The gay bar closes in twenty minutes. I’m sucking on the waste of a vodka soda, searching for an escape. I tongue the stirrers in my barren cocktail glass around and attempt to make eye contact with a few of the late night stragglers. My mouth plays magic tricks, tries convincing my disinterested audience that I’m still (have I ever been?) ready and willing. I’m contemplating cutting my losses when a man in a muscle tee takes the bait.
I reel him in with a wink.
I’ve quit using drugs for good (for now) and begun filling all my annoying little voids with men. The formula is similar. The routine’s so repetitive it’s almost therapeutic. Sometimes, I wonder if this is what all those pretty white girls on Larchmont are bitching about when they give praise to guided meditation. There’s a method to it. My desperation is deliberate. Despondency’s a pheromone.
“What’s your name?” I ask him, but it doesn’t matter.
Then I look over my shoulder for a sec, just long enough to give him the impression that I might have somewhere else to be. Two sad eyes and one skanky smile, I practically pulse with the promise of promiscuity. I’m easy to catch, but too slippery to hold onto. Men love a challenge if the prize is guaranteed. I know how to start a fight while deepthroating a white flag.
“Kris.” I hiss when he asks me for mine.
Pleasure and pain are so entwined nowadays (for me, at least) that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. It’s fine, though. There will always be markets for combinations of the two. The men who frequent these bars will bone a broken boy in the same way they’d demolish a slowly deflating sex doll. And I know that. I’m not stupid, just empty. I don’t even want to get fucked.
I just want to get away from me.
“Is it just me…” I pause, punctured and deflating. “…or is everyone else here tonight a TOTAL fucking troll?”
Seconds later, we’re strolling out of the bar, walking down the aisle. He opens the rear door of our Uber like he’s lifting a veil. It’s cold out tonight. The sky’s as blank and black as the insides of a mouth held shut. Finally, I think I’m thinking to myself, hoping I’m not thinking out loud. It doesn’t matter though. His head is somewhere else. We slip into the car silently.
It’s colder in there.
x x x
The artist tells me to trust him. His Tribeca studio is littered with fashion magazines and half-finished oil paintings. He’s old. It’s noon. Outside his window, the Hudson River’s as pale as the moon, its surface speckled with ferries. He’s holding his cock in his hand. I say I think I should go.
“C’mon…” He smirks. “Show me what your mouth can do.”
I want to leave, but I don’t. He takes a seat on a cushioned chair beside the window and begins stroking himself. Jesus, my brain blurts, just GO! It’s a pleasant thought. I imagine walking away and spending the rest of the day doing touristy things like visiting the Met or the MoMA. My daydream ends with me purging a pizza.
Then I drop to my knees because I can’t find a decent enough reason not to, because reluctance rarely stands a chance against repetition of behavior. My mouth makes room for him. He tastes like salt and stagnance. My heart hums the chorus to a Fiona Apple song about settling down. Verses race right through me. Down here, I can still count all the boats in the Hudson Harbor.
I wonder if they can see me too.
A few hours later, he sends a photo he took of me on his floor. My wrists are scarred and I’m covered in flowers. The end of that song my heart was humming a second ago goes:
“I bet I’ll be able to move on.”
x x x
“I’ve never done this before.” A straight boy is making a few quiet confessions I’m not coherent enough to care about. “I have a girlfriend.”
I’m nodding, agreeing in ways that show I’m not listening. He’s rambling, watching as I unbuckle his belt with one hand and reply to a bunch of texts with the other. We’re wasted. The bedroom’s dark at his request. Our only light source gleams from the cracked screen of my iPhone. I tear the foil from his Magnum with my dogteeth. I kiss him just to shut him up.
It’s kinda sweet, I kind of think, the way he thinks this means something.
After he comes, he rolls over and tries to hold me. I tell him I’m incapable of cuddling, suggest he use a pillow if it’s THAT necessary. Straight boy’s vexed, but he falls asleep swiftly while I respond to another text. In the morning, he asks if he was any good, and I remind him stuff like that is subjective. Sunlight soaks the bed. It dances across his face, flat and confused. Still, I give him nothing. I’m not heartless. I just know better.
There are rules you’ve gotta follow when you fuck to forget. A body’s only a temple if and when you treat it like one, but a heart can still break even if you never put it together properly in the first place.
Scanning my sunny bedroom as straight boy says his goodbyes, it’s hard not to wonder if there will ever be a life in which “see you later” won’t sound like such an obituary. He suggests hanging out again— girlfriend downtime permitting— and I smile, allowing him the fantasy.
