him, and he shoved his tongue into my mouth. I am totally making out with Ogden Fitch, I thought as I made out with Ogden Fitch. He didn’t kiss how I imagined he would. His tongue greedily pushed into my mouth. The car pulled over n front of my building.
“I shaved my pussy for you,” I said into his ear.
“Aw, how sweet,” he said, looking genuinely flattered. I shoved my tongue back into his mouth.
I had been married to Peter for seven months. It wasn’t because I didn’t love my husband that I had cheated on him. Sometimes I didn’t know if I loved my husband. I didn’t know. It was a marriage. Marriage is boring, and sometimes you want to kill the person, and sometimes you feel the truth of a million clichés about having one real partner to grow old with when the world is cold and full of strangers. But most of the time I didn’t feel anything.
Seeing the same person so much makes you not see them at all. Sometimes I awoke from the haze of the living-room-watching-television funk and that fuzzy figure next to me on the couch would come into focus: a real-life human being whose mind was as vivid and whole as mine. I would think to myself, Who in the fuck is this person? And I would ask, “Peter, what are you thinking?” And he would say, “Nothing, really.”
Lorrie Moore wrote, “For love to last, you had to have illusions or have no illusions at all.”
Sometimes I tried to hold on to him, but I was always losing my grip, and he was always fading into the background.
I had cheated on every man I had ever been with. It was stupid to think there was something wrong with loving more than one person at a time. Sometimes the thought of who put their thing in whose thing seemed like the most absurd concern in the world. I thought I might as well as fuck as many people as I could before my cunt dried up and nobody wanted me anyways.
You shouldn’t put out right away. That’s what I’ve heard. I have no idea because I’ve never not put out right away.
After I started having an affair, Peter and I fought less. Sometimes I thought we were closer than we’d ever been.
I never imagined any man would ask to marry me. I wanted to try it on: a grown-up’s life of grocery lists, laundry, and arguments about who was supposed to buy new light bulbs. Peter was a badge I wore that said to the outside world, “How crazy can I be if this normal person has decided to spend the rest of his life with me?”
On Valentine’s Day I sat across from Peter in a restaurant on the Upper East Side. Candlelight flickered, my man wore a tie, and I felt empty. At some point you realize you aren’t waiting anymore for your life to start. Your life’s happening right now, and it’s pretty dull.
I ground my hips on the throw pillow, imagining that it was Ogden fucking me.
Ogden understood me. Ogden pulled away when I tried to hold on. He said, “You’re weird, aren’t you?” He barely touched me, and I wanted more.
Being on all fours. Ogden’s hand pulling my hair. Going in and out of me. I lost the thread, replaying the same image over in my mind. It was like listening to a song on repeat. After a while, you can’t hear it. I contemplated going into the bedroom and getting it on with Peter.
Peter would not be psyched about being woken up. Peter would say, “Do you realize I have gotten five hours of sleep in the last two days?”
A woman masturbating in the living room while her husband slept in the bedroom. Sad. It was a waste of ready-to-go pussy.
I picked up John Updike’s The Collected Stories off the floor and read by the nightmarish light of the muted television. I skimmed some, and then put the book back down. Sorry, John; it’s not happening today, buddy. A life spent alone, in a room. Before I’d married Peter, I wrote. I used to think I had something very important to say to the world. People write to be remembered forever, but when you’re dead, how can you care? So what’s the point?
My mother was dying of MS. People actually did get sick out of nowhere and suffered for no reason. My mother suffered alone in rooms. My father died of a heart attack five years ago. It was a shock. I didn’t know he had had a heart.
Having MS means having lesions on your brain and spine, which means your entire body is fucked- up. Only one of her eyes worked. She had periods of general wellness and then periods of sickness they called “flare-ups.” In the beginning, I hadn’t understood the seriousness of her illness. I would see her walking with a cane, and then a few months later she would be walking normally. What happens is every time you go through a flare-up, not everything gets better when you get better. So her leg that was useless for a month would work again once the flare-up subsided, but she would walk with a limp forever. It is like walking down a street and every so often someone beats the shit out of you. You mostly heal, but some injuries just don’t, and then you go out and walk some more, and someone comes by and beats the shit out of you again.
I subsisted on tea, single servings of Greek yogurt, cigarettes, bottles of cold Starbucks coffee, and sometimes an ice cream bar.
