SECTION EIGHT

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COLUMN EIGHTY-TWO, JANUARY 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)

SLEEPING WITH JACK

He is always leaving me.  He's going off to his office or he's going off "to start my day."  We never leave each other like normal people. Even when I'm at his house and I'm the one leaving, I have the sense that he's a real person having his real day and I'm the curled and wet thing scraped off that day.  You might say it's a self-esteem problem, but I say it's something we create together. Or something that's bigger than both of us, completely out of our control.

***

One Sunday afternoon, in the first summer of our relationship, I was in my car in his parking lot with the sun streaming through my open window. The sky was dark blue and his parking lot was banked with walls of flowers.

I felt like I was leaving Eden.  Jack was in his car about to drive away, saying, "maybe I'll see you later." My car was facing down and his was facing up; our faces and arms hung out our windows and we were inches apart. I told him I felt lost inside.  The only thing worse than feeling like that is what you experience at the moment of admitting to that feeling.  The pitiful and loathsome inner child pops out, all big eyes and cuteness gone, just the whininess and snot nose remaining, all that sickening need leaking out of an aging adult body.

I sat there in my car, soaking in my emotional incontinence, biting my thumb, waiting for my fate.

Jack got a nice smile on his face and said he experienced the same kind of emptiness, only it wasn't about losing me, it was about all the beautiful women and exciting material things and glimpses of lifestyles he saw when he wandered the streets of the city alone at night.  He went into that grabbier precursor to loss and became the Hungry Ghost of Buddhist lore---that big-stomached, big-headed, small-throated creature who wants to eat the world but takes too much to swallow.  He can never be full.

Sometimes just walking into the Barnes and Noble at night, he'd want not only all the clean and expensive books, but a beautiful wood-paneled and antique red leather library to stock them in. And not only the books and the library but the time to read the books. And not only the time but a summer house in which to display the beachier books. And not only the time and the beach and the books but the things within the books, the portraits of the children from Tibet.

He wanted those children, he wanted their smiles and the genes from their parents that gave them those smiles so he could pass those genes on to his children (which he also wanted). And not only did he want time and the children and the genes but he also wanted the French provincial weathered southwestern tattooed Danish modern celebrity desert rock star intellectual sports gourmet ecologically sound everything of the everything that was in all those books.

He also wanted that thin, glossy-haired, softly smiling, French-looking girl in the navy blue cotton shift who was sitting across from him with a Japanese brush-painting book in her slender hands with her tan legs crossed and---standing now as she lightly touched her girlfriend's shoulder---he wanted what was in that touch, the promise of 8,000 indescribably wonderful parties to which Jack will never be invited. He wanted the French-looking girl and her entire life, which he is sure takes place in orderly, spare splendor in some Little Italy loft and also internationally, with quietly ordered passports and never a scream or vaginal infection or a request to fill her up---except on the most carnal level, which he would do most obligingly.

In fact, he wanted to do it right this second in the Barnes and Noble as she was bending her over the velvet rope by the cashiers. He wanted to lift her navy blue shift and part her small, hard brown ass to reach the wet, sliced plum of her insides. But what about all the other asses in the world? The creamy cherry vanilla ones, the dimpled girlish ones, the black ones, the juicy, jiggly ones? Take this one and the others won't be his, but since he hasn't taken this one yet and never will, leaving her and her ass is unbearable to him. To him, every scene she enters is the equivalent of Bill Gates' fabled house. But instead of computers inside the house, it is her very essence, or maybe her very ass, that triggers muted lights and delightful music and low, sweet laughter that precedes her entrances and follows in her wakes, leaving every room and street and scene barren and void in her absence.

Still, Jack doesn't even follow her with his eyes after she leaves the table, although he might lift her Chinese brush-painting book after she is safely gone and briefly sniff at the smooth spine for her scent.  He will leave the store without a purchase and wander the streets, vigilant in this fruitless pilgrimage, catching endless glimpses of the all-night movie playing through golden-lit windows and rooftop gardens in the citrus shadows of the Korean market, through the opaque windows of passing limos and taxis, a movie starring all the things that will never be his and will never fill him up.

"There," he said.  "That's how it is."

