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Writing group 20150531

Patrick Ball. Cursed be his name and his children.

No, that’s wrong. He’s fine. Cursed be Christina and all of her name.

No, that’s wrong. I’m inept. Like so many other times, I missed all the red flags. Well, I didn’t miss them so much as purposefully ignore them. Well, I didn’t so much ignore them as watch them as we zoomed by them. I breathed deep. I trusted. I whiffed at love. I missed it all.

Patrick. How deeply in trouble were we by the time we met Patrick?

In many ways, Patrick reminded me of myself but better, classier. I had quit Tae Kwon Doe in my youth and stopped wrestling after my knee accident, gaining weight up to the 280 pound lard asses I used to have made fun of in my youth, forgetting that I had been fat before wrestling, too. Patrick was a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Doe, never one to back down from anything as far as I know.

I drank sometimes and casually. Patrick was a vodka conesseur. After having drunk a bottle of wine myself in my own apartment at my own party (Halloween 2004), I left my party and found my way over to Patrick’s apartment where I drank vodka with him and Christina into the wee hours of the night. Then we went to iHop, where I spent at least 10 minutes vomiting in their awful toilet in their awful bathroom. Not my shiniest moment.

I read Terry Goodkind through book #6. Patrick had read Terry Goodkind and had informed opinions about King’s Dark Tower trilogy and had read more besides. I’m not sure that’s a point in his favor, but we’ll call it that for now.

Built like a little truck with cropped blonde hair, he reminded me of myself, and I liked him. Christina liked him, too. We had met him in Japanese class, and I had seen him around my apartment complex (LL Sams) and befriended him, and he and Christina became fast friends, and everything was in line for him to join our group. But then Christina asked me to back off and let her have him as her own friend instead of being our friend, and I agreed. Why did I agree to that?

“You’re socially agressive,” she told me one day. “All my friends are your friends now.”

I asked, “Aren’t they our friends, and isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t we all belong?”

“But they used to be my friends,” she insisted. “Prachi used to be my friend, and you didn’t even like her, and she didn’t like you. And whatever happened to Katie? I used to be friends with Katie.” (Christina and Prachi had lived together sophomore year; Prachi had disliked Mani, who openly and purposefully offended her on their first meeting [Mani being Mani.].)

“Katie doesn’t like me, but I don’t have any problem with her. You can invite her around if you want.”

“There is no being around me without being around you.”

I didn’t know what to say. (Now that I’m wondering, where were Patrick’s friends? Why did we only meet him and never anyone new from him?)

“Just back off, okay?” she finished. “Let me have Patrick to be my friend, not your friend, not our friend.”

“Okay,” I said. Why did I agree to that?

This would have been in September sometime, with Halloween to follow. Then sometime maybe in December I knew the end was at hand, and I fucked her one last time on his couch. And we broke up. And I broke; all spring I was broken. (Where in all this was that shaming walk with Kalli? It must have been before the breakup; I remember Patrick being thoroughly uncomfortable and offering to back off if that’s what I wanted. Was he sincere or coy? Was it all well-planned, or was loving Christina a gift that appeared in his lap one day?) (Where in all this Christina moving in with him? I think it must have been by October; why did Christina have to move in the middle of the semester? And where Brody, attached to her previous apartment?)

Christmas came and went, and sometime around February I remember staying up all night crying over Terry Goodkind. The book was awful and totally incapable of causing any reaction in me, but the pain of missing Christina had ripped me up, and my stomach hurt until I cried. I had been writing her poems, but now I began writing her essays like our old days. I wrote one based on Third Eye Blind’s “Good For You”, which is how I saw Christina, rattling chaotically through my mind. I left it at the door of her and Patrick’s apartment. She met me down on the stairs in between our buildings, and I cried and bawled and would have kissed her feet if she hadn’t told me that I needed to be not so pathetic. I stopped crying but still sniffled, and I asked her if there was any chance of getting back together, and she said no. (When in that time did she and Patrick get together officially? I don’t know.)

As soon as Christina and I were broken up, Allison made herself available. I visited her apartment with Aaron one day, and while he was off in the bathroom, she confessed her deep attraction to me. I rebuffed her, both because she was Aaron’s girlfriend and because Christina and my separation was still too raw. (Christina and I were married in the eyes of God, weren’t we? We negotiated the morality of our sex, said our vows, and I entered her gently. Wouldn’t God protect us? Isn’t there either love or not love? Isn’t love–true love, not just lust–immortal? Isn’t immortal love what we were supposed to have together?) I left Allison rejected, and she admitted to Aaron what she had done, and I lost his friendship for years (and abandoned hers until the next August, when she called me one day and asked me if she would visit Dallas whether I would fuck her, and c’mon, you don’t say no to an offer like that).

As soon school restarted after Christmas break, Sarah made herself available. I rebuffed her, not just because of Christina or because Steve but also because she was still friends with Courtney and Andrea. But she stayed by my side all semester, and friends and strangers asked us how long we’d been together and when we’d marry, and I kept asking her if she’d visit Europe with me after my graduation, and the night before I left she finally said yes, and my sister got so sick of our flirtations (if they were there at all) that she ditched, and then we started fucking–me and Sarah, in Europe, before Allison–and we kept going for the rest of the trip, and when we got back all our friends asked if we were together and she said yes and I said no, and that did us in for a year until I went down to Waco to help Justin move out of college and Sarah and I rekindled and re-began fucking and I got jealous of her going out to clubs and nailed her down in a relationship and didn’t dump her like I should have when I moved to Boston and I lived in years of jealousy of her out at clubs and drunk with her friends and years of misery once she moved up to Boston to be with me. She suffered her auto-immune disorder, and I suffered a layoff and bankruptcy, and then one day soon I left. That’s the story of me and Sarah writ short.

But that spring semester I pined. I watched her longingly from afar and cried at her feet. I lived deep in shame about my dumping her and deep in anxiety about whether we would find our immortality again. We talked in the bath house, and we talked in her and Patrick’s apartment. (Where in that timeline did she tell me that she wouldn’t be my Beatrice? After we broke up and before winter break, I think.)

I think that she had cheated on me with Billy that first Christmas break, but during that summer in Oxford I did cheat on her. I fell for Julie, her too of glowing white skin and straight brown hair and philosophical tossings and romantic pinings. I spent almost my whole summer with Julie and under Justin’s careful and socially ambitious scrutiny: “Why do you spend some much time with her? Let’s meet other people on the trip, too,” he pleaded, but I only had time for July and Justin. I engaged in social obligation to interact with whoever he brought along for our plans, which prompted my only interactions with Kelly (to Dublin) and Alan (for a night of drinking in Trafalgar Square).

Also, too, with Katie (Dunlap) on that same trip. One night in Oxford, Justin, Kiran, Katie, Haley, and I went to a bar. We met a Texas oil tycoon who bought us who reminded him of home pitchers of Long Island Ice Teas, and I must have drunk a pitcher myself. I stumbled back with the rest to Christchurch College, and I left Kiran and Justin at Justin’s room near the gate even after Kiran asked to walk me back to my room, I think to protect me from Katie, who–to be fair to her–did get my back to my room unmolested. After I closed the door, she returned and knocked, and when I opened it, she launched at me, kissing and hugging and fondling me, and I got her to my little bed and opened her pants and put my fingers inside her, easily gliding in her hot wetness. But somewhere along the way I lost steam, and rather than engaging in drunken (at least on my part) sex with Katie (as I had previously with Sydney, ending in chlamydia [Did I remember that in my drunken stupor?], you fool), I asked her instead whether she wouldn’t want to make this real, and whether she wouldn’t prefer for me to be sober and we could do this thing for real, and she agreed and left me for the night (as far as I remember), and the rest of the trip she would sit on my lap and we would kiss lightly and I might fondle her, but never did we hook up, but even on the plane ride back I was promising to break up with Christina and make me and Katie a real thing, but when I disembarked the plane, there was Christina, and I hugged her and loved her and kissed her all in front of Justin’s father (in fact, where in this was Katie? We came back on the same flight, and Christina met me at the baggage claim….) (The passion with which I met Christina feels indistinguishable from the passion with which I meet my wife in my most dire need, and that’s an awful feeling, to know that despite emotional health and maturity, my desire is only my desire is only my desire.)