This was how I made tea: I held the pot under the faucet and filled it with water. Sometimes I would scrub a smudge to see if it was dirty or just a worn part of the pot. A roach could have crawled around in there, shitting, or two roaches could have fucked in the twelve hours since I had washed it. When I boiled the water, the germs would boil out.
I dated this guy named Caleb in college who spat in his food while he was making it. When I had asked him why, he said, “I dunno, the germs boil out.” Caleb never wanted to do it. We would be making out and then he would get up and put on Leonard Cohen, and then he’d get back into bed but turned around, so his head was hanging off the edge. He’d sing softly along with the music. I would be lying there, wide-awake in the dark, with his feet next to my face. Sometimes I was pretty sure Caleb had been my soul mate.
Caleb told me he used to eat his boogers. He told me that one time, while he was driving, he picked a really big one and actually cursed when it fell off his finger. I sprinkled fennel seeds and cardamom into the pot and dropped in a cinnamon stick. I stared out the window at the stray cats. I smoked a cigarette. I poured almond milk into the pot, turned off the heat after it boiled for a few seconds, and then poured the tea in a mug. Then I squeezed the honey in. I licked it off my fingers and poured more on my fingers and licked it off my fingers and poured more on my fingers and licked it off my fingers.
Tucked away on the second shelf of my bookcase in The Eden Express was the last bag for a real emergency. Careful. Remember the time you ripped it wide open and it went everywhere? Poured out the powder on the cover of the book, a few bigger chips, like paint. Used my debit card to cut it. I imagined Bobby Flay: What you want to do is get the heroin as finely minced as possible. That will make it nice and even, and easier to snort. Rolled dollar bill. Rachel Ray: You want to be able see through the bill without any folds in the way. And you don’t have to use a dollar bill. That’s what my husband likes, so that’s what we use at my house. Some people like straws because of germs. One time, I couldn’t find anything, and so I tore a page out of a book! Whatever works for you!
Heroin had brands. They worked like any other brand to signal quality and consistency.
Elizabeth said something about it being mixed with fentanyl. Whatever that was. I should have Googled it probably.
A sitcom was on where there’s a fat guy and a frowning wife with a bin of laundry seemingly attached to her waist. Cute child actors who will grow up to become criminals. The women were always dramatic and mad and the men were always trying to understand. Is that what men wanted? To fuck a skinny version of their mothers? They sometimes let the single aunt have a personality, but having a personality means no man will want you. After the wife left the kitchen, the husband stole a cookie. She shouted from the living room for him to put the cookie back. In twenty years, this will still not be funny.
I didn’t know what to do when men gave me flowers. I would always think, Great, now I will have to watch these things die.
Sometimes I tried on this fake woman persona, and I knew Peter liked it because he got to try on his version of a male persona. I put my hair up and talked in a high-pitched voice and moved my hands around, all animated, like Elizabeth. I talked about how I wanted to get my nails done. Sometimes I would put lotion on my hands. I acted stupid so he could feel smart.
Sometimes I was in love with who I was when I was with him. If I didn’t try to act feminine, I felt like a dude.
A few more lines. You shouldn’t do too much because then you will have to do more to get the same effect, but then again this was the last of it, so you may as well get blasted.
Nothing was on television.
Raymour & Flanigan. I could hear the catchy jingle just seeing those words on the TV. Then some middle-aged man looking out a window. A commercial for DeVry University. Can you imagine your life being so shitty you’d call up DeVry University to get a degree in computer animation?
Drip down the throat. Warmth spreading out, like pee on a blanket. Music from the speaker plugged into the laptop.
“And the sun pours down like honey / On our lady of the harbor, / And she shows you where to look / Among the garbage and the flowers . . .”
Dope felt like leaning back in a chair, and right before the chair tipped over, it froze, and there I was, suspended in midair but not falling at all.
I heard Peter’s alarm go off. Eight o’clock. I snorted what was left on the book. The door wasn’t easy. You had to jerk it.
“How’re you feeling?” Peter asked, without looking up from the iPad. The light came through the wooden Chinese blinds, making his brown hair look golden.
When Peter woke up he looked like James Dean. I woke up looking like I had been in a barroom brawl: matted hair, hunched over scrabbling for a lighter that still worked, my body feeling like it had been slammed against pavement.
When we walked down the street, I could hear people’s thoughts, Why is that handsome man with that scowling, smoking hag? People would always ask me what was wrong. I must have looked pissed off all the time. People probably thought he was gay, and I was a fag hag secretly in love with him.
