How to Convince a Woman that Sex is Bad: An Instruction Manual for Men who Feel Entitled to Undermine Women’s Feelings and Desires
PART 4: FIFTEEN DAYS
He does pursue me.
Two days after the unprotected sex check in, Dylan invites me to a 4th of July party at Nona and Brad’s place. I met the two of them separately on the night of Lisa the Slut. Nona had latched on to my vintage, teal, purple, and magenta Columbia windbreaker and matching glasses and scarf, and invited me to join her Mummers group, swearing it was socially conscious. Which is less bad than racist, but maybe a wee bit obnoxious. Brad and I had talked about our disparate experiences growing up on culturally opposite ends of the country, he in friends’ basements in the Midwest and me on a famous male prostitute block in NYC that was gentrified in waves as AIDS swept the city and finance pushed north post-911. Dylan retired from bopping here and there, taking drags off people’s cigarettes, and Nona decided to stir shit up. She had whipped out Lisa’s insta account and initiated a convo about how much Dylan still misses his ex’s floofy cat, Mr. Scruffles. It may have kicked off the night of misery that ensued, making him wistful for a woman he never felt was enough when he had her and making him doubt his feelings for me. Nevertheless, I liked Nona because she was a disobedient, cantankerous woman who spoke her mind and didn’t give a fuck about who it alienated.
Nona and Brad have just broken up after years together, not wholly unexpected, Dylan tells me. Brad’s family is Midwestern culturally Christian, Nona a dirty brown foreigner. He first and foremost had allegiance to his family, even though he looked down on their backward beliefs. She felt betrayed by his wussing out of standing up for her. Sure, he can’t help his family, but she deserves respect. She wants to be accepted as part of a family, not paraded around as a sign of social ascension and worldliness, a human gotcha. They are still having people over for their annual 4th of July BBQ, which Dylan takes as a good sign. I feel irate at this invitation. Like why is this fuckboy trying to integrate me into his life when he just said all this bullshit about how his isn’t sure about me. Friend shit is girlfriend duty and, yeah, he said he wants to get to know me better, but I want to get to know him less—who the fuck wants to spend time with a character straight outta a Seth Rogen movie or a Blink-182 song—well I guess this is growing up? I’m temped to say such as a cameo is way above my paygrade, but then I’m like fuck it. “Maybe I’ll stop by for a bit but probably do something else with the rest of my day,” I hedge. I feel soo fatalistic about this arrangement with this absolute joke of a thirty-five-year-old “man” that I might as well be agreeable, really agreeable, like a carefree fucktoy accessory. Nothing matters anymore. Be young, have fun, drink Pepsi.
“I know you’re probably really busy, but I have free time tonight or tomorrow if you want to hang,” he pushes, knowing I’m wiped out from my first day of clinical. I tell him I’m about to take a nap. A few hours later, I admit I’ve failed hard at this sleep thing. He hops on his bike and is at my place in five. We watch the sequel to the frogumentary. I plug my speakers into the USB port so we can hear each gurgle and splash vividly, as if the humidity filtering through my screened windows and sticking to our skin is The Outback. The speakers are underlit in a bright blue glow, like a tricked out car in a drag race. My bed becomes a lake, two tiny islands of sound treading. The sheets ripple every time we shift our weight. When the credits roll, I mount his back, squeezing his hips together with my thighs, locking my arms under his elbows so he can’t pivot. My chin tickles his bald spot. I joke about dropping swimmers down his spine to meet strings of goopy googly eyes, external fertilization style. “Does amplexus turn you on?” I whisper, pressing my lower lip against his earlobe. I imagine my neck puffing in and out, and trill my lips in a mating call. He giggles like when you blow on a baby’s tummy. “I don’t know,” he says. “Let me try.”
We switch places. He unties the drawstring to his yoga shorts and pulls the waistband down. His cock teetertotters. He presses it into me, searching then careening. His balls slap against my ass like a crescendo of claps, and I fling my body back at his. We come in a series of jolts, sink down to our stomachs, a stack of soggy bricks. Intermittently, one of us twitches, and then we twitch together, a domino effect of neuronal discharge. He feels like a slimy slug inside me, poking around with its feelers. When he pulls out, still pulsing, I feel the stream of eyeballs seep out of me. My sheets feel gummy. I grin with my glistening eyes and gulp down laughter. I scoot to the edge of my bed, then shimmy halfway into my cutoffs shorts. Standing to scoop my buttcheeks all the way in, it dribbles down my inner thighs, a thick coating. I blot with a tissue, bunch it up in my pussy, and throw the plug in the toilet on our way out. We take a nice steady midnight stroll around the neighborhood, wobbly from muscle fatigue and loopy from endorphins. He plucks a sour apple from a random tree like we’re archetypes in a bible story. The plague never comes.
Over the course of two weeks, things sort themselves out and the circumstances grow into what I’ve always wanted. It’s some sort of witchery. Or else he genuinely placated me with his penis, glued us together with our milky fluids. From his end, I’ll never know what transpired, whether there was a heart-to-heart that really got him thinking, a novel-worthy epiphany and subsequent character transformation. From my end, no longer caring about him made me forget my boundaries and self-preservation mechanisms, and suddenly he wanted to spend all of his time with me. Things felt more tangibly intimate. And I just rolled with it and eventually kinda stopped hating him.
He’s feeling kinda stressed out about all the work he has to get done, he texts in the morning, so he probably won’t go to the party until 5 or 6, even though it starts much earlier. I tell him I’ll be out back at my building barbeque. I can always dash back and forth between functions like Mrs. Doubtfire, switching attire and personalities. I don’t really need to alter either. Instead of the start spangled Old Navy pajama pants I’ve been donning annually since the 8th grade, I adorn myself in red white and blue Free People shorts with contrasting patch pockets and shag so long I had to trim it. I pair it with a royal blue camisole, lacy white vest, and latch a jangly necklace at the nape of my neck, lapis lazuli beads with turquoise heart charm plated in metal. My nails are a smokey barbeque sky with red glitter overlay like fireworks jumping exuberantly above a sizzling grill. Last night to paint them, I had folded myself up on my bathroom floor, separating my toes with rolled up snakes of toilet. I slip my feet into platform orthotic sandals smoothly, taking care not to nick them on the strap.
Climbing into my double-doored storage closet, with my camping gear and expired nursing uniforms, I rifle through a sailboat pattern insulated tote bag with nine jars of discarded salsa from the Food-of-the-Month club my mom sent to my brother and his now ex-gf as a Hannukah gift. Dylan and I had rescued this summer party kit essential from their give-away pile when we moved them out of their apartment. I remove six jars, hoist the WASP carrying case (beach towel and boat shoes, anyone?) over my shoulder, and clunk down to the corner store, where I add a couple cans of crisp cider and two Ziploc bags of Santiago’s homemade nachos. The afternoon will be spent with my neighbors, legs sprawled out in the sunkissed grass. Balancing a plastic plate on my knees, blocking food from tumbling over the edges, leaf-nibblers from creeping.
