Saturday, March 10th, 2007
It’s early February in the early oughts, and our heroine is dating two men: Gary, who is polyamorous, and Frank, who is not. Since she is not being monogamous, you might think that she, too, is polyamorous. But she isn’t committed to the concept of non-commitment, any more than she’s committed to commitment. Therein lies the problem.
FRIDAY NIGHT WITH GARY is like an oasis amidst the hassles with Frank. I buy savories for an indoor picnic: black caviar, sour cream, fresh bread, and a bottle of wine. The prosciutto has a funky, ill-omened aroma and I throw it in the trash after sampling a piece. When Gary arrives at 9, the apartment looks beautiful, the table is spread with goodies, and I’m wearing a sarong with no panties.
He hands me a single red rose and says, “Since I won’t be seeing you on Valentine’s Day.” I like the way he handles this particular gesture: lightly romantic, without the muck of obligation. I serve him a thin cracker with sour cream and caviar.
“Very nice, professor. I’m surprised I was able to see you on such short notice.”
“I’m surprised you were in town.”
While we eat he tells me about the old college friend he just had drinks with, whose wife is too tired for sex since they had their first kid. He seems agitated, almost outraged at the injustice of his friend’s sexless marriage. I advocate for the put-upon wife. “Do you know how exhausting it is to take care of a baby? All day it’s yanking on your boob, then hubby starts in.”
“That type of marriage is a bait and switch operation. She pulls him in with the sex, he gives her a house and a baby, then she’s finished with him.”
“You make it sound like a conspiracy.”
“Marriage is a conspiracy. People think they want it, then five years later they’re miserable and cheating.”
“Monogamy has its charms.”
“Has it worked for you?”
I consider my two long-term relationships, both of which failed. “Not yet.”
“I think you’re too hedonistic to commit to one person.”
His fixation on sex is starting to annoy me. Usually it’s what I like about him. But his anti-marriage rant seems shrill, and our theoretical debate about commitment is getting a little too actual. I know he’ll never commit to me in the usual sense, he knows I accept that, and my ideas about relationships in general are none of his business.
“Hedonism is one of my better qualities,” I tell him. “You’re lucky to be the beneficiary of it.”
“Trust me, professor, I know.”
With that he pulls a canister of weed from his messenger bag. Tension dissipates as the conversation goes on smoky tangents. We get into a fatuous debate about public executions: he is pro and I am con. This is the kind of conversation that excites us. It seems controversial, but it’s so far removed from our lives that there’s no danger of lurching into emotional territory. The fog of weed makes it feel even more like a game. Point, counterpoint, our arguments coil around our heads like little pet snakes.
When he starts saying that prisons should beat prisoners and broadcast it on TV, I start wondering if he has a screw loose, but I’m having too much puncturing his Vulcan logic to care. I make a grandiose speech about the importance of humanism, complete with literary references and wagging finger.
“Professor,” he says with a dramatic sigh. “Your idealism is touching but completely irrational.”
“The rational is over-rated. Cogito, ergo, blow me.”
He laughs. Then he comes around to my side of the table and stands behind me, his fingertips inside the neckline of my shirt. Reality solidifies around his touch. Why am I so turned on by this pot-smoking libertarian weirdo? He comes forward to kiss me, then reaches between my legs and smacks my pussy.
I don’t know if it’s the weed, or my pent-up frustration from the week, or the vestiges of the strange mood he came in with, but we have crazy momentum tonight. Usually we start slow and savor the details, but now we’re hurtling, hurtling forward. Within five minutes we’re on the bed with his fingers inside me, and I’m coming.
Here’s the funny thing about Gary as a lover: for all his skill and enthusiasm, his penis needs coaxing to stay in the game. It will be hard, then not hard, then hard again, for several cycles throughout an encounter. We don’t spend a lot of time fucking. I was put off by this at first, but in fact it’s quite the mother of invention, spreading the compass of attention wide across our bodies. I assume his fluctuation results from the emotional wall he erects between us, or his habit of daily pot smoking, or just a quirk of his physiology. Tonight, however, the recalcitrant member is completely available. He puts a condom on it and for the first time in the months I’ve known him, I climb on top and ride with abandon. I’m astonished by the intensity of my reaction. My legs are slick, and I can feel liquid splash up when I bounce down on his pelvis. I’m having crazy thoughts, like: I want him to take the condom off so he can feel every single thing that’s happening. I can’t take any more so we rest, then resume. He plies me with more of that killer hand play, then turns me onto my back and administers a hard missionary fuck. It’s happening in layers, with that pot-induced sense of twisty detachment (I’ll yell like this to incite him, now like this, now like this) yet the physical plane is hyper hyper-real. My borders are crumbling as every thrust hits my exact, perfect center. He climaxes standing at the edge of the bed with two fingers inside me, my mouth on his nipple, and his right hand jacking himself off. I hear the thop thop of his lubey hand sliding up and down. He comes, groaning, on my belly, spreads it across me, my abdomen glistening.