(And speaking of drunken sex, there, too, was Emily. Junior year: I remember her visiting me at Rivercrest. [How did we meet, me and fat Emily, the education major? After her, I agree wholeheartedly with the stereotype that education majors are all horny freaks, making female teacher / male student sex scandals not at all surprising; they were so popular around my knowing Emily.] She came to my apartment and wanted to get drunk together and fuck, but I rebutted that if you couldn’t do something sober you would do drunk, you probably shouldn’t be doing that thing, and she agreed and came over and sober we fucked. Later, at her apartment [near Christina’s, across the intersection, I remember], she tried to introduce toys, and the hippocracy of this in the face of her Christianity [Did we meet at a chruch? Or did I just hear her talk about her Christianity often?] was too deep a turn off for me, and I had to leave her unsatisfied, and we never fucked again. A constant refrain for those Texas Christian girls: I didn’t mind premarital sex, but if you do, then don’t come fuck with me. Outside of the mysticism of my adoration for Christina, I’m not and never have been particularly religious, and I don’t want my conflict for your moral state to cloud the clarity of my moral state. I want to be a good man; I just don’t know how somtimes.

The wanting to be a good man colored why I participated so painfully in the relationship with Christina and also my choice of majors and the subjects I took seriously, like Christianity. Christina asked me once early in sophomore year whether I was in a relationship with her because it was convenient or whether I would fight for her if we didn’t share courses or otherwise didn’t have convenient reasons to be together. I told her I would fight for her, of course, but then we broke up before winter break, and I think we did break up because being in a relationship while so far apart would be inconvenient and we did get back together on returning from winter break, so I mean, really…. And I spent a lot of my time during this year and next wondering about whether a man was better for struggling and overcoming or never having struggled in the first place. [Who makes the better drug counselor: the recovered addict, or the psychologist who studied but never felt addiction?] And I decided in these years that I would never write for profit, which seemed moral, but I am selling my life hour by hour, and I don’t know how to measure the moral difference between selling hours as raw ore or hours as refined writing. And I decided in these years to change from CSI to GTX, but I don’t have any proof after the fact that a liberally educated man is actually capable of being a better man than a computer scientist. And in these years I spent too much and made too little, I too deeply engaged in too small suffering and too lightly valued my joys, and I expirimented too broadly with too many things that left too many marks. [Remember Jennie and the sophomore year rape and the junior year casual sex and the kicking out of Mani and the spring break that began his whole engagement story and all its heartache. Remember Sydney and the chlamydia. Remember being on the phone with single Christina during a break in the night shift at Walmart singing her 3 Doors Down lyrics while suffering the burning urine of that disease. Remember the actual arrogance that superceded the casual accusations of your and BIC members known arrogance. Remember the cheating and the broken promises and the heartache you brought on yourself. Remember that, you who to presumed to be good. Remember what a little shit you were.

([Remember, too, the wild flowers. Remember, too, the art. Remember, too, the friends. Remember, too, the pride of your schooling, and help you gave as a teacher’s assistant, and the swooning you prompted as a Student Advocate. Remember Kate’s broad shoulders in that dress she wore that night, and remember how proud she felt to know you. Remember your strengths as well as your shortcomings. Remember your successes as well as your anxieties. Remember it all, you fool.])

**

I was arrested at the Bellmead Wal-Mart my freshman year. Colt and I would drive up there at night, usually after 9 or 10pm, and we would grab drinks out of the fridges in the back and hang out drinking them in the closed McDonalds and then walk the store aisles looking for goodies. We made off with hundreds, I think, in valuables, including a graphite pool stick (which I used) and a cordless phone (which we didn’t). The cordless phone had been the display model not properly secured, and we had gotten it home before we realised that it didn’t have a power supply, so we had returned the next night to get a generic charger. I put the charger down the front of my pants, and Colt had some other items–I think maybe a video game CD and some music CDs–in his pockets, and we even bought something, but not the power supply in my pants, and that set off the theft detectors.

Let me tell you that if you’re ever in this situation–leaving a store where you’ve stolen something and the system goes off–walk, don’t run, to your car. Don’t stop, don’t turn around, don’t look confused on guilty, don’t return into the store to see if you can be of help. Colt followed this advice and made off with his merchandise. I didn’t and got pulled into the manager’s office and waited around for the police to show up, and when they did they put me in handcuffs and took me to jail for the night.

It wasn’t super scary: I sat alone in a solitary cell for a while, and then they moved me over to the general holding cell with nine or ten other men. I picked a bench against the wall and covered myself in the scratchy potato sack blanket they’d given me, and I woke up in the morning a little while before it was my time to “see the judge”, and I wondered about whether they’d let me out in time to get to class and how I’d make it back to Baylor from the jail.

Colt attended class that morning while I stood in front of a TV with a satellite link to the Bellmead judge, and he asked me casually whether I pleaded guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the class C misdemeanor of theft under $50, and I pleaded guilty, and he said, “Fine,” and gave me back all my pocket stuff and let me go. End of experience. I called Colt, and he came and picked me up, and we laughed about it, and life went on with no consequence. #crimingwhilewhite

This was probably in or around the time that I was getting to know Jennie and stealing her away from her long distance relationship with Jimmy, whose friendship had begun to wane while I was at Baylor and he was still in Dallas. I didn’t tell Jennie (or anyone else until much later) about the incident, and nothing ever came of it. Jennie came to visit me in Texas and that first day we met gave me head in the grass around that Frisco pond, which as far as I was concerned made her the greatest girlfriend in the world. We stopped at a Victoria’s Secret on the way back to her parents’ house in some richy suburb just like Plano north of Fort Worth, and very similarly to my first experience, I blushed and couldn’t look at any of the merchandise; she grabbed my hand and lead me around the store asking me about this and this and this, and then she tried the items on and we went to her parents’ home and she wore them and pulled a muscle in her back while we fucked, which I thought was both funny and pretty mortifying, since she had to keep referencing the pain and make up a story about how she’d done it once her parents came home.

I visited Jennie for her prom (I bought my plane ticket on a credit card! How exciting!) and met her highschool friends, one of whom (Stacy) was hotter than she was and I flirted with on and off throughout the evening, and the other of whom was more overtly sexual (like Sarah’s Big Bean) and whom I avoided throughout the night. She had remained in California with family friends when her parents had moved to Fort Worth for her father’s job (radio tower engineer), and though those adults had put me in a separate room, I spent most nights with Jennie. I remember I went down on her for what must have been fifteen minutes, and I thought I’d never get her off, but eventually we got there, and my cheeks were sore all the next day, and I later learned more specifically what I was supposed to be doing and never had to perform for that long again. I also remember learning for the first time about California’s drastic weather changes between day and night: we had gone to an ocean-side cliff near her house to watch the sunset, and one minute it was 80 and I was dressed comfortably, and the next it was 60 and I was sorely underdressed, and I shivered all the way back to the car. (This, b-t-dubs, is why Californian men where sweatshirts and shorts, and sandals and socks.)

It was in this context, of Jennie’s sexual maturity and knowledge outstripping my own, that the rape occurred. I had been losing interest in her for the whole month she had attended Baylor, and one night I didn’t answer her call, and she came to my home anyway, and opened my door anyway, and I didn’t respond to her being in my apartment, and she fucked me anyway, and she came and I didn’t, and she left anyway. And we broke up.

It was in this context that she proposed that double-date, and in this context that I casted about for others to join us, and in this context that I didn’t care much about how Christina’s presence or our interest in each other offended her: early sophomore year.