Women don’t have trophy husbands the same way men have trophy wives. Men can be disgusting and walk into a party with a sexy bitch on their arm and feel like hot shit. But being a woman walking into a party with a handsome man on your arm, the only thing you feel is insecure.
When I imagined myself through Ogden’s sixty-three-year-old eyes—my smooth, wrinkle-free skin, my long dark hair, my unsagging breasts, my flat stomach—I felt hot. Sometimes my hair fell over my eyes, and I grinned and looked up at him, and I loved being in my own skin.
Peter stared at me as I put my hair in a ponytail. “Are you high?” he asked. I shook my head no.
I lied to Peter because he didn’t understand shit. He didn’t understand how snorting a bag of dope didn’t mean I would end up becoming a toothless, cracked-out skank or whatever clichéd Hollywood bullshit was implanted in his brain. When I tried explaining things to him, he would hear someone with a drug problem trying to rationalize their drug problem.
He made me feel like I was someone with a drug problem trying to rationalize her drug problem.
I’d been a chipper since I was eighteen. The trick was you never did it three days in a row. I knew enough junkies to know I had to stop for a while, because if I kept using, it would stop providing any relief and become one more problem.
He apologized. I could tell by the way he touched my face he wanted to do it.
“I love you,” he said. His breath smelled like shit. His hand rubbed between my legs, and I made all the sounds, then his hand went over my tits, pinching the nipples, making them hard so it hurt when they rubbed against my rough thermal shirt.
He fucked me from behind. Felt like a baseball mitt, stretching. Inside, it was everywhere. Visualize it. Ugly, veiny thing beating in and out of softness, pinkness, perfectness. That’s the attraction, a kind of ruining. I liked it hard.
He played with my clit while he fucked me from behind, and I came because I liked feeling like his bitch on all fours.
After I came I wanted to sleep, and he was taking forever. You couldn’t say, “I’m going to rest my eyes but feel free to keep going.” You couldn’t say, “Stop pulling my hair, it was cool at first but now it’s just pissing me off.” You couldn’t say, “Are you bored? I’m a little bored.”
Please come already.
He sped up, pulled out. I turned on my back and lifted my shirt, and he came all over my tits and belly.
I loved how much there was when Peter came. I loved being drenched in his come. I loved lying there in it. I rubbed it into my skin with my fingertips.
I felt warm, and I thought of going somewhere new. I wanted to see his same face with a new background behind his head.
He wiped my stomach with his boxers and threw his boxers into the hamper.
“You shouldn’t go to the doctor alone tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll go with you. I’ll be late to work. It’s at four?”
“It’s not a big deal,” I said. I ran my finger down his back, zooming around all the moles that had never been checked for cancer because Peter didn’t have health insurance.
“You don’t need to be there, sport,” I said. I called him “sport” because he drank a protein shake every morning.
There was no doctor’s appointment. I’d made it up. I was supposed to meet Ogden.
I lied all the time. Sometimes I lied so I didn’t have to answer questions, like saying my father was still alive so I didn’t have to talk about him dying. I regularly told people my father was white. Not because of some deep-seated issue with being Indian, but because I didn’t know much about Indian culture, and I felt more American than anything else. I lied because it felt true. I said it to get off the hook for answering questions about why cows are sacred or whatever.
You can’t help the truth, the mundane details that frame people’s perceptions of who you are, like where you were born, what your father does for a living, how many siblings you have. In our lies we offer the world a presentation of how we would be if we had complete control over our existence. That’s why it’s so embarrassing to get caught in a lie. It offers a glimpse into how you want to be seen. These are the things I am insecure about. You take things off the table, clean up your stories, edit out the parts that don’t make sense, and think, Now that’s better.
I ran my hand through Peter’s soft, sleepy hair. I lied to Peter about Ogden because I didn’t want to hurt him. In a different world, maybe he would have understood that I was only trying to protect him. How if I didn’t, I would drown him with my neediness and insecurities. Peter wasn’t capable of helping me. He knew how to love, but he didn’t know how to talk me through the layers of my neuroses.
“I don’t wanna go to work today,” he whined, stretching.
Peter was a bartender at a high-end restaurant on the Upper West Side.
He must have casually mentioned “my wife” in stories to customers at the bar. They’d imagine the kind of woman they thought a handsome, charming man like Peter would have as a wife. The character in the book never looks like the actor in the movie playing them.