I could see Jack in that bookstore, with the blank-eyed air of a pervert or a sage, looking pathologically self-contained. The natural human process of selection, rejection and commitment to a series of things and people had not been efficiently installed in his brain.  Any fully embraced choice---that woman, that book, me---would automatically cut off an infinity of possibilities with the absurd luck and finality of the speediest sperm lodging into an egg.  Jack's life force was only in that wanting, never in the getting.  The Hungry Ghost was Hungry not because he couldn't swallow but because he'd never helped himself to anything from the smorgasbord.  Make no choice at all and leave the possibilities endless.

We looked at each other through our open car windows in his technicolor parking lot. Jack reached through his window and into mine and ran a finger from my eye down my cheek, where a tear would have streaked had I allowed one to get away from me.

"I can't be more honest," he said.

I could address this honesty and engage him in conversation for a while---he never tired of my analysis of the many tricky and endearing aspects of his narcissistic character---or I could sidestep the whole show. If I raised my chin a certain way, and adopted the air of a flirtatious stranger, perhaps he'd glimpse me as one of those dear, unreachable things. It is only in those moments, when he can trick himself into seeing me from an unfamiliar angle that he can feel desire for me and jump, with eyes half-closed, into my life for a moment.

"See ya," I said, the first to drive off, all the lack of closure and all the razoring pain worth it for that rearview glimpse of the admiration in his eyes.  He could lick me up like bacon grease.

***

Two years later, we were pretty much in the same boat, although much kinder at times, and at other times much meaner.  We had tried therapy, breaking up, no sex, just sex.  I had tried to act like a man.  I had tried to stop trying so hard and just let fate take us where it wanted; but unfortunately it usually took us to a place like a Lake George gas station with me crying up against a phone pole while Jack stoically fed quarters into a machine as he vigorously vacuumed the inside of his jeep.

Our friends no longer liked us because all we could talk about were the minute details of our conflicts.  We had become, as Jack told one of our therapists, a bad legend around town. Sometimes we wouldn't see each other for weeks but that only made us stay on the telephone for hours.  We spent most of our time together on the phone or at parties.

***

We're at a party I didn't want to go to.  We're sitting around a bar...I see a fond look creep into Jack's eyes. I hate that fond look. I follow his gaze to a woman. Forty-something. Curly black hair. Short tight dress and the sort of sheer shiny black stockings he claims to hate. Once I wore stockings like those. I came downstairs all dressed up in those stockings and a short dress and he did this lip-pursing thing (which I also hate) and I waited for him to say how good I looked.

Finally I said: "What's the matter?'

He said, "You--" and then he looked away and shook his head, as if he couldn't bear to deal with the whole thing.

"What? What is it?"

"I thought you had a run, but it's---it's a shine."

"A what?" I looked my legs up and down. Not a run in sight.  Just nice legs in ultra sheer silky black stockings. "Did you say a shine?"

He nodded, the lips pursed. Grim, almost.

"What's the matter, you don't like these kind of stockings?"

"Not really," he said.

"You think they look cheap or something? I mean tons of guys love it when I wear these kind of stockings."

"I'm sure they do."

"But you don't.  You hate them."

"I didn't say I hated them."  Jack hated using the word hate.

"But they make you sick."

"Oh please," said Jack.  "Let's not bring this to a painful point."

I hated that expression. I hated that moment.  And now I'm sitting at this bar hating the fond look on his face as he checks out this mop-headed chick with the shiny stockings. And she does have an insipient jowl.  And she does have a glittery look in her eyes just for him.

I take off. She can't possibly be a threat, but I don't want to stand there and watch even the hint of anything transpire. I'm too weak for that sort of thing.  I really am. I go up to our friend, a cute Filipino artist named Angel. I fling my arms around him and kiss his cheek. I've slept with him before.

"Angel," I say. "You look so good tonight. You want to go make out in the other room?"

I could see the mop-headed chick talking to Jack but I didn't really look again until one of Jack's buddies, a mournful-eyed opera singer, jabbed me in the arm and said:

"What's with Jack and Hertza?'

"What?"

"They're being so intense."

"Hertza? Is that really Hertza?" And here I'd been feeling sorry for the chick for four weeks straight in my exercise class because everyone was talking about how she was being cheated on by her husband, a little Napoleon-complexed man who was running around with a good-looking heiress.

