THE THIRTEENTH STEP: ASCENT
Some will die in hot pursuit in fiery auto crashes
Some will die in hot pursuit while sifting through my ashes
Some will fall in love with life and drink it from a fountain
That is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain
—Butthole Surfers, Pepper
Allister is having a party at his place. It will be all comedy people and he will be fluttering around like a social butterfly, but I am always invited. Emily is going to some fetish party sponsored by FetLife with her stripper friends. She can get me in for cheap and it happens to be three blocks from Allister’s. So it’s settled: pregame with the comedians; end evening with the fetishists. I show up at Allister’s with a 6-pack to exchange for drinks that I can drink. And they have whiskey and ginger ale, which seems like a fair trade, though I’m a little intimidated by the lack of cups. Seems like an egregious omission at a perennial party house. But whatevs, I settle for a Tupperware container. Which is a good talking piece. GKF: classy broad. Secretly, I’m also intimidated by the swarms of strangers in costumes. Until I remember the last time I went to one of Allister’s official house parties: May 2009, the night after I nearly broke my tailbone rollerblading.
Incorrigible and undefeated, I asked Allister to introduce me to the guy I deemed the hottest, and he said he’d be happy to even though he didn’t know him himself. So I said, don’t worry about it, and the cold approach worked better than expected. That night Lee invited me over to smoke pot and I told him I could barely walk nevertheless make it to the next location, and he told me nice innuendo but he was strictly inviting me over for pot smoking. Which was such an effective neg. Two weeks later, I was slung over the arm of his couch and discovered that doggystyle is not a wise position for someone with a freshly injured tailbone. But I stuck it out anyway, because I had pregamed with Tylenol rather than narcotics as to not ruin the presumed sex, and because I had given myself a pep talk about how I refused to leave his place without orgasming first—if I had to go home and masturbate I would literally cry. Sex endorphins are nice bandaids that eventually wear out. And then you are left with your freshly injured, recently banged up tailbone. But you don’t have to go home and commit crimes against nature, alone! Winnn! Later that week I bent over once again, and had a verry awkward doctor’s examination followed by a set of x-rays conducted through the paper gown equivalent of Bermuda shorts. Bruised but not broken. Another win!
I scan the room of people in costumes. Cold approaches are even easier on Halloween: you can always inquire about what people are or tell them in your jappiest accent how much you love their Mike Myers in Cawfee Twalk. Hard, though, to discern who is superficially worthy of your attention. I spot two guys I decide to work on: a mad professor Andy Warhol and a Jewish Liberace—slim and skinny, respectively.
Liberace is up first, if only because of his physical position in the room. His name is Jonah. Because Jew. He primarily knows some guy who used to be a roommate in the party house and secondarily knows Allister and Julian, Allister’s first friend whose penis I touched. (For clarification: Allister and I went to college together and met when I hooked up with two of his friends, in succession, while they were in town for the campus-wide end-of-year drug and fuck festie). He doesn’t know what he is dressed as, just threw on a bunch of crazy shit he owns from all the dress-up parties he goes to. I tell him I dig his vest, run the lace between my thumb and forefinger, and peer up at him. Pretty soon it escalates from glances and light touches to tantalizing and tactile. He runs his fingers through my untamed mane and tells me how fascinated he is by all of my hair, which seems to have a life of its own, unrelated to my pumpkin costume and competing with its ambiguous plant stem hat. I take a risk, a calculated one with a disclaimer as padding, “This is going to sound weird… Lllike something you wouldn’t say when you first meet a person…” He nods, signaling me to go on. “A few years ago I was on chemo drugs. I didn’t have cancer. They were for another disease. But I lost a lot of hair. And when it grew back, it was a completely different texture. All my life until then I had straight hair, and now this,” I comb my fingers through my curls demonstratively. “So… I’m fascinated with my hair, too,” I conclude, pausing for puzzlement, shock, disgust, incredulity, anything? Instead he one-ups me. Matter-of-factly, “I’m on chemo drugs.” Which throws me for a loop. I furrow my brow suspiciously, “Which one?” “Mercaptopurine.” “6-MP? Umm, that’s the one that made me lose my hair.” Then I lean in conspiratorially, “What Jewish inflammatory bowel disease do you have?” We exchange short stories. I tell him about my lack of colon and sympathize, “Wow, Crohn’s disease, cancer medication: you’re in even worse shape than I am.” He counters, “I still have my colon.” “Touche.” Or, as the Jewish moms put it: “Tushy.”