Later, early junior year sometime, she would reach out to my via AIM, and I would agree that lonely horniness was the worst, she would come over and we would begin our non-serious sexual fling, and in this context that she would begin dating Mani and stop fucking me, and in this context that I would ask them not to fuck in my bed (literally anywhere else is fine, like Steve and Sarah, just not in my bed, OK?) and they would fuck in my bed and I would kick Mani out and tell him as long as he’s coming to see her and not me he can stay in a fucking hotel, OK? And in this context that Mani and I would bro-fest to Padre for spring break and he would ask for my blessing to propose to her, to which I deferred and accepted rather than agreed, and in this context that they would get engaged shortly thereafter. And in this context that that BIC religion (world cultures IV?) professor would say, “Let’s get the gossip out of the way: hands up those who got engaged over spring break,” and half the room raised their hands and I didn’t, and a few colleagues in the room gasped and asked that I didn’t propose to Christina, and I shrugged and said it wasn’t for us yet. And in this context that Justin moved in at the beginning of summer and the Greek intensive happened and Christina’s uber-jealousy of my attention happened and the cheating events of Baylor in Oxford happened and my joy at returning to Christina after such a long break happened and I reinvested in what I knew in my head but not in my heart was a pretty bad relationship. And in this context that Christina and my winter trip to New York so we could find our places in the world fell apart even though I had already bought the tickets, and so I called the airline (American?) asking for a refund but only getting transfer value, and in this context got my ticket to Europe for post-graduation and eventually the idea to visit McKay in New York (fall 2005? spring 2006?) and shop my resume around at publishing houses (utter failure, of course), and in this context that I visited NYU’s evening for their masters in publishing program (marketing focused) and visited Boston to see Emerson’s masters in publishing program (editorial focused), and in this context that I decided to go to Emerson, in which context I got accepted to Emerson’s graduate certificate (rather than master’s) program, in which context I got confused about whether I wanted the masters in publishing program or the MFA, in which context I took a year off to decide and experienced the absolute despair of listless life and a World of Warcraft addiction and opted for the MFA, in which context I’m here to write at all. Ah, life.

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Filed under brainstorming, Writing

Christina, a terror deep in my heart

The way that I met Christina was a total fluke, like most of the best things in life are. Sometime in the fall first semester of my sophomore year at Baylor Jennie and I had just broken up, but she was committed to remaining friends (she was still a freshman, and I was her best friend on campus apart from her roommate Rose) and had decided that we and my next door neighbor Jay and his girlfriend Brandy should all go to a movie together. Rose was invited but wouldn’t attend; she didn’t like me very much, or she was busy that night, or both. I dreaded what seemed essentially like a double date, so I began inviting everybody and anybody without any sort of filter.

The person I was most excited about having invited was a guy named Grayson. He was handsome and smart, built like a linebacker and as quick to answer classroom silence (with the correct answer, no less) as me–just the sort of person I’d like to know. We were taking the BIC’s Social World I class together, which meant every Tuesday and Thursday we would meet for an hour and a half in one of Tidwell’s old classrooms, and this was before my switch to the Great Texts program so I was only so acquainted with the building at the time. From outside it had the undeniable look of a phallus with a transept as long as the central tower was tall, meaning it had two bulbous two-story wings skirting a five-floor tower. I believe we would have met in the west wing, second floor.

I asked Grayson to the movie, and he said yes, and I smiled and asked a few of the people around us if they’d like to come too, and Christina said yes. I hadn’t noticed her much before, but she had an easy (if small) smile and straight brown hair draping vibrant brown eyes, and her skin had an almost iridescent glow. I believe she sat behind Grayson a row. I accepted, and she wrote her number on the inside cover of my Republic paperback, and we coordinated.

Of all the people who accepted my movie invitation, only Christina actually attended. She showed up at the doorstep of my shitty, wood-panneled, straight out of the 70s apartment with an awkward smile to spend the evening with a group of people she’d never met before, one of whom was my very recent ex-girlfriend who may or may not have been trying to keep the relationship alive.

We clearly got along, Christina and I, laughing and talking and getting to know each other, mimicking all the movement of a first date in front of Jennie, Jay, and Brandy, who had to content themselves to together playing third wheel. I was so interested in this new person and the sweet sound of her laugh and the softness of her hair that I didn’t pay my friends any mind. After the movie, Jennie went home in a huff–she wouldn’t forgive me for weeks–and Brandy went home at some point, which left just me, Christina, and Jay in my living room getting to know each other.

The movie we had gone to see was The Ring. I had never particularly liked horror–one of my childhood memories is my parents’ second honeymoon, when they left my sister and I at home with a live-in babysitter who made me watch Witches and screamed at me very like a witch every time something scary happened; I also remember the shivering fear I felt during Arachnophobia–so I didn’t pay it much mind at the time except to feel a few jitters under my skin and to act brave in front of this girl I was beginning to desperately want to befriend. Little did I know that I had just bought myself three years of nightmare fodder.

When I woke up on my couch in the morning, Christina and Jay were both gone. I must have fallen asleep while we were all still chatting, and they left me to go to their homes and sleep. I yawned and stretched and prepared to wake up, and then my TV turned on–

To static. Loud white noise filled the room.

I blinked at the TV for a minute and looked around the couch for a remote before remembering I didn’t have one. I squinted at the TV for a moment, remembering next the drowned girl crawling and the water spilling out of TV screens before each murder in The Ring. Ghosts aren’t real, I chided myself. This is just some fluke. I got up and went and turned the TV off, shrugging. I walked to the kitchen wondering whether I had woken up to the TV and its noise. Maybe Jay and Christina had tried to watch some cable and screwed up the TV settings before they left for the evening and just hadn’t turned it off. I shrugged again.

When I cracked open my fridge to grab some breakfast, the white noise filled my apartment again. I poked my head around the corner to see the TV playing static. I squinted suspiciously at the TV again, trying to figure out how it had turned back on. I resolved: I’ll turn off this TV again and stand a few feet back for a minute–in case of groping, ghostly arms looking to pierce me or drag me down to hell–and if it turns back on again, I’m fucking bolting. Fuck whether ghosts aren’t real or not.

So I walked up to it and I turned it off again. I stepped back out of arm’s reach of the TV. I waited.

It turned on. I bolted.

Outside, Christina and Jay had begun to laugh big belly laughs. I heard them before I had opened to door of my apartment. When I got outside, I saw Jay crouched under my living room window with a smart remote in his hand, which he and I had programmed to my TV the week before. Christina looked at me somewhat sheepishly. I suppose from my current vantage she was waiting for my reaction as a sort of social test, to see whether I had a sense of humor or would react violently or whatever she was waiting for. At the time, it seemed like an innocent reaction to their perfectly played prank. I cracked a smile, and I took a deep breath, and I said with a nod, “Good one.” Then we packed up and went to Denny’s.

I had only had one recurring nightmare before: My (unnamed, anonymous) friends were trapped on a docked submarine with a green-faced witch chasing them. I entered the submarine to help them escape, but all I found was the terror of long corridors and outstretched, sharp-nailed hands. I couldn’t help anyone, and the witch pursued me (and my friends?) around the submarine until it left dock, and submerged, and we were all trapped together forever. Sometimes my mother would wake me up before the witch caught me; sometimes I would wake up with a gasp as the hand finally stretched for a grab I couldn’t escape. I dreamt this maybe every few months between eleven and thirteen; I remember it occurred one morning before my family attended a regular Custer Road United Methodist service, and we only attended those for a year or two.

The witch from the submarine never permeated my waking life the way the drowned girl of The Ring came to. I saw her bloated rotting hand every time I closed my eyes in the shower. Sometimes in the dark of night before bed, I could see her silhouetted against the textured plaster of my bedroom. When Christina and I would take one of our cars and drive out into the darkness of a Texas night to kiss and fondle and chat under the stars, sometimes Christina’s straight brown hair would drape around her face to shadow or cover her features, and fear would stab my heart, and I would remind myself to breathe, that I shouldn’t fear a movie, that Christina and I were in love and her kiss and her hand softly resting on my chest was the fuel of my life. After I admitted my fear to her–with a laugh, pure posturing and silliness–Christina would climb on top of me in bed and move her hair into her face and lean over me, and the drape of it would tickle my cheeks, and always I found this electric, though sometimes with endearment and sometimes with fear.