I'd never met the little man or the heiress or any of these folks, but any day now I knew I?d be making their acquaintance.  This Hertza-in-peson did not match my private-movie Hertza, a dumpy ethnic, peasanty simple soul, a thick-ankled Philip Roth muse, a large-assed R. Crumb girl. And in truth, I did not want to make out with Angel.

At the next party, Hertza was there again, still wearing the curly do and the shiny black stockings. Now she was bending her ass over quite a bit while she looked for just the right dance music. Smiling and showing her teeth quite a bit to a certain dentist.

I still had no urge to do anything. I just looked at her jowls, her hair, the shiny stockings and I knew that she, poor soul, had no hope. She would never last a moment with that dentist. Not a second.  Oh no, not her.

I kept my tortoise shell sunglasses and my leopard skin scarf on and I danced with myself in the mirror. I didn't care what any of them thought. I was a wild and sexual creature. Oh, that dentist was in for it. Oh, I was more than he could even hope to handle. I was young. She was old. I had no jowls.  She had two. She was short and wore shiny stockings. I could go on.

But I didn't. I was quiet and cool and perfect. That was me. Perfectly drunk. But beautiful. No jowls.  I did not possess the name of a car rental agency.  I was not a desperate woman. I was not a desperate drunk.  I was a punk rock drunk. I was a flying star.  I was a hot commodity. She was not. Did I mention that she was not, not in any way, was not!  Was nothing!

***  

He has a platonic fling with Hertza for a week and we break up for three weeks.  He goes to Florida without me and while he is there I have a dream. I dream that I am awakened from sleep because Jack is in my house. I hear him enter my house through my sliding glass doors. I hear his heavy feet trying to walk gently across the wood floors. I hear him climb my stairs. I am still nearly paralyzed with sleep. I'm thinking---oh shit, I look horrible, he can't see me like this, all in bed, all a mess.  But then he is leaning over my bed. It's two o' clock he says. He disappears. I wait a while before opening my eyes and turning to look at the digital clock, which reads 2:01.

***  

One night we were on the phone for three hours. I lay on my bed with my ear on the phone and started saying less and less. I was getting tired.

"Hey," he said, "don't fall asleep."

"I don't want to hang up," I said.

"I've got to go to sleep soon," he said.

'so go to sleep," I said. "Just lay down."

"I am lying down," he said.

"Where?? I said. "On the chair??

"No, go on the couch."

"Put the phone under your ear and lie on the couch."

"What are you saying?? he said.

"Let's sleep together on the phone."

"Get outta here," he said.

"No, I'm serious. But no phone sex."

"What?? he said.

I didn't want to repeat it. I knew he heard what I said, he just wanted to be on the phone with someone hearing the words "phone sex."  I was too tired to repeat it but he kept saying, "What did you say??

"It doesn't matter," I said.

"It does matter," he said.

"No phone sex," I said. 'that's what I said."

"Oh," he said.

"Just go to sleep," I said.

"I can't,? he said. "I can't just leave the phone open all night, I'm expecting a call at five a.m."

So I said, "you have call waiting."

We both laughed at that one.

"Come over and sleep with me," I said.

"What!" he said. 'that's crazy, that's too crazy."

"No it isn't," I said. "Come over and we'll sleep. No sex."

"Okay," he said. "But we can't tell anyone. It's just too crazy."

"Can't tell anyone?? I said. "I don't think so. I'll tell whoever I want. Who are you afraid I'll tell? Your father? Your shrink??

"Okay, I'll come over, but I've got to be up at five a.m., I've got to leave exactly at five a.m. and I have to go right to sleep."

'that's fine," I said.

"Really??

"Yeah, really."

"Well, then I'm coming right over."

"Actually,? I said, "forget it."  The whole thing was becoming too businesslike.  Just the planning and the exact time and the stipulations about who not to tell, it was not the romantic, yearning-driven union a person might envision. If I was going to have an ache filled I wanted it to be filled at the moment or as near as possible to the moment of the ache. You could savor it that way. One would think he felt the same way. Yearn. Fulfill. Need. Get. Not need, discuss it, negotiate and then fly into each other's arms.

"What do you mean, you don't want me to come??

"I'm not sure," I said.

"Just say yes or no," he said. "It's easy, yes or no."

"Okay," I said, "no."

"But I was all set to come over," he said.

"Okay come."

"Okay then, I'm coming right now."

We hung up.

