Not that I mind. I don't do this for pleasure. I do this for love.
Except I feel a damp chill between my shoulder blades---thinking of all the times my spine has creased this mattress---so many mattresses. The second hand ticks. He pushes up on his elbows, his head above mine. He glances down, focusing more on my torso than on me. I hug him tighter. Feel me. See me. I touch his throat with the tip of my tongue. His skin tastes like salt water and indigo. My limbs feel weighted with leaden male gravity. Smothered. I feel as if I sink below water, far beneath a night sea.
Can't I understand that this, what we do here, has only, ever, been numbed emotions of familiar strangers, fucking? Why can't I accept the difference between this and love? How can love be two bodies wrapped in a sheet that's singed by careless cigarettes, here, in a room with plastic curtains, tin ashtrays, base metal, stained carpet, bad alchemy, artificial air, and a television promoting the same pornographic movies every hour on the hour? Here in a room when, by one o'clock, Rick looks depleted, the blue of his eyes seeming to have bled beneath the skin.
Rick retrieves a Polaroid camera from a small gym bag. He aims it at me, still lying in bed, my head propped on the pillow. He jokes: "Smile." I stare straight into the lens. In the flash I am dazed, as if I've imploded.
I know he needs this photo like a stash, a memento, in order to remember while I'm gone.
Tomorrow morning I am to enter an inpatient treatment facility where I must remain sexually sober for twenty-eight long days. I don't want to go. But if I don't, I'll remain addicted to sex, to men, to dangerous men. My therapist, whom I've been seeing for almost a year, says I must go. For out here, loose in the world, I haven't been able to stop on my own.
Rick goes to shower.
Pieces of my body surface in the Polaroid. My neck down to my knees. I want to be pleased. For only when my body is desired do I feel beautiful, powerful, loved. Except I don't feel powerful, loved, or whole now. I feel shy, embarrassed, exhausted. Less. Yes, as if I am less than a body. For right now my body seems to exist only in this Polaroid.
For months, like a mantra, my therapist has told me, "These men are killing you." I don't know if he means emotionally, spiritually, or physically. I don't ask. He explains that I confuse sex with love, compulsively repeating this destructive pattern with one man after another. I do this because as a girl I learned that sex is love from my father, the first dangerous man who sexually misloved me.
"I thought the intensity with Rick must be love," I say.
"The intensity is an addict's 'high,'" my therapist says. "Not love." To numb the shame and fear associated both with the past and with my current sexual behavior, I medicate, paradoxically, by using sex, he explains. "But sometimes that 'high' stops working. Usually after a scary binge."
Like last Thursday at Rick's house.
Rick and I didn't meet at the Rainbow Motel. His son was home from school with the flu, and Rick took the day off from work to stay with him. Rick and I undressed in the bedroom he shares with his wife, while his son slept in his room down the hall. The house was hushed. The door to the bedroom locked. But then I heard a small sound: his son crying.
Rick heard him, too. I expected Rick to rush to him. We wouldn't have sex. Instead, we would read his son a story. I wanted to read his son a story. Give him a glass of water. I wanted to give him a glass of water. Press a washcloth to his cheeks. I paused, sure I felt his son's fever, damp and urgent. He needed his father.
Copyright Sue Silverman 2001. Reproduced by permission of the author.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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