I never dreamed again of the submarine witch. Instead, it became a drowned girl with damp brown hair for a face standing in the expansive lawn of some autumnal manse, brown leaves covering the grass between the road and the half-circle gravel driveway. She would stand there in the lawn and watch me from behind her hair, and I would bask in the utter terror of her presence, and leaves would rustle peacefully around us. Every few months I had that dream, me and The Ring’s ghost standing under fall skies in the lawn of some wealthy house.

Years passed before these dreams broke, before I could close my eyes in the shower without succumbing to a dreadly suspicion and opening my eyes to suds to make sure no girl had appeared in my tub. Still more years had to pass before I could think of Christina outside the scope of sheer dread. I didn’t (and don’t) think of her this way often, but as an introduction: It has been so difficult for my to write about college because behind this funny circumstance is a nugget of terrible truth: I fear that I lost happiness in college, that I sold it for a few tragic months, that I lost my ability to engage and empathize, which had always defined my idealism, itself my defining quality. What shell of a man must I be to lack those things today, and how (or even did I) lost myself so thoroughly along the way?

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

A freelancer’s beginning

On August 24, 2006, Emerson College sent me a letter asking me to take part in their Graduate Certificate in Book Publishing. They had denied my application to their Masters of Arts in Book Publishing but judged that I would fit in with their certificate program. I saw the program as a distinct end to my post-college unemployment, my living off near-to-minimum wage in combination with parents’ gratuity while I tried to find my place in the world. Hell, the program could define my place.

Also, I had wanted to leave Texas since I was a child and had made many frustrated attempts throughout my life. I was determined that my exodus to graduate school would not be denied, however.

When I received the news, I shouted, actually screamed for the joy of it. I called my mother and father, who had not been home when I opened the letter. I called Justin and Steve, two of my high school friends I still kept in touch with. I called Sarah and told her all about it, told her about how this meant no more jobs at coffee shops and no more crying about the worthlessness of Texas. I told her that this meant everything would be all right.

It wasn’t until later, when she had asked me if I would come to Waco for her birthday or if I wanted her to come to Dallas, that I realized this meant leaving her. In hindsight, it’s strange to think that neither of us recognized that immediately. But Emerson started on September 12 that year. I had to get up to Boston somehow with at least my clothes and Kallion, my dog.

How does one completely disassemble their life and relocate to Boston within two weeks of receiving the news that he could go if he wanted? I mean, I didn’t have to accept Emerson’s invitation. I could’ve stayed in Dallas, living in Steve’s parents’ house and working at Starbucks while I scrounged for gainful employment unsuccessfully, resisting Sarah’s insincere invitations to move in with her back at Baylor instead.

My parents had kicked me out after six months because my dog sheds a ridiculous amount. Part Husky and part German Shepherd, she sheds year round, her short coat when it’s hot and her long coat when it’s cold (Texas only has two seasons, hot and cold.). They asked me to keep her outside all of the time, even when I was home and when I was asleep. But I sleep with Kalli in my bed. She lies on the couch next to me when I write. She loves me and trusts me, and all in all I’m more of a parent than an owner to her. I would no sooner leave my four-year-old child outside all day, and I flatly refused. So away I went, and I took my dog with me.

My parents had hoped that kicking me out would give me the spark I needed to find a job, as if my unemployment had come by choice rather than circumstance. My Bachelor of Arts in Great Texts of the Western Tradition, while being a great conversation starter (General response to hearing it is, “What?” Never “Huh?” always “What?”), looks worthless on a resume. I also listed the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, which–despite how it’s sold to freshman–no one actually cares about outside of a collegiate environment. I had zero office skills, zero contacts worth pursuing, and zero prospects. Hence, I put my college degree to work at Starbucks.

Dallas is a tech city, and I am not a techie. While I’m fascinated with computers and video games to a point where I know computer languages simply to make me a better player, I couldn’t finish a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Baylor. Dallas has almost no art scene and actually no writing scene, and I stood out like a sore thumb among the resumes of my more technically proficient colleagues.

The one job interview I received was for a proofreading and copywriting position at a young health insurance company, and I misspelled guarantee in a sample they had me write on the spot. They caught it; they questioned my proofreading skills over it (fairly), and that was the end of the interview.

I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, and Concise Rules of APA Style. I was determined to find freelance work by cold contacting companies and just asking. They can’t reject you until you ask, after all.

I found two freelancing gigs through Gmail, Google.com’s email service. As one by one my cover letters to Dallas companies found their way back as rejections, the language used in the conversations prompted Google’s adbot to list a series of self-publication and editorial companies for amateur authors. A light went on in my head.

ProofreadNOW.com had taken me on staff because the owner, Phil, had a daughter attending Baylor when I contacted him. I told him that I had no proofreading experience and that I was still browsing the style guides I had bought with minimal understanding. He took me on anyway. After two months he fired me, saying that my proofreading skills weren’t par with their expectations.

A-1 Editing responded to my query with an editorial test. I completed the reading section with some light proofreading and editorial queries, and apparently my effort pleased the owner, Nicole. She sent the first manuscript about a month afterwards. I worked on it slowly and carefully, attempting to maintain my good first impression. I returned the manuscript to her on deadline and promptly received another.

Nicole wrote one of my letters of recommendation to Emerson, one of the few tokens of proof that I had some experience in publishing. My acceptance into the certificate program probably rested largely on her merit alone. She lifted me out of unemployment and creative stagnation, a shift in my life for which I’ll never quite be able to repay her.

All I had to show for one year out of college in Texas was Starbucks and two freelancing gigs, one a failure and the other a success. My parents had kicked me out of their house. I couldn’t afford to move out of Steve’s parents’ house because my Starbucks wages only covered my credit card minimums, car payments, and student loans, not all of which had come out of their grace period yet. Unemployed, broke, and homeless with my dog in tow, I could’ve stayed.

I still can’t explain how I fit all of my most important possessions in my little two-door 2000 Honda Accord. I knew how to break the computer chair down with hex keys, but even in its component parts the base of the chair, a five-point plastic star with a wheel on each leg, never quite fit anywhere. I ended up shoving it into the floorboard in front of the passenger seat. Kalli took the passenger seat herself, eyeing the base distrustfully. Three heavy, book-filled boxes took the back seat and rested on a comforter and a few bedspreads to protect the leather. In the trunk, my computer (but not a monitor) sat next to the space heater and my one bag of clothes.

The whole time I packed, alone over the boxes and still more alone carting the heavy items to the car, I kept asking myself how it was going to work. How could I, broke and alone and afraid, make it to Boston? I had $700 to my name, which included my last check from Starbucks (Stephanie had gotten corporate to print it early so that I wouldn’t have to have them send it to me later on.). How could the next few days of my life play out successfully? How would fate find yet one more way to bring me back to Plano, dejected and frustrated?

I determined that while I wasn’t sure about a single moment in the rest of my life, I was sure as hell gonna head to Boston and find out.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Four: The waffle press redux

No apologies for the late post. Muaha.

**

Near hysteria, I plod through my parents’ attic. I can tell I’m losing it, that I’m on the verge of tears. My mother calls up the stairs wanting to know what the hell is going on. My father doesn’t know what to say.

“I’m looking for the waffle iron,” I say. I choke up. I’ve thrown boxes helter-skelter across the attic. I’ve taken out the box with all my college kitchen stuff out of the attic and emptied it of its contents all the way down to the newspaper coating the bottom in the TV room. It was the dishes clanking together as I unconcernedly scattered them across the floor that really set my mom off; Dad had watched silently, confused and almost afraid.

“Where is it?” I yell, hurting my throat. The closer I get to tears, the more obviously I glottal.

“We don’t know,” my father answers. They haven’t taken it out of my boxes, they say. They’ve been on a no-carb diet for months, maybe years, and even if they were going to eat something like that, my father would make pancakes; they haven’t had waffles in years.

I can’t have left it behind, I say to myself and aloud accusatorially, but the finger is pointing at me despite my parents’ premonitions. I can’t have left it behind! I remember taking it out of the kitchen and putting it in the fucking box, don’t I? Of course I remember doing it! It’s fucking ridiculous to think I’d’ve left it behind.