I straddled him and kissed him as if I was paying a toll on my way over him. I picked up the seltzer from his bedside table and chugged it in front of the window.
“Put some clothes on. You can see everything through those blinds,” he said.
“Who cares? It’s my apartment. What are they going to think? A woman is half-naked in her own apartment?”
Peter was always caring about things that didn’t matter.
In the bathroom, I plucked hairs out of my upper lip with tweezers. I liked the feeling of the hair being pulled out of the follicles underneath the skin. Some of the hairs the tweezers could never grasp. I ended up drawing blood, and the hair was still right there. I rubbed the hairs off the tweezers onto my finger. The fat part like the top of a comma. I touched the ends with my fingers. Black and wiry.
Peter materialized in the bathroom mirror behind me like some kind of bizarro vampire. “How long have you been lying to me?” he said. He took out exhibit A: a rolled dollar bill. “I found this on the coffee table.”
I shrugged. “That is a rolled bill. It is not a drug,” I said, high. “Maya, c’mon. You don’t have to lie to me.” He called me by my name when he was serious. “Don’t be serious,” I said, as if I didn’t want to hear it.
“I’m not an idiot. Whatever. It’s your life. I don’t even know why I try—” And then he said more things. Things I didn’t care to hear. Things that made me try hard to think of other things until he left and I could get more high and not think about anything.
Ogden never gave me shit. Ogden only listened. The ways Ogden drove me insane were the ways I wanted to be exactly like him.
I wished Ogden could love me the way I loved him, but he never would, because I cared too much and was always opening up to him. Nobody wanted anyone who talked so easily about everything. They wanted a big puzzle and a goddamn treasure map. Find my heart by going through all these torture chambers. That’s what people wanted: challenge and mystery. Poor Ogden. I was like, here are all my scars. I’ll tell you my secrets as you die of boredom. Here are the answers to questions you never cared enough to ask. I lifted up my shirt and said, “Please love me.” I lifted up my skirt and said, “Please don’t leave yet.” I felt empty when his cock wasn’t in me. I wanted him to order me around. I wanted to be his personal come dumpster. I loved when his whole body was on top of me and his arms and legs surrounded me on all sides, like he was a big insect about to rip my head off.
When Ogden told me it was going to be okay, I believed him, because he was old and knew stuff about life that I didn’t.
After Peter told me he loved me for the first time, I said, “Peter, I am fucking crazy, and I will fuck this up.” And he nodded. Maybe he saw it as a challenge. Maybe he thought, Well, at least this will be interesting. But he kept coming over, and he kept watching me turn from sane person to insane person to sorry child, and then we’d hug, and I was forgiven. And so you had to ask yourself: Who is the crazier one?
Peter and I met when we worked at the same bookstore. Peter’s on-again, off-again girlfriend didn’t show up to the store Christmas party. I played chess with him, and then we went back to my place. We talked on the couch. I went to the bathroom and shaved my pussy and thighs. When I walked back in, he was just standing there. We kissed. His beard itched my face. His pubic hair was wild. He put it in me without a condom. His necklace was swinging as he fucked me, so he flung it onto his back. He said, “What do you want?” He had a cold so he sniffled as he fucked me. There was something sweet about the way he sniffled, like the whole thing already felt normal.
It felt as though Peter had followed me home one day and never left. Sometimes men are like cabs with their lights on, and you just have to be there to pull them over. Later he told me I hurt him that night. That he wanted to cuddle and he felt bad because I rolled over and went to sleep. He fell in love with how I didn’t give a shit he was there.
“Don’t move,” he said to me, when I was sitting naked in a chair. “You look like a painting.” We touched so much it didn’t feel like someone else’s skin.
In the beginning we listened to music and everything was new. Five years later, we watched television and everything felt old.
Peter hated me for not being there, and then he hated me for being there. I had to keep remembering he loved someone who didn’t exist. As soon as he saw who I was, he would get the fuck away from me like any man in his right mind would. Ogden saw me for who I was, all the bad and all the good. He could keep it all in his mind and still wanted to fuck me.
Excerpt from conversation 12,983, Peter to me: “You live like a homeless person indoors.” Excerpt from conversation 20,939, Peter to me: “You make me feel like an employee.”
Excerpt from conversation 56,543, Peter to me: “You don’t understand why it makes me feel bad that you asked me not to speak when Benedict Cumberbatch is on television?”