Soon after Dylan summons me, I wander the two blocks to meet him. He doesn’t give me an exact address. “It’s at [blank] and [blank]” he says. “We’re on the porch, you can’t miss us.” When I arrive, he’s leaning on a banister with two people I don’t recognize, deep in conversation, a can of beer contoured to his fist. I don’t want to interrupt, so I drift over to an empty seat across from Nona, gavel my remaining jar o’ the month onto the intervening table, an offering and verdict. I don’t think Dylan has brought anything. Scattered around us is wrapping, burnt tins, other evidence of food demolished. Crumbs of you have arrived to this party late. Nona does not acknowledge my redundant addition. I peel open the plastic zipper, crunch down on a perfectly salted nacho. “Rah rah, America,” she mocks my outfit.” “So patriotic.” As if I’m a gun-toting Walmartian, engaged in an earnest act of national pride. “She’s being sarcastic,” Dylan sidles up beside me in a button down shirt with mallard ducks. “Uh, duh,” I say. And wonder why they are having a laugh at my expense. They both know my affection for garish kitsch and festive costuming, that I love to use my body to write a story.
Besides, patriotism isn’t a thing New Yorkers have or express. We know only allegiance to our fair city, and our birthright or decade-earned claim to “real New Yorker” status. Fiye dolla I ❤ NY t-shirts clash with dirt road Americana, trucker hats lifted from road stops. Nona sincerely likes the lacey white vest, swaying from my shoulders like an attentive boyfriend. She can’t remember the word, so she wraps her fingers around her tank top straps like she’s adjusting a heavy knapsack. I take her as especially taciturn today, post break up. But Dylan has already warned me that she’s not polite. That she didn’t get up and walk away mid-conversation the night we met is a sign that she likes me. He joins us at the table and we drag our chairs in scrapey cacophony to make room. Every time I shift in my seat, the shag from my shorts brushes up against my inner thigh, like feather fine pubes sprouting suddenly, and I shiver in revulsion. It’s the me v. not-me feeling of unfamiliarity I had when my braces were removed and I slicked my tongue across the back of my teeth for the first time, only in reverse—an unrecognized intrusion. So I suppose more like having a safely tucked boob pop out of a bikini top. It’s a ‘hello there’ that you never want to greet you in public.
A few more people from his grad program gather round. They ask him what he’s up to, and he tells them about this documentary he shows his class of high school students, about the contested origin of General Tso’s chicken and its unlikely popularization across America. It’s fodder for discussion about cultural adaptation, appropriation, iconography, and consumerism. I tell them about this Instagram influencer Be Well With Arielle that I love to hate. She and her finance husband Lee (with whom I went to sleepaway camp as a teen) started a gluten-free, allergen-free, guilt-free Chinese restaurant, for “food-sensitive” clients, called Lucky Lee’s. Their tone-deaf PR swaggered about how their food is “clean” and “healthy,” as opposed to the gross Chinese food made by actual Chinese people (which, of course, is Americanized Chinese food made to be palatable to gross Americans, but whatever) that makes people feel “icky and bloated.” She is pretty and rich enough to profit from what is either sheltered cluelessness or willful ignorance. The restaurant was slammed in the press, which might be educational for a group of high schoolers learning about culture and society to read. Dylan and his friends are into this idea. Restaurant reviews are easy reading for restless teenagers.
I elaborate on this entrepreneur’s hustle and upbringing, her irritating “I Love Me” fine jewelry collection (starting at $295!!!) “infused with reiki healing energy” to inspire “self-love” among the female empowerment set (apparently care is only accessible to capitalists), how she persistently pointed to her and her husband’s Jewish-American heritage as a way to deflect attention from ragging on other marginalized cultures (as if to say, I can’t be racist, because I too am exotic), that predictably she was raised on the Upper East Side and I had reveled in schadenfreude glee upon discovering that she’d gone to a private school of Bravo’s NYC Prep caliber (i.e. you wouldn’t mention its name in polite company). Before they realize that I’m one of the rich and indelicate, and that he puts his class warrior body inside me, slurps me like wanton soup and tells me how delicious I taste, Dylan interrupts me brusquely. He cleaves the connection to my own grotesque private school upbringing, and steers the conversation elsewhere.
I branch off into discussion with someone who’s a rising second-year MD-PhD student. He’s perfectly pleasant. After a while we run out of words. Everyone else has cleared off the porch. I’m bored but feel stuck. Our commonalities end soon after having both gone to med school. Eventually I excuse myself, saying I’ve heard people are out back, I’m going to check it out. He’s welcome to join but lags behind. I follow the stream of sound past the garbage bins in between charming Victorian houses and witness a throng of people moving to Latin American pop music, hands clapping in the air and feet stomping on the ground. It’s Brad and Nona’s nextdoor neighbors. They know all the lyrics and sing at one another, call-an-response, duet. This must have been top 40 when they were teenagers. Brad appears in my periphery and motions me to come closer to the crowd. But I’m feeling sheepish and it’s not my place to crash this party. He senses my reticence and we fetch a drink from the cooler. He has no idea where Dylan’s gone, either. I wonder whether I arrived too late and should return to my backyard barbeque.
People trickle back to the porch. Dylan introduces me to the guy I got bored of and tells me how brilliant is. I say, “I know, we spoke, his research is really impressive.” Which is not a lie. He tries to impress the guy by bragging about all the secret spots on campus he’s acquired keys to over the years—dramatic balconies, exclusive collections—either in hard copy or via sweet talking janitors and administrators. “Just ask me if you ever wanna go, I can get you in,” he says, like he’s offering a backstage pass to Jingle Ball. “And, like, if you end up needing more than ten years, because of fieldwork, I know the loophole,” he adds. “I mean, don’t let it get to the point, like I did,” he let’s off a self-deprecating chuckle. “But if you do, there’s a workaround, I’m your guy.” It’s sweet that he’s holding out this olive branch, from the most senior person in the program to a fresh-faced newbie. But is he fucking kidding? No one is more ambitious and organized than med students. This guy will earn two degrees, one marketable, in 2/3 of the time he took for one. The way a college classmate who, like me, went to med school later in life, described it, “You know when you’re drinking or smoking weed with a bunch of friends, and someone’s like, ‘Hey, we should all go camping in the Catskills next weekend,’ then you forget about it because other shit is happening, and it sounds like kinda a hassle anyway when it comes down to it, best intentions or not. Well, in med school, your classmates show up with a rental car the next weekend, pick up the rest of the crew at timed intervals, and when you pile into the car, there’s enough tents, bug spray, and sunscreen for everyone, you’ve already charted out where you’re going to stop for gas and groceries along the way.”