Gabe wouldn’t have taken it, would he? I remember that day he cooked with my garlic clove and wouldn’t fess up to it. When he…. Oh, this line of thought isn’t going anywhere; Gabe didn’t take it. Justin wouldn’t’ve taken it. I either brought it home or I left it at Baylor. And I didn’t leave it behind, so it’s here, somewhere.

I rip through the boxes again, even when my mother’s anger becomes tinted with fear. “It’s just a waffle iron,” she says. “You can buy another one and she’ll never know.” But it’s not Sarah’s opinion of me I’m worried about, though I certainly wouldn’t want to confess to her that I’d lost it; No, I want it for myself. I want the waffle maker, that one fucking thing, and I fucking lost it!

I tear down the stairs like a shot, leaving my parents to stare over the mess. I hear my mother say in a very loud note of command, “Oh no!” once she hears her pots and pans clanging out onto the floor. She moves into the living room and calls me in there as if I were her dog, and I obey.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks incredulously.

“I’m looking for the god damned waffle maker!” I shout. A tear falls down my left cheek, and she sees it.

“Why does it matter so much?” she asks.

“’Cuz she….” My voice trails off, dead. My brain stops for a moment, and more tears fall. “’Cuz she gave it to me,” I finally answer, turning to go back into the kitchen.

“Well we don’t have it!” she calls after me even though there’s not even a wall separating us. “It’s not in our kitchen! And you’ll have to clean up whatever you take out!”

I’m not worried about threats of cleanliness, though. All that matters is recovering the waffle press. She gave it to me so long ago, before we were even dating, and it’s all falling apart, falling away. I have to find it. If I can find it, everything will be alright, will be okay again.

I pull out all the pots and pans in the cabinets under the silverware, set them out on the tile. I look under the stove on the island, but there’s nothing except grilling equipment. I look under coffee maker, under the sink, in all the miscellaneous drawers and cabinets. Nothing, nothing, nothing! Where the fuck is it? my voice screams inside my head, echoing through my brain as if it were a stone valley, causing an avalanche of sanity, a loss of control.

My tears fall in earnest, now. I can barely see the objects my hands put aside, only dimly aware that each one isn’t what I’m looking for. I start to move towards the oven, to the drawer underneath it. My parents keep ovenware in there, stones and oven proof pots and my father’s electric… electric skillet.

I slow down in my stride. My eyes flicker in and out of squinting as the pieces move into place, the memory resurfaces of making my parents waffles while waiting to leave for Europe, my mother asking me how I clean the surface since we can’t put it in the dishwasher, her balking expression when I tell her that I don’t, that I don’t clean it.

The drawer glides along the wheels that hold it up as I pull it open. I see it immediately, behind a stone basin made to cook a turkey and on top of my father’s electric skillet. They haven’t had waffles in years, he said; it’s been years since I made them wafflecakes, panwaffles, panfles. The press isn’t Belgian, no, it only makes small dimples in the pancakes. The last time my parents had waffles was when I made them some on Sarah’s press after I came home from college.

Don’t call it my press, Sarah always said to me when I referred to her presents as hers. I told her that I called them her presents because they were so obviously from her, so perfect and timeless. Sarah’s press. I found it under the oven.

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A Relationship in Presents, Part Two: Italy, the country of lovers

To those of you who are subscribed via any service except email: I did something exceedingly foolish and changed the feedburner URL, which probably ruined your subscription. Subscribe again to solve this problem. Sorry for the inconvenience.

**

This series explores style in addition to memory and basic aesthetics. I encourage you, for your own fun, to compare this piece with the previous part and to define for yourself the differences and how they affect the writing and the reading, and to continue the experiment for the upcoming parts.

Remember to contribute to this week’s Themed Thursday. I’m really excited to see what other posts crop up! 🙂

**

Sarah and I walked through Europe hand in hand. Originally I had traveled with my sister, but she and I had been estranged for years, and isolating ourselves from our parents in Europe didn’t seem to help whether we got along or not. Beth and I split ways at first when she went to Amsterdam; I went to London to pick Sarah up. We met back up in Paris and tried to make things work, but we weren’t friends, weren’t friendly, and when we were preparing to leave Avignon, Beth split, leaving Sarah and I alone.

We had been friends all through college, one of those friendships where people ask, “So when are you two getting married?” They ask all the time, always with the same rising hysterical note where you can tell they know they’re being assholes but they ask it anyway, like it’s a joke, like either of us might find it funny. But really they’re just assholes, and no, we’re never getting married, thanks. We’re not even dating.

Most of my junior year, her freshman, she dated my friend Steve who had crashed on my couch, and I went pretty steady with this girl Christina. Nobody questioned why Sarah and Steve were together except when they saw how hard she’d hit him and how well Steve put up with it. Everyone questioned why Christina and I were together, ranging on topics from how much we fought to how much time we spent together. Sarah and Steve didn’t last the year; Christina and I did but eventually broke up December of my senior year.

Sarah, like a few others, asked, not in so many words, whether we could get together now that Christina and I had split. But I had loved her like a tree with ivy, like flesh holds onto a scab, and the sap or the blood still dripped fresh from the wound when they asked me, and I protected my open sore.

Unlike the others who asked whether we could finally get together, Sarah heard an invitation to Europe with me after I graduated. Can we date? she would ask, and I’d say no. Can we go to Europe together? I’d follow up with, and she’d ask me Can we date? Five months passed with a few other conversations to supplement this recurring one.

The three-day graduation party came and went. On the second night, I slept on a couch with Sarah because the other girl chasing me had fallen asleep already. It reminded me of the night two years before when I had thrown an end-of-year bash and fallen asleep on the floor with Holly rather than take my chances with Sydney. In resentment, Sydney had gone into the bathroom, claiming to snort coke. This one, however, simply went outside and drove home at four in the morning.

I packed up most of my stuff in the apartment and went back to Dallas for the month of May, spending time with my parents before I left for Europe. I spoke with Justin during the day about how he needed me to go back to Waco and get the rest of my shit out of the apartment and with Sarah nightly about how I’d like for her to come to Europe with me. Her refusal had changed from whether we could date or not to whether her parents would let her come or not, so I began to press a little harder those last few weeks, with no luck.

The last day before I left I spent packing my oversized duffle bag and backpack: clothes, toiletries, iPod, books, Woolite so I could wash my clothes on the go. I spoke with Sarah one last time. She had gone home to Houston for the summer, spending time with her old high school friends and, regretfully, with her parents. I listened to her complain for a while and asked her if she wouldn’t rather come to Europe with me rather than waste away her summer there. She answered that she would, agreeing finally and at the last minute to come. I laughed at her. I didn’t believe she would come.

We got off the phone soon thereafter. I flew into Paris with my sister, and on the second day received a note from my father that Sarah had called and said she would land in London after a week. Beth made her plans to go to Amsterdam, and I rode the train to Calais, took a ferry to Dover, and rode the train the rest of the way to save myself a little cash. I left my hostel that morning, met Sarah at the airport all smiles and surprised cheer, and took her to the bed and breakfast I had reserved for us.

I showed her London as best I could in the two days we had before we met up again with my sister in Paris; Sarah and I rode the train all the way, business class. Together, the three of us saw Chartres and then Tours and the surrounding cities; we rode the train to Avignon, and Sarah and I went to Marsellies while my sister wrote us a goodbye note; we went to Dijon where we had sex for the first time and then down to Florence. I bought Virgil’s opera in latin, the book itself bound together before America declared independence. I couldn’t afford the Boccaccio that I also wanted and left a little sad. Sarah turned me around on the street and bought that gilded Decameron, and the store sent them to my parents’ house in the same box.

We took a day trip from Florence to Milan, and at the Galleries Lafayette, she offered to buy another Mont Blanc pen since I liked my first one so much, an offer I felt guilty about almost accepting. Then we traveled to Rome and then Ravenna, where I bought her a brand new dress that was just a little too long for her, a beautiful blue arrangement with an ornate flower on the waist. The sex was already beginning to lose its charm, but I didn’t say anything. From there she talked me into spending a day in Venice, a place I refused to go not because I didn’t imagine it as beautiful but because I couldn’t afford it. She bought me a glass statuette of lovers dusted with gold flecks.