In the beginning, I wanted to put Peter in the right clothes. I wanted to dress him up, take him around, and then bring him home and say, “Now take off your clothes and fuck me.” He wore brown, pleated corduroy pants, shirts with corporate logos, and sad brown shoes that his mother had bought him for Christmas. I put him in dark jeans, cool T-shirts, beaten flannels, and motorcycle boots.
If I divorced him, another woman would get him already fixed up.
After we got married, I encouraged (i.e., nagged) Peter to get a bartending job.
This was what Peter did when I tried to improve his life: he told me to leave him alone. A few days later he would say that after thinking about it he had come up with a plan, and his plan was exactly what I had told him to do. I couldn’t say how it was my idea to begin with, or he wouldn’t want to do it anymore.
Peter’s parents were born-again Christians and brought him up in a renovated barn with no heat. For no conceivable reason, his mother didn’t work. The kids were raised on the meager salary of his father, a preacher. His parents took pride in not collecting the welfare or food stamps they were doubtlessly eligible for. He was raised to believe that instead of being sad for what you don’t have, you should be happy having nothing. Nothingness was close to godliness. I was sad for him that they didn’t let him dream.
He saved change so he could buy a brand-new baseball cap. When he brought it home, his father yelled, “Do you know how much food you could have bought?” When Peter told me this story, I said, “Probably not very much.”
It broke my heart to think of this little kid who wanted a dumb baseball cap. Paging Dickens. It broke my heart again that his father had won—that he did break Peter in some fundamental way. Instead of teaching his son not to be brainwashed into thinking having things would ruin your life, he made his son believe he wasn’t good enough to have things. Peter would always think the world was divided between those who were served and those who were servers. That was probably why he drank. Achieving anything was hard enough without someone kicking the dreaming out of you.
I’m not a psychologist, but I could be. It’s not that hard to understand how people got all fucked up.
Peter showed up at an open call and got hired as a bartender on the spot. The guy who interviewed him was gay. Gay guys loved my husband. I used to think Peter was secretly gay and that gay guys could pick up on it, so I kept making jokes about him being gay, and then I tried to finger his ass when I blew him to see how he would react to penetration. He freaked out and told me he really wasn’t gay and to stop trying to finger his ass. He seemed suspiciously angry, so I figured he still might be part gay.
Peter yelled “I love you” through the bathroom door and left for work.
I got back in bed and bunched up the blanket and rubbed myself on it, but I must have fallen asleep before I came.
I woke up starving. I tried to love the hunger. I imagined the hunger was like the vibration you felt under your feet on a train. This hunger would lead to perfection: a face of cheekbones, hipbones sticking out, clavicles jutting. Light and empty.
Smart women are supposed to say certain things. You are supposed to say, “I care about being healthy, not skinny.” Or “[Insert female celebrity] looked better when she wasn’t so skinny. When she looked normal.” All women encourage one another to eat. They say, “I’m so jealous of your curves,” as they think, “Yeah, eat more, fatty.” I wanted nothing more than to be rail thin and say, “It’s so annoying. I eat so much and can’t ever gain weight.”
I opened a peach Greek yogurt. I had been subsisting on yogurt for the last seven days. I was tired of eating things with the consistency of baby food. When you are not eating, you are scared of yourself. Scared you will accidently run out and buy a pizza. It’s important to eat something so the hunger won’t build to the point that you do something crazy, like buy a jar of peanut butter thinking one bite won’t hurt, and then you’re like, fuck it, and eat the whole thing. As soon as I ate a bite of the yogurt, I felt like a failure.
You are living on an average of 120 to 400 calories a day, and 800 calories a day is considered a starvation diet. You feel empty and light. You feel like a winner, above those losers who have to fill their hole three times a day and then complain they are fat. You have plenty of energy with nothing in your belly. It’s terrifying how fast this becomes normal. You can’t eat the peach ooze at the bottom.
The more you want to be free of food, the more obsessed you become with it.
Eating so little makes your taste buds restless. You crave salt, sugar, hot sauce, mustard, pickles. Your tongue wants to come out of retirement and be alive. Weird food combinations. Using a tomato to shovel spicy mustard into your mouth, and in between, a squeeze of honey. You are basically eating garbage. Sometimes I felt like I was pushing against the day, and it wouldn’t go anywhere. I sat in the chair. Dust particles in the light. I stared into the mirror. I lifted my shirt. I sucked in my stomach and thought, This is how it would look.