This MD-PhD does not need Mr. Cool Guy, BA to show him the ropes, and especially not for career advice. This whole scene is starting to feel sort of sad. It reminds me of that Dazed and Confused quote, “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” Except not creepy. So maybe more like those post-collegiate burnout movies, Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming where a group of friends stick around after they graduate and fail to launch, or Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha where one friend is unable to move on, eternally miserable and rallying others to regress to a time they can only reminisce about. Every time I mention it to Dylan, his dawdling, he assures me it’s normal, he’s only a semester behind two of his classmates who started out in his original cohort. But the way that he talks, I feel like he’s been left behind, and wants some buddies to be held back with him. Nine months after we break up, I’ll come across his new and improved okcupid profile. The opening line sums up his alarmingly carefree vibe and the conflict in our relationship: “A student recently wrote ‘I wish he was my cool uncle.’” Nobody wants to date an Uncle Joey. Imagine a 35-year-old, 97% match rating or not, who is super awesome and fun and has a great personality but gives the kids back when they are misbehaving. It’s like the Nirvana lyric, “I tried hard to have a father/ but instead, I had a dad.”
Our conversation with MD-PhD tapers off, and we geek out at some of the cooler collections and presentations we’ve gotten the opportunity to see because institutional affiliation. Our intellectual connection has always been solid and I’m continually amazed by our theoretical overlap, coming from distinct social science traditions. On our second date he inquired into specifics of my egg freezing process, what hormones I had been injecting myself with. He knew about women’s health stuff because once upon a time he did field research on monkey’s estrous cycles, laying low in the muggy rainforest and waiting patiently for poop to fall from trees. He’d dive after swarms of flies and swat them off, bagging his precious prize to bring back to base camp. Later that night I told him about the “butt conference” I’d just attended, “Philadelphia’s 2nd Anal Health Symposium: Making Your Bottom a Top Health Priority.” The lecture that enlivened me most was about behaviorally congruent sexual health interventions, such as putting PrEP into douches, since that was a practice that MSM were engaging in as a pre- or post-sex ritual, in any event. The funniest reason study participants had given for douching was using it as time punctuator to get rid of a partner (i.e. “This was so much fun, I’m going to go douche now), like the in-person version of ending a phone call with an excuse (e.g. “I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing, I’m going to go eat dinner”). Dylan continued to act engaged when I reviewed the variables that might affect the safety of douching, such as timing (before v. after an encounter), deploying device, and steeping substance (certain corrosive fluids might strip the mucosa, leaving it more vulnerable). It was nice to spend time with someone who had an appreciation for science and research methods and seemed to be down with harm reduction.
We hold a lot of compatible, unpopular opinions. We both see “self-care” as an industry and instrument of capitalist oppression, shifting the onus on individuals for personal upkeep and blaming them when they are unable to perform additional tasks, instead of tackling the culture of productivity that squeezes people for output and pits members of communities against one another. In an early text message conversation, Dylan told me that he has students call him by his first name because he’s so “young and hip.” I interjected, “It’s not about being young and hip so much as social hierarchies and power dynamics,” and explained, “One of my favorite things about being NP rather than MD is not having a hegemony-enforcing title.” Meaning, when you call a medical provider “doctor” and they call you by your first name, it maintains a dynamic wherein the provider is viewed as an immutable authority figure, whereas if you address each other as equals, it sets the tone for collaborative care. He agreed, “I was joking about the young and hip comment! I use it as a way to discuss the role of language in maintaining social hierarchies, how sociology is a field where we learn about social structures that empower or oppress people, and how I want our classroom to be about learning together rather than a top-down structure where my knowledge is privileged.” Swoooon.
His answer to the okcupid question “Do you put more weight in faith or science?” had also stood out to me. He answered, “science,” obviously, then added the qualifier, “But we should decolonize what counts as science.” One of my biggest gripes with academia, is that we’re only presented with information generated by those who have obtained big fancy degrees, and this type of achievement is only accessible to certain types of people, who are often intellectually detached from what they purport to be experts in. Philadelphia’s Fight’s annual AIDS/HIV conference is one of my favorite events. Besides adding social workers, public health officials, and other “professionals” to the mix, they include sex workers, activists, journalists, people without degrees who work at social service organizations, and people living with HIV/AIDS. They consider people to be experts on their own communities and lived experiences. This is an ethos that Dylan and I share, one that is strikingly uncommon among those who are havers of said degrees—especially among women and other marginalized folks who feel they deserve respect for all the bullshit they’ve had to put up with, like men talking over them and claiming credit for their work. Once they’ve shattered the glass ceiling, they want to stab others with it, a sort of hazing to make them feel like their effort wasn’t in vain. A long time ago, when I was in between social psych grad school and formal training to become a health care professional, I wrote in my okcupid profile that I was looking for somebody who knows how to use the words, “hegemony” and “Other.” It sounds snobbish and was obviously kind of a joke at the time, but I do miss being among social scientists. I think I’ve finally found that somebody. Plus, we both listened to Nirvana as kids, so our cultural overlap is significant.
Tonight we talk about socially constructed things that have been codified incorrectly as biological differences. I tell him about this Dorothy Roberts (law professor and author of Killing the Black Body and Fatal Intervention, among others) lecture where I learned why laboratories list a different reference range for glomerular filtration rate (a measure of kidney function) in African Americans. It turns out the baseline range was adjusted under the antiquated assumption that black people have greater muscle mass, as per their history of “jobs” in manual labor, and GFR is a measure of the breakdown of muscle protein. Consistently overestimating kidney function has had huge implications for receiving timely care for end-organ damage. The origin of the raced-based correction for pulmonary function that’s built into spirometers is even more disturbing. Then there were the Lise Eliot and Rebecca Jordan-Young lectures problematizing that girl brain/boy brain junk neuroscience that’s become so popularized. I forget precisely what the issues were in the methodology supporting sex differences, it’s been a while. “You should talk to my friend,” Dylan says. “Sure, it sounds like we’d like each other, but she probably already knows these people.” “No, you’ve mentioned some measures that I don’t think she’s considered.” To me, this feels like a critical juncture in our relationship. Not only are we on the same side when it comes to the intersection of science and social issues, but he values my knowledge base and opinion enough to want me to spread it to his friends and colleagues. I’ve made it!