I put a few heaps of clothes into the closet.  I didn't bother with the bed. I went into the bathroom and saw my face and my straight smooth hair. I had no make-up on. I would be damned if I put my hair up. This was not about a night of fetishistic pleasures. And besides I was perfect. I had the perfect face.  My face, if you can believe it, was at that moment perfect.

I decided to smoke a cigarette. I had my back to the door smoking like a fiend when he came into the house and walked up my stairs. It sounded just like the phantom of my dreams. The same steps. What if we hadn't had the call at all? What if I was truly losing it? But I didn't believe that for a second.  I couldn't seem to put the cigarette out.  I didn't know what to expect when I looked at him. I was already somewhat sorry he was there, but I'd have to go through with it. I was already thinking: he went to Florida without me. I was already rehashing a few other disturbing scenes that I saw with increasing visual acuity, flashing through my head in sequence with bits of heightened gesture and dialogue like previews for a horror movie. The moment on the Village Green when his eyes locked with Hertza's and I was invisible. The moment in my kitchen when he told me he was going to the wedding.

I was going through this little movie or at least sitting down in the dingy theatre of my mind, putting my feet up on the chair and getting my popcorn settled when he walked in and stood there for a while before saying, "Hello??

I gave him a winning smile.

"Hi!"

He took off his pants and got into bed. I got in beside him and turned off the light.

"Good night!" I said, and rolled to my side, my back to him. I really thought I might fall asleep.

He put his arm around me. "You can sleep?" he said.

"HMMM," I said. I really thought I could, if I could just slip into the gap before any funny business came up between us. The room was pretty bright. The moon was weird that night, calling to me as if it was full but it had days to go. We lay there for a while. I didn't want to talk about anything. I didn't want any physical contact. I wanted to hear his breathing and echo his rhythm so I cold fall asleep. Of course I knew that he was debating something inside his head. I could feel it. He might grab me, I thought. And then he did. He pulled me to him hard. I didn't mind that. But I didn't want any more.

"Come here," he said and I let him turn me so I was pressed up against him. His breath smelled like strong coffee. It wasn't so bad. But he had this light perfumey smell to his hair and sweatshirt.  It was a reminder of our being apart, this new smell like a woman's cheap perfume or a fruity shampoo or something he might have picked up in a Florida mall. I didn't like it too much. But I didn't want to complain. It was never my style to complain at such fragile moments. We still said nothing.  And then he suddenly pulled my pajama pants down and pulled my shirt up and let his hands roam all around my body. It was kind of an AHA! move---like see what I can do. Or let's see what you're hiding under there, did you fuck someone else?

I didn't mind it too much either. In fact it was quite a thrill to feel such passion coming from him, and a big hardon pressed around my stomach, but still I didn't want this to turn into sex. I felt a real pull to have sex, but I also heard a scream in my head, or a whine, a long whine saying: what about the perfect childhood and the money. What about that, huh? I was on the sex list but not the Florida list. I was on the cunnilingus list but not on the perfect ideal woman list.

I didn't even want to kiss him, but he was saying, "Come on, now? or "Come here," or something so I slightly kissed him back. He had a big open coffee- smelling mouth. The whole thing made me think of Raphael, my first lover. Maybe it was the fruity cheap perfume smell. Raphael was a drunken pervert but I loved him for a while. He was a Marxist and he chewed orange trident gum.  I put my hands on the back of Jack's neck and he sighed. He needed to be touched so much. He needed affection. I took my hands away. I could not feel affection. He'd gone to Florida without me. Too many things had happened or not happened.

He turned his back after a while. I didn't like that too much. He had me sleep with my stomach against his back. I didn't like it but I thought I'd try it. We lay there for a while. I could see the black bare branches out the window and clouds lit up in the night sky. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a UFO. After a while he lay on his back. I stared at the sky.  I would have loved to see a UFO. To say LOOK and both of us to see that thing zip a silvery staggered path in the night.  I went up on my elbow and tried to see his face. I could see the face but couldn't tell if his eyes were open. He never had the need to stare at me.  Or maybe I never saw it.  To be fair, I never had the need to stare at him too often, either. But at least I had the need to feel the need. I wondered if he opened his eyes if he would see my perfect face or if the light was just right to give me a ghoulish, prematurely lined face. Or if he could ever look at me and see the lines and the strangeness and still feel an overwhelming love. Neither of us was contented. No, and then I'd move closer to him, but in an innocent way, and he once said: "You rascal." What a strange thing to say. Who was this man?