“Jesus Christ, Gary,” I say as I collapse onto the bed. I push the soggy comforter to one side. I have never come so much in my life. But it’s not just the waterworks. We had some kind of synergy that I haven’t felt since the last time I was in love. He crashes down next to me and we stare into space while electronic music swirls around us. It’s beautiful, actually – a raspy-voiced woman singing about passion and heartbreak over a rain of computer-generated chords. We enjoy a few minutes of absolute peace while we drift back into our bodies.
I go into the kitchen for a towel. There’s still caviar on the table. I spoon some onto a cracker and feel that at this moment it’s supremely good to be me.
Gary sits down at the table and starts making conversation. Talk seems utterly beside the point. I just want to sleep, then tussle again in the morning, and sail into Saturday on an endorphin wave. But Gary’s enormous brain remains fully activated. He shows me his new cell phone (it has a built-in atlas). I let him prattle on about his new PDA and which laptop I should buy. Tired of electronics, he asks how the rest of my love life is going. Didn’t I tell him just a week ago that I’m seeing someone else, that I won’t get all clingy and weird? But my report this week would be less satisfactory. The other guy’s needy and he can’t make me come. You look like Prince Charming by comparison. Gary doesn’t want to hear it. I don’t want to say it.
“Frank is good,” I tell him. “Have another grape leaf before they go bad.”
I realize just how much the drama with Frank has exhausted me. And the weed is pulling a curtain down fast around my brain. Can’t talk. Gary keeps talking, now about his father, a divorced Israeli who thinks Gary should marry a Jewish girl while he’s still young, have a son, and if marriage doesn’t suit him divorce her—-just get a son, then enjoy all the treyf that the world has to offer.
“You’ve given me a WASP fetish,” he says.
“I’m honored,” I say, but word treyf—non-kosher meat like pork or shiksas–hardly seems like an honor.
A long pause ensues, which he breaks with the following words:
“I think I should go now.”
He explains that his kitchen was renovated this week, he needs to clean up tomorrow, and it will be much more convenient if he wakes up in his apartment instead of mine. I’m having a hard time processing this. We have always spent the night together, shared breakfast in the morning—always cultivated the little niceties that make our affair feel more civilized than sordid. I blink a few times. He said convenient. The word feels like an actual physical blow. Since when have we been about convenience? If he wanted convenience, he should have told me before I dropped fifty bucks on food and wine. Before I made an extra trip to buy artificial sweetener for his morning coffee.
“You don’t mind, do you?”
I mind more than I can say, as I stand there with my mind racing and this tightness in my chest. He’s trying to renegotiate our relationship, make it smaller and meaner. Unwelcome details about the night start rattling in my brain: his surprise that I was available on short notice, his ceaseless harping about relationships and their limitations, the fact that he was squeezing me in after another engagement and now wants to leave after ours.
“Wow, you’re really upset. Do you want to talk about it?” His eyes circle the room, alight on his pants.
I can’t talk about it. I feel ambushed, and before that I was too undone by weed, wine, and sex to say much anyhow. All I can do is blink. It’s no wonder he wants to leave. I have ceased to be entertaining.
He is reaching for his belt. “And can I get that shirt back?” Pause, buckle. “But if you want me to stay I’ll stay.” I hear no empathy in his voice, just a desire to placate the angry female so he can fuck her again. It suddenly strikes me as wildly significant that he insists on artificial sweetener instead of natural sugar in his coffee. And he only listens to electronic music, and he can only climax by jacking himself off—never has he ejaculated anywhere close to the interior of my pussy–and the one time he manages to fuck me properly he goes running for the door as soon as it’s over. In spite of all this, I want him to stay. I’m still reeling from the sex, and I’m not prepared to dissipate all that energy into the vortex of an empty bed. I want his body next to mine while I sleep.
“Really, I can stay. If you want.”
This is what he is offering me: a mercy cuddle. Perhaps the only thing more mortifying than a booty call. He can keep it.
After the door closes, I see myself in the mirror. Pale skin, smudged makeup, mouth pressed into an angry bundle. Not entertaining at all.
Jennifer Leigh’s book-in-progress (working title: Tao of Smut) is a collection of stories that span about 10 years of her checkered past, from early adventures as a topless house cleaner, to later, more thoughtful experimentation with lifestyle choices like polyamory and S&M, in the search for authentic experience in the anything-goes world of post-modern relationships.
She has written personal essays about sex and relationships for BUST Magazine, Nerve.com and Glamour. She’s also performed at dozens of venues in NYC, from KGB to the Gotham Comedy Club.