His “buddy” Teddy shows up with a case of beer and bag of ice, which he clinks into to the cooler like coins out of a slot machine. I met Teddy and his partner Rosie briefly at PorchFest, a DIY neighborhood music festival where pedestrians roam idly seeking music and missed connections. He’s one of those people with an almost childlike cheerful disposition, and he had approached me by unfolding his tie-dyed palm to present me with a handful of dripping cherries, before explaining, “Hi, I’m Teddy,” and then nodding to Dylan for confirmation, “It’s alright, we know each other.” Dylan and Brad go inside to put some stuff away, and we’re now left to make smalltalk. Teddy and Rosie are about to embark on a journey to the West Coast, to join her sister and start a life together. So I inquire about where they plan to stop along the way. He tells me Rosie’s family is uncharacteristically obsessed with Dolly Parton. They’re driving a bit off their path for Dollywood. I tell him this sounds fun. Then, out of nowhere, he says something so strange, I have no idea where to file it. “How do you feel about Dylan’s drinking?” he asks, eyeing the cooler. In the way that you might ask someone if they prefer vanilla or chocolate or if they’ve checked the weather forecast for tomorrow yet. I want to ask, What drinking? But I don’t. I don’t want to sound naïve. And, look, retelling this story, I have to confess that I have no idea what came next, because I was so flummoxed, everything evaporated around those words. I know I recovered easily. I must have laughed and redirected the conversation somehow, maybe told a joke about how Jews suck at drinking, how when I was a teenager I had a friend whose dad peer pressured my dad into drinking too much and he would always get sick after, how it was easy to steal vodka from that family’s kitchen cabinet because who would notice a few drops missing from a Costco-style family-sized bonus bottle, how the pathological liar daughter tried to convince me “tonic water” would make me strong like Popeye for gymnastics.
When Brad and Dylan reappear, I become privy to the drinking he’s referring to, or at least get a preview of it. Dylan holds a group of us hostage, giving a twenty-minute lecture on Philly waterways and infrastructure, a topic no one else gives any fucks about. Teddy, eternally cheerful, plays along. It seems he’s attended a primer beforehand. He may be a confederate, planted in the audience to engage an unwitting class of listless school children, nodding off at desks, gnawing on pencils, folding notes into paper airplanes. Our class adjourns and everyone except me, Brad, and Teddy is dismissed, school’s out for summer, they go the fuck home or else to a better party. We break off into paired conversations and Dylan aggressively interrupts me. Maybe no more than the average overconfident guy, but still extremely annoying. I do get one interesting piece of information out of him.
On our third date, over upscale pizza and no booze, he told me about the end of his 3-year relationship. It was mutual, he’d said. He relocated to DC for her and that’s when all the cracks in their relationship started surfacing. She wanted to live in a neighborhood that was convenient to her job. He was commuting back to Philly occasionally but otherwise had no geographical restrictions. The neighborhood nearest her office was where weapons manufacturers dwelled. He didn’t want to live among those people. He wanted to be able to hang in coffee shops, drink in bars, chat with neighbors, the kind who ride bikes and shop at thrift stores. She wanted to live in a “nice place” and expected him to pay half the rent, even though her salary was significantly greater than his grad student stipend. He didn’t like DC. He was disgusted to learn that politicians have no convictions. At the end of the day, Republicans and Democrats loosened their ties and dined together like old friends. On the House and Senate floors, they voted any way they needed to please their constituents. It was all about reelection, a job like any other. He was even more disgusted to learn that none of this bothered her. She herself had taken a job as a data analyst, with a major corporation. He understood that everyone needed a job, and sometimes you have to take one you don’t agree with, and she especially needed a job to get approved for an H1-B visa to extend her stay in the country. So he wasn’t upset that she was working for a company that made software to steal user data for advertising algorithms, or that she was helping with this project. What upset him was that she thought the project was really cool. She didn’t care about the breach of privacy, the ethics. It was all about how impressive the technology as, the results it yielded, the advertising. He couldn’t date someone who was proud to participate in that system.
I’d found it strange, at the time, when he told me this. Sure, sometimes couples have disparate values or lifestyles mismatches. But how could it have taken three years for them to discover these blatant and fundamental incompatibilities? Why did they stay together for so long? They’re happier apart, he had claimed then and reiterates tonight. Except this time he adds context for their breakup. It wasn’t just about the move to DC. He had proposed to her. I ask if he means for citizenship or because he wanted to get married (we’ve never honestly shared our beliefs about marriage). He laughs, “Oh, for citizenship, obviously.” “But it was believable?” I ask. “Oh yeah, we’d been dating forever, three years.” She didn’t want to marry him, though. She wanted to make it on her own, she’d said, not just because she’d met an American man. Now I understood. She had rejected him and he was rationalizing it not working out. He didn’t want her anyway, there were deep chasms in their belief systems, he looked down on her capitalist aspirations—better off without each other. There had been a pained hesitation before he affirmed the purpose of the proposed not-a-sham marriage, though. I felt kind of sorry for him. Brad had proposed to Nona too, also rejected.
Teddy announces that Rosie’s joining, she’s on her way, walking over. Dylan, who is relieving himself in the front yard, should hurry up and stuff his dick back in his pants. Now that it’s the five of us, I’m having a much better time. I feel like we’re his core. Rosie apologizes profusely for the awkward text she sent earlier. She wanted to do yoga in Dylan’s spare room, but didn’t mean to apply that she didn’t want him there, just that she wasn’t trying to do yoga with him. “It’s fine,” he says. You can come over whenever you want—the space is open to you. I get it, your place is packed in boxes and covered in clutter. Don’t even think about it. Teddy will give you the key.” They all draw cigarettes. I scoot my chair back into the corner. I’m bobbing in a sea of smoke, sifting through mid-summer air. I know it will cling to my clothes like a tangle of seaweed caught up in toes.
We talk about petty disputes with quirky neighbors then get back into the politics of academia. Brad translates jargon for me. ASA is the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. It’s an expensive conference, on top of air travel. Dylan doesn’t know if he can afford it this year, unless he sleeps as a troll under a bridge. He asks Brad what he thinks of “land rights” at the beginning of sessions. I ask whether he means when the presenter acknowledges that we are occupying Lenape territory. He does. “Ew, it’s so performative,” I say. They agree. Particularly if the talk has nothing to do with settler colonialism, acknowledgment is nothing aside from a self-serving show of wokeness. If I didn’t run in similar social justice circles, where people snap their fingers to signal approval or resonance, I wouldn’t even know this was a thing. It’s hard to see the value in a practice that is so niche that it’s elitist.
The number of beers Dylan pounds in a row is stunning. The cooler is emptying out quickly, the repetitive sequence of sound—the crisp tstsizzle of his thumb popping the tab, the crunch of his consolidating the hollow metal in his fist, the bing of his tossing it back into a case full of empties, a graveyard of consumption, the flick of the lighter igniting the tips of his cigarettes. I haven’t seen binging like this since I was a camp counselor and we had curfews to make, the pressure of getting it in before the deadline. Even more troubling than the quantity is the fact that Dylan doesn’t seem all that drunk. He isn’t stumbling or slurring or anything. Just being loquacious and lofty and discourteous. I start to wonder what he does on the nights when we aren’t together.