We dance it off and he’s surprisingly good for a jewboy. He’s a teacher so he knows all the top 40 hits. I offer him the last drops of my whiskey-ale, encouraging him to drink from the same container, to share my mutated DNA. Once we get the Tupperware out of the way, we get down to business. He pulls me against him, up against the wall and we swap spit for serious. Tactile turns handsy. He squeezes my tits, the only globular part of my just-passing-for-pumpkin outfit, and strokes forth like he’s summoning my nipples. I wrap my leg around his waist and tilt my pelvis forward as he reaches up my skirt and rubs my clit through my tights. It almost happens too fast, like I had planned on stopping by, chatting him up a bit, moving on, working the room—simultaneously exploring my options and exhibiting social proof—then sweeping back in for the kill. Instead our grubby paws are sweeping each other’s bodies and I’m cumming all over myself, breathy. I wonder what the wetness pressed up between my legs is going to feel like when I get back outside and the breeze rushes through it. It’s the first time I’ve been sexually excited in six months. The transformative kind of arousal where you are completely outside of your head and can think nothing but the monomaniacal, How do I push this further? If we were on the street, I would have let him finish me under my skirt, it’s that pressing and imminent. Instead, I think, Fuck, I can’t blow my proverbial load on this. So we break. Whew, air. And dance that off a little bit. We go back and forth between dancing to Dancing on My Own and humping against walls.
During one of our breaks in action Andy Warhol approaches and speaks. With the addition of his voice to his face, his identity finally registers to me: “Oh my god I didn’t recognize you!” His eyes widen to meet mine, and he matches my voice to my face. He didn’t recognize me either. And we have an “Oh my god I haven’t seen you in sooo long” moment. Except now I’m puzzled that he didn’t recognize me, because, sure, I’m wearing a pumpkin hat, but my face is my own, I think? I guess it is sort of out of context. With all of these comedy people. Instead of just us. It’s Julian, Allister’s first friend whose penis I touched. Back in May 2005. That’s right, kids: it’s almost our tenth anniversary! Olds, we are. We establish the last time we saw each other: May 2011, when Allister called me (yes, he still uses a phone as a phone) and requested my presence on Juliann’s rooftop in Bushwick. Weeks before I moved to Vermont. Since then, Julian’s lived at three addresses, gone through two girlfriends. Which makes me remember what a good person I am, only I tell him the half story.
The whole story: I’m at some impromptu housewarming party on his JMZ Bushwick rooftop and this girl, Allegra, whom they know through comedy, is really into me. Not in a sexual way, just I charm her with stories about my gynecologist. And she asks me if I do stand-up. Clearly no. Because I botch this comedic moment badly. I say, “Hey, I just went to my gyno and he called with my results. I’m totally clean.” I’ve been waiting for this moment forever: to prove that I’m a safe slut. Wait for it… So I play my voicemail, which is quite full because I’ve been communicating with landlord in Vermont. Messages range from, “Yes, the unit will be vacant by blah blah blah date, the rent is 750…” to “Of course it’s okay that you have a cat. Do you have multiples? I absolutely love cats. Aren’t they the sweetest creatures! Is it a male or female? I have two males and they pee all over the place. Isn’t that precious?” We get through literally 15 messages and Allegra and the boys are still leaning in waiting patiently for my test results, from when I was a patient. And, shit, I must have erased that to make room for my new life of fresh air and celibacy. Somehow, Allegra forgives me for my comedic flub and pulls me aside toward the end of the night. It’s girltalk time. We are the only girls there. So I’ll do. She confides that Julian wants her, she used to date his friend Noah. Wants to know what she should do. Should she stay over and take the JMZ home during working hours. I recalibrate and say, “This is awkward. I actually slept with him years ago. And I’ve also been with your ex. I say go for it. You won’t regret it. He’s totally cute and sweet and doesn’t last long, but he’ll put in the effort to please you once he’s done. Even if it isn’t great physically—I’m not saying it won’t be—he’ll be a total gentleman tomorrow and thereafter. It will never be weird. And that’s almost the most important thing.” While I’m in Vermont, Julian moves in with Allister, and Allegra and her adorbs bichon soon follow. Allister tells me Allegra is their grossest roommate in their adult dormitory, because she’s a verrry pretty girl and no one has ever told her that she’s had to clean up after herself before. I’ve done a good deed.