Sometimes I sat around and hated my body. I hated how when I got fat it was all in my belly, so I looked pregnant. I was top-heavy, with my belly, huge tits, and fatty armpits being carried by two stick legs. If I were a doll, I would be falling over constantly. My armpits were fat and stupid. I hated how my thighs touched on the toilet seat. I hated how these giant hairs came out of my neck, like, Where the fuck did that come from? How so much of my life was spent tweezing and shaving and waxing. My big, sloppy tits. When I ran to the bus it was a scene. I had no ass. It was like a disfigurement, how my back had this little bit of fat hanging with a split in it. I wanted to tear my tits off and stuff all the fat in my ass so I‘d have one of those asses men could imagine slapping as they fucked it.
Ogden said, “You’re cute.” Cute meant you were a chubby girl with a nice face. All his exes were around my age and looked horse-faced and like they would never stop talking about boring things.
One of Ogden’s ex wrote a memoir about her rich, boring life and her brief addiction to coke. “Finally all the drug cliché memories, put in a blender and into one book.” —New York Times “Good for killing small bugs.” —Chicago Tribune “Another piece of garbage written by a privileged white woman with too much time on her hands, whom the world somehow has given the impression it gives a shit about her stupid life.” —Everyone who has ever read it
“Ogden, she sounds so boring I almost died,” I’d said to him after I read it. He stared at me blankly, and then said, “Nah, she was great.” He really did think she was great. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t have fucked her with your dick. He probably thought it was great how dumb and boring a woman could be.
It’s not fair how you could be this white girl with a busted face and you would be picked in the gym class of life before all the pretty brown girls. It didn’t matter how smart and cool you were. All these chill liberal guys who were all PC but they only wanted to put their cock in white girls. They could be unfair with their love and there wasn’t a damn thing you could about it.
The whole world wants young white girls.
You have to play dumb. Guys like being smart and funny. If you want to compete with white girls, the least you can do is learn to laugh at jokes, not make them up. To ask lots of questions and not tell stories.
Sometimes I wondered if there was a correlation between how Peter always bought himself the crappy stuff and him choosing me: a thrifty, generic brown one, instead of name-brand white one with blond hair. He had rummaged through the bin and said, “This brown one will do. It has all the same parts as the white one.” He liked things that were a little damaged or messed up. It gave him some kind of weird thrill. He mistook damage for having character.
Peter picked me, and I was throwing myself at an old man who would never ever pick me over a white girl. Sometimes when I was with Ogden, I thought too long about how Peter had really meant his vows, and a terrible feeling came over me that made my heart race. It was scary to have that kind of responsibility. I wished I could just fuck it up already and he would go. The idea of being totally faithful to Peter and trying my best to make it work filled me with dread and anxiety, because what would I hold on to if he left me? I knew deep down that Peter would leave me, so why would I stay faithful to him? Ogden was my safety net. Hopefully that meant I wouldn’t hit the ground too hard when it all blew up in my face.
I woke up at 4:25. I had five minutes to get to work. I spent the first three with my face buried in a throw pillow. I spent the last two looking for last of the “emergency” dope before I remembered I did it all before Peter left earlier.
I emptied the drawers looking for a T-shirt. You can never find the thing you’re looking for.
I felt like a mess in a mess. What if I were forty and digging through the same pile of clothes, looking for the same T-shirt, with no family or friends left? Do some lives stop like that? Everyone leaves, and nothing else happens.
You think, I only have this much time. I have to do important things. But then you can’t think of any important things.
I stared at myself in the mirror. What about this face made it mine? I scratched off an ice cream stain from my thermal. I felt a dread knotted in the back of my hair and ripped it apart. It was easy for everyone to wake up and shower and brush their teeth, but I lived between the days, so it was hard to know when to do these things. The courtyard was a major selling point when I had come to see the apartment—large, grassy, with manicured rows of flowers and a few trees. The type of thing people in New York City made out to be a big deal. “Wow, look at this.”
I bought the apartment with the money I had inherited when my father died.
My father had been thirty years older than my mom. He died at the age of ninety. I kept waiting to feel something after he died, like maybe there was some love stored up for him deep in my psyche, but the only tears that came were for my mother, who looked so gentle and broken at the funeral.
I felt bad for not feeling worse. People always talked about not getting over the death of a parent. When I said my father was dead, everyone was so sympathetic I felt like a fraud.
Before Peter, all my boyfriends had been older men. I suspected there was a father-sized hole inside me. I called Ogden “Daddy” when he fucked me.