Paris took us in for a few days after Italy, and we saw several closed museums. We went back to London and then to Derbyshire to stay with Kiran, an old high school friend of mine. Rita, Kiran’s mom, asked me whether she were the one, and I answered I dunno. How am I supposed to know? No, she’s probably not. And Rita smiled at me, told me that youth was meant for fun and that I’d know with someone, that David had known with her and had been right. Not that she had known David was the one; she fought and resisted his advances until one day she gave in, but David had known that she was his one.

When we went back to Texas, Sarah told our friends we were dating. I said we weren’t. She didn’t talk to me for months, not until I invited her to Devin’s wedding, after which I would become jealous of her physicality and tell her that I couldn’t stand the idea of her being with anyone else. I’d ask her to dedicate herself to me, and she’d ask if that meant we were together, and I’d, resigned, say yes—finally, some would say; inevitably, others.

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Featured Fan: Kate Barkhurst

This is a fiction post based on info that Kate sent me in emails. (VERY FIRST FEATURED FAN POST EVAR !! ZOMG!@#$?!) I reserve the right to twist, manipulate, and mangle anything she might’ve said and to misrepresent her at least as much as my poor artistry necessitates, probably more.

To have a chance to get featured, join the group. Or wait a week or maybe a month: I plan on upgrading the group to a fan page soon, but I’m pretty busy for the next month or so.

**

Christopher, Christopher, Christopher, beautiful boy. I feel his breath moist on my breasts, his ear snug against my sternum. Gently, gently I raise my hands above the bed, place my fingers on the camera. Freeze: he fidgets, and my muscles tense; his head nuzzles and his eyes flutter, and then he’s asleep again. I feared that I had woken him.

I shift my pelvis to the side so that I can give the camera the best angle. My hair is still wet from the shower, and I’m unkempt, but I don’t care. My baby is adorable, beautiful, darling. No amount of photos would ever sate me. I love him, his little hand on my collar bone, his dreaming eyes, even the thin line of spit touching my chest. So many of his body fluids have touched me at one point or another that spittle seems insignificant, no, adorable, even lovely. I suppose that body-fluid comment works both ways.

Jack called and said he’d come home for lunch. It’s nice that his schedule it so flexible; along with Christopher, having Jack breaks the monotony over young motherhood. I love it, being a mother, but sometimes when Jack is gone and Christopher is sleeping, I feel so lonely. I know it’s not the case; I’m loved in ways that I would have envied even a year ago or been to ignorant to envy, but sometimes the sinking feeling comes anyway.

I put school on hold for Christopher. It was the right choice, I know it. Jack makes more than enough money for us as an IT consultant, and having the responsibility of running the business-end of his shop helps me to see that I’m important, that I’m involved. And my son is my priority, my first love. But school isn’t far behind, nor work, nor my dreams. I haven’t sacrificed them yet, no. I’ve put them on hold.

Christopher whimpers when he hears another shutterclick from the camera, so I put it down. I grab my phone off the nightstand and pull up Facebook. I play games, some simple and some complex. I can measure the degrees of my cabin fever by the number of eggs I’ve unlocked in the last week, but I never bother. I use the game to get my mind off of things; it would lose its point if I turned it into an issue.

People challenge me on my ability to follow through with my dreams when I’ve delayed my life to raise my son. They think I’m a cliche, that I’ll become some housewife and settle for doing Jack’s chores. But they don’t know me; they don’t know how broad these shoulders have become through trial; they don’t know the migraines or the father. And if they don’t know that, what do they really know about me at all?

Those fools don’t remember when I moved out of my parents house working at Cinemark as a ticket girl, minimum-wagin’ it without family support. I only had alcohol in my fridge because of a then-boyfriend who worked for a delivery service. I talked like everyone talked then, about success and chasing my ambitions and making my way. Who would’ve known I’d have been different then, if they had bothered to consider me? And yet I had to believe then that I was–different, I mean; that I was worth a damn.

So many of my friends went away to college while I stayed behind, unable to go on. So many dropped out, came home, chilled. I spent time with them, but also resented them, ones that had the ability to fulfill desires handed to them so that they could take it for granted. I guess I really didn’t resent them, but it frustrated me to have these dreams and see them squandered by people who didn’t, couldn’t, and wouldn’t share them.

But I remember Greg. Our friendship was always a weird mix of fun and awkward; how we maintained that for years I still don’t know except that we only saw each other occasionally through high school and his college. We used to drive around in his Trans Am, and he’d blast Savage Garden and we’d sing and smile. Our souls would dance on the T-bar. At the end of the night, he’d always ask me whether to turn left to take me home or turn right to go back to hang out at his place. I never did want to go home.

In 2004, he invited me one day to some alumni meeting, and I hadn’t had an excuse to dress up in quite some time. He picked me up in his truck and drove me out there, him in a suit and me in that black dress, my straight brown hair left loose over my shoulders. He smiled and I smiled, and we were awkward while the night was beautiful.

He drove me out to the Hilton at 635 and the Tollway. When we arrived, a string of old people and signs directed us to the meeting room. It was nearly an amphitheater, dark wood all around with plants in little rails, and all the old people, old rich people.

The hour-d’oeuvres tasted excellent, and Greg introduced me to a few unmemorable classmates before we sat down. I didn’t quite feel like a trophy while I stood there with Greg, but I wasn’t sure why he touched me on the shoulder every time he introduced me or why he bothered at all. His friends were all nice, everyone was nice, and then we sat down to listen.

The meeting started with a speech about finances that I didn’t pay much attention to and then a speech from Baylor’s president that I didn’t have any interest in. It wasn’t until the Q&A session that I saw something truly memorable: Greg stood up to ask the first question. He had said that was why the students were here, to spur conversation, and so he stood, announced that he was a Great Texts major, and asked something about Baylor’s new dorm rooms.

Before he could sit down, the president had him up there talking about Great Texts and core classes and who knows what else. The invitation for Greg to the front of the room took us both by surprise, but he handled it well. In fact, it was the first time I heard anyone I knew from school cover a broad range of topics with such knowledge and enthusiasm. I knew that Greg would go on to do great things in that moment, and that confirmed and comforted my ambitions, even when life had handed me several obstacles I wasn’t sure I could get past.

I did, though, get past them, and now I’m married to a wonderful man and I have a beautiful child, and somehow my dreams seem almost as distant as they did back then. But I know that they’re not gone; I know that I haven’t sacrificed them to motherhood altogether, only temporarily. The most important job I will ever have in life is to nurture and teach my child how to dream and pursue happiness in all aspects of his life, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll miss out on attending and graduating from Harvard Law School; it doesn’t mean I won’t practice corporate litigation for a prestigious firm; it still doesn’t mean that I won’t accomplish this particular ideal: all of this before I am 35. Maybe I can even see Greg when I move up to Boston, and he can meet Jack and write stories about Christopher, fun and immortal and pure. I can’t imagine anything better.

Christopher shifts on my chest, squirms, and wakes up with a small cry. The spittle snaps as I readjust and sit up. These days are difficult but so worthwhile, and the future is an infinite stretch of beauty and amazement. Happiness is a warm and giggly baby cuddling with you in the morning. As I settle Christopher in my lap, Jack comes in the doors, and our eyes connect and affirm our love. We smile. Christopher cries in earnest. I truly can’t imagine anythin better.

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A Brief History: A view of sexual ethics today

Does social media work for blogs? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.

I started this blog with my Facebook network, mostly friends, some family, and a few acquaintances. The first week’s readership was small, the next doubled, and the next doubled again. I had about thirty or thirty-five readers consistently interested in my work. Some were close friends in Boston and family, others were friends with whom I am hardly connected any longer, hadn’t seen since high school, maybe longer.

None of them were vocal. Few comments, no real feedback. But they were there; the stats were there. Their presence pushed me onwards when I might have otherwise abandoned the attempt.

Then I joined Twitter, and in the first week I grew a network of around a thirty I followed and thirty who followed me, give or take after you deleted the spammers. Readership doubled again; Facebook readers remained and tweeps came and retweeted. The next week I had about a hundred following and a hundred followers (my ratios are good, huh?), and readership doubled again to over a hundred independent viewers.