That’s just a daydream though.
x x x
I’m on my knees (again) when a Grindr hookup lifts me up by the throat and tosses me onto his couch. His living room reeks of expensive weed and cheap incense. His haphazard décor is headache-inducing. With one hand, he reduces the waistband of my jeans to a tangled knot around my ankles.
I should ask him to stop, but I don’t. He buries my face between the cushions, and as he begins pumping, I actually begin thinking about the word “trauma” for the first time. It’s vibrant, vivid and alive— a searing neon sign I can see even through closed eyes. Pinned down beneath the weight of him, I watch the word flicker, then fade to black.
Alone in the dark, I count the men I’ve allowed inside of me to pass the time. I wince at the tally and wonder when I’ll learn. My mind soars through realms of possibility, eventually crashing into that age-old “fool me once, fool me twice” mantra I grew up hating. When Grindr guy is done, I pull up my pants and make my way toward the door. He tells me I’m the best he’s ever had.
I attempt to find some comfort in that.
A few months later, we run into each other at the grocery store. My arms are full of celery and pressed juice. He smiles and I try to. The end of that mantra I mentioned a moment ago goes:
“Shame on me.”
x x x
“I said I want to LEAVE!”
I grind my teeth and stomp my feet. They’re bare, splashing around in a little blood puddle on the linoleum floor of the Emergency Room. It’s bright red. Too red to be real, I think for a second, then remember that it’s mine. My pudgy nurse stops in her tracks when she realizes I’ve followed her into the hallway.
She turns around on her cankles and gasps chubbily. Probably out of breath, my disorder decides. She scans my messy forearm— searching for the IV needle I tore out back in my room just a second ago with fat, horrified eyes. I’m shivering in my hospital gown, bony ass to the wind. The whole showdown is actually sorta chic in a Girl, Interrupted sort of a way.
I stomp again.
“I’m sorry…” She stammers. “But we can’t let you go yet.”
Silence. The steady pitter-patter of fresh blood hitting cold linoleum is ear-splitting. Nurse Ratched’s staring down at the floor between us now, still obese as all hell. A male nurse interrupts to ask if she needs any help. She throws her hands in the air like she’s trying to flag down a food truck.
“You’re dehydrated.” Male nurse chimes in.
And I probably I am. I’ve been playing mixologist with apple cider vinegar and bentonite clay for about a month, too caught up to consume much of anything else. My thighs have filed restraining orders on each other. I’ve got mantle pieces for collarbones. All my friends are mad at me.
“Your body needs those nutrients, bud.”
His face is scruffy and his smile is warm, but he’s no McDreamy and I’m in no state to cruise, so I stomp my feet for the billionth time and shriek:
“JUST LET ME FUCKING LEAVE!”
x x x
“I miss you!” I lie to a childhood friend’s voicemail. “Come over after work tonight?”
I’m lying in bed, basking in the light of my MacBook and ignoring a billion open Safari tabs simultaneously. A Wikipedia list of dead fashion models I gave up on reading an hour ago glows like a glimmering group burial plot while When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right begins playing again on an endless YouTube loop.
It’s raining. Fiona’s saying “starving works.” I’m betting Isabelle Caro would disagree. I’ve run out of boxed wine and now I’m feeling restless. The drooping cabernet bladder hangs from the corner of my chrome CB2 nightstand like a punctured lung. An unsigned contract sent over by a modeling agency in Japan rests beside it forebodingly, so I guess I’m ignoring that, too.
One day at a time, my mind NA-mantras. Childhood friend calls back and reminds me that it’s raining— not because he’s a weatherman, but because we live in LA and even the slightest drizzle equates to a category-four hurricane here. I tell him he’ll be fine. I ask him to pick up a bottle of wine on the way.
“I heard you just shot a Calvin Klein campaign.” He slurs a little later, biding time before we slip into bed. “That’s major!”
I roll my eyes. He does this every time. It’s a game he likes to play— pretending he came over to catch up, and not just to hook up with me. Even in bed, he rolls over and acts like he’s trashed. He says he needs to get some sleep. I force my way into his grasp, playing Tetris with his crotch and my ass. I wait with bated breath until his has finally grown louder than the falling rain.
It’s not a difficult game to beat.
His hands are big enough to wear as a necklace, so I beg him to make use of them. He says he doesn’t want to hurt me (he always does) and I assure him it’s a non-issue. The rain stops just as I start turning blue. My bedroom goes dark, and even as it begins grunting to let me know that it’s close, whatever’s inside of me feels almost far away enough to forget. It fumbles with me, finishes in my mouth.