I loved Ogden’s crow’s feet. He walked fast and talked like Lou Reed. He smoked cigarettes, and instead of using an ashtray, he would leave half-smoked cigarettes standing upright on bookshelves. He was such a New Yorker, the way he talked about leaving New York all the time.
One time I saw Ogden ash on his jeans and wipe the ash into the material. He owned drills and saws, and picked up boxes of stuff and moved them around. I liked men who moved stuff around.
It was my mother’s idea to buy the apartment. I loved it because it was old and cheap. Just like me one day. I didn’t care that it was on the ground floor and received no light. I didn’t care that it was far from the train. It was a cave. It was a womb. I didn’t want one of those shiny, crappy, parquet- floored drywall apartments in those new, flimsy motel-looking buildings the broker kept showing me. My apartment had plaster walls. It was solid. It cost 250,000 dollars.
It was cheap because fifteen years ago, a man broke into the apartment across the hall and shot the elderly couple who were asleep there, and then broke into my apartment, drank a beer, jerked off to porn tapes, and shot himself. Later it came out his girlfriend had dumped him.
That dude was fucking nuts.
The broker told me they used to have real fish in the fountain, but then people in the building started abusing them (her words), and they had to get rid of the fish. She probably said this to me, a potential buyer, to illustrate how she knew every quirky detail of the building’s eccentric history. But what she was actually relaying to her clients, and what I had to consider every time I passed that fountain, was that this was a building filled with people who would abuse fish if given the chance.
The day was dreary. I wore the weather like a torn shirt.
Grand Street was buzzing. The regular trio of weirdoes in front of the bodega. The girls with their gold chains and tight-ass jeans. Teenagers pushing strollers. A Hasidic woman in black with three yarmulked boys running ahead of her, their faces framed by ringlets. Like a Diane Arbus photo, two little girls, hand in hand, skipped down the sidewalk in perfect unison.
A white yuppie woman with a baby slung over her shoulder. The children looked like trophies. The women were mocking me, Haha, we got a man to have a baby with us!
I was pissed at Peter for not having a kid with me.
“My mom is so cool. She smokes pot with me, and she’s always encouraging me to do whatever I want,” my future kid would say.
I would be one of those sick mothers who was fat and forever complaining. “I spent my childhood taking care of my mother. She was always sending me to the store to buy two-liter bottles of Diet Coke with her disability checks,” my future kid would say.
Women with kids talk about how they are so busy and tired, but in their eyes they are saying, “Envy me.” I did. I wanted to be so tired and busy. If I believed in God, I would think he was waiting for me to get my shit together.
It didn’t seem that long ago that I would freak out every time my period was late, running into the all-night pharmacy to pick up a pregnancy test and ending up in a girlfriend’s bathroom, where we would chain-smoke and then gasp with relief when the plus didn’t appear in the oval. And now every second week of the month, I was met with the familiar disappointment when confronted with the smear of blood on toilet paper. A marker of yet another thing not happening. All those years imagining the horror of a screaming red-faced alien forcing its way out of me somehow morphed into the ultimate climatic conclusion of my biological longing. To lie there with a baby sucking on my nipple in a symbiotic bubble of warmth and love. To never be alone again. To have a reason to take care of myself. To love something more than myself. To have a clear and understandable answer to the question, “So what do you do?”
I wanted to erase myself. Where there was a picture of me, there would be a picture of a snotty, pudgy infant, new to the world, with its tiny hand out, grasping at nothing. On my Facebook page, above my name, there would be his or her little face. Take the best of me, take this genetic line further, and then a little further, till the sky turns black and we freeze and we melt. We are all babies. We will always be babies. All the babies will die. And one day they will be dead forever. But it was nothing to get stuck on. It was nothing to get snagged on. Enjoy the rolling skies of your time- lapsed world: This was where you crawled out of the ocean, this was where you walked. That was where you were running, and then you were lying, and now you’re looking up at the ceiling, and above the ceiling is the same sky that rolls ahead and will keep rolling on after you are gone. Say, “Look at that.” Think, I can do that. Don’t be scared. It will all be over long after no one remembers you. When I was in India to scatter my father’s ashes, I saw children just crawling around in the garbage. Probably just a matter of bribing the right person. Better that way—set the standard low. So you could think, At least you’re not crawling around in the garbage, if you ended up fucking up the kid’s life somehow. But of course, you would never say that.