Every year since I’ve saved my voicemail from my gynecologist, in hopes that one day I’ll have the opportunity to redeem myself publicly. We all have aspirations.
The half where I help set him up with his ex girlfriend. And thus deserve karma points. I’ll scratch your back if your friend pets my vagina! Jonah disappears for a sec and we are left alone discussing what we’ve been doing since three years ago. I say, “Hey, I’m writing a book. Don’t worry, you don’t have a scene in it. Though Allister does. If you are mentioned in passing, what would you like your name to be?” His only stipulation is nothing ethnic; IRL he has a rather distinctive name. Understood: Julian, it is.
Jonah reappears and we head to the sink area to suck the last few drops out of the whiskey bottle. Enter: his sleepaway camp friend Justin and Justin’s live-in girlfriend. This is truly the Jewiest party I’ve been to since Bar Mitzvah season. Jonah stands squarely behind me, embracing me with one arm and sliding his spare hand under my skirt. I’m impressed by how good he is at locating my clit, through my tights, from behind. This is the funnest game ever: trying to maintain a conversation with two friendly strangers and not break into a ceaseless sex grimace while I’m being fondled. Heaven! What did I do to deserve this? How did he know that I’m this kind of girl? Granted, we did just hump against the wall for twenty minutes (in imaginary sex time; IRL it was probably more like three). Allister’s friends are the best! I recall that video of Stoya reading that necrophilia book staidly as she’s being worked on under the table. Only, I never crack! The girlfriend cannot get enough of how cute Jonah and I are together, asks how long we’ve lived together. Umm, we’ve just met tonight! But I’ll take it. She insists on taking a picture of us, as if to commemorate the inception of a long romance. As if she’s doing for us what I did for Julian and Allegra.
Finally Emily texts to tell me where to meet her, and Jonah and I wait on the bathroom line before I bail. As I slip into the bathroom, I hand him my phone and instruct, “Put your number in my phone while I’m in there.” Not a feeble, Can I have your number? An authoritative, Give me your number.
The next morning I wake up to a text from Allister: “Glad you stopped by! Seemed like you had fun.” HAAA, it was a variation on his traditional sex follow-up message. A by-proxy pre-sexual encounter follow-up message. I like to think of him as my pimp. Or whatever the cute, non-scary, Jewy version of that is. My sex broker? He’s such a substantial portion of my sexual history if you consider his posse. Or whatever the cute, non-scary Jewy version of that is. His gaggle of gangly Jews? Yes, our friendship is based on sex. No, he doesn’t only hang out with me because I’m loose. In fact, it was a few years before my vagina’s admissions committee offered him a warm welcome.
At the time of Allister’s observation, I wasn’t conscious of his presence in the room. After the fact, I love knowing that he was tracking me, watching me with another guy. It is beneficial for both of us. He feels like he’s been with a desirable girl, has maintained a firm grip on her across the great divide that is time. I provide the social proof that I’m a hot bitch. After all, we haven’t fucked since my series of surgeries. No more deafening way to yell, I still got it! I respond with the most insincere, superficial message possible, “Me too. Ha, I always do!” Not that it is untrue, per se; just that something feels viscerally wrong as I’m typing it. Which is weird, because with Allister I don’t have to paint on my game face. Demonstrating sexual desirability is important; demonstrating social desirability is not. With him, I can be for real.
Over the next few days Jonah texts me and we make plans for the following Saturday.