Dylan flicks his cigarette in my direction, and tells me to tell Rosie about my work on sex and disability. I feel a bit put on the spot. But, again, I feel like he is proud of my work. He thinks I’m worthy of his friends. I wonder why he thinks she, specifically, will be interested. She isn’t a medical person.
I tell Rosie about how when I was really sick with ulcerative colitis, my rectum was filled with ulcers and penetration hurt. On top of that, the steroids I was put on annihilated my sex drive. And no doctor ever asked or warned about sexual side effects, or so much as acknowledged that my illness could be impairing my sex life and that could be a legitimate concern of mine that might affect treatment. Doctors pretend like they don’t bring it up because they don’t want to make patients uncomfortable. But I’ve talked to many other patients about this at support groups. And the general consensus seems to be that doctors are projecting their discomfort on us, and their silence only serves to reinforce the stigma, and they are the ones who set the tone for the appointment. People love talking about sex! And they want to feel like their concerns are normal and non-trivial. So, I haven’t done work on this in an official capacity, per se, but I’ve kind of made it my mission to built awareness around this among my classmates. That poor health impacts sex, and sex impacts well-being, and that it’s our job as health care providers to address health holistically and not just throw drugs at the presenting problem, like people’s body parts work in isolation.
Besides individual providers being squeamish or prudish or uneasy that they might get reprimanded for being inappropriate in the workplace, there are covert ways in which sex has been dismissed from discourse on a systemic level. One thing that was blaringly obvious to me, that might be imperceptible to most people, maybe because I’m more obsessed with sex than most people, or maybe because I realized there was something seriously wrong with my spine when I threw my back out every time I had sex, is that sex isn’t included on forms that ask about activities of daily living. So, after I’m done with all my colon surgery and recovery from that and think I’m getting better, suddenly I throw out my back every time I have sex, with a bunch of different partners, so it wasn’t like some weird move we were doing, and it’s to the point where I can hardly walk. I have my mom drive me to acupuncture because I literally cannot walk to my street corner to hail a cab. Finally my colorectal surgeon refers me to an orthopedic surgeon and I have a bunch of 3-D xrays done in the machine with light beams that’s something out of the Jetsons and I fill out all these forms asking about specific activities that I can or can’t do, how much pain I experience while doing them, how much my back pain is impacting my ability. There are the truly necessary ones like bathing, feeding myself, etc. Then there are things like shopping for groceries and gardening. Seriously, gardening. I live in fucking Midtown Manhattan. Gardening is not a thing. But sex does not appear anywhere on these forms. Sex, the thing that signaled that something was off-kilter. Sex, an activity that pretty much everyone does and that is fundamental to so many people’s happiness. Definitely mine! That’s almost how I measured how well I was doing when I was sick, like did sex still work? Imagine how different conversations between patients and providers would look if this form were tweaked. Such a simple solution. And it’s something that people are just not talking about. So, yeah, I’m interested in sex and disability. Maybe from a selfish perspective. But I think it’s something that’s important to a lot of people and chronically sick and disabled people deserve that quality of life.
I actually went to a symposium on sex and disability a few months ago, that was geared towards disabled people, and I had hoped to meet some allies. But it ended up being sort of hilariously, ill-conceived, the symposium. So, first of all, I get there and look around and pick the person I think is coolest and ask if I can sit with her. She has spikey hair and glitter eye makeup and basically looks like she’s out of one of those Bongo adds from Teen Magazine, striped crop top and everything. Maybe it’s weird that I even ask permission, very middle school cafeteria. Like of course she isn’t going to say, “No, this table is reserved.” Anyway, turns out I picked right, because she works at that sex store on South Street, Passional Boutique and Sexploratorium, and has a master’s in sex education. Right before the first presentation begins, this girl rolls up in a wheelchair with a tiara and sash and her bottle blond mom in tow. As soon as they’re settled, the mom eyes Mx. Sex Ed suspiciously, and goes, “Why are you here? Isn’t this supposed to be for people with disabilities.” She’s like, “Uh, yeah, I’m a sex educator. I’m speaking later on about sex toys for disabled people.” Then the mom looks over at me, another faker, and I’m like, “Well, I’m training to be a health care professional, but also I have a chronic illness. And you can’t tell how healthy or able someone is just by looking at them, so you should never make assumptions, about people, based on how they look. I might look totally normal, but I’ve actually been through a lot. And my illness totally changed everything about my sex life. It changed everything. So I’m here as a health care professional, but mostly as a disabled person.”
Turns out they’re here on business; to them, this is a campaign stop, we’re their photo-op. This tiara-d person is Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania. They ask me if I’ve ever heard of it, the competition. And I’m like, “Oh, is it, like, a beauty pageant?” Mind you, this chick does not look like beauty pageant material. I’m mean she’s nice looking, or whatever, but totally average, and looks straight out of a New Jersey mall. But I guess all bodies are beach bodies, or whatever, so cool. Let a girl dream. “No,” her mom contests my accusation, insulted. “It’s much deeper than that.” “I won because of my platform.” the girl chimes in. “I want to make a difference.” I, say, “Oh, wow, sorry, that’s so cool.” I think about all the 1-minute clips I’ve watched about world peace, or not being able to find the US on a world map because not everyone has a map with South Africa on it. And I ask what her platform is. In her small town in Eastern PA, a lot of the buildings are old and don’t have ramps. It’s hard for her to go to stores and restaurants. She’s fighting for accessibility, for herself, in her town. If she won on that platform, and this is a contest exclusively for wheelchair users, it’s literally called Ms. Wheelchair PA, I wonder, what everyone else’s platform was. Is her small town less accessible than everyone else’s small town, so she could make the biggest difference? Was her story more sympathetic, somehow?
It gets so much more ridiculous, though. The mom proceeds to make every topic about herself. Like during the talk about consent and how people with disabilities are often more vulnerable to getting taken advantage of, the mom talks about here and her ex husband who was a bit of a sex pest. And then at one point the girl goes to the bathroom and the mom slips us her business card, all glittery and pink, and probably not age appropriate. But, like, regardless of how hideous the card is, it’s like what the fuck, there is nothing wrong with your daughter, her legs don’t work, that’s it, otherwise she’s totally functional and capable. If she wants to self promo, she can do it herself. Stop speaking for her and doing shit behind her back. What are you, her manager? Like, for someone who took so much offense at the suggestion, she was the ultimate overbearing pageant mom. But, that’s the other thing, I think disability was really poorly defined at this event. So, something I’m kinda insulated from and honestly pretty naïve about is developmental disabilities. And, sure, some people fit in multiple categories, like there are people with cerebral palsy who have mechanical and intellectual deficits. But the collection of people who ended up at this event just didn’t work together, and some people probably needed greater support, and it was not thought out very well at all. One of the big oof moments was during a talk on HIV. The facilitator asked the crowd about modes of transmission and told them to think about body fluids, and one person shouted out, “poop!” It was so hard to not laugh out loud. But he had meant it totally earnestly. Then when the facilitator asked, more broadly, how you got HIV, several people said, “Hookers!” Which was just so darkly comedic to me as someone so used to social justice environments, where “sex worker” is the accepted term. But it just shows you that you have to meet people where they are! And developmentally disabled people deserve sex education too.