That’s five weeks (six minus the foundation week), and my blog has grown by two to the fifth power. I don’t see any reason that the growth will stop until I run out of tweeps, and I feel convinced that I’m barely touching Facebook’s real potential at this point.

Even so, the differences, to me, go like this: dropping an ad into Facebook is like dropping a penny into a pool. A small splash, the water ripples for you, and the penny sinks. Dropping an ad into Twitter is like dropping a penny into Jell-o; it riggles along until you drop something else in it.

As for the following piece, I apologize only to Jennie. You asked me not to write about you; too bad.

**

Aside from porn, I in my youth never had a consistent form of sex in my life. The girls I knew were horny, and I knew how to push those buttons, but they were also smart, wily, and conflicted.

One time during college I took Justin to my friend Ashley’s house. I had just broken up with Christina and he was about to leave for Marine boot camp, so I worked out a little double date for us with Ashley and her friend Holly. I intended for Ashley to give Justin a thrill to remember Plano by before he went away, but he was too straight edge for an offer like that, or else he was just downright embarrassed by the straightforward nature of the scenario.

Justin said that he didn’t know what to do, wouldn’t know how to handle our dear Ashley. So I showed him: I walked up behind Ashley, pulled her chin to the side, and attacked her neck with gentle nibbles. She moaned, she shuddered, and she asked me incredulously, “How do you do that?”

The scene reminded me of the one time in high school when Ashley and I almost got together, the time that essentially guaranteed we never would. Younger, seventeen, I had invited her to my home in order to invite her to prom. She hesitated, and I told her to take her time. We laid down on a couch together and watched The Princess Bride. She had her back to me, pressed against me, and I cupped her breasts with my hands, ran them down her swimmer’s body. She turned hot, and then she got up and walked away. We didn’t go to prom together.

When I left Justin alone with Ashley in her living room, Holly acted in the same way as Ashley had. Young, virginal, she squirmed against the carpet of Ashley’s bedroom when I poured cold strawberry sauce on her neck. She let me ravish her with my hands and tongue, neither asking me to stop nor initiating anything herself. I could taste the heat of her blood under her skin; I had my hands down her pants, rubbing her as she panted. She told me not to stop, but I asked her if she wanted to go further. Eventually, still in each other’s arms, we fell asleep. She left in the morning, and nothing ever became of it.

Jennie had the same initiative to not-sex that Holly had, the same seemingly religious impulse that contradicted directly with her will to fleshy desires. Her motivational conflict resulted in sinusoidal sexual patterns. Three weeks on, three weeks off. My pillow talk verges on the ridiculous, so we’d have sex and then talk about religion, her relationship with God, the pursuit of truth in my life. Perhaps I cyclically inspired her religious fervor; perhaps she was fucking with me under the guise of religion. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where sincerity ends and emotional games begin.

And yet I’m a man who respects principles, never the one to force the issue of sex where it’s not mutual. Perhaps this lack of a will to power on my part is what leads to what seems like an inevitable disappointment in my relationships: that the girls I date, though educated, expect the male to take the sexual lead, to direct the sexual course. If so, how chauvinistic, and what a lack of interest in my desires.

I want the girl to be interested. I yearn to please her, no matter how shallow our relationship is. I want her to enjoy being pursued, to give remuneration. I’ll only go so far before they initiate a next step: there’s nothing I hate more than a cold fish.

Jennie and I eventually came to an end over this misfortune. One day after another three-week asexual stint, she came over to bed me again. By the time she left, I knew that I’d had enough.

And yet I’d put up with much the same treatment from my very next girlfriend, Christina. Our relationship really comes in two parts: sophomore year and senior year. The whole of our sophomore ride, though sexual, lacked sex. She spoke of respect and fear and how she was still a virgin, though I highly doubt whether that statement was true. Still, I respected her wishes, and we kissed and fondled and I went down on her without her going down on me. And we didn’t sex, contrary to my mother’s belief.

One day during that sophomore year I had come home with Christina to introduce her to my family. Of course my parents were aware that I had had a sexual adolescence, much to my mother’s annoyance. Christina and I were upstairs watching a movie in the main upstairs room, one open to anyone who walks up the stairs and where my father spent a good deal of his time during those years. Because of the projection TV, we had the lights off.

Mother called up the stairs, “Greg, turn those lights on!”

“We’re watchin’ a movie, ma!” I hollered back. Christina had fallen asleep; she lifted her head off my shoulder.

My mother yelled, “Turn them on, Greg! I know what you do with girls up there in the dark!”

I looked Christina in the face after my mother said this; she had turned ashen, mortified. I felt embarrassed on her behalf, stood up, and marched downstairs without pausing the movie. Mother retreated into the backyard, and I pursued her. Of course, the TV room was only separated from the backyard by a thin window, and I’m relatively sure Christina heard every word we shouted.

“Mom, I’m not having sex with her.”

“Oh, bullshit!” My mother using profanity was rare; though she allowed it from my sister, she had slapped me the one time I had used it around her.

“She’s a good girl, ma! She doesn’t want to do stuff like that.”

She snorted a laugh. “That’s what Elvis said about Marilyn Monroe, and no one believed him either!”

I balked. “What?”

My mother’s finger shot into the air and shook with the exaggerated tremble of her angered body: “Elvis and Marilyn Monroe!”

A lull entered our conversation. I asked, “Are you serious?” I gave her a few seconds to answer before I finished, “Well, I guess that’s it, then.”

Christina and I broke up not too much later though for an unrelated reason. At the time, the reasons had seemed plentiful and the complaints against one another could have doubled as a code of law, but I recognize after some distance from our relationship that the split basically resulted from a mutual dislike of having a long distance relationship over the summer; she’d return to Houston and I to Dallas. Officially she broke up with me while she had me trapped in her Chevrolet Malibu on a long car ride out of town through rural roads. But I didn’t fight too hard to keep her around, either.

That summer I worked a menial job, a temporary night-shift construction gig that paid fairly well and let me destroy things. I called Christina every few nights to let her know how much I missed her until one night I perhaps overdid it, singing her a song that was playing on the CD player of my truck. When the song was over, she told me that she didn’t miss me and that we were through. She hung up, and I went back to work.

Bryan, Michelle, and Sydney came to my house a week later, and we all got sloshed on spirits, playing drinking games with Irish cream and vanilla vodka. Sydney and I slipped off to my bedroom while Michelle and Bryan caught up and made out; it was my first actual sex since I had broken up with Jennie, the first time in my life that I had had sex drunk, and the only time I had sex drunk with someone I wasn’t having sex with regularly sober. Of course it was a mistake.

One of the reasons Christina had broken up with me was Sydney’s reintroduction to my life. She had asked me to promise her that I would never cheat on her, and in one of the more controversial moments of my life, I had refused. Very few friends of mine have agreed with my refusal or my reasons for giving it.

I don’t make promises I can’t keep. In one of the introductory moments of my relationship with Christina, she had asked me to promise that I would never make her cry. I refused that request as well. She had smiled then, pleased with my candor. On this occasion, though, my blunt honesty seemed to her a fault.

I’m a writer, defined in my terms mostly as a person with an over-active imagination coupled with the disposition to record his thoughts. As a child, my parents caught me in any number of obvious lies, since I let my imagination run away with me. I grew older, though, and as I did I tried to reel in my mind’s propensity for exaggeration. The method I underwent in this pursuit was an evaluation of the human condition, an amateur exploration into why humans do the silly things they do. In this vein—a path which included observing my friends, asking them to observe me, and any art with a psychological angle I could ingest—I discovered that humans are capable of quite a few very silly actions, not the least of which is unexpected infidelity; and by unexpected I don’t mean that his partner doesn’t suspect (most suspicion is unwarranted, and most warranted suspicion is put aside), but that the person himself does not suspect.

The most common argument against this analysis of the human scene is that there’s always choice. At some point in the inception of an affair, an attached lover has to choose to cheat on his significant other. In my opinion, such a view shows the thinker’s naiveté: to assume that any given person chooses before he acts generally gives that person too much credit; people act for any number of unconscious reasons—unconscious here implies a lack of choice, which must be conscious—and in an attempt to explain such actions attempt to insert their motivation, usually foolhardily and in direct contradiction to the actor’s situation. Therefore, unexpected infidelity occurs; not only does it occur, I believe (possibly through my own inexperience with infidelity) it is the norm.