He pulled me to him again.

"I can't sleep," he said. "My body won't let me sleep. Your body feels so good."

I felt pleasure at this, pure pleasure at his words and then a little voice: "Your body? Why not mine? Why don't I feel good? Shut up," I thought. What did Deepak say about this, about finding the negative in things? Did Deepak say that?  Oh, be willing to tell yourself that you don't know the whole picture.  Be willing to tell yourself that you're projecting. That your lover is only giving you the very lesson you need to learn. What if he hits you in the face, Deepak? Are you really hitting yourself in the face? Are you supposed to thank him? But Jack was not hitting me in the face. He was saying my body felt good. Easy for him to say after he'd been to Florida and had some color and sun and eyeballs full of tropical flowers and palm trees. Easy for him to say after he's sat down and written me off the list.

Hmm, let me see here---no sirree, she seems to be coming up a little short.  She's missing just two qualities, but they're very important qualities in a woman, in fact, essential---happy childhood and loads of dough. Shut up, I told myself, his going there was not an attack on me.  His list is just showing me what I'm missing. Okay I'll change, I promise---god darn it. I'll go out and get myself a happy childhood right this very instant, I will.  He can't help it if he's scared and wants to think he wants someone who's completely content and perfect. Don't see it in the worst possible light. Oh, shut up shut up.

"I haven't been this way in years," Jack said. "You know me, I can always fall asleep."

"It's the moon," I said.

"No I drank a pot of coffee," he said.

"But you always drink coffee and sleep," I said.

'this time I can't," he said.

"Did you ever think it's your feelings that are keeping you awake?? I said. 'that it's your feelings and you're just feeling them in your penis??

"I know it's my feelings," he said. "I'm not just feeling them in my penis."

I didn't ask him to elaborate.

"What time is it?? he said.

I told him it was two.

'shit," he groaned. "I feel like I just did a whole gram."

"I know," I said. "I can't sleep either. Am I keeping you up??

"No," he said.

We lay there for minutes, another half an hour. He said my name in a groan. He never does that. I had no feeling to help him.

"Do you want to leave? Please, go if you want," I said.

"No I just want to sleep," he said.

"I want to sleep, too," I said.

'then do,? he said. 'sleep!"

I looked at the sky. It was almost three.  I put my arms around him and he said:

"I know you didn't invite me here to spend the night and have sex with you. I know you didn't plan on having sex."

'that's true," I said. "But why do you keep saying sex? You don't usually say that."

"Well, it's what you said," he said. "You said no sex."

"Right," I said.

I put both my legs over his.

"What are you doing?? he said, not annoyed but he put my legs off his, adding: "I just can't have anything heavy on me."

"Are you saying my legs are heavy??

"Let's get his straight," he said. "I am not saying your legs are heavy. I just can't sleep like that. Here."

He arranged things so our legs made a sandwich with only my ankle on top of his, or something like that. My limbs were too dead to know who they were and where they were and who they were with and in precisely what arrangement.

I remember the pain of the week without him. I feel his desire to be with me, to make me feel better.  I know he's good. I'm disturbed but I still have this soul thing.  I put my arms around him and slid them down his back. I was too tired to give him a massage. But I played with his ass for a while as if it were an object having nothing to do with a human, a fun-playable toy I found in my hands on the beach.  He might have been annoyed or turned on or annoyed that he wasn't being turned on but he just allowed me this play without any sort of intervention or guidance. He took my hands after a while and held them against his chest...I curled my fingers away from his but kept my hand there and some minutes later woke, realizing I had slept. There was such beauty in that, realizing that my hands had put themselves to sleep on his chest and my brain had followed...there was no beauty whatsoever in waking and seeing it was four thirty. The clock went off at five. He called the person who was going to wake him at five and told him he'd meet him at seven. We both slept for another hour. He got up and said:

"Bye baby, I gotta go."  

"Bye," I said, trying to smile. He kissed my cheek. Or my mouth. Or my head. Or perhaps didn't kiss me at all. I was too tired to have anything make an impression on my brain except for the sound of his feet going down the stairs and his car running outside and then the engine going away, down the street as I stared out at the whitening sky until I couldn't hear it anymore and could draw his pillow close to me and fall back asleep.  ##

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