It turned out to be really cool, though, and I’m glad I went to the symposium. In spite of the absurd cast of characters. The sex toy demonstration was incredible. Mx. Sex Ed set up a display of toys and other items from her store that could accommodate people with different deficits. For people who had trouble gripping or limited dexterity, there were toys with no hand contact, for people with muscle weakness there was a dildo that thrust by itself, there were straps to hold body parts in place, wedge pillows—all sorts of things. It was really creative and impressive and showed how may workarounds there are. And acknowledged that disabled people are sexual beings with a plethora of preferences and desires and abilities. Which is what medical professionals need to get on. I really wish this was part of our training, specifically gyn providers we’re the ones who need these presentations, so we can help out patients figure it out. And not just pretend that it’s someone else’s problem and out of our scope of practice.
I break up the 4th of July festivities by announcing that I need to go home to walk my pup. Since I only live two blocks away, if they’re gonna be out much longer, I can always come back. They say, “Oh, no, no, it’s getting late,” and get their bearings to disperse. We drag the furniture around, separate trash from stuff worth saving, I scoop the untouched salsa-of-the-month and plunk it back into my sailboat tote. We say goodnight to Brad and hope he isn’t too sad sleeping alone, in his second bedroom, cats askance. Dylan and I head out with Teddy and Rosie. They’re walking home in the same direction. Rosie and I rekindle our conversation, and she tells me about this disability justice writer, Mia Mingus, that she read back when she was at Berkley. I tell her I’ll check her out. We get to my apartment and I think I’m saying goodbye to her for the last time, since they’re moving cross country in a week or so, but she invites me to their going away party on their porch the following weekend. I say, Thanks, I’ll try to make it. I think, Meh, prolly not since what’s the point in going to a send off for someone you just met. And even though she’s smart and thoughtful, I didn’t feel like I especially connected with her or Teddy.
Dylan does this weird thing where I have to ask him if he’s coming over, in front of his friends, since he doesn’t “want to assume.” It makes me feel like he isn’t really jazzed to fuck me, and only says yes because it’s expected as an end-of-evening ritual in lieu of Nick at Nite and a warm glass of milk. If I didn’t ask, “You coming over?” I bet he wouldn’t even try to obtain an invite. This is an untested theory; I’ve never not asked. I’m scared to find out. We take my pup to the dog run behind my building, which first involves her excitement peeing all over my floor, then running through it like it’s a fire hydrant in the summer, then sweeping it with her tail like she’s the sprinkler system, and finally jumping up and down patting Dylan with her pee paws, before I manage to leash her. The “dog run” is a novelty-sized litter box with red pebbles that dye fur and clothing when it rains. He’s in a playful mood and rolls around outside, tossing tennis balls and faking her out. I’m disgusted. It’s bad enough that I had to watch him squash beers and devour cigarettes and give a sermon about water infrastructure, now I have to wrangle him like he’s an actual fucking puppy? I know I said I wanted for him to smell more like an animal, but not like this. I swipe us back into the building with my fob and we stand on opposite ends of the elevator for the duration of our ride.
Scolding him at the threshold of my door, I instruct him to take off all his clothes and drop them at his feet and not touch anything and go straight to the shower and scrub with my fucking shower gel that looks like semen and wash the smoke out of his mouth. He tries to be all cutesy patoosie about it, giving his best puppy dog whimper, and asks me to join him. I think he might jump up and down on my leg so I scowl, “This is not a sexy shower!” He puts his leg between his tail and whines. I remove my funky shoes, leave a towel hanging from the back of the bathroom door, and climb into bed with my actual puppy who runs up her 3-step staircase and pounces on me playfully. He climbs in damp a few minutes later and I instruct him, this time, to drop the towel. He gives me such a deep, slow dicking, I forget how embarrassed I am on his behalf. Predictably, he can’t cum cause he’s drunk. But I feel completely held, pinned against the sheets with each pump. He’s sliding further and further in, literally and metaphorically. He can fuck me forever, as far as I’m concerned, until I get bored. At dawn, I look over at him peacefully breathing under my covers. He and my pup have tertised their bodies together, with adjacent angles. For once I feel contented, having someone sleep in my bed. He absorbs our energy.
The next day Dylan texts and I’m reminded that I forgot to give him acid so he and Teddy can participate in a rite of passage. I’ll be home studying all weekend, so he can stop by whenever. I wonder why he never tries to fuck me in the morning. I want him to disrupt me, for us to be rabid and unkempt. He says he’ll swing by after Teddy and Rosie’s porch sale, where their impending loss will solidify with the items being cast off for the price of colored stickers. I open my door and lead him to my freezer. It contains a stray film canister and a tall stack of Haagen Dazs empties, which collect there because I’m eccentrically efficient about consolidating non-smelly trash to leave space in the garbage bin for items that should be shuttled to the shoot quickly. I pop open the film canister and extract a wad of tin foil crumpled around a folded plastic baggie. Peak cliché Grateful Dead bear blotter paper squares peek out like tiny size Chiclets. As I rewrap one pink bear and one orange bear to-go, he fishes a pin out of his pocket that he’s been saving since after our second date. He thought of me when he saw it (aw) but it was “too soon.” It says “Season of the Bitch,” which I assume to be a snarky pastel goth phrase like, “Bad Vibes” or “Resting Witch Face” (check out CreepyGirlClub on etsy if that’s your aesthetic). Later on I’ll google and discover it’s a socialist feminist podcast and be impressed by how accurately he clocked my taste so early on. I say, “No way,” and go to my bedroom to retrieve a pin I got at the Sinkhole Dragshow earlier in the week. It had an illustration of the infamous Baltimore Avenue sinkhole, which he had drunkenly spelunked in after hours and sent me photographs of the next day. He was proud that he’d pulled of peeing into a sewer pipe that was a tributary to Mill Creek, because, Woooah, cool, water infrastructure.