For this promise Christina asked, and I refused not because Sydney herself, a drugged up pitiable slut approaching me primarily for my pity and presumably for my help, was a threat to our relationship but rather according the principle, perhaps silly and idealistic: I won’t make promises I can’t keep. Any married man will tell you that’s no way to make a relationship work, and it’s not. But I’m nothing if not idealistic.

Sad and drunk, I fucked Sydney and enjoyed through an alcoholic haze my first experience with sloppy, self-serving, and artificially extended drunken sex. She left, and I didn’t see her again for weeks. Sydney called me and asked if we could get together again, but I refused her offers. She’d ask me if we could just be friends, say that she needed my friendship. I would take her to a movie to find out; in the dark we’d hold hands, then the kissing started, and by the end I was so excited for the sex to come that I accidentally backed my truck into a light pole. So, no, I guess at that point that I, without other recourse for sex, and she willing to give sex, could not just be friends. I didn’t see her again before she left for the Air Force.

I did, however, have to call her again. Shortly after our sport fucks my urethra itched and urinating at first began to hurt and then to sear, to burn. When I examined my penis, I saw that the skin around the urethra had turned scaly and looked like the dried-out remains of a sunburn. I called my family doctor and made an appointment; when I arrived, he asked me to remove my shorts and lay down on his table. I did, and he shoved a cotton swap inside me; the sudden sharp pain caused my body to tense involuntarily, and my hands flinched. He laughed, saying, “I bet you’ll remember this before you go sleeping with loose girls again.” Later, when I told my first primary care physician in Boston about the experience, my doctor would tell me that painless screens for STDs have existed since the mid-nineties but that some doctors still prefer to use the swab just to reinforce sexual morality. Good for him, I guess, but as you’ll see soon, dear reader, it hardly worked.

I had Chlamydia, a bacterial infection easily cleared up by antibiotics within a week. I called Sydney to let her know that I had gotten it and that she might want to be screened herself, and she became indignant, told me that I couldn’t possibly have gotten it from her. I told her that it had been over a year since I’d had sex with anyone else, and she maintained that I was mistaken. I asked her who else she had currently been sleeping with, and she mentioned some guy I didn’t know out in Allen who could find out on his own just how painful the disease was. My friend Bryan told me, though, that she was having sex with his brother Jay as well, and I felt compelled to warn him; when Sydney found out why Jay had stopped having sex with her, she called me up, chewed me out for violating her privacy, and refused to speak to me ever again, a promise which lasted a few years and ended with little or no real effect since without a real need for my pity Sydney has little reason to keep in touch with me.

I’d have a few other sporadic sexual partners throughout the first semester of my junior year. The most significant of these were the two intellectual extremes, Emily the education major who never let the contradiction between her devout views on conservative Christianity and her open sexual policies bother her and Courtney the educated debater who evidenced a disparity between knowledge of books and of the world usually reserved for romantic novels.

I don’t remember how Emily and I found each other, only that the first time she approached me about sex she asked if we could get drunk first. I refused, and she said she’d drink before she came over. I told her that if she showed up drunk I wouldn’t have sex with her; if she couldn’t fuck me sober, she wouldn’t fuck me at all. She agreed, and so the affair started. Twice a week we’d get together, and she progressively climbed the kinky ladder until she went past where I was interested in going, which was where we stopped: Sex itself contents me for a long while, and I don’t need any spices added to it until the repeated flavor makes itself monotonous. She wanted to start off on the heavy side, and my lack of interest caused her to pull away.

Courtney was something altogether different, a student from one of the courses I was peer instructing, just the sort of relationship I had promised myself not to get into when I took the job. However, my responsibilities included entertaining the students and getting them involved with social groups on campus (Goal number one is student retention!), and I had invited a few of the students over to meet my friends and to attend various parties. The male students I invited declined, but the females came in a small pack of three: Sarah, Andrea, and Courtney.

One day during Thanksgiving break when most of our friends had left but she and I remained, she came over to watch a movie with me. It started friendly enough, sitting on my couch together. Then she leaned against my shoulder, and I tensed. Her head fell to my lap, and I didn’t push her off. She mentioned that she felt cold, asked me to lay down with her; I removed the back cushions of the couch and put my left arm under her head and my right hand on the flat of her stomach; even through her shirt I could tell that she had lied.

Courtney had fallen asleep by the time the movie was over, and she unconsciously nuzzled into my arm. I tried to get up without waking her, but she came two and yawned that she had better get going. I walked with her out my front door and down the cement steps to her car. She opened the door, and right when I was about to thank fate for letting me out of this pickle without too much drama, she turned and asked me for a hug. I put my arms over her shoulders and slid my hands down her back, pulling her in a soft and sensual hug. Her breasts pushed into the soft tissue of my stomach just under my ribs; the wire of her bra tinged the excitement with discomfort.

“What is this?” she asked me. “What are we?”

I sighed and looked away from her, loosening my arms.

“Couldn’t we be together?” She had heard my arguments against dating my students, but it wasn’t forbidden; it was just something I had decided not to do. Cheers to my moral stamina, since that was the only boundary between what she wanted and what I’d give her.

I still wasn’t looking at her when I said, “I’d rather not.”

She moved her arms in between us, placing her forearms vertically against my chest. When I turned my head to look down at her, I saw that she was searching my eyes for a tiny flicker of passion to kindle her hope, her slightly pouting lips complementing her expression. I kissed her suddenly and stepped past my qualms without much difficulty.

We dated for several months. She met my parents in the spring, and they liked her, a first in my young life. Around my friends and at parties, we would make out, falling asleep together on the carpet of my living room so as not to blur her strict Christian principles, which kept her from wanting to go further. We talked about her religion, which I was only beginning to move away from completely at the time, and about the affect of learning how to debate on children, which in my opinion is to stunt the process of forming a personality by means of restraining spiritual nutrition (that is, restraining the child’s ability to gestate opinions and information outside of his field of hand-me-down beliefs). Her opinion was somewhat different.

One day she came over and we went into my room together. The lights out, we kissed in my bed. My hands roamed and then she directed them; my teeth pinched and then she moaned, breathed heavily. For the first time, I put my hands under her shirt and felt her flesh, the studs of the aureole. Following my own desires, I reached down and unbuckled her pants, rubbed my hand over the top of her simple white cotton panties. She lifted her hips, pushing against my hand so that I could feel her rough pubic hair through the soft cloth.

I pulled my hand away, stopped kissing her, and sat up. I can only imagine the look on my face as strained and irritable.

“What’s wrong?” she asked me, her voice strained with more confusion than worry.

My hormones and the tease of the situation brought out my grumpiness, perhaps to an unjustifiable extent. “I shouldn’t have to stop myself for your sake,” I said. “You’re a smart girl and willful. You know that you don’t want to go this far.”

Now fear started to creep into her; she sounded a bit like a mouse: “I know. Thank you, though.”

“Don’t thank me for holding you to your morals. Stop yourself next time!”

She placed her left hand on my arm, but I stood up and walked away. “You should go.”

Courtney didn’t say much as she buttoned her pants and adjusted her bra. She asked me if I was sure, and I hugged her and kissed her cheek and told her I’d see her tomorrow.

Of course I didn’t. A couple of weeks went by before she finally sent me an email about how things wouldn’t have gone any farther than they did, which made me laugh a little to myself. It also said that she felt afraid because she knew she wouldn’t have been able to stop me if I had decided to continue. I let out a bark of a laugh and replied with something terse and nasty. For some reason, we’re awkward around each other every time we happen to see each other these days.

Sometime in this period, Jennie came back into the picture, our lack of serious relationship putting her religious qualms to bed, I suppose. She pinged me out of the blue one day, asked me whether I’d be willing to hook up with her if she just came over that evening, and that was the beginning of something casual and fun that ended when she began to date Mani.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Humanistic, Writing