Thursday night I attend my monthly digestive disease support group and I can’t wait to tell them the story about meeting this guy at a party, the hair playing, the cancer meds. One of the girls around my age interjects, “He’s a Crohnie!” I affirm, “Yup, and he’s just my type: skinny! Probably from not being able to absorb food properly.” Twisted laughs. On my walk home, feverish thoughts flare in my head. I’m going to ascend the thirteenth step—THE THIRTEENTH STEP! I’ve been waiting forevs for this! It is finally going to come full circle! What an occasion! My excitement dissipates when the gruesome and troubling logistics come into focus: What of semen and cancer meds? My life goal is to have somebody cum inside me regularly, but I lost my hair when I was on that medication. It’s serious medication. Do I want it inside me in any form? What are the metabolites of mercaptopurine? Is this boy a walking biohazard? Gosh, what a very weird, specific dilemma. Not to mention the fact that IBD couples can’t make babies because the effect of both parents having an IBD on the probability of passing on one of the diseases is interactive not additive (If one parent has an IBD, the chance of any given child getting either UC or Crohn’s is only about 5%, but if both parents have an IBD, the chance skyrockets to about 30%). UCers fucking Crohnies: the ultimate taboo. Well, this summer I did commit incest’s kissing cousin. GKF: breaking boundaries with my broken body!
Friday night I go to my harm reduction street outreach volunteer job. It’s the first cold night of the year, so frigid that the junkies have fled Thompson Square Park like cockroaches scattering at the flicker of a street lamp. My body is so numb by the end of my shift that I decide to stride home forty blocks, and even though I’m impervious to my frozen appendages, I can hear the staccato of my thoughts racing. Oh my god, what if it’s actually good this time, what if it turns into something? I’m thankful for Allister and his bounty of male compatriots but thus far all the sex I’ve had has been middling. Fifth guy’s the charm! Wonder when I can tell him that I’ve been with our two mutual friends— separately and together! Ha, I think the answer to that is never. Or at least not until after I’ve caught him in my sticky vagina trap. Is that coercion or just tactical planning? Allister would never sell me out and tell Jonah about our history, would he?
The sex part I am a master of. Mine, he is already. But I start thinking about how this night is different from every other night, like it’s fucking Passover, and suddenly I’m nervous about this date. Usually I play the ‘Once upon a time in recent history I used to shit out of my abdomen, do you want to fuck me now?’ game. And this has worked well enough to ensure me a steady stream of penises. BUT, HOLY SHIT, WHAT WILL WE TALK ABOUT IF NOT SHIT? There’s no reason to dare him to reject me because his body is just as gross as mine. With shit off the table, that leaves sex, but not sex with his friends? My mind flips back to Jake Douchebag J.D., how when I suggested that things might not be working he told me I was just upset to discover that I was not very good at the one thing that defined me. Are sex and shit all that define me? Am I not that special or charming now that the latter topic has been downgraded from taboo to humdrum? What am I if not a spectacle?
Arriving home, I draw and thaw out in a nice, hot bath. Queen of the chillaxing multitask, I get wasted on half a bottle of rose, eat snacks in lieu of dinner, switch from bath to shower mode, and wank to oblivion. Friday night: Woo! This. Is. Thirty. I am drowning in tears and wine in lieu of semen. I wonder, Is there any way to preemptively be like, “Hey, let’s say we hang and aren’t so into each other, can we continue fucking anyway?” Of course I don’t want him to get the wrong idea—that I expect not to like him. It’s just that I know for sure we have awesome physical chemistry regardless of how much else we do or don’t have in common. The truth is, I could really use the sex. I’m not actively fucking anyone else and for the first time in my life, I don’t have aged reserves. I gave this lifestyle up years ago. I guess it’s like how when you start doing coke, you meet people who do coke: when you smell like sex, people smell sex on you.
The next morning I wipe when I pee, and encounter non-menstrual bleeding. Not, like, dripping blood. But, like, spotting. Tinted ladycum. I wonder, Did I get so drunk last night that I missed a birth control pill? Don’t need no no-baby pills when I’m only fucking myself! Except I check the pack and the slots are empty up to Saturday night—tonight. So there is only one possible explanation left, Did I fuck myself so hard that I made myself bleed? Jesus Christ, I’ve become a bloody, bloody massacre investigator. HOW IS THIS MY LIFE? I’m not friction sore, so whatever I knocked out of myself came from deep inside. This is deeply disturbing. I remember what Annie told me when she served as my de facto herpes coach, Sometimes shit just gets weird and it’s nothing serious.
I reduce this disaster to a Philosophy of Mind puzzle: What percentage of ladycum must be replaced by red blood cells before the substance takes on the identity of blood instead of blood-tinted ladycum? I don’t have to tell him I’m bleeding, I decide. This is small time in the grand scheme of things proximal to our date, which includes ass bleeding, after all.