Dylan thanks me for the pin and I’m like, “Oh, by the way, I googled this writer Mia Mingus that Rosie recommended. Tell her thanks for the rec; I just skimmed so far but it looks awesome.” And he’s like, “Uh, why don’t you thank her yourself at their party next weekend.” We survey the goods exchanged and have this awkward transition where he giggles about how he feels so weird stopping by just to pick up drugs, and I assure him it’s no big deal he’s welcome to stop by whenever. Then I add, “But I can chill for a bit before getting back to work, if that’s what you want.” It is. We settle on my couch and start making out. I unzip the modern day version of cargo shorts, slither down his torso, nestle between his knees, and give him our first start-to-finish blowjob. “Genie, you’re gonna make me cum,” he pants and I feel legs tense up. I grip onto his thighs harder, push my face down further, and pull him out as it’s happening, letting the salt spurt around my puffed lips. A few seconds later his eyes roll back into his head and he purrs, “Thaaank you.” I gleam up at him, face shiny from spit and slime, and catch the globs sliding down his stomach in a cupped hand. I marinate on how fucking grateful I am to be in a real thing so I can regress back to The Oral Phase. It’s oh so lovely once things are informal and frequent enough so you don’t feel obligated to make a night out of each encounter and aren’t fiending to extract maximal sexual value out of he whose dick is now infinitely available.
The day after that Dylan asks if I want to come over to make dinner. I politely decline. It’s a bit more than 1.5 times, I joke. He quantifies the time it will take for food and any bonus time redeemed in International Hangout Units. I explain, because I like being specific when it comes to people I care about, that it isn’t that I’m having a bad time, it just seems like tomorrow is too much too soon, we’ve already seen each other 3 out of 7 days and this is a precipitous ramping up in contact. I need some time to myself before I’m pummeled with work over the upcoming week.
I guess this is where I stop to explain how the logistics have changed since we started dating. And, yes, this is as boring and unsexy as it sounds. In March, when we met, I was in the middle of a semester off that was built into my program so my cohort could pass our nursing boards and deal with the bureaucratic nonsense that is applying for a license in multiple states with disparate and equally ancient systems. I got fingerprinted no fewer than five times. During the in-between epoch, I travelled back home to NYC for my last 2 of 3 rounds of fatiguing then ferocious egg freezing. Eerily convenient considering the FBI would accept inked sets of my flesh spirals from only the NYPD HQs. For leisure, and because my dearth of social and pleasant physical contact began to feel like a palpable excavation, I took ceramics classes at my neighborhood studio. Which is to say, I had oodles of time. Dylan had recently begun writing his dissertation and was teaching one class that he’d taught numerous times. We had infinite unstructured time to get to know each other.
Everything changed mid-May when my grad program started up. Suddenly I was taking a full course load, including the very technical pathophysiology, where we memorized physics equations associated with blood vessel compliance, and because 15 weeks were compressed into 12, it was extra accelerated. The week of July 4th, an extra element was added: a once-weekly clinical placement. In my case, the Kafkaesque onboarding process cost as much time and energy as the rotation itself. Because my assigned preceptor hadn’t conveyed that she’d be out of town for 2/3 of our time together, this meant weeks of stressful communication, followed by a sampler where I hopped from primary care to ED to nephrology, each with different hours, outfits, and expectations for participation. Navigating this on top of routine academic demands and getting into the groove with new professors and classmates was a challenge. As my relationship with Dylan progressed, March though August, its shape had to morph with my availability. He was aware of my outside commitments, and I thought he respected them.
Back to the week when he wants to see me four times, and I say, Woah, baby, clutch the breaks. I ask if it would be weird if I watch the documentary about General Tso’s that he screens in class to stimulate conversation among high school students. I follow up with links to scathing articles about controversial Lucky Lee, as well as screenshots of my fav love-to-hate influencer Be Well With Arielle’s insta account. Her handle casting health as an aspiration and lifestyle choice really tells you all you need to know. This post about the unattainability (read: inaccessibility) of culinary purity is truly one for the ages.
The following text accompanies a photo of her cooking in an expensive dress with her hair done:
“Don’t become orthorexic over your baby’s food,” she said to me when I was introducing solids to Gemma. WHOA! At first I was so alarmed by her comment. Then it soon became one of my greatest lessons as a new mom. I had been delaying feeding my baby her first solid food (egg yolk) because I preferred to give her the best quality possible. Most conventional eggs that you find at the supermarket are weeks old… As a health coach who strives to ‘live well,’ it was important to me to feed my baby the best eggs that I had access to – fresh, local, humanely treated and pasture-raised from my nearby farmers market. But every time I visited my favorite farmer, there were no cartons left! So I waited and waited… When I saw my friend… wow did she put me in my place!… I so didn’t want to be that crazy mom… so the next day I ran out to my corner grocery store… Gemma ate them with excitement and to my surprise, I felt more liberated that ever feeding my baby supermarket egg.” (emphasis mine)
Imagine thinking that feeding your kid ordinary food (which you consider toxic, poor person food) os some kind of extraordinary political act. And I get it, I do. As a recovering bulimarexic, I resonated with Abra Fortune Chernik’s “The Body Politic,” where she posits, “Gaining weight and getting my head out of the toilet bowl was the most political act I have ever committed.” Which show you how little power women, even filthy rich women, really have. But this person is parody.
“No,” Dylan says. “Not weird at all. It’s a great film.” “OMG,” he reacts to the screenshots. Then, apropos of nothing, he bamboozles me with the ambiguous and ostensibly urgent, “I know you have a super busy day tomorrow, but wanna talk for a few minutes?” This seems fishy. Normally Thursdays are jammed packed with class from 12pm to 8pm. Tomorrow my profs stuffed an extra lecture into the morning slot, making my day 11 hours long! He knows this. So, no, I don’t want to talk when I get home. I’m not sure whether my ‘fuck it, ima destroy this situation with irresponsible sex’ attitude worked or backfired or whatever but I definitely hadn’t felt like we needed to have any more “talks” any time soon. Now I’m getting anxious. I’ve been waking up from bad dreams panicked about Dylan, feeling paralyzed, almost. I don’t know what that’s about. I don’t trust my instincts. This past week and a half has felt like a real relationship, and it feels too good to be true. Before this he’d told me all he could give was his word that he wanted to get to know me better, and before that he’d told me preserving space was key because he’d jumped from relationship to relationship absentmindedly. Something is not quite right, right? I’m deluding myself? I’ve gotten caught up in a fantasy where someone’s acting like we’re something but claims the opposite. And now maybe he’s dumping me? Because what the fuck could he possibly have to talk about that can’t wait for some other time when I’m not gonna be totally beat?
“About what?” I ask suspicious. “That sounds ominous.” I tell him I have a few mins to talk on the phone now or I have study break time this weekend. “Ha!” he says. “Nothing in particular. Was gonna mainly ask about plans this weekend, etc. I’m exhausted this week too.” “So do you wanna hang out this weekend or are you just being weird?” I clarify, still suspicious. “Yes I do!” “I’m partly being weird bcs I’ve slept like 4 hours over the last two days.” I don’t know why I share this, possibly due to the sleep deprivation, maybe I shouldn’t have, but I commiserate, “I’ve slept in like 3 hour spurts and had very weird possibly ominous dreams about you.” It’s like my id has been priming me to run but my superego intervenes, Maybe you just aren’t used to things working out with a guy. Maybe you are trying to kill a good thing. He says that sucks I haven’t been sleeping either and he’s curious to hear about the bad dreams. He gives me a preview of the weekend: Friday is Teddy’s bday, Saturday is the going away party, he’s hanging both nights and I’m welcome to come but no pressure if I don’t want to. I tell him I’ll text him after my 11 hours of class if I wouldn’t prefer to hibernate and die first.
I guess I relax about our relationship. The next morning at 8:55am, on my way to class number one of three, I stop to snap a pic of tree porn and send it to him. It’s a PECO lightpole log lying parallel with the curb, waiting to be erected on a residential street. Stapled to its base is a tag with its forest of origin, somewhere in Brierfield, Alabama. One can visit via google satellite. I figure this squares with his fascination with forestry, specifically the journey from colonialism and land rights, to ownership and industry, to location and use of final product, for instance lumber for white flight suburban homes. I’m heeding his “reservation” that I hadn’t asked him anything about himself on our first date. I want him to know that I’m making an effort to engage in his interests. Besides, it’s always nice to know that someone thought of you at 8:45 am, as they were dragging their sleepy ass to class.
Around lunch, he expresses gratitude for the tree porn, which, by the way, I’ve been sending since my trip to Colorado, early on in our relationship. I joke that it’s “Weird to see evidence of its journey from the South to the dildo-adorned streets of W Philly.” Discarded street dils are a neighborhood mystery and local delicacy. He asks how I’m holding up. I’ll prob need to nap when I get home but might be down to hang after. He’s going out to celebrate his friend’s dissertation defense and will keep me posted. After midnight, he checks in, dependable as per usual. He’s still with old friends, he may never see again, and professors. He’s feeling kinda good because when he told the profs about his work they were all, “How have you not published a book already?” I do not think this is a compliment. To me, it sounds less like, “You’re so brilliant you could be a published author by now,” and more like, “How is it that you’ve been here an entire decade without producing a single thing.” I do not share my unkind interpretation.
We meet up Friday afternoon before he goes out for Teddy’s birthday. It turns out to be an intimate family dinner. I decide it would be awkward for me to join, and Dylan agrees. He offers to come back later, depending on when things wrap up. While he’s gone, I happen to get a text from a guy I’d hooked up with once before; the backstory is that Tabitha, our mutual friend, had mentioned on a facebook thread that someone he’d been with had referred to him as a “sex wizard.” In a PM, he asked her to be more specific about the origin of this knighthood, and took the answer as an auspicious sign for a future encounter with me. Tonight isn’t a good night, I tell him, but he should consider me in the future. I submit some homework and take a break to research a documentary I’d heard about that Dylan and I might enjoy watching together. When he texts me to say things are winding down, I’m still plugging away on an assignment. I say sure come over in like half an hour, but I might ignore you for like ten minutes while I finish something up. I’ll leave the door unlocked.
He enters, and makes a beeline for my bed. The foyeur meet-and-greet ritual relocates. Glenda zooms up her staircase and wags her tail maniacally, wiggling on her hindlegs, then dropping down to all fours. He puts one butt cheek on the edge and leans over to pet her, trying not to disturb me as keep my eyes fixed on my computer screen. “Oops, that’s a little wet,” he flicks his fingers. I look over at them, and she’s squatting. A puddle forms around her feet and travels in my direction. “Oh shit, she’s peeing,” I say, hands still on the keyboard. “Oh god, she’s really peeing. Get off, I don’t want it to soak through the mattress,” he says, frenzied, tugging on the sheets. “It’s cool, I have a mattress protector and pad under here. We shoo Glenda off, and undress my bed, flipping the four corners toward each other and rolling them inward to form a nest. I leash her to take her out, since that’s what you’re supposed to do when your dog pees in the wrong place, even if there’s nothing left inside them, and tuck the bedding under my other arm. When we get down to my lobby, Dylan offers, “Here, I’ll toss that in, while you take her.” “Thanks,” I say, and lift my elbow so he can grab the fabric. I hear the door to the laundry room swing open, as I drag her outside. Two minutes later, we’re back. He’s still crouching on the ground, fiddling with the buttons, can’t figure out how the machine works. I push the bubble of the astronaut helmet door until it clicks. “There, the door wasn’t closed all the way. Now press the button again,” I say. “Ohhww,” he smirks and shakes his head. “Aw, such a good house husband,” I tease, rumpling his hair with my hand.
Back in my apartment, we fling a temporary top sheet open across the bed, borders hanging overboard, a baseline level of protection. We bump Glenda’s staircase back up against the bulky frame, so she can scurry up without leaping across a moat. She rolls over on her back to be petted. “It’s okay, I know you didn’t mean to pee the bed,” he says lovingly. I reach for my laptop from my bedside table. Slated to be a quirky consummation of Dylan’s passion for conservation and my affection for queer kitsch, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story is a tale of economic opportunity, ecological destruction, health disparities, and activism against mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia coal country. Feminist porn icon Annie Sprinkle’s partner Beth Stephens was born and raised there, and they directed the documentary together, offering a rare look from an insider and outsider’s perspective. Dylan is impressed and puzzled that I’ve managed to discover such an unorthodox masterpiece. It has us in stitches throughout. Closing the film with a sing along to their silly wedding chapel song, we agree to watch Desiree Akhavan’s TV show The Bisexual next. It shapes up to be the most intimate night we’ve had together. I rock back and forth mashing my butt into him, subtly, as we’re spooning. His dick squirms like a caterpillar. I flip him over and shove him back down on the sheets when he cranes his neck and paws at me. We make out for the first time. I tease him with my hand. I slither down, again, and lick him from base to tip methodically. He erupts all over himself, and I’m so charmed and satisfied I don’t want anything in return. I like feeling the want swell between my lips knowing it will persist.
Saturday, he texts on-and-off with updates and other fodder. Teddy and Rosie’s party is relocating to a pop-up beer garden, I can come whenever works for me or we can head over together. I tell him I’m deep in the powerpoints and don’t know when I’ll be able to hang. He says no worries I can join them later. Later, he says, “It just hit me that I’m kinda bummed Teddy and Rosie are moving. I hope I don’t cry tonight.” And adds as series of photos of souvenirs he collected from various locations where he and Teddy spent quality time together. Perhaps this is an omen, possibly a threat. He’s not the only one who will end up crying and taking relationship inventory tonight. I text him around 9:30 when I’m heading in his direction. Within 5 hours, our relationship will effectively be over before it officially began. How can you grieve something that never existed, explicitly? All we have to show for it, whatever it was, is a collection of exactly two pins between us.